24 October 2007

Some meetings are better than others

I've been attending a particular Tuesday night meeting at the local clubhouse, primarily because my sponsor likes to go there. Last night was my fourth visit recently. I saw The Rock the first time, but haven't seen him since.

I was reminded last night of why I don't like going there. The speaker, who had a real wise-guy attitude, started off by announcing that he hadn't been to a meeting in a year. Within minutes he was trashing the 5th Tradition, without apology, saying that after picking up a drink, everybody does something else whether it's drugs, gambling or picking up women. He of course noted that he did all of these. He spent all but the last couple of minutes on his drunkalogue (and drugalogue—fortunately he didn't talk at all about the other two).

I kept thinking, "And this is supposed to help us—and especially the newcomer—stay sober how?" Needless to say, I didn't find much to laugh about in his many funny stories. They seemed mostly to be in his story to entertain his audience. I thought about getting up and walking out while he was still speaking, but didn't. I thought about leaving at the break, but didn't. I also kept wondering throughout how much of this was purely my negativity rather than just a bad job by an unsober person. I did express my opinion to Mr Riches-to-Rags, who was there.

It wasn't all bad. I heard a couple of good comments after the break and got to talk for a few minutes to a man who was District Treasurer when I was GSR eight years ago but haven't seen since. I learned that he's been very active in Intergroup since then. He's a good candidate to speak for me sometime.

19 October 2007

Attitudes towards meetings

Last night's speaker identified three phases he went through in his attitude towards A.A. meetings. These all occurred during the first 11 months of his sobriety, while he was in prison. He was in a work release program where, starting with one night a week, they gradually increased the number of nights he was allowed out to attend A.A. meetings, as he continued to not screw up.

At first, he said, he went because he had to. He hated being there and kept thinking, "Is this what my life has come to? To hang out with a bunch of alcoholics?" After a while he entered the second phase, where he realized that he always felt better while at a meeting. He still would have preferred not to go at all, but had to admit that it wasn't so bad. Finally, towards the end of his 11 months, he started looking forward to going to meetings—phase three.

This reminded me of what I was told in early sobriety: there are only two times I needed to go to a meeting: (1) when I wanted to and (2) when I didn't want to. In early sobriety, the number of times I went for the second reason exceeded the number of times I went for the first, but quite a lot. At some point, years ago, that changed. Now I rarely go for the second reason (though it does happen, usually when I'm thinking, "I've got better things to do").

After a number of years of sobriety, I recognized a fourth phase in my attitude toward meetings, namely, to go because I might have something to offer a newcomer, because I might be able to help someone who is struggling. For me, this brings the deepest satisfaction of all.

17 October 2007

Ruminations on Beauty

This was the title of a post by the Junky's Wife two months ago. I've been cogitating on it ever since I read it without knowing why. A couple of days ago it hit me.

Some background. For some time now, I've been trying to walk a couple miles a day, just on the general principle that since I have a pure desk job, it's good for me—physically, mentally and emotionally. Usually these were early in the morning or very late in the afternoon. Lately, I've taken to going on hour-long walks in the middle of the day. Being self-employed and setting my own hours, this is relatively easy for me. And I've been taking my camera.

It takes me twice as long, I probably don't cover as much ground, but it's been very very nice for keeping me somewhat grounded. I don't think about anything but what's around me and what might make a good photograph. And I've gotten some good ones. I'm actually pretty good at it, I think (one from today is above, to the right).

What hit me a couple of days ago is that this has become a form of meditation for me, meditation on beauty. As JW said in her post:
So why is beauty so important? And why is beauty so important to me?

Beauty, I guess, gives me that god-feeling...that moment when you recognize something beautiful, when it kind of catches your breath and pulls at your guts, or points at some emptiness in your guts that feels so essential to living...it makes me feel aware of something bigger than myself.
Thanks, JW, that really hit the spot!

Late for a meeting

I walked into my meeting tonight late, as they were just starting. I hate being late, especially when the only reason is because I didn't plan my time well. Even more so when, like tonight, it's my first time at the group. I got to introduce myself by saying my name and that it was my first time there. They welcomed me and then I remembered to add, "I'm an alcoholic." Somebody replied, "Good, at least you know that." Everyone—including me—laughed.

A. was celebrating five years. Assuming I was a newcomer, she turned to me after announcing it, looked me in the eye and said, "It really does work." I smiled inwardly and managed to keep to myself the fact that I had 15 years, even when I shared. Isn't amazing how the ego can pick up on the smallest things and keep reminding one of them all through the meeting?

15 October 2007

My prize

If you've been paying very close attention, you know I won a prize over at the Daily Piglet. Well, after a missed connection, my prize arrived in the mail the other day. You can see a picture of it to the left. Piglet told me she perused my blog to get an idea of what would be a good gift and, in the end, it was a toss-up between this and a night-light replica of the leg lamp from the movie A Christmas Story. To the right you can see a picture of the prize I didn't win.

My first thought on opening the package was, "Is it that obvious, just from reading my blog?" Who better to ask than Mr. Sarcastic Ball. You can see his answer here in the picture to the left.

