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 .
Here in Yeaman, the drinking age is 18. My son turned 18 Friday.
Obviously, this presents some concerns for me. My parents are big drinkers, my mother’s parents were alcoholics and my father’s father was what he called a “skid row bum” (though my paternal grandfather eventually sobered up with AA). If drinking is hereditary, my son is stuck with used, hand-me-down genes.
He had a party at our apartment at lunch time (he lives with me while going to college and doesn’t have class on Friday, as opposed to me, who never has any class ). He made lunch for 6 of his friends before meeting me later that evening for dinner.
During our meal together we talked about his party and he described his friends and showed me some of the gifts he’d received and we discussed the spaghetti carbonara he’d made. He didn’t mention what they drank until i reminded him that he was now of legal age.
“You know I’ve already had a beer,” he said.
“Yeah, there was that one weekend you ran away to go to a party and came back home drunk. And once, i saw a photo you were tagged in on Facebook. It was a party and i saw cans of beer but i also saw bottles of water and Coke and orange juice so it seemed pretty responsible to me so i didn’t say anything. i trust you.”
“Well, we had a six pack today for lunch. Each of us had a beer.”
“Do you think I’ll be like you?” he asked, and i knew he meant about alcoholism.
“You’re already not. The first time i ever drank alcohol, i couldn’t stop until i was totally drunk. You’ve already proved you can have just a little. Plus, with your school work, you know when you’re in over your head and you ask for help. You already saw what i went through with drinking, so you know what it looks like if you start to have the same problems. If that happens, i’ll be right here to help.”
He seemed relieved after that, and we had a fantastic evening together.
That i’m worried abut my son’s becoming an alcoholic is normal. That he’s worried about it is reassuring.
i love writing this blog because i’m a hell of a lot more eloquent with the written word than i am when i speak. When i talk, i trip over my tongue and get emotional and my voice cracks and i forget to breathe…
Tonight, as i was setting up the coffee for AA, the secretary asked if i would share. i agreed because in AA i always say yes, but i wasn’t looking forward to it. i’m not much of a public speaker and i know the stress i demonstrate detracts from my message.
My share was kind of babbling and rambling but at least i didn’t get too shaky. However, while i was tripping over my own tongue, i stumbled on a truth.
As i was talking about all the challenges that i’m facing at the moment, i heard myself say,
It’s not easy, but i won’t let it get to the bottom of me.
As soon as i said it, i knew what i meant.
In the past, difficulties provided me a perfect platform off which i would throw myself into the depths. No more. Thanks to sobriety, i now have in my core something immoveable that life’s storms cannot move. i may feel rough on the surface, but deep down nothing will get to the bottom of me.
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.
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!
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.