“The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.”
“The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.”
It’s 107 in the desert today and my AC went out. Yesterday I contracted Pinkeye. Today I have added a cold sore just below my bottom lip. “I feel pretty..oh, so…” Not. I am grateful today that I don’t buy into my feelings as much as I used to. I’m glad they are there, when they serve me. Every day I deal with two people: The Bonnie that God created, and the Mask that Bonnie created. The Mask is totally into feelings; preferably good ones. When the Mask can’t conjure up any good feelings, the Mask isolates. The Mask prefers to be invulnerable, unstoppable, strong, courageous.
The Mask has been off for a long time and it feels good a lot of the time but then something happens and I have big feelings and I am left feeling frantic, afraid, uncertain, anxious, tired, human. People often use that phrase, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” My thought would be, “Well, then who needs a God?” I’ve always had a nit to pick with the person who conjured up that one. God constantly gives me more than I can handle – and it’s not the AC out, or the Pinkeye or the annoying cold sore. I can handle that stuff. It’s the pain that comes from really loving that hurts the most. Love is the greatest thing in the universe, but it can also produce a tremendous heart pain, a gnawing, wrenching, unrelentless breaking that is so deep it feels it will never, ever heal. That’s when I need a God. So the Mask is history because I know it just won’t work for me anymore and I’m left with tears that feel like they have no end. Remember that inconsolable sadness you felt the first time you lost someone or something that meant more to you than anything else in the world? It’s that kind of pain that comes back like a wave and you feel like you’re drowning in it. That’s when I hang onto the idea that something bigger and better and stronger and wiser than me created me and cares that I’m hurting.
I cry rivers these days. I should buy stock in Kleenex. I don’t mind crying as much as I used to. I do wish the pain would go away but I know that it will in God’s time. I wish, sometimes, God were just a bit more anal retentive like me, because I truly prefer things NOW. But NOW never seems to be a good time for Him, so when I ask for things, I say, “You know, whenever.” Because anything I’ve ever gotten NOW that I thought I needed NOW was never a good idea, and I’m really, frankly dangerous when I get what I want NOW. So I’m going to finish my cry and remember that whatever I go through today, it’s the real me going through the real thing and when a real God decides it’s the right time, I’ll heal in a real way. And that’s good enough for me today.
I work with addictions. Occasionally clients, having maintained some period of sobriety, will relapse. They are quick, sometimes, to repeat something they’ve heard somewhere before. “Well, relapse is part of recovery, right? In fact, I’m glad it happened. I learned that I don’t want to be back out there.” And then they wait for some confirmation from me that they are right and that there is still hope for them.
Of course there’s hope. As long as one has any willingness whatsoever, I feel I have something to work with. But if they forgive themselves too many times for that relapse, even I will lose hope because I know how terribly progressive the disease is and I know that each relapse will be more difficult to overcome both physically and mentally.
I positively hate snakes. One of my fellow bloggers refers to snakes as “legless freaks,” and it just resonates with me, so I’m going to adopt his description. For those of you who are enamored by legless freaks, please just overlook this paragraph. I do not want to have to defend myself and the legless freaks, no matter how special they are to you.
Let’s say I purchase a legless freak that is known to be venomous. Let’s say I’ve done my research and I know the danger involved in keeping one of these specimen. But my intentions are just to purchase and re-sell, not play with it. Then let’s say I just can’t control myself. It appears so harmless laying there and the thing hasn’t done anything that appears even remotely dangerous up to this point. And as I turn in for bed I give in to some impulse that says, “He looks so attractive, and he really doesn’t appear to be all those things that I read about or learned about. I’m just going to let him sleep in my bed tonight.”
Now, if I am fortunate enough to live through the night and have the opportunity to share with the emergency personnel that the damned snake didn’t even give me any warning before he struck, they will be right when they chart – under “Psychological” – “Just plain nuts.”
