Wrapped up in the genetic stitching that weaves its way through her family's predisposition for alcohol addiction, Dallas accepts the harsh realities of the disease and discovers recovery.
Years of pent-up guilt and shame escaped in a long sigh of relief. Luke had unknowingly given me the gift of freedom. I picked the pen back up, my hand involuntarily shot to the right-hand side of the paper under the marked column assets where I meticulously wrote the word accountability.
Once I was over that hurdle with less fear and trepidation, I struggled through the fifth step with my sponsor. Because we had established a relationship built on trust and respect, I was finally able to dump a lot of the garbage that kept me tethered to a past that needed to be released.
I was on my way...
Not knowing a lot about humility, my approach to the sixth and seventh steps was still laden with a bit of ego. Puffed up with this new surge of confidence and determination to get it perfect, I decided it would take me several weeks to uncover all my character defects, and at least, months to remove them.
During this self-imposed Odyssey, I could feel myself slipping backward. Recovery was depleting me. I was running on empty. When I realized that no matter how much concentrated effort I was putting forth, it was to no avail. I was like a dog chasing its tail. Running and running with no end in sight. Admitting defeat, I swallowed my pride and called Sara.
"I've been biding my time waiting for this call, Dallas." Her tone was conciliatory. "Have you finally worn yourself out?"
"How did you know?" I asked.
"Well, remembering my own struggles and misconceptions about these two steps, and knowing you; it was inevitable." She chuckled. "'I can do it, I alone can do it, doesn't work here, honey."
There was a momentary pause.
"Dallas, go get your Big Book and open it up to the steps. Read six and seven to me."
The term 'Big Book,' viewed by many to be the Bible of Alcoholics Anonymous was so penned due to the thickness of the pages in the first edition and has no religious significance. It is, however, the basic text of how to recover from alcoholism. Its teachings, specifically the twelve steps, is used today to treat a variety of addictions. It was written by one of its founders, Bill Wilson, who was once thought to be an alcoholic of the hopeless variety. It has sold over 30 million copies. Within its over 400 pages, the personal experiences of many alcoholics are shared, along with a series of solutions, a guide to implementing the twelve steps, and much more.
I put Sara on hold, went into the bedroom and retrieved the Big Book from the bottom drawer of my nightstand. I kept it there to avoid any visitors' prying eyes and to protect my anonymity. Flipping through it as I made my way back into the living room, I wondered what it was I could have missed. "Okay, I found it."
"Now read it to me, just as it is written."
"Six: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character."
I still didn't get it. "Sara, I am ready."
I couldn't contain my frustration. "I've been working day and night to recognize and correct all of my faults."
Sara sighed. "Bet you are pretty damn tired after all of that work, aren't you? It's not your assignment, Dallas. Do you see that three letter word God? Quit trying to rob Him of his purpose, and allow Him to perform his job. And remember, you are not Him."
I looked down at the 7th step.
"Seven: Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings."
Suddenly the lightbulb went off. Sara remained silent.
"I can't believe I missed that," I said. "I read these two steps dozens of times."
Sara's response was a real awakening. "Our egos tend to make us alcoholics feel that we are not only invincible but that we are all-knowing and capable of superhuman powers. We believe we need no one. And when we finally are driven to our knees and admit that we can no longer do it alone, we understand what the word humility truly means. Now get on with It and humbly ask God to remove those shortcomings."
I did get on with it. I came to realize that I would always have shortcomings, and probably develop new ones in recovery. Each day I could humbly ask for them to be removed and proceed to do the footwork, which is my part. Understanding that the program is one of spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection helped to minimize that egotistical, blown out of proportion, idea that I was somehow superhuman. Acknowledging my humanness opened up a whole new avenue of growth.
The fourth step became a template for completing not only the sixth and seventh steps, but it was a valuable tool in determining who I needed to make amends to in step nine. Step eight only required that I become willing.
Step nine must be approached with both caution and complete honesty. It reads: 'Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.'
