Category Archives: Alcoholism

New Year’s FOMO and other Alcoholic Horsecrap

Reposting from 2015:

What is FOMO? Fear Of Missing Out.

It’s that sinking feeling that someplace you’re not, lots of amazingly cool people are having an absolutely stupendous time. Maybe there’s kickass music and people are lookin’ sharp n’sexy and having a fuckin’ blast and – oh my GAWD!!! Can you believe what those two did?! That is so hilariously outrageous! It’s not just goin’ a

Party-Dancing-Vector

ll over Facebook –it’s like a “fun times” montage out of a Hollywood flick! If you could be there mixin’ it up you’d feel – oh my god – so damn good! You’d be dialed into life, you’d be carpé-ing the fuckin’ diem all night long! But you’re missing it!

As Katie Perry sings:

Last Friday night

Yeah we danced on tabletops
And we took too many shots
Think we kissed but I forgot

Yeah we maxed our credit cards
And got kicked out of the bar
So we hit the boulevard

We went streaking in the park
Skinny dipping in the dark
Then had a ménage a trois

Yeah I think we broke the law
Always say we’re gonna stop-op
ooh-ohh*

Here’s what the song leaves out: live those lyrics and you end up with a busted ankle from falling off the damn tabletop, years of credit card debt, and maybe even salmonella because you skinny dipped in a fucking duck pond. You’re lucky if you don’t end up in jail with charges on your record or an STD from the ménage a trois with morons. Of course, it goes without saying that you’ve poisoned yourself again ‘til you’re heaving up bile.

Lets-party

No, Katie doesn’t really mention that part. Neither does your FOMO. It airbrushes away all those pesky consequences and lures us with the promise of a bright and shiny “great time.”

It’s Also Called Immaturity
For normies, FOMO spikes in youth when they’re highly peer-oriented, but as they mature into adulthood, FOMO diminishes to a rare blip on the screen. The trouble for alcoholics is, once again, our perspective is skewed.

Our disease carries many tricks in its bag. Though normies don’t understand, we often speak of it as having a mind of its own, exploiting whatever ploys avail themselves to keep us using or, in recovery, to trigger relapse. A lot of alcoholics crave adventure – a sense of living on the edge. So addiction broadcasts FOMO to persuade us that swallowing a neurotoxin is really the key to livin’ large.

Much like the craving for alcohol, alcoholic FOMO can never be satiated.

For example, New Year’s Eve of 1982, after snorting coke in the car and paying some absurdly high cover charge, my future (ex) husband and I sauntered into a hip and glitzy Boston nightclub. We scored a table near the dance floor, ordered champagne, and lit up our smokes. We danced. But at as the countdown for midnight approached I was struck by the realization I still recall so clearly: We were at the wrong club! The one down the street was way cooler! No one here was even worth impressing because they, too, had fallen for the wrong club! If only I’d known! If only we’d gone there! I was missing out!!

This pattern would repeat itself for over a decade. I never did find the right club or party or even picnic, because if I was there, a better one had to be someplace else.

Recovery = Reality
FOMO is really just another guise of codependence. It’s not actually a yearning for fun; it’s a belief that we can gain something that will deliver a shot of wellbeing by being seen in the right places doing the right things. At some level, we believe others hold the power to validate us, though we’re actually validating ourselves through projections of those people’s imagined esteem. The esteem has to seem to come from them to be any good – we can’t feel it simply by knowing and valuing ourselves.

More and more I’m convinced most alcoholics are also codependent. The source of pain for all codependents is an external locus of self-worth – often because we grew up in dysfunctional families where we did not get what we needed to develop a strong sense that we are loveable and worthy. We keep chasing and chasing it in others and never getting any closer.

While non-alcoholic (classic) codependents try to subdue their pain by concerning themselves with what others should do and ‘winning’ love by caretaking, alcoholic codependents subdue it not only with alcohol, but with attempts or impress and win

Codependent

over others, often becoming social chameleons and regarding friends as something like collectible baseball cards. Active alcoholics can’t really love our friends. We can only seek relief via people – and “love” that relief.

When we get sober, we begin to seek a higher power that can grant us the worth we’ve so desperately sought in all the wrong places. With guidance from sponsors and a growing sense of Good Orderly Direction, we can begin to live a life of integrity that lets us discover our worth as loving and lovable human beings.

But FOMO still nags at us to forget all that. It can wheedle into our minds at any time, but New Year’s Eve is its favorite holiday – especially for the newly sober.

The Big Book’s authors knew all about FOMO. While they do instruct us “not to avoid a place where there is drinking if we have a legitimate reason for being there” (p. 101), they also caution against attempting to “steal a little vicarious pleasure from the atmosphere of such places.” They warn us to “be sure you are on solid spiritual ground before you start and that your motive in going is thoroughly good.” Not just good – thoroughly good. In other words, don’t bullshit yourself.

In my almost 21 years sober, I’ve never found a thoroughly good reason to go hang with drinkers at a New Year’s Eve party. I prefer to usher in the new year with a good night’s sleep and a cushy set of earplugs. Sobriety fills my life to the brim, and I know it.

