Category Archives: AA

“Why is Nothing Working? It Must Be Me!”

Have you ever heard this saying around the rooms of AA, “Alone is a dangerous place”?  I got another lesson last night in how true this is.

As someone coming up on 28 years sober, I’m usually in pretty good place.  Those demons of shame, not-enoughness, loneliness, self-pity, envy, awkwardness, self-loathing, and many others that fueled my drinking and nearly killed me — they still live in my head, but their megaphone batteries are weak, and I’ve made friends with most.  When they show up, I try to A) view them as familiar characters and B) invite them to tea, as Buddha invites the demon Mara in the brilliant Buddhist story. In other words, I acknowledge I’ll never be rid of them, but each is a voice from my psyche trying to help me, though their methods are flawed.  The difference between befriending and believing these voices — that’s the key to emotional sobriety. 

Shitty Committee

But last night, no such serenity! I tripped over all their wires, bought all their Brooklyn Bridges, and was, in effect, sucker punched.

What happened? Over Christmas, Alex, who normally makes coffee and sets up the meeting space for my AA homegroup, Salmon Bay, was visiting family on the east coast. I volunteered to cover for him, in addition to my normal “cake person” duties. Maybe 8 years ago I’d been coffee maker here, and in 28 years I’ve made a lotta coffee for a lotta groups, so I was sure I’d be fine.  Alex handed me his key to the church.

coffee brewer

    But WAYYY older

Last night, I got there 45 minutes early, had little trouble unlocking, grabbed the big storage tub from the closet, and fretted a bit about how much coffee to put in. As an avid tea drinker, I had to Google the matter, but everything was “per cup” with nothing about 2.2 liter airpots, and I felt somehow too flustered to do the math.  So… I dumped what looked like a good amount into the filter, placed it in the brewing basket with the airpot below, and hit BREW LEFT.

Nothing happened. 

A light was flashing at the top of the machine: READY TO BREW.  Under that was an ON/OFF switch. I pushed both of these and BREW LEFT for short and long periods. Maybe I should try BREW RIGHT.  I moved everything over and repeated the process. Nothing.  I searched the kitchen walls for instructions, checked the power, whether it was connected to water.  The tea spigot water was warm, but not hot.

Meanwhile, time was ticking away: no coffee, no room set up, just an increasingly freaked out alcoholic.

I called Alex in Virginia where it was past 10:00 PM.  He didn’t answer.  I sent an email to the entire homegroup with the subject line, HELP!  Then I put a large tea kettle on to boil, said f*ck this, and went out to set up the meeting space.  

Something was wrong here, too. We normally have several big round tables off to the left and a U-shape of rectangular plastic tables in front of the secretary/chair table. But the room was filled with 7 round tables, two of them plastic. Why couldn’t I remember those plastic ones?  Where did they go? 

stove burnerI was dragging the wood ones to the left when I smelled smoke. I ran to the kitchen where a dirty burner or drip pan was billowing clouds of smoke that filled the kitchen. I turned on the fan and propped open the church door, but it was bad. While I was in there, just for fun I spent another minute pushing all the goddam buttons on that bratty piece of shit coffee machine.  Nothing.

At this point, I reached a FML peak of frustration. In my 10 years at Salmon Bay, except at the pandemic’s height, there had always been coffee, decaf, and tea at this meeting. Always. Now, for the first time ever, there’d be none. That and the round tables looked all wrong, too crowded.  I hadn’t even begun to set up the U-shape.

WHY couldn’t I DO this???  WHAT the goddam hell was WRONG with me?!  What a ridiculous embarrassment, to be such an incompetent idiot!  What would everyone think, especially that person who always seems to not like me?  

FML

I heard the door.  Phil, our outgoing secretary, came in. He’s still recovering from a near-fatal episode of a kink in his intestines, so quite fragile, but I don’t think I said hi or asked how he was feeling, never mind remembering he had 10 years sober this month. “I can’t figure out the f*cking coffee maker!” — that was my hello. “What’s with the smoke?” was his answer.

Phil went in the kitchen. He said a bunch of things, pushed a bunch of buttons, and then delivered this Earth-shattering pronouncement: “It’s broken.”

I showed Phil the round plastic tables. “They don’t belong here,” he said. “We can fold them up and put them aside.”

The smoke had mostly cleared out by the time people started to show up. Many tried the coffee machine and shrugged.  Someone poured the smoke-producing but boiling kettle water into an airpot, I set out the tea things, and we alcoholics had ourselves a wonderful meeting — complete with birthday cake.

When I got called on, I told the tale above. “I was going crazy until Phil got here, and then all of a sudden, nothing was a big deal anymore. To me, this just shows how much we need each other.  Alone, I can catastrophize anything.  It just takes one person facing the same predicament to make it okay.”

mara

                The demon Mara

Maybe when Alex gets back, he can show me how to slap up that bitch machine to make it work.  Til then, I’m happy with the magic of AA, shared community, and friendships. I’m even grateful for those 30 tormented minutes, because they reminded me how my whole effing life used to feel before the steps showed me what was broken, what useless buttons I kept pushing in life. Those demons and I, not only did we have tea, but we were joined by every tea-sipping member of my homegroup.  

Happy New Year, Alcoholics!  

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PS: It WAS broken!! We could tell because the following week it was A) spotless B) devoid of the filters normally on top.

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Filed under AA fellowship, Alcoholism, character defects, Meetings, Recovery

AA Banquet Talk: Transformative Steps & My Story

I recorded this on my phone last night — and I’m really glad I did.  Speech / elocution-wise, I learned that I’m too shrill and often speak too fast to be understood, so I can work on toning both those things down.  Content-wise, I hope some of you might get something useful from it. Plans to time myself were technologically foiled, so I was shocked when the moderator held up 10 fingers, and the end is hella rushed. But I guess that’s how it was meant to be.

