Sunday, November 2, 2014

Adrift

I haven't been writing here lately because it feels lonely and pointless. I interact with people on Facebook and in real life, and my non-blog writing has more structure and momentum. I started my novel in a month yesterday, and have been writing like gangbusters. Here I have just been feeling...adrift. So I'm taking a break for a while. I'll come back to it when and if I feel like it. All the best to you, if you're reading.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Step 2: Part 2

Step 2:  Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

One night last week, when I fell asleep, the idea of telling my mother and my ex about AA filled me with cold terror. This morning when I woke up, it was gone. There was still nervousness, but a normal kind of nervousness, not the crippling, heart-pounding dread I felt when my sponsor first mentioned the idea.

I was texting the other day with a friend who is four years sober, and he said, "You can't be anonymous with your family." I suppose not.

I came to terms with the idea that I needed to tell my kids, which I didn't mind -- or didn't think I minded -- but which meant telling adult family members who tend to be judgmental and not very empathetic. I was afraid they would judge me, criticize me, even if not to my face, then behind my back or in their own minds. And that bothers me why??? 

Because I am a craven, pathetic creature who cares too much what other people think, and is ashamed of caring so much. I hate that I do. I hate myself for doing it. I know self-hatred is bad and I want to stop hating myself, but I can't seem to manage it.

Instead of spiraling down into the darkness of overthinking and obsession and self-criticism, I forced myself to do it. I told my kids, emailed my ex and another relative, and will give my mother her letter when I see her today. I thought telling the kids would be easy, but it was hard. My eldest insists on clinging to the certainty that I am not an alcoholic, that I stopped before I got as bad as those people, so I wasn't really an alcoholic, just concerned about my health and being a good mother and not spending money on wine. If that's what she needs to believe about me, then I guess it is. She will probably come to accept it eventually, once the shock and the newness wears off.

It was kind of reassuring that my kids were totally surprised. People often say (rather smugly, it seems to me sometimes) to alcoholics that even though we thought we were fooling people, we really weren't, and everybody knew it all along. Well, my kids didn't. When they wouldn't believe it, I even mentioned a party where I know I'd had too much, and they remembered the party but said they didn't know I'd had too much to drink. Only one friend said, when I told her, "Yeah, I was starting to wonder. It seemed like you had wine just about every night." She had never seen me have too much, just had concerns about frequency.

I don't know if this is the end of Step 2, if my sponsor will say, yes, you trusted your Higher Power and prayed and lost your fear and did the hard thing. You have come to believe that a Power greater than yourself can heal you. I don't know if she'll say that. Part of me thinks she will, but the paranoid nut case part of me is sure she'll come up with another goddamn Survivor-style test I need to pass before I can move on to the horrors that await me in Step 4. Yes, I know I skipped 3. She said once you do Step 2, really do it, then Step 3 follows immediately on its heels and you're on to 4.

The speaker at the meeting I went to yesterday morning said something that helped me, something I needed to hear. That happens a lot at meetings, I'm realizing. He said that when he was newly sober, his sponsor told him to pray every day for his mother, for whom he had a lot of resentment and with whom he had a bad relationship. Even though he wasn't even sure he believed in God, he prayed for his mother (who really was a bitch, he assured us) morning and night for three months, and at the end of that time, something had changed. Not everything, but something, for sure. 

So yesterday I started praying for my mom and for my ex. It's only the second day of it, but you know  what? It feels right. It feels like what Jesus tells us to do, and we usually don't. It's easy to pray for my children, since my heart positively overflows with love for them, and when they irritate me it's just the ordinary bullshit that kids do and the irritation is just a drop (okay, sometimes several buckets, or even a small swimming pool) in the sea of my love. But praying for people who have been so judgmental and cold, people with whom I have such difficult relationships, that isn't easy. Only it is, strangely enough. And it feels good. What do you know?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Pettiness and Self-Hatred

Some days finding something to be grateful for seems like just another job on my to do list, and I feel resentful, then guilty for feeling that way because how dare I, and so forth with the self-criticism that borders on -- and often crosses the line into -- self-hatred. 