Some folks do not have the reaction to alcohol that you do. Those folks do not end up in rehabs or 12-Step meetings or DUI school. If just once you have been to treatment for drugs or alcohol, you are aware that this is not something you can play with. You know the dangers. If you have been to just one meeting of any 12-Step program, you know the dangers. So is relapse part of recovery? No. Relapse is an active addict and/or an active alcoholic. You have lapsed right back into insanity. We can even call on the dictionary here. You don’t need to take my word for it. Look up some definitions.
Relapse: To fall back into illness after convalescence or apparent recovery.
Relapse: To fall or slip back into a former state.
Relapse: To fall back into vice, wrongdoing, or error.
Relapse is NOT part of recovery. Sobriety IS part of recovery.
I am still fairly new to Arizona. This is a sad day for the residents of a state I have come to love. There is a wildfire blazing northwest of Phoenix. That wildfire has taken 19 lives, all but one member of the elite firefighting team the Granite Mountain Hotshots. As I drove past buildings today with flags at half-mast, I thought of the families and the visions they must try to keep at bay, the questions that will never be answered, the tremendous loss they are feeling. I cannot imagine. I can only say a prayer that they feel some love and gratitude from the rest of us who feel helpless.
I just want to write their names, their ages, and sit in silence a moment to say goodbye and pray for the families and wonder what special kind of place is set aside for those who willingly step into harm’s way so the rest of us are safe — so that our property, our memories, our lives are protected.
And to the survivors, my heart aches for you. I know how close you all get, how much you depend on one another. Your pain is a thing so few of us will ever have to experience. And you can’t take time to grieve right now. The fire still blazes. You have work to do. Our thoughts are with you. We pray you remain safe.
Farewell: Anthony Rose, age 23; Eric Marsh, age 43; Robert Caldwell, age 23; Clayton Whitted , age 28; Scott Norris, age 28; Dustin Deford ,age 24; Sean Misner, age 26; Garret Zuppiger, age 27; Travis Carter, age 31; Grant McKee, age 21; Travis Turbyfill, age 27; Jesse Steed, age 36; Wade Parker, age 22; Joe Thurston, age 32; William Warneke, age 25; John Percin, age 24. Kevin Woyjeck, age 21, Chris MacKenzie, age 30; Andrew Ashcraft, age 29. No harm can ever come your way again. May you rest in peace.
Thank you to veterans everywhere. I am so grateful for your service. This video is a glimpse into the life of a veteran who beat the odds because he didn’t give up.
Dear Bill W.,
My name is Bonnie S., and I’m a friend of yours. I’ve had occasion to view a few movies about alcoholism. Yours thus far has been my favorite. The others presented the problem. Yours presented the solution.
I fall into the category of a functional alcoholic, so it took me years to recognize the problem. I knew I drank too much. I did try to overcome the “habit.” I tried controlling it, hiding it from myself, switching brands. I tried hypnotism, prayer, willpower, self-help books, meditation and exercise. Eventually, simple denial worked best.
One particularly vulnerable day I admitted to someone that I had a problem with alcohol. He asked me if I was willing to go to any length to get sober and when I answered in the affirmative, he directed me to AA. In AA they asked me to concede to my innermost self that I was an alcoholic. A bit overdone, I felt. You know, a problem is a far cry from alcoholic. I got angry and felt not just a little taken advantage of. Good thing we have a 4th Step, or I wouldn’t have known what to do with all of the resentment that arose from the introduction to a program I didn’t think I needed nor believed would work. Frankly, the whole thing seemed way too simple for my complex life. But an alcoholic, I learned, is just someone who has an abnormal reaction to alcohol; i.e., an allergy, and this allergy is coupled with an obsession of the mind. The shoe fit, so I put it on.
I’d like to share with you my experience with the 12 Steps you and your drinking buddies outlined for people like me. I wasn’t able to do them perfectly, but I did experience progress.
STEP 1: WE ADMITTED WE WERE POWERLESS OVER ALCOHOL – THAT OUR LIVES HAD BECOME UNMANAGEABLE.
