Sunday, January 17, 2010

Bad people...

This may be the hardest article I've written so far but somehow, it seems important.

One of our members, John (his real name - it's plastered all over the news so there's little point with anonymity now), has spent the past several years with summers near here in Colorado and winters in Missouri and Florida.  He is considered a trusted elder with over 20 years sobriety in our AA community.  He has as fine a grasp of the program and our traditions as anyone I know.

He went on a shooting rampage in Florida last Thursday - shot 5 people, killing 3 - 4 if you count the fetus he killed in the pregnant woman that lived.  One of the dead is a sheriff's officer.  It's a bad, bad, bad, bad deal.

Many in our community are distraught.  "How could this happen?"  "The John I know could never have done this!" "What happened?" etc.

Of course I've felt these things and more.  A lot more.

John has helped me and a lot of other members out through the years.  He's a tough man with a bad drunk history and an amazing story of recovery.  As one article tried to point out, a Saint and a Sinner.  I've had coffee or dinner with him as recently as 3 months ago and discussed the finer points of an AA tradition on the phone with him only 3 weeks ago.  In the past I've shared rooms with him at AA conventions and conferences.  I've frankly learned a great deal about our program and AA service at his instruction and the example he set in his life.  One time he came to a dinner where I was sharing while he was in the middle of having a heart attack.

So,  I'm thoroughly wrecked by this.

I've often heard in meetings sayings like "I'm not a bad person trying to get better, I'm a sick person trying to get better."  I know what they mean when they say it.  I just don't think I'm either one.  Maybe it has nothing to do with alcoholism.

As to whether I'm bad or not - I don't think I get to judge.  Me or others.  You are not going to convince some people in Florida today that John is not bad.  I wouldn't dream of tying to.

Likewise, I believe that the "disease concept of alcoholism" has done more damage for drunks and AA than it has done good.  As a metaphor, it may be useful occasionally but, again, how do you explain to the families in Florida that the man who performed this terrible act was "sick?"  Is that supposed to offer some sort of comfort to them?  That might be as sick as the act.  I don't know.

As I was trying to collect my thoughts for this article Friday night, I got a call from a friend and I related the news about John.  He kept asking, over and over, "How did it happen?"  "Why did he do it?" - Like, something we could understand or say would explain and justify these actions.  Maybe if he took a drink before his rampage, we could excuse it.

Truthfully, what might have been behind these sorts of questions in my friends and my mind is "...since John did this terrible thing, is it possible that I might do something like that too?"  As I shared my opinion with my friend, I don't think he felt comforted or comfortable.  I certainly didn't.

New flash: there are people who do bad things in meetings of AA.  Maybe a lot of people.  In fact, some people may not be as "recovered" on a given day as they advertise.

This is the 2nd active murderer I've sat in AA meeting rooms with.  Another man in our community stabbed his wife to death in a rage about 5 years ago.  I clearly blamed AA as being at least a little complicit in that crime in that we'd observed this couple rage at each other for years in and around meetings.  In retrospect, perhaps the platitudes that were offered like "progress not perfection" and "keep coming back" were not the tools they needed to deal with the life they were living.

I now wonder as well about John.

Our Big Book says:
"If we were to live, we had to be free of anger. The grouch and the brainstorm were not for us. They may be the dubious luxury of normal men, but for alcoholics these things are poison." BB p. 66

I have  dictionary that was published in 1935 and the definition for "brainstorm" would be most like what we would refer to as rage today.

I know people who feel they can "use" their rage like a tool: to get past a bad situation at work; to getting a stubborn latch to catch; to be more successful in a sport.  Just a little rage gets the adrenaline to kick in and what could be more harmless?

I've seen John get angry and, well, I worked hard for him to not be angry with me.  By reputation, he was known as someone to be careful of.

Well, I guess so...

A promise and direction I see in our Big Book for ongoing sobriety is:
"... We are not cured of alcoholism. What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition. Every day is a day when we must carry the vision of God's will into all of our activities. 'How can I best serve Thee--Thy will (not mine) be done.' These are thoughts which must go with us constantly. We can exercise our will power along this line all we wish. It is the proper use of the will." BB - p. 85
I don't think John was following this direction last Thursday.

Good people?  Bad people?  Ask me about myself on any given day and I'll let you know.

By the grace of God, I hope I can follow the directions today and maybe, perhaps, be of use.

That's what I'm betting my life on anyway.


garden-variety drunk said...

what a terrible story. my thoughts and prayers are with the family and friend's of john's victims. and also with all those AAs he helped over the years.

Mary Christine said...

I am so sorry. This must be devastating.

Kathy M. said...

A very sobering story. My prayers for the victims and their families.

Carol said...