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Filed under AA, AA talk, Alcoholism, Recovery, Sobriety, Twelve Steps

Pain Meds IN THE HOUSE!!

A few years ago, my friend Rob, a “purebred” alcoholic sober nearly a decade, injured his elbow and was prescribed Vicodin. In mere weeks he became addicted to opioids and, after a few years, died. Another friend, an engineer with decades of sobriety, likewise hurt his elbow.  He, too, was prescribed pain medicine, left his life to chase street drugs for months, but by the grace of god did not die. 

What we as alcoholic addicts can never forget is that our brains have a haywire switch.  No matter how certain our rational minds are about “not liking pills” or “using only as prescribed,” our addict remains crouched in the back of our minds saying, “Right! You’ve got this!” until the moment it clinches control and says, “Ha!  I’ve got YOU, bitch, and we’re on a run!” I can’t emphasize enough the degree of respect for this demon every alcoholic addict needs.

Last Thursday, a surgeon sliced open my hip crease, popped the ball outta the socket, sawed off the end of that femur, and commenced building me a new hip. That’s a graphic way of saying I underwent an anterior hip replacement. When I came to, I felt wonderful! In fact, I had a moment of intense spiritual clarity — see below — before things got cloudy.

I have no partner, my son’s away at college, my mom is hella old, siblings either distant or dealing with their own ailments. My main “family” is AA, but I have other circles as well.  My friend Keira came to get me 30 minutes after surgery. She’s a chemo nurse, at home in medical settings. When the nurse discharging me noted that, per my request, I’d be prescribed only Tramadol — not Oxycodone — Keira interrupted. To me she said, “Dude, they just sawed through your femur. Get the Oxy. If you don’t need it, you don’t have to take it.”

An hour later in the Safeway the parking lot, my entire thigh was !!!SCREAMING!!! Anger as if someone had … well, just sawed through it. Keira was inside trying to get me the Oxy before the pharmacy took a lunch break. I was doing controlled breathing, shaking like mad, pressing down the panic that wanted to explode as my pain flared higher and higher.

At last Keira opened the driver’s side door. She had the Oxy. Thank god. About 10 minutes later, I could speak again in a normal voice. The pain was managed.

That’s what such drugs are for.

Over the 27 years I’ve been sober, I’ve gotten super comfortable with full-on reality. What used to seem an onslaught of jarring, demanding impressions is now just the flow of what’s happening. I knew this before my surgery. What I didn’t know until the following day was that the converse has also become true: I’m now super UN-comfortable with being fucked up. 

Isn’t that crazy?  What would Pink Floyd, who wrote “Comfortably Numb,” think of that?  Could 34-year-old Louisa, who in 1995 lived for her daily booze and drugs, have even imagined such a mindset?

I was staying with Keira’s family for three nights.  On Day 2, Friday, she invited our friend Sarah over for a card table dinner in the room next to mine.  I was excited!  Both these friends live an hour away from me, so I don’t get to see either as much as I’d like, let alone both together. We three are the Bikini Bitches. We climb glacial mountains and take silly Bikini Bitch photos at the summits, clean, sober, & livin’ large.  That’s us.

I wanted to be fully PRESENT for this little reunion, but I also needed to sit at the table, so I took a Tramadol instead of Oxycodone.  That shit may be one-sixth as strong as Oxy, but it messed me up, hit me like a wave of blur! Sarah showed up and we  all sat down together, but my mind was goofing around on some mayonnaise slip n’ slide. I remember looking at my friends and thinking, I want to BE here! Again and again I struggled to focus, but I couldn’t think of words or keep track of most ideas long enough to speak them.

Every now and then, they’d look at each other. I remember Keira saying with an accepting shrug, “She’s fucked up.”

I wanted OUT of my fucked-upness as badly as I used to want OUT of full-on, clear consciousness.  My friends were there, and I was MISSING it!  But I could do nothing to get my sharpness back. I was half-drowned in stupidity. 

On Day 3, my son surprised me by driving 6 hours across the state, using my shared location to find Keira’s house, and then phoning to say, “Mom, can you look out the window?”  Such a sweet boy!  Sunday, after he’d driven me home, he set up our house so I could live downstairs alone.

He also hid all my meds.

Yup. The Oxy he divvied into stashes — 2 pills, 6 pills, and the rest of the bottle — then found hiding places for them and the Tramadol. I had my ibuprofen and Tylenol. If I needed something stronger, I could call him. My son understands. He grew up around sober friends we’ve since lost to addiction, prescribed or otherwise. He mourns them, and he loves me.

As it turned out, I did need to call him. My stomach rejected the ibuprofen AGAIN and, after I caught my crutch on a gate while letting my chickens out, I stumbled and re-injured my leg, which brought on a 99.5 º fever and heightened pain. “Look in the drone box on my desk,” he told me.  And there were two Oxy, right under my nose!  For two nights, they controlled the pain enough to let me sleep, but I think I’m done now.  I don’t need to ask for more.

What protects me from hunting for those meds is not my will. Addiction’s kryptonite is connection: love, community, and gratitude. An AA friend is coming over today to move my stuff back upstairs. Another will come tomorrow to spot me while I take a (much-needed!!) shower. Neighbors have mastered my chicken routines, gifted me a thermometer, and picked up my new anti-inflammatory meds. My dogs have gone for walks every day — 6 days in a row — with different people. Today they have a play date with the dogs of a former student of mine from 15 years back.