In return for her offer that let me win this wonderful prize, I gave her a chance to win something back (if you follow all the links you'll see I challenged to figure out how I knew the answer to her question). She succeeded. So now I get to look over her blog and see what might make an appropriate prize for her. Any and all suggestions from her friends (and enemies) are welcome. Please e-mail them to me privately rather than post them here, so she can have the same delightful sense of surprise that I got to experience.

My old friend Pain

The last 43½ hours have not been good ones for me emotionally. Nimue and I had a big confrontation Saturday night. She insisted on having her way. I refused to give in. She said she was going to stand next to me, hammering away at me verbally, till I "cooperated." I got in my car and went to a meeting, which helped a little. Sure beats what I would have done 16 years ago: gotten in my car and gone to a bar.

Yesterday, I was at the 4th Step workshop I mentioned in my last post for most of the afternoon. I had picked out a meeting to go to Sunday night and then picked out a park to stop in on the way to the meeting from the workshop. I took a bunch of photographs (I'm an avid if amateur photographer). After the meeting, my old friend ChinBeard took me aside and chewed me out. He asked why I would want to continue for two years to stay with someone who didn't want to live with me. He offered to let me live with him and he would abuse me instead of Nimue. He offered to pray for God to send me even more pain, so I would finally do something. He carried on for almost 10 minutes, very brutally, shredding every "but" that I could come up with. Don't you just hate it sometimes when people love you enough to do that? Damn!

What is ANA?

At a 4th Step workshop I attended yesterday, we heard from four speakers. All were good. The two women obviously had very, very solid step-work backgrounds. One man spoke very knowledgeably and intelligently about the 4th step. The other man spoke movingly from the heart. I talked for a while afterwards with H., one of the women who spoke (the other woman who spoke was her sponsor's sponsor).

She first started working the steps after relapsing and then getting involved with something called "ANA." She said it was another Twelve Step fellowship, and made it sound like a sort of Back to Basics movement for any kind of addiction, with no distinction between alcohol and drugs, for example.

When I Googled for ANA, I didn't find anything like what she was describing. The most relevant links returned was to ANA Treatment Centres, a British chain of rehabs. I didn't see any explanation of why they use "ANA" in their name, but from some of the description, I can see that it might be related.

The next most closely related was for "my friend Ana." (Well, at least I learned one new thing today!)

Does anyone know any more about this? That is, about the fellowship H. was talking about, not about my friend Ana.

13 October 2007

Why "pigeons"?

Kathy Lynne wants to know, "Why pigeons?" and adding, "I don't like that."

I don't remember. I do remember seeing something once about where the term came from and, after reading it, feeling that it's not the pejorative term I had previously thought. Where was that article? AAHistoryLovers? Oh yes, here's the post that asked a question similar to Kathy Lynne's and here's the one response it got.

To summarize, the term appears to have originated with Dr. Bob and was in use by 1940. Dr. Bob was heavily into using slang. He called Anne, his wife, "the skirt" or "the little woman" and a kiss "the slobber." When he learned that Benjamin Franklin [follow this link: it has excellent information] had once observed that drunks appeared "pigeon-eyed," it immediately followed that they must be "pigeons". He also referred to sponsees as "cookies." Despite the apocryphal and derogatory explanations one hears from time to time in the rooms of A.A.—that pigeons are called that because they fly around and shit all over everyone, or because if you give them a message they deliver it somewhere but never get the message themselves—the term was originally meant endearingly.

I actually use the term "sponsee" in most of my conversation. But I prefer "pigeon" (and use it more often in writing since I have time to think about it) because it's sort of metaphorical and more colorful rather than technically accurate. When I use it I certainly do not intend it to be derogatory.

If you have a subscription to the A.A Grapevine's Digital Archive, you can find further discussion of this topic in the following articles:
This is a list of references I got from the first of the two AAHistoryLovers posts I noted above. After reading them, I'm still not inclined to change my opinion, though there are some good reasons not to use the term.

P.S. There may be other articles and letters among the 262 that were returned when I searched the archive for the term "pigeon."

12 October 2007

Bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you

As predicted, I went to a meeting tonight with my new pigeon, Overseer. That's actually the name of the position of responsibility he has at the rehab he's in—Overseer. I was taken aback when he casually mentioned this to me on the way to the meeting. He's black, and to me this term has strong slavery connotations. I was more than taken aback; I was stunned. I said so, and he agreed, but then used the term again in a completely un-self-conscious way. So that's what his nom de blog is going to be.

We stood in the parking lot for a few minutes talking about where he is in recovery and what's going on. He clearly doesn't know how to be still and likes to talk too much. At least he knows this about himself. And was able to sit in the meeting and just listen, at my mild suggestion.

Somehow in the parking lot we wound up on the subject of prayer. I talked to him about my experience praying for people toward whom I have resentments. I told him how it took over a year of praying to heal my resentments over people like my ex-wife, Bitter Cookie; Idlerich, the boyfriend she left me for and Deadbeat, Nimue's ex-husband (can you tell I'm not 100% over them?). I told him how important it was to continue even when we don't feel like praying at all, that's it important to just mouth the words if that's all we can do. Then we went in to the meeting.

It was a Big Book discussion meeting. And, of all things, we read the story "Bondage of Self." It's amazing that it was a story from beyond the first 164 pages to begin with; around here the stories are only rarely read in meetings. But that is was this story? Wow!