It's a narrow line we walk.I'm in a trusted profession and I play in my mind how little I would need to do to lose credibility/job & be arrested. I would never act out physically but I'm guessing that someone who has done also plays with that line. Interesting that you instinctively feared him.

Syd said...

I am so sorry about this. I suppose each of us lead lives of desperation with some more desperate than others. What was it about him that one had to look out for? I wonder what the breaking point is for each of us?

Scott said...

whew... I think that all I can do is pray for those affected and for John and say thanks for your words of wisdom and honesty.

An Irish Friend of Bill said...

What confuses me, is why you thought that someone supplying indecent photos of himself to his niece 13months ago was such a ??? fine example of long term sobriety in AA? I am pretty sure that if I were to embark upon such a course of activity, that my AA reputation would be in tatters, regardless of whether I drank or not. People would say I had significant and criminal mental health issues, and rightly so.
"Authorities say tensions between John Kalisz and his family hit a new high 13 months ago after he slid a CD containing nude photographs of himself under his niece's mattress. He eventually pleaded guilty to contributing to the delinquency of a minor and a separate charge of aggravated assault and was sentenced to six years probation and ordered to have no contact with Donovan or her family."

Thankfully where I go to meetings, length of sobriety is not equated with competence of the program.

I noticed in my first year that some of the worst behaviour came from the members with the longest time without a drink.
So I suppose time means very little to me. on its own that is.
I cannot speak for your friend, as I do not know what he was doing, or what combination of prescribed medication he may have been taking. He may have been diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic for the last 5 years and simply stopped taking his medication. Who knows?

All I know is that there are many very mentally unwell people in AA, and in my opinion it is foolish to equate length of sobriety with competence. If people are uptight, disparaging, grumpy, lifeless, dour, bitchy, intolerant, complaining, somber, humourless, irritable, restless control freaks, then I am not particularly impressed by what they have, no matter how long they are around.

Like I say, I have no idea what sort of life he was living before he blew a gasket, but I'm sure there is something there which would make sense of his fatal outburst. In the past when i have looked into the personal circumstances of ppl who either relapsed or kill themselves, I find that they are desperately unhappy and unable to alter it using the skills in AA they have acquired to date.

As for "progress not perfection" and "keep coming back" being directed at people in hostile or physically violent relationships, thats not something I've heard being suggested in meetings I go to. I never suggest such things to women or men in toxic relationships of any kind.

dAAve said...

Maybe we don't need to label someone as good or bad. Maybe they're a little bit of both. Maybe they just are who they are.
Some are sicker than others. Being sober (from alcohol/drugs)AND in recovery may not have anything to do with some of our other problems. There are NO guarantees in life.
I don't know.
But I do know I have to be my best and that I'm powerless over the actions of others.

Gabriella Moonlight said...

There is something very powerful in you sharing this and in reading the comments. I remember a long time ago in my life I was told that you really never get to truly know another human being, that only their god can know what is fully in their hearts. I remember this today as I read this post and the heartbreaking nature of it and the sadness and desperation a human's life can take.

Like Irish, I've also had the realization that time in the program does not equate with sobriety or sanity and that there is no gurantee for any of us, we have to work it and we have to be rigorously honest. Why I am stating this to you, you know all this, I guess it's that unknowing of others, the mystery that really is in all of us.

Thank you for sharing this as I understand the difficulty of it and the difficulty for John and those left here to figure it out, but really some mysteries are better left unsolved.

Love to you

Tall Kay said...

A very sad and tragic story. Thanks for sharing this. It's always hard to realize that people aren't who we think they are.

Anonymous said...

After reading your beautiful carefully written post, I can only offer this: We are all sinners and only but a step away from which way we should go.

I know I must keep God, Christ & Spirit first and foremost in my heart and mind daily to overcome the life I have had. I must continue to walk in sobriety so as not to repeat any of the past in my today.

It is easier to sit upon a fence and judge than it is so come down and help put poles in the ground. I think you took a brave look at this situation and to the best of your ability, you did so without judgement. This had to be difficult. I commend you.

Sad, so very sad.
Hugs to you.

Prayer Girl said...

This tragic story blew my mind. I have to say my thinking mirrors our Irish Friend of Bill.

I, along with others, send prayers to the victims' families. I'm sure John is in need of prayer as well.


Pam said...

I think there are probably several Johns walking amongst us. How sad to have a heart that can do so much good, and a brain that is opposite for some reason on a given day.
I'm sorry you are dealing with this awful thing...sweet Mr. Ed.

Scott W said...

We never know what is truly going on with others. I was told sometimes all we can do is pray for people. Events such as these, and recently here with a member's suicide, really make me remember how cunning, baffling and powerful this disease is.