I was trying to run away. I was fighting. I was kicking and screaming and biting and clawing. They were trying calm me down and say that it was OK, but hell, I wouldn’t listen. It was too complicated. I couldn’t stop looking around and everything seemed menacing. They had to give me some sedative. Then they checked me all over. Then they came to me and spoke:
“We’ve examined your case very carefully. At the end of our investigation we have some information for you.
Facts first: we found that you are human. That means you are going to react to life in a similar way that other creatures that walk around you on two legs: you will experience sadness, joy, hate, love, frustration, loss, new beginnings, hope, desire for destruction and love. In other words you are not alone – there is plenty of other who deal with this state as well, and the overall majority cope with it quite well. You are going to feel vulnerable, exposed, broken, and disillusioned, just as much as you will feel strengthen, relieved, and cared for.
The bad news is being human cannot be cured. There is nothing we can do.
The good news is you may very well enjoy this state, this journey, and find the development making your existence worthwhile.
We prescribe the following medications to support you on in the immediate future:
“no worrying,” “acceptance,” “letting go,” and “asking for help.” These will keep you connected and not let you fall between the cracks of life that some call very hard. They are well tested, there are no side-effects Smile, eat well, work out, talk, read books, find new things, and keep walking forward.
[the front picture was copied from 'ere. thank you!]
It was a strange week.
First, on Sunday I found that a musician from Greek metal band Astarte that I admired lost her battle with leukemia. News of her been diagnosed was the first ever news of the 2014 and it was sad to learn of that. A couple of their songs that I heard long time ago became ones of my favorite of all time. Guitarist, vocalist, and leader of Astarte, Tristessa was also very beautiful, so it was sad in all ways. I then read she was getting better and surgeries were successful so it was a complete shock to learn she passed away, leaving family behind.
Then two days later my day started with walking the dog and reading paper on the newsstand when I learned Robin Willams killed himself. That was another shock. Not only Williams was a fantastic actor, I knew he had substance abuse issues. I didn’t know he was bi-polar and suffered immensely from his depression states. It was hard to swallow. I watched Jumanji that night, though I felt it was not a good tribute, since it was not a comedy, and yet he played it very well. Dead Poets Society movie was recommended to me by my high school teacher and I think it was his best, in a sense how it related to me. I remember reading of Williams 2006 relapse in the paper and my AA sponsor and I discussing it. It sucks learning this person who as the media claim was so kind and attentive to others couldn’t save the positivity for himself. In his sixties he probably could’ve hoped to have his depression go away at last, but not only that didn’t happen, in addition he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. I guess he couldn’t stand the pain anymore. As an addict with depression issues and no stranger to suicidal thoughts, I feel like I lost a friend who I never really knew but nevertheless very much respected and felt for.
Mental health is such a fragile thing. We often had no idea what we’re dealing with and it seems that still the people we entrust with our health history don’t know how to help us. I didn’t know I was an alcoholic for a long time. I only started to learn of alcoholism leading to depression couple last years of drinking. I also thought I had ADHD, but then figured that I was not as miserable as others, and maybe there were other things I could look into to learn about my mental state. And when there are others going through this and I learn about them after they succumb to their death, not being able to make it any other way, it hurts.
Same day my friend of whom I wrote earlier and with whom I regained contact texted me saying he couldn’t come to the Big Book study that night for he dropped a heavy object on his foot at work that day and needs to recover. He came later that day to pick up some ice packs for recovery and that was the last time I saw him.
He is the one I worry about now, since it’s not wise worrying for the dead ones I feel I’ve lost this week. I can’t beat another person’s illness, be it cancer or flu. And I can’t cure a man’s depression or any other mental illness. But can I help someone else some other way? Every time I wouldn’t hear from this friend of mine for longer than 1.5 days, I knew he was drinking. He’d admit it every time after. So this time he was off my radar for 2.5 days and wouldn’t return my messages. Finally, on the third day around 2pm he texted me back explaining nothing, just saying he is going to go and sleep it off. Which threw me off guard: he must have been very busy all night AND all morning.