For those of you not familiar with this particular story, here's a excerpt that will show its relevance:
If you have a resentment you want to be free of, if you will pray for the person or the thing that you resent, you will be free. If you will ask in prayer for everything you want for yourself to be given to them, you will be free. Ask for their health, their prosperity, their happiness, and you will be free. Even when you don't really want it for them and your prayers are only words and you don't mean it, go ahead and do it anyway. Do it every day for two weeks, and you will find you have come to mean it and to want it for them, and you will realize that where you used to feel bitterness and resentment and hatred, you now feel compassionate understanding and love.
Well, as I always say when we read this story, the author must have been a spiritual giant if she got that kind of result in just two weeks (the particular resentment she had was one of 25 years against her mother). But it can still work for the rest of us; it just takes a little longer.

Good discussion after the reading too. I think maybe I'll go back.

Why I don't drink non-alcoholic drinks

Anybeth—who I keep wanting to call "Amy Beth"—commented on my post Mmmmm, Mexican food saying that "a non-alcoholic margarita would taste great." I want to clarify why I ended my original post by saying, "Naw, I think I'll just stick to their food." This is not to criticize Anybeth in any way; I'm hope she'll be able to find some of those margaritas and enjoy them without consequence. But I can't.

For me it would be too much like, too close to actual drinking. More and more questions like those I started asking at the end of that post would begin to fill my head and get me to thinking. I would start remembering all those wonderful times I had when I was out there—whether they were really there or not. Soon I would be stealing a little of what the Big Book on page 101 calls vicarious pleasure from the atmosphere. And next thing you know, I would say to myself in the most casual way, "It won't burn me this time; so here's how!" And after the third or fourth, I'd be pounding on the bar and saying to myself, "For God's sake, how did I ever get started again?" Only to have that thought supplanted by "Well, I'll stop with the sixth drink." Or "What's the use anyhow?" (p. 24)

For me, this could easily be just how it happens. So, again, and just for me, I really do need to stick to only the food. And a soft drink or glass of water.

An okay day

Other than being late for work, it hasn't been a bad day. Had a little breakthrough on one of the problems I've been working on (professionally). Had a cheap but tasty lunch of Phad Thai. Tonight I will take my new pigeon to a meeting and spend a little time getting to know him and on the way will probably grab a slightly more expensive salad for dinner.

Since I was running late, I decided to shortcut my morning routine and thereby inadvertently forgot my morning prayers. Despite that, the universe, a.k.a. my Higher Power, in the form of today's entry from Daily Reflections, is apparently telling me I'm on the right track:

Curbing Rashness

When we speak or act hastily or rashly, the ability to be fair-minded and tolerant evaporates on the spot.

Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 91

Being fair-minded and tolerant is a goal toward which I must work daily. I ask God, as I understand Him, to help me to be loving and tolerant to my loved ones, and to those with whom I am in close contact. I ask for guidance to curb my speech when I am agitated, and I take a moment to reflect on the emotional upheaval my words may cause, not only to someone else, but also to myself. Prayer, meditation and inventories are the key to sound thinking and positive action for me.

Sorta sounds like what I was saying yesterday, doesn't it?

11 October 2007

The Riddling Bridge Troll

This is so great, I can't resist sharing it. The Junky's Wife said yesterday of her drug addict husband, "He's a riddling bridge troll I've got to get past before I can move on with my life, and the riddles he keeps coming up with stump me again and again."

This kind of insightful writing makes me very glad I don't have to live with an addict / alcoholic. I suppose it should give me some kind of sympathy for Nimue, but right now I'm only feeling it for JW and all her addict-married friends.

Mmmmm, Mexican food

Last night I ate at a nearby Mexican restaurant that's new to the neighborhood. I noticed going in that they offer "COMPLIMENTARY MARGARITAS!" My waiter offered me one, which I politely turned down. After leaving, I was perusing their take-out menu and noticed it's a BYOB place. What kind of Margaritas would those be? Not the kind I used to drink! I wonder what they taste like? I wonder if they're non-alcoholic? They must be. If so, would it be alright for me to have one?

Naw, I think I'll just stick to their food.

A new pigeon

On Wednesday, I posted that a man had asked me to sponsor him after I spoke at a Friday step meeting. Yesterday, he called. He's 2½ weeks into rehab and not sure how much longer he'll be there. It's at least his second time around. He used to think he was a drug addict, but has since discovered that he's more of an alcoholic; he only picks up the drugs after he's been drinking. He's particularly concerned about his family: a girlfriend he'd left for another woman and their children. He'd been reading the chapter "The Family Afterward" from the Big Book wanted to know if that was a good idea. My answer was that there's nothing wrong with reading that, but I also suggested "A Vision For You". I agreed to be his temporary sponsor. Tomorrow night I hope to be able to pick him, take him to a meeting and spend a little time getting to know him. Maybe after that, I'll know what pseudonym to give him.


I've been thinking it would probably be a good idea to work the steps on my relationship with Nimue. My sponsor, The Rock, agreed. So I guess I don't have any more excuses.

This is not going to be fun. Already I dread the 9th step, where I know I'll be having to make some amends I don't want to. Well, I just have to do what I did my first time through the steps (though then it was the 5th step I feared—is this a form of progress?): do them one at a time.

