Getting sober gave me a chance to appreciate simple, wonderful things. A clean shirt on my back, a few minutes of sunshine, a friendly dog. With continued sobriety comes on-going delight in the small pleasures of life. Laughter with friends, an excellent film, a captivating book, hiking in the forest. As soon as I stopped seeking a state of exalted senses and magnified thinking, I began to relate to things around me as they really were. As soon as I stopped running away from pain and fear, I could begin to enjoy all the good things that life has to offer. When pleasure and pain are both right sized, there is an opportunity to engage the world and receive what it contains. There are times when I get lost in my own machinations and lose sight of what is beautiful and interesting and fun. But the tools I have learned along my way in sobriety show me how to turn my attention outward again. When I let all the chatter go, I can sit back and enjoy the show, one play at a time.
As a functioning alcoholic, I was present just enough to earn and living and save a few bucks. My sense of “having it all” came down to a certain income, a home with a sectional sofa, a respectable automobile and a yearly trip to Europe. I had no dreams, unless not getting fired counts as a dream. I had a sense that things were about as good as they were going to get.
Early sobriety felt like a huge backward slide in my comfort level. A deep discontent set in. The long, foreign days no longer offered a soft landing in dulled awareness. The material assets no longer conveyed a feeling of security. My newly unaltered emotions were bare and wandered without clothing or shelter. I did not feel rich. I felt cheated. Sobriety did not seem like a fair bargain for the pain.
My inner peace did not develop overnight. I had to learn from other alcoholics that the emptiness I felt had nothing to do with worldly needs. As I started following the direction laid out in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, I began to get small glimpses of a contentment that were not tied to status and objects. I changed my isolation to fellowship. I stopped thinking of myself all the time and started to gain compassion.
Today I know that half my fate is built of ordinary planning and the other half depends on my willingness to be of maximum service as intended by the Universe. I have seen how deeply fulfilling my experiences can be in sobriety. I have seen how good it can get. And I have not yet seen how good it can get. So I keep trudging, and keep an open mind, for anything is possible.
Things seemed to happen very suddenly and explosively when I was drinking. One minute I was laughing, and the next minute I was cursing and threatening someone. Among the greatest reprieves in sobriety is the advance warning that my attitude is deteriorating. When I first came to AA, I had no ability to pause between provocation and reaction. I thought about pausing, but the moment always tore by like a bullet train. The next thing I knew, my rancor was echoing off the walls and in the eyes of the startled people around me.
After a while, I became aware of a fleeting gap in time, a moment in which I could say some magic word to myself and stop the damage before it could start. I felt the space to pause but did not take it. Finally, after being beaten down with my own humiliation, frustration and shame, I became desperate enough to cling to the second or two I had to save myself. The first few times I managed to stop the momentum of my own fury, I felt like I had swallowed a pelican. But I did not die. Eventually, the space to change course grew larger and larger. This is because I began to see myself unraveling before the rage had gained too much momentum.
I began to recognize the telltale signs of trouble – impatience, irritability, frustration, negativity, criticism and hostility. A very aggravating ride through traffic told me that it might not be entirely about the world’s bad drivers. To this day, I hear the familiar refrain of my own spiritual decline. In stead of love, I am spewing hate. Instead of humility, I exude self-importance. When right action gives way to righteousness, I am halfway to a blowout. What I have learned in the Rooms and through the Steps tells me what needs to be done. When it finally sinks in, I give in, and the poison in my veins evaporates. Thanks to the tools, I no longer have to barrel toward the eye of the storm.
Today’s Reflection is Brought to You by Oggy
As the book says, “we are people who normally will not mix”. This has a profound meaning for me. There are people in my group and in other meetings who are from many different backgrounds. Not all of them are serious about sobriety or growing spiritually. They may be abstinent for a few years even, by coming to meetings and hanging around but they are not ‘winners’ by definition.
Earlier in my abstinence, I mixed with a few people who I won’t mix with socially. I thought since they had a few years ahead of me, they must be winners. It turned out to be wrong. Since they didn’t follow the program, I didn’t either. Everything was going well and there were jolly times in after-meeting coffee. It was all rosy. Then came life as it happens and I was not equipped to handle it. Worse still, I did not have someone to guide me either since the people I was hanging around with did not have any idea about the recovery program. It took a relapse to finally know who the winners actually are.