So I come to realization, yet again, that this is another situation in which I can do nothing. I can’t worry and care for this person. I can just hope and pray. No matter how much wisdom I try to teach him, conventional or not, it is up to him to absorb it and act upon it. I spent all of the Friday night and Saturday morning wondering and texting him, only to lose my own peace of mind and yet there is nothing I can do but let go. When I realize I have no power, the only right thing to do is ask for power, and to me that is to pray.
With that in mind, I think I better bring the remembrance of my powerlessness back into my morning and daily prayers, for I often forget about it. The things I accomplish often make me feel important and special and even though I am those things, I need to remember that besides the things I can change, there are also those that I can’t change or have control over. This friend of mine knows what is out there and that he needs to take action to change his life and that he is not doing it alone. All I can do is let him know he is welcomed to come, that I do have time for him, and that I do not judge. Everything else is beyond my reach. I better accept it and remember it well.
Friends of mine went to a party on the weekend. They had a good time, didn’t get out of their line drinking and didn’t cause any trouble. I was a bit envious that their place didn’t stink of alcohol after they slept it all out, and that even with their coming back home at 3:30am and only having five hours of sleep, they still weren’t having spitting headaches and their washroom didn’t reek of vomit. Yes I was envious, because all these things would happen to me when I drank. I’d usually drink at home, so walking around the city ‘til the middle of the night was out of the question. Yet still I would be only relatively safe, because I drank much more than a regular person and didn’t know how to stop.
These thoughts brought me directly in the middle of the sharing at the AA meeting that morning which was dedicated to Step Eight – “Made a list of all people we’ve harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.” © Alcoholics Anonymous. How is it related? Well, here’s how.
When I was 1.5 years in recovery, completing my Steps, my AA sponsor looked at The List and said: “There is one person missing from this list.” When I asked him how in the world he would know that, he said the person was me. “Don’t tell me your body didn’t get all possible kinds of beating after drinking for over ten years! You’ve got some amends to make to yourself.”
I never thought of that, but it made sense. I only paid attention to my body when I was done pouring jugs of alcohol into it and it was hurting, twitching, convulsing, covered with rashes and scars. I poisoned it and lacerated it, and it didn’t like any of it, so it screamed, but I rarely listened.
Human body is a wonderful thing. You have all the reasons to hate it and to love it. Why hate it? Because most of the people don’t like limitations. Why love it? Because it is beautiful and so complicated. Everything in our house of bones is interconnected. Is that a coincidence that each human body has 206 bones and that we have no more and no less than 600 to 850 muscles? Now, if we look at what’s happening when we drink, do drugs, smoke them, or inhale them, besides injuring heart and liver, we also destroy the cells. Brain cells are responsible for breathing, movement, swallowing, and for our nervous system. How can we recover fast if we destroy the apparatus responsible for our moving, thinking, and making decisions?
I remember I hated blacking out when I was drinking. It did happen on several occasions and a couple of times I was getting myself in stupid situations because of that. Now I know why I was blacking out. My body simply couldn’t take that insane amount of alcohol that I was pouring into myself. This booze could have killed me, poisoned me. So my body was shutting down on me and I’d black out, so I would take no more of the poison. Now I understand. My body always cares for me. It doesn’t let me lift the weight I shouldn’t lift. If I object to that and do what I think I should do, I pay the price days later, suffering of pain in the back, wondering what has happened. I can only lift what I can. Within weeks I’ll be lifting what I wanted before, but to get there I need to go slow. There is a different progression, for my body and for my sick mind. I always have to remember that and play along with it.
Also, I remember stepping on a nail once (actually I was real good with stepping on nails in my teenage years). It hurt of course, but I ignored it and kept running for the rest of the day. Next day I couldn’t get out of bed, because my foot has swollen. I couldn’t walk for the whole day. And when I tried I’d get tired faster, because my legs were working much harder to get my body transported from point A to point B. I needed more energy to get around.
