Monday, February 28, 2005

Knowledgable Walking Dead Man

The Big Book study meeting last night, as usual, was right on target with where I am in my recovery. Here's what jumped out at me:
"(T)he actual or potential alcoholic, with hardly an exception, will be absolutely unable to stop drinking on the basis of self-knowledge." (Emphasis in original)
This is on page 39 of the Big Book, in a discussion of relapse. It tells stories of guys who were sober, some for years, some who knew, without a doubt, they were alcoholic -- but got drunk again anyway. Just like I did after 4 months of sobriety.

It crystallized what I've been thinking since coming back in, six weeks ago: everything I know is wrong.

I've been kind of adrift and confused since coming back. I'm working my steps in a step workshop, I have become an active church member, I try to make prayer and spiritual reading and meditation part of my daily routine, I talk to my sponsor regularly... and above all, I go to a LOT of meetings. ("Not having time" for as many meetings was a BIG contributor to my relapse.) The deeper I get, though, the less clarity my poor old brain gets. At meetings, I never raise my hand to share, and when called on I babble incoherently about nothing of consequence.

What a difference from when I was an old-timer of 100-odd days, before going out! I had lots to share about, so much wisdom to offer about alcoholism and sobriety and the program! I was a "90-day wonder," one of the guys who understood it all right away, could quote the Big Book and 12X12, always raising my hand.

Why the change?

I was very confident before my relapse. Now, I recognize that everything I know is wrong. I was performing before. I was "sharing" what I thought everyone wanted to hear, to show off how well I was "getting it." Oh, yeah, my brain understood it all just fine. The only time any of it penetrated my heart and soul, though, was every now and then a little bit of real sobriety snuck up on me and jumped me when I wasn't looking! I was running on self-knowledge and self-will. A walking dead man.

Until that knowledge about sobriety and about the program migrates from my brain and into my heart, it is useless to me. It has no meaning and no effect on me and my sobriety when it's only in my brain. I recognize, now, that for me to talk about what I "know" only in my brain, is really just telling lies. For me to strive toward rigorous honesty within the fellowship, I have to speak from my heart, not from my brain. My brain tells me lies, and if I choose to believe the lies, I am incapable of telling the truth to anyone.

So now I try to stick with what is real and true, in my heart, when I share. And honestly, there ain't a whole lot there! What I have to share is pretty limited: I still think about drinking all the time, I feel little serenity, my self-will is continually resisting the program and fighting my higher power, I have all the makings of a chronic relapser, I'm scared and confused, I'm deeply grateful to be sober today, and deeply grateful to everyone in the fellowship for showing me what I need to do to stay sober, and for offering their experience, strength and hope that the promises can and will come true for me, eventually, if I don't drink today and I participate in my recovery. Not very impressive or inspiring stuff to be sharing at a meeting. The most positive thing I can honestly say is that I am trying to be willing, I pray for the willingness, to allow my higher power to guide me, every hour of every day.

I can't pretend to understand what I'm doing. I am doing what the people in the fellowship, and what Bill W, tell me I need to do to stay sober, even though it goes against everything I've "known" for 40 years. I have to take it on faith, and I have to fake it till I make it.

My sponsor tells me that building a life of sobriety is like rebuilding a house. First, I have to tear down the dilapidated old rats' nest, and clear away the wreckage. Then I repair the cracks and shore up the disintegrated parts of the foundation. Only then can I begin to build the new house with any hope that it won't collapse in the first storm.

The foundation, of course, is faith in God and willingness to submit to God's will:
"The alcoholic at certain times has no effective mental defense against the first drink. Except in a few rare cases, neither he nor any other human being can provide such a defense. His defense must come from a higher power."
I'm sort of, kind of, fitfully, inconsistently, making a start on submitting to my higher power. The foundation is still buried under a lot of wreckage, though!

I believe, in one of those AA paradoxes, that I'm probably more secure than I was before, because I feel less secure and less self-confident. I'm a lot more sure than before that I can't depend on myself. Victory comes only through surrender.

