"I am playing with myself,
I am playing with the world's soul,
I am the dialogue between myself and el espiritu del mundo.
I change myself, I change the world."

Gloria AnzaldĂșa

22 January, 2018

Eight Years and Counting

Today is Jan. 22, 2018. I have been sober for eight years today, and here’s my story.

I first got sober on June 14, 1988. Flag day, for what it’s worth.

At that time I lived in Omaha Nebraska. I went to my first meeting on a Friday night—at the gay and lesbian meeting in the cafeteria of a hospital— “Live and Let Live.”  I just looked them up, and they’re still meeting at 8:15 on Friday nights—sending love to you guys! Thank you!

I became a daily AAer—sometimes more than one a day, but Live and Let Live was my home group, and there I met a group of other young lesbians who became my tribe. Men were welcome to our almost nightly coffee house meetings after the meeting, but the core group was about six women.
I was “in the middle of the program” when I was younger. Daily meetings, daily phone calls, hiking together, going out to eat together. . . It was a good time.  During that time, I ended a long-term relationship and had a brief (six month) relationship. All the things you’re not supposed to do in early sobriety, but I made it anyway because I had the program, a sponsor, and my tribe.
After a few years, we started to peel off members of our group one by one. One of us went out, one just kind of wandered away (not sure about her), two moved to San Francisco (not together, strangely enough), and I moved to Minneapolis.

I thought I’d have it made in Minneapolis. They actually had a gay club with daily meetings, and it wasn’t too far from where I lived. But, I had a hard time making friends. In fact, I was scheduled to meet a guy from the club for lunch (my first real connection there) the day I slipped on ice while hiking and shattered my humerus.

After surgery, I moved back home to San Antonio. I couldn’t dress myself. I certainly couldn’t work as a home health care aid anymore.  So, I moved back in with my mother.
I started going to meetings at Lambda and at Club 12 when I moved to San Antonio. I also became a member of a wonderful church I still attend.

But just like Minneapolis, I had trouble finding my people. I attended random meetings, and I stayed sober, but I didn’t even have a sponsor. And, of course, as many people experience when they move, these people just didn’t do AA right.

I eventually started going to daily NA meetings—At first because they were in walking distance from my house. Here I met my sponsor and some people I became fairly close to. I became active in service work for a while, and I started attending the Sunday evening women’s meeting at Lambda, where I also met some good people to spend time with.

After my sponsor moved to Illinois (see, it’s your fault, Gini!) I became less regular in AA, the daily NA meeting moved, I didn’t work with anyone on the steps, and I thought I was okay. After all, I had more than a decade of sobriety, I had worked the steps (most of them anyway), and I had a close group of people at the church. We met every Tuesday night to discuss the scripture for the next Sunday (God Talk), and I felt that I had a tribe there.

In the meantime, I went back to school and got my master’s degree in English, and I cared for my mother through several bouts with cancer, broken bones, and emphysema.  

After I got my masters, I started teaching. That first December, I went to a faculty member’s home for a Christmas party. I didn’t know anyone but her, and she was busy. I hate parties, and I really hate them when I’m alone. But I liked this woman, and her friends seemed cool (all professionals and lesbians), so I stayed. At some point in the evening, the bottle of this year’s dandelion wine came out. We were all given tiny glasses of it. I drank mine.

This is not your typical story, as I didn’t immediately run out and start heavy using. But I thought about it. Daily. “See, you had a drink and you didn’t get drunk, or even drink again. You are not an alcoholic.”

About six months later, I had wine with dinner. And then beer at lunch. And then I was drinking daily. In the meantime, my mother was dying of cancer. Is that why I drank again? I don’t think so. I think I drank again because I’m an alcoholic and I have a disease that will talk me into using again. Even if I have many years sober, even if I have a relationship with God, even if I go to a meeting a week or so.

The next year my mother died, I got a full-time teaching job, I got a girlfriend (this was stretched out over some time, mind you). My girlfriend hated the church, so I convinced myself that I did too—to keep her. I left the church where I had my little tribe, and I settled in with her for a year. My drinking got progressively worse. I was hiding it. I was lying about it. I was counting the hours until I could drink again. I lost that first full-time job, but got another right away. It was the first time I was ever fired, but I didn’t really connect it to the drinking.

I left the girlfriend. She was emotionally abusive, and I was a lying drunk who was also a professional victim.  It wasn’t pretty.

I tried to get sober several times. I’d get a month, two months. . . But I’d always end up out again. I didn’t go back to church out of embarrassment, which I excused with saying I didn’t believe. And church is a Patriarchal institution anyway, right?

