Life is rarely how it appears - or what we expect. The only way to manage life on our own terms - while honoring ourselves and those we love - is by remembering a few key things.
Are you real? Velveteen rabbit real? Is it more important to you to look holy, like you have it all together, than to connect with someone? Do you think talking to someone not religious about religion will help them when they're hurting? Are you willing to call bull shit on something, or do you think it's wrong to talk like that? Where do you draw your lines?
This week a woman called needing help for a friend with a drinking problem. She was begging for help - and she was drunk. When someone with a problem asks for help drunk, there's a general rule of thumb to suggest they meet in the morning when sober. It is the easier, softer - and more effective - way. I don't always follow this advice, however. Sometimes the moment matters because it may not come again. They may not remember talking to you - but they might. If they do, you've missed an opportunity to change their life.
On that particular night I invited her to an AA meeting. She declined, confessing a panic disorder keeps her from leaving the house. We continued talking on the phone. During the course of the conversation, I inadvertently blurted, "shit," in mid sentence. Before I could apologize for my slip of the tongue, she interrupted. Her response surprised me. She said, "thank you," with an earnestness I don't hear often. "For what?" I asked.
"For being...um...um, not holier than thou," she replied.
She appreciated that I was real. She caught a glimpse of my humanity.
When she was at her lowest, I didn't think I was better than her.
I'm not. Even in her messy, red eyed, intoxicated, crying, broken and desperate state, not one ounce of me felt better or more together than her. Or smarter.
She is me and I am her.
We are always only one tragedy, one bad decision, one gene, one brain chemical imbalance, one cancer cell, one mistake away from our life changing or falling apart...even if we don't admit it. We are each others mirrors. And saviors. And healers.
When you really get this, your relationships change for the better.
A minute later she got dressed and came to an AA meeting with me. Off we went - her messy hair and blood shot eyes, and breath that could sterilize lab instruments. And me, the pastors wife. Simply leaving the house was a reason to claim victory.
When we arrived, an AA member seeing she'd been drinking, told her to go home, get some sleep, and call her in the morning. My jaw hung open in a state of disbelief.
She ignored me because she didn't know me, probably assuming I had no understanding of alcoholism or addiction. In the blink of an eye, both of us were alienated. She wasn't paying attention which made her insensitive. Instead of hearing and connecting with us, she referred to an imaginary rule book in her head.
Getting this woman, who had not left her home in weeks, in a car to a meeting with 30 strangers was magnificent - even if she was under the influence. While it's true a meeting might not pack the punch it would sober - it was a starting place. She now knew she did it once - and we both knew she could do it again. Next time, sober. This nut has been cracked.
She also experienced love and acceptance without shame. I knew she'd remember that experience, no matter how drunk she was.
The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. Being sober at your first AA or NA meeting is not a requirement - even if preferable.
I had a 6 am flight. My only son was graduating college the next day. As I got in the car for the airport, a text stopped me in my tracks. My son had been in a terrible car crash and was hospitalized. He was out the night before celebrating the completion of 4 yrs in the Navy, 4 yrs of college, passing his last exam, and to top it off, his 26th birthday. Adulthood was launching. As he stepped through the doorway to this important rite of passage, he made a life changing decision that had the power to bring his bright, long-awaited start to a halt.
I went numb.
We are always one step from making a bad decision or being victim to someone else's choices. Our life as we know it can - and sometimes does - change in an instant. There was more than one lesson learned that night.
Here's what I remembered over 12 hours:
1. Know when to play by the rules - and when not to. Life is full of missed opportunities - especially if we insist on always playing by the rules. The trick is to know which rules to stick to like glue, and which to bend or break. In this case, going to a meeting drunk was the better choice. But driving drunk is never ok.
2. Always choose real over protecting your image - especially the Christian one. Being relatable trumps looking good. Especially when someone is hurting. Your "perfect role model" image doesn't touch hearts. Your vulnerability does. Being a Christian doesn't mean you have to act like the Cleaver family - unless that's real for you. Don't compromise your unique personality - quirks and all - or your authenticity for who you think you're supposed to be as a Christian. People not part of church see right through this. You'll alienate them instead of impress them. Just be your messy, broken, honest self. I guarantee you're much more interesting that way.
3. Pay attention by sensing and truly listening to the needs of those around you - instead of reciting rules or scripture telling them what to do. Just because you've deemed yourself an expert, or you know a scripture about the circumstances, doesn't mean you're right. Contexts vary. Consider the whole situation someone is sharing before you give them advice. Identify the small victories and use them as encouragement. Build on them, even if the big victories aren't in view...yet.
- Consider not telling people what to do May I suggest making suggestions instead? This is a foundational principle of all 12-step programs - and probably key to their success for 75 years. None of us like to be told what to do. We balk. Giving orders inhibits the experience of learning and discovery. When given the choice, create a space that allows someone to have the a-ha! That's where the magic is. It results in self confidence, awareness, understanding, vulnerability, and best of all - willingness. This applies to children too. (Unless they're in danger.)
5. Progress, not perfection. Another principle of 12-step programs, these words have freed millions from their nagging inner critic. For many, this critical inner voice keeps us from learning something we've always dreamt about, meeting new friends, or being part of a community. There are countless opportunities that await if we were willing to not get it right the first time.
It's ok if you don't sing like BonJovi to join most choirs, or to jam with friends if you only know 3 guitar chords. There are plenty of songs with three primary chords. Skip the chords you don't know. Keep doing whatever it is and be willing to not be perfect. No, correction.
Expect not to be perfect.
Laugh at yourself instead. People appreciate that. When you do, they will become your biggest supporters. Going to the AA meeting after being afraid to leave the house for many weeks was a personal victory. Being drunk wasn't perfect, but she went. That counts.
6. Sometimes it's two steps forward, three steps back. My son may have lost a lot in the car accident, mainly his paid off car - but he did not lose the experiences and knowledge gained from years of hard work. He did not lose his college diploma or the lessons and memories of traveling the world in the Navy. He did not lose the years he'd been sober and hard-working throughout the years. He and his friend did not lose their lives - nor did anyone else.
He gained a few things too. He quickly learned there are some rules you never break - no matter what. He gained a big dose of humility, and lost a pile of arrogance. He also learned, first hand, there comes a time we are fully responsible for every action we take - and to take them vigilantly and cautiously. Does this mean he'll get it all right from here on out? Nope, which leads me to the next lesson.
7. Let Go and Let God. I can't control anyone. Not ever. I can only remember what I've learned through my own experiences and from witnessing others. I can love people, be real, listen with all of my heart, make suggestions to those who ask, show up, pray, and sometimes, catch them when they fall. That's all. The rest is in their hands - and hopefully they can feel God walking beside them for strength, peace, and courage.
Life can be so hard sometimes - especially when watching helplessly from the sidelines.