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Wednesday, April 23, 2014



Ok, maybe I am being naive. Maybe I am jumping the gun. Maybe I am setting myself up for a big disappointment.


But as a Catholic, I choose deliberately and willfully to live in the light of HOPE today and by golly I saw something on FB this morning that gives me HOPE.

It can be a long and winding road, this road to wellness and sobriety. I have always been grateful for two things:

1. NO one ever put up with my shenanigans in early sobriety

2. NO one ever said to me, "You better get this deal perfectly by next Tuesday or you are OUT of here".

With that in mind, I am choosing to believe that people I mentor in my 12 step program are actively and willingly choosing to 'do the deal' today rather than live in self-will run riot.

I choose to believe that when I surrendered I gave God permission (so to speak) to work in my life and help me change.



(did I mention how happy I am?)

Sunday, April 20, 2014

I. Am. Done.

I have been battered physically in the past. It is a harrowing experience and one that can gain lots and lots of sympathy because the bruises and black eyes give testimony to someone trying to impose their will upon you to the point of purposefully causing you pain.

I have also been emotionally battered. First by a father who thought that it was part of parenting to reduce a child to a blubbering mass of tears every time they made a mistake. Somehow, that would make them strong. It didn't. It made me afraid, it made me angry, it made me less than myself.

When I discovered alcohol, the hole that was in my gut was filled for the first time since I was a child in front of the Blessed Sacrament. It was fast, it was fierce and I was so grateful to have found it. It worked better than anything else available and I grabbed onto it like it was a lifeboat in a stormy sea.

Getting sober was the most difficult thing I have ever done - far more difficult than burying my husband and my child. I had to look solidly at my self obsession, my inability to do anything other than focus only on me. I would grab onto people and then push and push and push and push and when they finally pushed back, would point at them and tell them all the things that were wrong with them. I never once would apologize for emotionally battering them, swiping at them, making them cry or pushing their buttons until they got so angry they just walked away from me. Oh no, why would I take any responsibility for my actions? They were sober longer than me. They were never supposed to make a mistake.

I have come to the conclusion that I am a magnet for people today that mimic the manner in which I treated people my first five years in my 12 step group. I do not believe in Karma - I am a Faithful Catholic - but I do think that God is allowing me to see how shabbily I behaved by putting people in my life who act the exact same way I did.

About a month ago, I looked up three people and made a long over due amends to them for being a giant, fat, slobbering baby all over them for the first five years of my sobriety. I told them my behavior towards them had been unforgivable, but that I hoped they would forgive me anyway and then I asked them what I could do to make our relationship ok.

Two of them accepted my amends. The third one, I don't know…they have died and I had to make the amends to them at their grave site.

I am done, I said today, and I mean it. I am done doing this to people. I cannot imagine the number of times they hung up the phone with me in tears or tossed and turned all night because of nasty, mean things I said to them in order to get their attention.

I. Am. Done.

I do not believe in setting boundaries. I believe in tearing down walls so you can get to know me. What I hope you know about me is that I will no longer allow myself to be a punching bag but I will not run away. The people who helped me when I got sober did not run away. However, they did not put up with my behavior. They demanded, sometimes with their fingers poking me in the chest, that I stop being a self obsessed, cry baby. I wouldn't listen. I would tell them how bad THEY were and demand that they treat ME with a respect I did not deserve.

Because I behaved so badly, I will tolerate the bad behavior of other newcomers - but they will be treated like I was treated. I will not put up with bad behavior and if the people behaving badly decide that it is too difficult to live up to the standards of Grace and Dignity, then they will have to be the ones to walk away.

But as for me and my house?

I. Am. DONE.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Being Myself without Making YOU pay!

Tonight, at my 12 step home group, I get to speak to the topic of the 4th Tradition.

The 4th Tradition states (in paraphrase) that each group within this 12 step organization is autonomous except
in matters that affect OTHER groups that are a part of the 12 step family.

In other words, each gathering of like minded and similarly afflicted people can establish their own customs (pray the Lord's Prayer, hold hands during the Preamble, read out of various pieces of the literature, etc) but they do not get to do things that reflect poorly upon the organization as a whole (charge people for sponsorship, demand that everyone in the meeting swear allegiance to Satan, etc).

Now, that part is pretty easy. I mean, no one can argue that individual groups and fellowships should have their own flavor and flair without giving the outside world the idea that the organization as a whole is exactly like that particular group. It allows people to find their own place within the structure and it gives everyone an opportunity to sample differences without losing the essentials.

But how does that play out in my personal life?

When I first got sober and got a sponsor, I was on fire for 'the program'. I mean ON FIRE. I wanted to drag people off of bar stools into meetings. I was just a bit short of banging a tambourine on a street corner while singing "Amazing Grace".

I was, to all intents and purposes, an arrogant pain in the ass.

I was anything but kind or considerate of those around me, especially those still struggling with sobriety. God FORBID you might have a different take on how sobriety manifests itself. I had 'gotten it'. Why can't YOU get it? MY sponsor told me to do things a certain way - why aren't YOU doing it this way?