My problems are so petty and First World, and yet I can't seem to force myself to stop letting them get me down. I know this isn't just me. This is what people do. A quote from Adam Smith that I've seen several times before but just ran across again in the audiobook I'm currently listening to reminded me that this is true:

Let us suppose that the great empire of China, with all its myriads of inhabitants, was suddenly swallowed up by an earthquake, and let us consider how a man of humanity in Europe,who had no sort of connexion with that part of the world, would be affected upon receiving intelligence of this dreadful calamity. He would, I imagine, first of all, express very strongly his sorrow for the misfortune of that unhappy people, he would make many melancholy reflections upon the precariousness of human life, and the vanity of all the labours of man, which could thus be annihilated in a moment. He would too, perhaps, if he was a man of speculation, enter into many reasonings concerning the effects which this disaster might produce upon the commerce of Europe, and the trade and business of the world in general. And when all this fine philosophy was over, when all these humane sentiments had been once fairly expressed, he would pursue his business or his pleasure, take his repose or his diversion, with the same ease and tranquillity, as if no such accident had happened. The most frivolous disaster which could befal himself would occasion a more real disturbance. If he was to lose his little finger to-morrow, he would not sleep to-night; but, provided he never saw them, he will snore with the most profound security over the ruin of a hundred millions of his brethren, and the destruction of that immense multitude seems plainly an object less interesting to him, than this paltry misfortune of his own.
This is what people do. We care more about our little fingers than millions of people we don't know. That's why Stalin said, aptly, that one death is a tragedy, but a million deaths is a statistic. It's human nature to feel that way, so why do I feel so guilty about it? 

The book where I heard the quote anew this week was Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate, a wonderful book that contains much that I could have written myself (and some that I actually did write in a book I wrote but never published). The Adam Smith quote reminds me, on an intellectual level, that it's not just me, that everyone does this, which is one of the fundamental ideas in Kristin Neff's Self-Compassion, a wonderful book but one whose principles I seem to be able to accept on an intellectual but not an emotional level. 

I know everyone does this, so why do I hate myself for doing it? I know it is hard to feel truly and profoundly grateful for not having Ebola or living in Afghanistan or being blind or deaf or paralyzed or dead and let just being whole and alive and healthy and American be enough already so STFU about your stupid, petty problems. I know it isn't just me. So why do I hate myself for it?


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Busy

I wrote in my last post about the difficulty I have fitting all my commitments into the hours in my days. I didn't write "how crazy busy my life is" because I am hyperaware of how people use "busyness" to get status. I don't want to be one of those people, so when people ask how I am and the urge to reply, "Busy!" arises, I bite it back and say, "Fine, thanks."

Aware of this "Look at me, I'm so busy!" status-seeking, I'm often a little hesitant to tell people I'm busy. People close to me to whom I've sort of half-apologized for mentioning being busy have assured me that, compared to the commitments of a childless lady with a dog and a lot of book clubs and church committees and homeowners' association board meetings and lunches with friends, my commitments are mostly of the kind I can't just politely say no to. Yes, it's true I could give my kids more fast food and frozen food than I do, also true that I could let my house be dirtier than it is, but I already feel like there's too much pizza and clutter in my house for anyone to confuse me with Martha Stewart.

What's that you say? I could give up this blog? Why, yes, I could. Don't think I haven't thought about it. Back when I was writing my public blog, I frequently contemplated giving that up, too, because the voice within me that whispers words of Bad Mother Shame into my ear said I should, that I owed it to my kids not to give anymore of myself to pursuits that didn't involve them.

That voice is what my friend Eleanor calls a demon, and I know that if I ever let it start running my life completely, I will  become a bitter, angry woman who does more damage to her children than I do leaving them to amuse themselves while I write.

Why do I write? I may as well ask why I breathe. I cannot remember a time when I have not written. My eldest daughter writes, and my heart sings that she doesn't hide her scribblings the way I used to her at age, that she talks to me about her stories once in a while as I never talked to anyone about mine. It tells me that my writing has caused, at worst, benign neglect.

So where am I going with this? I suppose I am trying to talk myself into or out of taking on another writing project: NaNoWriMo. I've wanted to do this before but never did. It's next month, so I have only 17 days to decide. I tell myself it's crazy because I'm already overcommitted and can hardly find time for all the things I have to do now. On the other hand, it's only a month, and then the craziness ends. If I try and it's too much, I can quit. If I don't try, I'll go on wondering what would have happened if I had.

