Cold blustery day here in the mountains and I am sitting with a glut of leeks, wondering if I can serve more leek dishes up to the convalescent housemate. The idea of a Welsh cawl or leek and lamb stew appeals to me.
I sat up with neighbours last night watching Revolutionary Road, a film based on the brilliant edgy novel by Richard Yates. Suburban life in 1950s America — it wasn’t the non-stop quaffing of martinis that bothered me so much as the chain-smoking, even in the work place and at meals. I remember people smoking like that when I was a child, with no idea how harmful it might be. It was grim watching and knowing that author Yates died of alcoholism complicated by severe emphysema.
Some of us on forums are talking about pride and humility and all those loaded terms that can mean so many different things to different people. I prefer to focus on the lived specificities rather than abstarct ideals.
When I was sobering up I had nothing more than a muddled and hazy notion of what was happening to me and who I had become. Alcoholism had thrown me off-balance and I tended to seesaw between feelings of self-hatred and low self-esteem, and feelings of grandiosity, of exaggerated importance and what is called ‘terminal uniqueness’, deserving special treatment or attention. Now that I have been sober a while I see this same rollercoaster in others and how it is fuelled by self-preoccupation or unrealistic expectations of oneself or others, the need to protect a fantasy of perfection.
One word that has helped me gain steadiness and perspective has been self-respect. We acquire self-respect by doing the things that build a sense of self-worth and the opportunities for service in AA are crucial to this. As we serve our new-found community in AA, we earn respect from others who are sober and who offer us encouragement and support, begin to trust us to turn up on time or help out or volunteer for service positions. Self-respect is not something that can be acquired overnight or in isolation, it is something that gradually happens amidst family, friends and co-workers as we mature in responsibility and trustworthiness. The best definition of humility for me is not that we think less OF ourselves but that we think less ABOUT ourselves.
I believe that at the heart of grandiosity there is often the fear of having our own illusions about ourselves challenged or corrected. As an alcoholic I knew myself to be a secret failure no matter how successful I was at work, and that despondency stopped me from finding common ground with others. While listening to or reading the stories of others in AA, the need to protect secrets fell away. Why hide human failings that others admit quite freely? And from that comes a realistic acceptance and hope of doing better the next time around. We are all as ordinary and extraordinary together in recovery as the earthy simple humus that nourishes growing plants each spring, humus composed of rotting leaves and decayed plant matter and soil and thriving earthworms. The word humility has its etymological roots in the word humus.