24 years ago today, I had my last beer. It was a Sam Smith’s Taddy Porter, and it was good. Way too good. I’m not going to go into my drinking past too deeply here, but the long and short of it is, after 20 years of drinking, and at least 2 or 3 years of trying to stop almost weekly and failing, I finally picked up the phone and asked for help. The help I got came from AA. I know AA may not work for everybody, and I don’t discount the stories of the people for whom it didn’t, but when I walked through the door, defeated and out of hope, I had hope given to me by the members of the first club I joined, the Bouldin Group, in Austin, who cared enough to say “There’s a whole room full of people here who don’t want you to go out and drink today. Is that enough to get you back here sober tomorrow?” The answer was yes.
The thing on my mind as I write this is what keeps me sober today. There’s a certain amount of “never again” that gets invoked simply by taking into account the misery and destruction of my drinking and drugging years, (AMA I’m an open book) but there’s also the emotional growth that comes from a life that includes a modicum of self examination. I’m not going to stake any claim to guru-hood, but I have put in some work. Work done in the meeting rooms, with my sponsors, with new guys who show up looking for help, and certainly not least of all, with my wife, who is also sober, and a cornerstone of my sober life. The debts of gratitude are innumerable.
Lately during the pandemic, since attendance at meeting houses hasn’t seemed like a great idea, the bulk of my group work within the program has come from a group of men that my sponsor gathers once a month over Zoom. This is a private meeting that has been going on monthly for over 10 years at his house until lately, when we switched to virtual in March of 2020. It’s a group of mostly older guys around my age, who have a shared experience, and they have really propped me up just by being there and being honest as we discuss our journeys. Rather than just having an open meeting, a member will bring a topic on a rotating basis, and for the last couple years, we’ve been sending out prompts via email prior to the meeting so everyone could gather their thoughts on the topic. This has allowed me for additional time for reflection, and kept me a bit more on my emotional/spiritual path as I reflect on these things before, during and after the meetings. Last week, my sponsor sent out a prompt on the subject of unity, the core of AA’s first tradition. Recapped & condensed, this is what he sent out:
The intention of this prompt is to tie the reading for January 3rd from Daily Reflections to Tradition One, Unity. “It is no coincidence that the very first step mentions powerlessness: An admission of personal powerlessness over alcohol is a cornerstone of the foundation of recovery. I’ve learned that I do not have the power and control I once thought I had. I am powerless over what people think about me. I am powerless over having just missed the bus. (I don’t particularly agree with this example). I am powerless over how other people work (or don’t work) the steps. But I’ve also learned that I am not powerless over some things. I am not powerless over my attitudes. I am not powerless over my negativity. I am not powerless over assuming responsibility for my own recovery. I have the power (am empowered) to exert a positive influence on myself, my loved ones, and the world in which I live.” Tradition One; “Our common welfare should come first, personal progress depends upon AA Unity” In the context of being empowered to grow and live mature and sober lives, and in the context of our discussion of personalizing Tradition one, let’s paraphrase it as follows; “Our common welfare should come first. A healthy relationship with ourselves and those around us depends on Unity.” The practice of the 12 steps puts our lives in order, but not necessarily our relationships. How to live successfully with others can be found in our traditions. They are the guidelines for our behaviors, behaviors being the patterns of our actions and our actions deriving from how we see ourselves and interact with those around us be it spouse, family, friends, work or otherwise. In the context of self-evaluation and in the spirit of being empowered through your recovery and growth, take a review of the following questions and share your experience, strength and hope on how you’re doing with the practice of Unity in your personal life. 1. Am I willing to sacrifice for the relationship(s) in my life? 2. What effect do my actions have on the relationship(s) in my life? On my family? 3. Am I a giver or a taker? 4. Do I do unifying things? Or am I quick to criticize? Slow to praise? 5. Do I listen when my mate or friends or co-workers have something to say? 6. Do I admire and approve of my mate or friends or co-workers? Do they know that? 7. Am I a healing, mending, integrating force in my relationship(s) or am I divisive? 8. Am I a peacemaker? Or because of my own insecurity, is it critical to my ego that I be right? Can I be flexible? 9. What must people in my life do to accommodate my insecurities? 10. Do I spout platitudes about love while indulging in and secretly justifying behavior that bristles with hostility? Do I sneak around and do things that my mate, friends or co-workers won’t like or will violate my our or their values? 11. Do I try to be understanding when my mate, friends, or co-workers rub me the wrong way or do something that upsets me, or am I abrasive and rageful?
A portion of this apparently comes from some reading he’s been doing as a member of AlAnon, and I’ve got to say how much I appreciate his taking the time to put these thoughts together for us.
I digested this for a day or two, then started writing, which is unusual for me. I might jot down a note or two, but mostly just wing it in the meetings, but I had a reaction to the first question that I felt put me at odds with its whole notion.
1 Am I willing to sacrifice for the relationship(s) in my life?
My thoughts in response:
On question 1– “Am I willing to sacrifice for the relationship(s) in my life?”
The idea of unity makes this question a non sequitur. There is no sacrifice because my relationships are my life. When I’m thinking of myself instead of those around me and how I relate to them, it’s because I’ve gone off track and am not living in the spiritual side of the program- but through the steps, especially the fact that in sobriety, I have been given back the power of self-introspection, I can USUALLY catch this selfishness before I act.
When I have obviously acted hurtful or selfish, it becomes pretty glaringly obvious pretty quickly, and again, through the power of the 10th step, I am able to accept my errors and put things to right through honest amends This is a blessing, and not a sacrifice.
We are our actions- Vonnegut said “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” So even if I don’t feel it inwardly, if I find myself in pity, I remind myself to do the right thing anyway, because outwardly, the immediate consequences of my actions, good or bad, show up in my relationships, whether I’m considering the relationships or not. So it’s right thinking to consider the relationships -the common welfare, in my actions, and act accordingly.
Even if I want to get selfish about it, I have to take heed of the fact that the common welfare includes ME!
I would only be “sacrificing” in order to act in accordance with my relationships if I was not engaged in right thought- engaging in selfishness, greed, envy… the things that led me to drugs and alcohol, and the things from which I must remain ever vigilant against, and which every morning I give over to god in my morning prayer as I ask to do his will, not mine.
Looking at this, I see a different person from the one who finally put that pint bottle down on Jan 14th, 1998. The above is of course best-case and I often fall short of my lofty ideals for myself. The point is to be mindful of when that happens, or better yet, when it’s about to happen. It’s still a journey, but I’m glad to be on it and glad to be living life on life’s terms, as my sponsor likes to say with some frequency. I’m most of all grateful to the sober people around me who cared enough to hold me up until I could stand on my own, and I’m grateful for the rails they put up that keep me from careening off track. Life is weird, life is hard, but life is good. With a little blind luck, and a little bit of faith, I’ll wake up sober again tomorrow.