I had trouble right off the bat with this one. I don’t like feeling powerless over anything, and I didn’t view my life as unmanageable. However, when I thought back to waking up in that cell at County Jail, me with my pinstriped suit, heels, and prissy attitude, amongst company – (well, they just didn’t seem my type), willing myself not to have to use the facilities (I just have a terrible time with germs) and having absolutely no recall whatsoever as to what landed me there, I had to admit that seemed somewhat unmanageable by my standards. And the fact that I could only recall having two drinks (the rest having occurred in a blackout), I had to admit just a shred of powerlessness over the drink. I’ll tell you the truth, here. Once released from that purgatory, I went straight home and drank up a storm. I simply had to. That was a horrible experience.
STEP 2: CAME TO BELIEVE THAT A POWER GREATER THAN MYSELF COULD RESTORE ME TO SANITY.
You seem to use such dramatic verbiage. “Restore me to sanity?” I could only stomach this step by coming to an understanding that insanity is a behavior which repeats itself over and over again expecting different results. After giving it some thought, for an alcoholic to pick up a drink, having no assurance he/she will be able to control the minutes and hours thereafter, does seem a little insane.
STEP 3: MADE A DECISION TO TURN OUR WILL AND OUR LIVES OVER TO THE CARE OF GOD AS WE UNDERSTOOD HIM.
I encountered a problem here. I’m a self-proclaimed spiritual mutt. I grew up in a family with a God and a Bible. The Bible was read as frequently as we ate breakfast. On the farm, nobody skips breakfast. It was a good piece of literature, but it had always seemed to me that guilt was highlighted and grace was in the fine print. I’d never completely abandoned the idea of God, but I had never fully surrendered to the concept, either. A funny thing happened to me while I was pondering this Step. I was 45 days sober, and I was diagnosed with Stage 4 ovarian cancer. That ordeal is a whole other chapter. But I’ll tell you what. While I was still pondering the exactitude of who and what God was, one thing became eminently clear to me, and that’s this: I was not God. A God was going to decide whether I lived or died and I had nothing to hang onto but one day at a time. I found myself surrendering to a God and a mindset where grace is highlighted and guilt is in the fine print. I had always struggled with staying in the moment, being still, vulnerable, transparent. I learned, during this painful and frightening time, to stay in the present because it was the only safe place for me to me. It took practice and was hard work. Today it is pleasant employment.
STEP 4: MADE A SEARCHING AND FEARLESS MORAL INVENTORY OF OURSELVES.
This begins by writing our resentments out – people, places and things that have caused us pain that we haven’t been able to let go of. My list was long. Lots of people messed with my serenity, and I enjoyed an opportunity to list them. I enjoyed less writing the column that asked me to see my part in it. What I saw was a pattern of fear and self-centeredness, and was that a pretty picture? Not so much. That’s a pretty good diagnostic tool you came up with there.
STEP 5: ADMITTED TO GOD, TO OURSELVES, AND TO ANOTHER HUMAN BEING THE EXACT NATURE OF OUR WRONGS.
Boy, Bill, I would have rather driven off a cliff than take this step. I contemplated it, too. That contemplation was just one more realization that I’m afraid and self-centered; fear that confiding in this person was going to result in a breach of trust (not to mention blow to smithereens my entire image), self-centered because I would rather just not show up after another human being had set aside time and energy to avail themselves for no other reason than to help me along my journey. But honestly, the only reason I went forward with this step was a fear that not to do so would result in my drinking again. That was an unacceptable risk to me, so I forged ahead. What I found out is that the world doesn’t end when Bonnie has to be honest. And later, I had the best night’s sleep I’d ever had up to that point.
STEP 6: WERE ENTIRELY READY TO HAVE GOD REMOVE ALL THESE DEFECTS OF CHARACTER.