When you’re sick with cold your body is fighting for you to get better. All the time. You get tired faster because your immune system needs energy, dealing with the infection. That’s why you’re always tired when you’ve got flu.
And in case of recovery from addiction, we do too much damage to the body here, too much damage to the brain there. It all takes too much to heal. We wonder why, but even with the same amount of bones in each of us, we have different ways of how our brain works at times, and it all happens differently, with every person.
My mind was going absolutely crazy, thanks to my destroying so many of the brain cells by drinking so much. Even now that I am sober for quite a while, I still have my mind often going 100 mph, thinking of all possible and impossible things: ideas, resentments, desires, cravings, joy, hate, love, surprise, and I don’t know what else. I have a hard time often putting them on hold, having patience, opening up with tolerance, taking a break. When I was drinking still, I had all of these ideas coming up as well, but most of them were painful and the only reason it was that way was because I made it happen. So besides all of these thoughts, and besides all possible sensations that cannot be controlled, my mind was also occupied by plenty of guilt.
So when I put myself on my Step Eight list I am not making a big deal of it by saying “Hey, man! I am a victim too! Hey, look into the depth of my pain and acknowledge that I don’t even know what I am doing so let go of all that judgment against me!” That is not the purpose. The reason I am doing this is to let go of the guilt, to forgive myself, to let go. Because I know very well that with me thinking this much all the time, the guilt will cut through me with wild persistence to drive me even more crazy that I am already.
If I tell myself that I’ve hurt myself, and did that enough and make an apology letter to myself, explain what is it that I did and perhaps why I did that, I’d let myself go off these resentments and guilt faster. If I forgive myself for what I did to myself, I’d be able to move forward with less pain and start working on making amends to others and to let go of all the crap I’ve made through the years. But if I don’t start with myself, how much peace of mind and serenity can I rely on for the near and further future?
[the front picture was taken from 'ere. thank you!]
This one time we discussed Step Ten at my home group.
Step Ten stands for “Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, third edition, p. 59) The thing that stood out for me was that somehow admitting mistakes to me is just as vital, as being grateful, and I always had issues with expressing gratitude. There are at least two kinds of gratitude that I can pin-point.
Firstly, there is saying “thank you” to my Higher Power. Once I’ve seen there are lots of great things happening in my life through my recovery, I started to have much less issues with thanking the One over me. Weird it might seem, considering I never liked or respected authority, but it’s working quite well for me.
Secondly, there is saying “thank you” for something that is done just for you or done with you in mind, directly or indirectly, done for some time before you get it: a birthday gift, a mailed parcel, your roommate did all the dishes you thought of doing for the whole day, etc. Those are things that I felt I had to be thankful, or rather expected to be thankful for, and yet when I was younger I had issues with expressing gratitude almost as strong as with asking for an apology.
Thirdly, there is saying “thank you” to the people that might not care for doing anything for me, but it is their job to do it nevertheless. I am talking about bank clerks, salespeople, etc. For some reason it was really hard for me to even acknowledge these people as actual people for quite a while. I guess with my shifting from one mood to another, one social stand to another, drinking, being depressed, etc., with excuses, with no excuses, I didn’t care much for people I didn’t know. To me these folks were just a link in the chain that I needed to get through from point “wake up” to point “go to bed.” I’d stand in line waiting for my groceries to be processed and there will be someone in front of me and I’d be thinking “come on, move it already!” I’d be more interested in getting my stuff paid for and if the sales clerk said “thank you!” I mumbled something and screw off. I wouldn’t see the clerk as a person. I wouldn’t be thinking about why the clerk moved so slow. Maybe they got headache since morning, or whatever. I am not trying to say we all have to consider that, but I notice that if I do think about these things, and wonder if the person is doing OK or not (and if not, what it could be), I get more patient and tolerant.
