Letting Go

Last Sunday, three days after we arrived in the US, Lola had emergency surgery to control an internal infection that was spreading like wildfire throughout her body.

This whole week has been about letting go. Letting go of what I want, what I  expect, what I think all the doctors and nurses hospital should do, and most importantly letting go of my desire to try and change Lola -- to fix her.

It took a few days of trying to control the universe for me to remember that my job is simply to show up and help where ever I can. Trying to convince Lola not to be afraid and disappointed is not in my job description. That’s God’s business.

I’m coming to believe that “I”, as an ego, can’t let go. The best I can do is loosen my grip and not hold on so tightly. The dynamic process of the 12 steps dissolves my fear, grows my faith and makes me ready for God to remove my need to hold on.

Waiting for pain to motivate me to let go seems like such an inefficient way to go through life. Yet, that seems to be exactly where I am. The really good news is that today it takes less and less pain for me to realize I’m holding on too tightly.

Lola is receiving wonderful care and resting comfortably. We hope she will be discharged in the next couple of days. Unfortunately she still faces another major surgery in the very near future.  My AA friends here in San Diego have provided fantastic support.  Never once did I feel alone.

Cunning, Baffling, Powerful!

I remember sitting in the Treatment Center during my first few weeks along with five or six other newbies watching a recovery movie called the Three Headed Dragon. The dragon was a fierce-looking, life-like cartoon depiction of the disease of alcoholism. The dragon was a mean-looking, ugly green-scaled thing with eyes that saw everywhere and fire shooting out of it’s six nostrils. We learned the three heads represent alcoholic drinking, alcoholic thinking, and alcoholic feelings. The cartoon showed the dragon’s first head -- the drinking head -- sliced off with a giant sword. This depicts what happens when we quit drinking. Without alcohol to numb them down, the alcoholic thinking and feeling heads became hyper-agitated, much more scary and mean looking.

I am only just now beginning to realize how much damage my thirty year drinking habit did to my mind and body. Alcohol caused my brain to create abnormal thinking patterns which are etched deeply into my subconscious. My body became so conditioned to the effects of alcohol that not drinking today feels unnatural. My alcoholic thoughts and feelings represent the “ism” of my alcoholism. My “ism” wants only one thing. It wants me to drink again so things can get back to “normal”. Normal to my “ism” is me drunk.

This program continues to run in the background even after many years without a drink, hundreds of AA meetings and a dozen trips through the steps. I still experience “euphoric recall” when I see nice bottle of wine being poured into fine crystal wine glasses; “constructive” criticism often feels like a death threat; resentments keep me awake occasionally. The difference today is that I usually become aware of what’s going on before my reaction causes too much damage. Usually, but not always. My alcoholic thinking and feeling have not disappeared, they have gone underground. The more aware I become, the more subtle these thoughts and feelings become. Cunning, baffling and powerful? You bet.

The Voice of My Program

When I'm paying attention, I see I'm not really using my program to live life on life's terms, rather I see my program is using me. My program is a living, breathing thing. It reminds me, whispers to me, directs me.

When I'm tempted to insert myself into some drama, my programs says "are you really sure you want to get involved? You already know how this movie is going to end." When other people cry out to me for help by acting like idiots, my program reminds me that I've never succeeded in fixing anyone, not one, especially not my wife, although I've been trying for many years. When I feel my temperature rising in self-righteous anger over the latest national tragedy splashed across the headlines, my program points out judging and condemning others is self-incrimination and I might want to look at my side of the street before I go pointing the finger of guilt at others. I ignore the voice of my program much of the time and pay the inevitable price, but sometimes when I hear the small, still voice, I'm able to change course. Last Sunday night was one of those times.

A restless little Chinese boy sat in front of me at the church Christmas play. He fidgeted throughout the whole play, moving around, getting up and down, blocking my view despite a parent and others telling him to keep his seat. First I started judging him as a spoiled little brat, then I judged his parents as totally irresponsible, finally I judged all Chinese people everywhere for all their sins against civilized behavior. I became increasingly upset. After about fifteen minutes, the next time he got up, I reached over and gently but firmly pulled him back into his seat. When he turned around to see the source of the unfamiliar hand on his shoulder, he looked directly into my eyes and gave me a broad smile. My program whispered, "My God, Jeff, he's just a child acting like a child. Why don't you give the kid a break?" I smiled back and in that instant he changed from a spoiled Chinese brat into a beautiful child of God. I went on to enjoy the rest of the play.