This isn’t as easy as it looks. I had a mental list of my assets and found out most of them were liabilities. I liked my willpower, my tenacity, my fortitude, my strength, my wit. My sponsor told me early on that my strengths would become my weakness and vice versa. She refers to my finer qualities as stubbornness, avoidance and downright defiance, an unwillingness to let go of my own ideas long enough to let some new ones in. I’m not adept at defining my own defects of character. I came up with 37. My sponsor added quite a few more. And today I am willing to accept that more will be revealed as I continue the journey.
STEP 7: HUMBLY ASKED HIM TO REMOVE OUR SHORTCOMINGS.
You have to be diligently cautious when discussing humility. I’ve learned that even in AA anyone who talks for more than two minutes on humility hasn’t got any. This is an ego-puncturing step. I continue to work on this all day, every day. It’s character vs. comfort. It is coming to terms with the fact that my intellect works but my judgment doesn’t. It’s me and God doing battle on my instincts 24/7. It is gaining enough perspective to see that character-building and spiritual values have to come before material gain. It’s staying right-sized, teachable, accepting the cards life deals me; being ambitious but not absurdly so; taking care of myself but not to the point that my self-importance makes me oblivious to the care that should be given those around me.
STEP 8: MADE A LIST OF ALL PERSONS WE HAD HARMED AND BECAME WILLING TO MAKE AMENDS TO THEM ALL.
Part (a), make the list, not a problem; Part (b) willing to make amends to them all, are you serious, man? Willing? ALL OF THEM? The sponsor likes to keep me moving. She reminded me, “It’s just a list. Get it done.” I was instructed to put them in categories: People I was willing to make amends to now – later – never. I had a lot on my never list.
STEP 9: MADE DIRECT AMENDS TO SUCH PEOPLE WHEREVER POSSIBLE, EXCEPT WHEN TO DO SO WOULD INJURE THEM OR OTHERS.
An amazing thing happened here. While I was busy asking for the willingness to make amends, Steps 8 and 9 just collided with one another. The people on my “Never” list kept appearing in my life – like I nearly tripped over them. They ended up being the people I would make amends to first. I began to see that almost anything I was asked to do in AA was going to work exactly opposite of how I strategized it. If I want to see my sponsor laugh, all I have to do is say, “Never.” She knows from personal experience what happens next. So we just put one foot in front of the other and swallow our pride. We are to use good judgment, a careful sense of timing, courage and prudence and make a general admission of our defects. We are told we cannot buy our own peace of mind at the expense of others. While we aren’t to wallow in excessive remorse before those we have harmed, our amends are to be forthright and generous.
Step 9 offered me a freedom like no other. The act of cleaning up my side of the street with no concern of how people will react or respond is a method of living that aids me on a day-to-day basis, a task that allows me to simply take responsibility for my own life and to remember that it is none of my business what other people think of me. I’m very thankful for this exercise. It isn’t about apologizing for who I am; it’s about changing behaviors to provide my creator a clear channel for that power greater than myself to enable me to be of maximum service to others, which is impossible when I am full of anger, self- pity, guilt, remorse or shame.
STEP 10: CONTINUED TO TAKE PERSONAL INVENTORY AND WHEN WE WERE WRONG PROMPTLY ADMITTED IT.
The word “promptly,” here has always a source of irritation to me. I would have preferred “eventually,” or “after giving careful thought.” But you are not big on loopholes, are you, Bill? The word “promptly” means immediately upon recognizing that I have done wrong. It’s a good step. Having words come out of your mouth followed by an prompt admission that it was inappropriate, untrue or just plain unnecessary makes people look at you a little goofy, but one gets used to it. It has always come natural to me to speak before I think, so this has served as a good tool.
STEP 11: SOUGHT THROUGH PRAYER AND MEDITATION TO IMPROVE OUR CONSCIOUS CONTACT WITH GOD, AS WE UNDERSTOOD HIM, PRAYING ONLY FOR KNOWLEDGE OF HIS WILL FOR US AND THE POWER TO CARRY THAT OUT.