First couple years of my recovery from alcoholism were OK in terms of actual recovery, but not everything was perfect in my social life and I had no real private life that I wanted. I guess I was a bit grumpy about that, so some days I’d walk paying little attention to what I am doing and what I am saying and how I do that. One day I was shopping and I just dismissed the valid clerk comment about something and as I started walking away I realized that even though I was not in the wrong, I was certainly in the grump, and there was no particular reason for that. So I started thinking about that. I figured that the job these people do is not something I could do. I remember walking for Subway for a short period of time and for a longer time in a bookstore and I was terrified of working the till, dealing with money. I also resented being on the front line, talking to people, be polite, and settle customers concerns, complaints, etc. So I told myself that if they are doing something I sure can’t do, I should give them a credit for doing so. After all these folks are dealing with hundreds of people every day, and they might deal with plenty of assholes like me, and they still do it. The only way I could give credit to them is by acknowledging their work, the way they are being helpful, and by saying “thank you.”
It was one of those things that work miraculously without you realizing it. I started expressing gratitude toward people who were there to help me, even though they could’ve hated my guts, and yet they served me fast and well. A simple thing, a “thank you!” that I gave them back started to change my life for the better almost immediately. And the funny thing is that when I felt I was treated wrong, when it was a poor service, it was too slow, the clerk was grumpy, etc., – if I said “thank you!” and “have a good day!” in the way that I meant it, it felt good. It felt like I didn’t have to jump over the counter and beat the crap out of them, even if they deserved it. I didn’t have to go and talk to their manager. By saying “thank you!” I’ve let it go. Most of my mental steam under pressure was gone and I could continue with my day without too much frustration saved up. It felt like it evaporated before concentrating.
What does expressing gratitude has to do with admitting fault? I guess, considering all of the above, saying “thank you” is not just being grateful for what another person did for me. It is not a ritualistic expression that might mean nothing at all, but it has to be expressed anyway, for it is expected. For me saying “thank you” these days is a way of overcoming my ego, pacifying my frustration, letting go of my impatience. It is similar to my saying “thank you” to my Higher Power for keeping me sober when I’d find myself passing by a liquor store and realizing I can’t help but look at it and wonder about how well it looks and what it’s got. So my being thankful is just like saying “I’ve got issues, I am trying to deal with them. I am trying not to unleash my righteousness if I think I am right. I am trying not to express my superiority when I know I am at the position of power. Thank you for doing what you’re doing, and if you are in the wrong, I’ll try to cope with that without freaking out or making you feel like crap.”
And, strangely enough (strangely again), saying “thank you” started to allow for more easiness in my saying “sorry.” I began finding forces and convincing myself to apologize and mean it where I thought there was nothing more embarrassing than that. And yet I’d take an effort, have a conversation and feel good after and often make another person feel good as well. Letting go off the feeling of self-importance is quite important for me. It is the best way is to say “thank you” to someone who’s doing something that I can’t do. I guess it might work as a delegation of power to another person, or at least admitting they are in the right or in service to me.
I was to a meeting the other day and I heard one of the old-timers speak. Among what she said was “what will a newcomer hear: a message or a mess?” I don’t remember now where she was going with that, but that one line was very wise and I kept thinking of it.
Each time a new person comes to the rooms of a Twelve Step meeting he/she is welcomed as the most important person in the room. Why?
1) Because this person seeks help. Otherwise would they come into the room full of strangers? So we should be helpful to them as someone was helpful to us. Pass on the good thing
2) Also because this person reminds us of ourselves, what we used to be like when we came in first. The things this person will say is a good note, giving us flashback of what drinking did to us. It is important thing to remember the past even if we are way better off now. This is what the newcomer brings.
So we should treat them well. And it doesn’t mean we have to hug them and lead them to the best seat in the room. We just have to welcome them and let them know they are in the right place. When I came to AA I had no idea where else I would go. I was reminded of it again at a meeting a month ago when we talked about the AA Traditions, that we should be self-supporting. At the times I was still very sick from alcoholism I needed a place to go to deal with my problem. But I had no money to go to a house rehab. I had a job and a place to keep. AA turned out to be the perfect place. These folks seemed to have it together. But will they be friendly? Will they try to shove their wisdom down my throat? All these questions made me wonder and each time I went to an AA meeting, the less doubt I had. I was shown that it was the right place and right people and I will be OK if I just come and listen and speak.
