Friday, October 30, 2009

Happy, joyous, free ...

Originally uploaded by Rick Elkins/away

Last night was the final Thursday that I would chair for the month of October at my favorite women's AA meeting. The reading I chose was from one of the Big Book authors who followed up her story in a Grapevine article, nearly 20 years later. The title of the article was: "Don't take our word for it" . It was her reflections on how working this program of recovery really works and how she has experienced the gifts of joy and laughter and freedom. She spoke about the key to these gifts being the use of our "inner searchlight" -- a willingness to look closely within ourselves and, that by doing so, the outside world will begin to reflect our work on the inside. The title has to do with the fact that each of us must experience this for ourselves -- to really know what is possible. It is one thing to hear the stories of strength and hope and recovery from others in the rooms and it's something completely different to feel and know these things to be true for oneself.

When I walked through the doors of AA again this past January, I was, to some extent, broken --very vulnerable and lacking any solid foundation of recovery. My kabbalistic healing work prepared me for immersing into my AA program. It has helped me to build a spiritual framework for living my life with the goal of being whole. AA compliments the kabbalistic work by adding supportive beams to the framework and providing me with the tools - literally and figuratively - to productively work on the construction of the house that is me, from the inside-out.

I shared last night that my life has done a 360 turn in the past 10 months; it is not a "chicken or the egg" debate in terms of was it the culmination of the kabbalistic work that made this possible or the diligent working of an AA program but rather, they have co-arisen within me.

My desire for wholeness has included the 12 steps and living a life that is getting more balanced. The shifts that have occurred for me have a lot to do with putting the recovery principles hand-in-hand with my kabbalistic practice: admission of powerlessness & surrendering (Hod); trusting and believing in a power greater than myself and listening to my God-voice when taking an action (Tiferet); asking for help and connecting with the group/fellowship when I understand that I can't do this alone;  owning my part and making amends (Yesod); going regularly to meetings, reading literature, doing the step work ... working a structured program for living (Gevurah); living life on life's terms and being in the flow of my life (Chesed); celebrating a new freedom and a new happiness in how I relate to the world and others and understanding "The Promises" (Netzach); and lastly, being seated in integrity and practicing these principles in all my affairs, from the truth of myself (Malchut).

All most of us really want for ourselves in life is to be happy, joyous and free and what I am coming to understand from both my kabbalistic and AA work is that it is ours for the asking, it is here and always has been. It is ME who has been the barrier. No one else. When I can get out of my own way, I can experience all of these things and then some.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Growing up ...

growing up
Originally uploaded by amburrr d.

Over the past 2 weeks, I have been "unpacking" my selfishness in all of its forms: self-seeking, self-centeredness, and, most importantly, self-pity. The latter being the most insidious, weaving its vine-like self in places that are not always visible yet, when eventually felt by others, is a strangle-hold -- the impact of which is significant.

I have done a lot of unwinding and detoxing from the poisonous soil I was brought up in which caused damage all the way to the tips of my roots. The first leg of this work was to understand the origins ... the woundings of my mother and father. The impact of being adopted. My fears of the unknown as a result of experiencing layers of abandonment. My alcoholism and other behaviors associated with avoidance of pain and of feeling. My co-dependency and all the ways I gave myself away. And, as I learned today in an incredible session with my kabbalistic healer, my victim-hood in all of the above and how deeply embedded this was until recently.

My healer explained that children who are raised in alcoholic or other versions of chaotic homes miss the natural developmental stage of expressing selfishness ("I want, I want, I want" ). Instead, we are forced to grow up very quickly. Put our needs and wants aside. Be passive. Be submissive. These kinds of qualities are the "nega" version of the branch on the Tree known as Hod. As we get older, we develop huge resentments towards others for "missing out" on getting to be a kid. Wherein lies the ugly beginnings of victimization. Of self-pity. Of blaming others for our troubles. Or as my healer so aptly named: "The Woe Is Me" stage . And this is the identity that I took on for the majority of my life. And it crept into nearly every relationship, difficult interaction. It was my system of operation. And, the really wild thing is this: I couldn't friggin' see it. Until now. My healer explained that because it was embedded so deeply in me, it was a blindspot. And it is only in the process of waking up, having a willingness to really look at myself within in a way that I had been too terrified to do before, that enabled this seemingly hidden sore to be seen clearly and vividly.

A very recent heartfelt amends to someone I love with all of my heart was about this very dynamic. How my victimness seaped into our relationship and deeply impacted this person. How I took us both hostage from this place. I never want to terrorize another person I care for in this way again.

When you're "in it", up to your eyeballs in a pile of victim shit, everything is murky, muddy and fuzzy. There is no clarity. I had the belief that no one could meet me. No one saw me. No one understood what I had endured. No one would treat me in the ways that they did if they felt like me. What about me ?? This particular form of selfish behavior was a self-imposed prison.  And if you got close enough,  you too were behind bars.  And then there was the trap door that led directly into my head. This was the engine room that fueled the behavior. Here's a typical conversation that took place up there: "_____ didn't call me. I didn't even get a text back. Do they think I'm supposed to take this? Fuck them. I deserve to be treated better than this. See if I care. Let 'em go find another sucker to be their friend. I'm outta here." My mind had razors that would cut you at every turn. But then, here's the twisted part: my fear of abandonment would kick in simultaneously, so when that friend finally called or texted, I pretended that nothing bothered me. I'd even go as far to say things like: "I've been SO busy! You caught me on a good day!" I did this to put a band-aid on my victimized bruises. Which were self-inflicted !

My healer shared with me today that one of the helpful tools to combat this is the ability to make room for when we are feeling "small", like a "little kid" and to be gentle with ourselves in kind. I'm learning this, baby step by baby step. In AA, there are additional tools: taking ownership and responsibility for our own behavior by doing a regular self-inventory of our behavior and to make amends, preferably as soon as we are aware that we've caused harm (10th step).

I am grateful beyond words to have found the willingness to want to look at myself -- at the good, the bad, the ugly and everything in between. To continue to awaken and open my eyes wider. To venture to the places that scare me and be supported by unconditionally loving, accepting people in my life who help me to be fearless and honest and real. And to become my better self (progress not perfection!)   This is true freedom -- for myself and for those around me. 

It is a relief to finally be growing up...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Dignity ...

B&W Homeless Portrait, Vancouver | SMC Takumar 50/1.4
Originally uploaded by dubesor

As I was returning up the street from my walk with Iman, I went to deposit her poop bag in the nearby dumpster and inadvertently startled a homeless man who was rummaging for food. I asked him how he was doing and he didn't look up from his mission. He looked very gaunt and shaky.

I quickly walked Iman back into the house and as swifttly as I could, I gathered some easy-to-grab food items: trail mix bars, apples and made a hearty sandwich. I put them all in a large ziploc bag and ran very quickly around the corner to the dumpster in hopes that he would still be there. And he was. I quietly said: "Excuse me, sir. Would you like to have some things to eat?" And he looked up into my eyes and just said "Yes" and I handed it to him. I then walked down the street to the man who sells newspapers, as I wanted a Sunday Inquirer and as we stood there having a conversation about the playoffs (he was wearing a Yankees cap and I commented on how brave he was to do so in the heart of Philly territory!), the homeless man walked across the street, munching happily on the sandwich and he said: "God bless you" and continued on his way.

I have no idea what it is like to be homeless or what it takes to seek out food and other basic survival items living out on the streets. What I understood today was this: being able to hand this man food that he could carry with him would at least temporarily help preserve his dignity -- if only for today. The fact that I was discarding a bag of dog shit in the same place he was desperately searching for his sustenance just didn't feel right or humane or dignified.

