At a zoom recovery meeting a member was protesting ‘dictatorial’ nature of the steps – ‘no one could tell them what to do when they were drunk, so no one is going to do that now that they were sober.’ Being sober was enough of a change, I guess. They were proud to be a rebel. I thought, whatever.
Not that I think recovery demands conformity – after all, here in Ontario, I live in city liquor stores & pot dispensaries lining the commercial streets. Who is shopping there – conformists or nonconformists?
In many ways recovery is a counter-culture in which we step away from the social context of bars & vape stations – which, at this time of year, is even more challenging. Already this year two different people have offered me gifts of either a nice bottle of wine, another it was a special festive weed mix – both of which I politely declined. I’d rather some high quality shortbread.
Then again, maybe not, as I saw many things are now infused with a little extra. Brandy shortcakes! Coffee with bourbon ‘flavouring’, I assume it is favouring or perhaps the beans are soaked in bourbon before they get ground – or maybe like that ultra expensive coffee from beans fed to civets, the beans soak in the brandy soaked stomach of a booze-hound.
But I digress, I started to write about the resistance to change in recovery. This member was asking for ways to deal with a situation & when it was suggested they try certain of steps their resistance & the need to be a non-conformist arose. The greater the resistance, the greater the pain.
My favorite tea mugs hold about 20 oz – they are more like teapots without spouts but with handles – I have a couple of travel mugs that size too. I do have smaller but only for guests – they get the more civilized sizes. I keep my eyes open for mugs this size & can judge just by looking – I know the difference between 20 oz & 16 oz mugs.
When I was a drunk size mattered then too. I recall once spotting some large glasses in a shop window & bought a pair of them. They proved to be bigger than a schooner – a pub glass that usually held 32 oz. I would mix my drinks in advance so I didn’t have to keep freshening my ‘cocktail.’ I broke one of them & went into the store to buy a replacement & it turns out they were actually vases.
I did know guys who were very into the right glass for the right drink from shot glasses, old fashioned – they would never have a martini in a wine glass or brandy in a flute – they would never serve whisky in a highball glass. Then there are those who like the cut-glass variety – best thing about them is that the glass wouldn’t slip out of your hand thanks to the bevelling.
Much like wine connoisseurs I felt worrying about your stem wear was pretentious rationalization to make getting drunk seem less like getting drunk. Regardless of what’s poured into them, spilled out of them, shown into someone’s face, or passing out with one in your hand, they still had to washed like any other dirty dirty glass.
Back in the BS (Before Sobriety) days I was a fountain of opinion, often rather uninformed, but that didn’t slow the flow. The less I knew the more dismissive & cynical it would be. I felt obligated to have something to say. In recovery I eventually realized that I didn’t have opinions just smart-assed one-liners that could shut-down any dialogue so my lack of thoughtful insight would remain hidden.
Over the years I have learned to stop taking the bait to be dismissive & cynical, particularly with things that are irrelevant to me – you know I frankly don’t care who wins an Oscar, which political party is in crisis mode, what newsworthy figure looks amazing in a jaw-dropping anything. If anything I more dismayed that some of these things are worthy of taking up so much space in the media.
One good thing about not taking the bait is that I hardly notice things that once would have got me wisecracking or disturbed. Even things that I know something about I can step back & think – Is it worth it to wade in? How important is it, to me, in the long run? Am I saying things to appear smart, intelligent, witty to be smart-assed or to add something constructive to the dialogue? In a culture where being critical, negative is a sign of intelligence & to be positive, non-judgemental is to be delusional or stupid – it can be a challenge not to mouth-off.
Through spokenword performances I’ve learned that what I say & what you hear are often two different things. I’ve stopped apologizing when people choose to take offence when none was intended – the fact that my piece about my Dad triggered bad memories about yours is not my fault. The fact that my gay sex positive outlook is a sign of the moral decay & destruction of family values isn’t my issue.
When people ask for my opinion what they hear isn’t what I say but what they feel is in accordance with theirs, if it isn’t then I’m being argumentative or shaming, or am just not as hip, sensitive, liberal, conservative as they are. They don’t want my opinion they want to educate me as to how right theirs is. Then again that’s only my humble opinion.
Actually that last line is a lie. I said ‘you shouldn’t have’ recently when someone I handed me a bottle wine as a Christmas gift. Being a non-drinker I declined as graciously as possible. He was more distressed at not knowing me well enough to realize I don’t drink. It never came up in the context of our friendship. Neither of us ever needed a few to loosen up.
I am a fairly generous guy partly because of recovery – one of the slogans is ‘to keep it you have to give it away’ Recovery continues by sharing it with ours when called to do so. Though the thing with gifts is often the the strings are attached by the getter not the giver. The kind gesture is mistaken for something more promising.
People project an agenda when there isn’t one & then get sort of huffy when there isn’t one. So as a giver I’ve become a little more aware of what I give to avoid unnecessary complications. Socks are a fun neutral gift, underwear, though fun, is not so neutral, a jockstrap is fun but clearly not neutral. A wrestling singlet? Well, that’s a whole different blog post.
