Tuesday, February 28, 2012

on becoming a dick

When I was a baby in sobriety, I used to hit a meeting in Pratt, Kansas, before heading to my parents' cabin at 99 Springs. It was a discussion meeting, not my favorite kind, but the droning of my fellow travelers gave me plenty of time to think. And one of the things I pondered at length was the meaning of a sign on the wall. It said "When you're off the beam, you don't know you're off the beam, because you're off the beam."

Although "the beam" is mentioned several times in the body of AA literature, the sign always struck me as ridiculous. In AA clubhouses and meeting rooms across the planet, there are all sorts of signs plastered on the walls. "Think, think, think" is one. "Don't think" is another. (I know, but it makes sense to us.) I've never seen the beam sign anywhere but Pratt.

To me, the on-the-beam, off-the-beam, sounded silly. And the last phrase, almost a taunt, "because you're off the beam." Nah nah nah NAH nah. So there. Like that.

Just this week, though, I have received from the Universe the perfect lesson in being off the beam, and not knowing it, because I'm ... well, off the beam, and so I couldn't know, could I? As a result, I've lapsed into being a dick. An asshole if you prefer. A jerk if you want to keep it clean.

I have been argumentative, calling others out for their condescending tone or words, while condescending myself in presuming I know better than they do. I have been judgmental, quickly pointing out to others their judginess against those I felt sure couldn't defend themselves. Hellooooo condenscension, my ever present friend. Of course, in my view, I have been on the side of angels, but the truth is I've just been an ass, and worse, I have been smug (oh! I hate smugness!), certain that my own beliefs and experiences are superior to those of others because, you know, I'm right.

I am right. As I write that, I'm hearing the echoes of sponsors past, "Would you rather be right? or happy?" I'd like to be both, please. I want it all, the joyous righteousness of being correct, and oodles of happiness to boot. I want it all, always have, forever after, I always will.

But they were right, those men and women who helped me along the way. If right becomes an argument, there's no happiness there. And why have I been so wrought up in being right anyway? Me, who for years made the case that any version of a Power is fine, that a Power is a Power is a Power and it's our personal definition that's the key, the key to freedom and joy and happiness. I have been the greatest booster of find-your-own-way thinking. What's right for you is right, that kind of thing.

Along with my recognition that I'm off the beam, I've figured out the root cause of my recent dickishness. It's perfectly correlated with Mike's good and bad days. It's my form of projection and protection. All of the anxiety I feel about being unable to help / control / make perfect his health, I project out into the world and I pick fights and by God, if I can win there, then I've won and that would ... oh hell, I don't know. In my new on-the-beam-ness, I see the stupidity in the thing, but who ever said the brain will always make sense? It won't, at least not mine. And picking fights with strangers won't make Mike well. Winning won't make him okay. Or me.

And if I keep it up, things will still not be okay some days (and some days, thankfully, they will) and I'll be a dick for real. Because my dickishness right this minute is a temporary state of being. Like all ugly habits, it could become permanent if I feed it and make it grow and allow it to settle in.

Today I choose not to, and I'm grateful to the Universe for this little lesson, and eternally grateful to the people of Pratt, Kansas for that goofy little sign that captured my imagination 28 year ago. Some of us are slower than others and sometimes I learn things again and again and again before I actually learn them. One thing I know for certain is that I don't want to be a dick, whatever happens to Mike. It's not fun and it won't make the sun shine. It's just a distraction from getting back on that beam, and that, my friends, is the place for me.

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