My health was getting progressively worse, and my job progressively precarious. One day I went to a doctor who said she was concerned about my liver count. I don’t know why I told her the truth, but I said, “That’s because I drink a lot, daily, and I cannot stop.”  She told me that I had to go to a psychiatrist and to AA. I protested that AA wasn’t doing it for me. She said, “Studies show that AA with a sponsor is the only effective treatment.”

I called a shrink who wanted to put me in detox, which I resisted. After all, I’m a college teacher. The nurse said, “Okay, we’ll wait for Spring Break.” It was January. I didn’t think I’d get sober if I waited until spring. Indeed, I wasn’t sure I’d be alive.

I tried easing off. That night I had one drink and stopped. Of course, the next night I drank until I passed out. So, I called my old sponsor, who is also a nurse, and asked her if I could get sober without detox. She gave me a list of symptoms to watch out for, and she told me to give them to my roommate with the instructions that he was to call an ambulance if I went into DTs. I didn’t, thank God.  

Somehow, through grace, I got sober this time.

I stayed sober, I sort of worked the program, I did service work, I had some disappointments with people in the program, and I kept my distance emotionally.  I’m not blaming the people who disappointed me. We’re alcoholics, and human, we’re bound to mess up. Keeping my distance emotionally is something I do to protect myself.

A few years ago, I almost lost my house. I got a new sponsor (I had been working with a lovely woman in San Diego—what is it with me and long-distance sponsors? And she advised that I get someone local).  This was another moment of complete desperation. Like the day I got sober, I knew that my life needed drastic change.

Doug and I started doing the work around money. Life got so much better! I didn’t lose my house. I even got better at my job and got a raise. Life got better in other ways, too. We had weekly meetings at Doug’s house, as he was sick and couldn’t go out to meetings often. That little group became my new tribe.

I went back to church after a friend died, and my new pastor guilt-tripped me. She warned me that I would be sorry if I missed out on time with one of the older members of the church. Ironically, she died a year before he did. But I found my church tribe again.  I started to open my heart to God again. I became active in the church.

After the money stuff started to ease up, I found I still had work to do with my emotions. So, I started therapy. Shortly after that, Doug died, and our little tribe became even closer through his last illness and death. It’s been less than a year since Doug died, and I’ve started doing the work with a new sponsor (a member of the tribe) and with my therapist, who’s also in AA.
Life is getting better. My last birthday I had a gathering of AA, church, and work friends—my life is becoming integrated.

Here’s what I’ve learned: I must do the work. It doesn’t end; it just changes. Sure, I’m not struggling daily with the desire to use. Sure, my finances are in much better shape.  Now I’m working on being more open to feelings and doing some more healing from childhood trauma. Who knows what I’ll work on in the future. But I know it will be something.

My sponsor’s sponsor’s sponsor had his 50th year sobriety birthday last month. He works. Daily. And he is kind and spiritual and funny. I want what he has.

And I need people to do the work with. I need a tribe or two. I need a pastor. I need a sponsor. Right now, I need a therapist. And that is the way it works for me. 

12 January, 2017

My Faith Journey or: Yay! More Oversharing!

I wrote this to share with the deacons, and of course, that means you.

I began with my favorite psalm, Psalm 42

I have always longed for some kind of relationship with the source, with God.  But I am inconsistent.  
I believe.
I don’t believe.
I search for something else.
I walk away.

Paul Simon writes about my experience when he says “We are born and born again like waves of the sea.”  

As a child, I attended Catholic church. I am old enough to remember attending Latin mass and covering my head with a veil in worship. I loved the music, I loved the scripture readings, and I loved the homilies. I’d come home and explain them to my mom (not that she needed my exegesis, but I guess that was a precursor to my later career as a teacher).

I left the church in my teens. Literature, nature, and music became how I connected with God.  Some odd combination of CS Lewis and Godspell got me through my teens. I read and talked about God a lot, but I had no place to call home.

I even flirted a bit with the Guru Majaraji, but to be honest, that was probably more about the crush I had on a woman who followed him than an honest search for spirituality, and both flirtations were short lived.

In my twenties, I became a member of the Metropolitan Community Church in Omaha. I was a deacon there for several years, and my partner and I played guitar and sang to lead music for the evening services.  During those years, I sincerely sought a more intense relationship with God. I attended charismatic services, and several of my friends worshiped in that way. I couldn’t make the connection, though. I remember going to the altar to be anointed, and feeling the minister push me. I wanted to feel the spirit push me. I wanted to speak and sing in tongues, and I felt it was a great failure on my part that I could not give up my resistance.  If I could only really believe, I’d think . . .
Again, as I had felt in the Catholic church, there was something about me that blocked God in my life.

I got sober in my late twenties, and moved away from the church again. Unfortunately, I did not pursue a spirituality in the program, so I had a long period of experiencing that God-sized hunger Jackson Browne writes about.