Here is the image I was shown when I first came out of the anesthetic, before my brain came back online to block spiritual knowing.  First, I had to remember what I was doing: I recalled, “Oh, yeah, I’m doing that Louisa business!” Then, on the strip of wall in front of me above a window to the nurses’ station, I saw my life as Louisa. It was a circle at the center of a ring of smaller circles, connected by radiating lines that I understood went two ways. These were all the lives mine touches, all the people connected to me whether remotely or in person. Lean into this, my angel told me. There was more, but I’ll save that for another post. 

I thought, “Wow!  That wall is so awesome!  I’ve got to tell the staff to put some pictures up there for people who maybe don’t have visions!”  Then everything went cloudy, and I don’t remember much.

I’m on a mission here in this Louisa suit to share love and kindness. So are you. But the flipside is, we can give others a chance to do the same.

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How it Felt to Get Sober

Short answer?  Terrifying.  Terrifying because to live without drinking was unimaginable — like a layer of my identity being ripped from me. I had reached the point where I could not imagine life either with or without alcohol.

Today, at 27 years sober, those days seems distant not just chronologically but because my reality is completely transformed. The only experience I can compare with getting sober is having kids: imagining how it might be to have kids is a world away from actually becoming a parent, supporting the lives of your children in countless ways and loving them more powerfully than you ever dreamed possible.

The same was true for me, but the child in question was my authentic self.  There’s an apt truism that goes like this: You don’t know what you don’t know. In other words, we think what we know must be all there is to know about sobriety because we’re ignorant that a whole different realm exists.

figure-in-bottle

Zealousshadow

I was sure I knew who I was. I was sure I knew the role booze played in my life.  And I assumed I could guess what a life without booze would look like. 

Wrong on all three counts!

Amputating a Limb

To guess at what life would be like without booze, it seemed reasonable to work this equation:

What would it be like, I wondered, to hang out in bars and NOT drink?  Would I still play pool and darts, and, of course, smoke?  How would I sit around on my stoner friends’ couches and NOT get stoned?  What would be the point of hitting up a party if not to get drunk?

And what about life at home?  How would I watch movies without booze?  Cook or work in the yard?  How would I ever relax and chill out?

Subtracting alcohol, I believed, would leave a gaping hole in my life. This void seemed inevitable because I’d lost track of both who I was and what life was about. The goal, I’d come to believe, was always to FEEL BETTER. I knew only two ways to do that: 1) booze and cocaine and 2) esteem from crushes and “cool” people.

Happiness through a heart connection with the inherent goodness of the universe wasn’t even on the table.

Here are some journal entries from my first year:

1 day sober:   “I went to an AA meeting tonight. Was so uncomfortable and out of place and felt I will never, never stop drinking, so why even want to? I know drinking so intimately.  I know me with a glass of wine or a beer better than anyone else in this world. I love to drink. I love it like freedom and happiness.  I want never to stop.”

65 days sober:  “I really do think AA has saved my life.  I couldn’t have done it — stopped the drinking, the downward spiral — alone. I wanted to let myself go, let it end. That’s why crashing my car seemed the best way…  But now I live in fear. I fear every coming minute, every hour of consciousness that I have to get through on my own — just me and the world.  But the good side is, I know I CAN get through it if I just hold on and keep going.  And that is courage. I am rough-riding the world, life, being me. And every moment I do is a triumph.”

222 days sober:  “I’m seven months sober.  I am very messed up.  Even writing doesn’t seem to do any good, because I am so TIRED of being messed up. There’s never a break. Today it got to be too much for me. Sitting in a women’s meeting, this woman told her story, very low bottom.  And while I was moved during it, afterwards my disease started creeping up from the back of my mind, my old love affair with drinking, missing it and the sense of REBELLION and SECLUSION and FALSE SELF-SUFFICIENCY I got from drinking. I missed feeling okay when I was drunk. I started feeling it was too much to say I’d never drink again.

“So I started planning my relapse, peeking at how I could, how the bail money was right there. Just drink.  Drink like before.  I do know I couldn’t control it for long. I drink to get drunk, not for one drink. There’s always further to go and I always want it.”

Notice that in the first quote, I have no faith whatsoever.  Drinking is still my whole world. In the second, I’m courageously pioneering unknown territory. In the third, I finally recognize that I’m up against a disease that tells me I don’t have a disease, one that lies to me about how to fix everything. I know it’s lying, but I’m still extremely uncomfortable.  This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is hourglass-2.jpeg

Time Takes Time

This is another simple truism from the program.  Newly sober people pass through another childhood. When we take away the layers of self-stupefying to “take the edge off” and self-delusion that we can somehow feel what others think of us, we have to learn to live all over again.

Inwardly, we have to learn how to be okay with consciousness, how to feel difficult feelings like awkwardness, tension, boredom, guilt, discontent, uncertainty, jealousy, and so on. We learn that A) they won’t kill us, and B) that instead of numbing them away, we find the courage to change the things we can so we’re able to grow and cope.  Each difficult feeling can serve as a spur for growth.

On the other hand, we also get to taste genuine aliveness, a full awareness of Earth’s beauties, tenderness toward people we love, and satisfaction from accomplishments both humble and huge. When we experience our first glow of true joy — not hyped up giddiness — or our first sense that maybe we DO belong, these experiences can be mind-blowing.  Peace can be mind-blowing.

As we nurture a connection with our higher power, we begin to perceive it not as some deity overseeing the world but as an energy infusing everything, the force of goodness generating all that lives and evolves — not just biologically but (let’s hope) ethically. Through working the 12 steps, we learn that we can align ourselves with that divine unfolding to gain a strong sense of dignity and purpose.

All of these new feelings and awarenesses grew in me at their own pace, as they do for everyone new in recovery. Gradually a secure inward peace replaces early sobriety’s raw vulnerability.  Our new job is now only to become the fullest possible expression of ourselves.  Ours is the work of thriving.

