Thursday, December 30, 2004


My wife got a job, which is good -- in LA, which is bad. That's 3 hours from here, if traffic is okay. She's taking the boy with her, which will make me a McDonalds-on-weekends dad, which I do NOT want to be. I have to be a part of his everyday life, to be the father I want to be.

So, if she keeps this job -- it would be the first time in her life -- I will have to move to LA, to be near my son. I have never, ever wanted to live in LA. I have to put some time in and make a good income in my new job for a few months before I move. And give my wife a few months in her job to make sure she will stick with it.

But I have to be near my son. Wherever he is, that is where I have to be.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

I'm Phil, Alcoholic

What will really suck is raising my hand as a newcomer again at my AA meetings.

My sponsor will be really disappointed -- and I already know exactly what he will say. He knows... he went back out after 8 years sober and landed in jail for almost a year. I'll have the same story everyone else has: "Well, I stopped going to meetings as often as I had before, and then... and then... and then..." And he'll start me back at step one. Shit.

I HATE being alcoholic. I wish, so much, I were like normal people. I have to go to these fucking meetings, I have to tear down my entire personality, I have to turn my whole life over to God, I have to make a conscious decision every minute of every day to do God's will instead of Phil's will. Merely to survive. I HATE this.

Why can't my spiritual life be a choice? Why can't my belief in God be something about ethics, and a comforting notion of eternal life in heaven when I die? Why does it have to be a matter of life and death, right here and right now? Why me? What did I do to deserve this curse from God, this hell of addiction?

Why does this have to be so hard? Why isn't there a fucking pill I can take to cure it?

Now I have a 30-day and a 90-day token that mean nothing. I guess what I'll have to do is hang onto them until I get new ones, and pass along my old ones to a newcomer who earns his first 30 and 90 day honors.

I HATE this. Every fucking minute of it.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

I'm Drunk

Back to square one.

No serenity, no sobriety, nada, nothing...

I got drunk tonight. Just had to do it.


Monday, December 27, 2004

Back to Reality

Back home in California... great Christmas with my family in Chicago... my son had a WONDERFUL time... start a new job tomorrow...

My son and I shared a bed at my Mom's. I never did that before. It really was wonderful, I felt so close to him, cuddling to keep each other warm, just watching him sleep... except for the night he was all wound up and kept wanting to get out of bed! :)

It's disorienting to be back. Especially without my wife. I spoke with her on the phone at least once a day, so she could talk to our son. At least a dozen times we discussed that I will drop him off at her place tomorrow morning on my way to work. This morning she told me she was planning to be out of town until sometime tomorrow afternoon -- she "forgot" about our arrangements. And got pissed off at me over it.

Aside from wondering why she wouldn't be more eager to see her son after a week -- this kind of chaos is part of what I want to eliminate from my life. Recovery, to me, includes stability, dependability, counting on other people and having other people able to count on me. I want my son to grow up in an environment with all this good stuff.

I miss having a complete family, a single household with all three of us. But I sure don't miss the reality of trying to maintain a household with a wife who is bipolar, unpredictable, irresponsible, undisciplined, undependable, chaotic, whose word means nothing. If I get back together with her I'll just be setting myself up for disappointment, disillusionment, and eventually bitterness and cynicism. All the stuff there was before she left. All the stuff that undermines serenity.

It's going to be hard enough just trying to maintain a regular, civilized schedule for my son. That seems to be the best that I can hope for from my wife -- and even that will be a stretch for her.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

I Want Serenity, and I Want It Now, Damn It!

I've been "coasting" in my recovery lately. It's been almost a week since my last meeting. In some ways I'm on a dry drunk -- kind of isolated, kind of letting the everyday things in life slide by. On the other hand, in some ways I've been like a "normal" person -- fixed the washing machine (a real miracle!), got a job which I will start right after Christmas. Sometimes I work the program, sometimes the program works me!

I've had my hands full with my son, for one thing. For the most part, I've been patient with him and he's had a good time, but I always feel I woulda coulda shoulda done more with him and for him. He and I are leaving tomorrow for Christmas in Illinois with his Grandma and Grandpa. I've gotten as far as Googling AA meeting locations and times near Mom's house and Mapquesting directions. Next on the agenda is to pack. :) First things first...

My Mom's husband is in the program, coming up on his first year token in a couple months. I'm looking forward to going to a meeting or two with him.