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* Katie Perry Lyrics – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cdyfr4lU8sk
See also 6 Tips for Holiday Parties

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Filed under Addiction, Alcoholism, Codependence, Codependency, living sober, Recovery, Sobriety

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

Build a New Passion

Me and the BF in 1980

Yes, alcoholism is a horrible disease that slowly destroyed everything good in my life. Even so, if you’re a sober alcoholic, you’ll understand when I say, man, I didn’t just drink — I mean, I DRANK! I was damn good at it.  I remember a time in college when my boyfriend bet a big guy $20 that I, at 5’4″ and ballet dancer thin, could drink his ass under the table. Faintly I can still recall the look of disbelief on the guy’s face across the table when, in front of a crowd of onlookers, I asked for another pint — maybe my fourth? — before he could finish his.  Hungover as I was the next morning, when I learned I’d won, I felt huge pride. I’d kicked some ass.

Fourteen alcoholic years later, after I’d lost the ability to write well, read or think deeply, marvel at beauty, or love anyone or anything in the world besides my next drink (or hit), some of that pride still bolstered my identity. So when I got sober, alcohol’s absence left a huge void in my psyche, not only in terms of how to cope with life or what to do with all the time I once spent “partying” — it also ran deeper, a confusion about who Louisa was and what drove her.

I had to learn to live for something other than alcohol.  I had to discover who I could be.

Yesterday, I returned home from a ten-day adventure with five friends in Colorado and Utah. We rode our mountain bikes 220 miles from Telluride, CO, through the San Juan and La Sal ranges of the Rocky Mountains, to Moab, UT. The trip was intense, to say the least. We climbed and lost an average of 2,500 feet per day over 30-mile stretches, exerting our muscles with little oxygen at elevations of 8 – 10 thousand feet, and not on pavement, but often on rutted, rain-eroded rocky roads and sometimes single track trails in the backcountry. We each carried around 30 lbs of gear.

The aspens were just turning color.  The weather was ideal.  We progressed along a route among well-stocked huts where we cooked great meals and slept in bunk beds. I’d trained for the trip by climbing lots of steep hills in Seattle. But climbing at sea level is nothing to climbing at altitude.

Breathing as hard as I could, countless times I rounded a corner or crested a rise only to see a huge, steep, relentless hill in front of me. Each time I’d feel an irrational surge of anger at the nerve of this route, to demand I find even more strength. A few times, I and the others had to dismount and push our bikes, but more often than not I’d drop to low gear, breathe my hardest, and inch my way up that frickin’ hill until there was no more to climb. At last I could could crest, pedal a few more times, and then sit back and fly down the other side, wind roaring in my ears and cooling my sweat, gorgeous walls of yellow aspens flying past on either side at some parts, and at others open vistas of steely mountains or red mesas rolling under the brilliant blue sky.

Bumpy video from my phone holder here.

Five other sober alcoholics made this trip with me, the youngest 49 and the oldest, me, at 61. This was my first mountain biking experience, but the others had skills and often tackled single-track routes filled with mad turns and rocks and roots and streams to cross. 

Some, like my mom, might call us thrill seekers.  But what we’re actually seeking is the experience of living fully, connected not only to nature’s splendor but to our physical bodies and the determination at our cores. We want to thrive, to challenge ourselves, to carpe the damn diem. For whatever reasons, we are HUNGRY for life in a way no day-to-day humdrum walk in the park can satisfy.  We chase our passions.

It’s my belief that, once we get sober, each of us must find and cultivate some passion that can fill the void left by chasing the buzz, chasing the high, chasing the illusion of cool. We have to embrace something that we love as much as we loved getting wasted, or actually more so, because it’s an activity that feeds us rather than poisoning us. I’m lucky to live in Seattle, where we have a sober outdoor activities group called OSAT — One Step At a Time. We alcoholics hike, mountain climb, rock climb, kayak, and bike together, all of us sober.  OSAT is where I met my biking friends — all except one, who got sober on her own.

OSAT Glacier Climbing Class of ’19

But you, too, can create something like OSAT in your town, something centered on whatever activity you love. You and your sober fellows can do far more together than gather for AA meetings or fellowship.  You can meet to sculpt and paint, to write and critique, to play or go see sports — an all-sober club. You can create a fellowship around whatever passion illuminates your life.  All you have to do is reach out and organize.

Remember in “A Vision For You” where the text reads, 

Little clusters of twos and threes and fives of us have sprung up in other communities… Thus we grow.  And so can you, though you be but one [person] with this book in your hand. We know what you are thinking. You are saying to yourself, “I’m jittery and alone. I couldn’t do that.” But you can. You forget that you have just now tapped a source of power much greater than yourself. To duplicate, with this backing, what we have accomplished is only a matter of willingness, patience, and labor. [p. 162-3]

The same goes for starting any AA-based group that does whatever you love to do — sober peeps to cheer you on as you work at whatever you love; sober people to skate with you, weld with you, check out art with you.  Remember, the main cause and symptom of addiction is not substance abuse; it’s isolation — being cut off from the whole, from community, from the the oneness of which we are a spiritually interconnected part.

Joy rarely blooms in lonely solitude. And the joy I found with my friends in the gorgeous Rocky Mountains didn’t just happen! It evolved slowly, all of us building friendships in sobriety with people who love the same things, daring to propose an outrageous adventure, and planning for it step by step.  

There’s nothing to stop you from doing the same!

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Filed under Alcoholism, living sober, Recovery, Sober passions

Broken Brains; Divine Rescue

Yes, the brains of alcoholics and addicts are indeed broken. We can resolve not to do the thing, we can mean it with every fiber of our being, and then — BOOM! — we’re doing it: we’re getting drunk, popping pills, acting out, smoking whatever we meant not to. “Did I do it AGAIN? Dammit! Well, just this one last time…”

Of the 14 years I drank to excess, I spent the first 2 college years content with my frequent bouts. For the last 12, however, I was caught in this cycle:

Step A: WAKE feeling like absolute shit.