I am reminded by this interchange today of how many people in recovery experience incredible, undignified "lows". This is where the cunning, baffling, powerful pull of alcohol (or any substance for that matter) can take us. I don't know what the circumstances were for the man I met today and perhaps there was a time when he had a home and enough to eat. And hopefully, his situation will change and he will see that again.

During my alcoholism, my hygiene, my behavior and my morals sunk to incredible lows. That I would smell the crotches of soiled or stained jeans to see which pair was the most tolerable to wear because I wouldn't spend my booze money on wash is one such example -- something I couldn't even fathom doing today. Or drinking leftover beers the morning after a party. Having sex with an ex-con and not using any protection. These were my "dumpster" moments. Nothing to be proud of or to hold my head high over. Just "what was" at that time period.

And I am overwhelmingly grateful for "what is" today.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

No member left behind ...

Fright Flight of the Snow Geese
Originally uploaded by Fort Photo

The marvel of how geese travel is the fact that their flight formation is such that when one goose trails behind, it is the sum total of the gaggle's wing power that can carry this member.

This also happens to be true in the AA community.

A woman in this morning's meeting shared how she loves the phrase in the rooms "Stay in the middle of the herd" , knowing that when she strays too far out on the periphery, such as not regularly making meetings or working her program, she is most susceptible to putting herself in harm's way. The lagging goose in the V-formation who's in need of help at least should be commended for making the effort to be with all the others on the flight. If we're not making meetings or talking with a sponsor or making an effort toward the steps of the program, we haven't even made it to lift-off. That's where I was for 16 years ... at ground zero. After deciding that I could do a solo flight and coast through the skyway of my life. After many a near crash-landing, it is a relief and pure joy to be flapping my recovery wings amid the other soaring beauties I meet time and time again in meetings.

The women's meeting I attended last evening was a prime example of how no members go unnoticed or unheard or unseen or in any other way, left behind. Sometimes this occurs in obvious acts of kindness or behind-the-scenes or in the "meeting after the meeting". I am often in awe when I can take a step back and clearly watch the power of the group in its exquisite unfolding to support a member who is in need of being lifted up. This happens when a member is in a raw place and is given the non-judging space to just "be" in her messy stuff. It is the keenly aware member who knows at first glance that another is not doing well and ensures to get a seat right next to her or even stepping outside to keep her company when it's too hard at the moment to be vulnerable in the group. It is the invisible yet powerfully felt group hug that embraces a member who courageously confesses to picking up a drink. Or the members who make sure that a newcomer has a list of names and numbers of plenty of women to call upon in early sobriety.

When we rely on the power of the group, we are really putting our trust and faith in God. And this enables each of us to do the part we can; some of us have larger, longer wingspans while others have sharp vision and others still with steady endurance. No one has to be completely in control or in the lead or do all the care-taking. This is what the "I am responsible ..." statement that is sometimes read after meetings is all about. It goes on to say ... "and I want the hand of AA to always be there..."

As I write about this, I am aware of the positive influence of the AA group conscience and consciousness on my daily living. I am a more present and committed worker and a more reliable, dedicated friend. I am no longer isolating. I take an interest in others not from the place of wanting to care-take but because I want to show up and be there. 2 women from last night's meeting drove a ways to attend this morning's meeting, as I was talking about it last night over pizza and invited them to come. After the meeting was over this morning, they asked if I would like to get a bite to eat. For about 2 brief seconds, my mind went to creating an excuse for why I couldn't go. And I caught myself. This was old behavior involving being protective of personal time, not having enough for me. I smiled in this recognition in the moment and graciously accepted the offer. The time spent was delightful, if not invaluable. One of these women just started coming back to meetings after an 8 year relapse and she is now just 2 weeks sober. The other, 4 years sober and new to the area and struggling with living in a new place and re-entering a new AA community. As I said goodbye to both of them, nearly 2 hrs later, I felt a warmth surge through me. It was about knowing the choice I made versus the choice I almost made today. It was about continuing to move my wings, even when I'm tired, and experiencing the joy of seeing my fellow travelers moving their own, as best as they can. It is also the awareness that someday, somewhere I am going to need the wingpower of others when I cannot do it alone. And it could very well be one of these women right next to me.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Who's sitting next to you ?

I may not be the most important person in your life ...
Originally uploaded by ~Boxica ♥

In my favorite women's meeting, I have been granted the incredible honor to chair this month. As a theme of sorts, I've been selecting readings by women who've authored articles in the AA Grapevine. Tonight's reading was entitled: "The Home Group: Who's sitting next to you?"

The article is about the author's experience of being out of town and going to a meeting and not being acknowledged by any of the members. She experiences the feeling of being an outsider and the fact that no one has bothered to find out who she is, let alone what might be going on for her, such as being a newcomer, being suicidal, having been sent by the courts, etc... She went on to say that regardless of how invisible she felt, she had gratitude simply because a meeting existed for her to attend and to stay sober for one more day.

I am deeply grateful for this particular women's meeting and the fact that every person who walks in the door, especially if they are a new face, is openly embraced, made to feel like they are the most important person in the room. I related to the experience of the author of this article when I first entered the rooms of AA and hid out in the back. No one approached me. No one knew my story, nor seemed to care to. I, on the other hand, could recognize tonight that I too had a responsibility to introduce myself so I could be seen, to reach out and to ask for help. The other side of the coin is that there are meetings which have cliques, the members of which do not reach out to new folks outside of their circle. This too has been my experience recently at a particular women's step meeting. I have attended this meeting at least 4-5 times and when I go to the nearby cafe to get a cup of coffee and I see women from the meeting and wave "hello", I've been hardly acknowledged by some. This is a meeting that does have cliques and that does not warmly welcome a new face. Some women do not even say "Hi", even when I've said it to them. I shared tonight that these kinds of encounters could keep me stewing and stuck in a place of being a "victim" and that is not the story I want to play a part in any longer. I recognize that I have a choice about what meetings I want to attend, what feels right, what is in my best interest. I don't have to hold a resentment, have my ego bruised; I can simply let the experience go and move on.

More importantly, as a member of a familiar meeting group, I have a responsibility to meet and greet the new person walking into the room and to make them feel welcome and accepted. And, I also have a responsibility to pay attention to my fellow members in the room and check in to see how they are, as one member shared tonight -- "to see where they are in their sobriety".

We never know what the state of another member is sitting next to us if we don't take the time to really notice them. Sometimes there are huge, heavy weights that they are carrying and need us to help lighten the load. Or to have an ear or a hand to hold. In tonight's meeting, there were no exceptions. A couple of women entered our room tonight for the first time and had only 2 weeks of sobriety. A "regular" who was visibly shaken at the start of the meeting tearfully and humbly shared how her 8 years of sobriety was squelched after picking up a drink and that tonight, she had just 24 hours. These women are the most important people in the room. They are the visible reminders to each of us about the fragility of sobriety and the reason why we keep coming back and the invaluable gift of the fellowship.   

And then there's the women who are regularly enduring incredible hardship who you wouldn't necessarily know what is happening for them unless you struck up a conversation with them.   In this women's meeting alone,   there are women who are bearing seemingly unbearable grief.   There are women who are battling serious illness.   Some who are taking care of aging,  sickly parents.   Others who are just trying to stay afloat as they juggle and balance relationships and children and finances.    And they are all doing it without taking a drink and that's why they continue to come to meetings.

Something that hit me tonight was that there were 3 women in this very room who were the first people to welcome and greet me when I returned back to AA this past January. They made me feel like it was completely okay to come back home -- like they were waiting for me all this time. I had the chance to thank each one of them tonight for their kindness. I know what it's like to be treated like the most important person in the room. And that's what I can now give back to others.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Coming into bloom ...