I know I'm powerless over most of what it is that I think bothers me (I'm probably wrong). I can't control what she says, what she does, what she thinks, what she feels, what her attitude is, or how she's raising her adult children. I can't control the expression on her face. I can't control the sarcastic, self-righteous edge in her voice when she's speaking to me.

What I really, really, really need to do is stop simply reacting to all these things. For Pete's sake, when I've just had an altercation with her, my blood pressure goes up 30 points. I need to insert a pause, to let HP insert a little pause. Give me time to have a little think about what I do or say next. Not to mention give my blood pressure a few moments to recover.

I can't manage this relationship. All I can try to manage, with HP's help, is how I am in this relationship, what I do, what I say. I've been doing the best I can for 8 years, 4 months and 11 days. Not completely on my own, with some occasional requests for assistance. But whatever it is that I've been doing clearly is working. Time for a new approach.

Nothing new here. I've known all this for some time. What's different now is that I've made a decision to change what I'm doing. I'm not exactly sure what yet, but stay tuned and find out.

Yesterday's Daily Reflections:

Fixing Me, Not You

If somebody hurts us and we are sore, we are in the wrong also.

Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 90

What a freedom I felt when this passage was pointed out to me! Suddenly I saw that I could do something about my anger, I could fix me, instead of trying to fix them. I believe that there are no exceptions to the axiom. When I am angry, my anger is always self-centered. I must keep reminding myself that I am human, that I am doing the best I can, even when that best is sometimes poor. So I ask God to remove my anger and truly set me free.

09 October 2007

Two good days, ending with a let-down

I spent Sunday afternoon in a workshop held in the same room I had spoken in Sunday morning. Turnout was disappointing; there were fewer people there for the workshop than for the morning meeting and hardly anyone from the meeting stuck around for the workshop. At least many of the faces were unfamiliar. That's always a good sign. And for those of us who were there, it was good and satisfying workshop.

Last night—Monday—I drove 171 km to attend a District open house followed by a monthly District Committee meeting. Turnout for this was disappointing too: 18 people, including three of us Area officers, who came from out of town: the Delegate, the Alternate Delegate and me, the Chairperson. I spoke for 5 minutes or so about the Area structure: how we're organized for general service at the Area level.

There were two very bright spots in the evening for me. During the open house, which had no program and consisted of us sitting about eating wraps, veggies and dip, pretzels and cookies, I sat and talked for quite a while with a guy I'd never met before. I'll call him Joe.

Early in the conversation Joe asked where I was from, I told him, and then he asked if I'd grown up there. I told him no, and named the town and state I'd grown up. He said, "Oh, I used to live in that state [it's a small state] but I'm not sure where the town is." I explained to him and he responded, "I lived for a while in XYZ, not far from there."

"I don't remember where that is."

"It's right next to the ABC park."

"Oh, that's only a few miles from where I grew up. In fact, when I was a Boy Scout we had an event in that park and I used my first aid training to treat a man who had blown the back of his calf off with a shotgun."

"Well, that's interesting; I was left for dead in that park by some Boy Scouts."

Joe went on to tell me the story, about how he'd been partially crippled by polio and wanted to join to the Boy Scouts as a way of getting some friends just after moving there, how the Boy Scouts—the kids, by themselves, without any adult supervision—had put him through a hazing of having to follow them through the park on his crutches, how they had crossed a old dam with a break in it, which they jumped over, but from which he fell when attempting the jump, landing on his head on the rocks below and knocking himself out, coming to on his back with his face barely out of water, and how the boys had run away and sworn a pact of secrecy among themselves. Needless to say, he never joined the Boy Scouts and none of them became his friend because he eventually named them all and therefore was a snitch.

All this happened the year after I had moved, as a 7-year-old, from across town to 3 or 4 miles from this park, which was practically across the street from where I went to junior high school.

Joe was born in 1945, a few years before I was, and was one of the last people in this country to get polio. He likes to say he got polio from Dr Salk. He and a bunch of others contracted it from a bad batch of polio vaccine as they were rushing the vaccine out to get everyone immunized. Because he had polio, they discovered that he had some other serious problem in his hip and he believes, especially since he regained the use of his legs, that he was better off than he would have been if he hadn't contracted polio.

He's been sober 7 years and married for 30. He married his bartender. They both drank until he got sober. She continued to drink after that and made a lot of disparaging remarks about A.A. and his attendance at meetings. He eventually learned to disengage from this kind of conversation.

Then her best friend, who lived out of state, called and asked his wife to come help her. Her husband was in the hospital dying. Joe's wife went to help out, leaving their two children with him. While away, she watched her best friend's husband turn yellow, swell up and die. A direct result of alcoholism. She stayed an additional two weeks to help her best friend get her feet back on the ground. When she got back home, she asked Joe to take her to a meeting. She's been sober ever since.

Eventually Joe's sponsor told him that it was time for his wife to get a home group.

Joe said, "I'll be happy to help her find a home group."

Joe's sponsor replied, "No, Joe, you don't understand. She's already found a home group and it's yours. Now it's time for you to find a new home group."

So he did.

It turned out that Joe's former home group was one for which I conducted a group inventory a few years ago. It's a Big Book study group and at the time, they were enduring a lot of criticism and were being accused of violating Traditions and being "Big Book Nazis [subscription required to view link]." I like to think that I helped them become confident that there was nothing wrong with their approach to studying the Big Book line by line. It may not be true, but I like to think it anyway.

