Reading Anne Lamott’s Small Victories and came across this gem:
“Addicts and alcoholics will tell you that their recovery began when they woke up in a pitiful and degraded enough shape to take Step Zero, which is: ‘This shit has got to stop.'”
I love this sentiment for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it makes me feel like I’ve already made progress and am onto the next step. In AA, of course, the next step is Step One: admitting one is “powerless over alcohol— that our lives had become unmanageable.”
AA. Alcoholics Anonymous.
I’m on board with the “Alcoholics” part of AA. Got it, check, understood.
I’m only this week understanding the second part and it’s personal meaning and importance. “Anonymous” for me is not necessarily my own anonymity, but the anonymity of the other people in AA.
The meeting I attended earlier this week, in this tourist town, was truly anonymous. I knew no one. They did not know me. But I loved them – both the stories and the anonymous people sharing the stories. They were helpful and safe and familiar.
In the few meetings I’ve attended at home over the past few months, the familiarity was in both the stories and the faces. I wasn’t embarrassed or ashamed – I understood when I went into the meeting room that there was a real possibility of seeing someone I knew. What I was surprised about was my reaction to seeing them.
One is a neighbor who, despite his decades-long sobreity, is a total waste as a father and a provider.
I am uncomfortable sitting in a room with him. That I share a common alcohol retardation with him is one thing, but I am uneasy sharing anything else with him, including personal stories.
Because of the length of his sobriety and his success in AA, he is greeted by the members of the meetings like some AA God. It’s difficult to watch him move about the room like a golden, sober politician, when I know just how shitty he is to his kids and his wife. Even more difficult is reconciling that, despite his decades-long sobriety, he is still so shitty to his kids and his wife.
I thought we went into the program to stop being shitty to our families. Is he the best AA can do?
I have lived across the street from him and his family for years. When I say “shitty” what I mean is this: he is an emotionally absent father and cannot keep a job. His staying sober is the most he can offer them. Years of sobriety, and he just STAYS SOBER.
I don’t want to just STAY SOBER. Just like I don’t want to STAY A DRUNK, I want to move beyond my alcohol retardation into a meaningful life.
I read my words and know that I am over-reaching my own (so-far inadequate) abilities to stay sober and am under-estimating the amount of work required to have the success this neighbor has, let alone move beyond it.
But the belief that I can move beyond it is a key motivator for me. I need to believe that one day, I will see all of this mess in my rearview mirror, not just always out the side view.
All of that is too much, right? Somehow, in one blog post, I have gone from Step Zero to Step 13, whatever that is …
Is the lesson here that I need to put aside my snobbery (always, always) and just deal with the fact that this neighbor is my (throwing up here a little bit) my people? Please say no.
Or, maybe I just need to drive a little further away and find a meeting where I don’t know anyone – and let the familiar stories work their magic, without the familiar faces. At least initally.
That sounds like a better plan.