A few weeks ago, I asked a clerk and bagger if they’d watch the sack of groceries I’d just bought while I ran back for another item. When I returned, my groceries were gone and they felt terrible – so terrible that the bagger walked the aisles with me trying to help me remember what I’d bought. But without the receipt we couldn’t recall much. I’d picked up a number of things on impulse.
“You know,” she said after we’d covered the store with little success, “this deal is on us. Really, you can just fill a bag with–.”
“Corn flakes!” I remembered.
But I soon drew another blank, so she urged a little harder. “It ends up as a theft write off, so you can just go for it. Anything you want is fine with us!”
True, I’m a single mom and always short of money, so almost everything I looked at, I wanted. Fancy jams and teas – mmm. Maple syrup. Organic soaps. Mega-vitamins.
I left with a half-filled bag containing only what I distinctly remembered buying.
Question: Why? Am I going for sainthood? Do I get a bang out of feeling superior? Do I think god keeps score?
Answer: None of the above. The fact is, I’m a doomed alcoholic who’s graced with sobriety one day at a time. I’m not mindlessly drinking myself to death right now due solely to the power and guidance of my new employer – god as I understand god. In each situation, I have just one prime directive: Do the most good I can for all concerned.
The store was concerned; having my stuff stolen did not mean I could steal from it.
During active alcoholism, I lived by a slightly different prime directive: Do the most good I can for Louisa. In every situation, I considered what would most benefit me. What would make me feel good? What might pay off later by making me feel even better? If there were negative consequences, what eventual rewards might outweigh them? Certain people’s esteem was worth more than others’ pain or anger. Gradually, navigating by my own best interest, I ruined my life.
So I quit that game. What I seek now is clarity. How I find it is by living in alignment with my HP’s prime directive, which I will here attempt to unravel as my own 10 principles for living sober gleaned from the Big Book, my fellows, and my own stepwork. Here they are, in no particular order:
1. Be where you say you’ll be and do what you say you’ll do. (Choose Integrity)
2. Think of others as you’d have them think of you. (Choose compassion)
3. Be honest with yourself always, and with others short of reckless harm. (Choose reality)
4. Give as much kindness as you possibly can to every being you encounter. (Choose love)
5. Avoid gossip – and envy, which fuels internal gossip. (Choose respect)
6. Do not flirt either as or with a committed person. (Choose honor)
7. Let others be in charge of what’s best for them. (Choose detachment)
8. Pay attention to all you do and how it squares with your values. (Choose awareness)
9. Be grateful for everything – everything – everything. (Choose humility)
10. Know that god loves you the same way you love small, helpless creatures, only a billion times more – whether you’re in your body or out of it – so try loving yourself that way, and love god for loving the world. (Choose faith)
Now that I’ve written them all out, it looks like an awful lot of rules! But I don’t think of them distinctly – more as Miguel Ruiz’s Fourth Agreement, “Always do your best.”
My agreement with god – my way of acknowledging sobriety as a gift I’m graced with – is simply to try my best in each situation to do the most good I can for all concerned, which means applying the above 10 principles. For example, #3 and #8 mean I don’t eat meat by denying the horrors of factory ‘farms,’ or even shop at Walmart; #4 means being of service. Sometimes the rules conflict and I have to work out what “most good” means. For instance, to follow #5 – don’t gossip – I may reply “I don’t know” when I pretty much do. Or to fulfill #6 – don’t flirt – I may pretend to be indifferent when I’m not. But those bits of dishonesty fall under the “short of reckless harm” proviso in #3.
Then there’s the Al-Anon piece. Up until a few years ago, I thought #4 – giving kindness and love – was to be practiced unconditionally. You could treat me like shit and I’d just keep showing up with love, giving you the benefit of the doubt and killin’ you with kindness. Al-Anon’s “Don’t be a doormat” applied, I assumed, only to codependent wives and mothers slaving selflessly for those who used them.
It took blatant abuse from those closest to me to drive home the fact that I need to recognize and respond to toxicity in others. People’s behavior tells me what they’re made of. If I overlook continuous patterns, I’m lying to both myself and them.
Detachment (#7), I’ve learned, applies to letting other people think of me as they choose: I can’t make them understand me. I can’t make them return goodwill no matter how much I beam their way. At a certain point, loving myself as god loves me (#10) means I have to set boundaries. Tortoises carry shells and roses sprout thorns for good reason: we often need protection to hold our own.
Of course there are plenty of times I screw up – times I choose fear, choose anger, choose self. Sometimes I wallow in loneliness and self-pity. Plus I once ordered a cheap tent from Walmart. But I never give up and say “fuck doing what’s right.” As soon as clarity returns, I own my mistakes and do my best to clean things up. It’s actually the easier, softer way, because I get to live in a beautiful, love-bright world with like-minded people.