In the very early days of sobriety, I used to think, “Once I get a few years or five under my belt, I’ll know what to do/say and be more at ease with most situations in life.”
Well, I’m here to tell you that yes, things do get better. You do become better able to handle life on life’s terms. But, now and again, even folks with five or more years slip up.
It’s a program of progress, not perfection.
I don’t talk a lot about being in recovery to folks outside of the rooms of AA.
There are a few close friends (who aren’t in the program) who know my story, because I chose to tell them, and I trust them. But to others who are not close friends, I limit what I say because I’m not sure about their reaction. I don’t want to anyone to be uncomfortable around me, and then, I don’t like my reaction to their discomfort.
Related to this is what I think is a deeply ingrained (and, very often, dysfunctional) habit of being a people-pleaser. My alcoholic mother taught me a long time ago that it was good to put someone else’s interests first ahead of my own. It didn’t matter that the other person may be a huge ass jerk. “The important thing was for me to always be the giving, unselfish one,” she said.
Ironically, five years ago, on her deathbed, I remember how she complained that she spent all of her life “being everyone’s doormat, and that she had wasted her time.”
Alcoholism partially contributed to my mother’s death. Cunning, baffling disease, is it not?
Fast forward many years later. As a sober adult, I now recognize the flaws in that philosophy, but reprogramming that thinking pattern has been hard.
My logical mind tells me that I cannot and should not expect everyone to like and appreciate me for who I am, because it isn’t reality. So far, I haven’t had problems with people I’ve met as I walk along the sober road: I’ve made a lot of new friends, others have become simply acquaintances. But, the few times I’ve encountered someone who is openly negative towards me (because he or she does not like me) have thrown me off balance, disrupting my serenity.
The few times it has happened have surprised me, frankly. I’m caught off guard; I start to question my worth. These few events make me realize the true fragility of my sobriety and it scares me. (At least I’m not drinking over it, as I would have in the past.)
One happened weekend before last.
I was one of four eucharistic ministers helping out at Mass, and after communion, we scuttled back into the sacristy to return the chalices. (I think it is God’s ironic sense of humor that I’m always given consecrated wine to distribute at Mass.)
One of the ministers serving that weekend was my twins’ Sunday school teacher. I’ve known him for a few years; he has been very friendly, he is a good teacher, and my children like him. Anyway, he and I were in the sacristy; the other two ministers had left. I was the only one left holding a half chalice of consecrated wine. The procedure is that if any consecrated wine is left over after communion, the minister must drink the remaining wine. And of course, I can’t.
I handed the wine to the other minister, and the words, “I can’t have this. I’m a recovering alcoholic,” just slipped out, automatically. No one else was close enough to hear me say it. He did, though. He took the chalice from me, drained it. I said thank you, and went back to my seat.
I didn’t think anything about it, until the next week. I said hello to him, and he looked at me, and then…just turned and walked away from me. Odd. I was a little taken aback.
He was his usual friendly and polite self to my children in his classroom, though; I thought, ‘He was probably having a difficult morning’, and so I just let it go. I didn’t think anything about it again until the following week, when I said hello to him again, as I dropped my children off, and got the same reaction. I went over to tell him that my son had said his stomach was bothering him, and if he felt ill, just to send him upstairs to my classroom; the fellow could barely talk to me. The assistant teacher was standing near by; she came over and told me she’d keep an eye on my son, not to worry, et cetera.
Three disses in a row. I knew something was wrong. I admit it hurt, too. I couldn’t let my children see my reaction, so I kissed the tops of their heads and told them I’d see them after class.
I couldn’t figure out why he was acting this way towards me; it dawned on me that he changed after we’d served at Mass together a few weeks earlier — and then, I realized what had happened. I outed myself to this guy, and he was really uncomfortable around me now.
When I went to pick up the twins after class, I went over to apologize for revealing that I was an alcoholic (no one else was nearby), and for putting him ill at ease, but he was, again, dismissive towards me. He didn’t (and doesn’t) want to talk to me; I got the message loud and clear.
I’m sorry he’s uncomfortable; But you know, what he thinks about me right now is none of my business. I’ll continue to be charitable towards him, and to not take it personally. The only exposure people have to AA is through someone who is in the program.
We’re not all jerks.
There, but for the grace of God, fella. Know what I mean?
This lesson also reminded me about the most important tradition in our program: Anonymity. I certainly don’t go about broadcasting my alcoholism; this was, indeed, an accidental ‘outing’ of myself. I’m going to be more circumspect.
Today was the last Sunday School class for the year. They won’t have this teacher next year. I probably won’t have to interact with him anymore, either, and that’s OK.
I asked my twins what was the biggest lesson they learned in their Sunday School class this year. In their own words, my son and daughter told me that they learned that everyone has different problems to solve, and that unless you walk in that person’s shoes, you don’t really know what’s going on with the other person. My daughter said, “The best thing we can do is to be nice to each other, no matter what. Right Mom?”
Despite what this teacher may think about me, personally, I’m happy with the lesson my children received at his hands. God bless him.
The University of Maryland Global Campus