Count me in as a duffer.
When I was in high school, my friends and I would golf. Or, to put it another way, we would attempt to golf. We’d hit the city courses, with our starchy collard shirts and rented clubs and we’d duff around the course. Sometimes we’d actually get the ball in the hole, other times we gave up and inelegantly doctored our score cards. Regardless of our final tally, we had fun. It never entered my mind that this was something I needed to perfect or even improve dramatically. It was something to pass the time and enjoy.
Years later, I picked up the game after a hiatus (yes – the golf world missed me terribly and mourned my absence), and found myself in a different head space. This time I was going to take it seriously. I picked up books on golf. I subscribed to golf magazine and watched the Golf Channel endlessly. I even plodded through the late-night informercials, considering buying the most outlandish Victorian-era looking contraptions to lower my enormous score. If it was golf-related, I was on it. So one would think armed with all this knowledge, and hectic golf schedule, that I would have improved greatly. That I would soon be hoisting some amateur cup and setting my eyes towards the horizon of a semi-pro lifestyle.
The problem with all this knowledge was that so much of it was contradictory. One school of thought collided with another. The intricacies of the motions were broken down into such minute detail, it precluded any sort of natural rhythm and invited over-thinking at all points of the swing. Add to that any anxiety and expectations (there were always expectations, of course) and things broke down quickly – mechanically and mentally. In the end, what was supposed to be a fun and enjoyable couple of hours ended up being, as Mark Twain described golf, “a good walk ruined.”
I was guilty of being like this in my recovery as well, except that it was the other way around. When I first got sober, I was very much concerned with how other people were doing it. I was very much concerned with how I was approaching recovery and working the 12 step program. I was very much concerned with where I was in the pecking order of things. It was an offshoot and continuation of comparing my bottom to other people’s bottoms. This time, that debilitating and soul-crushing game of one-upmanship and one-downmanship sneaked into my recovery.
I used to leave meetings in a huff, because I felt that I wasn’t doing it as “well” as everyone else in the room. As if I took a poll and I came out last. Typical alcoholic thinking, yes? Typical of me, at least. Assume the worst and plaster that pathetic placard on everyone, whether they like it or not. I used that as the wet noodle that I lashed myself with. I used to think that everyone else was on a magic carpet ride, and I was just the crumbs between the movie theatre seats.
So instead of just letting go and allowing the process to fuel itself and to trust the process, I casted doubt on everything. I had to get worse before I could get better. Like my golf swing, I over-thought everything. I looked around the course to see what others were doing. I saw people riding around, laughing, patting shoulders, high-fiving, enjoying the sun rays. I gazed on that and created stories about how crappy I was and how piss poor the putter in my hand was rather than just focusing on myself. I looked at their scorecards while ignoring mine.
I compared my insides to their outsides. This sort of self-sabotaging sepia toning of my serenity and progress cost me lots of peace and centeredness. My need to know where I “was” in the grand scheme of things was like a small piece of thread on a sweater, continually pulling on, slowly dissolving and dismantling it. Instead of looking at where I was in my own progress, I turned my eyes and ears elsewhere, on everyone else’s journey, rather than looking at the path ahead. I mean, no one was looking at my path, so why was I putting so much focus and attention on theirs? Once again, ego was at play. But in one of its mangled forms. I was over thinking it all. I wasn’t allowing for the natural flow of my recovery come to me. I was trying to twist everything to make me come out on the losing end of things.
Except that this wasn’t a game. This was my life. Of course there were things I had to do, to take care of. I wasn’t going to get well just lying in bed all day and taking no actions. But I had to make sure that the actions I did take were aligned to something greater and positive. Aligned to getting well, and not throwing tacks on the road for me to step on later. And the result of me trying to compare myself to other people’s recovery? Misery. Angst. Depression. Tears. Walking out of recovery rooms. Walking out of the Creator’s view. Taking my will back. Whenever I thought I wasn’t “doing it right”, I had those old thoughts of not being good enough. Of being a loser. Hell, I couldn’t even do recovery well…what was the point? What got me through this all was just the sheer force of despair. That pushed me through all the fear.
I remember being on the golf course one day, and I was paired up with an older man. He was playing what we call “old man golf” – slow and steady 100 yard hits, a pitch and a putt and off to the next hole. Probably shot his age – 80’s. Commendable stuff, especially for a bean ball player like myself who averaged 110-120 shots per round. This man saw my struggles and told me very gently – “keep your head down, and just follow through. Don’t think about it.” And when I quieted my mind and allowed the flow of the energy to go through my body and mind, the ball went on the trajectory it needed to go on…or at least not nearly bonking someone on the head.
And that is how I see my recovery life now. I have some old timers and those who are healthy tell me the same thing, in other ways. When I am struggling, I have the soft, gentle voices of those men tell me “keep your head down, and just follow through.” When I stop the internal strife and second-guessing, there is clarity. And that clarity and connection with the Creator and others is what keeps me on the right trajectory. When I just allow the process to go ahead unimpeded by my monkey mind, things go well. I am par for course (sorry, will try not to keep the lame golf analogies going!)
My old timer friend John once told me that I was “scrupulous” (I wrote a post about that here) when I talked about this kind of thing. And while it can be a good trait, when it comes down to recovery, there is no need for that. I can be accountable, responsible and willing, but I need not conform to some blueprint that is impossible to adhere to. When I remove myself from mulling crap over and over again and just doing what I am supposed to do and leave it at that, boy does life get simple. Sometimes it’s just as easy to stand, address the ball, swing the club and move on. That’s it. When I try to have greater designs on my life, that’s when it goes into the woods or into the water.
Recovery is not a competition, nor is it a spectator sport. I’m in it for the long haul and I have to keep my eye on the ball, so to speak. Over-thinking the whole thing brings me to confusion and invites unwanted damaging thoughts. My recovery is my own, and as long as I remember that no two journeys are the same, I will continue to stay on the course. Of course I will hit errant balls around, but that’s okay. I have my Caddy with me, and He will always guide me.
In this whole game of life and recovery, count me in as a duffer.