♪♫♪ The sun will come out tomorrow ♪♫♪
Originally uploaded by cattycamehome

It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.
~ e.e. cummings

I am becoming more aware of how I am growing into my truer self, from the inside - out.

I've made it almost to the other side of my messy phase of growing out my hair and as it gets longer and is able to be styled, I am appreciating my thick, salt & pepper hair even more. I am no longer rebelling against people in my life who wanted me to wear it a particular way to "fit" a picture of how I should look. The clippers have had their place and they can now rest comfortably for awhile. My hair is an outgrowth, no pun intended, of the place inside of me where I am not pretending nor protecting but instead am "allowing".

A friend who I had dinner with tonight made a comment about my femininity and wondering what was happening to me. I am not sure if this was about seeing changes in me because we've not gotten together in a couple months or that perhaps it is truly the first time he has truly seen ME. A couple hours later, a woman at my AA meeting approached me to see if I'd be interested in trying out some of the clothes that she designs, further commenting that she would not have considered me for this when she first met me in the rooms but has been noticing how I am letting more of myself show in the clothing choices I've been making of late. These comments validated for me the contrast between how much of myself I hid - behind clothes, behind a mask, behind a facade of myself - and the transformation that can occur when I clean and straighten up the inside of me and make room and how this carries over to reupholstering my exterior.

My students at the University have noticed these changes and will periodically remark about an outfit or the jewelry I am wearing and I realize that this is not about the items themselves at all but instead it is about the fact that when I come forward to let myself be seen, these items like clothing or jewelry have a place to be showcased. It's like the formerly unremarkable car that's been washed and polished and now you notice the fabulous hood ornament or the shiny hubcaps !

Previously, I avoided mirrors. I would do a drive-by just to see if my outfit was on properly (i.e. shirt tucked in) and I didn't linger there to take in anything else. I have not swung the other direction to the point where I am narcissistically obsessing over my appearance and yet, I am hanging out a little longer these days to notice who is there in front of me, without wrinkling my face or being uncomfortable and actually appreciating who and what I see.

It is a huge deal for me to write about these kinds of self-observations, having lived in a very secluded, self-deprecating place for the greater portion of my time here on earth. When I was younger, it was deeply painful to be in my body -- the utter loathing, my unlovability permeating every part. While I was drinking, my self-care was compromised. My hygiene, my appearance, my manner of dress were the lowest priorities during this time. After coming out as a lesbian, I had confusion about what I was supposed to be after so many years of conditioning about what women are to look like and act like. My insides didn't match my outsides, as my kabbalistic healer would say. This is due to the fact that I relied on the outside to tell me how I was supposed to think and feel on the inside. I had this sense that I liked clothes and other aspects of appearance to be a little bit feminine and yet there was a tomboy screaming inside. A job with a dress code and then a partner who had her own idea of how I should look found me dressing and looking like I was perpetually masquerading. I felt unnatural and yet complied because that's what was expected of me to be pleasing.
And as I got a little more of myself, the rebelling began and this was not the truth of myself either. And deeper I went into hiding, camoflauge. Clipper shears got closer and closer to my scalp and clothes got baggier and more masculine. I lost myself. Come to think of it, I don't know if I ever was truly found prior to all of this.

It is hard to believe that at the ripe age of 47, I'd just be discovering who I am. And it is also deeply humbling. And the mystery of the unfolding process is incredibly exciting. I am liking the feeling of each shoot, each tiny petal as I am coming into bloom...

It's all about me ...

day 19
Originally uploaded by kygp

At the Big Book Study meeting I attended last night, the chairperson chose a few paragraphs from "How it works", specifically focused on selfishness and all its forms: fear, self-centeredness, self-pity, self-seeking.

The sharing that followed could have brought the entire room to its collective knees.

One man spoke about how he sat alone everyday at lunch while in high school. He believed, with all of his heart, that everyone at the other tables were talking about him. To cope, he turned to alcohol.
He was convinced that this was the remedy and now he would be liked. It is only now, after work with his sponsor and reading the Big Book, that he has come to understand that this was self-centered behavior.

A woman shared how it wasn't until she did her 4th & 5th steps and took a good hard look at the lists and her sponsor pointed at each resentment and asked her "And what was YOUR part?" that it hit her like a ton of bricks that she actually created each and every one of those situations that she wanted to blame others for. And this was her wake-up call to looking at selfish behavior.

The sharing that struck a chord with me the most was a man who spoke about the words of wisdom of his sponsor when he first entered AA who said to him: "If your motivations involve fear and are not about caring for another, it is selfishness." He spoke about the ways he withheld from his daughters and from others in terms of money, time, love. He wanted to make sure there was enough left for him. He remarked about his own selfishness being a barrier to being able to be fully there as a father, as a friend.

I came to this meeting on the tails of my own self-inventory re: a relationship with a friend that's become distant. When I shared, I spoke about the recognition I've had for myself about the ways I protect myself from being hurt, when I perceive that it's the other person doing it to me. It is part of a cycle of seeing myself as a victim. The truth is, that I am the one who creates the "story" that perpetuates the need to protect that has me put on the armor and move away and ultimately create the distance. The recognition that my self-pity and self-centered thinking is at the root of this was eye opening to say the least. And, it also prompted me to take an action. I called my friend yesterday and invited her for coffee and a swim this morning. I simply asked her:  "Would you be interested in helping to close the gap between us?" And she was delighted. I'll be seeing her shortly.

In kabbalistic healing, selfish behavior can show up in a number of places throughout the "Tree". My healer may say that it is simply "our longing for God and to be whole". For me, I see it as the "nega" place of my poisoned ground where I believed I was not lovable, not worthy, not good enough, too much, in fear of being abandoned. And my subsequent actions when I am in this nega place would most definitely be selfish. They could take the form of overcompensating; pleasing another to hold onto them and to make them like me; "testing" the care of another; making up stories in my head of how I'm being mistreated and then cut people out; isolating and being stingey with my time. The list can go ad nauseum. And, my behavior to "protect" myself from experiencing any of the painful, toxic aspects of my poisoned ground would find me in another area of the tree wielding a protective shield, a phrase coined as: "nega gevurah weaponery" . Having such strict boundaries that they are akin to concrete walls. Believing that someone will take away from me. In Netzach-Hod on the tree, there is something referred to as our "secret garden"; when it is in tact and there are healthy boundaries in this area, we don't have the need to engage in selfish behavior because we are solid in our place, we know who we are with another.  Then there is the behavior of "self-seeking"  and now we're in a place of unhealed Yesod.   Trying to connect to everyone and everything because we don't want to be alone,  don't want to feel.   We are desperate for company,  even if it is in the form of a bottle of booze.

Lastly, when we listen to our "God-voice" and the call of our Future Self to be whole and to heal, it is at this time that we move from selfishness and self-pity to being self-full, generous, open-hearted. I can feel the shift in my own self of wanting to offer of myself to another from a selfless place. To not protect my time but rather see it as an opportunity to connect. This is freedom from selfishness. This is the culmination of "The Promises" in the Big Book. This is our coming home to our true nature and to ourselves and to God. This is where I want to live out the days of my life.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The courage of recovery

The courage to be different
Originally uploaded by aviana2

The speaker at tonight's meeting is a quiet yet powerful presence in the rooms, a living example of solid recovery.   It is pretty much unanimous that we all want what she has.