Self-confidence, self-assurance, independence, self-reliance -- all of those things that this "Oprah-fied" world (as my sister calls it) values and tells me are the keys to happiness, that they told me in MBA school were necessities for success, that I've strived for and known for 40 years were the things I need -- are pure poison to me. For me to continue seeking these characteristics would be fatal. This is, believe me, real hard for me to get my mind around!

It has been pointed out to me that it's easier to behave yourself into right thinking than it is to think yourself into right behavior. (Sorry, friends in Rational Recovery!) So I try to allow my mind to be confused and baffled and adrift, and I try to allow my body to be guided from outside of me: by my sponsor, by the "winners" in AA, by the Big Book and 12X12, by the Bible, by my fellow spiritual seekers in my church -- by people, that is, who I trust are commited to understanding and following God's will. I'm hardly perfect, or even consistent, in doing this, but I'm trying to make a little progress and be a little more willing every day.

With practice and a willing heart, I hope and believe, I will have a growing understanding of God's will for me and increased ability to accept His gifts by carrying out His will. Even then, I will always have to seek guidance from others, in person or through books (or through blogs!) With time, though, I hope it becomes more natural, less confusing and less painful.

Until then, I will remind myself each day that everything I know is wrong, and if I really want to stay sober today I will ignore the lies my brain tells me.

Sunday, February 27, 2005


A great big THANK YOU to Kenny, Doughgirl, Grace, Trinker, and Logan for your comments and emails! You are like an online meeting for me, your support and encouragement, your experience, strength and hope, your gentle butt-kicks, give me what I need to stay sober. God bless you!


If you are someone reading this who thinks you may have a drinking problem, may be an alcoholic, not too sure, maybe just a little doubtful your drinking is under as much control as you think it should be -- yes, YOU!! -- please read what these fine people have to say in their blogs. You will find that one of them, some of them, or all of them have something to say that resonates, that expresses things you do and ways you feel.

If you are in despair, lonely, suicidal, or are certain you are the only one in the world crazy enough to be in the hopeless fix you're in because of your drinking, then read what these fine people have to say. You are not alone! They are just a handful of the many people who know exactly how you feel and can show you a way to live without having to drink.

Here's the only commitment I ask of you: before you close this page, just click on one of the links in the first paragraph above, and see if that writer has something you want.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Still On The Run

This isn't really about my recovery -- and it may qualify as self-pity, grandiosity, denial, delusion, resentment, or any number of my other character defects -- but it was a long drive home Sunday night and I just got to thinking...

I love my son so much, we had such a wonderful time together Sunday. At age 2½, he's very sensitive and expressive emotionally, he doesn't filter it. When my wife and I started getting into an argument, he started to cry. When she was in another room, he was happy playing with me. At one point my wife hugged me -- and our son was delighted, he came up and grabbed both our hands and said, "come on!" He wanted to go for a walk with both mommy and daddy, together. He is always happiest when he is with both of us, one hand in mommy's hand and one hand in daddy's hand.

I don't think he has a well-developed sense of past and future -- so when mommy and daddy are together with him, life is good. When mommy and daddy fight, or he’s separated from one or the other, life is bad. He is very clear about his "family values." He doesn't understand, or much care, why mommy and daddy aren't together and getting along. He simply wants us to be together and get along.


I pretty much agree with him. There really aren't any excuses for the parents of a toddler to split up without making every effort at reconciliation. At this moment, I can barely stand being in the same room as my wife -- but I would move back with her and work hard to renew the relationship, with confidence that we could restore our love if we honestly commit to it and honestly work at it. I owe that to my son.

My wife always says her reason for leaving, and for staying apart, is my drinking: she didn't want to live with it, and she wanted to protect our son from it. That's a good reason, I can't deny it.

But it doesn’t add up.

I started at AA the day after she left the first time, and I took to it like a duck to water. This isn't how we calculate time in AA, but with the exception of two relapses totaling 38 days, I've been in recovery and sober for the 6½ months since she left.

So if my drinking really is the reason, I think a lot of spouses would take my effort seriously, stick around, and try to be supportive.

There's also this: when she left, she first went (and took our son) to her brother's -- who is an active alcoholic without any desire to recover.