This is how a newcomer should be treated. Any new comer really, Twelve Step meeting or any other social gathering. There are folks who feel very comfortable in any situations. They are like fish in the water in any setting. Then there are those who aren’t. They are shy and they feel awkward. They are afraid to say a word out of fear they’d confuse something or make themselves look stupid. They are the kids that sit at the back of the classroom and rarely speak or raise their hands and when they are asked, they speak quietly and their voice tremble. I’ve been one of those kids. I would never be where I am at if didn’t try to change that, but I had to have someone’s friendly hand and a smile to make the step toward that change.
Another thing about welcoming newcomers is the verbal message. In the beginning of the meeting there is a part when the chair person asks someone to speak to the newcomer. It usually goes well. Yet sometimes crap happens. When we have the good stuff working for us, we want to share it all with others. And yet we can be so full of ourselves, and of knowledge of our importance and wisdom, that we can’t hold it all inside and start talking for hours in a loud voice. And guess what? People don’t like that very much. You might be giving the most important message, so positive in the hindsight, but it’s coming out as loud and too bright for the person who is not used to it. You are trying to say too many things at the same time so anyone not prepared to it (and even the veterans) would suffer and informational overload. Often you keep using AA jargon many people outside of the circle have no idea of. And often you wouldn’t know that because you are not looking at what you’re doing. It is natural to you.
Along with that, we should remember that our sharing should never be judgemental. And not just when we talk to the newcomers, because they are always there and they always listen. Every once in a while I’d hear people share about how they were treated negatively, especially women. They were given hell when they should’ve been cared for. Many men out there still don’t know how to do things right with women, so I won’t go there. Find and read a book from a professional counselor instead. But it is true that we often don’t know how to say the right things without pointing a finger at the person we’re addressing. There’ve been a couple times I’ve heard such talk and I felt like leaving the room. That’s me with a couple of sober years under my belt. Guess what the unprepared, fresh out-of-the-bottle newcomer would think?
They are us. They should be treated with patience and respect just like we would like that. Never forget that!
So I just came back from a five day vacation in Jasper National Park. We were living in a campsite, cooking food on the grill, living in a tent, hiking a lot. We saw plenty of green, and wildlife, and mountains, and water. Everything was great, but people still surprised me – they were flying by in their cars, or impatiently crawling up ours from behind, as if they were in a hurry to catch a sunrise or something. “You are on vacation too, no?” I kept thinking. My girlfriend who drove kept vocalizing her anger toward the drivers, and I felt like I was back in a city, just with a different view. Anyway, we had a really good time. We saw a lot, took 200 pictures, I kept a diary, writing by the campfire at night. Then we were back to the city on Tuesday late afternoon and got right into the peak hour. The way people drove here was nuts, obviously. No surprises, but for a little while it felt like the serenity I’ve acquired on vacation was getting out the window, seeping out slowly. I managed to get a hold of it. After all I didn’t drive. Just tried to stay positive and support the driver.
There was a certain lightness within me for the whole next day, even though I had to work already. I still felt the excitement of the experience of previous several days in Jasper. The work day was not a very busy, but things had to be done, people met with, and I was planning to go to a AA meeting with a friend who needed it more than me, perhaps, and he cancelled. So I went anyway. Did I think of drinking because I had such a short vacation and my friend was being frustrating? Absolutely not. Did I feel like going drinking anyway? No, definitely out of the question. So why did I?
In this program of recovery which AA is it’s not all about how not to drink. Sure, my first 300 meetings I went to, that probably was all about how not to drink, because for me not to touch a drink for two days was a miracle. But there is life that should be looked after beyond drinking as well. Drinking, as the AA book says, is only a symptom of our life being out of whack. Yes, we alcoholics have a certain disposition of body and mind that makes us react to alcohol in much stranger way and desire it more than others, but that is not the only thing. We have/had our lives running weirdly out of control, so drinking was a perfect escape. Now that the booze is out of the picture, we still have plenty of things to look after. We have to rebuild our lives after the years of havoc. That’s what the Steps are for. Then the life doesn’t become completely perfect either (which is why we keep doing the Steps throughout our lifetime). It still runs on its own rules and we have to keep it sane and tolerable.
