i’ve recently been anxious and stressed out by others acting out in my real virtual world. The situation has left me incredibly tense and feeling less than adequate.
A few years ago, i would have dealt with this using the only tool i had at my disposal: alcohol. Now it’s more daunting because i still feel the same dread but i don’t have the option of drinking over it.
Fortunately, i have more than one tool in my box now, and i’d like to share them with you here in case they might help you, the next time you get a little wound up.
The Serenity Prayer
i stand by this old standby. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things i cannot change (which means other people’s behavior), the courage to change the things i can (myself), and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Where are you now?
i say this to myself when i catch myself falling down the rabbit hole of my thoughts, because eventually i get so far deep that my ideas start chasing their own tails and i lose my sense of the real world. Asking myself “Where are you right now?” forces me to focus on the real world and my physical place in it.
Once one of my biggest defects of character, now i let myself postpone worrying. When i notice the anxiety ramping up, i tell myself to put off thinking about the situation until tomorrow. This is nice because i’ve noticed time and sleep have a great way of diluting pressure.
The Happy Ending
When the problem ends–and it has to end eventually, it’s just a question of time–the ending will be happy because i won’t have drunk over the stress. i’ll have won, and that feels damn good.
i’d been an alcoholic for over 2 decades before i first heard the expression “Liquid Courage”, but after i did i couldn’t believe i’d never heard it before. Let’s just say i didn’t need subtitles to understand what it meant.
Lately things have been improving concerning that and here’s why.
- i learned early on that i had to give up my life to my Higher Power because when i was driving the bus, i drove it straight to Hell and got lost there. Giving the wheel to my Higher Power means i have nothing to fear because the HP is in charge. (For agnostics, just remember “The future is none of your business“. )
- On my sponsor’s instructions, i share at every AA meeting i go to (3 a week, usually). The more i share in front of a group of people, the less tense i am about it.
- i’m able to recognize the symptoms of fear and when i do i’m getting better at consciously telling myself to chill. Breathing deep is a big help when it comes to this.
The reason i’m going on about this is that i’ve only just learned these lessons and only have made significant progress with them in the last couple of weeks.
Unfortunately, because i think the girl i have a crush on has been avoiding my regular meetings because she had a crush on me too, but when i didn’t make a move she assumed i didn’t feel the same way so she’s given up. Which is sad but not tragic. i keep reminding myself that i can’t lose something i never had, and that sometimes rejection is God’s protection.
Still, i do wish i’d been braver sooner, and hope that the universe has some second chances left in its deep pockets.
i’ve mentioned i’m now in Step 8 ["Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all"] of the 12 Steps, getting ready for Step 9. Reliving my past errors is harrowing at times—i’ve noticed that when i recall the disasters i’ve created in my life i feel the shame flare up and burn through me like a flash fire—but knowing i’m making amends for them soothes me like a balm and i feel purified when all is said and well-done.
Another beneficial aspect of Steps 8 & 9 is that these are the first steps of the 12 that involve other people. Steps 1-7 are all about working on myself from the inside, while now i need to take this work and focus it outward, on my relation with others.
Let me tell you, this step could not come soon enough.
Like many alcoholics, i imagine, i’m pathologically shy. Alcohol was a way for me to overcome this fear of talking to people and it even worked for a certain time (usually the first bottle of wine). Now, by razing my past, by Cleaning my Slate, i’m removing any need i have to feel inferior, to feel “less than”, in my social interactions. Hopefully, this will help me to me more secure and “right-sized” when i continue my interactions with others.
Years ago, when i was still drinking, on a Friday night much like tonight, my kids and i were in the living room watching TV. Suddenly and without the slightest warning, a loud crashing noise, like a body falling from a hiding place, tumbled out of the bathroom. We all looked at each other, unsure. We were the only people in the apartment.
i ran to the bathroom to find a shelf my father had hung months before over the door was now on the floor. The paint cans it had once held had opened during the fall and vomitted their oily white lacquer all over the blue walls.
i stood there in a daze for the longest time, just staring at the devastation, incapable of understanding. Here was a disaster that was in no way my fault. It was not the result of a binge and i wasn’t even the one who’d placed the shelf. A bad thing happened that i could not have foreseen or prevented no matter what i’d done.
This event crystalized a general apprehension i’d always felt vaguely lurking in the dark places of my mind. Except now i had a word for it. The Shelf of Damocles was the term i assigned to all of the bad things that were waiting to besiege me when i least suspected. i feared the shelf and the omnipresent threat it represented.
Last week, after i noticed i’d stopped waking up suicidal, i also realized the Shelf of Damocles no longer hung over my head. Yes, of course bad things will continue to happen to me for no reason– i have not yet mastered control of the universe (though i haven’t given up trying). But i’m not afraid of bad luck anymore.
Because there is no problem i can have that sobriety cannot solve .
There’s a pithy saying in AA and, like many of our trite expressions, a few words hold a lot of truth.
Meeting Makers Make It
The idea is simple. Those who attend regular meetings are more successful in maintaining their sobriety.
When i started in the program, i hit one meeting a week but then i found a sponsor and he suggested a minimum of four a week. One of the things i learned quickly in AA was to read the Big Book, go to meetings and listen to my sponsor. So i did.