I guess that means I've found the answer.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Step 2: Part 1

Step 2:  Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.


I was prepared for Step 1 to take a long time, as my sponsor said it would, prepared to be patient, but then I did the writing assignment she gave me: write how my life is unmanageable and how I feel powerless. But first, ask God to put on the page what He wants there, then write and don't edit.

I prayed, wrote, closed the file and didn't read it until the end of the day. Wow. It was ugly. Really ugly, and scary. I was going to share some of it here, but what's the point? It's all self-hatred and fear and...ugliness.

My sponsor read it (actually, I read it to her over the phone because I have kids and seeing her is a logistics issue, on which see below) and said, "Well, you've done Step 1. That is powerlessness all right." I said I thought I was going to be on it awhile, and she said, "You continue to surprise me."

My ego lit up, of course: I was the good sponsee, the best sponsee, the good girl A student I have always been. And of course my ego told me that I'd sail through Steps 2 and 3, too, and get to the meat of it, Step 4. The big one. The scary one. Well, the first of several scary ones anyway.

So in the week that followed I had been praying, really praying for the first time in a long time. I felt like there really was a power higher than me that could save me, or at least there could be.  So I meet with my sponsor and she says I'm going to be on Step 2 for a while yet. WTF? It says in The Big Book that you just have to be willing to believe that, and I was willing, god damn it, but she said I wasn't there yet.

She said -- and here's the thing that really pissed me off -- that this week, she wanted me to pray to my Higher Power about what it would look like if I wasn't doing this exhausting logistical dance trying to get to meetings and see her without telling my kids where I was going, which has been hard, since I am a single mom with a demanding job and I was juggling enough before I started trying to fit three AA meetings and a meeting with my sponsor into an already insane schedule.

Of course she's right that it would be easier if I told my kids, and my mom who could watch my kids, but I don't want to because telling them would mean telling my ex as well, and I can face being honest with my kids, but not with my ex or my mother, because both of them are very judgmental people who think therapy is Lola Granola bullshit and they'd think I'd be thinking that they'd be thinking, Why does she need to leave her kids and go to all those stupid meetings? Why doesn't she just not drink?

Because my ex has already said, "What kind of mother are you anyway? You're never home. You're always at work." I can just see what he'd say about this. And of course I can't ask my kids to keep something like this from their father.

Because my mother has already called me selfish, said I thought more about myself than I did about my kids. And even though she's not the model of motherhood I want to emulate, and even though I keep telling myself her criticism shouldn't affect me, it does.

Because I am afraid of being vulnerable to these people, who have knocked me down in the past when I dropped my armor and made a conscious decision to trust them and be vulnerable, expose myself to things that trigger my Bad Mother Shame.

Later that day, I got really angry. Angry at my sponsor, because AA is Alcoholics Anonymous. I was supposed to be safe here. I was supposed to be allowed to be anonymous and safe. And here she's telling me to tell the most judgmental people in my life my most painful secret.

Normally I would stuff that anger down and get resentful, but I called her instead, and was honest. Instead of getting defensive, she pointed out that she wasn't telling me to tell them. She was telling me to ask my Higher Power about it. And I said, "Oh, and God's going to tell me to go on being a chickenshit coward and do what I want instead of doing the hard work I need to? We both know there's only one answer to that question."

"And that's why you're not done with Step 2," she said gently. "You were so sure you knew the answer already, you didn't even ask God."

She's right, of course. I didn't. I didn't ask God. I didn't trust God enough to ask Him and hear whatever answer I got, in part because I didn't think I'd be able to tell what was God and what wasn't, but in part because -- oh, God, she so totally nailed it -- I think I know what's in the mind of God already.

So here I am, mired in Step 2. Trying to figure out how to let go of my fear and arrogance and ego enough to really, truly, humbly ask.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Step 1: Part 3

Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.


In the months that followed, I talked myself out of the God shot and into the coincidence. I talked myself out of the fear that had brought me to that meeting, telling myself I wasn’t that bad. Because I didn’t get a DUI or get fired or end up in strange men’s beds I didn’t really have that bad a problem. Yes, I got to work on time, and with make-up on. Yes, I put on a good show for the world, but I should have known better than to believe my own masquerade.