As a result I was very 'in your face'. My manner of speech, of writing, of communication as a whole was tantamount to poking my finger in peoples' chests and saying, "Now look you". And if they objected to being treated in that manner? Look, that's their problem. It is their fault. I didn't mind when MY sponsor got in MY face about things so they should not mind when I got in THEIR face about things, right?

As time went on, I really struggled with communication. It seemed to me I was insulting people without meaning to and my confidence began to plummet. I got resentful, angry about that - it is NOT my fault that THEY get offended - and my fear of people increased. Oddly enough, this was happening at the same time I was being asked to chair meetings and, later, speak at larger gatherings. This really confused me. How could people give me a standing ovation after I speak and then ask me to please phrase my questions or statements to them in a more respectful manner when we were speaking one-on-one?

I was confused.

When I get confused, I decide it is the other person's fault. I get whiny and childish. I get scared. I do the emotional equivalent of putting both hands on my hips, stamping my feet, and saying, "You are not the boss of ME".

After all, I know what I mean. I know what I am asking. It is not MY responsibility or fault if THEY get their panties in a bunch over my delivery.

Then I got it.

The 4th Tradition actually does give me a bit more responsibility than I, as a selfish and self-centered alcoholic, would like to take - especially in terms of communication. In fact, the entire program requires me to shoot higher than those around me, to try and be more loving, softer, kinder. It requires me to be strong, but it does not OK my splattering my personality all over everyone else.

That does not mean to say that I don't sometimes still do that - I can be too loud, too harsh, too critical and most of all too scared.

I am, of course, not yet St. Leslie of Modesto.

However, what I must be willing to do is be better than I was in terms of communication, of reaching out to those around me. I have modified my speech, tried to be softer, kinder, more loving. All in all, the results have been astounding. I try to keep my humor aimed at myself or if I tease someone I try and make sure the person is someone I know can stand the teasing, and if it turns out I was wrong and I hurt their feelings inadvertently, I apologize. I do not tell them I am sorry they got their feelings hurt. I tell them I am sorry I hurt their feelings, that it was unintentional and that I will try and remember not to speak to them that way in the future.

Now how does this all fit in with Tradition 4?

Each person, including myself, is an individual. We have the absolute right to speak, to act, and to be exactly the way we want to by virtue of our standing as a creature of a loving Creature. We have, from the moment of our conception, an inherent human dignity that only WE can tarnish and destroy but that we can restore any time we wish to return to God.

What we do not have the right to do is be ourselves at the expense of another person.

For me, and for those I sponsor, I take it further. If I find that an action I have taken, deliberate or not, has hurt someone else it is my responsibility to tell them I am sorry. I can be honest and tell them I did not mean to do it, tat it was not intentional and that I was not aware that my taking the action or spouting the words would hurt them. However, I do not get to denigrate their feelings by being dismissive and arrogant (well, that is not my problem that you don't like how I spoke or acted).

In today's world, I see so many people who wave the banner of their individuality high. They are well aware of their RIGHT to do, to be, to act, to say anything they want any way that they want.

What is missing, in my opinion, is the Love that comes from a willful and intentional turning to God. No matter what I am feeling emotionally or what I WANT from you, I need to be mindful of your inherent human dignity.

The tough part? I have to be mindful of it, even when you refuse to be mindful of mine.

That, however, is the cross of a Faithful Catholic. I can tell you, "Hey, that is not right. Do not speak to me like that" but if you insist upon your right to do so, there is nothing I can do about it.

I believe in tearing down walls, rather than setting boundaries. My experience has been that the more people get to know me, the better chance I have of having high quality people in my life. This is because those who understand that speaking to me with disrespect, or being hurtful will be forgiven but their place in my life may not be what they would hope get to decide for themselves whether or not I am worth being around. It may not be worth it to them to modify their speech, to try to become a kinder person. I have had people flat out tell me that they don't want to have to drop the profanity from their speech when they talk to me so it is just better that we not talk. That's up to them. They can never state I set a boundary; rather, I let them get to know me and decide for themselves whether or not someone like me is worth hanging out with if it means giving up the 'f' bombs.

So, tonight, when I speak about Tradition 4, I hope to share my communication struggles. I know that there will be at least two people in the room who will think I am speaking AT them, one person in the room who will disagree totally and speak up about setting boundaries and probably five people in the room who won't understand what I am talking about at all.

And that is OK - because they are autonomous, except in matters affecting other people and humanity as a whole.

See you tonight!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Miss You, Dad!

On Tuesday, April 15th, it will be 11 years since I stopped by my father's house on the way to work to drop off an ice pack.

I had spoken to him the night before around 9:30pm. I had asked him if it was OK if, instead of dropping by that night I could come in the morning. He said sure - it was late, I was tired, on my way home from a long day at work, school and a meeting of like minded people. The last thing I said was, "See you in the morning. Love you, Dad".