I always feel uncomfortable with these "coasting" periods. I'm very aware that they can easily become complacency, the slippery slope to relapse. Mostly I get impatient. I want to make progress and move forward, and I get resentful when people, places, things and events pull me away from working it -- but I especially resent when it's my own brain, bad attitude, and "committee" thinking that holds me back. It's hard not to be hard on myself -- hard to accept that I'm on God's time, not Phil's schedule. I want serenity, and I want it now, damn it!

Monday, December 20, 2004

Toddlers and Blackouts

My son, age 2½, was with me and the two cats from Thursday till last night. Life with a two-year-old boy and two one-year-old cats is similar to waking up from an alcoholic blackout several times a day. Why are all the bathtub toys in the living room? Where did that pair of pliers come from, I haven’t seen it in months? Where has every doorstop in the house disappeared to? How did the telephone get in the refrigerator?

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Abstinence vs. Recovery

Here's a nice, succinct distinction between abstinence and sobriety I came across on the web. It's a pretty good, non-partisan site -- including some resources for those uncomfortable with Twelve Step support groups.

(Personal advice: be careful with the non-Twelve Step approaches. The ones I've seen seem to be based on a rejection of AA, in response to what, to me, are misinterpretations and/or caricatures of the AA I'm familiar with. In other words, they do not start with an original view of alcoholism or fresh approach to recovery -- they are embedded in the context of AA. They seem to define themselves as "not-AA." The parts of them that make sense to me are really just different terminology and different emphasis for the same stuff AA offers. Anyone who wants to recover has to go through pretty much the same process, whatever you want to call it, IMHO!)
"Abstinence from alcohol & drug use on the one hand and recovery from alcoholism & addiction on the other represent two very different states. Sometimes the boundaries between the two become blurred, but they're definitely there. Read on...

Some alcoholics and addicts become abstinent but do not enter recovery. Abstinent, but not recovering, alcoholics and addicts show the following attitudes and behaviors:
  • They maintain abstinence from alcohol and drugs because to drink and/or use again would most likely cause more problems.
  • They don't enjoy being sober and clean, miss getting high, and feel disappointed in or angry about being abstinent.
  • They maintain abstinence through will-power and believe that strong will-power is adequate for continued abstinence.
  • They would like to drink and/or use again and would do so if reasonably sure that prior problems would not recur.
Some alcoholics and addicts are not only abstinent but also in recovery. Recovering alcoholics and addicts show the following attitudes and behaviors:
  • They maintain abstinence from alcohol and drugs because to drink and/or use again would compromise the quality of life found in sobriety.
  • They enjoy being sober and clean and feel grateful for sobriety.
  • They utilize resources instead of or in addition to will-power to maintain sobriety and to learn healthier ways to think, feel, and act.
  • They have no desire to drink or use again and would not do so even if reasonably sure that problems would not recur.
The bottom line is this:
  • Make no bones about it; moving out of alcoholism & addiction, through abstinence, and into recovery does not happen by accident or by magic. It requires time, patience, and above all - action."


Friday, December 17, 2004

Sobriety in Everyday Living

I got a new job. I've essentially been unemployed for a few months, though I cut a deal with my last employer that wanted to get rid of me, so I was still on the payroll but didn't have to show up.

This job is a career change for me. Another career change. This is roughly my fourth career in the past 25 years. The first three careers weren't what I wanted. Why not? Well... the problem with them was always everyone but me, and everything but my drinking.

So why should I think I will succeed in this job? Well, this time I'm not thinking about "succeeding" in it. One big change is that I will be showing up for work without a hangover, and with adequate sleep, every day. If it is God's purpose for me to "succeed" in this job, and I do my part by doing "the next indicated thing" each day, then it will go well. If I don't do my part, I will fail. If God's purpose actually lies elsewhere for me, that will become clear on God's timetable, whether this job goes well or not.

One nice thing -- a signal from God perhaps? -- is that there's an AA meeting every day at noon two blocks from the office.

So, when I get back home after Christmas, I'll be starting a new job. It will impose some badly needed structure on my daily routine that has been lacking since I started my recovery. The timing is good: I don't think I was far enough in my recovery before now to be able to handle the demands of a new job. Besides, I'm starting to run out of money... :)

I structured my routine primarily around AA meetings for the first weeks of my recovery. Since my wife left me the second time, we've been splitting the time our toddler son spends with each of us. I haven't had the boy on a regular schedule yet, and it's thrown my routine into chaos that I haven't been able to organize.