And this: after she left the first time, she came back a month later. She stayed for six weeks, then left again -- and I was sober the whole time.

So, um, what precisely is the issue around drinking that is the problem...?


My hypothesis is that my wife only knows how to function around active alcoholism, even though she genuinely hates alcoholism. She grew up in a typical wildly-dysfunctional alcoholic family: drunk dad, drunk sister, drunk brother, sexual abuse and rape, gunfire in the house, fistfights, smashed furniture. She had it all. No one, not a single person in her family, ever even tried to stop drinking.

She has never in her life lived in a household without active alcoholism.

My wife is stark raving codependent, IMHO. All the shame, fear, need to control, withdrawal into a fantasy world of grandiose dreams that will show everyone how great she is, always sure that "once this and that happen, then I'll finally be happy," and incapable of taking even the first step to make anything positive happen.

She has never acknowledged her codependence (and I sure as hell never saw it while I was drinking!). She's had endless hours of therapy, all kinds of medications -- all attempting to solve her misery by fixing something outside of herself.

While I was drinking, of course, I had all the same crazy fears, dreams, paranoia and incapacities she did, and medicated my misery with beer. We were two peas in a pod, comfortably reinforcing each other's insanity and misery, giving each other someone to blame.


Then I came to the end of my run. I couldn't go on. A couple months before I stopped drinking, before I recognized "it's the alcohol, stupid," I knew my life was wrecked, the grandiose dreams were a sham, and I was going down the tubes. I realized my life was insanity.

My wife and I had a big fight -- I blamed her for everything, of course, for not doing her part to make our crazy dreams real, for the wreck our lives had become, for the chaos in our household.

We started seeing a counselor. My wife never budged from her position that there was one problem, and one problem only: my drinking. I was still drinking, still in denial of my alcoholism. I was, however, on the verge of "getting it."

One Tuesday, I had a separate session with the counselor about my drinking. I confidently agreed that I wouldn't drink until the following Tuesday, and if I couldn't make it, then I would acknowledge I have a problem and would get help for my drinking.

I told this to my wife, and she disappeared on Wednesday, leaving our son with me. She turned up briefly Thurday morning, picked up our son and disappeared again.

I got drunk on Thursday and Friday. I reluctantly started suspecting that I had a drinking problem and would have to talk seriously to the counselor about it the following week.

Friday night, my wife returned, with the cops and her alcoholic brother, grabbed some stuff, and she was gone.

Saturday I went to my first AA meeting and immediately knew I belonged there.


So, what does this long story mean?

I think she decided to leave when we had the big fight, when she saw I had quit buying into the alcoholic/codependent insanity, that I knew I had to face reality, a month or so before I accepted that the core reality I had to face was my alcoholism. It's almost as though she could sense that I was about to begin recovery, and she had to get out before I stopped drinking. Without alcohol, what would there be to blame for her misery? And her misery was now at a whole new level, without a husband sharing, reinforcing and validating the insane thinking and living that are all she's ever known.

It means, I think, that I was finished with my run, but my wife is still on her run. I came in, and she's not ready to come in.


My wife WANTS me to drink.

If I'm drunk, she can continue blaming me and my drinking for all her misery and everything that goes wrong in her life.

If I'm drunk, she can justify ignoring my input into raising our son.

If I'm drunk, she can convince herself that she's the "innocent victim" of her life.

If I'm drunk, she can avoid looking inside herself for solutions to her problems.

If I'm drunk, she can avoid the responsibility of doing her part to create a healthy, intact family for our son.


She has grabbed on to my relapses like a drowning person grabbing a life preserver. Because I relapsed, she can convince herself that my recovery is not real, that any day I will go back to drinking, and stay drunk. My sobriety is her enemy, even though she hates alcoholism.

I hope my wife will start dealing with her codependence. Until she starts working a program she will be miserable and never find a solution, IMHO. Our son is a huge motivation to me to stay sober, and I hope he will finally motivate her to change her life.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Visit With My Son! :)

I saw my son yesterday -- first time in a few weeks. His little face lit up so brightly when he saw me...