That’s why I have to keep going to meetings. Even if I had a great day, I still get angry, vengeful, very impatient, and sometimes I tend to isolate and procrastinate. I need to keep going to meetings to listen to the stories of others, talk to them. I still have to write about these experiences like I do now. Some days life is still not going the way I always want it to. Some other days life makes absolutely no sense. I have to come up with that sense. I have to keep it sane for me. Even after a successful vacation with plenty to see and plenty of relaxing and taking the mind off work. Granted, it was a better experience, compared to my last year summer vacation which in some sense was a disaster (you can read about it here, if you wish). And yet life is still weird and I still have to make an effort to not go completely bonkers. I have the skills for dealing with that. I just have to remember to apply them and take action. Not think about taking action, but actually taking it. Do the right things.
I keep hearing it, “What’s your drug of choice?” or “My drug of choice is…”
First of all, what is choice? I had a conversation earlier this week with one of our chaplains at work about how many graduates of our recovery program isolate and then relapse. We looked into how we could be more helpful to them. He said that anything he’d do, he chooses to do. There is just a choice that separates him from falling into a disaster. I agree. I have a choice to go home to my girlfriend and have supper together and be a good partner or to go to a bar and drink my face off. Once I’d followed up on that drinking path, all else is gone. I have to follow the road of self-destruction, because this is how I drink – all or nothing.
Going back to the original question, I’d rather not have a drug of any kind. One of my all-time favorite writer Pelevin wrote: “You certainly didn’t need to eat that [acid crap]. A human doesn’t need to take any drugs. Especially psychedelics… When you take a high dosage of LSD, or take panther mushrooms, you risk a lot. You walk out of the human world, and if you could see how many invisible eyes are looking down at you at that moment, you’d never do it again. And if you could catch just a glimpse of those who look at you then, you’d die from terror. With this action of taking drugs you express that being a human is not enough for you; you want to be someone else. First of all, to stop being a human you need to die. Do you want to die?” Viktor Pelevin, Generation P (pp. 167-168)
Any drugs I take, unless to ease the physical pain, are no good for me, period. I wrote about pain before. Now of course there is also mental and spiritual suffering. That’s what was making me drink booze. I wasn’t happy with my life and I wasn’t happy with what I had. Booze was an easy and always available drug in which I could drown my unhappiness. Just as Pelevin wrote, I was trying to find something else, maybe find a different kind of me, just not the one I was . When I drank, I’d lose some part of my identity in that flame of burning sensations, chewed up by fear and memories of broken promises, that maelstrom of emotions. Some were fun, but with time the amounts of booze I’ve consumed were larger and the fun was gone. Only sense of oblivion remained. I felt it each time and each time I thought, “OK, that’s enough. I need to stop.” Each time I’d wake up next day and look around I’d say to myself, “I can’t do this anymore. The wreckage is too crazy. This was the last time I did this stupid thing.”
And yet I couldn’t just stop by wishing the insanity away. Here’s the next part. I didn’t choose my drug or my addiction. I chose to take the very first drink, yes. I could walk away or give in. But nobody explains it to the kids that drinking is not just bad for you. Nobody says that some of us are going for a trip to an asylum once we pick up a first one. Once I am in, I am done and gone, drawn and quartered. So when I’ve followed on my curiosity with trying alcohol, I couldn’t stay away from it. No choice to continue or stop – go all the way! You can say it chose me. And because of that I call it drug of doom.
Alcohol, or pot, or tobacco or caffeine – don’t call it drug/addiction of choice. There is only a choice of picking up the first one. There is no choice in continuing picking up. If it is a drug, there is dependency. If there is a dependency, your will is broken. When your will is broken, there is no choice. It’s not called addiction for nothing.