He's a demanding child at this stage of his development, and mommy and daddy's split has been hard on him. I find it hard to have the patience and strength to care for him as well as I should and want to. I haven't been able to look for work, maintain the house, work my recovery program, and pay adequate attention to him. Which, of course, makes me feel guilty, inadequate and incompetent. (Alcoholics, I'm told, are prone to perfectionism, and shame when they are less than perfect -- who, me???) The past few weeks my priorities have been:
  1. Finding work
  2. Working my program
  3. Spending time with my son
  4. Household stuff
So you can imagine what the house looks like...

Once I start work my son will be in day care (guilt, guilt) regularly. I'll have even less time to balance my son, household stuff and my program.

It's pretty clear my recovery program must come first. As I wrote the other day, I'm working Step Three. One result of Step Three that I anticipate is putting into action God's purpose for me each day. In concrete terms, that's doing what I need to do each hour of each day. I need to look to God to organize and schedule my day.

If I work my program, step by step, everything else will fall into place.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Measurements, Half-Measures and Other Lies

My attitude about statistical studies of success rates for AA vs. other programs vs. no program has changed since starting my own recovery. In the past, I used these studies as a way of defending my denial of my own alcoholism. I latched on to studies showing AA had a failure rate worse than no program at all, that well over 90% of those who attempt to stay sober in AA in fact drink again. I saw programs that teach you to drink in moderation (not that I ever tried them). I've seen arguments that AA is dying, membership is declining. I've seen some hostile debunking of AA on the web -- the most notorious, apparently, is The Orange Papers.

I was very interested in these studies -- they still are fascinating to me. There are a couple methodological problems with any study of alcoholic behavior, though:
  1. Measuring "successful" recovery from a chronic condition like alcoholism is tricky.
  2. Alcoholics lie.

The second problem is obvious. The first one bears some discussion. The most common measure of success is 90 days of sobriety after starting the program. By that measure, I am a "failure": I relapsed for a couple weeks in my first thirty days, then started over and here I am. Almost everyone I know in AA is a "failure" by that measure. And people know it, too. One lady likes to introduce herself when sharing as one of the handful of "successes," who came in and never relapsed after joining the first time. On the other hand, there are people in AA who were "successes" for many years -- until they went out and got drunk, and had to come back in and start over. God knows how many alcoholics are now miserable drunks, or dead, because after a time of "success" went out and got drunk and never came back.

In any case, is AA the only way for anyone to stay sober? Probably not. Is it the only way for me to stay sober? Probably. Most of us in AA have no desire to try to stay sober outside of AA. We LIKE AA. We like the fellowship. We like how it changes us inside. We're happier in AA than we ever were outside AA, drunk or sober. The alternative, to us, is to try to "white knuckle" ourselves dry through self-will -- and that sounds like hell, a miserable way to live, if we can do it at all.

Drink in moderation? Yeah, right. All of us have tried that a million times. Just another half-measure.

I have to say some more about The Orange Papers. I'm not going to try to argue with the guy. He's a lot smarter than I am, his volume is prodigious, and his intelligence has been honed to a razor point by obsessive, angry, righteous self-will. In other words, he's off on a hell of a dry drunk.

I don't know why he hates AA so much. I'm fascinated by him, though, because he's an object lesson in alcoholic thinking. To paraphrase: The Big Book means the opposite of what it says. Bill W was an insane, manipulative, self-aggrandizing cheat. AA is a fascist cult. AA doesn't work for everyone, therefore it's a dangerous fraud. All we care about is winning converts. We cease thinking and do whatever AA commands us to do. Some old-timers are angry and bitter, and some guys sponsor nubile female newcomers just to 13th-step them (in my town, we only sponsor the same sex we are -- I can just hear my sponsor if I told him I wanted to sponsor a woman), therefore we are all cynical fakes. And so on.

Yeah, AA does sound a bit like a cult, on the surface. We're a bunch of true-believers, we have a book, we have a lot of slogans. If it is a cult, though, it's the lousiest-run one there ever was. No one is in charge. No one tells anyone else what they have to do. No one gets thrown out. No one is forced into it. No one seems to be really sure how or why the hell it seems to work. Above all, no one tells anyone else what, if anything, they ought to believe or believe in. Some cult.

Most old-timers, far from acting like "elders," are just in awe of it; they don't pretend to have all the answers, other than "my program that works for me would be suicide for you, and vice versa." Most of us have a sense of gratitude that we are among the lucky few who have been able to stay with AA long enough for the miracle to happen. Is AA membership declining? I don't know, maybe it is. Is AA dying? Not a chance!