The next morning, when I arrived, I smelled coffee brewing. I walked into his back bedroom and saw him lying on his side, apparently asleep. I said, "Hey, Dad! I have the ice pack for you!" and then stopped. Something was wrong.

Dad was dead.

I grabbed the phone and called 911, then hung up because I could not for the life of me remember the address. I ran outside and looked at the number on the house. I ran back in and the phone was ringing - it was Dispatch. I told them what was up. They said they were on their way. I called my mom. I told her. I called my sponsor. She said call one of us. I called one of us. He called someone I sponsor.

She got there before the police, the family and the ambulance.

That's how we roll.

I spent the next several hours dealing with chaos. I remember thinking to myself, "What the hell happened here? He went to Mass with me on Sunday. First time in about 40 years but he was there.".

I kept looking around at all the people suddenly running around his house and thought, "the only one truly familiar with this place is my mom." There is a reason for that - I had had to help my father for the last 5 years of his life, pretty much full time. My Mom was the only person who had pitched in and helped me until I got the Veteran's Services involved because I was starting to fray at the edges.

I do not regret the hard work. I do not regret the middle of the night phone calls, the shopping, the washing, the cleaning, the feeding of his 97 year old mother-in-law who hated my guts and told me that every chance she got. In fact, though I was physically and emotionally exhausted during this period I do not regret any of it.

I got to be a good daughter.

There are people who would say I did not have to do any of it. My father didn't deserve it. He had walked out on us when my mother was pregnant with her second child and I was only 5 and half years old. He had never completely left; rather, he had blown in and out of our lives like a tornado. He was verbally abusive to me, verbally and physically abusive to my brother, horrible to our older half sister, Candace and all around a lousy father.

He was, however, also handsome, funny, charming and expansive when he could be which was often. He took my brother to see a dead whale when one washed up on the beach and me to see my first president when Lyndon Johnson came to San Francisco. He took me to the Roller Derby and coached my brothers Little League games, taking the kids to A&W for hamburgers even when they lost (which was pretty much every game) because he was damned if only the 'winners' were going to get free burgers. He served his country with honor and then lied to all his pals at Raley's, claiming to have been a fighter pilot over Berlin (my Dad was 6'5 when he was a kid - trying to cram him into a WWII fighter jet would have been a sight to see).

My father was a bucket of contradictions, as most men are, and was raised in a brutal environment as a child. He survived emotional and physical abuse and clung to his sister Glenda for love and support. She was the only woman he really loved.

When my Dad died, I was the only one of his three children (that we know of) who had a key to his house. It was my name on his bank accounts and me he turned to for help. It was me he told his last big lie to (here, honey, go see this attorney in Walnut Creek if I die. You are all taken care of, so don't worry about a thing) and it was me who got to say "I love you, Dad" to him before he died.

All I have ever been and will be is a result of the people who came before me - in the Church, in my 12-Step Group, and in my family. I am so grateful for all their behaviors, even the bad ones, because all of them have allowed me to view myself in the light of my own humanity. I could have held on to the grudges and the hatred and the feelings of unforgiveness and a good chunk of the world would have nodded wisely and said, "That's OK, honey. He deserved to be hated". Yet, if I had done that, I would have missed the beauty of a man who struggled so hard in the world. A man who tried to be everything and couldn't because of his inability to say, "Help me" to his Creator.

My hope is that every child on the planet gets to have a good father. My experience tells me this is not possible - we don't all get good father's here on earth. What I have learned from my own experience with a lousy father is that it does not have to define me as a woman - I can chose to be the daughter he needed and not the one he deserved.

I can also remember that, no matter what, I DO have a wonderful father...and to Him I can cry, "Abba!".

Eternal rest grant unto your servant, John Emerson Shaw, O Lord, and may Perpetual Light shine upon him.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Better Days and Standing Firm

I feel so much better today - still a little hitch in my giddyap but nothing like yesterday. That was just awful! I am hoping someone got out of Purgatory because I was not good for much else.

A nice young man I know from the fellowship of like minded and similarly afflicted people I hang out with in order to keep my sanity is starting his own 'Ministry'.

Good for him. I asked him to leave me out of it.

I am all for ecumenism but I will not become involved with still another group of people who have decided THEY know the Truth and the rest of us are either Lukewarm Christians or Paganized Christians or members of the Whore of Babylon or whatever. I am too old, too busy and too disgusted with the constant splintering of Protestantism to do more than tip my hat and keep him in prayer.


I am in The Church and I am HOME. I do not need another store front preacher of presenter of Catholic Light Philosophy to fill my days. I have the fullness of The Faith, The Sacraments and The Magisterium. I have the totality of The Holy Scriptures as revealed by The Holy Spirit, rather than revealed by Martin Luther and John Calvin. I have no reason to leave - my life is complete.

So, one of the perks of feeling better is the ability to very clearly state to this young man, "Good for you. Please do not include me".

I hope he listens.