My wife had agreed early last week to me going to LA to spend time with the boy. By midweek, when I called to work out the details, she was saying, "I don't know if I want you taking him anywhere." After that she didn't answer my calls -- so by Sunday it was clear she didn't want me to come and wasn't expecting me. So I got in the car and went to LA anyway, and called halfway to let her know I was on my way (no answer, no response). She finally returned my call when I left a message that I was at her apartment, ringing her bell. She let me in, so I got to spend the day with my son.

My sponsor was coaching me a lot before the trip, not to let my wife draw me in to a fight. Turn the other cheek. A Bible verse to the effect that if you approach someone with love then love will be returned to you. Responding to her that I can't undo the past, I can only go forward from where I am. Don't bring up my resentments and what I feel she's done to me. Focus on my son -- the reason I'm there is to be with him, not to get into tangles with my wife.

I think I handled it pretty well. For instance, when she accused me, for the umpteenth time, of "abandoning" our son after she moved him to LA (!?!), I said the most natural thing in the world for me is to throw a brick right back at her, but it won't accomplish anything, it won't resolve anything, it won't create any common ground to build on, and it will only cause harm to our son. Every ten or fifteen minutes, it seemed, all day, she was throwing a brick at me. With just a couple exceptions, I didn't take the bait. Once, for instance, I pointed out that she has put obstacles in my way to be with our son -- such as moving him to another city (I didn't even bring up her "facilitation" of the very visit we were enjoying). "I didn't put obstacles in your way, I got a job and had to move to LA." I thought, but didn't say, that just because she's comfortable with her justification for making the obstacle, it doesn't mean the obstacle doesn't exist. AAARGH!!

So, I was thinking angrily, resentfully and destructively, but I was speaking and behaving constructively and positively. They tell me in AA that's what you have to do in early recovery (and "early" is often years!). Over time, once you get used to breaking the alcoholic habits of speaking and behaving, you start actually thinking better, too.

In the end, my wife thanked me for coming -- and asked me to spend the night with them (me sleeping on the couch, of course)! This, after refusing to plan the trip in advance... after I was half expecting her to call the cops when I showed up... Insanity. I didn't stay the night, needless to say. I never know what she will do next. She suggested we look together for apartments close together, so I can be near our son. But I'd be a fool to believe that means she wouldn't up and move to another city again, and want to take our son with her.

Well, I just have to cross each bridge as I come to it. One Day At a Time. First Things First. Keep It Simple. Let Go and Let God. And for once, I can look back on a day with a lot of tension and potential conflict, and feel that I didn't create new wreckage.

And it was SOOOOOO wonderful to be with my son!! :)

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Out of Control

It came to me in the shower this morning that I've completely lost control of my recovery and my program.

It then came to me that that's a good thing.


The last week or so I've found myself feeling a lot of hostility and resentment toward people in my AA meetings -- a few I know well, including my sponsor, some I know a bit from chatting before and after meetings, some I merely recognize and know from what they share in meetings. I've been pissed off at them all: smug, self-satisfied, arrogant, sneering, know-it-all hypocrites (it seemed to me), giving me unsolicited, monumentally bad advice. "Well, my kids are in prison, my wife has been gone for years, I have no friends outside of AA, but I haven't had a drink in 20 years so you should do what I tell you." Or, "I don't have a driver's license, I live in a halfway house, and my kids refuse to have anything to do with me, but my last relapse was over two years ago so I know just what you need to do with your life." "You're a newcomer, I'm not, therefore you're an idiot and I'm a genius." These are the things I've been hearing (leaving aside whether they were actually said).

And don't even get me started about my scheming, greedy, self-absorbed, cynical, manipulative, unforgiving, hypocritical, untrusting, untrustworthy wife...

In AA, we call this "taking someone else's inventory," a reference to Step 4. I've been doing this for days. I've been through a period like it before in recovery, and I recognize it as dangerous ground for an alcoholic, but I haven't been able to stop. Yesterday I sought out a couple meetings I hadn't been to before, just to get out of this routine with the same familiar guys, get some fresh perspective, hear some new stories. (I know that, no matter what, I have to stick with AA -- Principles Before Personalities -- so NOT going to meetings is a suicidal option for me.)