I particularly get a kick out of his rage at courts sentencing DUI malefactors to AA meetings. To him, this is unconstitutional, and a result of the insidious AA conspiracy infiltrating the court system to win converts and swell the ranks of AA. My God -- these guys with the court slips are so happy to sit through a few meetings instead of go to jail! And you know what? Some of them stick around and get sober and happy -- not because anyone forces them to, but because they choose to stay.

Fascist? Follow this: AA grew out of The Oxford Group, founded by Paul Buchman, an American Lutheran minister, who wanted to change society by reaching out to and transforming the social, economic and political elite of a community, and then the changes would "trickle down" to the ordinary folks. That's what Buchman thought would work. So, in the 1930's he attempted to implement it on a big scale by trying to get through to Hitler and thereby transform German society. Buchman was criticized roundly by the likes of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran minister who opposed Hitler and died in a concentration camp. So, the argument goes, Buchman wanted to communicate with Hitler in the 1930s, therefore AA is fascist.

But wait... why did Bonhoeffer criticize Buchman? Not because Bonhoeffer thought Buchman was a Hitler sympathizer, or fascist, or Nazi, but because he disagreed with Buchman's tactics: Bonhoeffer believed (rightly, we now know) that Hitler was beyond reach, beyond change, and could only be opposed.

The connection of Buchman with AA is academic, anyway. Did you know Up With People was an offshoot of The Oxford Group, too? (It's true!) Therefore everyone in AA wants to wear pullover sweaters and perform clean-cut up-beat pop songs at half-time of the Orange Bowl...

Well, I've gone on too much about The Orange Papers. Read it yourself and make your own judgment. If the guy gets wind of this, I imagine he'll respond in his angry, superior way and rip me to shreds with his logic. Poor bastard.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Milestones and Mountains

Each milestone I come to seems to follow a pattern: I work on something my sponsor assigns me; I wrestle with it, stress over it, struggle to figure it out; my sponsor says stuff about it, other guys say stuff about it, and I nod blankly and incomprehendingly; then it suddenly all clicks -- "Oh, now, I get it! It's exactly what you've been telling me, and it's really, really simple!"

The first milestone was the first AA meeting I went to, and I knew immediately I belonged there. Another was getting a sponsor and starting to work the steps -- slowly, thoroughly, "in God's time" as my sponsor said. As a typical alcoholic, the first thing I had wanted to do was complete all Twelve Steps, on my own, in an afternoon, finding every shortcut and loophole to skate, fake and bluff my way through them. So even though, in a simple way, I took Step One instantly, it took awhile to really internalize it and accept the full implication of what it means to be an alcoholic.

A big one was getting through my first Big Craving without a drink, without putting up a fight, simply by surrendering -- I mentioned it in my last post. That was internalizing Step Two for me -- I can't clearly define my higher power, but there is something other (and bigger) than me that keeps me from making the insane choice to drink -- and that bigger, higher power is using my program, including meetings, step work and my sponsor, to do its work. Very simple -- I just have to get the hell out of the way and let the higher power do it.

Now I'm working on Step Three. Like many alcoholics, I find the "God stuff" irritating, intimidating, and uncomfortable. Having been raised in one of the softer, easier mainline Protestant denominations, my decision to walk away from religion and spirituality many years ago did not require a very long hike. And of course I intellectualize, rationalize and complicate the whole issue of God's purpose vs. my purpose, who or what do I understand God to be in every facet...

But another bolt-from-the-blue milestone came at a speaker meeting on Thanksgiving. The speaker said she found Step Three easy, never had the struggle of "my will vs. God's will" so many of us have, it was all pretty obvious to her. I was startled at first -- easy? Obvious? After mulling it over a bit, I realized she was absolutely right.

It almost always is obvious what God's will is for me -- it's right there in my conscience that I've tried to ignore all these years. I almost always know what I should do in any concrete situation. Usually, of course, I do otherwise. Why would I do the right thing when someone else will, or may, not? At the very least, no one will appreciate it properly. Besides, in the long run, what difference does it make? And, how can God allow things like the Holocaust, or 9/11, or the Tutsi genocide if He is benevolent and omnipotent, and therefore why should I believe my "doing the right thing" makes any difference?

