And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation—some fact of my life—unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment…. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.
-Paul O. (p. 417, italics added)
My mom called me Wednesday morning on the heels of Tuesday’s election. She’d just gotten off the phone with my sister, who, she said, was sobbing at such a pitch as to be largely unintelligible: she and her husband would sell the house they just finished buying, pack up all they had just unpacked, and move to Canada. It was horrible, horrible…
Now, this is by no means a political blog. But it’s my blog, and I’m going to talk about WTF I want. I write about living sober in the world, which means dealing with upsets – including politically oriented ones. I went to bed early Tuesday night because I could not bear to watch my hopes crumble. “Pray!” my mother had just urged me, so I began — but quickly recalled that outcome-oriented requests boil down to “My will be done” and are actually anti-prayers. So I prayed simply, “Help us all.”
Waking the next morning, I could feel a sort of terror brewing in my gut. I sensed my country had fallen into the hands of a megalomaniac who I believe lacks all basic human decency — let alone a shred of wisdom. A look at my computer confirmed as much. In fact, the dizzy, reeling shock I felt absorbing this outcome resembled the shock of being told I had cancer – that same dumbfounded realization that what cannot be is: My country has cancer.
But here’s the thing. In both cases, the news alerted me to something already true. This catastrophe was merely the manifestation of a reality I’d denied with sugary assumptions — that overt bigotry, misogyny, and denial of scientific facts would render a candidate repugnant to my fellow citizens. Such simply was not the case. And accepting that fact is my sole option. So… what is there “to be changed in me and my attitudes”?
The Twelve Steps entail far more than a means of stopping drinking: for me, they offer a plan for constructive living that applies in all circumstances – even these. When upset, we must quiet ourselves: hysteria leads to rashness which leads to drinking. Further, Step 10 instructions tell us:
Continue to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear. When these crop up, we ask God at once to remove them… Then we resolutely turn our thoughts to someone we can help. Love and tolerance of others is our code. (p .84)
My feelings in this case boil down to resentment and fear. People were supposed to vote my way, and they didn’t. I fear national and international disasters – that have occurred so far only in my imagination. I can roll with these emotions toward relapse, or I can ask god to remove them.
As for dishonesty – what footwork did I contribute toward preventing this outcome? I mean, besides posting stuff on Facebook, donating a little money, and voting? Basically, nothing. I don’t protest, march, or rally more than once every five years. I don’t canvass or make outreach calls. I don’t volunteer my time or skills for any candidate – ever.
Why not? Because I’m selfish. I’m too busy – and I guess lazy. My civic convictions tend to be of the armchair variety, unless something strikes close to home.
So what about love and tolerance? Suppose I try thinking of my nation’s voters not as idiots, but as well-meaning people reacting in a culture and society that is slowly evolving by fits and starts? How many of them felt four and eight years ago exactly as I do now? They have their own ideas, and they followed them.
Lastly and most importantly, how do I concentrate on what needs to be changed in me and my attitudes? For me, “resolutely turning our thoughts to someone we can help” happens on a small scale, close to home. It may not be much, but I give change and friendly conversation to every panhandler I encounter. I wear my pathetic #blacklivesmatter T-shirt as a symbolic gesture. I volunteer feeding the homeless. And I help alcoholics through sponsorship, speaking, and fellowship. In short, I try to cause every person I interact with to leave me just a little bit happier. That’s my job.
It’s an effort I can redouble in light of this election. Yesterday, for instance, I set out my son’s outgrown bicycle with a FREE note that not only listed all its problems but offered condolences on the election and asked the taker to please be extra kind to somebody – just to cancel out a bit of our president elect’s ethos. Today I wonder what that person thought, where they are, what they did.
At the same time, though, acceptance does not mean acquiescence. I have to ask myself, at what point would I rise from my armchair? Would I intercede in racist or homophobic bullying? Will I march to fight a deeper reliance on fossil fuel? At what point does the cost of pacivity become simply too high?
In the 1940s, my great aunt Beatrice Dohme Siedersbeck played violin in an antique chamber music trio touring Western Europe. When they found their group compelled to entertain the Nazis in various occupied countries, she and her German husband began transporting messages among underground Resistance groups via a code that encrypted words as harmless-looking musical scores. She also posed as a carefree girlfriend to help disguise an Allied pilot’s escape to Switzerland as a mere joyride. The plan succeeded – at first. But the Nazis later caught the pilot, she learned, and lynched him with piano wire.
Could any of us muster that kind of courage if circumstances warranted it? How much are we willing to tolerate before risking our safety for hard won rights and the health of our planet? For the first time in my life, I find I have to wonder. Because sobriety, to me, frames a way of life that calls for integrity in all we do.