Interestingly enough, of the 15 local people at the District meeting last night, at least 3 were affiliated with this Big Book study group: their GSR, the District Treasurer and Joe, who was attending as an interested member without any official position. That group must be doing something right!

Unfortunately, at the end of the day I wound up back home. A crowd of teenage boys was in the living room watching Monday Night Football. At 11:45 pm they let out a roar of approval over whatever had just happened and I got up out of bed to go ask them to keep the noise down. Half an hour later, I got up again to go ask a group of them to go somewhere else because their cigarette smoke was blowing in my bedroom window. They agreed to move, but not without a look of disgust and a few murmured words of contempt from my stepson, Thorn. And of course this morning the living room was a mess, with food, clothing and other objects scattered all over and a small ensemble of dining chairs encircling the television. At least no one was asleep on the couch or on the floor. No doubt there were a few more cigarette butts lying around too, since it seems impossible for these boys to do anything else but throw them on the ground. A quick glance about the yard quickly reveals their favorite places to smoke.

Three times in a week

A week ago Sunday afternoon I spoke for my friend Timber Ruse. We already knew we had a lot in common, but discovered that day that we had both been heavily influenced in our early days of service by the same man: J.J. Rangstorm. It was a typical speaking engagement for this area. Ten minutes or so of preliminaries, followed by me speaking for 20 or 25 minutes, followed by 25-30 minutes of sharing from the floor. I find that I can really only tell part of my story in 20 minutes.

Friday night I had been asked to speak on the first half of the 12th Step. It was, obviously, a step meeting, 1 ½ hours long. After the opening readings, we went around the room reading the first 11 pages of the 12th Step from Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. A pretty normal format so far. Then I shared. The chairperson had asked me to leave no less than 45 minutes for general sharing and that left me 10 minutes. I used 9 of them.

All week long I had been wondering (not for the first time) about what constitutes the "first half" of Step Twelve. I see three parts to it:

  1. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps,

  2. we tried to carry this message to alcoholics,

  3. And practice these principles in all our affairs.

The first two of parts of this step were changed from the Big Book draft manuscript. Instead of spritual awakening we had spiritual experience. Instead of these steps we had this course of action. Instead of to alcholics we had to others, especially alcoholics. The first of these changes occurred between the 1st (1939) and 2nd (1941) printings of the 1st edition. Appendix II, "Spritual Experience", was added at the same time. The latter two occurred before the 1st printing.

We read [just over] half the pages Bill W. devoted to the 12th Step in the 12&12. In these 11 pages, he addresses all three parts of the step. He discusses what a spiritual awakening is, then talks briefly about carrying the message and the attendant joys of that, and finally spends almost 5 pages on how we can practice these principles throughout our life. The remain 9+ pages are devoted to this latter subject as well. So in the end, I talked a little about each part of the 12th step.

The remaining 45 minutes were given over to sharing from the floor. The chairperson carefully timed each to ensure they didn't take more than 3 minutes (and only had to cut one off). There were about 50 people in attendance, only two or three of whom I already knew, and almost everyone got a chance to share.

It was good meeting and I felt pretty good about how I used my time. One man came up to me afterwards and asked for my phone number, which I of course gave to him. He lives near where my home group meets and will be moving back after he finishes his course of treatment at the rehab in the part of town in which I spoke. Another man asked me to sponsor him. Due to my service commitments, I have to be careful about taking on new pigeons, so I also gave him my number and asked him to call me, thinking we could discuss what was entailed in a sponsor-sponsee relationship and possibly to offer to be his temporary sponsor. (I haven't heard from either one.)

Sunday morning I drove 112 km to speak for the third time in the week. I was told I could take as much of the hour as I wanted and spoke for about 40 minutes. It's so much more satisfying to me personally to speak for 40 minutes rather than 20. I felt like everything came out really well and this was confirmed by some reactions I got afterwards. Clearly my Higher Power had led me to say some things that were inspirational, at least to a few people there.


Throughout my sobriety, I've had the good fortune to be asked to speak frequently. The first time I spoke was for a former high school teacher of mine who had 8 months of sobriety. The day I was to speak was my 89th day of sobriety and he nearly panicked when he realized that I had less than the required 90 days. The most recent time I spoke was Sunday, for the third time in a week. In between I've probably averaged speaking once a month or so, which makes a total of almost 200 times.

I enjoy speaking. I enjoyed it less in the beginning than I do now. But even early on, for whatever reason, I didn't get particularly nervous. These days I look forward to it with a kind of eager anticipation. There's a certain edge to the feeling, but it's not the same as being nervous. It's more that I want very much to have a positive impact on people's sobriety. Not on everyone, but just on one or two or, if I'm really lucky, a few. Whether they're new to the program and not sure they belong, or have been around longer than I have and are wondering, "Is this all there is?" I always pray that my Higher Power put the right words in my mouth and that someone get something out of whatever words come out of my mouth.

I only planned what I wanted to say once. I felt completely ineffective that time and no one came up afterward to say anything that might have dissuaded me from that opinion. I've seen others plan what they're going to say and make it work, but that's not for me. Not that I don't think about what I'm going to say. I usually—if I have enough advance notice—spend a lot of time thinking about it. Then in the event, some of the things I've thought about come out and others don't. Afterwards, I normally have thoughts like "I should have said this…" and "I wish I'd said that…" but I've learned to just let those thoughts go.