 

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Chapter 3, More About Alcoholism: My FAVORITE

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved quirky facts. About a million Earths could fit inside the Sun. Lots of lizards have a third eye on top of their heads. Female kangaroos can pick the sex of their next offspring. And the brains of alcoholics are broken.

Okay, so maybe that last one is more than quirky.  

The first AA saying to blow my mind came from a skinny, bearded guy at the Olympia Alano Club: “I can’t fix my broken brain with my broken brain!” 

I thought: Whhhoah!  In other words, there’s no way for an alcoholic to THINK their way out of addiction. Our brains will still default — maybe not today, but one day — to “a drink is a fine idea!”

This quirky fact, dear reader, is what the Big Book’s Chapter 3 is all about.

THE CHAPTER STARTS with a recap of Step 1. Nobody wants to be an alcoholic. Everyone wants to believe that NEXT time we’ll manage to control and enjoy our drinking, and many chase that dream “into the gates of insanity or death.” 

Step 1 is about accepting that we can no more become “normal” drinkers than an amputee can regrow limbs. We prove it by the countless ways we try and fail. The list on page 31 covers just a few of our tactics. “…taking a trip, not taking a trip, swearing off forever (with and without a solemn oath), taking more physical exercise, reading inspirational books….”

I myself never swore off, because I couldn’t conceive of a life without drinking. But the first time I read this chapter, I did recognize many of these tactics as ways I’d tried to control my drinking:  drinking only beer and wine, increasing my exercise, reading self-help books.

Here the book suggests taking the “drink and stop abruptly” test, which I have never, ever advised a sponsee to try. We don’t need to!  How many of us EVER enjoyed A drink? Can you even imagine? You’re at a party where you have ONE gin and tonic?  What, are you CRAZY??? Maybe if a gun fight broke out or the building caught fire, I’d consider it.  

The rest of the chapter centers on the stories of three alcoholic guys who thought they could control their drinking using their brains: 1) carpet slippers guy, 2) Jim the car salesman, and 3)Fred the firm partner. Spoiler alert! — alcoholism wins every time.

  • Carpet slippers guy quit drinking for 25 years and then deliberately started again, convinced he’d been cured of alcoholism. At 30, he somehow summoned the wherewithal to stop. But by his 50s, his addiction had the upper hand so invincibly that he drank himself to death in four years. 

This acceleration, I think, is the origin of our saying, “My disease is out in the parking lot doing push ups.” During the years we’re sober, the power of our addiction only INTENSIFIES. I’ve heard people who went out with 10 years’ sobriety use the word “terrifying” to describe the irresistible power of their cravings. 

“This is is baffling feature of alcoholism as we know it — this utter inability to leave it alone no matter how great the necessity or wish.”  Part of our brain resolves with all its might to stop the self-abuse. But the alcoholic part of the brain upstages it.

  • Jim the car salesman is an awesome veteran, husband, dad, and smart business man, but he ends up in the insane asylum from the violent stuff he does while wasted. AA guys talk to him and he totally gets it; he knows he needs recovery. But he’s not into the god thing, so he doesn’t do that part.

So what does the alcoholic part of his brain do? It sells him the notion that a shot of whiskey will be no problem if he mixes it with milk. “I vaguely sensed that I was not being any too smart…”  His good-guy brain is struggling to get through, but the other voice is stronger.  Jim “felt reassured as I was taking the whiskey on a full stomach.”  Back to the insane asylum he went!

“…Parallel with our sound reasoning there inevitably ran some insanely trivial excuse for taking the first drink. Our sound reasoning failed to hold us in check. The insane idea won out.”  The authors compare our behavior to that of a guy who loves jaywalking (p.38) — unable to resist something that keeps nearly killing him.

  • Fred the firm partner’s story is perhaps the most spectacular of the three. His alcoholism didn’t even come up with an excuse. It didn’t say, “You’ve been sober so long, you’ve got this!” or “It’ll be fine if you just mix in milk.” Nope. Fred’s alcoholic brain just tells him “it would be nice ” to have drinks with dinner. His rational brain doesn’t even object and once alcohol has him by the short ones, he’s off on a multi-day bender.  Later, Fred sees that “will power and self-knowledge would not help in those strange mental blank spots.

So what will help us? That’s what Chapter 4’s about.  It’s a spiritual connection with a higher power.

Mine rescued me about 15 years ago when I was caught up in a full-fledged “mental blank spot.” For a Sunday brunch at my parents’ house, someone in my family had placed a glass of white wine at my  table setting. It was chilled and beaded with condensation – and I had 12 years’ sobriety. I thought, “WHY can’t I have this? WHAT’s the reason? Oh yeah, ‘cause I’m [mocking voice] in AA and I’ll turn into a guzzling maniac! That’s ridiculous. I can do what I WANT!”

Here came a different voice, not quite from me. It asked, “How about if you wait five minutes and see if this is still true?”

That’s all. It seemed humble and simple, not commanding or forbidding. I answered as if accepting a dare: “No problem! I can wait five minutes.”

In less than 30 seconds, the full force of my love for sobriety flooded over me. Never, never would I throw away my beautiful life for a stupid fucking glass of fermented grape juice! Aloud I asked someone to take it away, and in my heart I said, “Oh my god…. thank you!”

That’s grace. And grace alone is more powerful than addiction.

 

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Filed under Alcoholism, Big Book notes, Recovery

To Share or Not to Share

Recently I learned to my surprise that one of my friends has never told her daughter, who is twelve, that she, my friend, was once a drug addict. 