My program is not a bunch of dead ideas and concepts, it is a living breathing thing that seems to have a mind of its own. My job is to nurture my program -- to keep the fire burning inside of me -- by doing the things you told me in my first week: meetings, steps, service and leaving the results up to God.


I remember whining to my sponsor when I was new about how some of the people in my life weren’t following my script. “Do you always expect to get your way?” he asked. “Yes, of course.” Well then you had better prepare yourself for a life full of disappointment because it’s never going to happen.” I was shocked. Of course I expect to get my way. Doesn’t everyone? Isn’t that the way life works?

Expectations of other people sooner or later end in resentment. For most of my life I expected people to treat me the way I treated them. Today I know that other people are not in my life to fulfill my expectations. We are all hot-wired to pursue our own happiness. Besides, if I always got my way, I would never grow.

The more reasonable my expectation, the angrier I get when it isn't met. Isn’t it reasonable for the people waiting to get on the subway or elevator to allow the arriving passengers to get off first? Well, not in China it isn’t. With so many people, parents train their children to push to the head of the line or risk being left behind. Today I don’t take this behavior as personally because I understand it. I learned the Chinese words for “you have bad manners.” I repeat this phrase when I have to push through a crowd to get off, but I have no expectations any one of them will change.

I suffered unmet expectations in intimate relationships throughout my life. When I allowed myself to be vulnerable, I expected the other person would never do anything to hurt me. When they didn’t love me exactly like I thought they should, I closed down in self-protection. I’ve learned the hard way that pain results from trying not to love. I aspire to allow everyone in my life to be exactly who they are. I’m not there yet.

Many years and hundreds of AA meetings later I see that disappointment, resentment and disillusionment are tied directly to my expectations. It is impossible for me not to have expectations -- to completely let go of results -- but my life is infinitely more peaceful if I don’t hold my expectations too tightly. When I demand others follow my script, unhappiness results. I try to keep my expectations as preferences. Then, if they are met, great. If not, well, that’s OK too.

Living without demands on others is truly the softer, easier way to go through life. Now if I could just get 1.3 billion Chinese people to learn some manners!

Stinking Thinking

Will C. was the first person I met in AA. He was a 70-something gentleman with kind eyes and a well-trimmed graying beard. If you looked up the word “humble” in the dictionary you might find a little picture of Will next to the definition. Will didn’t share often, but when he did, he always included the phrase, “I came for my drinking, but I stayed for my thinking.” Like Will, I don’t have a drinking problem today. I have a thinking problem. While my mind is certainly less conflicted today than when I stumbled through the doors to my first meeting almost twenty years ago, I am by no means restored to sanity.

These lines in the Big Book describe me perfectly: “Selfishness-self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles.” I continue to think about myself most of the time, about my little plans and schemes. Gratefully, attending AA meetings, being of service in and out of the rooms and sponsoring others gives me a much needed break from thinking about myself. It’s amazing how much better I feel when I’m thinking about you instead of me. I am still self-centered today, but the good news is I know why.

My thinking is no longer driven by “a hundred forms of fear,” but I learned through repeated inventory I still carry ten or twenty forms of fear for sure. I watch my mind go into judgement of others who do not look like me, act like me or follow my script. If one of my fear buttons is pushed, restraint of tongue is almost impossible. I continue to try to do life perfectly, unable to follow the advice I received in the treatment center to aim for a “B-minus.” Occasionally the voice of one of my personal demons wakes me up in the middle of the night. Where do these old ideas, these ancient fears get me? Alone, all alone,  separated from God and you.

I understand the word sanity in Step Two to mean the perfect order, wholeness and harmony of the universe -- the “Oneness” of life.  Sanity means I perceive life the way life actually is, not how I imagine it is or wish it could be. I am restored to sanity as my mind becomes free of conflict and illusion. The dynamic action of the 12 Steps dissolves the self-centered fears that drive my “stinking thinking.” I am not yet fully restored to my right mind, but I am closer than ever.