I enjoy your phraseology here because I’m always entertained when the newcomer misreads this at a meeting as “through prayer and medication.” Yeah. They wish. This is a wonderful step, a means by which I provide my mind, my emotions and my intuitions of vitally needed support. You state in your book, “Some of us had had spiritual beliefs. Now we begin to have a spiritual experience.” And that has been true for me. Some people have huge spiritual epiphanies. For me this was a slow and gradual peace that began to flood my life. I recall a morning sitting on my patio and the wind flipped my Dalmatian’s ear inside out. As I bent to fix it, I realized the spots on the inside of the ear matched precisely the outside, like someone had drawn the spots with Magic Marker and it soaked through. Upon careful examination, I saw that the little hairs, black and white, perfectly matched inside and out and I began to well up with tears. It was just a magnificent cognition that the divine creator of the universe is so adept at detail. I think of those moments as God sending me roses. I love when He sends roses.
STEP 12: HAVING HAD A SPIRITUAL AWAKENING AS THE RESULT OF THESE STEPS, WE TRIED TO CARRY THIS MESSAGE TO ALCOHOLICS, AND TO PRACTICE THESE PRINCIPLES IN ALL OUR AFFAIRS.
Many of us are taught either by religion or by simple good manners the concept of “Give and ye shall receive.” But most of us never give it a real chance to work in our lives. We get practice on this Step right from the day we walk into AA as we are told to be of service, to take commitments, to not say no to AA requests, to pick up the phone rather than pick up the drink, to avail ourselves to others in need as a means to get out of our skin that we haven’t grown comfortable with yet. By the time we complete the process it’s nearly automatic. It just seems to be a universal law that when we give we receive. At first it’s not altruistic; we do it because it helps us stay sober. By the end, we do it just because it’s the right thing to do and we have found happiness at last in doing so. What I receive in return is so great it can’t even be defined. All I know is that I have ended up being happy, joyous and free.
And so it is with gratitude I tell you I love this warm and fuzzy life that I have today, as opposed to the cold and calculating one I traded it in for. And I thank you, too, for not having taken credit for 70-some years of saving lives. I like the anonymity of the program. I like the type of people it grows. I like living in this sober field with people I can depend on to cultivate and nurture a kind and more genuine me.
You promised there would come a time when I would not regret the past nor wish to change it. That promise has come true. I get to re-create my life, one day at a time. I’m who I am because of all of my experiences. It has not been particularly easy, but I thank you for keeping it simple. My life is not nearly as complex as I thought.
I remain sober for today,
Keep going. You sure as heck don’t want to stop there!
Please watch this video. I will not dishonor it by adding words.
A few days ago I promised to write about my first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, and I neglected to do that. Hey, I practice rigorous honesty. I haven’t mastered anything. But a promise is a promise, so here goes.
I don’t even remember how I picked it. Did Paul give me a directory? Did he have me call someone? I cannot recall. I do recall the immense fear of what those people would be like. I’m really not a very exciting drunk. I didn’t get thrown out of bars, I didn’t dance on tabletops, I didn’t wake up nude on the street or come to in a strange town or lose my car overnight. And I never belonged to a motorcycle club. I was just a boring drunk who fell asleep early at parties in the beginning and toward the end didn’t bother with the parties. I just finished my work, made sure I had no more human contact planned for the day, drank and fell asleep; basically a fairly normal person afflicted with a gorilla that would not get off my back.
I found a meeting that was close enough to walk to and was in a church. Good for two reasons: I didn’t want anyone knowing anything about me, not even my license plate or color of vehicle, and I figured things couldn’t get too rambunctious in a church. I located it and then stayed a block away until one minute before meeting time. I had managed not to drink before I got there, but I do not want these people talking to me. When you’re right on time to an AA meeting, you’re actually kinda late. That means all the seats are taken and it’s real uncomfortable getting the once-over from a bunch of strangers when you’re feeling beat-up as it is.
