Friday, October 22, 2010

Sitting in the Hornet's Nest

I mentioned the other day that I've been mulling over something my sponsor told me. We've been friends a long time, so when she first met me, I happened to be an alcoholic with my disease under control (so to speak). I didn't drink often in her presence, and when I did, I didn't drink to excess (and if I saw her raise an eyebrow, I'd stop). But then I moved away for a year to Spokane, where I lost control, and when I returned to the Bay Area, I was pretty much well into my downwards spiral. We've talked before about why she didn't then intervene, and the answer is, basically, that it wouldn't have done any good. A person has to hit their own bottom. She just had to wait until I hit mine. Then she knew she'd be there to help pick up the pieces.

Here's the thing that drew me up short. She confessed it got to the point that she simply knew better than to call me after a certain time of day. "Because," she said, "I knew it wouldn't be YOU anymore."

Amazing to think that the Drunk Joyce is so drastically different from the Sober Joyce.

I've also blogged before about how, even during those periods when an actively using alcoholic is briefly sober (ie, between benders), they're still not themselves. That has everything to do with altered brain chemistry, stinking thinking, delusional thinking, reactive and distorted thinking, and constantly being in chaos & crisis mode. An alcoholic has to be sober for some months, and maybe even longer, before they start returning to the person they really are.

The realization doesn't come without some cringing. For instance, the knowledge that anybody I met or dealt with solely during, say, my return to the Bay Area to when I stopped drinking, never really met me. All they met was a shell of me: a suffering, sick person who acted out a lot and did stupid things. Maybe they saw glimpses into me. But they saw, mostly, the uglier side of me: the selfish, acting out child who wasn't dealing with life's challenges in any productive way. I was stuck in a mire of griping, feeling sorry for myself, pinning blame for everything on persons or situations outside of myself, and doing nothing about those things that so frustrated me.

And then, the longer I was sober, I came to realize yet another layer: the things that made me gripe were largely things my own drunk brain had invented.

I wonder how many more layers there are.

Yet there is beauty in simplicity. When I look back on things, when I was drinking, my tendency was to not just look at the facts of a matter but to get all tangled up and lost in the "but I didn't know this" or "I didn't know that" or "but it was different in this case because of blah blah blah" or "they told me this or that." What was my intention, what were my motives, what I was getting out of it, why did I involve myself, who was I serving, etc.? I'd get lost in that stuff. Ultimately, none of these things matter, not one bit. They're all excuses; they're all the rationalizations people use to justify their behavior. All of it amounts to nothing but a red herring.

You want the TRUTH? Just look at a person's actions. Screw their explanations. To hell with all the talk. Look at what they DO.

Do they do distasteful things? Are they cruel? Are they malicious? Do they make fun of people? Do they gossip? Do they lie? Cheat? Steal? Do they break laws? Agreements? Do they cross boundaries? Not just once every now and again, but all the time?

Let THAT be your answer. (Even serial killers can offer you "good reasons" for why they murder.)

When I was drinking, I did a lot of things I'm not so proud of because I let myself be driven by two things: selfish, rationalizing self-talk and bullshit I was fed by others. Some of the others were people who were enablers or who were in denial themselves about my own alcoholism; or people who had some of their own self-interest served by conspiring with me in bullshit. (I'm not thinking of a single person here; I'm thinking of a handful of people who did some of these things, sometimes quite unintentionally.) I am not pointing fingers of blame. Really this is more of a good-natured commiseration. But inevitably, when you realize you've been sitting in a hornet's nest with your pals, you'll learn that all of you got stung. And it is a FACT that all of us are responsible, because ALL of us were the idiots sitting in the hornet's nest, now, weren't we?

The difference between Drunk Joyce and Sober Joyce is this: Drunk Joyce would've felt victimized for being stung while offering up a million excuses and reasons for being in that hornet's nest. Sober Joyce will just say, "Ouch! I got stung! What the fuck! I shouldn't have been in that hornet's nest to begin with."

And you won't find me in it again.


Tedi Trindle said...

Yeah, I got lost a lot. My brain just bounced obsessively from one pointless, unimportant thing to another. I controlled the whole world and had pretty much convinced myself it would fall apart without me.