Step B: RESOLVE to not drink (or whatever you do) for X amount of time.

Step C: DETOXIFY just a little, feel less shame/guilt

Step D: Imagine as a FINE IDEA yourself enjoying a lovely cocktail or single cold beer (or whatever) 

Step E: PICK UP a drink (or whatever)… and soon decide to have more, and more, and more…

Revisit Step A with just a skosh more shame, remorse, and self-disgust.

hamster-wheel

I rehashed this cycle literally thousands of times. THOUSANDS. And every time I reached Step D, I convinced myself this time I’d manage better.  To grasp that it’s not our true selves but our addiction itself compelling this “choice” seems pretty extreme, almost like a split personality. Aren’t we the masters of our own behavior? 

In fact, we are NOT.  Addiction overrides even the most heartfelt resolve.

Last November, I woke in the night to find my house full of smoke. I dashed down from the attic, where I sleep, to the basement, which I rent out, and pounded on the door. My new tenant, the 29-year-old half-brother of a friend, opened it.  Winnie — his nickname — was calmly cooking, the whole apartment opaque with smoke.

“What happened?!” I said.

“Oh, there was something on the burner.” He gazed at me with beautiful, innocent eyes.

When I objected that my home was full of smoke, he corrected himself: There’d been some spilled food in the drip pan.  He just hadn’t seen it.  He was so sorry.  It took about a month for me to arrange a mini-intervention with Winnie’s mom, who lives in Florida, via video on my phone, much to Winnie’s shock and horror. “Sweetheart, do you want to live or die?” she asked him point blank. To my astonishment, Winnie wept. He nodded, wiping tears and struggling to contain his sobs. “I want to live,” he managed. 

He brought from his room a bottle of benzos. Since abrupt withdrawal from such drugs can be fatal, Winnie agreed to inpatient treatment, and I began the process of finding him a bed. About a week later, in the midst of cooking French toast, he suffered a seizure. With the basement door open, my son somehow heard his head hit the concrete floor. I burst in, found him convulsing without breath, and dialed 911. By following the dispatcher’s instructions to prevent his suffocation, my son and I both got potentially exposed to COVID-19 before the paramedics arrived. My son said the first thing Winnie did when he recognized his surroundings was sit up and switch off the French toast.Winnie

I rented him a storage unit, and on a Saturday while he stayed in a hotel that his mother paid for, Winnie’s half-brother, my son, and I transported all his belongings. Only months later, when he’d finished treatment and came by  to pick up the storage unit key, did I understand that Winnie was going to die — and soon. He was surly, even as he uttered polite thank you’s. 

Last week I got the news: Winnie’s father found him dead in the bathroom with a syringe still in hand.  He’d just turned 30.

DIVINE RESCUE is a partnership.

How did I know Winnie would die?  It was his energy. He gave off a vibe of “I’ve done what everyone wanted; now I’ve got this.” He did not look at me, really.  He had no interest in seeing me, in seeing anyone. Spiritually, he was still at a Cartmanesque ground zero: “I do what I want!” 

He had not absorbed in treatment what I somehow began to pick up in my first AA meetings, what working the 12 steps in conjunction with life pulling me through pain, loss, and joy has taught me: of myself, I am nothing.

God can help us only when we pry open our armor, cast off our god-repulsing sheath of self-sufficiency. We open in two ways: 1) by asking for god’s loving, compassionate help and 2) by regarding other living things with that same loving compassion. Once we begin to intuit that god is within us, animating our cells and fueling our very consciousness, we begin to realize that we are no more separate from god than a plant is from the Earth.

Addiction is the almost inevitable outcome of attempting to live as a picked flower. Without connection to god, we languish and grasp for quick fixes, even knowing they’re poison. In truth we are designed to absorb love from god and radiate it to others; once we make practicing this way of life paramount, addiction loses its luring power.  We become immune.

Remember: “What we really have a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition. Every day is a day when we must carry the vision of God’s will into all of our activities” (85).

For me, carrying that vision led me last week to hike over 100 miles in the mountains of Northern California (despite the threat of fires), where I connected not only with glorious nature but with countless wholehearted PCT hikers coming the other way. It led me to return to my AA home group in person this past Friday and take joy in seeing my fellows again after a year and a half.  

I remember trying to articulate this way of life to Winnie just before he left for treatment. Our RING camera actually recorded my urging voice and his impatient acknowledgements. The enormous gift I cannot give to others is my unshakeable understanding that meeting weekly with those neighborhood ex-drunks to contemplate yet again the themes from our hokey 1939 book is indeed what channels me the god-power to love others and savor life’s far-reaching beauties. 

Pacific Crest Trail, Section P
Delicious water in the heat
Mount Shasta
Much-needed dip in a cold mountain lake.

Video of our hike: https://youtu.be/m-d-LWGA21Y

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Filed under Addiction, Alcoholics Anonymous, Alcoholism, happy, joyous, & free, Recovery

Hard Drinker vs. Real Alcoholic

Moderate drinkers have little trouble in giving up liquor entirely if they have good reason for it. They can take it or leave it alone.

Then we have a certain type of hard drinker. …If a sufficiently strong reason — ill health, falling in love, change of environment, or the warning of a doctor — becomes operative, this man can also stop or moderate, although he may find it difficult and troublesome and may even need medical attention.

But what about the real alcoholic? He may start off as a moderate drinker; he may or may not become a continuous hard drinker; but at some stage of his drinking career he begins to lose all control of his liquor consumption, once he starts to drink.