She began her story by telling of the incest she endured from the time she was 3 years old. And how she thought she may be "saved" after she and her mother moved to Japan when she was 8, only to return back home with a new stepfather who would repeat the violations into her teenage years. After bravely disclosing to her mother what had occurred and not being supported, she was able to obtain a lock for her bedroom door so that she would never be harmed again. And then she fled from this home to go to college and, like many of us, believed she found the freedom from pain she longed for inside of a bottle of liquor.

The speaker has 28 years of sobriety and yet, she emphasized to us the importance of not ever taking time accumulated for granted. She shared how attending beginner's meetings kept her sobriety in check. And that just last night while at one such meeting, she was seated next to a young man celebrating 1 week of sobriety. He showed her all of the 24 hr coins he had collected and asked how many of those she had acquired. She replied to him: "Just one. My first sponsor told me to always remember my 1st 24 hrs and that, in order to stay sober, I would never need to collect another 24 hr coin again."

I sat in reverence and in awe of the way this woman faces her sobriety, the way she still works a program, and the courage it takes to be in recovery.

It is easy to open one's throat repeatedly and pour down booze in an effort to numb unbearable pain. For many of us, it was the only thing we had to survive at the time. It is an illusion that alcohol will save us. And it is a downright cowardly act. Suicide, 1 drink at a time.

The true act of bravery is the moment when we open our eyes, our hearts, our souls and allow for divine intervention to enter in. It is in our first acknowledgment that we are powerless and that we want help. That we don't want to turn to the bottle any more. That we want to live differently. Our speaker tonight shared how she was told at her very first AA meeting that she never had to hurt from alcohol again. I've heard many others recall that same message given to them when they first came into the rooms. We believe that alcohol takes away the pain of our lives and it does the exact opposite -- it makes the hurt magnified. Ten-fold. The recognition of this is when we step into reality and understand that alcohol is NOT the solution. It is rather the cause of tremendous misery and suffering.

I visited old friends today before attending this meeting - both as a reunion and to make amends. My harm to one of these friends in particular was done while sober. I aligned, under coercion, with my then partner who had a work-related falling out with this friend -- who I knew a number of years before my partner did. I did not have the courage then to stand up to my partner and to express my desire to maintain a separate relationship with this friend. I, instead, gave my power away and sided with my partner as she told this friend that she could no longer be around her. As I began to recount this with my friend at her kitchen table, she stopped me mid-way through to share that she understood what the dynamic was between my partner and I at that time and that the pleading look in my eyes on that fateful day confirmed for her that I was in a position of not having a choice. And that she made her peace with me on that day. This was the presence of utter "grace" as I sat across from her, tears streaming down my face. It is said often in the rooms that all that is required is a willingness. And, instead of feeling guilty or wallowing in shame about time lost, a commitment was made tonight in the here and now to have regular Sunday dinners. This is an example of the "gifts of sobriety" that people talk about time and time again at meetings. I am just beginning to experience what this really means. Tonight, for me, was a loving lesson in the courage of recovery. And that all I need to do is be willing to show up. God takes care of the rest.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Responsibility ...

His Hand
Originally uploaded by h.koppdelaney

I went to a Big Book meeting today and we read the Chapter entitled: "To Employers". This portion of the Big Book is about the kinds of irresponsible behavior an alcoholic may display on the job and what employers need to know, particularly how to act in the event that they may have an employee on the job who is drinking.

For me, this brought to mind many circumstances while on the job when I not only drank, but was completely irresponsible for what I was charged with as an employee. When I really think about the start of my employment history, it still amazes me that I was never fired. I think that has a lot to do with what I could talk my way out of -- being a quick thinker and persuasive to boot -- and the fact that I was smart enough to know how to do just enough to slide by. In my first "official" real job out of college, I was hired to be the live-in supervisor of a group home for 6 women with mental retardation. I was charged with their overall care and the supervision of several staff who also worked directly with them in the home. My best guess is that I was under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs for about 85% of the time I was working there. The remaining 15% would account for extreme hangover days and meetings at the main office where there would be too many "eyes" on me. I administered medication to these women while intoxicated. I drove an enormous van, with any or all of the women as passengers, in an inebriated condition. These women counted on me for nearly every aspect of their daily living and were unaware that I was in an altered state most of the time. I would chug a beer in my attached apartment, come upstairs and make them dinner, go back to my apartment and smoke a joint and have another beer, return to do baths and other evening chores, and once I got everyone situated in pajamas and in front of the TV, I was back in my apartment to "finish the job" of getting good and stewed so I could pass out in order to sleep through the night without a panic attack. Heaven forbid any of these women needed anything during sleep hours because it would have been near impossible to wake me.

As things got shakier in terms of my ability to carry out my duties and the fact that I had a new boss who scrutinized me more closely and would surely discover that I was doing things that were not acceptable on the job, I conveniently moved and found a job in another state, believing that things would change and be better because I changed locations. This is the insanity of addiction. Regardless of where you relocate, if you do the same thing over and over again and expect different results, you are engaging in insane behavior. And I was certifiable.

My next job finds me with a little more responsibility and a lot more irresponsible behavior. I now drink on the way to work and while at work. 7-11 Big Gulps disguising super-sized vodka cocktails. And I firmly believed that if you drank clear fluids, like Sprite and vodka, that somehow they couldn't be detected. Like clear equals invisible. And popping tic-tacs hides the smell. Yup. Cunning, baffling, powerful that alcohol is. And really convincing. I kept a cooler at all times in the back of my car filled with beer. And usually a bottle of vodka in the trunk for good measure. And, I don't get fired ! I know how to get my paperwork in and how to make it look and sound good, which keeps me afloat. Somehow this carries me through all the times I call out sick, am late because of a hangover, or have made an outlandish excuse for why I won't be at work. As soon as I get a whiff that I am getting dangerously close to being found out, I am onto the next job.

I make a promise to myself that I'm not going to drink before work. I break that within a few days. And once again, I'm back to my old habits and am ball & chained to the bottle. The excuses become more elaborate and I am missing work for multiple days at a time, rather than the sporadic day here & there. My car gets repossessed because I've stopped making payments. I move from the suburbs to the city so I can walk to work. I go to low-bottom dive bars with rolls of pennies to see how much booze I can get and am bought sympathy shots for my patheticness. I am in a dingey studio apartment with a high rent and within a block of several crack houses. I live on peanut butter and rice cakes and tuna. On paydays, my number one priority is having an ample supply of beer and vodka. Then comes rent. I default on my student loan and am called constantly by bill collectors. And I don't get fired. I do, however, get written up a few times. And then it's back to the suburbs and off to a new job.

The time I have left to keep up this lifestyle is ticking away. I hear the nagging voice deep in the recesses of my brain that warns me I need to stop. This is going to kill me. I try to push it away. I find a way to talk my parents into giving me their old Plymouth Horizon with a fabricated story about needing a car for my new job. I'm at Temple University teaching people who are trying to get off welfare about how to work with people who are mentally retarded. It's a temporary, grant-funded position. I'm paid a bulk sum at the beginning of the 2 month period and I think I've hit the lottery. I spend a great deal of it up on high-end booze. Stoley's vodka. Heinekens. Heaven. And it's on this job that I hit my bottom. I meet my first girlfriend here and spiral into drinking sprees that last for days on end. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I think I knew that this was all coming to an end and this was going to be my last hurrah. Everything comes crashing down after Labor Day weekend of that year; the grant ends a month after I stop drinking and the party is indeed over.

Had I been fired from any of these positions, would that have been the catalyst for me to put down the bottle? I don't know. A woman in today's meeting spoke about how none of us are truly ready to stop until we're willing. And for some of us, getting fired may have been the spark. For others, it was the reason to drink more. I'd like to believe that it was my future self, the "who is" that I am today, that was the nagging voice who gave the warning. That saw a vision of what was possible. That understood I needed to let alcohol run its course and trusted that I could stop. That always believed there was a caring, loving soul that could be responsible.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Humility ...