“I mean, she knows I drank; she knows I smoked pot. But I can’t tell her, ‘Yeah, Mom used to smoke crack.’ What if she looks at me now and thinks, ‘You came out fine! Why don’t I try it?'”  

My friend also fears that word might get back to people who could somehow use her past against her.

I’m not objecting to my friend’s stance. She’s certainly not alone as a parent hoping to model wise choices and a professional preferring a consistently successful image. But our conversation got me thinking about how I raised my son in the opposite way and the gradual transformation that has led to my publishing all my formerly shameful experiences in my addiction memoir and this blog.

In early sobriety, I, too, was highly secretive.

Studio Zaki

  [by Studio Zaki]

When I first called the AA hotline, I asked for a meeting “far from town” where no one would recognize me. Alcoholics are like that: I was pretty okay with suicide, but certainly not with social awkwardness! Then, when I first returned to teaching literature at a local college, among my students was a barista coworker who’d seen me shitfaced and flinging myself at him on multiple occasions because I’d been obsessed with him for over a year. More than anything I feared he’d tell the other students and destroy my reputation, but he soon dropped the class.

Six years later when my son was born, I still kept my recovery confidential. Though I was gay at the time (sorry – can’t explain) and quite out about that, I feared other moms at toddler co-op and what not might double-label me as that weird lesbian AA mom, so I never let any of them know me. Besides, feeling constantly exhausted by new parenthood, I’d all but stopped going to meetings. 

Then everything changed. My partner, after months of infidelity, left me for an older (richer) woman in AA. My world collapsed. With my program all but gone, I hit a new extreme of pain. What hurt most was losing my dream of our happy little family, a loss that seemed to make a cruel joke of all my love, faith, and sacrifices. I just couldn’t drag myself back to the rooms to share that. Fortunately, one key friend persisted in calling and offering to take me to a meeting “with lots of hot lesbians.”  As I’ve told him since, he saved my life.

That’s how my little 4-year-old son learned all about my past addictions. With my emotions such a tangled roadkill, I needed an AA meeting every day — and while a few offered childcare, most did not. At those meetings, he would sit on the floor by my chair, a sweet-tempered boy, and play a little with the toys I brought, though his favorite was the AA literature pamphlets. If I needed to share particularly strong emotions, I’d ask a friend to hang out with him in the church kitchen. But he still heard a lot as the years passed.

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Keno tea set

My boy.

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My son is now 20. He’s tried alcohol and pot, but he dismisses as idiotic any effort to seek relief or oblivion through them. Why?  Well, they’re what Mom and all her friends did trying to feel cool! He’s known since he was about 12 how I once accidentally killed myself snorting what I thought was cocaine. He understands, as some of our friends have died from relapse, that addiction is beyond conscious control.

Writing Center

With my writing center tutors, 2005. (I’m in the gray.)

With my son knowing all, I soon found I could be more useful to my college students if they knew not only that I used to be gay but that I was in addiction recovery. Many came to office hours with problems they tearfully unfolded, trusting me to understand. I also served, I’ve learned decades later, as a role model for authenticity – sharing who I was with a powerful, open-hearted vulnerability that inspired many of them to do likewise. 

So why not go one step further?  If I could help my students by being out, why not help other alcoholic addicts I’d never meet by writing my whole story, even the parts hardest to admit? What would happen if I simply embraced beyond all personal embarrassment the fact that I am human, and therefore whatever weird, warped stuff I once did was simply what a HUMAN afflicted with my emotional problems and addiction would do? 

So I went ahead with it.  I wrote everything.

Some might consider full disclosure a form of exhibitionism: I often think of the One Republic Song “Secrets,” which deals, I believe, with the quandary of songwriters divulging through lyrics their personal struggles.

I need another story
Something to get off my chest
My life gets kinda boring
Need something that I can confess
‘Til all my sleeves are stained red
From all the truth that I’ve said
Come by it honestly I swear…
Tell me what you want to hear
Something that will light those ears
I’m sick of all the insincere…
Don’t need another perfect lie
Don’t care if critics ever jump in line
I’m gonna give all my secrets away…

 

I love these lyrics because they so perfectly frame the two sides of publicly sharing one’s intimate past.  On the one hand, there’s the attention-seeking caricature: Did I “confess” my story just to show off how wild and crazy I once was?  That’s the narcissistic motivation my family assumed and tried to punish. On the other hand, there’s the freedom of simply telling my truth: Can I reject the “insincere… perfect lie” we’re supposed to maintain and share my mistakes as honestly as possible, regardless of whether “critics” like my family understand?

AA hold handsAA itself is built on this oxymoron of confiding anonymously, of being open in a closeted setting. The program needs anonymity not only because every newcomer feels at first the way I did but also to preclude the rise of AA demagogues. Nevertheless, sharing our messiness openly and unsparingly is our lifeblood. The Big Book tells us “that it is only by fully disclosing ourselves and our problems” that we can connect with fellow alcoholics. The 9th step promises that “We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it” as “we will see how our experience can benefit others.”  And The Family Afterward reminds us, “in God’s hands, the dark past is the greatest possession you have — the key to life and happiness for others.”

Each of us should make their own choices about how “out” to be with our recovery, but it can’t hurt to examine our motivation.  In my case, it was primarily my ego that wanted to keep the incomprehensible demoralization of my past private, and now my god-centered self that recognizes it as my greatest gift to share with those who still suffer. The longer I’m sober, the more natural it seems to simply say, “Here’s who I was, and here’s who I am. God and AA made all the difference.”

 

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Surrender and the Big Picture

As I write this, the world is in a bit of a panic about COVID-19 — and understandably so.  Much is unknown.  Many will die.

