We Get What We Get – Grapevine Article October 2001 by Ernest S

MY LOCAL MEETINGS ARE BIG on this spot – check reminder : you get what you get ; it’s what you do with it that counts

From attending AA meetings in Iowa for the two years I spent in graduate school there, I brought home this question to add to my daily Tenth Step checklist : Am I still learning?

These two ideas help counter my abiding discontent with a job my old attitudes construe as being beneath me. Though I feel embarrassed telling new acquaintances what I do for a paycheck , the facts tell a different story.

Ten years sober , newly trained and degreed as a writer, I had plans for a blockbuster that would get my foot in the publishing door. But I needed to pay my bills. I bought a new suit to go to interviews in, came home that afternoon, got down on my knees , and prayed for God’s will to be accomplished in my job search.

Not ten minutes later the phone rang . The local hospital, where I’d worked as a janitor between semesters at grad school , wanted to know if I could fill in for staff taking vacations. After a brief meeting with the supervisor , I came away with a permanent thirty – hour position that would pay my bills , provide health insurance , allow me time for meetings , and leave mornings free to write. I wasn’t thrilled with the work , but the situation was . . . well , unbelievable . And remember : they called me.

Hey , I told myself , I’m sober , I’ve worked the Steps , I’ve got humility . I can do this a year, maybe two . And I’ll use the new suit if I ever have to apply for a real job .

Fast – forward six years .

The new suit’s been to two weddings . An overflowing cardboard carton of mostly unpublished manuscripts fills the bottom of my office closet. Among them are my Master’s thesis , my résumé , and copies of applications to every publication within commuting distance and to a few that aren’t.

After many schedule changes , several merit raises , ardent , fearful prayer , and incessant angry disputes among the committee members in my head, I am still mopping floors, getting to meetings , doing service work , sponsoring others , and writing in the morning. Recently, after requesting full – time hours, I was approached for running the department. Once again , they asked me. It’s a real job , respectable , challenging , well paid , and a genuine contribution to a service – oriented organization. Best of all , you don’t have to wear a suit to do it.

I had to tell them my heart is elsewhere. Showing up and doing the footwork is what I needed , not more responsibility . But I appreciated their consideration and might have a change of heart in the future.

I didn’t lie. But the truth is that working the lowest rung of the ladder has shown me some things about myself that I missed in several Fourth and Fifth Steps: I struggle constantly with control and detachment. Childish grandiosity still goads me to make a moral issue of every little dispute. Some perverse instinct for unhappiness insists that I must be right. Not good management skills . But also not the emotional fiber necessary to handle a demanding job and also continue writing — which I’m determined to do.

The part of my job that always catches me off-guard , though , is the palpable jolt of pleasure I get from little ways to be helpful—to be of service—to others, for which they are so genuinely grateful . My dry or drinking mind , still alive and quacking , tries to avoid those calls , claiming that’s not really my job.

But the real litmus test for me is not letting fear and repugnance at close contact with very ill, decrepit ,dying people sever my connection with my Higher Power. Whatever sense of victimization , injustice , absurdity , fraud , or bitter irony my sick mind thrived on drunk, my present circumstances force me to confront every workday as a shortcoming I’ve not yet mastered.

In early sobriety , I’d been through the loss of marriage , business , property , and money. So I thought I knew all about humility. But picture yourself down on your knees , cleaning vomit off the carpet in the ER waiting room. You glance up to see an old flame standing in the corner , cradling her new baby , and trying to figure out if that’s really you. Test your ego – detector against that.

Or say you run into the ex, who almost succeeded in taking everything away from you in that hostile divorce . She’s coming out of the gift shop with an overpriced stuffed toy as you’re sweating two bags of trash out the door . One of you has to give way . You should say something , right? But principles you espouse insist on civility. Maybe restraint of tongue is the best you can do. So you know there’s still work needed in that department .

Like the messes other people make, this is what I get at my job. It’s what I get paid for. And it’s taught me to view the mess other alcoholics make of their lives as a kind of job security.

Sure , I could compose a life more cinematic. That’s easy. Give me a paycheck for the writing work I love — no more than I make as a janitor. I’m a humble guy after all . Or make me rich and famous , I don’t care . Just leave everything else exactly the same : a loving marriage , fast friends , modest belongings , good health . This is what I tell God when I’m feeling resentful about what I’ve got.

But then I reach the end of another sober day and ask : So , am I still learning?

Oh , yes , indeed. And I promptly admit it’s not all to my liking . But I go to meetings and remember well that , however crucial , getting sober wasn’t to my liking either .

That casts the story in a different light . And I thank my Higher Power for giving me the time and determination it takes to stay sober ; and also to write this next novel , the one that’s going to send me over the top. There’s this middle – aged guy , see , who everybody’s given up on. But he’s got this one really cool idea that . . . Well , you get the picture .

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