Do It Any Way

Larry was in recovery for over 25 years before he left us for the big meeting in the sky. He died as he wanted, sober and with two close friends, who are also members of his home group, at his side.

He was the group philosopher. Though he accused himself of over thinking things, he always had something worth an ear. He was a larger than life character who towered above most everyone and who never failed to help another member. His big old bear hugs were smothering but always honest and genuine. And though he’s been gone for well over a year, his bits of wisdom which were gleaned from his own experience are still echoing in the rooms of the city.

“Do it anyway,” he’d often say at a meeting, “or do it any way.” It was Larry’s manner of encouragement. Find a way to get done what needs to be done. There might be an “I don’t want to,” or an” I don’t think I can,” but when it came to the program, friends as well as sponsees heard this wise words to push forward regardless.

Sometimes in life it isn’t about desire or want. It’s about need. Larry’s words are for those things we need to do, the things we fear doing, the things we don’t even know how to do. Do it any way.

Commitment, consistency and courage are behind these words. Sticking to one’s convictions day by day regardless of what happens. This is how we live a life in recovery. This is the example Larry set for us. It is also the challenge he left with us.

“Do it anyway, do it any way.”

Thank you Larry.

The Wreckage

I’ve learned in my program that I need to clear away the wreckage of my past. Part of that wreckage is the damage that I did to other people, especially family.  In the movie When Love is Not Enough, the Lois Wilson Story, Lois’ character says that on average four people are pulled into the vortex of an alcoholic. The word vortex, the spinning fury of mayhem that pulls what is around it into its empty centre, is quite appropriate. We lie, we cheat, we manipulate and we steal from these people while we are in the vortex, often discarding them along the way. I am reminded of the Tasmanian Devil of old cartoons.  That is pretty much what we did.

Lois Wilson was the founder of Al-Anon Family Groups program for the family and friends of alcoholics.  She, being the wife of Bill Wilson, one of the co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, knew what she was talking about having lived through the destruction that her husband’s alcoholism caused in both of their lives. She also knew of the struggle to find her own sanity in the midst of chaos and conflict. If her statement is true about how alcoholics and addicts affect the lives of others, then the rooms of Al-Anon should be overflowing; they aren’t.

I suppose it must be extra difficult to admit that the insanity of an addict’s life rubs off and that they are as powerless over alcohol and drugs and their loved one.  It’s the alcoholic who is sick, not the spouse or partner. It’s hard to admit that one’s attempts to help a loved one have never been successful. It’s also hard to see that AA or NA is doing what love and devotion couldn’t accomplish alone. The wife of a friend of mine in the program openly states that she was as sick as her husband because of alcohol, but she was unable to see it until she went to Al-Anon, ostensibly to try to get help for him. Once there, she discovered that she needed help as well.  Today they both travel their path of recovery.

I remember hearing a speaker at a meeting talk about having an argument with his wife because he was late coming home from work one night. She had been worried about him and he was angry because he had been in recovery for almost a year at the time.  His sponsor chastised him, telling him that he had made so many promises to her that he had broken, that he had lied so many times about where he was and when he was coming home, and had manipulated her for so many years, that she had a right to think that he may have slipped.  Even after a year, two years, or ten years, members have relapsed, so a partner’s worry is not without cause.

One of my sponsees came to me a while back.  He’s fairly new in the program and was complaining about his wife. He felt that she was not understanding enough about his disease, always asking him where he was going and who he was with. He felt like she was treating him like a child and not the sober adult that he felt he was.  His wife’s concern was genuine and is quite common. How many times had he broken promises to her? How often had he lied to her about where and with whom he was with? How often had he told her that he wasn’t going to drink or use only to find him dropped off on the front porch unable to stand let alone find the front door? No, he was the one who needed some understanding of where she was coming from and that while he may be sure he’s on the path of sobriety, she has every right to her uncertainty.