Up until recently i was feeling a little more secure and so i let my rhythm dip back to one a week again. Lately, however, things have gotten a little hairier in my world so i decided i needed to up the dosage. Not to say i’d made a mistake in cutting back, i only recognize the symptoms of fear and anger and self pity and i know where to go to cure them.
Also not to say i’m afraid of relapsing. i feel bad enough as it is and i know alcohol will only make everything worse. i don’t need worse. i’ve had worse and i deserve better.
Hence, 6 meetings a week (despite my reaching a year and a half sober on the 11th of this month). There is a peace in those rooms that i’ve not found anywhere else and i’m grateful that in times like these i know where to go to get shelter from the storm and haven from the hell.
When is a reason not a reason? When it’s an excuse.
i am not totally insane. When i am angry, i have a reason to be angry. When i am sad, it’s because i have a reason to be. Then again, when i went on a binge, i always had a reason to as well.
i would wager that most if not all mass murders, rapists and serial killers have a reason to explain away their actions. i know for a fact that Hitler, Pol Pot and Ben Laden had reasons to justify their atrocities.
Reasons, however, are not “get out of jail free” cards. Having a reason, obviously, doesn’t make you right or mean you are doing the right thing.
The next time you find you have a reason to drink, to yell, to pout, to scream, to run away and hide, substitute “excuse” for the word “reason” and see if that makes any sense.
Sometimes, doing the right thing means ignoring the reasons to do the opposite.
Alcoholism is a disease of forgetting. When i drank, i drank to forget. To forget what i’d done, what i hadn’t done, what was being done to me and what would never be done to me ever.
Now the problem is trying not to forget anymore. It’s like having the keys to success and not remembering where i put them.
i have learned so much in recovery that sometimes i have difficulty recalling the right lesson at the right time. That’s what AA meetings are for and why they’re so important.
Case in point…
Lately, i’ve been in a dispute with my downstairs neighbo. Conflict situations make me physically ill, literally, but i know that rather than hide from the problem as i would’ve in the past, i have to face it head on. Which was giving me anxiety attacks.
Repeating the Serenity Prayer (“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things i cannot change, the courage to change the things i can, and the wisdom to know the difference”) over and over like a mantra helped me rationalize the situation but didn’t do anything to appease my irrational side. Part of me still wanted to panic whenever i, like stepping on a piece of glass hiding in the summer grass barefoot, accidentally remembered the problem.
So i went to a meeting where the theme that developed out of people’s shares was giving it up to God.
i’d completely forgotten! It’s not my problem, it’s God’s problem! Because i’ve taken all the steps i can to resolve the situation, it’s out of my hands and in the hands of my Higher Power. So now, whenever i start to dwell on this dispute, i remember i’m not driving, just along for the ride. Remembering that nugget makes it possible for me to forget the problem…in a good way!
i used to joke about how i had to drink because i was a writer. “i don’t like to drink,” i’d laugh, “but it’s part of the job description.”
More seriously, i was scared to death that when i stopped drinking, i’d stop writing. That somehow my ideas came from a dream machine fueled by alcohol, that my creativity was a flame fanned by the fumes of booze, that my talent was a spirit watered by spirits and that when i went dry so would the well that held the ink that spelled my destiny.
Like with everything else, i could not have been more wrong. (That’s what i get for trying to think and why i’m definitely giving thinking up indefinitely.)
Apparently alcohol was a wet blanket that smothered my thoughts, ideas, feelings, ideas and inspiration. When i was in college, i used to stay up until 4AM caressing the keys of an Apple IIe with all the lights out except the green glow of the words spilling across the screen.
In the last few years, i wondered what happened to that all consuming passion to write, that need to write that kept me up all night and now i know it didn’t go anywhere. It’s been here below the surface the entire time but the problem is that “below the surface” is the first place to go under when the flood waters flow. i was literally drowning my happiness with alcohol.
It is now 1:42AM and i’m going to bed because i have a wife i want to share my life with but i’m buzzing write now with the sheer joy of playing with these words.
One thing i’ve been learning in Recovery is that a lot of my drinking was fear based. i was afraid of being rejected, afraid of looking stupid (which is ironic when you consider how i looked after i’d drunk), afraid of talking, afraid of being judged, afraid of showing emotion… Booze made me brave. Liquid courage. It also made me an asshole. Liquid…asshole? No, that’s diarrhea.
In my 4th Step of the Alcoholics Anonymous program, i listed my wrongs and resentments and people i’d harmed and discovered the source for many of my defects of character were based in the fear i was trying to drown with alcohol. My sponsor told me to write down, every day, the fears i’ve experienced that day.
This is now my nightly routine. In bed, right before sleeping, i list the following things:
- My Fears: what caused them and what the core fear was (like being rejected or health fears or fear of anger…)
- My Esteemable Acts: what did i do that day, especially anonymously, to make my corner of the world a better place
- My Gratitude List: what was i grateful for that day
You know what? i’ve been doing this for about 2 weeks and today i realized i’m a lot less afraid of daily life than i have been in decades. Literally. And i haven’t done anything, except write down 3-4 things at night.
Tastes like Chicken? Not anymore.