This turns out to be a women’s meeting. My innards are groaning now. I hate women. I don’t know when it started, but I hate women. It may have just started when I walked in, but I do not want to be in this little maternal society. They are seated in a circle and someone motions for me to sit in a chair, gives me a friendly pat and says, “Welcome.” She’s at least 10 years older than me and looks like she maybe bakes cookies for a living. I thought these were supposed to be alcoholics.
I’m not really listening. I’m scouting my surroundings. Seriously, no one here looks like an alcoholic. I wonder if I’ve erroneously come to a Tupperware party. But then it starts, and I hear the infamous, “Hello. My name is Whatever and I’m an alcoholic.” I’ve seen that on television and in movies.
Well, I guess I’m here. Whodathunk? After all I’ve worked for in life, this is the sad result of my pathetic existence.
And then Whatever says to me, “Would you like to read a portion of Chapter 5?”
Chapter 5? I’m new here. Can’t we start with Chapter 1? Furthermore, it’s been a couple of rough decades and I’m really not up for —
“Thank you,” she says, as she hands me a couple of loose pages out of a binder. And I read:
“Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way. They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty. Their chances are less than average. There are those, too, who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders, but many of them do recover if they have the capacity to be honest.”
I do not know why, but I am crying. Is this what they do to the newcomers? This is devastating material. And me, who rarely cries, cannot control my emotions. And then, to make things worse, someone quietly murmurs, “That’s beautiful. You’re doing great.” Oh, God. These people must think I’m an emotional mess. And now I’m worried about what the Tupperware ladies think of me? What is happening to me?
“Our stories disclose in a general way what we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now. If you have decided you want what we have and are willing to go to any length to get it —”
Wait. Where have I heard that language before? PAUL! That dirty rat. Is this a set-up?
“If you have decided you want what we have and are willing to go to any length to get it, then you are ready to take certain steps.
“At some of these we balked. We thought we could find an easier, softer way. But we could not. With all the earnestness at our command, we beg of you to be fearless and thorough from the very start. Some of us have tried to hold on to our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely.
“Remember that we deal with alcohol, cunning, baffling, powerful! Without help it is too much for us. But there is One who has all power. That one is God. May you find Him now!
“Half measures availed us nothing. We stood at the turning point. We asked His protection and care with complete abandon. Here are the Steps we took …”
My mouth is dry, I can’t seem to get my breath and this dissertation is lengthy. But I read the Steps, and I finish the reading, and I would donate my lungs (liver is shot; can’t donate that) for a drink right now. But the meeting goes on and I hear the craziest stuff. These women are talking about events from my life. They are talking about feelings I thought were only my feelings. They are talking about problems and solutions and how they used to drink and what they used to think and they might as well be me.
The meeting ends and I am relieved that I have survived but I am thwarted from my plan of quick retreat by a friggin’ throng of women. They are handing me phone numbers and shoving a blue book into my hands and I want out! I concoct some lie about having an appointment and I’m sure they know I’m lying but I don’t care. And then one crusty old hag says this:
“In AA we only have two rules: One, you keep coming back; and, two, you do not drink between meetings.”
Now, I’m no genius, but I see how this works. Funny thing is, I believed her. See, there are no rules – only suggestions – but I don’t know that at my first meeting. And now I am certain that the last source of help on the planet for me has rigged the game. I need this place and these people because I’ve tried everything else, and they are telling me I must come back and I must not drink.
I’m so grateful for that ignorance today because it kept me sober, birthday or not, and I just kept hanging on. I have not had a drink since. I did my 90 in 90, and I got a sponsor and I did my work (the Steps) and if sobriety were not fun I would be drunk today. It takes a while to find fun in sobriety. Even that is work. But if you’re reading this, chances are you are not having that much fun drinking anymore; you just can’t imagine a life of not drinking. And I understand that.
I wish I knew those women’s names today because they saved my life. But they know. They once were me.