Chapter 2, “There is a Solution,” Alcoholics Anonymous

Unfortunately, most of the public is clueless about the difference between a hard drinker and an alcoholic. Hard drinking is a habit that can be overcome with willpower. Alcoholism is a condition no amount of will power can cure. As the Big Book says, “If, when you honestly want to, you find you cannot quit entirely, or if when drinking, you have little control over the amount you take, you are probably alcoholic.”

Few perches in life are more uncomfortable than knowing you’re an alcoholic but refusing to accept that fact.  Denial is, however, a primary symptom of the disease.  I myself spent a number of years there before I hit bottom, i.e. the point when all fight for what I wanted was drained from me and I had to square with what was true.

If you’re an alcoholic still clinging to whatever pretext will enable you to drink, I have bad news: Certain things really are true.  Regardless of what props you drum up to disguise it, the truth is still there. And if you’re a real alcoholic clinging to the delusion that you’re only a hard drinker, the fact is that no matter how ironclad your resolutions to stop or control your drinking, only two outcomes are possible:

A) After a short pause, you drink again.

B) A rarity, but it does happen: you manage by sheet obstinacy to remain dry but are permanently restless, irritable, and discontent — i.e. “dry drunk.”

Hard Drinkers
Before they resolve to stop drinking, hard drinkers may appear indistinguishable from alcoholics.

For example, two of my relatives drank hard for over a decade. This couple worked so hard and lived at such a frenetic, globe-trotting pace that they simply could not wind down without cocktails. When staying for a visit, they would put away a gallon of vodka in a matter of days. More than once they announced they were going  “on the wagon,” only to be drinking hard again in a few months.  They were gradually gaining weight, their faces often flushed and bloated. I suspected alcoholism.

But then one day, one of them was informed by his physician that his alcohol intake was harming both his heart and his liver. The doctor warned that, if he wanted to regain his health and live into old age, he would have to stop drinking. The two, who love each other deeply, took this diagnosis seriously.

Here’s the astounding part: They both stopped drinking, slowing the pace of their lives to reduce stress levels. A year later, they’re both slim, healthy, and happy teetotalers. Perhaps COVID-19 has helped out a bit with the easier pace of living, but the fact remains that they simply decided to quit and it has stuck.

Why were they able?  These two were hard drinkers — not alcoholics.

Real Alcoholics
Now let’s look at my dad and me.

Twenty-four years before his death to alcoholic cardiomyopathy, my dad developed gout while touring Europe with my mother. A Spanish doctor diagnosed his condition and advised him to cut out alcohol and fatty foods, so my dad decided the doctor was a fool.

Twelve years before my father died, his doctor warned him that alcohol consumption had enlarged  his liver (see How Alcohol Fucks Up Your Body) and shrunk his brain (see How Alcoholism Fucks Up Your Brain). My father’s reaction? The doctor was exaggerating. As his condition progressed and these warning grew more severe, Dad switched doctors. His new doctor — what a coincidence! — insisted Dad cease drinking for two weeks. During this time Dad consumed many bottles of alcohol-free wine and was so tense, angry, and miserable that Mom couldn’t wait for the two weeks to be up so he could drink again, which he continued until heart failure took his life.

Chip off the ole’ block that I am, I’d begun trying to decrease my drinking by the age of 23. My few friends had cut back on drinking post-college, so I tried to as well — except when I didn’t! Yes, I made resolutions to drink less, not just at New Years but ANY time I was ghastly hungover (i.e. most mornings) — resolutions I was able to stand by for a good 5 hours!  After that, a drink began to sound, for the zillionth time, like a good idea.  So I “changed my mind” and drank.

As the Big Book explains,

We are unable, at certain times, to bring into our consciousness with sufficient force the memory of the suffering and humiliation of even a week or a month ago. We are without defense against the first drink.

As my ability to cope with life deteriorated (see Addiction Memoir), various therapists diagnosed me with alcoholism. I dismissed them as fuddy-duddies. In retrospect, I’m fortunate that I was less able than my father to maintain a stable work and home life, as the pain of my dysfunction eventually led me, at age 34, to seek sobriety in AA.

Free at Last
I adore and respect the memory of my father, who lived with honor despite his suffering. When Dad’s spirit came to me about a year ago (as I’ll describe in an upcoming post), I was seeking to make contact with the man I’d lost twelve years before.  To my amazement, my father’s energy burst upon me with the vitality he’d radiated in my childhood: he was powerful, confident, and — I’ll just say it — charismatic as he delivered to me his message of unconditional love. On the other side, no longer buried under the poison, lies, and pain of our shared disease, his spirit was proud of me, his look-alike daughter, for my now (in 3 weeks!) 26 years sober.

We two in 1978

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Alone is a Dangerous Neighborhood

These are some crazy days, right?

My mom, who was born in 1926, says these times are way more stressful than those of WWII. Yeah, it sucked reading in headlines every morning of Hitler’s victories and advances, London and Paris getting the shit bombed out of them, and Japanese war planes sinking ship after American ship, but it felt soooo different, she explains, because the country was united. “When you’ve got patriotism,” she says, “you’ve got a lot. Everything was about sacrificing this and that for the war effort. We had no butter. If you bought shoes, they fell apart. Even rubber bands weren’t made of rubber because it was needed in the war effort. But you felt the whole country was on the same page, and everyone was doing their part.”

Today, in the midst of a pandemic, about half of Americans are on one page, and half on a completely opposite one, with a few Flat-Earthers and QAnoners mixed in. Why this insane division? Watch The Social Dilemma to find out.