The fact was, when I poured “a glass” of wine and swore to myself it would be just a glass, it wasn’t. I worried about destroying my liver, because drinking an entire bottle of wine at least three nights a week had to be overtaxing its capacity to cleanse my blood of all the Malbec I was pouring into my system.

After I stopped drinking, I went to a meeting here and there, but didn’t do it consistently, didn’t get a sponsor. I told myself that I had stopped drinking because I wanted to, because I chose to, because I was strong enough to. I joined an online group where women like me – women who had good haircuts and drank good wine, who didn’t have bad teeth or bad grammar – supported each other in their sobriety. Some of them were in AA, working the steps, sponsoring and being sponsored, but others weren’t, having decided that online groups, podcasts and blogs were all the support they needed.

I thought so for a while, too. One of the blogs I read was by a woman who said enough and got sober, all on her own, with only her blog comments and Twitter feed for support. After three years of sobriety, she got a book contract to tell the story she’d been telling on her blog. It was a story of determination and accomplishment: I chose sobriety; I did it. It was the antithesis of AA, and I loved it, because I wanted to be the antithesis of AA. Yes, AA helped my dad get sober, saved his life, even, but I could save my own life, thanks.

Less than two months after that scary, awful, wonderful early morning meeting, I decided I wasn’t that bad, and was going to try moderation again. Aristotle said that every virtue is the mean between two extremes. “Moderation in all things – including moderation,” said with a sly wink, had been my motto, and I was going to prove myself a good Aristotelian who could moderate if it killed me.
I had “a” glass of wine, which turned into three or five or whatever it was that left me hung over, sick with shame and determined to go cold turkey again. I did it without meetings or the steps and so I didn’t do it for more than another couple of months, when I decided to “moderate” again. This time I was successful. I did have just one glass, and not every day, just now and then, one or two, being very Aristotelian and proud of myself. But having to think about it, which was exhausting and demoralizing.

The morning after the first time I had an entire bottle, I quit for good again. I can’t remember if I went to a meeting that morning, but I started going again, in a half-assed kind of way, not getting a sponsor, not doing anything that would require commitment or accountability, which being the daughter of a 12-stepper I knew was a bullshit way to do AA.

Bullshit notwithstanding, I stayed sober five months. Sober, but miserable, what they call a dry drunk in AA. As the one year anniversary of that first meeting, which sadly was no longer my sobriety date, approached, I was reading another sobriety blog, this one by a guy who had twenty years of sobriety and for all that time had been working the steps, both with a sponsor and as a sponsor. The things he wrote about service and sponsorship reminded me of the things my dad used to say when he was in his first decade of sobriety.  Back then, I would think, Oh, Lord, there he goes again with the 12-stepping, and try to look interested in “being of service” and all the rest of the recovery-speak. Two decades and countless gallons of ruby-hued poison with notes of ripe blackberry, warm spice and oak later, that recovery-speak sounded very different.  I looked at my reasonably affluent, reasonably successful middle-class self and thought, Brigette, what the fuck is the matter with you? I knew what was the matter. Self-pity and ego and bullshit was the matter. I needed to work the steps was the matter.

So I went to a meeting early Saturday morning. I wanted to share, wanted to say I needed a sponsor, but there were a lot of talkers and I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. I went again the next morning. It was a huge meeting, the biggest I’d ever been to. One of my neighbors was there, and a lady from my Zumba class. No sharing that day either, but someone who did share was a woman, who had been a speaker at an earlier meeting I had attended. I’d gone to hear her because someone I met at my very first ever meeting texted to tell me I should go because she was an amazing speaker. She was. The things she said that day had stayed with me, and when she shared at that Sunday morning meeting, I worked up the nerve to ask her to sponsor me, and she said yes.


It was like that first meeting, almost exactly a year earlier. I got scared enough, desperate enough, to step outside my comfort zone and do something I felt as though I needed to do, because I couldn’t do it on my own anymore. That is admitting powerlessness. That is Step One. I thought I had taken it a year ago, then stepped back and spent a year in self-pity and ego and bullshit. I thought I had taken it again last week, but my sponsor said I might be on it a while. I said, as long as it takes.