I catch myself so often patting myself on the back for something, or telling myself how clever I am, or how much influence I have over others. The thought comes up, then immediately meets the sober me who usually responds by saying “oh yeah, you’re the greatest ever, aren’t you.” The things I say to myself are embarrassing and I am very glad that other people can’t read my mind. Unfortunately, embarrassment is not the worst risk that pride brings. It presents a direct threat to my sobriety. Pride is not concerned with much other than looking good, being admired and being right. It does not care much about other people, unless it is necessary to be perceived as caring about other people. My pride is my inner psychopath.
The main threat that pride poses to my sobriety is that pride inevitably requires dishonesty to keep it going. In order to be infallible, superior, beyond reproach and supremely entitled, I’ve got to deny some pesky realities. I’ve got to look the other way when certain things become obvious. And I’ve got to lie if my supremacy is threatened. Once I start down the path of trying to protect my image and nourish my pride, I am traveling farther and farther away from humility. This is a big problem because only humility allows me to see and admit my mistakes, eat crow fresh and hot with salt and pepper, and be willing to learn and re-learn how to behave like an adult.
In comedy films sometimes the actor admires himself in the mirror, points his finger toward his image like he’s pulling the trigger of a gun, and shakes his head with a little swag. When I catch myself proclaiming my own excellence, I will make this gesture just to ridicule my own pride. With more and more time in the Rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, I am better able to turn the inner psychopath into a clown. What was once very dangerous and separated me from other humans and my chance at healing my addictions, is now, more often than not, a silly caricature. AA shows me how to let my pride go down in flames.
There is a healing that goes on in the rooms of A.A., that I have not found anywhere else. It’s like the love we have for each other and the Program, forms a circle of comfort and assurance. I feel it in the warmth of an embrace from another member. I see it in the smile of a friend who returns to the tables where they find God’s grace and peace. I hear it in the “readings” – those precious words we hear time and again, only to discover there are words we did not “hear” before. Gradually change comes over me, slowly I am healed, gently hope returns to my heart. This amazing process of moving forward in recovery is repeated every day, and I consider myself blessed to have had this experience. All I know for sure is that I will find the emotional healing I need in the rooms of A.A. Rooms which are filled with others, who like me, are searching for answers to life’s problems. Problems that have solutions through God’s grace, the Spiritual Principals, and the program of Alcoholics Anonymous.
There was a time when I could not let go of anything. If it was mine, I deserved to keep it. Even if someone could make better use of it than I could, the slightest chance that I might regain interest in it in the future kept me from giving it away. I could not let go of boyfriends, even after I broke up with them. Nobody else should have them either. I hoarded wealth, sugar packets and mileage points. The thing I shared the least was my time.
In sobriety, from the very start, I was asked to give up, discard and give away. I had to let go of friendships, I had to find a different way to celebrate the weekend arriving, I had to say no to certain invitations. My precious commodity, time, had to be doled out for meetings and fellowship and working with my sponsor. I begrudged the loss of those hours, at first, despite the huge chunks of living I had lost to hangovers and blackouts.
As I worked the Steps, I came to realize that a large part of fear consists of clinging to people, places and things. In learning to pray and meditate, I experienced that offering up my cares and worries to the great wisdom that I have connected with somewhere out there in the Universe, is the key to peace of mind. In releasing my grip on other persons, my goals and my own ideas, I found a freedom I had never previously known. As time goes on, whenever I feel the clinging grip of fear, I hear myself say “let go” and “so what” and as the old things fall away, new beginnings find space to grow and develop.
AA is the one place where I have seen people go through fundamental, lasting change. I have seen bitter, mistrusting, secretive people become open, tolerant and engaging. People I greatly admire in AA describe to me a time when they were continually jailed for assaulting family, friends and strangers. I cannot imagine them in that condition. I have seen Newcomers start out skeptical, discouraged and dejected, only to transform into vibrant, joyful people who actively work to carry the AA message to other alcoholics. I, too, have changed. My dark past, full of harm to myself of others, sickness of mind, body and spirit, and habitual dishonesty to myself and others is but a memory. It is a cautionary tale. It is proof that I understand and have walked in another alcoholic’s shoes.
To reconstitute me, the Program had to destroy what stood in the way. First, my false notions of self-importance had to go. I was not better than, or above it all, or special or exempt. By the same token, my low self-esteem had to be corrected. Many other beliefs had to be drummed out of me – the need to win every argument, the tendency to blame others and judge everyone harshly, the inability to admit mistakes. Before a new me could be assembled, I had to sever my negative traits – the need to have everyone’s attention, the constant preoccupation with others’ opinions of me, in general, the constant focus on self. For those who are new, it can be very frightening to feel your personality being peeled away, not knowing what will replace it and whether you will like it. I was the devil I knew, and not sure I wanted to meet any angel-like version of myself. But after days, months and years of suspended disbelief, I wake up being able to stand the person I see in the mirror. So far, the new and improved model of myself has not abandoned me.
Worry, and its milder form, “excessive concern,” are types of fear that I experience frequently. Most of the time these states of mind are not apparent to others. I am experienced at maintaining a calm demeanor, but sometimes I can’t even manage that. Recently I have noticed that when I have these states of anxiety, my breathing becomes more and more shallow. By the end of the day, I cannot seem to get a breath. I am realizing that this condition is habitual, and can be altered by following the simple instruction in the Big Book to stop when agitated and ask for direction.
It only takes a moment to stop, pause, set aside the machinations of my thinking, and calmly breathe. If I can get up , go outside, and go for a walk, even for ten minutes, I can break the cycle of stress. AA meetings are another important way to shift my consciousness. They are the only places where I am required to shut off my phone. They are the only places where I focus fully and carefully on what others are saying and take full breaths for an entire hour without even thinking about it. The renewal a meeting gives me is fully transformative. My perceptions change, my priorities realign and my self-talk becomes quiet and rational.
My learning in AA has allowed me to replace a lot of old habits with better ways of living. But I know that I will never have the ability to go through life in an unthinking, purely reflexive way. In order to practice the AA principles in all my affairs, I have to be aware of when I am going astray. I am so familiar with agitation, that it can seem normal to me. The Program holds me to a higher standard than “autopilot.” It requires me to be fully present to myself, and to make whatever adjustments are necessary to stay on course.
I awake agitated. I gently roll out of bed onto my knees and express gratitude to God for my life and ask God to direct my thinking for the day. My routine takes me to the Neighborhood Center where my first physical act of the day is to be of service to my home group. I set up the room. Tables and chairs are placed in the middle. Additional chairs are placed to encircle the table. Familiar literature and a poster with the 12Steps and Traditions is displayed. I step back, I observe the room. I wonder who will attend today? I take my place at the center table. I am in the middle of the life boat. Fellow alcoholics begin to fill the chairs. It is 7:30 a.m. and Sara A says, “Let us begin the meeting with the Third Step Prayer. I am no longer agitated, for I am home.
There are things I cannot tell my closest friends, things they would not want to know. There are things I would not tell my family, things they need not contemplate. There are many things I cannot tell my colleagues and coworkers, aspects of my personality they are better off not knowing. With my fellows in AA, I can reveal what really goes on in that bad place where the monster lives. I can utter the soulless words that emanate from that deserted city on the border of my consciousness. I can admit what I did, what I said and the ugliness that engendered it all. Among my fellows, in the knowing intimacy of the Steps and readings, I find a safe harbor, a tranquil port, a stable mooring. I have alcoholism and it will always reside in my mind and body. I have a cruel and cunning parasite that uses me as its host. Without AA, it clutches me close, counsels me in a confident whisper, and quietly waits to seize my heart.