My story always comes out different—different from any thoughts I might have had about how it would go, and different from any time I've told it before. I usually feel pretty good about how things went when I'm done. One or two people will normally approach me who have obviously been affected, in a good way, by what I've said. It's gratifying and I'm grateful that the experience nearly always has a positive effect on me, and usually on one or two others as well.

06 October 2007

R.I.P., Tom F.

I just learned that Tom Florentine passed away in his sleep last night. Over the five years I've known him, he'd had several serious heart operations. He was very lucky not to have died sooner and, no doubt, lucky to have died so peacefully. He was a DCM during my first panel as Area officer. A very friendly guy, quiet, but with a great sense of humor. He had a full head of pure white hair. I remember being surprised to learn that this "older gentleman" (and he was a true gentleman) was a couple of years younger than I am. He was the most supportive DCM I've known and was always making nice comments, sending me e-mails or including notes in his snail-mail about the great job I was doing. Of course, he was saying the same things to the other officers as well, though I didn't know for sure that till today.

Our Delegate said about him, "He was always enthusiastic about service" and pointed out that he had just agreed to serve as moderator to one of our roundtables at this year's annual Convention. Our Area Secretary said, "We have all lost a dedicated member of A.A.; he provided us with a wonderful example that service truly is gratitude in action" and noted that she had just e-mailed him asking him undertake another job at the Convention. No doubt he would have accepted; but I doubt I ever even got the message.

Good-bye, Tom! No doubt he's already asking what service positions are available in heaven.

05 October 2007

Lunch with a close friend

[Please note that I updated yesterday's post, Cunning, Baffling, Powerful and BRUTAL, with a few more details today. Just in case anyone cares, LOL.]

Last time I posted about my on-going struggle to get some prescriptions filled, I had given up and gotten most of them (all but the Prozac) filled at a local pharmacy. Surprise, surprise, I received all the refills from Caremark in the mail the very next day. I refused the package and had them sent back to Caremark. Now I'm planning to pre-emptively write a letter to them explaining why I have returned and telling them not to bill me. But of course, they'll bill me anyway and then we can fight about that. At least the charges will be on my credit card and that gives me an advantage in disputing them.

Today I had lunch with Graven Latte and gave him a quick summary of this saga, as well as my euphoria for the six or seven weeks following my sudden and unexpected cessation of being on Prozac, my feeling "restless, irritable and discontent" for the last 10 days or so and some account of my continuing conflicts with Nimue.

He asked what my plan was. Thank you for asking, Graven. I hadn't really thought completely through what my plan was till you asked. For now, I'm not going back on Prozac. I'm not ready to give up the wonderful sleep I am getting at night, especially since I'm not convinced that much my malcontentedness is due to not being on Prozac. If I do eventually decide to go back onto Prozac, it will be under the supervision of a professional (a shout-out to Doctor A for his advice on this matter).

As for my marriage, I'm not ready to do anything but wait for now. First of all, as Graven so quickly pointed out, now is not the time for me to be making any major decisions. Second, a few months ago I had reached a point where I was ready to take some drastic action. I knew enough to take a few days to sleep on my decision before putting it into effect, and told some people that was what I was doing. Within a week, I had lost my resolve and took that, again at the suggestion of people close to me, as meaning it was not yet time to take irretrievable action. Those I trust most—more than one of them—suggest independently that when the time comes to get drastic, it will be unquestionably the right thing for me to do. I have not regained anything like the resolve I had at that time, despite the horrible treatment I am getting at times. In the meantime, I will continue praying about this relationship. Now that's something that we agree on: me and everyone I listen to. I had actually lost heart in doing so, and was only mouthing the words, but a little bit of my former heart is coming back. I glad, and I'm sad. Glad because my heart coming back means the prayer is working. Sad because I fear that as I start to feel a little bit more for her, I'll let my guard down yet again and once more pay a price for letting her in.

I guess this was one of the things that had such an impact on me in reading The Junky's Wife's blog yesterday: she has put up some boundaries, and has started sticking to them. And overall, her life appears to be getting better, when her junkie husband is or not. I'm jealous.

More on Anonymity

This post started out as a comment inresponse to Kathy Lynne's comment on my post Online Anonymity, but it got so long I decided to post it rather than leave it buried in the comments. So here it is.

Dear Kathy Lynne,

Am I saying that a person can't talk about the fact that he or she is in recovery? No, absolutely not.

Am I saying that a person can't say that he or she is a member of A.A.? Well, it depends. Most obviously it depends on the context within which the person is speaking.

If that person is 12th-stepping another alcoholic one on one, why then, yes, of course it's appropriate to mention that it was through A.A that he or she got sober. However, if that person is being interviewed for publication in a newspaper, on the radio, on television, in a book, in a film, for the BBC Online or—as far as I'm concerned—posting on a personally identifiable blog, then no, it's not appropriate to mention that fact.

Between these two examples there's a lot of territory, much of it gray. I've spoken of my recovery through A.A. to some fairly large groups of non-alcoholics. I thought it was okay because of the circumstances, the nature of the event and the audience. One instance that comes to mind was a testimonial I gave in early recovery before a few dozen like-minded but primarily non-alcoholic fellow travelers at a week-long religious retreat. Incidentally, that testimonial was recorded and today, with my current understanding of the 11th Tradition, I would either insist on it not being recorded or give a testimonial that did not mention A.A. explicitly.