This is a variation on a list poem – a compilation of some of things one might full of besides shit. The two usual ‘full of’ are shit or yourself. Though it can also refer to a sense of unquestioned entitlement. Usually the ‘full of’ person is unaware of it & someone feels resentful enough to point that out, for the ‘full of’s betterment. I’m not sure which is worse though to be full of self or to be full of judgement? Then again we are all full of judgement.
In the recovery community, & probably outside of it too, there’s a saying ‘what you think of me is none of my business.’ It’s a reminder to not take other people’s opinions of oneself too seriously. This isn’r as easy as it sounds though – we live in a confusing culture in which self-confidence can be seen as arrogance – where saying someone is arrogant becomes you being overly sensitive & a hater. We’ve become very adept at turning critical remarks on to the other person. Critics of politicians are accused of being unpatriotic, not to like a female singer is sexist. You can get unfriended by someone who doesn’t like your friend’s opinions.
It seems no one wants to be contradicted or made uncomfortable. We’re in the midst of a language change in which gendered words are to be removed (very 1984). Some of the zoom meetings I go to have people who, when reading aloud, assiduously replace all pronouns with they or them – if you don’t do that when it is your turn you can get called out for being insensitive. I chose not read out loud rather than spend so much time fixing pronouns I miss the gist of what is being read.
When I wrote this a few years ago I wasn’t thinking of things like gender neutrality – but over those years our culture has changed as we come to acknowledge the need for diversity, the need to included in more than a nodding way. I recently watched Fame (1980) with its amazingly diverse cast that actually included a sympathetic gay male character. When the movie became a TV show he was cured & heterosexual. Often what we’re full of is fear & the need to compromise to worship the all mighty needs of commerce. That’s a list for Santa Clause.
In Toronto some recovery groups in churches have reopened for f2f meetings, all adhering, as much as possible to safety protocols. Many of the other usual places i.e. community centres, hospitals – have been slower at reopening for user groups of any sort. There are rumours that community centres will be reopening in October, at the earliest. This depends on the return to school over the next couple of weeks. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a return to more restrictions.
I haven’t taken advantage of these reopened recovery meetings. I’m happy with the zoom community that allows for easy attendance – no transit to deal with for one thing. Social distancing is easy to maintain & one can mute a member easily 🙂 No more leaving the room to silence them.
I went to my first f2f meeting meeting haven been asked to speak there – a twenty minute talk about my recovery experience. It was within walking distance & I timed my departure to arrive just as the meeting started. There was sign in for contact tracing & hand sanitizer at the door. Chairs were placed for social distancing. Some members were masked a couple were not. I kept mine on. The first participant berated the unmasked for defying protocols & they didn’t bat an eyelash. The others, when they participated removed their masks to speak then put them back on. This made sense to me so when I did my little talk I did the same.
After a very brief look at my drinking history I focused on a line in the Big Book ‘we will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.’ There is a difference between intuitive knowing & automatic reflex. One thing I’ve discovered is that if I am baffled I should do nothing rather than respond because I’m afraid to admit I’m unsure – to be unsure is admit I’m stupid, incapable etc.
I wasn’t sure what to do about the unmasked but knew my primary purpose there was to share my experiences not lecture on masks. Social distance was kept & I was thanked by some for talking about living the steps today & note dragging them through a drunk-a-log.
At my zoom meetings many are longing for the social context of face-to-face, I am not one of those. I certainly enjoy that context but am content not having to deal with indoor social distancing & dealing with people only via eye contact.
With my AA anniversary this week (43 years on July 6) I’ve done some reminiscing about my early years in recovery. My memory is helped by the journals I kept at that time – this was before keyboards & morning pages. Handwritten & for the most part more a listing of events than reflections on those events. In my poetry archive I have pieces that I wrote then which are more about discovering the gay world than exploring sobriety.
One artifact I have is a cassette recording of my 5 year anniversary from 1983! I’m not sure if I have heard it since it was first recorded. I also have a photo taken of the occasion, plus some of the cards I was given! The photo brings back some memories. I listened the the tape a few months ago though before passing it on to the Archives for preservation as mp3.
It is, I’ve been told by the head of that committee, a piece of gay recovery history that shouldn’t be lost. I had to hear it first before letting it go. It was a bit embarrassing to hear myself praised, to hear my actual ‘acceptance’ remarks. It was bittersweet to hear these voices of members who, for the most part, are no longer with us. Dead friends. So many dead friends.
Some murdered by HIV, some who died of life itself, some who moved away to Vancouver or Calgary to struggle with their sobriety in different surroundings but didn’t make it, deaths I heard of eventually. Voices I still recognized. Voices that I was happy to hear again. I even recognized laugher of people in the audience.
I do recall the tape being made but don’t remember who made it. Side A says ‘Duncan’s Fifth – Key unknown – 7 July 1983.’ Side B ‘‘Duncan’s Fifth in AA major – 7 July 1983.’ Printed by the hand of the taper. I love the Beethoven reference. It is the entire meeting from opening serenity prayer, passing the basket & the closing prayer.