Meanwhile, though, let’s talk about alcoholism/addiction during the pandemic. Drinking in the US is up by 14%, according to this study by the American Medical Association. Overdose deaths, already surging to tragically high numbers, have spiked an additional 18% beyond this time last year. People in general are overwhelmed with fears because they can’t pay their rent/mortgage or because there’s nowhere to escape the turmoil of either family life or the endless solitude of living alone, so they slide into depression.

We humans are social creatures, and without outlets to get together or at least immerse ourselves in the hubbub of public life, we languish. But even worse for alcoholics and addicts, our regular AA and NA meetings have been shut down.  People are relapsing.

What happens to an alcoholic mind in solitude?  I will take myself as a lab rat to describe some of the symptoms I’ve noticed.

    • FOMO and jealousy: Everyone else is having fun — damn them!  With all my work remote, part of me feels I ought to be able to work from anywhere in the world — especially since I’ve already had COVID-19. But here’s reality: I have a house, four chickens, and a geriatric dog who sometimes can’t get up and poops in the house. In my book, friends don’t euthanize friends just because they poop inopportunely, so I am STUCK AT HOME. When I see Facebook posts by friends on road trips or, worse still, traveling the world on cheap airfares, jealousy eats my lunch.
    •  Mystery Self-Criticism: Our minds are wired to notice and zoom in on potential problems. Tara Brach talks about this from an evolutionary perspective: our early ancestors on the sharp lookout for whatever could go wrong tended to survive better, so our brains evolved something called negativity bias.  We not only dwell on past negative events, but try to anticipate future ones. If this watchfulness surges out of control, we develop anxiety.

Now, I don’t want anxiety, so I quit following the news and hid people on social media whose posts upset me. But I’ve found that, with no one else around to criticize, instead of vanishing, ALL my negativity bias turns inward on myself. As if afflicted with some kind of auto-judgment disorder, my thinking targets ME: You’re doing something wrong. You’re way too ____.  My inner critic can’t even come up with a real fault, but no matter — it just hovers like some persistent yellow jacket above the picnic plate of my mind.

    • Self-Centered Self-Pity: I often catch myself feeling, in some completely irrational way, as if the pandemic were happening to me. I can’t go to real AA meetings; I can’t go to parties; I can’t see a film or performance in a theater. I have to work from home and wear a dumb mask every time I shop. What?! The whole world’s experiencing the same?
    • Loneliness, gloom, and helplessness: Will this thing EVER end? Will I be stuck alone in my house FOREVER?  I’m so BORED of everything! What can we DO?

All the above are forms of discontent: I want life to be different than it is.  And THAT, my friends, is the feeling that led so many of us to drink in the first place.

Just as I can’t control the parts of my brain that generate FOMO, self-criticism, and the rest, many newly sober alcoholics can’t silence the part that tells them a drink would make everything better. In my case, god somehow struck that voice with laryngitis about 24 years ago, so the best it can do is a hoarse whisper: A drink would be nice!  To me, that suggestion sounds about as believable as Arsenic would be nice!  Putting your hand down the sink’s garbage disposal would be nice!  Actually, I don’t have a garbage disposal, but if I did, the prospect of drinking would appeal to me about as much.

As for addressing my discontent, I have the tools of daily meditation, turning it over via Step 3, and offering service to others, whether by listening on the phone or, today, massaging my mom’s gnarly foot to help heal her leg incision. The point is, I get out of myself.

To those of you who struggle, I offer this essential key to all spiritual growth: Don’t believe your thoughts. Don’t hang out alone with them — it’s DANGEROUS! Reach out to trusted others, like your sponsor, sober friends, and sober people who’ve given you their phone number. Call them, meet them for masked walks.

Better still, go to Zoom AA meetings and tell on yourself! You can travel the whole world in AA Zoom.

HERE is a list of Zoom AA meetings from the Seattle Area.

HERE is a list of Zoom AA meetings from Great Britain.

HERE is a list of Zoom AA meetings from Ireland (accents can be a trip!)

HERE is a list of English-language online AA meetings from all over Europe.

HERE is a converter to help you figure out the time difference.

You can download Zoom software free from HERE.

And, of course, know you’re always welcome to drop in on my homegroup, Salmon Bay, which meets Fridays 7:30-9:00 Pacific Time right HERE.

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Sick with COVID-19: Lessons from a nasty virus

From late February into early March, I battled a respiratory illness I feared might be COVID-19, but then I got better. I’d started climbing mountains again — just boring ones to condition for major summer ascents.  Then on 3/22, I was in the middle of an online yoga class when it happened: a shadow eclipsed my energy just as the moon slides over the sun.  It’s a moment I’ll remember all my life.

Dramatic as the shift was, I made myself finish the class before collapsing in a sloppy shavasana in some sunbeams on my carpet. Having mostly stayed home for some time, I didn’t know where I’d been exposed, but I sensed a major storm on the horizon and realized I had to shop while I still could.

Day 1 – hit by a bus

The next morning, I felt like I’d been hit by a bus. I woke dazed. Weak. My living room, when I toddled into it, looked surreal, as though the furniture were floating an inch or two above the floor. My ears roared and I could not think. Our electronic thermometer read 97.4°.  I stuck it in a glass of hot water: 97.4°.  Great.  All the drug stores and websites were out of stock, I knew.

The idea of phoning the local test line and waiting to get through, then getting vetted or whatever, and perhaps actually driving somewhere to wait in a car line seemed about as doable as climbing Mount Rainier that afternoon.  I once had Dengue fever with a temp of 104°, and this felt worse.