Fear is huge right now because much of the world is a stranger to this degree of powerlessness. Nobody likes sudden, involuntary changes: being told to work or school their kids from home, to avoid contact with others. It’s tough. Disruptive. Confusing. 

In times like these, it really sucks to have no higher power or faith in an afterlife.  If we lack faith, we fight out of an amorphous, unrelenting fear.  If we possess a working faith, we attend with care to each precaution, surrender what’s beyond our control, and trust that, though perhaps in ways beyond our understanding, all will be well.

For that matter, all may be better.  Considered from a broad enough perspective, COVID-19 can be seen as a gift.  This pandemic is teaching humanity, more vividly than anything heretofore, the crucial, overdue, and catastrophically-denied lesson that all of us share one planet.  Humanity is, in fact, one big global community.  National boundaries mean no more to this virus than they do to impacts of climate change.  Both are everyone’s problem.

Surrender is simply saying, “What is, is.  I have no power to change X, but I do have power to perform Y.” For instance, in the case of alcoholism, X is that we have it — a fact that won’t ever change. Y is our program of action: going to AA meetings, doing stepwork, and being of service to others.

A continuing counter-intuitive surrender for me is the fact that I’m a spiritually leaky bucket: No matter how many meetings I’ve gone to, how deeply I know the steps, or how much service I’ve offered in the past, my spiritual bucket gets empty again if I don’t continue filling it.  My mind tells me, “Oh, I’m so smart now!  See how my Big Book is read to tatters? I can stay sober on my own!” I certainly want to believe that. I certainly don’t want it to be my ticket to misery and an early death. But it would be. I need to believe what I want not to believe.

Surrender to the afterlife and spirit world has, weirdly enough, posed an even harder, more counter-intuitive challenge.  I’ve had to say, “What is, is.” In this case, I mean both the reality of the spirit world and society’s disdain for it. I’ve experienced so many paranormal phenomena that I can no longer subscribe to the culturally dominant model of reality as exclusively material.  That model stands in blatant contradiction to my Weird Things — direct experiences of seeing a ghost, prescience, clairvoyance, and communications/interventions from the dead and from my guardian angel.  

I never wanted a Near Death Experience (NDE) any more than I wanted alcoholism. Following my NDE, I denied it as doggedly as I did alcoholism, clinging to my familiar materialism as much as I did to familiar drinking.  I kept right on refusing to change when I saw a ghost, knew my nephew would die, and began to hear a voice that advised the opposite of what I, myself, had decided.  Materialist science would lump all these together as delusions — my mind playing tricks on me.  For decades, I simply shut away whatever materialism could not explain.

But there came a point when I could no longer hold out. I had to say, “What is, is!  I have no power to change X — that I know the spirit world firsthand and that society dubs me a moron for saying so.  I do, however, have power to perform Y — find others who share my truth.”  Finding the sanctuary of IANDS, where everyone’s materialist schema has been pried from their equally reluctant intellectual grasp, has solidified my outlook.

What does all this have to do with COVID-19?  Today, I volunteer for Seattle IANDS by interviewing NDErs and writing up their stories for our bi-monthly newsletter (print only, at this point).  During the time they were dead, several interview subjects were shown, each through their own visual metaphor, that the spirit world is constantly working to guide humanity forward toward the light of universal love. Here are two interview excerpts:

 

“The largest light table was behind those two, a huge one with many saints around it. I couldn’t hear, but I knew they were talking about the planet – how to help it. More than any of the others, these saints had to allow. They were so serious because of all they were letting unfold.”

 

“I saw a city of diamond brightness. I knew the city contained highly advanced beings – angels and great souls [who] were building the future of humanity. I was given the revelation that… sometimes the intended purpose doesn’t unfold.”

 

Each seeks words to describe a hybrid of guidance and letting be.  Both chose the word “unfold.” I’m reminded of the way we teach small children: we present them with a toy or a problem to solve that we think offers them an opportunity to learn; then we let them have at it. 

God, according to countless NDErs, wants us to learn.  Many were offered a choice to return and complete their learning in this life, or proceed unfinished to the next — but lose all they’d learned. “I viewed it much the same as having to repeat a grade in school,” says one who drowned river rafting.

CO2over China before & after COVID-19 lockdown

When I put this whole picture together, I see a benevolent god calling some souls home while giving humanity at large a nudge to wake the fuck up.  In the single month since COVID-19 went international, the entire world has radically changed its ways of daily life, ceasing to commute, flying less, and producing less stuff — with the cumulative global effect of slashing our CO output beyond anything ever dreamed possible. 

Learn, god is urging us, that all is one! — humans, animals, plants, Gaia, and god.

 

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Pretend AA Meeting Video

Hi guys –

A new-to-sobriety friend suggested I try making a vlog (video blog) – so I recorded this.  Don’t worry, I won’t stop writing regular blogs!  This video is intended for people who are shy of attending an AA meeting, to demystify what happens and what is spoken of there.

Let me know what you think!

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The book I read from is Alcoholics Anonymous. https://www.aa.org/pages/en_us/alcoholics-anonymous

A directory of AA meetings can be found here:
https://www.aa.org/pages/en_US/find-local-aa

Online meetings can (I think?) be accessed here – though I do believe they are a make-do substitute for (i.e. not as good as) F2F meetings.
https://www.aa-intergroup.org/
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All clear – told we can go home ❤

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Inner and/vs. Outer Change

When I was new to AA, some of the 12 steps struck me as filler to make an even dozen. Being smarter than anyone else in the world, I could see that just 6 steps would’ve done the trick: 3, 5, 7, 9, 10 & 12. These steps all tell us to do something. The others deal with internal shifts that, it seemed to me, could be made instantaneously.

As usual, I was totally wrong.