. h u m b l e d
Originally uploaded by .bryan.stupar.

I went to a Step meeting that I've not been to in quite some time. It was incredibly packed, with many familiar faces from other rooms I frequent.

Tonight was Step 7: "Humbly asked him to remove our shortcomings".

After we made the rounds to read the entire step in the 12/12, a speaker shared what this step means to her and then the floor was open for members' shares. The speaker remarked a lot about how she works this step daily and that the one shortcoming she's been asking to have removed is her need to control. She very confidently told us that she felt quite free because this has been removed and she's been able to let go.

So... as the shares begin, the speaker is now interjecting her opinion after each person's remarks, sometimes giving the person a suggestion of how they may approach their situation. I am one such person that has shared; I talk about what the 7th step is for me right now and how I sometimes ask God to "hold a place" for a difficult feeling to live in me, as a character defect of mine is about holding and stuffing painful feelings and this is my interim step to move toward fully asking for the shortcoming to be removed altogether. After I share, the speaker lets me know that while she understands where I am, that it's important for me to "let go" of the feelings I am describing. My initial internal reaction is one of irritation, rising even to "Who the fuck do you think you are?". I am literally experiencing what I have just shared and in this moment, I ask God for help during the meeting. And I continue to watch the speaker reply to other members and I feel a softening wash over me. I realize that her initial remarks about this step and her character defect of the need to be in control was very much here and that my reaction to her was not mine to have at all. I was witnessing the presence of this character defect, in all its glory, and it was not up to me, but rather the speaker to ask to have it removed, if and when she is aware of it. Interestingly enough, being in control is one of MY character defects too and its presence in the room was quite a mirror for me and a reminder about all the ways this shows up for me, particularly when I am with strangers or in a group that I want to keep "at bay" or when I am fearful of being in a place of "not knowing". I may venture to guess that this could have been the case for tonight's speaker, as she was visiting from out of town and asked to come and speak at the last minute and only knew 2 people in the room.

Step 7 is a continuous process and even when we believe that something's been "completely removed", life situations have a way of cracking the door open and our defect may scurry in without us even knowing.

In kabbalistic healing, to have humility is to be guided by Tiferet -- our wise sage within. It is the God-voice inside that divinely tells us when to be quiet or when to speak up. It may steer us to delve deeper or to look right in front of our noses. It keeps us from acting on impulse. It hastens our urgency. In Step 7, I feel like it is the wisdom of Tiferet that is present when we are hit with the insight, the "drop-to-your-knees" moment, of pausing and saying aloud "This is the thing that's getting between me and the rest of the world -- God can you help lift it for me?"

It was a Step 7 moment that brought me back into the rooms of AA after an extended absence. Step 7 work has been the force behind many of my blog entries. Step 7 is what will ultimately allow me to live a sober life. Step 7 is the reminder that there are no apologies for being human and that I am in good company, always.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A sidewalk 12th step

I Need A Drink - Part 5
Originally uploaded by lucky_money_cat

A lovely sunny fall afternoon and I'm on a typical around the block walk with my dog. I'm heading down a street where I sometimes will make a turn into a small scenic alleyway. I notice a man walking toward us in the distance who appears to be angry, as he walks forcefully, hands buried in his pocket. He is African-American. This is important to note this because of my 1st stereotypical thought that breezes through my head: "Dangerous. Neighborhood thug. Turn up alley."  I'm aware very quickly that these thoughts are not based in fact but rather fear.  And I then have a counter-thought that comes from the place I wrote my blog entry last night about "making room for difference". I let my heart soften and open up and I proceed down the street toward him.

My dog, in all of her divine timing, decides to poop about 10 ft from him on the grass lining the sidewalk. This forces me to come to a halt and wait so she can finish her business. The man is now within 2 ft of us and I smile widely in his direction. He stops and asks: "Oh, what a cute dog, what kind is she?" And I tell him. And I then comment on his beautiful sweater and how it's the kind of day that's just perfect for wearing one. He thanks me and then inquires: "Do you always have such a big smile for everyone you meet?" And I honestly reply: "No, not always. You got me on a good day!" He then tells me that I'm the friendliest face he's seen today and how he's just had a huge fight with his boyfriend and decided he needed to leave. I said to him: "I'm sorry to hear that. And by the way, I'm 'family' " and he smiled knowingly back, an unspoken and understood code to acknowledge that we're both gay.

He then comments about how he needs to get a beer to calm himself down. And I take a breath and decide if I'm going to respond. I gently reply with: "I'm probably the wrong person to support you on that choice. I'm an alcoholic. I'd likely suggest getting a coffee." And he pauses and looks at me and asks: "How much time do you have?" And I reply: "19 years." And he gasps, as if in awe. And then says how he tells himself all the time that he needs to stop. And I say to him: "Maybe today's the day to start." And we are both silent for a little while, as he reaches down to pet my dog. He looks back up and says: "A latte sounds pretty good. I think I'll get one. Thank you." He tells me his name and I tell him mine and we shake hands and he says that he hopes we meet again and so do I and then we part our separate ways.

The 12th step is simply about the fact that,  having had a spiritual awakening ourselves, we can carry this message to other alcoholics. And to practice these principles in all of our affairs. I know that I was guided at that very moment to stay the course, to let my first thoughts pass by and to not retreat down the alleyway, but instead have this sidewalk encounter with this lovely soul. My heart was very full as I continued my walk. This was God's will, not mine.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Making room for difference ...

\/ Free Palestine .. [ Free Gazza ] .. \/
Originally uploaded by →♥ мσηч ηϊςє «-- Łџ

I saw a movie tonight called "Amreeka" -- it was about a Palestinian mother and her son who gain the opportunity to go to America and they move in with her sister's family in Illinois, in hopes to find all of the things that are written above on the fingers in the photo ... a new LIFE; to be FREED; to find PEACE; to maintain their DIGNITY; to have a place to truly call HOME.

It was a powerful and tender and touching movie that also felt like a very REAL portrayal of how people who are different are treated, particularly in this country, when there are assumptions made about them based on heresay, stereotypes, myths and out and out falsehoods.

As a woman, as a lesbian, as a person adopted and as an alcoholic, I've experienced what it is like to be on the receiving end of others' intolerance for difference. I understand now that it always, always boils down to fear. What is unknown about another is to be feared about another and the ways in which people shield themselves from experiencing that fear is to project things onto the other so that it makes it easy to dislike, loathe and hate them.

Historically, women were not necessarily a feared or hated group, but rather we were considered a threat (and may still be) to those institutions and settings and groups which are patriarchal. I could kick the ball just as far if not farther than most of the boys in 1st grade at recess when we played kickball. For some of them, I was the target for name-calling because my ability was perceived as a threat; for others, I was the 1st one they chose for their team because I was seen as an asset. It is a matter of perspective. And sometimes it's about what do you stand to gain or win if you can let go of your disdain and fear of difference.