I started coming to University Presbyterian in the 1990s. At first, I came to church to make my mother happy. But I soon felt at home there, and I felt that need for a relationship with God reawaken. In those years, I became active with the church, and even sat on the pastor nominating committee that called Lib Simmons to serve at the church. I also worked with the middle schoolers for a bit, and was a deacon.

About a year before my mother died, I started drinking again. I suppose some of it was my anticipatory grief. I think a lot of it was complacency. As I said before, I didn’t really work the spiritual part of the program before. It’s funny to me now, as I think the whole program is spiritual, but I managed to stay sober 14 years without working the steps (much).  There came a time when what I was doing wasn’t enough to keep me sober.

 About a year after Mama’s death, I got romantically involved with a woman who had a huge resentment against the church. I am ashamed to admit that, to keep my relationship with her, I dropped out of the deacons and left UPC.

The story of my life when I was drinking is similar to that of a lot of alcoholics. In the Big Book they call it “pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization.” I tried to get sober several times during that time, but it took me 8 ½ years to finally get sober again. I know it’s weird to talk about alcoholism when talking of my spiritual journey, but the truth is that I have always felt a lack. In AA, we call it a “God shaped hole in the soul.” I tried to fill that hole with liquor, with food, with relationships, and sometimes with church, but nothing worked.

I got sober Jan 22, 2010. And I started trying to work the steps on a spiritual level.

In April of 2012, I was on Facebook, and I learned that a member of our congregation had killed herself. Those words still strike me with shock and disbelief. I had served on the pastor nominating committee with her husband, and I always felt a connection with him—well with both of them. I had to talk to someone about it, so I called Bob O. Not sure why Bob, but I called him. He told me he was on his way to the church to pray and I should come. I felt like a fool. After I’d been walked away so blithely, I felt like I was imposing. But Bob said, “you’re family,” so I came. It was so sweet to be with kind and loving people that sad day.

Shortly after that day, Kelly invited me to coffee and told me that I needed to return to church.  She really didn’t ask me to return or say I should come if I wanted to. She said I should come. “These people love you. You love them.” She also told me in no uncertain terms that I would regret not spending time with people like the N’s (an adorable and adored couple in their nineties), whose time was limited. I felt chastised. I came back. It is ironic that it was Kelly whose time was limited, but I am grateful I came back and got to know her a little.

So here I am. I still ebb in and out in my belief and consistency. I still want to believe more than I experience belief as a feeling. But perhaps that’s because it is not a feeling. Perhaps, like love, it is more about being there. About “suiting up and showing up” as we say in the program. Perhaps belief is an action.  I don’t do an especially good job at suiting up and showing up, but I am grateful that this community is here. And there are times when that God-sized hole feels healed – or at least healing.

28 August, 2016

The Learner's Mind

"Learning to Walk" David Fabricius Aaby

I’m learning to walk.

As most people who know me know, I fell and broke my knee-cap this summer. When I was healed, and my doctor blessed me and said, “you may go,” I asked him for a referral to physical therapy.  I had recently learned that my knock knees, and the arthritis they created, could be improved through exercise. The doctor said yes, that although it would not take away any deformation, it would strengthen and stabilize my knees.

I walk funny. 

I’ve always thought I walk funny because my knees are deformed. Come to find out, my knees are deformed because I walk funny.

So I am learning to walk. And to stand. And to strengthen muscles that are atrophied.

When my therapist first watched me walk, he said I need to start out with my heels when I walk. And he stood me in front of a mirror. “You’re standing on your toes,” he said. “Put your feet down.” Those first days were rough.

When you first come to AA, they tell you, “It’s okay. You only need to change one thing. Everything.”

That’s what it feels like learning to stand and to walk again. I walk down the steps at my house and say, “Put your heel down. Is your whole foot on the step? Okay, step down now.” I’m slower and more deliberate. I do that with stepping up, too. And with walking.
It feels very different, and sometimes at the end of the day, I’m just sore. But it feels grounded. Safe. Stable.

I ran into a friend from church at the grocery store and she asked about my knee. I told her about changing one thing, and how I was doing it again, and she said, “Good. Keep the learner’s mind.”

This semester, I’m teaching hybrid classes for the first time. I’ve wanted to flip my classes for a long time—to put most of the lecture online and do group work and discussion in the classroom. Well, teaching a hybrid class is teaching me how to teach all over again. The only thing I have to change is everything.

So this morning I awakened at four, as I have all week, and I began working on a lecture for a class a few weeks down the road. First the Power Point, then the audio, then turn it into a video. “Put your heel down. Are you stable? Keep going.”

It’s all very Zen, folks.