Wednesday, May 5, 2010

We Versus Me

Yesterday in my noon meeting, a fellow AAer spoke up in frustration about seeing a guy there at the meeting who had shown up drunk. It's not unusual; once a fellow sat down next to me who was so drunk he couldn't sit still, weaving in his chair. He reeked of booze, would get up, sit down, fidget...then he stood up in the middle of someone sharing and asked loudly, "Is it okay if I smoke in here?" "No!" someone hissed at him, and he sat back down. A few minutes later, he got to his feet and had to squeeze through the aisle in front of me to get to the main aisle to get out. He stumbled over my feet, though I'd done my best to pull them out of his way, practically fell onto me (I pushed him gently back up), and then several people put out arms to help him keep upright on his way up the aisle. He stumbled out of the meeting, and I've never seen him since.

The rule about AA is, you're welcome to be a member as long as you have the desire to quit drinking. Thus it happens that what we refer to as "wet" alcoholics--meaning they're still using--sometimes show up. There are also "dry" alcoholics--they're not actively using, but they're not working the program, meaning they don't have a sponsor and they're not working on the steps. Then you have a variety of recovering alcoholics in various stages of recovery ... I'm sober 8 months and am up to Step 4, though I do consider this blog a form of 12th Step work. My sponsor has been sober for almost 23 years. What she says is that there really is no "completing" the steps, ever. Once you finish them, you go back and redo some of them as you learn more about yourself, and taking your own inventory, making amends, helping others, etc. turns into a lifelong practice.

But back to this distressed woman. She voiced concern. The drunk man is a guy who comes to meetings fairly regularly, but because he's not been able to stop, clearly something is wrong. She voiced her concern that nobody was helping him. "Does he have a sponsor?" she wondered. This all came on the tail end of a dispute in the meeting over whether Alcoholics Anonymous is a "me" program (I'm here to fix my problem with booze) or a "we" program (we help others, thereby fixing our own problem). For me, the answer is, it's BOTH. At the beginning, you're doing more taking than giving. During crisis periods, you probably are doing more taking than giving. But the object of the program is to give back to it--to others--what you've gotten from it. So the dispute seemed stupid to me, a bunch of dry alcoholics with big egos quibbling over nothing but wanting to be the one who made the grand pronouncements.

I digress. Maybe it's my own ego that made me irritated with them.

The woman then went on to wonder if she wasn't feeling too much empathy, feeling as if she should take on responsibility for this drunk man. My sponsor gave me a sharp jab in the ribs with her elbow. Now, I've blogged here before about the same thing: wanting to offer help to fellow alcoholics who are clearly in trouble but haven't asked for my help. The conclusion was basically that your help isn't welcome, nor are you required morally to give it, unless it's requested. But I figure if the guy is showing up to meetings, unless he's required by law to be there, he probably wants help. Go ahead and ask him if he wants it. If he says no, fine. But offer, because you never know: he may feel too embarrassed to ask.

Outside of meetings? I mean, suppose you had a friend who was ruining his or her life, oblivious to the fact that it's alcohol that's a large part of the problem. My sponsor says, "Butt out!" This is more "me." Not me personally, but the alcoholic friend's "me." There is no way in hell an alcoholic is going to accept help unless it's their idea first to get it. It's because they're not convinced they have a problem, and their disease will shout in their ear that they're just fine. Sure, maybe they drink a little too much every now and then, but it was only because they had a bad day and hadn't eaten (or insert other excuse here). The "me" part of the program is taking personal responsibility for your alcoholism, admitting to it (to yourself, more than to anyone else), and then doing something about it.

The "doing something about it" is getting help from the rest of us, and thus enters the "we." We're in this boat together. No, you're not crazy, we've all done stupid stuff like that when we were drinking. Here are some suggestions we can offer you to rid yourself of the desire to drink.

So, "we" works with "me" to arrest our alcoholism. It doesn't work if both sides of the equation aren't there.

And have I mentioned that my noon group is lovingly referred to as the "51-50" Meeting? Yeah, there's a reason for that.

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