by Dale H. (Walker 1995)
From the TGIF Vault
June 1995: Two months sober. Meeting my sponsor at the Coffee Time before a Wednesday night meeting. Trying desperately every day not to pick up that first drink. Wondering what life can possibly be like without booze. My sponsor says to me: “You’ll find that it’s all about balance, honey …”
April 2007: Twelve years sober next week. Balance continues to elude me. Whaaaa?
I seem to be constitutionally driven toward extremes. I throw myself madly into the vortex of life, my calendar overflowing, running in overdrive, working ridiculous hours, taking on a mammoth amount of service commitments, spending inordinate amounts of time with sponsees and others struggling in the program, squeezing in nights out with friends along the way.
I’m a one-person microcosm of the gas-guzzling, ozone-depleting world we live in, swallowing up the Earth’s resources as if they are infinite – except that the resources are my own: spiritual, mental, emotional, physical. And then I inevitably come face to face with my own “Inconvenient Truth” – that my energy reserves, just like those of our planet, are in fact limited.
I run out of gas.
I barely do what is required by my work. I don’t take on any new service commitments. I let voicemail pick up the phone calls – I just don’t have the energy to deal with whatever demands are on the other end of the line. I cancel social outings with friends. And I begin to isolate.
And we all know what isolation does for alcoholics like me: it leaves me at the mercy of the “committee in my head.” Even after 12 years, with the slightest encouragement, this committee is raring to go. In fact, they’re more vocal than ever. It’s as if the longer they’ve been silenced, the louder they’ve become.
We all know that alcoholism is a progressive disease. I’ve shared many a time at meetings how much my alcoholism progressed over the years I drank. What I never realized was that the mental peculiarities of the disease can progress in silence while we are busily working our program and then, when we are most vulnerable, rise up with a vengeance.
I am very fortunate in that I’ve always felt very comfortable being alone (perhaps too comfortable). I’ve spent most of life as a single person and can easily go to movies or restaurants by myself and feel absolutely no discomfort. I know people who can’t stand to be by themselves, and I’ve always felt sad for them. But now I’m questioning whether my ease with my own alone-ness might not somehow be related to my inclination to isolate.
I had a therapist a couple of years ago who had me pegged right away. After our first meeting she said, “Dale, you’ve accomplished so much in your sobriety, and have given so much to other people, but you still haven’t learned how to take good care of yourself.” Her advice to me was to incorporate “Dale Time” into my schedule – a time for me to do things strictly for my own pleasure. As homework, she instructed me to do one thing each day that was totally non-productive. “Fine,” thought I. “How hard could this be?”
Very hard, I discovered. Almost every “pleasurable” activity I was familiar with had a purpose hidden somewhere in it. And when I did manage to identify a couple of things that were truly purpose-less (painting; creative writing; reading an enjoyable book), I felt a powerful inner resistance to taking the time out to do these things. There seems to be something deep within me that tells me I am not deserving of such pleasure. After my therapy ended, so, sadly, did my “Dale Times”.
So, spending time alone … for me, there is a dangerous tendency for isolation, for unleashing the committee and all the negative things they have to share with me. Yet I also know that if I don’t manage to find some way to give to others without depleting my energy and to gift myself with times of true personal pleasure, I’ll continue to ping-pong between frenetic activity and collapse.
Twelve years sober next week. “It’s all about balance, honey …”