As a lesbian, I am still the recipient (often indirectly and on a larger scale) of people's fear which manifests as hatred. There are parts of this country -- hell, even parts of my own city and state -- where it is unsafe for me to disclose that I am a homosexual. Just under 40 years ago, my orientation would've been labeled as a psychiatric diagnosis. I recall very painfully how much I feared to even let fully into my consciousness what I understood at a very early age to be the fact that I liked girls in the ways that other girls liked boys. And that the word lesbian was something you NEVER wanted associated with yourself or you would surely be the subject of incessant mockery, teasing not to mention having the other girls in the locker room showers treat you as an outcast. This is how many of us developed internalized homophobia -- the terror of how your dirty little secret will ruin you should it ever be leaked out. So, in order to "conceal it" fully, you engage in outwardly homophobic, hateful projections that you hurl freely at potential suspects. One such person was my field hockey coach and gym teacher, Miss G. I was one of the worst offenders, often spreading rumors and leading the troops in treating her like a leper when she got too close to any of us. She is someone I surely owe an amends to, should ever our paths cross. This internalized homophobia is what kept many of us, like myself, in deep hiding, denying the truth of ourselves as something that was vile and disgraceful. It was the thing about myself that I wanted to exile, to "kill off" with alcohol. With enough booze, I could convince myself that I was heterosexual and that men were appealing. And that I was an acceptable human being. It is this level of self-hatred, fueled by societal hatred, that results in high numbers of young teens grappling with their sexual orientation to commit suicide. To live the truth of your life is too painful to bear, so instead the only option is to end your life. I am deeply grateful that alcohol did not lead me down that road.

Being adopted in the early 60's was not yet "cool". While many of my friends were accepting of the fact that I was adopted, it would only be much later in life that I would come to a place of resentment, hurt, and deep wounding because of perceiving that I was abandoned, discarded, unloved and unwanted. This is the lot in life that many people who are adopted take on as their sad story. My kabbalistic healer has done tremendous work with me to understand and to accept what aspects were missing during this time period that would result in such wounding, like entering the world without consistent "forms" , such as a mother's touch or breast to nurse. The work in this area for me has helped me to understand that not having roots beneath me at the start of my journey would find me panicking and fearful of anything that closely resembled that same void of not being able to connect to something or someone.

Lastly, the shame of having to acknowledge that I was powerless over alcohol and that my life became unmanageable. In the rooms, many people speak about how long it took them to put down the drink because they never saw themselves as the stereotypical drunk (i.e. bum on street drinking out of a paper bag variety). The label "alcoholic" had (and still does) very stigmatizing associations. It was not until returning to the rooms of AA this year that I actually have used the label "alcoholic" for myself, because that is how you introduce yourself each and everytime you share in a meeting. My early years of sobriety found me hiding in the back of the room, not sharing, and then ducking out before the meeting was over. All the years out of the rooms, I identified as a "recovering person". It was this mindset that highlighted my own intolerance for difference. I didn't want to be "like those people". I referred to AA as a cult. As a bunch of whiners who got off telling war stories. Another phobia that became internalized and then externalized in derogatory comments projected onto innocent, good folk just trying to get sober one day at a time.

While I cannot tout that I tolerate all difference, all of the time, I am certainly learning how to make room. First and foremost, within myself for myself. As I do this, I make room for others.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The beauty of vulnerability

the beauty of all creation
Originally uploaded by job_earth

The speaker at tonight's meeting had a powerful message in a delicate package. The essence of what she spoke about was coming to terms with her arrogance after several years of being pissed off about having to acknowledge her alcoholism, her defects, her "not knowing", her humanness, her vulnerability. What brought this front and center for her was a recent incident involving a former drinking buddy who was still using, riding her bike under the influence, crossing traffic at a red light and hit head on, now lying in a coma. This event took the speaker to a place of deep humility, recognizing that this could have been her, particularly had she remained in her cockiness about being able to control her drinking or in her denial that perhaps she wasn't really an alcoholic.

I hung on her every word. I could relate to nearly every feeling she expressed. Arrogance and denial and appearing that I was in the know are the very things that kept me out of the rooms of AA for so long. Underneath the false armour of those defenses was a tremendous fear of having the achilles heel of my personhood be revealed -- that others would see that I am deeply sensitive, anxious, unsure, scared, and vulnerable. To have these things be seen would surely find me very alone in the world. Avoided, talked about and shunned. I believed this for quite a long time, I can say with certainty as I reflect back.

The moment we recognize that the masks we wear are transparent to the outer world is the moment we find ourselves willing to take them off and to let our real face be the one and only that we wish the world to see. I refer to this process for myself as "getting naked" -- I'm talkin' stripped down, bare bones, buck-naked to the core. As the speaker shared tonight, the process of dropping into humility finds her scared shitless. Me too. And yet, putting on any costume or mask after having already "dropped my drawers" so to speak, would be a farce.

A woman I love with all of my heart has shared with me that when I am in this place of utter nakedness and I reveal myself to her from this part of my being, she wants to come closer. She is attracted to me. Never in my wildest imagination could I have conjured up this scenario. In my irrational mind, this would have most definitely resulted in instant abandonment and repulsion. I am learning how distorted my former thinking really was.

In the rooms of AA, there is heart-stopping, breath-taking, eye-popping , vulnerable beauty everywhere. It's seen in the trembling faces of newcomers and heard in the stories of old-timers who share from their heart and their soul. It's the hush that falls upon the room when a member discloses the very thing many of us have feared the most. It's the insight someone discovers about themselves for the 1st time that many others have quietly known about them for a long time. It's in the quivering voice of the person who has waited until the end of the meeting to muster up the courage to speak. It's found in the tears that trickle down the cheeks of men and women alike. It's what makes goosebumps and hairs stand straight up after a compelling share. It's what keeps each of us coming back.

Perhaps the greatest example of this is found in my homegroup buddy who has cancer and who attended tonight's meeting. I greeted him as I usually do with a hug and a kiss on the forehead and a sincere "How are you doing?" as I look directly into his eyes. His shaking hand fumbled to lean on his forehead as he looked half-way up at me and said: "I'm scared to death. I found another tumor in the shower today. On my jaw." And yet, he doesn't want to drink. He would, however, like the chance to shoot or blow-up something and that gave us a good belly laugh together. You don't get much more beautiful or real than this.

I am grateful to witness and to experience what it is to be human. To not want to be anything else other than who I am and created to be. To be willing to unwrap and reveal and accept all the comes in the package that is me.

Making pies

aspiring to pie
Originally uploaded by Kim Denise

At my women's meeting last night, a particular share touched me more than anything. A prominent member of this meeting spoke about the origins of the apple pie that she had brought for all of us to enjoy. She makes an apple pie once a year to gently remind herself of what she learned to do in sobriety that she could not do previously . She shared a story of being at her last of many in-patient rehabs and the activity they were given was to make an apple pie. With no sharp objects, mind you, given the type of facility. And how they were able to do it because of everyone's contribution. This has been a deeply symbolic activity for her to continue to do this --to now remind herself that she needs the fellowship of others, for all of us to show up to form a meeting, so that she can continue to stay sober.

We make the pie complete with what each of us brings.  And shares.  And extends.

And with every bite,  my life is that much sweeter ...

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Finding serenity in the oddest places

Autumn 70, and some
Originally uploaded by Sareni

I awoke today acutely aware that my sinus situation had shifted toward allergy symptoms and what was formerly clogged was leaking everywhere.

I returned back to the AA speaker from last evening and thought about how he tried to "live the Serenity prayer". So, amid the everflowing fluids, I sat with each line:

"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change..."

In this moment I understood that whatever my sinus passages had stored was now being released. This is nature running its course. In addition to this, I need to add that my menstrual cycle has been in stall-mode and just when I thought it may be arriving this morning, it never showed up. Only the heavy cramping. And then, the explosive diarrhea. Again, I return to the first line and plant my butt on the toilet and accept the things I cannot change.

"The courage to change the things I can."

To alleviate some of the effects of the nasal waterfall, I remembered that I had a homeopathic allergy remedy. So I took it and the dripping has significantly subsided. This was followed by a very steamy shower, which provided some soothing relief to the sinus passages. As for the menstrual dilemma, a few yoga poses after the shower and not much else.

