Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A backward glance, a glance ahead

God will constantly disclose more to you and to us. Ask Him in your morning meditation what you can do each day for the man who is still sick. The answers will come, if your own house is in order. But obviously you cannot transmit something you haven't got. (Alcoholics Anonymous, page 164)

The gentle alarm sounded - my fourth "where are you?" email this week. So I am following instructions from my sister-of-the-heart Erin to stick my head up and let folks know what's going on.

It's been a long month - a long two months, to be honest. I have been wrapped up in myself, and the challenges facing me and my family - and, as the old saying goes, a man wrapped up in himself makes a mighty small package. I have been spending an awful amount of time working - perhaps hideous would be a better word - and for many days, the absolute last thing I have wanted to do after 14-18 hours sitting at a PC is to turn from the work PC to the home PC and write. So that has been part of the my absence here in cyberspace.

Part of the struggle has been the crashing return of what the recovery community calls "fear of people and of economic insecurity," that stuff that's supposed to leave us after a while. The week of Thanksgiving (a peak time in the insanity cycle at The Evil Empire), sister Sue got word that the job she'd had for almost 19 years would not make allowances for her to be in a light-duty position - and so she joined "the job placement pool" of soon-to-be-laid-off employees at the hospital she works at.

That same week, my brother-in-law's employer of 25 years told him, "We might have to lay you off, this year," and then followed through the following Friday. So, having come to Ohio to "help out," to hold up one corner of the structure here, I find myself the sole means of support for my family. Oh, there are options, and there is hope, but for a while it seemed pretty ephermal. Not exactly what I signed up for...

At times like this, there are two phrases that get over-used and mis-used in recovery - the first being trudging the road of Happy Destiny. The contradiction in the phrase, of course is that trudging has always painted images of walking through a vat of molasses with wading-boots - every step an effort...while the road of Happy Destiny seems more suited to a Nike or Irish Spring advertisement.

It also evokes the Dunkin' Donuts ads of a decade or more back, when the DD baker is literally trudging along, with his hallmark phrase, "Gotta make da' donuts..." It's corny, but in many ways it's exactly where I've been for a while. Just puttin' in my time, trying to make it through the day.

The second dangerous phrase in recovery is one day at a time. The classic Al-Anon passage Just For Today says,
Just for today, I will try to live through this day only and not tackle my whole life problem at once. I can do something for 12 hours that would appall me if I felt that I had to keep it up for a lifetime.
The danger of that, especially as I've seen it this last two months, is that I often end up putting-up-with appalling circumstances for a whole lotta 12-hours, and found myself in states of mental, spiritual and emotional deprivation that I would never have put up with if I'd know about it going-in. That's definitely been my story since Veterans' Day...

It's appropriate to be returning to posting today, too, because today is my sixteenth sobriety anniversary. In some ways, I've struggled as this date approached, because I haven't felt like I've been at a very good point in my recovery. My meeting attendance has been limited, my general interaction outside of the virtual-work environment has been nil, and very few people would look at where I've been recently and use the words Captain Serenity. The recovery text says, "If you want what we have...." - but I've felt like I wouldn't even want what I've had over the last two months. So that too, has kept my voice low - both in meetings and out here in blogger-land.

By the same token, I've had the opportunity over the last week to reflect on the high-points and low-points of those sixteen years - and it has been interesting to be here, so near the place where it all began, at this stage of my life. While I would choose to be in vastly different circumstances, there is much to be said for being, as one friend says, "sunny-side up, suckin' air, and sober." I am not where I'd choose to be - but I have ample evidence that I am not where I used to be, either.

And I have seen, especially in recent meetings, people who have been so gravely affected that they are mentally incapacitated...wet-brains, or close enough, who seemingly have no control over their minds or their actions. That is a cause for gratitude right there. I have to admit that while gratitude has been a little harder to find in recent days, it has been coming easier the last few days.

Today is also my one-year anniversary at The Evil Empire. And it is, as they say, the first day of the rest of my life. In this last week, there has been a reinforcing of the image that the firm really doesn't care about personal sacrifice - any more than a vampire is concerned with their victim's anemia. The Empire's motto seems to have become Use 'em up & toss 'em aside. On sites like JobVent and Yahoo!Jobs, the conversations appear to be pretty uniform: (1) The EE is sucking the life out of everybody, (2) there's no sense in giving them loyalty or service, because no good deed goes unpunished, and (3) if you haven't been laid off, and you don't already live in India, you will be. It is oh, so very very Dilbert-ian.

So today, I asked my co-worker if he would cover for me tonight on the late shift. I called my local AA sponsor, and made a date for a meeting and dinner - and then actually went. The meeting topic was finding faith and maintaining it, which was perfect. Then I took Bob S. (who was my very first sponsor when I got sober here) to a wonderful Italian dinner at Biaggi's in Perrysburg, and generally spent the evening making one long gratitude list. It was time well spent.

Just before I left for the meeting, my sister stopped in to say that she was ready to throw in the job-search towel and take the first job she was offered - this one through a temp agency, with no benefits. I feel badly because being sucked into The Empire's daily drama overdose has left me less capable of "being present" for Sue in her job search. So the time from 11:30 PM to 1 AM this evening was spent asking her what was going on, and trying to find some answers to questions about timing and benefits and what the job would mean to her wage-continuation package. She's depressed, both about her health and her unemployment, which is not compounded at all by her husband's unemployment. (Yeah, right.)

Which brings me back to the image at the top of this post. I can remember as I left for seminary, wishing that I could see the road ahead, and see around the bend so I know what was coming. But, as the photo shows so clearly, I can't see around the curves. I can only see a little bit ahead, and see a bit of the curves that life has headed my way. I just have to keep on going - and continue to ask God for some direction. I haven't been doing that as much as I should, lately, but it's getting better.

