When I was a child I remember several mentions in my report cards of my reluctance to ask for help. For me, I believe, my reasons were more out of fear of humiliation than from any desire for control or a belief that I knew best. I constantly had this feeling of being “less than” everyone around me and asking for help would only confirm that in the eyes of other people. Much better to remain silent, nod and not draw attention to the fact that I did not understand. I started to develop my own way of doing things and I became very defensive if people asked me whyI did things a certain way; my assumption was always that their enquiry was in itself a criticism.
The same can be said of my drinking. When I was young and life became completely unmanageable, it didn’t cross my mind to ask for help because I didn’t equate the drinking with the problems. In fact I believed that I drank because of the problems! By the time I was able to figure out what the probable cause of my difficulties was I was too afraid of the humiliation I would feel admitting that I was scared of my inability to control how much I drank. And so, when I was about 30 I decided that I would solve this problem in my own way. I just needed a set of rules. Rules and obstacles – responsibilities, a career, a relationship, a mortgage – I figured that then the drinking would have to be controlled. Yet, just as Pamela describes in this chapter, I would find myself all too quickly with that bottle in my hand, drunk and not exactly sure how it had happened.
Pamela also talks about how she turned to her spirituality to get sober. During my madness I too turned to my spirituality, but like everything else in my life it was all or nothing and I found myself, every few years, contemplating a “calling” to the priesthood, but that wasn’t enough for me – it had to be a calling to be a priest in a monastery. A cloistered Benedictine monastery on an island. For years my life swung manically between reckless drinking and promiscuous homosexuality and pious monasticism, and yet I still didn’t believe my life was unmanageable! I blamed God for not saving me and I blamed God for what I saw as the failings and corruption of the Catholic Church; first their treatment of homosexuals, then later, when it was exposed, the cover-up of the paedophilic behaviours of a large number of the clergy. Such was the damage caused to my relationship with my Higher Power that when I finally made it into the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, I struggled to re-establish that relationship.
For me it was the people that I encountered in the rooms that became my Higher Power, although I wasn’t aware of it at the time, certainly in those first few months. Then I reverted to a Roman Catholic God figure and all the old practices that went with that, like meditating on the rosary. Of course, as an alcoholic with alcoholic thinking, I was in a big hurry to have the best relationship with my Higher Power and when it wasn’t perfect immediately, I quickly became disheartened. In the end my recovery was put aside for the pursuit of the ultimate, the most intense, the greatest of connections with a Higher Power that anyone had ever seen. I even invested in new rosary beads! Shopping is another of my obsessions! Of course it didn’t take long until this screwed-up thinking hit a mini-crises and my sponsor was able to coach me through it with the simplest of mantras:
“Remember, YOU are NOT GOD.”
That was enough to set me straight and I started to keep it simple from there on in. My prayers just became a kind of daily consideration or meditation, followed by little informal “chats” with the universe about what I should or shouldn’t do next. It seems to work for me at least, for now.
Significantly for me, as Pamela echoes in the chapter, it has been the human connections that have had the biggest impact on my recovery. Not just the small band of local people in my AA meetings, but the worldwide recovery community that I have connected with through the #RecoveryPosse group on Twitter. I have learnt to accept their help, the help of my sponsor (finally – there’s another story) and my Higher Power. I now find myself calmer and more content than I have ever been. If I am unable to recognise my messed up thinking you can guarantee that those around me can because they know me so well.
I now see accepting help as empowering and helping others as another way of helping myself. Quite a turn around for just 15 months. This chapter reminds me of that journey and how it is the bedrock of my recovery.
Letting Go of the Thief by Pamela Pesta, published by Outskirts Press 2018