Around 11:00 that morning, I decided a fresh orange might help. I had a bag of navel oranges, so I stood in the kitchen peeling one. But instead of the peel curling off in one piece, as with a tangerine, all I could  pull off were pieces maybe the size of my thumb or thumbnail.  I kept trying to roll off a strip, and the peel kept breaking. Each time, I felt more overwhelmed. Finally, setting down the half peeled-orange, I thought, Why, oh why, did I imagine I could DO this?!  Oh my god!  Oranges are so stupid!  My face was, I’m sure, a mask of Greek tragedy.  I wanted to cry.

That’s another moment I’ll never forget.  But I’m too sick now to keep writing.  More tomorrow.

[Got worse again. Took a 3-day break]

What I’ve noticed over the course of my illness (I’m al-most well after 2 weeks) is that my experience with COVID-19 in many ways mirrored my experience with alcoholism. I like to think, at 25 years sober, that my reactions to life have transformed through working the steps.  But dancing with this illness has shown me they haven’t. It’s only my AWARENESS of reactions to life that have changed.  And that awareness usually arrives, unfortunately, only in retrospect.

Stage 1: Hangover / wiped out by initial symptoms
After a binge, I would always feel like death warmed over. In my longing to feel okay, I’d make all kinds of resolutions to live in a healthier way. Similarly, when I first got C-19, I vowed to do all I could to help my body fight it.

Day 3 – doin’ great!

Stage 2: Feeling Better / business as usual
As soon as the worst of my hangover used to pass, I’d start rationalizing why it was fine for me to have a “cocktail” or “nice glass of wine,” etc.  After all, I was way smarter than your average alcoholic, and I’d be able to manage my drinking.  Similarly, as soon as I felt somewhat better from COVID-19 on Day 3,  I dismissed all my resolutions about helping my body.  Pride kicked in: Wasn’t I super fit?  Hadn’t a doctor told me just a week before that my blood pressure was ideal for someone 40 years younger?  I’d shrug off this virus like a 20-year-old!  I started working online with 2 clients a day, still washing dishes, caring for the pets, and trying to tidy up after my son who, home from college, was sick, too.  By Friday, Day 6, I was teaching 4 clients a day, though my doctor had confirmed COVID-19 through a virtual visit.

Stage 3: Seeing insanity / getting scared
When did I recognize that alcoholism was going to kill me? Those moments were awash in so many symptoms of end-stage alcoholism (depression/despair, distorted thinking, self-loathing, etc.) that the memory is hard to tease out. But there came a day when I glimpsed my own self-destructive insanity. With COVID-19, on Day 6, my ribs were tight and I’d lost some sense of smell, but I found these symptoms somehow amusing and went ahead teaching.  Then, while the last client was taking a bathroom break, I coughed.

My lungs, I discovered, were thoroughly congested.  They sounded like bagpipes.  Horrified, I called my doctor, who prescribed an inhaler.

Stage 4: Hitting bottom / reaching out
Surrender comes only when we’ve exhausted every other option. In 1995, I attended my first AA meeting as an alternative to suicide. With COVID-19, on Day 7 I realized neither the inhaler nor breathing steam was making a dent in the lung congestion. The virus was dug-in and thriving. I recognized that I was 59 years old and this virus was too mutated for my habituated immune system to trump. I felt the fringes of panic, hyperventilating with my tight, constricted ribs.

That’s when I called a New York man with whom I’d never spoken before. We’d attended the same college but not known each other then. What I DID know through a mutual friend was that he had COVID-19 and was one week ahead of me.  I used Facebook messenger to leave a desperate, rambling voicemail. He called back.

Day 7 – humbled

“Are you staying in bed?” he asked.
“No.” My To-Do list and mortgage payment came to mind. “I can’t.”
“Well, you need to,” he said. “You need to stop everything.”
“Yeah, but I –”
“Just stop.  Just get in bed.  You need to make getting well your only work.”

Stage 5: Willingness
So you know what I did?  I got in bed.  I cancelled all my clients and  stayed in bed for 5 days. The house became a pig sty. I signed up for Netflix and binge-watched Giri/Haji. And because two nurses advised it, in addition to steaming and gargling with salt water and spraying Simply Saline up my nose 3 x a day, I went for a brisk 30-minute walk each day to work my lungs, streaming with sweat and being vigilant to stay at least 20 feet from other pedestrians.

After following this regime for 4 days, I hit my first pink cloud.  During my walk on day 11, I suddenly felt a little energy spurt.  I felt almost normal for a brief window and could see the beauty of the world.  The cherry blossoms were out, and so were whole families who loved each other.  I heard laughter and squeals; I saw a mom teaching her son to ride a bike, running alongside him while the dad, carrying a little one, called out excitedly, “You’ve got it!  You’ve got it!”

I wept, thinking how beautiful life is, what a magnificent journey it is to inhabit a body and be part of the material world, even with all its trials and tribulations.

Stage 6: Gratitude and Service
Today is Day 15 and I’m not well, but I’m feeling vastly better. My lungs have cleared — just a tad wheezy — and my temperature is down (my mom mailed me a spare thermometer).  Headache and fatigue are my sole symptoms.  Friends have showered me with well-wishes, groceries, take-out, and home-cooked meals dropped on my doorstep.  I finally got tested three days ago and will probably hear back tomorrow.