Now, to me, winners are those who a) have done the 12 steps and continue doing so b) have discipline in attending meetings – they come, sit, listen very carefully and stay the full hour before leaving c) have a sponsor themselves and also sponsor others d) have a home group and do service work e) do 12 step calls and f) most importantly, have grown spiritually and having a complete reliance on a higher power.
I am now in contact with such people and life has taken a whole new meaning. I now know that ‘recovery’ means a lot more than attending a few meetings and staying abstinent one-day-at-a-time. ‘Recovery’ means ‘sobriety’ which means a happy, joyous, living filled with love and gratitude. I am now sober and not just abstinent and this is thanks to real AA and my higher power.
Some things my parents taught me have proven to be valuable. I know which utensil to use for each dinner course, even if there are six items on each side of the plate. I can also create lovely flower arrangements and sew the hem of my own pants. But there were a lot of things I learned in childhood that set me up for many future problems. I learned that if one hides ones retail purchases in the car trunk, they did not really happen. I learned that if something quite terrible occurs, the best thing to do is quickly move on and not mention it ever again. I learned that if you get angry enough with someone, they will back off from whatever they wanted from you.
I came to AA to stop being a drunk and a drug addict. I also was hoping to get people to trust and admire me again. I knew I would have to permanently abstain from ingesting mind-altering substances of all kinds. I knew I would have to stand in front of people and admit shameful things. I had resigned myself to all of that. What I didn’t count on was having to re-learn virtually all of my social behaviors. AA has been an unusual parent in raising me to finally be an adult. It hasn’t spanked me, lied to me, shamed me, compared me to the neighbor kids, used scare tactics on me, criticized me, pressured me or grounded me for weeks at a time. Yet AA has taught me absolutely everything I need to know to do well at work, among friends, with my family, with my child, with my partner and with other alcoholics and addicts. AA is a wonderful Mom-Dad. Even if She-He doesn’t ever come to my soccer games.
As a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, I have the potential to affect a lot of lives in an important way. When I work with a Newcomer, I may help that person through the difficulties of early sobriety and help her get a foothold in AA and in managing life without substance abuse. If I am able to help this person, then my efforts will have affected many others. Immediate family are among the first to feel the effects of their loved one’s sobriety. It is not all good, and adjustments will be necessary, but in the long-run, there will be less upheaval and instability in these peoples’ lives. The same goes for co-workers and employers of the newly sober person. Somebody is showing up every day, clear-eyed, perhaps a bit distracted and nervous, but certainly coherent and making an effort. Clients and customers will notice the same.
Friends of the Newcomer will begin to notice the physical and emotional improvements in their pal. They too will become a source of support and encouragement. Some of them may end up less pleased with their new, less wild and crazy friend. But for the most part, everyone who knows the Newcomer will see that something good is happening. If nothing else, they will notice that she is finally present in this world. If she stays sober and helps other alcoholics, then the benefit spreads even farther and wider.
I do not practice the Twelfth Step to experience some kind of Midas touch or to fancy myself an instrument of social restructuring. I do it because it has a remarkable tendency to keep me from drinking. But once in a while when I think about the wider impact of the efforts made with a Newcomer, or any alcoholic who seeks help, my enthusiasm and sense of duty are heightened. I also appreciate more the responsibility that this multiplying effect brings. I need to do the best I can. Lots of people are counting on it, even if they don’t know it quite yet.
With sobriety comes clarity of thought. Eventually departure from self-absorption leads to sharper awareness. When I am vividly aware of my environment and those who are in it, I notice the constant flow of change. AA teaches me not to hold on too tight to the status quo. If I want to behave differently, I have to let go of the comfortable haunts and habits of my past. If I do not want to be stymied by covetousness, fear, jealousy, and vindictiveness, I have to let go of my ego’s excessive demands.
I can circle the sun for years to come, and my travels will be smooth and even if I can recognize the fluidity of all states. If I have joy, I know that it will pass or become another kind of happiness eventually. If there is pain, experience shows me that it too will change and sooner or later be gone, with or without me. If I remember that I am meant for constant change, I will not clamor for my younger self or bemoan my natural limitations. I need not fear the final change either.
With acceptance comes wisdom and inevitable recognition of an irreversible tide of minutes flowing through our hands. There can be joy in remembrance. And there can be lies. This Program, this Fellowship, it forces me to see with the eyes of an adult. Nothing is as it seems. And even then it no longer is, for it has already passed. Mine is not to cling or grasp in fear and fury. The thing I fear has already altered its course. The thing I want has already become something else entirely. I cannot hold on to any of it. It pours right through my fingers and is gone.