Saturday, February 5, 2011

Ask, and sometimes you get

Interesting how prayer works. Sure, one can chalk it up to neurological responses, or mind-tricks that, once said/thought aloud, enable actions to happen. One of the (many) slogans in AA is: Don't Think. I'm trying not to think too hard about things - just letting the brainwash happen. Opening up and accepting. Letting myself be curious and open to new ideas, like a Higher Power, prayer, humility, the power of people, the possibility of brain surgery through thought-rearranging (not an AA slogan), etc.

So, on Monday or Sunday of the week of January 16, I did what I was suggested to do. I've often heard people in groups say they get down on their knees and pray. The knee-part resembling the act of humility and powerlessness - a symbol. The praying part the communication of realizing one is not the greatest power in the world and that help can be sought - another symbol. So, that night I got on my knees. The floor felt hard. I felt silly. But I knew that I'd been thinking about Step One quite a bit and wondering if I really truly was powerless to alcohol. The part of my life becoming unmanageable seemed more tangible to agree to: the cycle of drinking too much, going to work and shaking, unable to write anything with a pen without my hand cramping to form legible letters, the paranoia coming with thinking that everyone could tell I was a horrible drinker, the flush of my face after a night of drinking, the terrible feelings that drove me to drink as soon I got home from work, my history dotted with financial instability and blackouts.

So, I got on my knees and asked my HP to help me know and understand if I was truly powerless to alcohol. (Of course, the prayer was a bit longer, but not so long that I felt Catholic.) Then, I went to bed.

Now, I prefaced this blog entry with the fact that prayer could be dismissed as self-brain-washing, convincing the brain to create false connections, and perhaps even an act to induce certain actions that later are dismissed as coincidence or fate or a prayer being answered. But that following Tuesday, I was on the bus, put my cell phone in my jacket pocket, and walked home realizing it had fallen out on the bus. The first time I've ever lost a cell phone. What a state of panic! Luckily, I had my work phone and called the bus depot repeatedly but no one answered. I went back to the bus stop, got on the other side of the street thinking I could catch the same bus coming back through town the opposite way. I waited an hour in the freezing cold and began to realize I was, indeed, powerless - to more than alcohol. I had no control over (presumably) dropping my cell phone on the bus, and no control or power to bring it back. All I could do was hope that I'd be reunited (and I say it so dramatically because anyone who has lost theirs understands the desperate connection: I don't memorize or write down phone numbers anywhere, including my sponsor's).

And then I realized that this powerlessness extended beyond the cell phone lost. (An hour at a bus stop with infrequently passing buses offers a lot of time to think.) Even if I tell my dad over Christmas that he needs to not just make a chart of the exercises he does to strengthen his previously broken ankle, but that he DO them - it doesn't mean he'll do them. (Although he did.) No matter if I try to order my life or control the chaos, life will unfold the way it's going to unfold: I could get fired from my job, my father will die someday, I can slip and break a hip, political chaos will break out in countries all over the world, people will say things that hurt me, I will think nasty thoughts, I will run late to the bus, natural disasters will wipe out whole cities, etc... I can't control everything, in fact, I can only pretend to myself that I have an ounce of control and power over life. It doesn't mean I stop trying to make it on time to the bus, stop harassing my dad to do his exercises and eat well, stop trying to reduce my carbon footprint, stop encouraging world peace, or stop losing my cell phone. But it means that I can be and am powerless over alcohol. I can't control my drinking. I can't stop at one in a night and I can't drink like a normal person.

After an hour, a bus came by, the driver gave me the number to call, I called and they said they'd look around at the buses that had returned to the depot. A few minutes later, they called to say they'd found it. Luck had it that I have a membership to Zipcar and one was available. I cruised out to the depot, picked it up, tipped a $20, and drove home. On the way, to console myself, or to do a bad thing to my body, or whatever it was, I bought some Mickey Dees for dinner. (Who knows why. I eat it maybe once every two years. It's the juicy fries!)

The next day, perhaps due to the horrible food, or the stress of the cell phone incident, or grasping the idea that my dad's losing the battle with cancer, or PMS, or the full moon, or life just is life, I broke down crying at work. Thankfully, I have my own office, and gratefully, I had 2 women I could turn to from the program. I couldn't stop crying. It came out of nowhere and I just couldn't stop. Both the women concurred that I should leave work, but that as soon as I left I needed to go to a meeting. So, I came home, dropped my stuff off, and made it to the 4pm. It was a packed meeting (with the doors to the meeting open and people sitting in the hallway), but I spotted an open space where a chair was missing, grabbed a chair from the other room, and plunked it down. It seemed like serendipity, fate, perfect timing. Like, I was supposed to be there and the cosmos opened up for that possibility.