"And the wisdom to know the difference."

Engaging in self-pity is not even an option. It is what it is.
Trying to control the outcome of the various bodily functions is subscribing to the illusion that I actually have the power to do that.
Taking the next right action has worked so far. If I need another allergy dose, my body will let me know. If I need to return to the toilet, there's no question that my body will sound the alarm! And I can play with my i-phone and enjoy the ride.

Oh, and there's the additional line to this prayer that is said at meetings:
"God's will, not mine, be done."

This is the 3rd step in all of its simplistic glory. To try to do anything else in this moment is sheer insanity. Like a salmon swimming up stream.

I actually feel relief in this moment having just walked through this. Ahhhhhh.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Originally uploaded by tina_manthorpe

The speaker at my AA mtg tonight made a strong qualification before he began to tell his story that it would be "unremarkable". It was anything but.

It likely felt unremarkable to him because it was not filled with the usual dramatics as perhaps other drinkers' stories may contain and the fact that his drinking took off much later in life and that it took place at home and not displayed publicly, like in bars.

What was remarkable was that this man had developed a half-gallon of vodka every 2 days drinking habit that spanned over the course of 15 years. In the last days of his alcoholism, he got up in the middle of the night - restless and unable to sleep - poured himself a glass of vodka and said a 3-word prayer: "God, help me." 2 days later, he found himself looking in the phone book for the number to AA and went to a meeting that very same day. He's never taken a drink since. An absolute miracle.

What really stood out in this man's message tonight, however, was his demeanor by which he shared his story. There was no shame, no hanging his head, no remorse. He told it "for what it was". No apologies. He embodied contentment. He spoke about living the Serenity Prayer on a daily basis and it surely showed.

Funny thing about this being a theme of sorts given the kind of day I had today. And I shared this in the meeting tonight: I related to the speaker from the place in his story where he speaks about his drinking increasing as soon as he broke free from a dissatisfying marriage and home. In his new "freedom", he drank more and more. I shared that in my freedom from leaving my parents' home and going off to college, I too drank progressively to excess. What appeared to be freedom turned out to be a terrifying void. A canyon of emptiness that needed to be filled up. And, even after the drinking ceased, I looked to so many other things to patch up the countless holes. And this has now shifted in my newer phase of sobriety. Today, specifically this very day, I took off from work duties because I was experiencing a lot of sinus pain. I recognized the gift in being able to give my body much needed rest from a very hectic and full work schedule over the past 2 weeks. And I didn't do much of anything ... a small load of laundry, reading, a bath, listening to the Phillies 1st game of the playoffs. And I was utterly content. There was no need to fill up the spaces in between. No need for "busying". No urgency to get things done around the apartment because I now had time. No trying to rush my recovery process and get through the sinus stuff as quickly as possible.

This is the gift of sober living. This is what Bill W. speaks about in "The Promises" as well as in the Big Book when he writes about being happy, joyous and free. It isn't something I have to go after, but rather it is something that unfolds as I work the program and the program works me. When I look in the mirror, I can honestly say "I want what she has".

Sunday, October 4, 2009

No more drama ...

Leaving Drama behind
Originally uploaded by pirano

Oh, it feels so good
When you let go
Of all the drama in your life
Now you're free from all the pain
Free from all the games
Free from all the stress
To find your happiness...
I dont know...
Only God knows where the story ends
For me
But I know where the story begins
It's up to us to choose
Whether we win or lose
And I choose to win
~ Mary J. Blige, "No More Drama"

The young woman who spoke at tonight's AA meeting is someone who entered the rooms for the first time simultaneously as I made my return back -- she will soon be celebrating 9 months of sobriety.

I have watched this young woman blossom in this program. Her first months of sharing in meetings were riddled with drama. Over an abusive boyfriend, mostly. And even though she arrived into the rooms after a stint in a rehab, the "rush" of drama was still part of the equation that was minus the bottle.

Whether you call it chaos or upheaval or craziness or being out-of-control, we AA's have come to thrive on some form of drama. Primarily in our using, yet it may linger after ... to help us feel alive, to help us feel something, period.

When alcohol was in the mix of our lives, our lives were mixed-up. Everything we touched was impacted by alcohol and got swept up in the cyclone of our addiction. I really get why Step 1 has the component of admitting that "our lives have become unmanageable".

The speaker tonight shared very openly and candidly about how she continued to drink out of fear that she was going insane. And how she exposed herself to insane living conditions, regularly returning to an abusive boyfriend once she had a few drinks in her. And that she continued the cycle even after the drinks were put down.

Most of my drama took place while I was actively drinking. I got myself into situations that were incredibly insane, sometimes very dangerous. With enough alcohol in my system, I felt invincible. And I was grandiose. And a real asshole. In college, I was the Tazmanian devil in the flesh. I stole food out of student's hot pots in the dorms, often puking the contents up shortly after. Not always making it to the toilet, either. I would bounce off walls and disturb those who were trying to study for exams or attempting to get some sleep. I broke into the vending machines, trying to shake down the chips because the machine ate my coins and was then fined and had a letter sent to my parents. At parties, I was infamous for throwing beer on innocent bystanders in line to use the bathroom and had many a person attempt to beat the shit out of me and somehow managed to dodge the actual blows (mostly because I had others who felt sorry for me and talked people out of carrying out their threats). I mooned people in broad daylight and in the backseat of moving cars on busy highways. I peed in public places, squatting whenever and wherever the urge hit me. I would have public displays of sobbing toward the end of a heavy night of drinking. Sometimes the pain was so great, that I scratched myself with sharp objects, like car keys. I was found on several occasions after drifting out of parties, laying by the side of the road.

As my drinking worsened, the dramatic episodes got more outlandish. In my senior year of college, I had my parents' car. Countless times I ran into poles, onto curbs, into fields. I drove with the door ajar or with far too many people packed into it like sardines. I drove on the wrong side of the road. I was a moving time-bomb. I began stealing other people's drinks off of the bar and having serious threats made against me. I totaled my 1st car just a few months out of college when I fell asleep at the wheel, completely plastered, and ran into a telephone pole. I had the wear-with-all to take the beer out of the back seat and walk away. I told my parents that some guys were chasing me and it was raining and that's why I ran my car into the pole. About a year after that, I was arrested with my then boyfriend for possession of cocaine in my glove compartment, after having been pulled over for crossing the yellow line due to being drunk. I was finger-printed at a local police station and then let go, assigned a probation officer for a total of 9 months. Luckily, I was able to have my record expunged a few years later for "good behavior".

Drinking- drama found me raped. And then pregnant. It landed me in multiple emergency rooms for a slew of related injuries: sprained ankles from falling; a completely banged up face from plummeting face-first into a cement floor when doing MaryLou Retton gymnastic imitations off of bar railings; slamming my head into the steering wheel after running into non-moving objects with my moving car; having stones or glass removed from brush burns acquired after splattering onto city streets in drunken stupors.

It takes a LOT of energy to maintain this level of drama. And over time, as the AA saying goes, we get "sick and tired of being sick & tired". As the young speaker shared tonight, working the program left little room any longer for drama. And this is when we can take Step 2: believing that a power greater than ourselves will restore us to sanity. Living sober does not mean that there won't be any drama; what it does mean is that we won't be looking for it, creating it or seeking it as a substitute for being in the reality of our lives. I welcome the ordinary-ness of sobriety.

Noticing where the finger's pointed ...