I was a little surprised that it played at all. Cassettes often dry out, loose their ‘dynamic tension,’ tape ends become disconnected from the spools. One of the reasons I was so happy to to move to from tapes to cds. There was nothing more dismaying than having the tape on your Walkman jam up & pulling it out with endless feet of tape dripping out of it. I may wait another 43 years before hearing it again though 🙂
This is a piece I wrote in Cape Breton back in 1977 when I was deep into my alcoholism.
The covid pandemic is now well into year 2 & its grip has tightened despite various lockdown restrictions & even the fairly rapid distribution of various vaccines, while the distribution of conspiracy theories has been even faster. Is there an end in sight? That depends on the profit margins, right.
Not only do the living have to bury the dead but they have to shoulder the burden of the cost – a burden that increases as the tax base shrinks thanks to covid deaths & lockdown bankruptcies. Like poverty, the pandemic will stick around as long as someone is making big bucks off it – I should have invested in pharmaceuticals when I had the chance 🙂 Or undertakers.
Emotionally I have remained relatively even-keeled. Sharing my house means my social bubble has never been one of total isolation. Zoom has been a boon for recovery meetings & I generally log on to six a week. Each with a slightly different format & different people. I am one of those doesn’t go on camera & usual I minimize to audio only to spare my wifi connection. Not seeing all those faces eating, pulling at split ends, playing with pets lets me focus on the sharing.
I have maintained an active social bubble within the stipulated limits. Socially distant walks with a couple of recovery friends has been important. Also sending time with some non-recovery buddies has kept them for being too isolated. I’ve had a a good friend drop over a few times to help with the garden.
Blogging & taking pictures have been vital to maintaining emotional & spiritual balance. Sharing things about various aspects of my life with complete strangers around world, most of whom I’ll never meet, makes me feel more connected.
Major purging has given me a sense of accomplishment – one of the benefits of a house is that I have things to purge 🙂 I’ve suggested to a couple of friends maybe they should clear out their apartment storage spaces rather than gripe about not being able to do things. The purge also stepped into my writing archive – unearthing artifacts that go back to high school days. Poetry, short stories, plays, even a couple of novels. Inputting them & getting the paper into the recycle bin.
I sure hope this lockdown paranoia soon has an end in sight though. My basement is clean enough, thanks.
At a recovery meeting, when we could meet face to face, after a step had been read aloud – going from person to person around the room – a member shared on their difficulty with the hetero male normative language. When they read their section they de-gendered the language & as did some of the others who read. They implied that those of us who did not, lacked sensitivity to important gender issues.
I gave an inner shrug – I’ve been around recovery rooms long enough that I am not unsympathetic to this but at the same time I’m in recovery to recover not to deal with linguistics or how to do the gender appropriate reading aloud of the literature.
Referring to God as a him is off putting to some people, referring God at all is off putting to some people – if I don’t take pains to make the proper substitutions I make them feel unsafe. What can one do. Stop reading aloud? Ask for a show of hands, before reading starts, of people who feel unsafe because there are cismales in the room who don’t mind being called he? Online some people are including their pronouns as part of their names. (By the way my pronouns are it or that.)
After reading at an lgbtqia open stage an audience member spoke to me about enjoying my pieces but wondered if such sexually explicit material was appropriate because many in the community were triggered by such material. I had introduced one of pieces as being explicit but I guess I hadn’t allowed people enough time to leave the room. I’ve spent enough energy in saying my ‘partner’ & avoiding gender specific pronouns so as not to offended delicate hetero sensibilities that I’m not going spare lgbtqia by suppressing myself. I’d rather not perform than get trapped by self-censorship.
I’ve heard variations of this more than once: ‘I’ll never trust someone who won’t drink’ or sometimes to the effect ‘someone who won’t take a drink with me.’ You can replace ‘drink’ with ‘toke’ ‘line’ or any other substance. There are men & women who will only party-and-play – if there’s no drug involved they aren’t interested.
The history of destructive addiction & creativity is deep. Considering Dostoyevsky’s alcoholism, gambling habits & writing by hand I’m amazed he got so much written 🙂 For many writer’s i.e Hemingway, Dylan Thomas their drinking is seen as an unfortunate flaw that somehow enhances their reputation. They didn’t have rehabs in those days.
I’ve been involved with workshops, readings etc where there has been a very clear division that occurs when I decline a drink of excellent triple malt scotch. It seems I say ‘no thanks’ without sufficient apology. Ditto for declining to slip out for a toke or do a line.
Then again that division may come from the fact that I’m not super-social in most situations to being with – by super-social I mean I don’t share stories about my medical condition, children, recent escapades – I’m just there to write, maybe read on the one mike. Nothing to prove, nothing to lose. This piece is more an observation than a complaint though. I am more amused by this equating of a drink with trust. Though I’d rather be judged by my work than the quality of the scotch I decline.