On a happily ordinary Monday with laundry and housework and editing deadlines, I am thinking through my New Year’s resolutions in the light of the Steps.
‘A continuous look at our assets and liabilities, and a real desire to learn and grow by this means are necessities for us. We alcoholics have learned this the hard way. More experienced people, of course, in all times and places have practiced unsparing self-survey and criticism.’ [As Bill Sees It pg 151]
So this is more about reflecting than resolve, and more about trust than determination. Bringing the dusty old baggage of the attic or lumber room into the penetrating clear daylight and just getting up the courage to look at what is there.
The desire to change can itself move mountains, I have learned that in my short space of sobriety. Just wanting to stay sober more than I want to drink helps me each day. And staying receptive to the Power within AA and my fellow recovering alcoholics keeps me open and willing to grow.
It’s all about relationship. That is the crux of living sober for me right now – learning to relate more honestly to myself and others, learning to stay in relationship when my instinct is to run, learning through service the ethics and value of a more selfless relationship, learning to risk and play and trust others .
And I’ve accepted this changing is an incremental and invisible growth. For all the willingness, I just go on being inept and impulsive and grasping at whims and passing desires, filled with fury and passion and good intentions. But little by little with each week and month of sobriety and service, change is taking place. Others see it long before I do. For me it feels like sitting it out sober, just keeping on keeping on, just not drinking day after day — and getting on with the daily demands and frustrations and setbacks without self-medicating or trying to shift that troubled consciousness.
Every now and again I realise things are getting easier and that I hardly ever think about alcohol except when I give myself a daily reminder each morning and express gratitude each evening. I don’t miss drinking most of the time and I don’t miss the years of dread and muddle.
Those lost years. Once in a while I look back and shudder at what my life was like then. A non-existence, a head stuffed with illusions and excuses and unacknowledged desperation.
My way of thinking and feeling has altered slowly and almost imperceptibly.
There is a scene in Shakespeare’s King Henvy IV Part 11 that often comes back to me. Fat-bellied, ribald and drunken Falstaff is delighted to hear his old drinking buddy the prince is about to become king and rushes to greet him, only to be rebuffed. The prince looks at him coldly and spurns the outstretched hand.
‘Presume not that I am the thing I was,’ he says and turns away.
When I first read this for O-level English at school, I felt terribly sorry for Falstaff. The prince seemed to me like a prig and disloyal to his old friend.
But if I was out walking down the village street one afternoon and my former self, tipsy and with eyes a little too bright and tone a little too effusive came rushing up to greet me, I would turn away. And I’m not even sure my former self would recognise the person I am now. She would be too preoccupied with people-pleasing or scoring points or assuring me she was doing well and within moments she would be hurt and brimming with over-sensitive reactions and tense with self-inflicted misery and that awful kind of drunken woundedness and special pleading and certinty of being misunderstood –arrgh, no, just the memory makes me claustrophobic.
The compassion I could not feel for myself then comes to me now and I would want to tell her it is going to be all right. That there is hope. But first there has to be the kind of change she doesn’t really want and doesn’t believe possible. She has to stop drinking. For good. And she cannot do it alone, so she will have to swallow all that pride and doubt and ask for help.
Just one phone call. Whatever took me so long? Once I began telling the truth and could listen to others sharing their truths, it all changed. And keeps changing, hopefully.
I still struggle to ask for help. And then I struggle to accept the help. But little by little, like invisible mending, it is getting better.