I had heard of instances of those who thought they were in a confessional and spilled it all, not giving consideration to how it would affect others. In some cases, it did additional harm by not being discerning. Others, include that person making the amends. This step needs the guidance of a sponsor. It is not about getting forgiveness. It is about admitting accountability and apologizing for harms done. It matters not how it is received, only that it is offered.
I knew it would be a matter of timing. I prayed for the guidance to be shown when my children might be open to receiving the amends. Nick and Jake lived far away, so I decided to write letters to them. We rarely discussed my drinking. They didn't want to address it and preferred to remain in denial. They both imbibed, so any discussion regarding alcoholism wasn't a topic that came up on their menu. Feeling my way around our conversations, I was blessed with an instinct that led me to know when it was safe to make those amends.
The letters were sent about a year apart, and both were received graciously with identical responses. "Oh, Mom. You're not an alcoholic."
Remembering Luke's response to my fourth step, I decided to not rehash it with him. I was ready to move on. Or was I? Making an amend requires that it isn't wrapped up in a litany of justifications. Words like because, but, and if you had or hadn't need to be eliminated. There was one amend that remained, but I wasn't ready to do that yet. The apology for one particular issue that I owed my husband, now my ex, had to be shelved until I could do it without making excuses.
Twenty-two years passed. Then one hot July day, In between the fifth and sixth innings of my grandson's ballgame, the opportunity presented itself and "I'm sorry that...," spilled forth without any addendums.
Steps 10, 11, and 12 are ongoing. I try to incorporate them into my daily life. I continue to take a personal inventory, and when I am wrong, I promptly admit it. This still requires some effort and is rarely as prompt as suggested. But I get to work on that. I try to remember I am recovering, not recovered. And that it is a program of progress, not perfection. Seeking to improve my conscious contact with my higher power is approached through daily meditation readings, prayer, and fellowship with other alcoholics who guide and understand me.
And last but not least, the twelfth step, which I have found to be the most challenging: 'Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.'
I have no trouble carrying the message to those alcoholics who walk through the doors of AA needing help. I am able, without judgment, bias, or expectations, to reach out and provide a sympathetic ear and remain detached. But I find it much harder to achieve that necessary detachment when it comes to family.
Just because some of us made it into recovery doesn't mean that the genetic predisposition was left at the door. As time goes by, family members multiply, grow up, and in some cases choose to sip from the fountain of their inheritance. Remembering that it is not my job to speculate, preach, or round them all up and herd them into the light has been my greatest challenge. The fact that AA is a program of attraction rather than promotion was exactly why I didn't bolt, and why I am sober today. Those loved ones, who may or may not share my disease, deserve the same right to determine for themselves whether or not they are candidates for recovery.
Practicing these principals in all my affairs doesn't come naturally. Because these steps are in order, I can reflect back on each of the preceding steps and draw on them for support when I start floundering. I do this from time to time.
If I need to apologize, the tenth step lays it out for me. If I become self-centered and difficult to live with, I can go back to my fourth and sixth steps. If I become controlling and begin running on self-will, I need to resurrect the third step.
The AA program is a design for living. It is the tool shed I continue to go to, when life, with its many surprises, attempts to undress me and expose all of those alcohol (isms) that are never completely obliterated. Many of those tools are the same ones I picked up early on and continue to use. Meetings, sponsorship, fellowship, daily meditations and the steps, just to name a few. Recovery is a process, not an event. And everyone's path, though it may be different, requires the tutelage of those who have gone before.
The recovery maze
requires deft navigation
don't assume you can go it alone,
if you think otherwise
pay attention to those
who still flounder about on their own.
Like it or not, we need someone to lean on
someone strong to shore up our foundation,
in the darkness, a lantern whose light is so bright
it won't matter how long the duration.
Committed to challenge our sponsors stand tall
never pausing--without hesitation,
they reach into their hearts, extend a firm hand
give us cause to expect a celebration.
to all you Lone Rangers, I offer this thought--
if you don't choose your Tonto
it may all be for naught.