I’ve been doing some work over the last week or two. Recovery work. Step work, to be honest. One doesn’t ever graduate from doing this kind of work. There aren’t diplomas that hang from our walls when we go through this stuff, same as I don’t have one for having a child. I just continue to be a dad – for a lifetime. Same goes with recovery. It’s not a destination – it’s a journey. And I forget that sometimes. I have realized in the last year or so that I have been complacent. Very complacent. Lazy. Oh sure I don’t drink, and don’t get the urge to do so. I have a good life. I have a life that others would dream of. I’m not rich in money, but I have people who love me and who I love. I work and have an amazing family and good loyal friends. I work in an industry that I still enjoy. I have a roof over my head.
I also have an illness that wants me dead. An ego that likes to shoehorn itself into my thoughts and turn them wayward. I have old thoughts and habits that if and when they crop up, can be detrimental to my well-being. Complacency, in my case, allows these things to creep up on me more quickly. Just like I can’t survive on yesterday’s food, I can’t rely on actions I took yesterday, last month or last year to help keep me on solid ground.
So I decided to have an old-timer friend of mine, John, take me through some work. Different work. It’s work from another fellowship that deals with narcotics, which is really an umbrella for any chemical addictions. The work is 12 step, but they approach it a bit differently. More digging. More writing. More questions. It’s something that I know other alcoholics have done, my sponsor and others I look up to included, and I know it’s deepened their own recovery. And so I am taking this on. And it’s not as easy as I thought it would be.
As John and I sat at the coffee shop and I had my homework ready – a list of things I was powerless over and how my life was unmanageable. He didn’t ask to look at it, but we spoke. And as we talked about addiction in general, he asked me a simple question – what do you think addiction is for you? I stumbled at first and then got into a progressively eloquent and dainty definition that eventually got away from me. He stopped me.
“Before you get further into your description there, let me ask you something – how is your addiction acting out in your life right now?” Full stop. I started to well up. Damn. You see, I am not in the throes of active alcoholism. I am not detoxing or just on 15 days of recovery. But hell if my alcoholism isn’t kicking my ass these days on so many other fronts. Knowing that I haven’t been entirely content and not going to meetings and not doing what I need to do is because the damn thing still likes to dance with me and screw me over is precisely why I decided to the work and why I was started to cry. I am still hurting and I don’t know what to do. That is the uncanny truth. The unfiltered verdict in my life right now.
Food. Sugar. Running. Internet. Talk about addictions. And let me tell you about some other hard truths. As we spoke, he brought up his own issues and how he, even after 25+ years recovery, still struggles with in different ways. He spoke about his alcoholic dad and the family dynamic which was exactly like mine and my wife’s. He showed me something from Adult Children of Alcoholic’s literature:
“We had come to feel isolated and uneasy with other people, especially authority figures. To protect ourselves, we became people-pleasers, even though we lost our own identities in the process. All the same we would mistake any personal criticism as a threat…We lived life from the standpoint of victims. Having an overdeveloped sense of responsibility, we preferred to be concerned with others rather than ourselves. We got guilt feelings when we stood up for ourselves rather than giving in to others. Thus, we became reactors, rather than actors, letting others take the initiative. We were dependent personalities, terrified of abandonment, willing to do almost anything to hold on to a relationship in order not to be abandoned emotionally” – excerpt from “The Problem” ACA
As I nodded and felt both sorrow and relief from hearing this, he read the last words from that passage –
“This is a description, not an indictment.”
Oh Christ, what a thing that opened up for me. To not feel bad about those things…I mean, I am not an adult child of an alcoholic, but I was and sometimes am those things there. I am also have immense intellectual pride. I am arrogant. I judge. I isolate. I don’t go to meetings because I don’t think I will get anything from them right now (even though when I do go, I am glad I went). I am a prideful balloon. These are the things that are tearing me down right now. These are the things that darken my heart these days, and have for some time now.
These are my hard truths.
These things do not define me though. I am not a monster. I am not an asshole. I sit in front of my computer here and make grand statements and sound like I know what I am doing and that I am some recovery guru, but I am just as messed up and unsure and just getting out of the starting gates in so many ways as others are. Just in different guises. I let my intellectual pride lead the way when I should be letting my heart and my Higher Power do it.
It’s in seeing what The Problem is that gives me some clarity these days now. While I see that I sometimes want to (and do) manipulate people and situations to please me, while I see that I have glaring character defects, while I see that I have a lot of work ahead of me, I also see that I am a child of Creator and a work-in-progress. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less.
As we sat and spoke, John in his tell-it-like-it-is mocking ways (“Oh intellectual pride? Not you Paul…”[laughs]), I saw a crack in my armour. The one that still keeps others away. The one that’s still afraid to connect with others in a true, deep way. The one that is chain-mailed with fears galore. The one that is greater than and less than. The one that is still wounded. And we all know that crack is where the light comes in.
This stuff hurts, this truth thing. And I felt crushed in some ways. I still do a bit, but I know I need to keep writing and doing the work and talking about it. I am not sad, nor self-pitying, but just seeing what I need to see. But I know in the next step I continue to connect with a power that can and will help me. And then I get to see that once again, I am not the one running the show. I am just a garden variety drunk who is getting well. I don’t have an indictment, I have a description right now. I need not flog myself for not being a perfect example of recovery. I just needed to be. Something that is still hard for me to understand and do.
What it all comes down to is that I still don’t think I am worthy of all this. I know I am, but my alcoholism tells me I’m not. And that is what brought on my sadness. It will pass as I move through the work, as I move on my journey.
As we left the coffee shop and I started to unlock my bike, John told me of his plans for an upcoming vacation. We paused and then he hugged me in his huggy bear way and told me to “be gentle to yourself.” I laughed and told him that that was the advice I usually gave to others, but had a hell of a time doing myself. He laughed and smiled at me.
“Put the whip down Paul. Put it down.”
And he turned and walked away.
Be well, all.
Paul – a work-in-progress