I've avoided speaking of my association with A.A. to other audiences because of the differing circumstances, the differing nature of the event and the differing audience. An example of this would be sharing at the microphone at one of my religious denomination's conventions, whether it were being recorded or not. If it were relevant, I might mention A.A. in general but I would certainly not mention my membership in A.A. Even one on one, when the person I'm talking to obviously has no interest in or need to be getting sober and I know of no one close to them that might be helped indirectly, I'll leave my being in A.A. out of the discussion.

I held a job recently where most people—there were 14 of us in all—knew that I was involved in volunteer work. Only one—my brother—might have known that most of this was A.A. service (when pressed about what I am doing and I don't want to reveal my association with A.A., I usually say I am doing volunteer work in the field of education and prevention of alcoholism). The editor of our company newsletter, which has a very small circulation but is also published on the World Wide Web, asked a couple of us to write about our volunteer work. Instead of writing about what I was then actively engaged in—A.A. service—I wrote about something I had been involved in several years earlier: the establishment of an orphanage for homeless children in Nepal.

Less obviously but perhaps more imporant than the context within which the person is speaking is the motivation behind what he or she is saying.

Whenever I am moved to speak about my involvement in A.A., I try to look honestly at why I am so moved. Is it because it will make me look good? Is it because I want people to know I'm in A.A.? So they'll believe that I practice what I preach? Am I feeling proud of being in A.A.? If so, then these are indications that it's my will I'm thinking of exercising and that it's probably not a good idea to say what I'm thinking of saying.

Is it because I see an opportunity to carry the message to a sick and suffering alcoholic? Is it because I of the tremendous and ever-increasing debt I owe to A.A.? Am I feeling humble? If so, then perhaps it is appropriate to break my anonymity. As I've pointed out before, I'm one of those rare alcoholics—at least in this part of the world—that uses my full name when I introduce myself at meetings and other A.A. events (unless they are being recorded).

Please keep in mind that this is my interpretation of the 11th Tradition, although, to be completely frank, you'd have a very hard time convincing me otherwise. If you do disagree with me, I'd be very interested in hearing about and trying to understand how you reconcile your opinions with the 11th Tradition.

Finally, it's interesting that you should mention Craig Ferguson. I watched that monologue the night it aired. I blogged about it on 9 August. You can see exactly what I think about what he said by reading my post.

Yours in sobriety,

I'm interested in other opinions not only from Kathy Lynne, but from anyone who has something different and intelligent to say about Tradition XI (access to link requires subscription).

04 October 2007

Cunning, baffling, powerful and BRUTAL

I spent a good chunk of time today reading the last couple months' worth of posts from The Junky's Wife. She's a powerful writer with powerful things to say. She's brutally honest about herself. It was an insightful, but not an uplifting experience. I am not a junkie, never have been—not even remotely in the same vicinity—and have never really been close to one. I'm sure I can never understand her world, but I think a big dose of reading her blog gave me some feeling for the life of a junkie's wife.

I think she could write a good book. These blog entries reminded me of A Million Little Pieces which, despite the controversy around it, is an interesting read (so long as you don't worry too much about what's fact and what's fiction).

At my A.A. meeting tonight, I heard a guy I'd never met before. He was introduced by someone I've known since I got sober as someone who was there when she started coming around in 1986. I started off looking forward to hearing a good strong message of long-term sobriety. Somewhere along the way, he took a left turn. Yes, he'd gotten sober in 1986 (shortly before my friend I guess). In 1996 he stopped going to meetings. In 2003 he was prescribed Percocet and starting abusing it. He wound up buying it on the street—$5 a pill—and consuming up to 150 of them a day. He took out three business loans to pay for his addiction, and tried to hide everything from his family. He did this quite successfully, at least until recently. A few months ago, he began not feeling well: he was short of breath and had no energy. It got so bad while on vacation that he finally decided to ask his wife to take him to the hospital. Turns out he'd had a heart attack and didn't even know it. At that point the jig was up. He came partially clean to his wife a while ago at the time and, he says, completely clean to her a few months ago when she started asking questions about certain business practices he had started in order to hide what he was doing from her. At his wife's request, he hasn't said anything to his children. Today he has 92 days clean and sober. This man, like the Junky's Wife, was brutally honest. It was not an uplifting story, though I am glad he made it back and now has a second chance. I was also grateful to be reminded of the kind of thing that's out there waiting for me if I pick up.

The most painful thing I heard was how he clung to his almost 20 years of sobriety. Even though he wasn't able to string them all together, he said, it's a one day at a time program and he still has nearly 20 years' worth of days. How sad! I don't know him well enough to judge accurately, but I can't help wondering how long it will be before he's willing to settle for the 92 days that he really has.

Updated 05 October 2007 15:22:
As a result of a memory lapse, I couldn't remember everything that was relevant at the time I made the original post. Now I've remember something that I meant to include. Changes are shown in this color brown.

