If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. (one of many sets of promises made in the book Alcoholics Anonymous - this set from pages 83-84 - emphasis mine)The email came out of the blue ten days ago. My former wife wrote to say she would be in Chicago on Sunday - and in the process of looking me up, she had found this blog, and had read it from start to finish. (That alone should get her an award for patience, tolerance and endurance, all by itself.) But what she had read raised some questions about our former life together - and she wanted to get together and talk.
To say I was surprised was an understatement...
We've been divorced for 14-plus years - as my drinking life blew apart at the end of 1990, one of the many casualties was my six-&-a-half year marriage. And, let me say for the record, that she was exactly right, and entirely justified in kicking my worthless butt out. Furthermore, if she had agreed to my pleadings to stay married, I'm sure I would not have hit bottom, as I so desperately needed to do. And if that had not happened, in all likelihood I would have either found the strength to take my own life (as my best friend had done eight months earlier), or else I would have managed a slower death by alcohol and/or medication. So in saving herself from my insanity, I believe my former wife also helped save me, as well.
We'd not seen each other in seven years - when she had attended a conference in Kansas City in 1998. And we'd not had any contact at all since I'd moved to Chicago nearly two years ago. So it was with a mixture of curiosity and nervousness that I drove from church to pick her up at McCormick Place, and then spent a goodly amount of the afternoon talking in the food court at Water Tower Place.
To be honest, I'd rather have eaten ground glass than talk about the insanity of my past - the things I did, and didn't do, that led both to my self-destruction and our divorce. I hated to once again see the pain that those things had caused her, and I hated feeling the waves of self-loathing that washed over me once again. As we talked about the past, I found that in spite of some extended sobriety, and working the 12 steps of recovery, it seems I still "regret the past" in many ways, and "wish to shut the door on it" much more than I would have admitted.
The difference this time was that as we talked, as those awful feelings flooded over me, I knew (and could cling to) the rest of the story...or at least the story so far. It's true that I am the man who acted, and failed to act, to cause horrendous hurt and harm. And I know that man is still "in there." As my friend Bob S. says, "The tiger is in the cage, Steve - but the cage is not locked."
But I can also cling to the fact that today, I am not the same man that did those things. If I continue to do the things I am doing today - and rely on the God of my misunderstanding to steer my otherwise-broken brain - I will never have to go back to being the man I was. I'm not sure I can ever undo the pain and trauma I've inflicted, on my former wife and on others. But (to steal a page from Hippocrates) I can ask for guidance and help to "first, do no harm."
And I trust that the God I have come to know in sobriety is one of transformation: the ultimate lemons-to-lemonade worker, who can take my crap and ultimately compost it to something powerfully fertile. I know this is true, because a lot of people - including some of you, reading this - have testified to the Power that seems to work in me and through me. I'm well aware that I am not the Reservoir - but on the good days, the man I am becoming can at least be a pipeline for the Living Water.
We had a good talk - not just about the wreckage of our past, but a whole bunch of catching-up. She talked about her new artistic endeavors, of sculpting fabric and steel and barbed-wire and all manner of materials - and I couldn't help but be a little envious of the talents she's uncovered and the recognition she's receiving. She also shared the struggles she's had with her health - which definitely took the edge off my envy in a hurry. I talked about the end of my ministry career, and the struggles to find the next path to take. We took a driving tour of Hyde Park and the Pullman historical district - and as evening came, I dropped her off at her car, promised to stay in touch, and wished her well.
I really do wish her well...that she might find every good gift that I couldn't give her in my own brokenness. And I don't say that just because there's a high probability that she'll read this, either. The folks who know me best already know that there are many things in "the best of me" that are only there because of her, and the short life we spent together. I don't regret the good times, but only what I did to cause the bad times. And I only wish I could have been a man that could give to her as she has given to me...
That's why this particular set of promises from our recovery text have been on my mind the last 24 hours. They clearly aren't all true for me - but I can trust that they are all becoming true. I'm not quite there yet - but with a little help from my Friend, there's hope of getting closer still...
No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.
Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us - sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.