Saturday, September 19, 2009

A Turn of Phrase

My dad used to say, “I feel a lot more like I do now than I did a while ago.” He’d give you a sidelong glance with a twinkle in his eye and maybe a wink if he was in a particularly good mood as he said it. That’s one of those phrases that makes you think for a second before you realize it doesn’t quite make sense, but yet it does – somehow. If you don’t think about it too much. As I approach my nine-month sobriety birthday on September 29th, I can honestly say I feel a lot more like I do now than I did nine months ago!

When I was in detox and rehab they recommended when I got out I go to 90 Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in 90 days. I managed to make 89 meetings in 90 days, missing one due to illness. I figured I might miss one or two due to the weather, considering the time of year I was going through everything, but no, it was the flu that kept me away. I was anxious to immerse myself in the program.

The very day I was released from detox, January 5, 2009, I went to my first AA meeting, even though I would begin all day out-patient rehab the next morning for two more weeks. Fortunately, the day before my release a group from AA brought a meeting to the hospital. I heard a lot of things that appealed to me and several of the group left their names and numbers behind for us to call should we decide we wanted to talk further.

One of the guys, Andrew, spoke of his experience and what brought him to AA and how it had helped him, and I really identified with his story more than most. I made note of his name and number. When I was released that Monday, I called and asked if he could direct me to an AA meeting. He gave me directions to the clubhouse where he goes, which turned out not to be very far from my home. He mentioned a meeting was just about to begin if I cared to attend, and he would be there. I drove there directly from detox. I was a couple of minutes late arriving, but I recognized Andrew across the room and he motioned for me to join him; he had saved a seat for me.

I’ve continued going to that club house ever since. My first experience was a bit nerve wracking! I had no idea what to expect; was it a cult, a religious sect, a group of drunks who sat around telling war stories or just what exactly? I suppose it could be said all of those elements could be found in the rooms of AA, and a whole lot more.

“I’m not much, but I’m all I think about.”

That’s an oft quoted line in the clubhouse that never fails to get a chuckle out of the crowd. In fact, one of the things that caught me by surprise at AA meetings is that there is so much humor and laughter as people share their “experience, strength, and hope.” The stories are often very similar but the storytellers are certainly unique. Everyone has a different spin on things. Sometimes the sharing is somber; gravid with sorrow and tears and heart-rending sobs. Sometimes it’s delivered with the perfect timing of a stand-up comic. Regardless of the story or who is telling it, it is almost always coupled with what has now become a familiar quote or turn of phrase that we hear regularly in the rooms of AA.

“My mind is a bad neighborhood and I have no business being here alone.” All too true for most of us in AA. If we spend too much time in that neighborhood by ourselves we fall in with the bad crowd again; bad thinking, bad habits, bad relationships, bad deeds, and the list goes on. We need the company of other recovering alcoholics to keep us safe in that neighborhood. Most non-alcoholics don’t understand that, and I have difficulty explaining it to them. Most alcoholics feel that “when I’m by myself I’m in the company of a madman” and in danger of drinking. “Drinking is suicide on the installment plan.”

That’s why we go to so many meetings! We are in the company of our own kind; people who understand and accept us. The only requirement to be a member of AA is the desire to stop drinking. The people in the rooms of AA are a complete mixture of social strata, from wealthy businessmen and women to unemployed half-way house residents just out of prison, and everything in between. This is not a group of people you would normally expect to associate with one another in any other circumstances. Yet in this environment, we are all equal. “Alcoholics are the upper crust of the mentally ill.” Go ahead, it’s OK to laugh.

“Take your ass to meetings and your mind will follow.” Good advice. “Fake it ‘til you make it.” Push on through! “Don’t leave before the miracle happens!” Wait for it; it’ll happen! “Come to an AA meeting and get osmosis you can!” I know our little sayings may sound “goofier than a bag of assholes,” but you “can’t stay sober on yesterday’s prayers” so “I’m sticking to this program like hair on soap!” Oh, there’s more.

Many of the sayings we hear frequently in AA are immediately clear without the need to dwell on their meaning; they’re obvious. For example:

“Humility does not mean thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”

“Pain is what we walk through. Misery is what we sit in.”

“Fear is the dark room where we develop our negatives.”

Alcoholism is a disease of the brain. Many people do not understand that. To the non-alcoholic, it is sometimes baffling that an alcoholic simply cannot correct his behavior by quitting drinking. It has been scientifically proven! Yet knowing that does not make it any easier to defeat, anymore than knowing smoking cigarettes are harmful to your health helps you to quit smoking.

Personally, I try to remain optimistic. I’m optimistic by nature, and I think that helps me in my continuous struggle against alcoholism. Someone asked me once how long I have to continue going to meetings. I replied, “First of all I don’t have to go to meetings, I choose to go. And, second, I expect I will continue going for the rest of my life.”

You never overcome alcoholism. It’s not a “was-m,” it’s an “is-m.” It’s not the best scenario I can think of, but it isn’t so bad. As a friend in the program, Phil H., once said, “Life isn’t all lollipops and orgasms.” With the help of AA and my higher power, I have reached a point where I no longer have a desire to drink. And that’s a good thing.


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