03 October 2007

Boundary violations

Last night I attended the meeting of a step-study group I rarely attend, even though it is within walking distance of my house (they meet at my church and that sometimes makes me uncomfortable). Two women shared similar things that made me shudder. One said she checks her 17-year-old daughter's cell phone at night after her daughter falls asleep. Presumably to see whom she's been talking with. The other admitted that she goes through her 17-year-old daughter's pocketbook every night. I was immediately 17 years old again myself and imagining my reaction if I learned my mother was going through my stuff. Not a pretty picture.

I remember once I "borrowed" a CD from one of my daughters without asking. She had a conniption when she found out. And justifiably so, I thought. And still think. My bad, totally my bad!

The latter woman is a friend of mine and I spoke to her about it afterwards. Fortunately, the first thing I did was ask if her daughter knew she does this. Fortunately, because the answer was, "Yes," and that makes it much less unacceptable—in my eyes anyway. It still seems to me like a violation of her daughter's boundaries, but somehow the fact that her daughter knows she's doing makes it seem much less invasive.

I guess I'm particularly sensitive to things because I think that's a big part of what's going sour in my relationship with Nimue: continual boundary violations. Sigh!

02 October 2007

Online anonymity

The initial post

I was inspired to write about this topic by a post at AllMyAffairs titled Online anonymity. The author quotes Bill Moyers:

Bill Moyers wrote a book called Broken1, where his 12 step membership is publicized. He states

"Not talking about my program of recovery would be like a marathon runner not talking about training. Although I'm breaking my anonymity, I protect the anonymity and confidentiality of others in the program. This is everybody's story: the still-suffering alcoholic, recovering people and families, and, hopefully, those who don't have a clue about my disease. I wrote this book to help smash the stigma of addiction and carry the message."

The author then goes on to describe what the anonymity guidelines will be on the AllMyAffairs website—"first name, last initial.... pictures, images of anything and everything are encouraged"—and concludes "Though individual thoughts and reiterations of group thoughts are what drive recovery, the individual is far less important than the whole."

My response

Here's the comment I made on this post:

Just because he's Bill Moyers doesn't mean he's right. I'm a great admirer of his, yet if you real all the literature on the subject, the reasons for not doing what he did are clearly spelled out.

The 11th Tradition specifically mentions "press, radio and film" but Bill W., in his article "Why Alcoholics Anonymous is Anonymous" adds TV (printed in Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, p. 286—I trust you've read it lately). Also the Anonymity statement used by GSO at their events—world conventions, Forums, etc.—and printed on p. 13 in the pamphlet Speaking at non-A.A. meetings adds a reference to new media: "Thus we respectfully ask that no A.A. speaker—or, indeed, any A.A. member—be identified by full name in published or broadcast reports of our meetings, including reports on new media technologies such as the Internet."

Of course, just because they're Bill W. and GSO doesn't make them right either. But these Conference-approved items are under constant review by alcoholics all over the world and if there were a serious issue, you can be sure it would come to the General Service Conference.

I just don't get Mr Moyers's analogy to the marathon runner. My daughter Painter and my son-in-law Revson are both occasional marathon runners. I sometimes get to hear a little about their training and maybe even a little about some of their friends' training. But when Robert K. Cheruiyot of Kenya won the 111th Boston Marathon, did we hear anyone report on or talk about his training? No. Trying Googling for news stories that refer to both Robert K. Cheruiyot and training. If you do and look at the stories, it's actually quite remarkable how little is said about training. And as of this date, nothing at all about his training, let alone anything substantive.

Mr Moyers says he wants to "smash the stigma of addiction and carry the message." I agree there are times when it's appropriate to break my anonymity. I just don't agree those times include in the press, on radio, film, television or the Internet. If no one knows that I'm in the program, how can they come to me for help, whether for themselves or for someone they care about? I'm unusual, at least around here, for using my full name at every A.A. event that is not being recorded or broadcast—from my home group to the 2005 International Convention in Toronto. I do it so people who need to can figure out how to get in touch with me. But they're already in the rooms and can make their own reasoned judgments based on everything they see, not just on what happens to me. My family and my close friends know I'm in A.A., as do some of my not too close friends. In each case where I consider breaking my anonymity I try to honestly examine my motives: am I about to do so for reasons of ego? or for reasons of trying to practice the 12th step?

The author of the AllMyAffairs post points out that "the individual is far less important than the whole." That's true; there's a whole Tradition devoted to the idea. I think it's very important though to look at all the Traditions, see which are applicable to a given situation and then make a decision. In this particular case, there's another whole Tradition that directly addresses the issue and, it seems clear to me, comes down on the side of maintaining our online anonymity.

Maintaining my anonymity is important to me because it helps keep me right-sized. Believe me, there's little that's more appealing to me than the idea of becoming a world-famous recovered alcoholic. It's important to A.A. because if I were that reknowned and for some reason did pick up a drink, those who knew about my recovery and membership in A.A. would say, "See? It doesn't work."

Ultimately Mr Moyers and AllMyAffairs make their own decisions about anonymity. That's as it should be. I have no designs on how anyone practices their program. It's one of the beautiful things about A.A.: I can express my opinions, but no one has to care that I'm giving them or listen to them, let alone agree with them or be in accord with them. We will continue to debate anonymity in all its forms as long as A.A. exists. And that's healthy.

1 Read more about this book—including the fact that the decision to break his anonymity is a very recent one for Mr Moyers—or follow the link to buy it here.