Meanwhile, I made the decision, over the past week, that it was time for me, in the language of my religion, to accept and welcome Christ into my life as my personal Lord and Saviour. [Bossco says, "Hurray!" ;)] I wasn't looking at it specifically as Step 3, but as a point in my spiritual journey that has become independent of, even though it was initiated by, my recovery from alcoholism in AA. The irony did not escape me that I had reached this point even while harboring decidedly un-Christ-like attitudes toward many of my fellow sinners. But I was getting reassurance from many sources that Jesus isn't looking for perfect people to follow Him -- and that I don't necessarily have to start voting Republican, loving guns or watching NASCAR -- just take the plunge and trust God.

So, in the shower, I was thinking, should I take the plunge in church today? And it suddenly struck me: I already have. In my heart, in my soul, in how I'm struggling to think and act, in where I look for guidance in what to do next.

It's only my intellect that hasn't caught up yet, hasn't figured out what it means, and why, and identified categories to make sense of it, and where are my halo and wings, and how can I say I have turned my life over to God when I haven't expunged every trace of doubt, when I am still a sinner, when I'm not PERFECT???

Oh, that alcoholic intellect! As we say in AA, "stinking thinking." God persuaded my heart to be just a little bit willing, gently nudged my beer-addled brain out of the way for just a little while, then barged in and took over while I wasn't looking!

And, clearly, obviously, God sailed me through Step 3 at the same time. I wasn't ready. My step workshop is only on Step 2 this week. Step 3 is the following week, God, will You kindly sync up with the timetable and work Your will according to my schedule!?!


I blogged before my relapse that I struggle to cross these seemingly mountainous obstacles that are the steps -- then suddenly realize that I'm already across, and it really wasn't hard at all. I've maintained this illusion that each step is a summit I will reach through my own directed efforts. But so far, each step has happened TO me when I wasn't expecting it. The work and effort I put into it are certainly related to the outcome -- but only indirectly, there's never an expected outcome resulting from specific things I do.


So, holy mackerel, here I am at Step 4, right here, right now, right in the shower. Until that moment, Step 4 was always at a comfortable distance in the future. And I remembered a remark an oldtimer made to me -- which I hadn't paid much attention to, because I was pissed off at the arrogant old know-it-all for something else he had already said -- after a meeting last week. "The characteristics we most hate in others are often the things that are our own worst character defects. So we can use those feelings and judgments we have about others, and test if we aren't holding up a mirror to ourselves."

And so that oldtimer's remark clicked right into place. I've already been working Step 4 without realizing it. All of these good people have been kindly holding up mirrors for me, to help me see clearly the character defects I have that I need to inventory. All I have to do is write down these judgments I've been making about all these people in the past couple weeks, and I'll have a pretty good start on the first 20 or 30 pages of my Step 4.


I woke up this morning thinking I was working Step 2. I guess my Higher Power has His own plans. I'm not in control of it -- and thank God for that!

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Waiting for the Helicopter

I got this radical notion in my head last week...

Here I am, battling alcoholism; beset by family, financial and career crises; recognizing my character defects in action even as I exercise them on a daily basis, without being able to change my behavior. And I know that my core problem is spiritual: behind the mental obsession and physical craving for alcohol, alcoholism is a spiritual malady. I've been practicing prayer, meditation, seeking conscious contact with God -- but still feeling a bit like a fish on a bicycle.

Meanwhile, I recognized I need to face the maelstrom of grief, shame and anger from my marital separation and family collapse. A buddy in AA, also in his first year of sobriety and also going through divorce, had told me about DivorceCare, a small-group, Christian-centered program. He had done it at the nearby church where I had taken my son a few times. Perfect! It was at "my" church, a few blocks away; and it addressed both my needs: divorce support and spiritual connection.