But someone else is getting tested as well: my almost-94-year-old mom’s primary caregiver.  Mom lives  alone, usually with hired help, but until the test results come back, no caregiver will visit.  If the caregiver’s test comes back positive and my mom proves infected, I’ll be able to move back home to take care of her, tag-teaming with my son (who recovered in just 3 days).  Further, once I’ve got my official test results in hand and am 100% healthy, I’ll qualify to donate my hard-earned antibodies in plasma to help others recover.

I may even try to organize my AA fellows who’ve likewise recovered from C-19 to offer services to quarantined sick people who lack a supportive circle of friends such as we’re blessed with in the program.

In other words, exactly as with recovery from alcoholism, my difficult past — all the pains and fears I’ve walked through in fighting this virus — will make me more useful to others.  And to that, I look forward eagerly.

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IMG_20200404_094603813.jpg

Day 14 – much better

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PS: Mom’s caregiver tested negative.  So far, so good.

PPS: I continued to feel ill for 5 weeks.  😦 

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My Big Fat Dead Mosquito

Everywhere I look, I see a big fat dead mosquito. Over the years, this insect has taught me a lot about life.

It’s inside my eyeball. Hiking across Glacier National Park in 2007 (left), at the moment I reached Triple Divide Pass, the spot where waters flow into three different oceans, it happened: a big fat dead mosquito appeared against the bright sky, like bunny ears cast on a movie screen. I could see the head and proboscis on its body, from which dangled several crumpled legs.

Having good insurance in those days, I soon saw an ophthalmologist who referred me to an expensive specialist with a computerized magnification system that let him tour around in my eyeball as if it were a museum. He looked and looked, asking me to move my eyes in various directions. Finally he scooted back from the machine.

“You’re right,” he said. “It looks like a big fat dead mosquito.”

Unfortunately, he explained, nothing could be done.  A clump of cells had sloughed off my hyaloid canal, which connects the lens and optic nerve, but was still attached, drifting about in my ocular fluid and casting this distinctive shadow on my retina. Even if I’d wanted surgery, the risk to my optic nerve would be too great. Perhaps in time the cells would fall off and settle, like most floaters, to the bottom of my eyeball. Until then, he said, I’d just have to live with it.

Twelve years have passed, but my Big Fat Dead Mosquito (BFDM) has not. Often it floats far enough toward the front of my eyeball to become blurry and easily ignored, like bunny ears flashed too close to the projector. But every few months, it moves toward the back so its shape jumps out at me in all its buggy detail.  I look fast to the right, and it continues drifting after my eye stops.  That sort of thing.

Teachings from the BFDM

At first I was, as you can imagine, severely bummed at this permanent visual impairment, as in, “You’re fucking kidding me — I’m gonna look at this thing the rest of my life?!” But as a sober alcoholic, I can’t afford to hang out in victimhood (“poor me, poor me, pour me another drink…”).  So early on I decided to make the BFDM into a symbol of that very fact: I have alcoholism.  I did not ask for it.  Yet when sorted according to the Serenity Prayer’s flawless rubric, both my alcoholism and my BFDM fell into the same category: “things I cannot change.”

This strategy worked well.  Whenever I’d be contemplating a puffy white cloud in a lovely blue sky, and across it would glide, like the Goodyear blimp, the looming shape of my BFDM, I would practice acceptance.  Ditto sunsets, snow covered mountains, and, of course any large, white wall.  I had no choice but to share them with this squashed bug, just as I had no choice but to go to AA meetings, do 12 step work with sponsors and sponsees, and, of course, not drink booze for the rest of my life. I would think something like this: “Hey there, mosquito.  I guess you’re with me for good, just like alcoholism.”

Years passed, and while the mosquito remained, my sense of alcoholism as a burden did not. I came to recognize that god had actually done me a huge favor by making me alcoholic, forcing me to choose between paths of self-destruction and spiritual growth. I began to see that even normal drinkers are bullshitting themselves when they drink — denying damage to their brain and body, imagining they’re more fond of others than they truly are, and denying themselves the practice of manually breaking down ego’s barriers to trust and affection. I saw that not only are all paths to wisdom and integrity at best obscured and at worst blocked by alcohol, but that the 12 steps offered a me stairway to happiness I’d never have found without AA.

Gradually, the BFDM morphed as well, becoming a symbol for something else: compassion. When I’d be talking to someone in bright light and they’d remain oblivious to the huge squashed insect bobbing around their face, I’d be reminded of the subjective nature of experience.  That person had no idea I was having to ignore a BFDM to be fully present, and by the same token, I knew nothing of the the various obstructions through which they saw me: scars they carried, fears they battled, emotional distortions they couldn’t help.  I learned to temper my judgements, thinking, “Hey there, mosquito.  Ain’t it true that I’ve never walked a day in this other person’s shoes?”

 

 

Then, about eight years after it first popped into my vision, the BFDM finally lost its legs. Today only the head and body remain — a shape most would describe as blob, and I alone think of as a big fat dead mosquito amputee (BFDMA). During these past few years, compassion has become reflex for me, while frequent contact with the Near-Death Experience community has  homogenized my faith in god — meaning not that my god is a dairy product but that the power of my faith no longer comes and goes.  I know in every moment of consciousness that god is real, god is love, and that a vast spirit realm is rooting for humanity from the sidelines as we try to untangle the childish mess we’ve made of our world.

Today, whenever by my BFDMA meanders close enough to my retina to cast its distinctive shadow, I am overwhelmed with wonder and gratitude to my maker: “Hey there, mosquito. Can you believe I have a fucking movie screen inside my skull? A surface of cells so sensitive to the universe’s energy (borne by little photons that bounce off everything) that it can encode the patterns received and send them into my consciousness??  Who made us, BFDMA?  Who guided the astounding evolution of this gift, and what a spoiled brat am I that the tiny malfunction of you — a few fallen cells — once upset me??”