I sat down and cried through the whole meeting. It was a regular old speaker's meeting, where some old guy was telling his story of how it was, how he came to AA, and how it is now; and those in the room spoke about their own stories or checked in with the group. All I did was cry. I stayed for my regular 6pm meeting and stopped crying, got a hug from a girl I had previously found a bit annoying but felt perfect in her friendship, and even laughed several times.

The next day, I felt better, made it through the full work day, and went to a meeting. We were reading Step Three: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.


Again, people have asked me how I feel about the religious aspect of AA. It's not religious, it's spiritual - in as much as alcoholics need to be reduced to human beings, not the cocksure self-gods that we become, and need to have some firm belief in something greater than themselves: the fellowship, a deity, nature, an idea, or, hell, even an object like a doorknob. Something that an alcoholic can turn to when they're faced with a craving, a temptation, an accidental drink that is handed to them. -- Someone told me of how a group of AAs went out after a meeting to have dinner together. The table next to them were celebrating a birthday and downing shots of tequila, they bought the AA table a round. The waiter put the shots down in front of them and they froze. Luckily, someone's "normal" boyfriend was there, and when all the AAs were frozen in what to do, he stepped up, gathered up the shots and told the waiter that they don't drink. --

It's not that AA is recruiting for a local church or trying to make Christians out of the helpless. It's that there fundamentally needs to be a way for alcoholics to not depend on their own minds in times of crisis. We're encouraged to learn how to make phone calls to other people in the program, because for some of us, after years of drinking into deeper isolation, we have forgetten how to connect with other people. It's why, when I was newly sober and a friend in the program invited me to her house for dinner, I panicked and cried. Every social event of my life since age 18 has been infused with alcohol. I don't know how to interact with people without drinking. And, if I'm in a space where I feel like I want to take a drink, or I feel confused/depressed/happy and think that drinking will be a great remedy or addition, I have a network of people who I can rely on to help stop that first drink. And, if the fellowship can't help, that I can turn to a HP and a way of life that avails me of the tools to face whatever event I'm facing. For, if I am left to my own sobriety - without a life program, without a fellowship, without an idea greater than myself - I will fail for sure. I'm not strong enough to quiet the weird neurosis in my brain that encourages me toward drinking or other behavior. And, so far, there's no medicinal cure for this disability.

Oh, and AA was pioneered in the '30s, so it's pretty fucking cool that they even considered that people (Americans for that matter) could not believe in a Christian god. Granted, the program has worked successfully since then, so they don't consider re-writing the original text, which can be very annoying - as a woman and a non-Christian. Regardless, they left room for those of us who don't believe in that type of god, by qualifying "God" with "as we understood Him".


So there we were reading Step Three (link - opens in PDF), and I know that sharing - speaking up in the meeting - is good for my growth. It not only helps me to get shit out of my mind, but helps those in the room if they're suffering the same problem, sharing the same joy, need to be reminded of back when they started sobriety, etc. And I really wanted to tell my journey to realizing powerlessness, but I absolutely hate speaking in public. (Lots of alcoholics suffer horribly low self-esteem.) So, I was thinking about sharing, and I asked my HP to give me the courage to do so. And then, it struck me, instead of asking for the courage or the right words or not to cry or not to blush, maybe I should just turn it over. Not as in, let me become a doormat to an invisible HP, or I can't do anything on my own, or I won't manage my own life. More like, if I should share, if it benefits the greater good of the group, if it should be, then HP, help me to do it. And, I raised my hand and told the story, including that recent decision.

And, it felt damn good. I was able to laugh about the cause and effect - pray, but look out, never know what you're gonna get! Able to relieve some of the pressure of the day-long crying. Able to admit that I cried, that I lost power and control, that I was humbled, that I was struggling with life circumstances, and that I needed help.


Furn said...

I like the results, L, but I'll fight this HP concept till my next reincarnations. Yuck.

Albert Melfo said...

Lo --

You sound terrific, woman! Your inner strength has always come through in your writing -- but now you just sound, well -- I'll risk the cliche -- *centered.* As they say, "sober and shameless." I'm so happy for your success. *HUG* This is a HUGE deal.

Best to you and your fam as you lend your love and support to your father.


ps -- love the line, "Of course, the prayer was a bit longer, but not so long that I felt Catholic." Classic Lo humor!