Life was changing in a way I didn’t want it to. I wanted the old life back, but was determined to survive the collapse. I was building a passive solar house on thirty acres. A stream bordered my land, and a hill that caught enough wind to generate electricity. I’d put in organic gardens and was stockpiling ammo. When the basics were in place, I would build my brew shed. With the economy shattered, home-brew could be worth more than money.
The year was 1984. Secret wars were exploding, I was guzzling a case of beer a day (more on weekends), and society was about to implode. I was certain.
A year later, the property was gone. So was my marriage, my business, all my money and my family’s trust. But. . . I was almost a year sober. I’d received enough help to accept that decisions I’d made while drinking were responsible for my losses–decisions made in isolation and fear.
It took longer to exorcise the bitterness, guilt, and dread toward those whom, as a drunk, I’d held responsible for my misery. Painful as that process was, if I hadn’t been willing to face it, I would never have felt secure enough to take the risks necessary to moving on with life: new friends, new work, new marriage, another house and property, peace of mind I had never known possible.
This past September 11, I watched the collapse from a safe distance. Footage of the World Trade towers crashing down brought back fears I’d let go of a long time ago. The media images and orgy of apprehension and rage made real what I’d concocted deep in alcoholic paranoia twenty years before.
We live in a world now where, with the conviction of death, men declare that I am evil and must die for the realization of their spiritual vision. So fear, resentment, and a pervasive lack of security are an inside issue for this alcoholic, not an outside one. An issue critical to getting on with life.
For months, I’ve wakened early on peaceful mornings in my little Maine hamlet, worried about my overcrowded calendar or the school budget deficit. Then I read the news and am hurled back to other wars, other losses.
However sober, purposeful, and hopeful working the Steps and Traditions has made me, life is again changing in a way I don’t want it to. And much as I want the old life back, I’m surviving the obsessive replay of those events and ensuing political hubbub.
Not by stockpiling food and ammunition. Not this time. Nor by cutting myself off the power grid, or planning some alternative currency. I’m delving deeper into Steps Ten through Twelve, because “we see monotony, pain, and even calamity turned to good use by those who keep on trying to practice AA’s Twelve Steps.”
I begin by remembering that “the most common symptoms of emotional insecurity are worry, anger, self-pity, and depression.” As an alcoholic, I suffer more from emotional insecurity than from airline insecurity.
So I ask myself, “If I am unable to change the present state of affairs, am I willing to take the measures necessary to shape my life to conditions as they are?” Do I accept that “I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.” That’s what got me sober.
Having been granted a spiritual awakening–the understanding “that life is not a dead end, not something to be endured or mastered”–am I carrying that message, and practicing those principles in all my affairs? Am I taking action, “so that we and those about us may find emotional sobriety?”
Can I whole-heartedly affirm that “we are really dealing with fellow sufferers, people whose woes we have increased. If we are now about to ask forgiveness for ourselves, why shouldn’t we start out by forgiving them, one and all?”
It’s a work in progress. One day at a time, one meeting at a time, one person at a time, I’m getting on with life. Always with the hope “that where there is hatred, I may bring love–that where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness. . .that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted–to understand, than to be understood.”
Other sober alcoholics remind me there’s nothing so bad that taking a drink won’t make it worse. The inspiring stories of those who survived the cataclysm and appalling loss a year ago remind me that “it is by forgiving that one is forgiven.”