The founders of Alcoholics Anonymous who, in 1938, created the 12 steps understood that spiritual change is no overnight matter, and that actions carried out with no internal change are meaningless. Rather, the steps are about collaborating with a higher power to gradually transform who we are, how we perceive our place in the world, and how we treat others. It’s a metamorphosis that lasts all our lives.

For example, Step 9 involves action: we make amends to those we have harmed, but without an internal Step 8, we can inadvertently inflict more harm. Someone recently asked me to look over a draft of a 9th step amends letter that — I found — was actually a more-about-me letter. It opened, not with well wishes for the recipient or acknowledgement that hearing from one who hurt them years ago might come as a surprise, but what was up with the writer: “I’ve been thinking about….” After a quick note that “I am not proud of the way I…,” the writer summarized what she was doing to heal herself. The next paragraph explained the family of origin stuff from which she needed to heal. In closing, she urged the recipient to celebrate family events together with her for the sake of their adult children.

Now for you reading this, it’s probably not rocket science to see that the letter was self-centered. The goal of the 9th step is to repair harms we did to others. The first part of doing so is to speak the truth about what happened. But what if we still can’t see the truth because we’re still trapped in our self-centered view of the world?

To the writer of this letter, the fact that she was even daring to contact this person and acknowledge that she struggled with emotional issues seemed an amends. I know because 24 years ago, just a few months into sobriety, I sent an identically selfish letter to someone I’d hurt in much the same way.

Neither of us had taken time to work through Step 8 — the inner process of “became willing to make amends.” We assumed that “willing” meant only mustering the gumption to dive in. But part of willing is becoming able.  If I claim, for example, that I am willing to recite the Gettysburg address from memory, and I jump right in saying, “Four score and seven years ago our fathers…” but then run out of steam after a few lines, was I ever really willing to recite it? Doesn’t that willingness entail respect for the content, for the work involved in learning it fully?

By the same token, Step 8 means we become willing to re-see our past behavior through the new lens god has helped us craft via Steps 1 through 7. We put ourselves in the place of the person we harmed, and we break down exactly what we did wrong.  Years after sending that half-baked “amends” letter, when I actually reached Step 8, my kickbutt sponsor had me write the words selfish, dishonest, and thoughtless as three headings under which to categorize my actions with a given person. If and only if the person knew of these harms, when I met with them or wrote them a letter, I said, “I was selfish when I chose to…. I was dishonest when I…,” etc.  At the end, I had to ask them what, if anything, I’d omitted and what, if anything, I could do to set things right.  Last week, I tried to steer the letter writer in that same direction.

God is not stoked for us to beat up on ourselves. God doesn’t want us to grovel. But god is huge on honesty — HUGE! — because god is all about the truth. To be more precise, god is the truth, the foundation of all that is. But honesty with ourselves is no easy matter!  It’s a frontier, a journey of removing delusion after delusion, because we’re born self-centered and, experiencing life subjectively, grow up with a foundational conviction that “it’s all about me.”

To reprogram that operating system even a little requires god’s help. As the Big Book says, “Neither could we reduce our self-centeredness much by wishing or trying on our own power. We had to have God’s help” (p. 62).

Keno and Cos

Keno and Cos, 2011

When my son was little, I used to try to teach him about self-centeredness by having our dog say (he talks like Patrick from SpongeBob), “It’s such a waste of food when you guys eat, because things only taste good when I eat them!”  My son would get so upset arguing with Cosmo (well, me), trying to explain that he, too, tasted things! “No you don’t,” Cosmo’s voice would counter. “It never tastes when you eat. Not even a little!”

In some ways, my old “amends letter” and this new one were coming from Cosmo’s mindset: “Dear person: All these things were going on (for me) when I deceived you for as long as possible before jettisoning you for someone else.  You should figure out how it felt to be me, and have compassion, and that will change your perspective of how it was to be you, so I’ll be helping you.”

No.  God’s truth is far more simple: “There is a right way to treat people, and there’s a wrong way — and I did wrong. I deeply regret those selfish choices, but I no longer live that way.  I am here in a new spirit to ask what reparations I can make.”

Boom! Powered by god’s love, we can step out of Cosmo’s me-world. All the internal steps are essential to right action.  How can we admit or ask god to remove character defects that we can’t see or are still practicing? The most powerful prayers are always requests for guidance: “Help me see where I am bullshitting myself.  Help me see more as you see.”

 

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We Are NEVER Too Well for AA Meetings

I recently had a chance to tell none other than Bill Gates, who went to my high school and was at my 40th reunion, that I had 23 years sober. “Impressive!” he remarked.  He’d just told me that a mutual friend of ours, a venture capitalist and hilarious jokester on the school bus back in the day, had died — overdosed on fentanyl-laced heroin after many years clean.

Yet when I told him I still go to weekly AA meetings, Gates looked baffled: “Really?!” he said, drawing back sharply.  Even as I explained that exactly what had happened to our friend Keith could happen to me at any time with booze, he still looked incredulous.

Here’s one of the deadliest afflictions known to humans, killing 6% of the global population every year (WHO), and this man, who, through the Gates Foundation, has done more to battle diseases worldwide than anyone else on the planet, had no inkling of alcoholism’s lifelong grip.

Sometimes I think ours is the most misunderstood illness in the world, and AA the most misunderstood cure.

Getting Too Well?
Of course, there’s a part of every sober alcoholic that agrees with Gates. A part of me agrees daily, claiming, “Louisa, clearly you’ve got this thing beat!  Look at how accomplished and sensible your life is now!  Waking up in somebody else’s bed with Cheetos orange around your mouth and a hangover from hell–? That is just sooo not gonna happen anymore!”

