Sunday, August 02, 2009

what if?

In the her book How of Happiness, Sonya Lyuobimirsky proposes that people writing about how something wonderful might not have happened experience a greater boost in joy than those who simply recount how the happy thing came to being.

. . . People who wrote about how they might never have met and fallen in love with their sweethearts had a bigger jump in happiness than those who wrote about how they did meet and fall in love.

Apparently, contemplating the fact that a key event might never have happened, at all, makes it more surprising and mysterious. Just think how close you came to having a different fate - your life could have gone in another direction, so easily!

For years when asked how I met Mike, I'd tell the long version of the story rather than simply saying "oh, at an AA meeting." The long version is a story of near misses and out-of-character behaviors, all leading to the moment in which he asked and I said yes and so began 17 years of a wonderful life together.

In AA, it is commonly accepted that people with a lot of sobriety are not to become romantically involved with folks who have just a little. It's a wise prohibition, having much to do with vulnerability and discouraging those who would take advantage of that, as well as maintaining a safe space for recovery.

As a relative old timer of nine years, when I met a three months sober Michael, I was friendly, as I am to every other newcomer. Over a period of a couple of months, I noticed that he was unusually happy and excited about recovery. I was too, and so we chatted after meetings, and I sometimes steered him away from the occasional bristling long sober old toads who attempt to steal the joy from another while avoiding the personal work necessary to acquire their own.

In all of my life, I haven't come across anything as exhilarating as watching a real, live, in the flesh spiritual transformation taking place before my eyes. I have shared it here before, but there is nothing that convinces me of the existence of a Power more than watching a hopeless, desperate, dying alcoholic catch fire with recovery. That transformation, the miracle that puts the light back into dead eyes, that puts an end to the suffering of alcoholism ~ to the desperate mental obsession, to the agony of physical craving ~ that Transformative Power is my God, my proof of a Great Reality. It is all I need, and all I need to know, to be assured that there is Something.

Mike had that fire, that electricity that arrives with the gift of a sudden freedom from the horrors of the disease. I have always envied him that, since my freedom came over a period of years, many some of the most miserable of my life. Given that instant release, he was boundlessly joyful. Having come to the rooms of AA fresh from thirty days of treatment preceded by two weeks of DTs and three weeks strapped down in an ICU, he was like a fresh-hatched chick, waking up in a new, perfect, and beautiful world.

This man I love is the worst kind of alcoholic. Physically damaged by the disease with cirrhosis and chronic pancreatitis, physically addicted to alcohol as few people really are, his alcoholism seemed to him to be hopeless. I have met a number of men ~ and a few women ~ like him. Knowing they can't quit drinking, they look forward to death as the only hope of relief.

Mike's pancreatitis and a severe seizure sent him to the hospital where he was told he'd have to be admitted or he could die.

"How long do I have?"
"Not long."
"I can't go in the hospital, doctor. I drink."
"I know."
"No, I drink. A lot."
"I know."

Mike didn't know that pancreatitis is, about 90% of the time, the result of alcoholism. He likely reeked of alcohol, as most physically addicted, late-stage drunks do. It wasn't news to the doctor that he drank, but her matter-of-fact acceptance of it somehow made him feel there might be hope for him.

I wasn't around for all of this, but I know the little miracles hidden within that story. Had he not developed pancreatitis, he would have been able to continue drinking. Had he kept drinking, he'd never have had that seizure and he'd have surely died of cirrhosis. Had he not been delivered to that ER, given that compassionate doctor, he might not have been given a way out.

And then I know the miracle of our meeting. Why would he have chosen that particular meeting in that little clubhouse, from among 300 meetings in this town? Why did I sit in that room rather than the other five in the building? Why did we strike up an acquaintance and find that connection of joyful sobriety?

And then there was the night we really did connect. I was at a Friday 5:30 meeting, one I usually didn't attend. Mike was there with his spanking new little Chevy truck, a nice change from the $500 Goodwill Datsun he'd been driving for five years. It was April 18, 2002, and everyone was talking about Springtime in the Ozarks, the annual conference in Eureka Springs.

After the meeting, Mike was standing outside, talking to four other men. He wanted to go to the conference and none of them were planning to take the trip. I walked by and Mike looked up at me and smiled and said "What about you, would you like to go?"

"The conference in Eureka."
"Oh, I . . ."
"It will be fun and I've got a new truck!"
"Maybe I . . ."
"I'll pick you up, we'll be back tomorrow night."
"I guess I could reschedule . . ."
"Do! Let's go on a roadtrip."