Told you so
Originally uploaded by Violator3

The divided self exists in all of us.
--Marie Lindquist

One gift of sobriety is the growing awareness that we are complex, whole individuals, more than just our dark side. Defeated, we came into this program of recovery certain that our lives would be forever fraught with problems. Little in our experience made us proud. Surviving our hateful, painful, and confusing lives was our proudest achievement.
~ An excerpt from Today's Gift, a recovery email from Hazelden

Receiving this email today was my Higher Power gently validating me.

I had an experience last night at a new AA meeting and became aware of the ways in which I judge others and how this is a reflection of how I am feeling about me, always. In kabbalistic speak, when a judgment arises about self, it's referred to as a "Klipah" . We have a practice when we allow these judgments to arise and live and then we bring light to them, softening toward ourselves. It's called "Returning the Klipot".

My judgments last night began shortly after I entered the meeting room. I was comforted at first by the fact that I saw my "guy" sponsor and had a sense of security with him in the room. I was very aware as I looked around that there was a "feel" to the room that the folks in here had lived a very very hard life and it was evident on their outsides -- gruff faces, bad tattoos, smoker's hacks, mouths freely dropping the f-bombs.

I found a chair and tried to settle in and knew at this point that I had discomfort, unease. A minute before the meeting started, a woman dressed very promiscuously with chest cleavage literally busting out, adorned in layers of silver chains sat next to me. It wasn't long before I could smell the beer on her breath. It wasn't leftover or stale, it was newly consumed. I quickly judged her for being here, violating me with her alcohol fumes. I became aware of that feeling in me, and as I took in the words of the reading of "How it works", I was reminded that the only requirement for this woman or any of us was a desire to stop drinking. And I softened toward her, recognizing that she had the guts to get herself here and that she wasn't ready just yet.

And then the speaker began her story. She had the tough, "don't-fuck-with-me" biker chick look. She identified as an addict and alcoholic and proceeded to tell most of her story from the viewpoint of an addict, using the words "high", "gettin clean", "drugs" a lot in her story. I began to tune her out. I got resentful. I was judging her for not respecting the "rules" of a closed AA meeting which states "keep your stories and shares to your problems with alcohol." And she wasn't following the rules. I didn't give a crap if she smoked crack. Tell me about how alcohol affected you. And, I let this come into my awareness. How I judged her. And how I was missing the essence of her story. And the fact that she wouldn't be here if alcohol didn't affect her in some way.

I became aware in this moment (and a later conversation with a trusted fellow traveler of recovery rooms confirmed this) that I was feeling extremely uncomfortable and out of place. I was separating myself, just like I did in the early days of AA. "I don't belong with THESE people". It is about my own fears and judgments and "isms" about being JUST LIKE every person in this room. I too lived a rough life.  I had a dark side.  I came into recovery overweight, bloated, and lookin worn. My skin was ruddy and my eyes even duller. The fingers I was pointing at all of these folks in this room were really pointing back at me. I am aware in this very moment of writing that I still experience the sting of the stigma of being an alcoholic. A judgment about having been a coward. Weak. Unable to control myself. It's this very "stinkin-thinkin" that brings each of us into the rooms and head-first into Step 1 : admitting our powerlessness over alcohol and that our lives have become unmanageable. Just because I have a lot of years of not consuming the booze and have cleaned myself up on the outside doesn't mean I don't belong in the seat next to the woman who still has beer on her breath. We are in the rooms for the same reason. I'm no better than her, yet my judgments would have me believing so because the truth is -- I'm terrified of being the person I was that she so vividly reminds me of and I keep coming back so I that I never return to that way of life again.

I made it a point on the break after the speaker's story to introduce myself to others. I went outside amid the smokers and struck up a conversation wtih a fella who had a deformed hand from an accident and we admired the nearly full moon, both recognizing Jupiter's presence in the clear night sky as well. I walked back into that meeting with a softening in my heart toward the members in the room and more so toward myself. I could take in the rich sharing and even got my own hand up.

I go to meetings so that I can stay sober, period. And each person in that room has a chair that is just for them. Regardless of appearance or the kind of life they lived or the state that they arrive in. We each want a different way of life than the one we were barely surviving when alcohol was in the driver's seat. Last night, I came to a place of recognizing and accepting my character defect of judging out of fear. And the fingers that were extended and pointing at others and myself were re-coiled, then joined with those of my fellow members as we said the Serenity Prayer. The fear subsided. The Klipot returned. And I drove home basking in the glow of the moon and my own forgiving light.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Walking in the valley of the shadow of death

the jesus
Originally uploaded by Only an idiot

Yesterday morning began with a funeral. The mother of a friend in AA who I never met. I was there to support my friend along with a number of other women from our Thur night women's AA mtg. It was a Catholic Mass and a very visceral reminder of my father-in-law's service 7 years ago. I felt very awake to all of my feelings in a way that I hadn't been before. When I felt myself hold back tears, I then invited them to come. When I felt myself wanting to push away a past memory, like the way the priest waved the incense burner over the casket before it was whisked out of the church by the pall bearers for burial, I opened my eyes wider to make room for my discomfort to live. I took in the large sculpture of Jesus on the Crucifix that had a prominent place on the highest beam of the ceiling and I could recall how fearful I was of that image for most of my childhood days staring at a similar one from my church pew seat.
I found tremendous comfort, on the other hand, from singing the words to the Prayer of St. Francis, given that it's the 11th step prayer in AA. And then there was the standard reading of the 23rd Psalm: "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want ..." I've heard this countless times, primarily at funeral services, and the words have never resonated with me. Except for yesterday. And just 1 line: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me." I have become increasingly aware of my Higher Power, of God's presence in my life. I know that when I am still and open and willing to soften my heart, that I allow for God to enter and that I have company. And there is a comfort to know that my greatest fear -- dying alone -- is alleviated because God is always here and will be there.

Yesterday afternoon, I sat with the team of people who support my client who has terminal cancer. I had asked if everyone could be available so we could begin a discussion about how we want to support her and, more importantly, each other. Having settled in myself in a deep feeling place from the morning's funeral experience, I spoke from THAT place within me. About being scared for my client as she prepares to die and my own initial fears. About the support I received in my kabbalistic supervision and being able to bring to them the sage advice given to me about letting my client see a "human" and to have all feelings be present. And how I have understood that my client has been very unhappy and wants to be reunited with her father in heaven. And this opened the doorway to other members sharing from their hearts and about their own experiences with terminal illness and fears of death. The staff person who has been with this client long before any of us was able to talk about the loving interactions between this client and her father -- who she actually met before he died. And she told us how he loved his daughter unconditionally, regardless of her behavior. And how this client's mother wanted nothing to do with her while he was alive. And it became so clear to everyone about why she has experienced such a profound sense of loss and lostness after he was gone.

And the subject of death was not yet over for the day.

I arrived at my home group meeting to see my friend who has been battling with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. He looked particularly worn out. Downright weary. When I asked him how he was doing, he replied: "I feel like absolute shit." He went on to say that he was tired. That the cancer has spread and that he has to start a new, more aggressive chemo treatment. He understood why people considered suicide. He felt depressed and completely defeated. He spoke about how he just can't pretend to be strong anymore. My only statement to him, as my arm was wrapped around his bony shoulder, was that all he needed to be was himself. As he is. Honest. After the speaker's story, the chair asked if there was anyone who needed to share that was "sitting on a drink". After a long pause, my dear friend raised his hand hesitantly. And he said to the group: "I have almost 27 years of sobriety. And today is the first time I have felt like drinking." And he proceeded to tell the group exactly what he shared with me. And you could hear a pin drop. At the end of the meeting, he thanked me for my concern and care for him. And I thanked him for his expressing his honest fears about approaching death because it was teaching me how to live.