The soul grows not by addition but by subtraction. So said Meister Eckhart.  Today, the mere fact that I am alive inside a fantastic machine that lets me navigate a beauty-filled world, forging a unique path represented by my quirky shadow friend — this alone is a miracle worthy of constant rejoicing.

 

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Filed under Alcoholism, Faith, Serenity Prayer, Spirituality

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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Filed under AA, Alcoholism, Recovery, Sobriety, Step 9, Twelve Steps

Victimhood, Martyrdom, and Other Codependent Poses

I’ve already written a kick-ass post on Self-Pity (Just Say NO to Self-Pity), but today I’d like to discuss its cousins, victimhood and martyrdom. Life becomes such an incredible teacher if we stay sober and pay attention to our part in things, past and present!  Drinking, we’re carried down the same old rivers of emotion our egos generate, over and over, never questioning their truth. Sober, we can learn to see from new angles.

It’s easy for me to look back at my drinking days and see that I cast myself in the victim role for a good reason: it absolved me of all responsibility for my own happiness. Lacking a connection to god, I clung to people, places, and things with the sense that they should respond to me in ways that buoyed me up.  They didn’t.  Or maybe they seemed to for a while, but more and more as my drinking progressed, unfair circumstances seemed to pile up against me.

I blamed others and developed resentments, or blamed myself and wallowed in self-loathing, but I never questioned the whole enterprise of trying to make things happen. I didn’t want to look at my model for interactions, my mindset, or the patterns of my perceptions.

That’s what a fourth step allows. And as we continue to grow in sobriety, additional fourth steps yield insights even deeper and more fundamental, until our whole weltanschauung evolves.  That’s what’s so exciting about recovery through an earnest application of the 12 steps as opposed to just quitting drinking: the whole universe changes!

I began to recognize that the vending machine ethic I’d applied to interacting with others — I put in my chit of friendliness and you deliver a soda of doing what I want — was selfish.  It began to dawn on me, first, that I loved no one truly for themselves and, second, that I didn’t actually need a soda from anyone, because god was a constant wellspring of love. Eventually, I could approach others in a spirit of curiosity, empathy, and usefulness rather than need.  It’s way more fun.

Martyrdom was my favorite posture in romantic relationships. Because throughout my childhood the supply of love in our alcoholic home varied drastically between romping, playful, inebriated evenings and tense, brittle, hungover mornings, I developed a belief that I had to make people love me. The best way to do that, I assumed, was to be whatever I gathered they wanted me to be.

In relationship after relationship, I effaced myself in hopes of earning “good partner” points. Yet, infuriatingly, my partners usually took for granted all my “sacrifices.”  They seemed to assume I was just doing what I wanted.  This led to preposterous arrangements like my teaching classes at three local colleges while pregnant so I could put my partner through school, taking only two weeks off to give birth; my buying gifts and celebrating Christmas with family members who had just mocked and ridiculed my addiction memoir on Facebook; and my continuing a relationship with a relapsed, selfish alcoholic whose job placed him in distant hotels 85% of the time.

These were choices I made, but at the time each seemed a movie plot I was stuck in. Leave the relationship? Who would I be?!  Not participate with family?  Wasn’t it better to be “loving” by doing whatever other people wanted? And didn’t god see how I sacrificed and suffered? Wasn’t I earning some kind of selfless saint award in the greater scheme of things?

In fact, god did see how I was sacrificing and, with a sigh, rolled consequences into my life to teach me to knock that shit off.  In both relationships, grotesque sexual betrayals ended what I could not, and with toxic family, a big fat cancer diagnosis drove me to assert boundaries and focus on taking care of me.

The shift of weltanschauung was giving up control I never had to begin with.  I can’t make anyone love or respect me.  I can’t do anything the “right” way.  I can’t even know anything for certain!  I can just be me and do what’s next: clean house, trust god, help others.  Keep trying my best.  The results are up to god whether I struggle or not.

Artwork by Nic J. Bass

And yet.  Victimhood still calls to me seductively like a siren among the rocks: Be wronged!  Feel hurt!  Retreat into the familiar cave of suffering where you huddle with that precious, lonely ache of being unloveable. It calls with the lure of false freedom because, again, whenever I go there, I don’t have to look for truth or try new ways.  I don’t have to figure out my part in the problem.  I can just slump into my victimhood, stagnant.

I’ve known people who were downright addicted to victimhood and suffering like a drug they went back to again and again.  Such people can take a benign and insignificant situation and inflate it into a colossal source of pain because they need drama, they need suffering as the most familiar landmarks in their navigation of life. Without this anguish, in a life of light, hope, and constructive action, they’re utterly lost.  There’s nothing to obsess over and they miss the grand self-importance that victimhood lets us feel.

I’ll admit it takes some getting used to — a life of humble happiness and cheer in the simple events of the day, a focus on what’s good and growing, and the simple okayness of me and you here now.  I can’t write intense short stories anymore (I won prizes as a drunk) now that I don’t hate the world.  But believe it or not, we move closer to god, closer to heaven, when we let go the weight of dramatic suffering.

Most important, we keep learning more about how to break out of old patterns and, in passing these tools on, offer healing to others as we used to spread hurt.

 

 

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Filed under Adult Children of Alcoholics, Al-Anon, Alcoholism, Codependence, Codependent Martyr, Recovery, Self-worth, Sobriety, Spirituality