And so we did. I rescheduled. He picked me up that morning and we set out and we never shut up. We talked all the way there. We talked over lunch and between the meetings. We walked the streets of downtown Eureka talking, talking, talking. I never talked so much to any man, ever, and my experience with men is extensive.
It was entirely different, this thing with Mike, from the moment we set out on that trip.

But here's the thing. I'm not one to cancel plans with others. I never went to that Friday night meeting before. I am really not inclined to launch out on the road with someone I barely know, without any means of escape. I'd never gone to that conference, never wanted to. Mike always laughs when he says he'd never have asked me if he'd still been driving the Datsun. Too embarrassed, though now he knows I care little about the material. He just wouldn't have asked.

And so we fell in love almost instantly, the two of us. That evening after the meeting, we ran into each other at a poker game. I played across from Mike and drew the only Royal Flush ~ in hearts, what else? ~ of my life. And it hit me today what a fluke it was and how it could so easily not have happened. Had those circumstances not occurred, would I have met someone else? Would he? I don't know. Don't want to.

I think when everything is right it just happens. Maybe the Universe thought we looked cute together. Whatever it was, whatever it is, Ms. Lyuobimirsky is right. My happiness has increased in telling you why it almost didn't happen. So before I go and kiss my dimpled sweet man, what about you? Have you had a near miss that led to something wonderful? Maybe it wasn't a true love, maybe it was a lifelong friend, a wonderful job, a change of direction in life. Tell, please.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you Thank you Thank you!!!!!!
I am lining up info right now on Springtime in the Ozarks!
Love to ya!

August 02, 2009 11:30 PM  
Blogger Willym said...

As always a post filled with insight and love. Though I wish you'd post more often I know when you do it will be be something wonderful.

My 31 year relationship is the result of serendipity on so many levels its almost frightening. If I hadn't moved to Ottawa because of a relationship gone soar, if I hadn't found out about being "the weekend spouse" I would have transferred to London, if a phone call had arrived 30 minutes later... how different my life would have been and I am inclined to believe not for the better.

August 03, 2009 2:15 AM  
Anonymous alto said...

Two years ago, when my partner of seven years died suddenly, I didn't think it could get much worse. I was also resigned to the fact that at thirty eight, I would not have another relationship.

Funny how the most unconnected things are sometimes lined with that transformative power you describe. Because on a winter night a year later, with the intention being simply a one night stand, I walked into a downtown apartment and quickly found myself in the arms of the man who would do no less than bring me back to me.

The relationship waned early, too much alike I suppose. However the level of connection and friendship sustained, brought with it new and intense experiences of what a true support based in reciprocity can actually be.

Thanks so much for your story Lynette, I can wholly relate.

August 03, 2009 2:29 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

I finally met the person that taught me how to love unconditionally, only to be disconnected by long distance.....9 mo later, because of what I had learned, I met the love of my life.....oh so many similarities that I knew in the first meeting......I've always thought that it was all connected and for a reason......

August 03, 2009 11:52 PM  
Blogger ewe said...

You were ready.

August 05, 2009 5:19 PM  
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Anonymous TedBear said...

Love it.

August 12, 2009 11:53 PM  
Blogger tankmontreal said...

26 years ago I met Martin G. in a class and we became hopelessly infatuated with one another. But nothing was ever to happen between us as we were each attached to other guys.

Martin introduced me to his partner, John W., who was tall, blonde and impossibly handsome. My envy was palpable and I hated him immediately. The feeling was mutual: he was certain I was messing around with Martin.

Flash forward 24 years. I'm timidly walking up a ricketty old staircase to my first CA meeting. The room turns out to be full of guys I'd never met and I'm feeling entirely out of my element.

Except there's one slightly familiar face in the corner. Could that really be John W? When the meeting ends he approaches and asks me if I am who he thinks I am and would I like to go for coffee?

Over cups of java we laugh about Martin G. and the good ol' days and we exchange numbers.

All these years later John and I have grown very close - we're best friends, actually. He was even my sponsor for a little while. Imagine, after decades of mutual jealousy and suspicion.

My story may not quite fit your template, Lynette, except to say that when the time is right for special things to happen, they will happen.

August 14, 2009 5:04 PM  
Blogger Joe said...

Oh boy. I'm definitely crying right now. That was something else... and it's hitting me at an odd time. Because in a lot of ways, I'm just really tired of life right now. Thanks for sharing that.

August 16, 2009 10:15 PM  
Blogger Arizona Skies said...

I found you through another blog and just couldn't stop reading. This post is very inspirational and I just loved it. The best of luck to you and I'm happy that you've found your soulmate. I'm bookmarking your blog for future reads.

September 08, 2009 11:05 AM  

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