A wee bit of fear can be kind of fun. I used to live in a haunted house. A lot of household objects flung themselves about and crashed to the floor. I found it all very odd and entertaining, but some people stopped coming over to visit. When I drank I was in such a state of perpetual fear, that I failed to respond to the things that truly should have frightened me: dangerous people, dangerous driving conditions, serious health risks. Today, when I see people who are really inebriated, I find it spooky. I know that they can start out being argumentative and end up violent. I know that they are capable of physical and emotional abuse of their family and friends. I know they can be lethal behind the wheel. Even when I see a drunk and belligerent young woman who is only a danger to herself, I feel a shudder of recognition. There go I, a drunken witch, berating the boyfriend, fumbling to light a cigarette, reaching for the bottle, guarding the last remnants for herself. It seems that zombies have become a major cultural icon of our times. I find them odd and entertaining. But a little spooky. They remind me a bit of someone I used to see in the mirror on Monday morning.
The topic at my Sunday meeting was the 10th Tradition – that AA does not express opinions on outside issues. The shares drew a lot of parallels to our personal opinions. Why do I feel so compelled to offer my two cents on everything? Why do I constantly fight this little kid inside of me raising his hand so the teacher will call on him, “ooh, ooh, me, me!” No matter how mature, serene, spiritual and evolved I want to fancy myself, there is a test that I rarely pass. It is the one that requires not only shutting my mouth for extended periods while others talk, but shutting off the attention-seeking child who spends more time formulating the next clever response than intently listening to what others have to say. AA is devoted in large part to teaching us how to avoid emotional drunkenness and the emotional hangovers that go with them. In my own experience, most of my “hangovers” are about something I said that I shouldn’t have said, or the fact that I interrupted people, or was distracted while they were communicating.
It goes very far beyond “restraint of tongue” for me. That is more about the temptation to lash out. One of the most helpful (and humorous) things I have learned in meetings is the concept of W.A.I.T. When I hear myself “yammering” on about something, I try to catch it – even if the barn door is open and all the animals have already run out. I say, “Why Am I Talking?” and the answer so often is “because I want to sound informed, interesting, entertaining or important.” To be honest, I am fairly ashamed of this on-going personality defect. Although a lot of it just occurs as a battle in my head, I want something more than this. I want to sit and listen to people with complete patience, serenity and the sincere desire to understand fully what is happening. If I can Shut Up, both internally and externally, a huge amount of verbal and nonverbal information becomes available to me. I don’t want to be the over-eager fifth grader with the “helium hand.” I want to sit in “holy silence” as Harry calls it. I want to be the wise and quiet one, soaking it all in, and finally saying something that really matters, when it matters. Alas, my Higher Power is still conducting maintenance on the traffic light. I will have to wait at the stop sign for now.
There are certain things that I always counted on to give myself a little lift. One of them was buying a new pair of shoes. But if they were a bit too expensive, or it was not the best time to be spending that money, or if that snug feeling I noticed in the store turned out to be a bad fit, the buoyancy of the moment would be short-lived. AA has taught me how to lift myself out of gloominess in a way that is guaranteed to elevate my spirit. It simply involves turning my attention away from my own worries and disappointments and redirecting them toward helping someone else, particularly someone who needs the life-saving kind of help. When I am mucking around in self-pity, helping another alcoholic just doesn’t sound appealing. I want to be free to concentrate deeply on my unhappiness. But AA has trained me. My feet move across the room, my hand reaches out and I offer my time freely and openly. Even if my help is not accepted, making the effort to connect with someone else has an instant mood-altering effect. So I do as I have been taught. I look up, I look ahead, and as I move forward, my spirit glides, higher and higher, shining and fluttering, beautiful for all to see.
