I cannot take myself too (damn) seriously. Point in case: Before my tired forty-something body stirs in the morning, before my eyes squint at the day, my mind attacks with neuroses such as these:
What’s that twinge in my right hand? I can’t make a fist. Probably arthritis. I’ll never write again. Is Dylan up yet? Has he fallen down the stairs and is lying there unconscious? I don’t hear a thing. That can’t be good. Wait—I do hear something. Is that the answering machine beeping? Who died?
I’ve learned over the last twenty years of staying sober in recovery that these are the earmarks of a self-absorbed, fearful mind, part of my neurotic stew of –isms, those monkeys in my mind that never leave me, that tell me a drink will fix it. But I’ve also learned that my disease doesn’t know what to do with humor, so I punch it with punch lines. I obey rule 63 of recovery: Don’t take yourself so (damn) seriously.
This became my golden rule by desperation. I was a teenage alcoholic, one of those who needed a drink long before I had one, so fearful, self-conscious, angry, and alone that I craved release from my own mind. The miracle of my first drunk turned me normal, pretty, fun, smart, and carefree, monkeyless. I stood up straight. For one short night.
I awoke in vomit, an M.O. that continued long after I wanted it to. Thus began eight years of blackouts, a mind obsessed with the freedom from self-bondage just a few million drinks endowed. In rehab I met a group of good people who saved my pickled mind, soul, and body, and returned me to good humor.
These recovered alcoholics talked like this: “It’s a deadly business. We take our disease seriously as hell. There are people dropping like flies all around us.” But they always ended in raucous laughter, trying to top each other with the funniest war story. They said pithy things like, “Don’t go in your mind alone. It’s a dangerous neighborhood.” They made fun of everything that was so wrong with me it would kill me if I believed the lies created by my alcoholic mind.
Some things are serious. Most are not. We are all dying, and often it hurts a lot. I still have a feeling and go to a meeting to discover what to do with it other than over-react. Usually the answer is to feel it, tell on myself, and laugh. When I discovered recently that I have a nasty heart condition that can’t be treated well (barring a heart transplant), my golden rule was seriously tested. Of course that night there was a meeting on death. “Illness comes to everyone,” said one wise old old-timer. “None of us is guaranteed more than this day,” said another. “To die sober is the noblest thing you can do,” was said to a new member, a man dying of cirrhosis of the liver.
Then we all cracked up. Because life may be short, but it’s worth enjoying while you have it. Like most humans, I’ve lived in the dark enough. I choose to be light.
In recovery, there are no rules one through 62. That’s the punch line.
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