It is so much easier to see how our addiction has affected our own lives. It is not as easy to see how it has affected those who made the decision to love us. And it does affect them just as deeply and profoundly. I do not presume to speak for members of Al-Anon. I only know what I have heard from them. One told me that it was one of the most difficult thing he ever had to do was admit that he had allowed the alcoholism in his family to affect him as deeply as it had and that it took so long for him to realize that he too needed help to live.

We cause great swaths of destruction and leave a path of wreckage behind us. All of this can be cleared and the vortex toned down to a tolerable swirl. It takes time. Addicts and alcoholics know it takes time to go through their program and find happiness, joy and freedom.  Those whom we have deeply affected also need time to heal. There is hope for all of us affected.

♥  ♥  ♥

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Photo credit: Jennifer Rice














Principles before Personalities

I have a buddy in the program who has stopped going to meetings.  He’s returning to his program after just under ten years in and another four years out again.  Right now he has under six months.  He says he is fine.  He’s doing his readings and studying his books at home and he’s doing daily meditation.  He told me he has stopped going to meetings because his former sponsor is there, and he feels that the former sponsor is looking at him ‘funny’.  The community is very small here.  There isn’t an option for him to go to other groups.

I heard from another friend, a recovering alcoholic with well over twenty years in the program.  He has stopped going to meetings because there is too much discussion about drugs along with the alcohol.  He’d like to go back to the old times with completely closed meetings and no mention of any drug.  “There are other groups for that.”

I have been hearing similar and other gripes since I became a 12 step member.  Both AA’s and NA’s twelfth tradition reminds us to: “…place principles before personalities.”   What does that mean?  To me, it suggests that I remember the principles of the program: recovery, unity, service, honesty, humility, forgiveness, hope, integrity, love, discipline, perseverance and spirituality.  Not everyone is going to have all of these principles down cold.  (I had to look them up, to be sure, while writing because I couldn’t have named them all.) Some days I’m more honest or forgiving than others.  This tradition tells us that these principle are far more important than the defects of character in those who impart them to us.

I must remember that what is important is the message and not the messenger.  In our case, the medium is not the message.  Recovery is much deeper than those who present it.  Were it not so, for example, AA would have died out when Bill Wilson, the founder, passed on.  Something that is true doesn’t become false simply because I don’t like the person who is telling it to me.  Trust me, many people delivered a message to me that I needed help long before I began my trek in recovery.  Of course, in my sorry state I’d get angry with them and use even more ‘just to show them!’

We will always meet people who irritate or bother us in some way, in and out of our meeting room.  We don’t like to be told what to do and how to do it.  We don’t like to have to do anything.  When someone is sharing I can focus on their speech impediment or their ugly shirt, or their hot body,  instead of listening to what they are saying and that probably isn’t what the program is about.

Early on in my program I heard someone talk about the 70-20-10 Rule.  He said that seventy percent of the time, what you hear in a meeting is good solid stuff that can be stowed in your tool box and brought out later to help you through a difficult situation. Twenty percent of the time, what you hear will have you at the edge of your seat; it’s exactly what you need to hear at this time.  It is as if your higher power is speaking directly to you.  And ten percent of the time, what you hear is an opportunity to practice your patience and tolerance.  This rule has proven to be true for me, and others have told me so as well.  However, what is my twenty percent, may be your ten percent, and visa versa.  Our higher powers just works that way.

There’s an old joke in AA:  What do you need to start a new meeting?  A resentment, a coffee pot and a friend.  If your recovery is at risk because you can’t get around the personalities in the room or how things are managed or what people are doing, then find another meeting.  Try attending on-line meetings, start your own meeting, do anything that protects you from your disease.  If sobriety is my number one priority, then I don’t have the luxury of cherry picking.  I need the program more than it needs me.

Periodically I attend Al-Anon meetings.  These folks have a lot to teach me about life.  I particularly like a part of their closing statement:  In closing, we would like to say that the opinions expressed here were strictly those of the person who gave them.  Take what you liked and leave the rest….We aren’t perfect.  The welcome we give you may not show the warmth we have in our hearts for you.  The message delivered by the personalities around the table and the principles intertwined in that message are what keep me sober, not the personalities who deliver them.  Keep coming back.