The result of this voice is that, as I type this, I’ve not been to an AA meeting for nigh on three weeks.  A week ago, I was supposed to chair one and forgot.  And I’ve not posted a new blog here for almost two months.

Why?  Partly for good reasons.  When I got sober in 1995, I couldn’t imagine what I was going to DO now that I couldn’t drink alone while scrawling boy-obsessive drivel in my journal, or drink in bars while bending indifferent ears, playing darts, pool, or pinball.  Take all that away, and what else was there to life?

As sobriety gradually revealed, within me were talents and loves neglected like withered, leafless plants.  Before alcohol took over, I’d danced, hiked, and written.  AA reopened the flow of love my heart was dying for, slowly at first via people in meetings, and then, as I worked the steps, through my own dilating portal to god. The elixir of life — godlove — watered my spirit so those dried up, nearly dead talents sprouted fresh leaves and blossomed again.

Sobriety, as a result, has been anything but dull.  Today, these loves fill up much of my life.

About two weeks ago, I was dancing onstage in a ballet recital — at a week shy of age 58.  Godlove let me bond with my troupe, mainly teenage girls and twenty-something women.  There was a moment in the dressing room when all nine of us gathered around my phone, which was playing the one disjointed moment of our dance.  “We lunge there,” I said, “on the low note.”  I’ll never forget the solemn way their eyes met mine, not because I’m old and bossy, but because we needed unity and they trusted my cue.

We aced it.

Performing (on right)

Warming up before dressed rehearsal (on right)

The weekend before, three sober women friends and had I attempted Mount Adams — a 12K’ volcano four hours’ drive from home.  Thunderstorms forced us to camp at the trailhead rather than base camp and shoot for the summit the next day, when high winds and whiteout above 9K’ turned us back.  Still, we had a blast getting rained on, climbing, and taking turns “losing enthusiasm” as we tried to find shelter from the icy winds.  Here are three of us at 9K’ pulling our “bikini bitches” stunt of pretending it’s not frickin’ FREEZING just long enough for photos.

Suck in tummy award to me, center 😉

The day after my recital, I climbed Mailbox Peak, a 4K’ gain, with my friend Sally and brand new boyfriend, Tommie.  (That’s right, after years of tortuous dating, I finally met the right guy. ❤   More later.)

Then, just a few days ago, I summited a backcountry wilderness peak, Mount Daniel, with just Sally.  The two of us camped at a frozen lake and navigated this route in partial white-out:

Mount Daniel east peak via SE Ridge .

Our route followed the ridge above Sally’s head!

But it’s not all been ballet, boyfriend, and beauteous mountains!  Life happened, too.  My house’s sewer system went kaput, upsetting my — er — delicate financial balance.  To safeguard that balance, I had, in previous weeks, overtaxed my gift for writing, agreeing to edit super-human quantities of text amid an already full work schedule and to conduct and write up an NDE interview for the Seattle IANDS Newsletter.

Long story short: I’ve been so busy savoring/exploiting the flowers of sobriety that I’ve neglected to water their roots.

I should know better.  Around me, dear friends I never dreamed would die or get hooked on alprazolam (Xanax) are doing just that.  One, a former drug and alcohol counselor, is a ghost of his former self, with hollowed-out eyes and tales of demons.  The other, who landed his dream life — wife, kids, big house in the burbs — became addicted to anti-anxiety meds prescribed for his stress over huge mortgage and daycare payments.

How did these friends change from the happy, joyous, and free sober people I knew fifteen years ago in AA meetings?  Both got “too well” for AA — the same tempting path I’ve wandered down these past weeks.

Ironically, the same drive that energizes me to pursue so many activities and take on added responsibilities can kill me if not balanced with humility before my god.

As an addict, I am permanently geared to chase feel-good.  As a co-dependent, I scent feel-good when I say “yes” to people and things, so I say it more and more: YES — I’ll be in the recital!  Climb mountains!  Edit your humongous text!  So what if I’m losing my mind?!

The trouble is, without the humility that god-awareness brings, I cannot be in feel-good; I can only chase it.  No matter how much I get, I want more.  And there’s another problem with feel-good.  The flip side of genuine satisfaction is the trophy-hunting of ego — addiction to the story of adventures, to LIKES on Facebook or Instagram, to praise for fabulous texts and newsletters.

Hey, whatever primes the dopamine pump — right?  I’ll take any hit I can get!  So let’s think: who could it be spurring  this constant chase, urging me to take on more and more?  It’s my old buddy, addiction — disguised, like a villain behind a fake mustache, as enthusiasm and responsibility. It’s refrain?  “We’re so close to feeling good!”

Ultimately, going to AA meetings is like prayer: both require and reinforce humility — that bane of our ego-oriented culture — by freely admitting, “I lack.”  Only when I embrace the fact that I’m a tiny shard of god who can thrive solely via connection do I remember my true mission on earth: to love.  Overcommitting, I leave no time to dwell in that truth.  I’m too busy chasing brain candy.

Anytime I imagine my addiction to be a thing of the past, I jeopardize everything precious to me, everything alcoholism once took away and wants to take again.  I may not wake up with Cheetos-mouth, but I will wake up guided by the very same ego that led me to it.

Bill Gates has no need to acknowledge the deep power of alcoholism, but I do.  Tomorrow I chair a women’s AA meeting.  The next night, I’ll be at my homegroup after meeting with a sponsee.  These commitments, unlike others, allow me to relinquish my illusions of control and seek serenity though god.  It’s what I do.  It’s what I need.  It’s who I am.

PS: Short video of our Mount Daniel climb, 6/30 – 7/1/18 (sobriety ain’t boring!):

Car ride to Mount Adams with AA girlfriends 6/16/18 😀 (feeling close while stone cold sober):

 

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