Character Defects

The longer I hang around this camp, the more I become convinced that I still have every one of the defects of character I walked through the door with. They just go underground — hibernate — until the right situation arises. Oh perhaps mine have softened over time, but they have not been removed. Recovery for me is staying aware of my character defects, accepting them like I first had to accept my alcoholism and trusting that they will be removed when the time is right.

Impatience, cynicism, self-righteousness, a sense of entitlement, and a short fuse all add up to one thing: I can act like an asshole at times. There’s no better word for it. A couple of days ago I called AT&T to change my TV plan to a less expensive option. I know from a wealth of experience I don’t do well with customer service reps and computerized call centers. So, as I dialed the customer service number, I prayed: “please help me be patient and kind.” I started to feel anxious after about fifteen minutes on hold, listening to a recording about how much AT&T appreciated my business. Finally I was connected to a Filipino rep who I did not clearly understand and there was so much noise in the background of his call center that I had to repeat every sentence. I carefully explained what I wanted — a different plan at a lower price. He suggested a new plan and painstakingly reviewed all the features. I became excited until he finally told me that the new plan was more expensive than the plan I currently have. In less than two seconds my opinion of him changed from fellow human being to complete idiot. My tone became sarcastic and mean as I pointed out how he had wasted my time. I didn’t yell or swear at the guy (progress!) but after we hung up, I’m sure he said to himself “what an asshole that guy was!” I was still angry after I hung up the phone. Then I realized the anger didn’t feel good. Instead of justifying or rationalizing my treatment of the AT&T guy, I saw clearly that I was suffering at the hands of my character defects. This is major recovery for me.

It says in our book that we have stopped fighting anybody or anything, but it doesn’t say we stop fighting all at once. I still want to fight. I guess I’ll stop fighting when I get sick and tired of being sick and tired, just like with my drinking. The Doctor’s Opinion says I need what he calls “an entire psychic change.” Step Six says I have to become, “entirely ready.” Today I’m OK with not being “entirely” ready. I see myself as a work in progress on God’s schedule, not mine.

Recovered or Recovering?

Thankfully, like our first 100 members, I have recovered from a hopeless state of mind and body, but I do not think of myself as a recovered alcoholic. Recovered sounds too much like my spiritual work is complete, like I can sit back and rest on my laurels. My recovery is hardly a permanent, static thing. It is a living, breathing experience of life that changes moment by moment. It is at once a celebration, a grand adventure into the mystery and a reconnecting with the oneness of life and the divine energy that holds it all together. Since I don’t believe the spiritual journey has a finish line, I’ll continue to be a recovering alcoholic until my time is up.

When I first read Step Two on the wall I was confused. (I was confused about a lot of things back then.) Sure I did many stupid things through the years both drunk and sober, some of them more than once, but I certainly wasn't insane. I doubt they would have accepted me in the nut house. Compared to the rest of the world I was pretty normal. Insane? No way. Then it was explained to me that sanity in Step Two is not simply psychological sanity. Sanity in Step Two means spiritual wholeness. Recovery, then for me is the process of being restored to the truth of what I am -- a tiny spark of life before the world got a hold of me. Restored to sanity means that my HP returns me to my original spiritual condition -- the way I was before I left the home office.

I think of recovery as an ongoing process of growing from ego-consciousness to God consciousness. It is the recognition that I am not simply a shivering, fearful human grasping for security, but a full and complete expression of life itself. Standing in the way of my total recovery are hundreds of “old ideas.” These are the false beliefs I inherited from ancestors and those force fed me by my parents, teachers and society as reported on the six o’clock news. These old ideas cause me to believe I am separate from you and God. As a separate self I have no choice but to respond to life fearfully. The Twelve Steps help me become aware of these old ideas, realize the pain they cause myself and others and finally to see they are not true. I suppose it possible for some to achieve a state of complete freedom from these old ideas, but I’m not there yet. Like Bill said in our book, this is not an overnight matter.

My first home group had goodly numbers of newcomers and old timers, but I noticed there as a gap of men with ten to twenty years. I asked my grand sponsor about this one day. “Did they all go out and drink? "Well, some probably do, he said, “but I suspect most feel they are well enough to do life without AA." I asked him why after 30 years he kept coming back. With a twinkle in his eye he said, "Some are satisfied with one bite of the cake, some are satisfied with one slice of the cake. Me, I want the whole damn cake!” I want the whole damn cake too so I think I’ll keep coming back.

My Number One Job

I sat in group in the outpatient treatment center. When it was my turn to share I  complained about not having any luck in my job search. The five or six other newbies in the circle had heard this complaint before. I had been sober for three weeks now. I was feeling good. I figured I had this little alcohol problem solved and it was time to get on with my life. The bowling ball-shaped woman who ran the program — an ex-heroine addict from New York (who had a sign on her desk that read, “Be careful! I go from zero to total bitch in 2.0 seconds.) stared at me for a moment and said, “You are so full of crap, Jeff. Instead of wasting our time whining about not having a job, why don’t you make your recovery your job?” I clammed up. I had been around long enough to know better than to challenge anything this woman said, but looking back I can see that’s exactly what happened. Recovery became my job almost twenty one years ago and remains so today.

It would be more than a year before I rejoined the work force. During this time I served my apprenticeship in Alcoholics Anonymous. I loved the meetings and the people so I went every day. I took all twelve steps with my sponsor, allowed the folks in my groups to get to know me and took on service positions. I began putting my hand out to newcomers. I was firmly in the center of Alcoholics Anonymous when a man asked me to sponsor him. Sponsorship added a whole new dimension to my job in recovery.

I was three years sober when I moved overseas to China for work. During my first few years in Shanghai there were very few qualified sponsors. So I became the go-to guy by default. I had the remarkable opportunity to sponsor many men that I would not have had here in San Diego where there are tons of qualified sponsors. Many fell by the wayside, but I continue to work with a couple of these men today. I have history with these men and it is precious to me.

I was new to North County San Diego when I arrived here with Lola at the end of 2013. Then she became ill and I never got connected to the groups here. In the middle of February HP gave me a shove and I committed myself to 90 meetings in 90 days. I am a little more than half-way through and I can really feel the difference. I’ve taken a few service positions and I’m getting to know people by name. I have new sober friends and I call newcomers regularly.

Sponsorship is the most rewarding part of my job in recovery. The opportunity to give to others what was so freely given to me, is what gets me out of bed in the morning. I know by now that being active in AA and sponsoring others is the key for a useful and contented life. I am grateful to have this job.