Sunday, January 24, 2010

Doing the deal...

Mike and I had an uncomfortable conversation this morning.  Our common observation is that he's on his way out the door toward drinking one more time because, even though he's living in a halfway house, facing dire consequences and in health, likely still to wind up on the street in the winter - he is not showing up where he says he'll be when he says he'll be there.  In other words, he's just "not doing the deal."  As best I can figure, we're both pretty much honest with our assessments.

I hate it when I get to this place with a sponsee.  In fact, it seems like he's beyond what I can offer (aren't they all?).  I've watched him go from a one-year sober mid-level sales executive three years ago to nearly five years to death's door drunk and bouncing in and out of the rooms for the past several months until his life was thoroughly burned down.  He is now living in a halfway house where's he's racked up a little over a month of sobriety. You might be able to tell that I'm reluctant to add his name to my sponsorship resume today.

I was ruminating on our conversation when I read the following excerpt from a crime novel, The Girl of His Dreams, By Donna Leon.  Four people (two detectives and their respective wives) working on a casual investigation have just attended a meeting of what they presume is a charlatan Christian leader's flock where he very charismatically expressed encouragement of a small group toward "goodness" - it starts with the main character's wife expressing her opinion about the presumed fake:
'... Nothing he said was in any way exceptional just the same sort of pious platitudes you get in the editorials in Famiglia Cristiana,' Paola went on, leaving Brunetti to wonder how on earth she could be familiar with them. 'But it's certainly the sort of thing people like to hear,' she concluded.
'Why?' Vianello asked, then waved to the barman, passing his hand over the four glasses.
'Because they don't have to do anything' Paola answered. 'All they have to do is feel the right things, and that makes them believe they deserve credit for having done something.' Her voice deepened into disgust and she added, 'It's all so terribly American.'
'Why American?' Nadia asked, reaching for one of the fresh glasses the barman set on the counter.
'Because they think it's enough to feel things: they've come to believe it's more important than doing things, or it's the same thing or, at any rate, deserves just as much credit as actually doing something. What is it that poseur of a president of theirs was always saying, "I feel your pain"? As if that made any difference to anything. God, it's enough to choke a pig.' Paola picked up her glass and took a hefty slug.
'All you've got to do is have the proper feelings,' she went on, 'the fashionable sentiments, and make a business about how delicate your sensibility is. And then you don't actually have to do anything. All you do is stand there with your precious sentiments hanging out while the world falls over itself applauding you for them and giving you credit for having the same feelings that any sentient being would have.' Brunetti had seldom seen Paola respond so savagely. 'My, my, my,' he observed and took a sip of his prosecco.
Her head whipped towards him, her eyes startled. But then he watched her play her remarks back and take another hefty swig before saying, 'It was exposure to all that goodness, I think. It goes right to my head and provokes the worst parts of my character.'
They all laughed and the conversation became general. 'I'm always nervous when people don't use concrete nouns when they speak,' Nadia said.
This struck me profoundly.  An American author reflecting on the image American's might (probably?) have in a casual Italian conversation.  Truth known, I think it's not a completely American phenomena but I can't tell you how fed up I am with our culture where, as Ms. Leon opined, feeling a sentiment is tantamount to actually doing something appropriate in response to an event or circumstance (a disaster, an injustice, etc.).  It is a great understanding of what I see in political and religious circles, family and, dare I say, many AA meetings I go to.

I think I can even let go of the cynicism and skepticism I hold at some meetings and better understand the distinction  I hear between expressions of the "problem" and the "solution" in AA gatherings.

In  our AA program of action, we recover by "doing" things, not by "feeling" things.

I think that might be a part of Mike's deal.  We're both watching as he caries his feelings from place to place.  I've worked with him to focus on looking for opportunities to be useful and contribute - that seems to have been useful (for ~40 days so far).  However, he can't show up (home group, meet with me, etc.) because suddenly he doesn't feel like it.  And, the fact the he feels bad about not showing up somehow excuses the behavior.



Garnet said...

Ouch! Blisteringly truthful. Sometimes I think people (meaning me and others) believe the intent to do something is just as good as doing it. "I meant to buy you a birthday present." "I wanted to phone you last week." "I planned to mow the lawn." And then we're offended when we don't get kudos for our good intentions.

I hadn't thought about good feelings in the same light. "I feel bad about what's happening in Haiti, therefore I'm virtuous." I think you're on to something....

Syd said...

I guess a horse can be lead to water but has to want to drink. I hope that Mike doesn't drink.

dAAve said...

You have a sponsorship resume?

Oh yeah, I guess Mike is gonna do what Mike is gonna do.

Mary Christine said...

Bless his pea pickin heart. He is a mystery. I love that guy. If anyone *should* get sober, it should be him. And yet.... and yet... and I have a sponsee just like him.

Thank you for that breathtaking quote from that book. I think you might have hit the nail on the head with that.

Heck, thanks for all that you do.

Mary LA said...

Ed this is such a thought-provoking post. I love Donna Leon's murder mysteries set in Venice (those wonderful descriptions of Levantine food). And the truth is that some are not ready to go to any lengths at all to stay sober -- talking is what they do instead. I was that way once.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting,needed to read this, today.