Archive for December, 2009

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…And I’m a Slow Alcoholic

December 22, 2009

Much to my delight, my fellow sobriety seeker and I have discovered a really terrific Agnostics AA meeting, which we’ve begun to attend regularly. I really enjoy both these meetings, and the post-meeting lunches the group goes for afterwards – the people are fascinating, the stories touching, and the whole experience leaves me energized and feeling validated in my decision.

The only thing I dread a little bit is the first time I introduce myself each meeting.  As many people probably know, before one “shares” in meeting, you begin with “Hi my name is…” usually followed by “…and I’m an alcoholic.”  I’m still very resistant to this phrase, because my particular situation is a little different from the rest of the crowd.  During my drinking days, you would never find me passed out on a bar or vomiting in the gutter. I wasn’t killing bottles a day or waking up with the shakes.  I drank considerably less than the majority of my friends who would never dream of calling themselves alcoholics.  So why should I introduce myself as such?

But as I listened to the circle of speakers this week, and the focus came around to me, I tried the title on for size with my own twist: Hi, my name is … and I’m a very slow alcoholic.

It’s not that my abuse has ever gotten so severe, it’s that every time I’ve quit drinking, and then tried to come back to it in a spirit of “moderation,” I’ve always eventually, slowly slipped back to what for me is excess. It’s that slipping back, even if it isn’t to a level which others may consider abuse, which is my personal alcohol-ism.  It is a social crutch I can’t seem to use just a little, I’m either trying to walk without it, or it’s there all the time.

In a similar vein, a friend of mine refers to himself as an alcoholic with a “very high bottom.” Someone’s “bottom,” of course, is the point they have to reach before they realize they need help.  In this friend’s case, he knows his limits and he can sense his tendency to supersede those limits when given the chance.  He didn’t need to go into debilitating credit card debt or lose his house to feel a sense of his own rock bottom.

I feel the same way – I know that I use alcohol as a drug, even in small quantities, and though on a moment to moment basis I do have a considerably easier time than my fellow alcoholics with choosing not to drink, it is still part of who I am, and something I’m beginning to own and accept.

Tuesday, December 22nd will be my 8 month anniversary of sobriety.  One of the leaders of the group asked if I had a 6-month coin yet, and gave me one.  This little gold coin is something I’d seen before.  The room my college improv group rehearsed in happened to also be where the town’s AA group met, and they had left their coins in the room’s podium, which we discovered at a rehearsal once.  I remember all of us having a laugh about these little tokens at the time, I think I may have even taken one home with me.

Oh the irony, that what I ridiculed during the years when my problem was first developing, would become something I was so proud to receive this week, a symbol of accomplishment and association with a group of people I’m so honored to be around.

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Don’t Get Mad, Get Curious

December 11, 2009

I’ve been thinking a lot about anger, and the various schools of Buddhist thought regarding anger lately.  As one of the more passionate, gripping emotions, anger is a tricky concept for Buddhists. On the one hand, on the path of mindfulness you try to prevent any strong emotion from grabbing hold of and overtaking you.  On the other, to completely deny your anger, and refuse to give it voice can cause a welling and festering of emotion, which is likewise toxic.

The most cogent answer to the question of anger I’ve come in contact with is to let it be, breath through it, and get curious – in the spirit of mindfulness – of its nature, its root, where you feel it in the body, how it seems to be manifesting, where it is being projected, etc.  The hope is that instead of just blindly being moved by the emotion, you can foster some space, and let it exist without immediately giving license to its potentially damaging consequences.

So, I thought I’d write here about something that makes me angry, in hopes that this neutral forum – where I have the power of a backspace key and an “edit post” option – will allow me to hold and view my anger with compassion.

First off, when I told a friend of mine I was planning to write on this particular peeve of mine – which concerns sobriety – she mentioned attending a “traditions” meeting of AA, where they talked about the 12th tradition, namely:

Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.

She said that the discussion at the meeting revolved around one’s own personal, private experience with sobriety, and the tendency for newly sober people to want to shout its virtues from the mountain tops.

I mention this, because I think I run the risk of this behavior a lot.  A big part of my personality is the excited desire to disseminate information I’ve found useful. (If only I had remained a Catholic, I would have rocked at proselytizing.)  It’s not a flaw, really; I mean, it’s why I’m a teacher.  But it can have its unskillful permutation, which I think might come out in particular sensitive situations, like the question of alcohol use.

So, point being, please know I’m not trying to preach sobriety to anyone.  If you find the choice to drink a positive one for yourself, and you’re not hurting yourself or others with that choice, party on.  I’ve made a choice, too.

So here’s the thing.  I’ve found over and over again, when the subject comes up that I’ve been sober for 8 months now, the first thing out of a person’s mouth is not “Oh great,” or, “Congrats,” but rather, with few exceptions, it is a befuddled and often mildly irritated, “Why?”

Please don’t do that.  Please, if someone tells you they’re sober, just say good for you and move on.  I’m not saying you have to be sober, too, just acknowledge that that’s a difficult and – apparently – non-normative choice to make, and good for them for sticking to something challenging they decided to pursue. Please.

(That was my pissed off paragraph.  Here’s my holding space and compassion paragraph…)

My therapist, always amazed at the booze-centric culture of my 40-years-her-junior social circles, suggested that when someone presents me with “why?” I come back and ask something along the lines of “why do you ask?” I laughed at first when she said this, but it certainly turns my frustration on its head. The conversation is then not about my eccentric decision, but rather we can foster a dialogue on why my decision is considered “different,” why it bears discussing at all, why ask why?

I have to admit, the thought of actually doing this still seems a little preposterous to me, but my discomfort with the suggestion has been educational in its own right.  She pointed out to me further that part of my irritation with this common reaction is my own still-teetering comfort level with my decision.  I haven’t fully owned the fact that I am now a non-drinker, so their lack of immediate acceptance is really mirroring my own.

It makes sense. And it’s made me wonder if many kinds of anger are just this – a toxicity toward that which we see in ourselves.  I won’t say all anger has this seed – I think there’s a lot to say for the righteous anger of the enslaved and the oppressed – but that a great deal of seething irritation we feel is really with behavior which resembles something within us.

It is frustrating to constantly have to explain yourself as a sober person, and I do really implore those of you who are drinkers who meet a sober person to take the time to validate and honor their choice before questioning it, but, thanks to my anger, I am given an opportunity to become curious, and more closely grasp a level of comfort with myself and my decisions.