I've also struggled with posting here, because it seems that all my life right now is just making it through the day, rather than anything beautiful or uplifting. So much has been left aside, lately - and (as the AA text quote says) I haven't felt that I had much of anything to pass along. But one of the lessons that my dear friend Tom S. has pointed out is that my primary purpose is not to teach or to share but simply to be. It's still a slow lesson for learning, for me...

Tonight, at the meeting, this young fellow spoke up. He said he'd been 6 months sober, but 5 of those were in jail. He was 2 days out of the joint, and didn't feel "a part of" the fellowship, or life in general. And once again I heard the call...to welcome, to encourage, to bring a smile and a handshake. So I gave him my number - and more importantly, I got his number. And when I go to the Thursday night men's gathering, I'll invite him along...not because I'm some kind of saint, but because that is what was done for me. The task, as I understand it, is simply to pass it on. Who knows if he will go - but it's clear what my part is.

So begins the next phase of the journey. I know in my heart that the time from now until January 8th is going to be a challenge at the Empire, but I also know that I am called to be alive and "a part of" each and every day. So I will trust that this passage from the last page of the recovery text is still at the core of what will be right and true - and try to do a better job of following instructions...
Abandon yourself to God as you understand God. Admit your faults to Him and to your fellows. Clear away the wreckage of your past. Give freely of what you find and join us. We shall be with you in the Fellowship of the Spirit, and you will surely meet some of us as you trudge the Road of Happy Destiny.
May God bless you and keep you - until then.


~pen~ said...

i would have been your fifth "gentle" email, i am so glad you posted.

so sorry to hear about the financial plight of your family, you are doing the best you can.

gigantic congratulations on your 16th anniversary of sobriety!! yay!! remember to make yourself available to meet with your sponsor and attend your meetings so you can "pay it forward." good thoughts, that.

what you were saying about the bridge in your picture, about the bends and the curves...i offer you this gem from Fr. Thomas Merton:

My Lord God,

I have no idea where I am going
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.

Nor do I really know myself,
And the fact that I think I am following
your will does not mean that I am
actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please
you does in fact please you.
And I hope that I have that desire in all
that I am doing.
And I know that if I do this, you
will lead me by the right road
though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore will I trust you always
though I may seem to be lost
and in the shadow of death, I will
not fear, for you are ever with me
and you will never leave me
to face my perils alone.

peace, steve. peace.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on your anniversary, Steve. As the maniac Native American in Chicago says, "Sixteen years beats a blank ... It most certainly does, and I won't ask "How did you do it? I know how you did it -- one day at a time.

I won't give you any of that crap about the darkness just before the dawn, but I'll remind you of Cameron's advice to me during a dark period in my life four or five years ago: "Just keep doing the next right thing, and you'll be okay."

Michael Dodd said...

Congratulations on the anniversary. Keep coming back.

I got word today that a good friend in recovery -- in another program -- overdosed yesterday, but took his butt to the hospital and was pulled through. Tuck him, his family and all of us who love him in your prayers.

I keep you and yours in mine.

Michael Dodd said...

PS -- A wise man once told me that in the dark night, there is always (and usually, only) enough light for the next step. Keep stepping into that light. Your Higher Power will do the rest.

Anonymous said...

Good to see you posting. I just started reading you again and you disappeared :(

Vic Mansfield said...

SOOO glad to hear you're doing OK - maybe not great, but OK. You're in prayers.

Thanks for the Merton, ~m2~, always good.

Shalom, Joe

Hope said...

Thank you for being a source of encouragement, strength and hope for me today Steve. I thank God for your recovery journey and your anniversary. Reading what you wrote on your blog about your recovery journey was one of the biggest encouragements for me to go back to meetings after a very long absence. You may think you don't have a lot to offer because of where your head is at right now but just know that I wanted what you had (and still have) enough to go back to a meeting and learn from others. That was in June and being back in meetings has kept me from losing 18 years of sobriety.

I haven't been to a meeting in 3 weeks and today I feel sorely in need of one. Winter road conditions prevented me from travelling the hour it is from my home to the closest meeting today. I had one other window open on my computer as your blog was coming up on this one. The other window was about joining an online recovery group. I knew if I couldn't get to a meeting I needed to reach out somehow for help.

Thank you for writing about your journey. It was what I needed to read today. The last paragraph you quoted from had me in tears and gives me strength to keep stringing one day at a times together. God bless you.

AnotherLostAngel said...


glad to see the confirmation that you are alive. I figured you were, that you were just so absorbed in your life that you could not pay attention to the blog or your old AA cronies in chicago. So after a while I just gave up, figuring either you would reappear when you were ready or you would be another in the long line of "Happy Trails to you." People out here care about you, and its pretty delusional in that uniquely alcoholic way to think if you dont have anything uplifting or inspiring to say, they don't want to hear from you.

Friends do what thay can to stay connected but there is such a thing as banging our heads against the wall, too. Anyway, glad yer on 2 feet, sober, suckin air and still staying out of that fountain.


Kat said...

glad to have you back...

Anonymous said...

I'm sure that I'm not the only one in KC area that still checks your site. Glad to see that you're back again - it was a worry to me. Your name and expressions that you said while here - are still mentioned. Many of us remember and miss you. I will be praying for you and your sister and brother-in-law. As I've told one of my sponsees, you get "showcased" while you're receiving a barely sustainable amount of $$ from the "contract - or temp" scene, but it is an opportunity to be seen by someone who "might" be able to elevate you to another more deserved level. At the very least, this is some action form of networking!

Barry G.

Erin said...

Aparently my comment got eaten by the ether... good thing perhaps, because I was really, really pissed to hear how your sister was treated.

You're loved, Steve. And we're on your side. You don't have to come here to perform. Really.