Monday, July 19, 2004

Step One: Powerlessness and Pride

To see my other stepwork online visit Index of Stepwork.

Step One: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol-that our lives had become unmanageable.

The way I grew up, I learned that powerlessness was a bad thing. My father maneuvered form political and academic power on the university campus. My mother fought daily to get the respect she deserved for being a PhD in psychology. I grew up a scrapper. My sister and I practiced tactics and strategy in our battles with each other.

Surrender was not a highly regarded concept in my home. I preached tolerance and promoted intolerance of any viewpoint other than my own. If I had to summarize my attitude I would say that life is a struggle.

I have heard it said that being an addict is easy, all you have to do is give your addiction everything, your money, your job, your pride, your self-respect, your family, your marriage, your health and your life. There is a lot of truth in that, and it all sounds negative, giving all of that over to addiction. But there is a hidden blessing in there.

As I age I am learning (and this spiritual concept is not original to me) that life is not a process of acquiring things. It is easy to get the impression that it is—our consumer culture certainly tells us that is the purpose of life. I disagree profoundly. Life is the process of surrendering. I have begun to surrender a little of my eyesight and hearing to age, some of my energy has faded. I am watching as my parents increasingly surrender more of their health. It is normal and natural.

Life is a process of surrender. You can choose to fight it with botox and sports cars, but the person who dies with the most toys still dies.

The blessing hidden amongst all the things you have to give up to be an addict is that in order to be a successful addict you must surrender pride.

All my life I had been told that I should take pride in my work, that I should have pride in myself. I did so. I was smarter than most people, I was clever, I was hardworking.

Pride, like many words, has evolved with usage and has multiple meanings. But the meaning I a referring to here is “an unjustified opinion of oneself.”

Somewhere along the line, I was short money for booze and I stole it from my parents. Another point I told myself I would not drive drunk ever again and yet I had two more totaled cars in my future. I said I will make it to class on time, I will study and failed out of law school because I was too hung over to attend class on a regular basis. I will be a loyal spouse and cheated. The women’s shelter I worked at—I was so proud to be the only male who was given a key—had to let me go because I was unreliable.

My addiction worked to strip me of pride. Ethyl alcohol is a pretty good solvent and much like paint thinner it peeled off layer after layer of pride like an old desk being stripped of finish.

At the end there I was having trouble with getting to the bathroom on time. My visits to the emergency room were going from once every few years to annual then biannual. It was getting really hard to light those cigarettes in the morning, I was shaking so bad. None of these though, was really all that significant.

What mattered was the conversations I was having with myself. They were becoming a daily occurrence and they went like this:

Man I feel like hell, I’d better not drink today. I don’t even want to drink really. I feel awful. So, definitely nothing to drink today. But how am I gonna make it through the night? I don’t know, but I know I’m not going to drink. I need to relax. I can’t do that if I don’t drink. Yeah, but I can’t drink, I don’t want to drink. I have to drink Okay, well maybe just a little, enough to calm me down. Yeah, just a little.

I was losing this argument on a daily basis. That will start to kill pride.

To be continued . . .