So, I checked into it, and it had been a one-shot thing, they aren't running it right now and don't know when they will. Okay, no problem. This being southern California, McSaddleback churches are a dime a dozen -- DivorceCare doesn't appear to be one of the programs actually developed by Saddleback Church, but it's definitely part of the same orbit. Found one on the web, also nearby, runs DivorceCare every week, start any time. Perfect! Unfortunately, it had met the night before I discovered it.

That's when I got the radical notion: "Maybe I should go to church on Sunday." I could check it out, get more info, get squared away in DivorceCare and start rolling the following week. And I went to church on Sunday. The religious among you can predict what happened next.

I felt a lot like I did at my first AA meeting: I knew I had found a place where I belonged. The people around me were just like me, but somehow different in a way I couldn't grasp. They had something I wanted -- a joyful connection to their Higher Power. And I immediately started feeling a little bit of that connection, and my eyes kept tearing.

As it happened, they were kicking off the latest entree from the Saddleback menu: 40 Days of Community. The idea is that for six or seven weeks, small groups get together each week, view a video and have a guided discussion. Apparently this one also involves projects in the community. I had done 40 Days of Purpose, the Big Mac of Saddleback's franchise, a couple years ago, at another church where we baptized our son, and liked it a lot.

But it looked like too much for me. Sorry, guys, I've just commited to an 18-week AA workshop to work through my 12 steps from start to "finish," I'm going to do the DivorceCare thing, I have to stick close to my AA meetings, and also find a job, sell my house, find a place to live, and see my son regularly. This 40 Days of Community thing is great, but peripheral to my life and too much of a commitment. I filled out the guest card, and wrote that I want to do DivorceCare, and also participate in the church's next introductory class.

Yesterday I got an email from one of the pastors. "Sorry, we're putting DivorceCare on hold till April, because we're doing the 40 Days of Community. Do you want to join one of the groups for that?" (Nicer, of course, but that was the gist.)

Of course, I got pissed off and resentful. I felt like I'd walked in to McDonald's for breakfast at 10:05. "I'm sorry, we're not serving the DivorceCare side dish any more. Would you like to order something from the 40 Days of Community menu?" Sounded as good as a greasy cheeseburger in the morning. Excuse me that what I need right now is not the Special of the Week.

Well, I mulled it over. I thought about my experience with alcoholism and AA. I can't stay sober by myself, doing it MY way -- why should I expect a connection to God to be different? I didn't invent AA and I don't fully understand it -- why should church be different? AA suggests that I do things that make no sense to me, and I feel like an idiot doing them, but so often they click after awhile and I realize I've suddenly got a tool in my hand that I didn't realize I was crafting -- why should I expect God to reach out to me differently in other areas of my life? I need the fellowship and human connection of AA to stay sober, because sitting around just thinking about staying sober does nothing to keep me from drinking -- why would my spiritual life be a solitary, cerebral pursuit? In AA, they tell me that my Higher Power won't always give me what I ask for, but will always give me what I need -- and on some level I've always understood that God is not Santa Claus. AA tells me I have to put my recovery program into action -- why would I expect to be able to open myself to God in my life differently?

And I wrote back to the pastor and accepted the invitation. For once I am going to accept a gift that God is handing to me, rather than refuse it because it isn't what I asked for. I simultaneously felt I was consciously submitting to God's purpose: obeying God. That's a concept I never thought of before: Obedience to God's will is the same thing as accepting the gifts that He freely gives me. Wow! Is it always that simple?

I feel a little bit like Joan of Arcadia -- "You want me to do WHAT!?! What does THAT have to do with anything!?! Well, okay, if You say so..."

I also feel a bit like the man who was caught in a flood. As he sat on the roof of his house, two men came by in a boat to rescue him, but he waved them away saying, "The Lord will save me." The water continued rising. Another boat came along. Again the man insisted, "The Lord will save me." As the flood water covered the roof, up to the man's knees, a helicopter arrived -- but the man shouted, "The Lord will save me." The water rose more, and the man drowned. At the gates of heaven he asked St. Peter, "Why didn't The Lord save me?" St. Peter's eyebrows rose as he replied, "We sent a boat. Then we sent another boat. And we sent a helicopter. What more do you want!?!"

So, maybe this time, I'm not waiting for the helicopter.