Joyce said...

"Obsessed" is a good word. For me, it was as if something would occur to me or some idea would strike me, and then I'd just get stuck on it, sometimes talking myself into it. I mean, I would ignore my gut reactions to things and talk myself out of them. I wasn't so much on the control trip, though... for me it was kind of the opposite. I can be pretty passive, so I tended to be extremely influenced by what other people would tell me. And then I'd get confused and not trust my own judgment anymore.

The only thing I wouldn't bend on was accepting the idea that I was an alcoholic. I'd freely admit to a drinking problem, but alcoholism was something I just didn't want to own.

Until I HAD to....

Anonymous said...

I read this:

We've talked before about why she didn't then intervene, and the answer is, basically, that it wouldn't have done any good. A person has to hit their own bottom. She just had to wait until I hit mine. Then she knew she'd be there to help pick up the pieces.

Sounds like this person likes being in a position of power over you or you had her worn out to the point she gave up temporarily. If this person is a sponsor why wouldn't she when you were temporary sober tell you to stop it, find a constructive way to deal with your pain. In addition, you like & respond to writing. Why not write in detail describing your behavior & hold you accountable, have it on black & white so you could not avoid it & read it over & over again?

Having a dad who participated in AA, going to Al-Anon meetings & reading many books on this subject I learned that there are many people in these organizations who just keep going around the same dime as opposed to moving on.

You are blessed with many assets Joyce, press on!

Joyce said...

She wasn't my sponsor at the time. Sorry that wasn't clear. (Although chances are pretty good talking to me then was a lot like talking to a wall :))

She didn't become my sponsor until after I got sober, which I did in a rehab.

Yeah, like any group, there are gonna be some unproductive members, members who go back out, heck... we're even WARNED about predatory AAers, especially if you're a woman. I have been to a lot of meetings I won't go back to. For me the trick was finding a group or two with people that I liked and respected and could relate to.

There's a saying in AA: "Take what you need and leave the rest." I do, some days, leave a lot at the door when I exit. Other days, I go home with an armload of good stuff.

Thanks for visiting! :)

Linda Craig said...

That explains it, if she was not your sponsor.

When I wrote about the staying trapped part of groups I was not referring to predators, I was referring to people who just don't want to or choose not to move ahead. Not people with agendas, just people who are stuck for whatever reason.

When I went to Al-Aon I'd hear people say how much they have learned & advance, then with the next breath they would tell their story of how they were in the same circumstances as years before?????

This struck me as very counter productive so I ask a therapist who herself is an alcoholic with her PhD, Dr. Pat Allen, anyhow I was curious & she told me there are people who get addicted to the groups & need to stay in the group. She says it allot better than me. I'll send you her web site.

Sorry about the Anonymous but in case it happens again,


Joyce said...

Hey Linda, you're absolutely right that some people simply replace one addiction with another, and some people get addicted to AA or to self-help groups. It's usually more productive than keeping on drinking or shooting up or what have you, but yeah, they still don't move very forward.

Sometimes it strikes me that AA can be very "cult-like" in the way some members act. They read the Big Book like it's a Bible and can quote chapter, paragraph, and page.

I just figure, if that works for them, let 'em do it... to each his own.

I think (so far anyway, and I'm still comparatively newly sober) recovery seems to be a spiraling process. You make a few steps forward and then sometimes something comes along and you'll go back a step or two. Suddenly you realize you're in the same old rut, different situation. But there is at least some progress because this time, once you recognize the old pattern, it's easier to step out of it and move forward again.

I get discouraged sometimes when I see someone with, say, seven years of sobriety relapse. But then they get back on the wagon. I guess you can't really say it's true that they're completely starting over again from square one. There's a lot of good sobriety under their belt, stuff they learned and/or practices that simply fell by the wayside. Life intrudes, we forget and sort of automatically fall back into old patterns of thinking and behaviors that are so hard to completely break.

I guess for me it's a matter of trying to always remember what it was like to be caught in that terrible place, and then to remind myself who I am and the person I want to be, and try to align my actions with that vision... and to look to my Higher Power for guidance.

But everybody's process is going to be a little different.

Linda Craig said...

Very well said Joyce, good for you.