A More Likable Me
I was born with ambulatory cerebral palsy, which meant I was walking and talking like a drunk as soon as I was able to stand and speak. They tell me that it took two years for me to be able to walk without assistance. I do not have a typical stride; some call it a “scissor gait.” It’s hard to explain but it works for me.
As a boy and young man, much of my energy was focused on creating an alternative self-image. Righteous anger was at the ready. Self-pity festered and temper had its say. When my virtue or ability was challenged, “I’ll show you” was my unspoken response. The hair on the back of my neck curled when I was treated as disabled.
I had my first drunk while I was still a teenager and visiting a friend who was two years older than me. He and two of his buddies took me along on their way to a dance. When we stopped at a package store, I was asked what I wanted. I hesitated because this was new to me.
“A quart of beer,” I said. When we arrived at our destination we got out of the car and they opened their bottles. I needed a bottle opener. My friend opened it on the edge of the picnic table. Trying to drink from the quart bottle was an embarrassment. It took two of my shaky hands to lift it to my lips. Keeping it steady enough to sip had me blushing. When the boys were ready to go into the dance hall, I begged off. I was not ready to ask a girl to dance. The guys left their bottles with me. As I waited alone, I sampled each of them. On the way home I puked over myself and the car seat and then experienced a round of dry heaves.
Drinking became a challenge. Along the way, I found it difficult to pass a bar without going in. But I would not attempt to attack a shot glass filled to the brim. My regular bartenders knew to serve me shots in a water glass so as to make my drinking easier. I did not object to their special treatment. Some bartenders poured more generously than others. That was OK too. Drinking from a water glass beats doing shots through a straw.
My “I’ll show you” attitude blossomed. I became a businessman, got married and my wife and I had three sons. With all that, drinking and ego were close allies, boosting my shaky self-esteem, which needed constant validation.
In some respects, I married my mother, in the sense that I am unable to bully my wife. Soon after we married, my attempts to intimidate her began to fail and my temper became violent. After 10 years of drunkenness, a family intervention brought me to AA.
A low tolerance for emotional pain and a true desire to stop my unwanted behavior had brought me to a turning point. I stopped drinking at the age of 37, which was 49 years ago.
Early on, I had no clue what I was getting myself into. It was 1969 and my city had only two AA meetings a week. I attended them both regularly, without knowing why. The groups did not single me out as a newcomer or a misfit. They let me have my say and I felt included. Meetings, Steps and fellowship helped me go through the psychological hoops, which have revealed a willing husband and father and a more likeable me.
When I first quit drinking, my positive expectations of a sober life were soon challenged by many living problems, the ones that drinking would have allowed me to avoid or postpone. Going directly home after a day’s work was a major hurdle. No longer could I seek solace at the bars to “prepare” for the transfer. The school of sobriety suggested I avoid such temptation, so I struggled to join in with the rhythm of the family. But I had a big problem in my self-centeredness; I expected my family to stop what they were doing and pay attention to me. My attempts to fit in were clumsy and seemed hopeless.
Then I applied prayer. Many in my new Fellowship shared that their experience with prayer was good for them. So one January afternoon, a notion came to me while I was driving home from work. Short days bring early sunsets and a section of the highway offered a perfect view. I pulled over and parked. The setting sun on the clear horizon invited prayer, and I asked the God of my understanding for help on the domestic front. For days, I continued the practice, sunset or not. The stopover gave me a chance to switch focus from business to home life.
Even though the new hope that sobriety and prayer gave me was intoxicating, I became eager to fix everything right now. My willingness to change came on so strong, and my family was not impressed. I had promised them a sober husband and dad, but with no follow-through. Soon I picked up. Luckily I got back, and over time things really changed.
Over time, I have tempered my temper and become willing to learn. And this time my life in recovery did not get on the fast track. It went slow.
My sons were five, seven and nine when I got sober. By the time they became teenagers, I was able to exercise some positive parenting. When discipline was necessary, I had to abandon my “boys will be boys” attitude, and I learned to simply agree with my wife. Now my sons are grown men with gray hair who take good care of their parents. Thankfully, our family’s dysfunction is healing.
I thank the AA Fellowship for helping me mature in a loving way. My ongoing struggle these days is to meet life on life’s terms. Challenges keep coming. Time and age have started to test my ego. When walking became difficult, I was able to recognize my limitations and accept them, thanks to AA’s positive influence. But putting this wisdom into practice caused some personal resistance.
First, I started using a wooden staff to help me walk. My ego took a hit again when it came time to change to an aluminum cane. Later, a walker became my companion. Then I had to stop driving, but the Fellowship stepped up by offering rides. These days, at 87, I get around on a scooter. And even though “I’ll show you” is still part of my personality, I amaze myself when I figure out ways to manage household chores.
Today I was in the process of dragging two trash barrels behind my scooter from the curb to the garage. While I was putting the first one in place, I noticed a school boy bring the second barrel toward me. I was delighted. It was an act of kindness. I simply said, “Thank you,” and it made the boy smile.