When I choose character over comfort
by Kiki D
I landed in the rooms of A.A. in December 2013. Coming off the longest stretch of unmanageability I’d experienced in years, I came to believe in hope. Hope that a life without booze was possible for a drunk like me. What I found immediately was identification. What I found in time was open arms and people who remembered my name. What I find every time I enter the rooms is a new and growing understanding of love and of service.
Upon my arrival I half listened to slogans like: “We’ll love you until you can love yourself,” “You are not a bad person, you are a sick person,” “Service keeps you sober,” and “Love and tolerance is our code.” All of these sayings reminded me of the SNL sketch with Al Franken as Stuart Smalley saying, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and dog-gone-it, people like me.” I didn’t understand how any of this would help keep me sober or sane. So I tested and learned until I came to believe that love and service are magical spells used to transform an alcoholic existence into a sober life.
I began hearing that alcoholics needed only to change their thinking because this was a disease of the mind. People would talk about how grateful they were for the fellowship or their sponsor while simultaneously discussing serious life hardships like death, cancer, bankruptcy and divorce. They promised that in the face of these challenges they didn’t need to drink alcohol because they had “this program.” They were forever hugging each other and going out for coffee.
Listening to these kinds of shares day after day did something to me. I was intrigued. “Maybe if I am completely honest with my sponsor, I will see my life change too,” I thought. So I tried. It started with small things like a low-stakes disagreement I had with my boss.
“What would happen if you thought about how lucky you are to have a kind boss? What would happen if you tried showing her you thought she was kind by acting helpful?” my sponsor suggested. “What?!” This was the craziest idea I’d ever heard. My boss was there to support me and mentor me, I assumed. But the curious thing was I started showing up to work asking this question of myself and the dynamics at my job shifted. My boss was thanking me for helping her and she began taking me into meetings I’d never been asked to join.
Showing up for work with love in my heart and the spirit to serve, just as my sponsor was doing for me, radically altered my life. Because I was doing better work and being of service, my office felt more pleasant, too. I would stay all day and not drink on the job. Just as meetings happen when and where they say they will, I was where I said I would be when I was expected to be there.
When I reached 90 days of sobriety I was given the greeter position at an enormous Saturday morning meeting. It was magnificent because I learned so many people’s names and they learned mine. I was accountable because I had this service commitment. It was an act of love to show up for others.
On Friday nights I’d sometimes think a drink was a good idea, but would then remember my Saturday morning service commitment. I thought about how being greeted with a kind “hello” might help a newcomer feel more comfortable or bring a little joy to someone else. I started thinking about other people besides myself. Though because I am self-centered, I had to admit that being known by people as my true self and not needing to put on an act felt good, too. Everyone expected me to be real. The more real I was, the more connection I felt and the more connection I felt, the more love I felt for the program and the people in it.
That’s how my understanding of love evolved. I tested out doing loving things for nothing in return. I was sometimes disappointed by others but never in myself. That was a revolution. I had always been the one to blame and now I could know that I did my best. Showing love is as much for me as it is for the “recipient.” The act of love is service. Rather than demanding from others and showing love passively, I now work my hardest to show up for others and that’s it. Like the dynamic that shifted at work with my boss, my relationships shift when I am in love and service to others. I do not need to do it perfectly and I haven’t had to drink over those imperfections.
Finally, showing up to do hard things (or simple things I just don’t feel like doing) has shown me that I am capable. I feel better about myself when I choose character over comfort every single time. Being of service to others in A.A. and then out into all of my affairs is an act of self love. No one needs to believe me but I suggest testing and learning what love and service can do for you because it may be the spell that breaks the curse of active alcoholic living, which as we know, is no life.