Many alcoholics share about emotional highs and lows that weave like ribbons through their lives. They are most pronounced in early sobriety, but can reappear from time-to-time. The Big Book refers to a tendency toward manic overdrive: “Many alcoholics are enthusiasts. They run to extremes.” (p. 125). Because of our tendency to overdo things, we are cautioned, “easy does it.” The momentum and excitement that I feel when I make a new beginning is supercharged and addictive. I sense the creative energy coursing through me. I feel that nothing can stand in my way. For me, emotional sobriety has been an exercise in balance. Slowly and gradually, I am learning how to feel complete exuberance without setting myself up for a crash landing. AA tells us we should be happy, joyous and free. We do not need to be relegated to muffled or guarded versions of these states. We can enjoy moments of exalted celebration, and they are all the much sweeter when they come to a clean and sober mind. We can leap, love and live with abandon. We only need to recognize that these are peak experiences, they are not meant to be the norm. They are beautiful punctuations in a contented and peaceful existence. If I do not cling to these natural altered states, they will not become the agents of a hard, cold landing in reality. If I can remember that simple truth, I am free to bloom and blossom like a fiery sun.
People who have only a superficial understanding of AA are sometimes dismissive toward our emphasis on humility. In many cultures, humility is associated with weakness, lack of confidence, and poor leadership. There is a perception that humility, especially on the part of those who have achieved some measure of material success or recognition, is disingenuous and neurotic. When the alcoholic in an Armani suit walks by the homeless man and says “there but for the grace of God go I,” people are skeptical. Just a few days ago I heard on public radio the story of a top Wall Street stock broker intoxicated by wealth, power and substances, who found himself living in a cardboard box on the streets of Manhattan after a stock market crash. The other homeless people essentially dragged him to AA, set him on the doorstep and left.
It is true that we have people of tremendous skill, talent, genius, accomplishment and wealth among our ranks. With few exceptions, we do not see them touting their worldly triumph from the mountaintops. We have people who lead amazingly productive lives by anyone’s standard, churning out remarkable achievements left and right. Yet all they talk about is improving their spiritual condition, trying to do better. People want to slap us sometimes. But it’s because they don’t know. Ego, pride, superiority, specialness – these are the chariots to relapse. When we raise our fists in glory, we must always watch that we do not soon raise a glass in defiance. Yes, God wants us to use and celebrate our gifts, for the betterment of our fellow man, our families, our friends. And we can do that. But we must constantly beware the part of our brains that says “You are a rock star. You don’t need AA. You are so much better than the rest of these losers. They are holding you back.”
We came here spiritually bankrupt. Humility is a basic ingredient in our recovery. Humility says that if we succeed, we have many people and circumstances to thank, especially the force of a Higher Power. We do not claim our own glory, because it does not belong to us. Our lives are on loan. Working the program of AA is our rent. After the stockbroker sobered up in AA and found a second career as a suicide prevention counselor, living in a modest apartment, he said to the airwaves: “Now I am wealthy. Maybe someday I will have money.” If THAT is not our mindset, then our enviable lives may soon resemble a house of cards. The world out there may not know this. But we need to know it well.
Today’s Reflection and Photo are Brought to You Courtesy of Nina (Birthday Girl)
I just want to have fun, I just want to party. But instead of having fun I am sick and trapped in my own head. My soul is thirsty. I don’t want to feel this way. I try all kinds of things to fix it. Sometimes I feel better but I can’t shake the feeling there is something I’m missing. I become obsessive. I become self absorbed to the extreme. I am constantly ruminating over and over on myself, my life. I never find exactly what I really want. I’m unsatisfied and discontent. I feel baffled as if I know there is something I’m missing, until finally I am given the gift of desperation. In fear and suffering I am desperate for a solution for the mess I’ve made. I call a lawyer and he tells me go to an AA meeting. The worst sinks in; I must pay the ultimate price, admit defeat.
Most of the time, I am comfortable everywhere I go. But when I am feeling “squirrelly” (as a dear friend in the Program calls it), there is only one place I am truly comfortable, and that is at a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. Meetings are the one place I can walk in, regardless of my state of mind, and not worry about how I will be perceived or whether I am explaining my discomfort in a socially acceptable way. I can sit in that chair (or slump in it, depending on the day) and just let the place work its magic on me. I will sit and listen, and soon I will hear myself taking deep breaths. Eventually I will feel my head nodding in response to something I have heard. I will hear myself greet people, thank them, clap for them. Finally, I will hear everyone’s laughter, including my own. Without really articulating it, I will have a deep understanding that (a) I remember (again) what to do about my problems and (b) everything’s going to be alright.