Interesting theological questions, and maybe fodder for PhD dissertations on game theory in ethics, but utterly irrelevant to my own personal responsibility. My conscience is God telling me, usually quite clearly, the next indicated thing I should do. (And it can be as mundane as God whispering in my ear, "do laundry.") It has nothing to do with how other people will respond, appreciate me, or act themselves -- that's up to them and God, not to me. And the larger questions of God allowing evil in the world -- I will never understand it, I simply have to accept that God's overall purpose is and will remain beyond my comprehension. I have my hands full trying to understand God's purpose for me.

I feel like I'm making a good start understanding Step Three intellectually, just as I made a good start on Step One the minute I stepped into a meeting. But I can feel I'm not there yet. Step Three is about action. It's where I really start behaving differently. I've become much more aware of what "the next indicated thing" I should do is, but I have continued to be unlikely to act on it. Until I'm willing to try -- not perfectly, but consistently -- to act in accord with my understanding of God's purpose, Step Three is beyond my grasp.

Right now, Step Three looks like a very high and steep mountain. But I'm starting to learn the lessons of taking the first two steps -- they looked like high and steep mountains ahead of me, too. Then one day I suddenly realized that I was already across, and they weren't that bad after all!

Monday, December 13, 2004

104 Miracles

I've been sober for 104 days.

I'm active in AA. I did at least 90 meetings in my first 90 days; I have a sponsor I talk to regularly, but not every day; I'm working the steps; I take commitments as a meeting leader. So I'm doing okay...

Like most newcomers, my life is chaos. I periodically retreat into my alcoholic isolation, depression, etc. Fairly regularly I get the insane urge to drink. I don't read the Book regularly, haven't cultivated a conscious contact with my higher power, haven't frequented BB/12X12 study meetings. So there's a lot I'm not doing -- which probably explains the lack of peace and serenity in my life! :)

But I haven't had a drink. And that, my friends, is due to nothing but a miracle every day for 104 days. When my wife left again (when she left the first time, I stopped drinking for the first time, picked up again after a couple weeks, then came back in after a couple weeks; she returned a few days after I stopped drinking again), I had been sober about six weeks. I had been going to meetings, talking to my sponsor, taking some stabs at working the steps -- kind of trying to do what was suggested, but not really knowing what the hell I was doing.

That day she fled again, I had a powerful urge to pick up a 12-pack or two. But before I could act on the notion, what popped into my head was, "I'll wait till tomorrow... this, too, shall pass." And I didn't drink that day. I was euphoric the next morning when I woke up, that I had another day. I realized that day, that all the time I didn't know what I was doing, I was working a program of recovery -- and damned if it wasn't working!

Oh, I've had the insane urges since then. But what I had learned was not to fight it. I had internalized Step One: I am powerless over alcohol, and any attempt I make to fight it with my own will power is futile. Simultaneously, the program kicked in with its slogans, and kept me from drinking. I had internalized Step Two: a higher power can restore me to sanity -- and my higher power works, in part, through the program and fellowship of AA.

I'll never forget that realization, what a relief it was. I never have to get drunk again, and I don't ever have to fight the urge to drink again. What a tremendous burden was lifted from me!


It isn't free.

My part is not to take care of the drinking -- my higher power, my program, and AA take care of the alcohol. My part is to completely renovate my spiritual life and my personality, how I relate to and behave with other people and with God. That's all! :)

"What an order! I can't go through with it!" Sometimes it seems like a daunting task. Some of the "Book nazis" and hard core true believers make it sound hard, that you have to adhere to rigid rules, that deviations are apostasy. Most of the oldtimers -- including Bill W in the 12X12 -- are very reassuring that it really isn't that hard. Progress, not perfection.

It's worthwhile to do. Already, this whole recovery thing is only incidentally about alcohol for me. Alcohol is simply a symptom of my spiritual malady. If I make spiritual progress -- even just a little bit each day -- I will increasingly find serenity, peace and happiness in my life. If I make progress, the alcohol will take care of itself, so to speak, and I won't relapse.

If I don't make progress, if I allow myself to believe the illusion that I can "stand still" in my program, put it on hold for awhile, then I'm headed for relapse. Because I really cannot stand still -- if I'm not moving forward, then I'm relapsing. I may not reach the point in my relapse of drinking today, but I may tomorrow, or the next day, or next month. If I stop making progress, I will, inevitably, inexorably, eventually have a drink, and if I have a drink I will get drunk. And once I get drunk I won't be able to stop until, at best, I am miserable and suicidal again.

God bless you all, and God bless each alcoholic who still suffers.