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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.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

This is NOT a Happy Sunday

Revelations 20:12-13

Holy Mackerel, today is not a good day for me.

Normally, I have lots and lots and lots of patience. I have lots and lots and lots of patience because other people have had lots and lots and lots of patience with me.

Today, my patience is frayed and failing. I just want to start screaming, "PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE GIVE ME A BREAK".

This morning this is hitting me harder than normal because I have had one of the worst flare ups in my RA than I have had for a long, long time. I am in so much freaking pain. I have every damn joint on fire, my head hurts like hell, and all I want to do is curl up in a ball and sob.  I am limping.  I can't sit. I can't stand.  DANG it, I am HURTING.

I had a horrible nightmare last night that I was being forced to run a company where every one of the employees had been told what a horrible woman I was and so spent their days coming into my office and telling me what THEY were going to do that day and if I didn't like it I could sit and spin.

I woke up crying.  They were so mean!  It was the weirdest dream and as I sat up in bed, the pain grabbed me at my hips and my neck and I felt like I was being grabbed and twisted like a pretzel.  DANG IT DANG IT DANG IT.

I am so damn grateful to be a Catholic, and a sober Catholic at that, so I can kind of sorta deal with these kinds of days.  I do know (deep down in my heart)  that as badly as I feel right this minute (the throbbing pain, the swelling, the headache) God has me firmly in His Hands. I am going to be okay. I know that - I am going to be OKAY.

But right now? It doesn't FEEL like I am ever going to be Okay.

It feels like the pain is never going to go away.

It feels like I will never be able to be the woman I would like to be and am condemned to be the woman I am stuck being right now - a pain wracked, shaky, emotionally ripped up old lady feeling horribly sorry for herself and terribly alone.  I will be a whiny, hard hearted, nasty woman.  I will not be kind or patient or loving ever again.

Oh and the over sensitivity is kicking in high gear as well.

I am unloved.
I am unimportant.
I am old and ugly and in the way.
I am a lousy sponsor.
I am a lousy catechist.
I am a horrible child.
I am a horrible woman.

Good God…this is not a good Sunday.  I am trying so hard, but to be honest with you all, I have very little patience today.  I should not be talking to anyone.  I should simply be shut in my room and wait for the pain to go away - which, of course, it never will go away because (as any alcoholic knows) whatever I am feeling right this minute will be the way I feel forever.

Good thing for me I have a secret weapon - and she is a Dominican!!!!

My little saint I chose when I became a Lay Dominican is Blessed Margaret of Costello.

She was born horribly deformed and blind to a pair of parents who were not only unworthy of being her parents but were, in my opinion, a lot like the parents I see today.

They were narcissistic, selfish, overly concerned with their own lives and should never have been given the chance to be parents.

Yet, God knew what He was doing by giving them the beautiful Margaret.

Margaret was my choice because she had dealt with rejection all her life and did so with incredibly love and trust in God.

She became known for her acts of mercy and charity towards those who were in prison, who were living on the street, marginalized, poor and alone. When she died, the people declared her a saint, based on the wonderful life she had lived in spite of her physical limitations and handicaps.

I want to be like Margaret.

Today, however, that goal is so far out of reach it breaks my heart. I just want to cry. I want my body to stop hurting. I want relief.

I am, however, making a declaration and an intentional act of the will to offer today and all this pain for the conversion and peace of one little gal I know. She is having a tough day because it is Sunday and Sunday is always a challenge for her. And while I doubt I can really do much to help her, I have grown to love her and want her highest good.

So today is for her and for all the others in my life who think no one cares about them.

I care about them.

I wish I could do more, but I can't - so today, they get my suffering offered up for them.

Meanwhile, I will rest and watch Dr Phil and play a computer game or two. I have somewhere to be at 1pm…and I need to be there, I need to do what I am supposed to do today, I need to be at work tomorrow…..

Blessed Margaret of Costello, pray for me.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

It's Been a Long Couple of Days

I have just now started to get over the horrendous rhino virus attack that seemed to last forever. I have not been able to get to the gym for over ten (10) days because I have been so doggone sick. As a result I have baggy pants from losing muscle mass and my joints hurt - ok, they do not hurt. They ACHE - an almost constant dull throbbing ache that only goes away when I immerse myself in hot water filled with Epson Salts.

In other words, it ain't been an easy time.

As with any time I am battling the physical, the mental and spiritual starts going haywire too. I become very despondent over lost loves, for instance, and start wishing that little boy who once thought it was cool to sit next to me on the stairwell at my house and pretend we were in a helicopter, visiting all the relatives, still liked me. I become impatient with people, and find myself grinding my back teeth over what seems to be endless questions that all boil down to "But why can't I have it my way? Why? Why? Why". I become fearful of the opinions of others, seeing or hearing rejection in remarks that in all reality were made out of either complete ignorance or such a deep-seated resentment towards my Faith Tradition that the person making the remark isn't even aware of their own failings in this area (after all we don't have a POPE in General Service!).

Pile on top of a bad cold and a bad attitude a work schedule that is over-the-top and I think you have a recipe for total disaster. At the VERY least, you have a great excuse to go on bender of some sort - either the little kind that really don't matter (I shall buy 100 dollars worth of chocolate and salty stuff and eat it in front of the TV while watching DVR'd episodes of Person of Interest) or REALLY destructive kinds (I shall now buy the first bottle of Jack Daniels I have purchased in 21 years...and then I shall try to go buy some cocaine because the two go SO well together).

The problem with both of these 'benders' is obvious. The less obvious is that if I tried the first I would be sicker than a dog in about an hour and be unable to leave the toilet for at least a day. If I tried the second, I would be able to successfully navigate a liquor store but any attempt to purchase illegal substances of any kind would no doubt result in me having my money stolen, being raped and then severely beaten. I have been out of that game for WAAAAAAYYYY too long. Trust me. I am out of the loop big time.

SO - what's a nut case to do?

The Eucharist.
Rest when I can and then get up and start again.

Each day becomes another chance to be the woman I want to be rather than the one I could be with very little effort. And in order for me to be that woman, I have to acknowledge two, no, three things:

1. I ain't like the rest of ya
2. I am a Sacramental and Liturgical Catholic
3. I need to connect with Like Minded and Similarly Afflicted people at least three times a week.

I hope, each day, to be better. Some days, that goal is reached and other days it remains on a distant horizon. What I know, however, is that the grace is there for me to do it no matter what I think or feel. The challenge for me is to cooperate with that grace. For that I need to make an Act of Faith and an intentional act of the will - and to ask for prayers from others who believe in prayer.

I cannot always battle the anti Catholics out there. I feel sorry for them and I pray for them. On the days I cannot bring myself to lift my sword and shield in Defense of the Faith, I pray for those who are able to do it because maybe that way I can be of some help.

Meanwhile, tonight we work more Overtime.

St Thomas Moore, pray for us!