Many thanks to all who responded, publicly and privately, to my post on intimacy. I figured that post might elicit response, and the responses were tremendously insightful, heartfelt, and most of all, helpful. As I said in the opening paragraph of that post, it’s especially risky to write about a topic when you don’t have sufficient “emotional distance” from it. I’ve been writing all of my life and know this to be a worthy caution. Nonetheless, and for many reasons, I had to take the risk and tackle the subject. I couldn’t stop thinking about the topic, and any time I can’t stop thinking about something by meditating or calling my sponsor, I’m at risk of becoming intimate with a bottle of Jack Daniels … or worse.
In responding to the post on intimacy, many of you wrote to me about resentment, and those comments were especially considerate. I’d be a fool—and I believe I’ve used up my allotment of fool-ishness for one lifetime—not to admit that the past year has recurrently allowed genuine resentment to seep into my veins in a way I haven’t honestly felt in more than 10 years. It’s the kind of resentment that sets you thinking and takes you full out of the NOW you’re supposed to be living in; the kind of resentment that takes you to the edge of rage, which is where I lived far too many of my alcoholic years (and have the scars to prove it); the kind of resentment that causes you to miss exits you’re supposed to take and not realize it until you’re miles down the road, to leave cash in money machines you went to for the sole purpose of taking out money, and to miss entire paragraphs of conversations you thought you were a part of.
My friend Jackie B quoted the passage from the “Big Book” that runs immediately into my head every time I miss one of those exits because I’m nurturing a resentment and imagining all the ways in which I will right wrongs unduly foisted on my sorry ass: “Resentment is the ‘number one’ offender. From it stem all forms of spiritual disease, for we have been not only mentally and physically ill, we have been spiritually sick” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition, 64). And it’s when that line runs into my head that I do the simple things this program has taught me to do: I call my sponsor and spill; I call other alcoholics and ask how they’re doing without dumping on them; I call one of the men I sponsor and commit to do something I’ve been intending to do with them but have failed to accomplish; I DO SOMETHING that takes me out of the moment that is fabricating all sorts of bad scenarios in my head and cast myself into a “live” scenario that requires me to be conscious of the moment and not a second before or a second after.
Many of you also reminded me that, ultimately, all of the more binding issues in our lives have to be worked out on a spiritual plane. One of my favorite recovery bloggers, a gentleman who goes by Chaz (you can visit Chaz Recovering at http://yuppieaddict.wordpress.com/) puts it pretty simply in one of his responses to another blogger’s post: “In my experience, God uses who he uses and what he uses … He has used people from any number of faiths to show me things … Messages are out there … It is more in the receiving that God works in my life. What I do with those messages.”
I do, in fact, pray and meditate daily, usually from 5 a.m. until 6 a.m. when I head to the gym for another hour. These are the two hours of my day that are generally focused on not exerting any ill-motivated willfulness. (Enough of that will happen the moment I engage the remainder of the day.) These are the hours when my conscious contact with God is Hi Fi. These are the hours when messages that are probably all around me all day are more likely to reach me and sink in.
But prayer and meditation (and even regular exercise), though vital to my recovery and extremely helpful in giving me a sense of balance before I strike out on the day, have never been ENOUGH. I never thought I’d see the day I would parrot my sponsor and so many others I’ve observed somewhat dubiously throughout my sobriety, but here it is, plain and simple: “Faith without works is dead.” I have to act on behalf of someone else, whether it’s my wife, my kids, a fellow alcoholic, a coworker, no matter who, to garner even the slightest sense of credible relief. To put my own petty and rather high class problems into perspective, I have to uncross my legs, unfold my hands, stand on my own two feet and do something for someone else with no expectation of a return on my spiritual investment. God controls the long-term investment, and he always pays off—sometimes in ways and denominations I couldn’t have predicted, but he always pays off. In the short term, I get a momentary reprieve from me, and it feels damn good.
For those who are newly sober and wondering, “My god, is it still going to be like this at 10 years sober,” the answer is a resounding, Probably. Life doesn’t go away just because you stay sober. But lest I seem to harp on the negative or difficult, let me assure you that even in the midst of challenges and adversity, my life is mostly happy, joyous, and free. Let me assure you that early in sobriety, or worse, as a practicing alcoholic, I wouldn’t have bothered or been able to face this situation head on and write about it (partly because I simply wouldn’t have had the spiritual comfort or mental acuity to do so). I wouldn’t have bothered to pray for my wife, daily, nor would I have hung around long enough to allow God to show me the next right action or how to identify that action. (In fact, as a practicing alcoholic I didn’t stick around. When my first wife told me to choose—alcohol or our marriage—I told her to have a nice life and never looked back … not until I was sober enough to see the devastation I’d left behind and sought to amend it). I certainly wouldn’t have laid it on the line back then, as I have here, and solicited help. Where my resentments today may last moments or minutes before I reach out and begin to deal with them so they don’t take over and deal a fatal blow to every relationship in my life, they would have lasted weeks or months or years uninterrupted—and been regularly fueled by more and more booze—“back in the day.” Thanks to God, sponsorship, and the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, I can acknowledge hurt and recognize resentment for what it is: a spiritual malady I must treat before it rots my soul and kills me. Thanks to God, sponsorship, and the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, my problems today are high-class and spiritually manageable, and I can honestly say that as difficult as some of these problems may seem, ninety-nine percent of my day is filled with a kind of joy I’d never known before I’d known all of you.