by Anne P. (Munro 2005)
It didn’t seem like such a bad idea to take a vacation during my first year of recovery. At New Year’s. With a non-alcoholic girlfriend. To an all-inclusive.
I had some savings (all the money I hadn’t been spending on you-know-what) and I didn’t think it was necessary for my sponsor to weigh in on this decision so … off I went.
In favour of my sobriety was the fact that my travelling companion didn’t really care whether she drank or not (yes, those people exist) and so she made a commitment to also avoid alcohol. We agreed to indulge ourselves in the other vices that had become the rituals of our relationship: drinking coffee, eating chocolate and smoking cigarettes. Also helpful was that our hotel was situated in a very old city, so there was an abundance of interesting things to see and do.
At the hotel’s restaurant, our servers got to know us the way servers do when you stay somewhere for a few days and follow a certain schedule. When we arrived at dinnertime, for example, our drinks were waiting for us ‒ virgin pina coladas. They were heavenly. Freshly squeezed pineapple juice, freshly crushed coconut, creamy and sweet.
One evening, later in our stay, we turned up for dinner to find a different server. Fine. We ordered our drinks, sure to emphasize bebida virgin and sin alcohol. It seemed as though he understood. When our drinks arrived, I took a gulp through the straw and immediately felt the fire scorching my tongue and burning its way down my throat. My girlfriend watched me as I started to shake and my eyes welled up with tears. I felt as though I had just failed. Everything.
My friend snatched up our drinks and stormed over to the bartender. She reminded him angrily that we had never ordered alcohol and asked why he hadn’t recognized us. The staff were apologetic and perplexed. She gave up on them and came back to our table, gave me a hug and asked what I needed to do. I said, “I need to go to a meeting.” She took me by the arm and led me back to our room. I asked her if she would read the “Twelve and Twelve” with me. She said she’d love to. I asked for her favourite number between 1 and 12. She said 10. So we read Step 10.
She had attended a few meetings with me. She had respect for Alcoholics Anonymous and could see how well it worked in peoples’ lives, but she had never read the steps or really gave them much thought. After we had finished reading the step together, in between puffs of our cigarettes, slurps of coffee and, of course, bites of chocolate, she looked at me in amazement. “This step is a recipe for living,” she said. “It isn’t about being an alcoholic; it’s about being happy.” We read more together and even got into the Big Book and some of the stories at the back. Late into the night, we talked and read and puffed and sipped and nibbled.
The next day was New Year’s Eve. I felt a huge sense of relief, strength and humility. Bringing in the new year was spectacular. From the wall of an ancient fortress, we watched fireworks over the ocean in front of a full, clear moon. Then we retreated to our hotel room for another “meeting” and the beginnings of what would become a daily routine of taking inventory and balancing my emotional ledger.
Step 10 reminds us to maintain balance and stay alert to the daily disturbances that, left unchecked and unexamined, can so quickly drag us back down the path of misery. “Step back and think,” it tells us. Good advice which I have since heeded with respect to maintaining my sobriety, among many other things.
Now, in my daily life as a mother, Step 10 has a significant relevance. Children under the age of five are sort of like little alcoholics, aren’t they? Self-centred, quick-tempered and emotionally unbalanced, they waver back and forth in an instant from arrogant pride to debilitating fear and disappointment. “It is pointless to become angry, or to get hurt by people who, like us, are suffering from the pains of growing up.” Hmmm. Children provide an excellent opportunity to practice self-restraint and to begin to “approach true tolerance and see what real love for our fellows actually means.”
“Courtesy, kindness, justice and love” are critical attributes with which to treat others and be treated, but also to generate within our children. These are qualities that can only be learned by example, by watching them at work, by knowing what they feel like. My progress, certainly not any perfection, will hopefully serve as one of the greatest gifts I can give my kids.