Raising the Bar

In AA this week some of the guys went through a laundry list of “character defects” they are trying to address. One gentleman felt he was “being lazy” by having a desire to stay in and watch football all day on Sunday—and another felt that “he sets the bar really low in terms of doing nice things for his wife.” Then a third gentleman felt bad for “judging and criticizing” people for no apparent reason at all.

Me? I related to all of them I suppose. I made a few statements to the guys, as everyone was getting down on themselves and the meeting was transforming into somewhat of a pity party. “What we are describing is far from abnormal guys. In fact, it’s painfully normal to want to feel lazy at times, or forget through complacency just how important your significant other can be—and judging/criticizing others, for whatever reason, is common place in our society. We are beating ourselves up over being normal men. Now, are the before mentioned items normal? Yes. Are they ok? No–with the exception of the occasional lazy Sunday—because everyone loves a lazy Sunday. The beauty is, as opposed to when we were actively drinking, is that we recognize, care and can address these issues. Life matters to us—and the way we treat others, even a stranger (how we support newcomers to the program),

Setting the bar low: us alcoholics set the bar low, when actively drinking, in just about every aspect of our lives. We drank and often times ignored those around us—people, who to us, would knit-pick and interfere with our drinking time. Unfortunately, those we are closest to, like girlfriends/wives/sisters/brothers/mothers/fathers/etc, are the people we hurt the most.   Alcoholics tend to be selfish, controlling, egotistical and generally hard to be around.  Do we realize this while we’re active drinkers? No, not all of the time. The excessive intake of alcohol creates a level of stubbornness and arrogance that is impossible to surpass. Our biggest character defect of all was not realizing that we had any defects. Like I’ve stated several times—denial is a mother fucker. Once we stop bingeing on alcohol and drinking on a daily basis our minds start to function on a higher, and much clearer level. We start to feel regret, remorse—and with that comes a bit of guilt and sadness. Ok, maybe a lot of guilt and sadness.

I told the group “guys, it’s a good thing that we now realize these normal, but really important aspects of life that we can work on, and make better. We aren’t experiencing these challenges because we are alcoholics—it’s because we are human beings. It’s not a matter of the character defect existing, it’s now a matter of what we do about it.”

The gentleman who set the bar really low in regards to expressing love and appreciation for his wife said “it was our anniversary this month and I took her out to dinner—and also bought her a jacket. She loved it, but last year I didn’t do anything for her.”

It really made me think about my last relationship—and the countless chances I had to better express my love and devotion. I did a terrible job—and of course, if I could turn back the clock I would do things completely different. Hind-sight is 20/20.

I told him “you are lucky to still have a chance with your wife—an opportunity to make her happier than she has ever been. She isn’t thinking about what you didn’t do last year—she is thinking about what you’re doing now. If you keep the bar elevated, she will feel loved and appreciated. If you lower the bar again—before you know it, she will be gone.”

Katie was gone in the blink of an eye. I had her by my side for three years and didn’t do what was necessary to make her happy. I know the pain that surfaces, lingers and festers when you lose the person you love—and I would never wish that pain upon anyone. I want my friend in AA, and his wife to have a long, happy and healthy marriage.

I don’t dwell as much on my last relationship anymore—however, I still feel an abundance of love for Katie, a love that I never felt before for anyone. I want to appreciate the fact that I can love this strong—I know one day the pain will go away 100 percent, but I don’t want to let go just yet.

I suppose the moral of this post is another lesson I learned from AA. Once you stop drinking, you start thinking. Once you remove alcohol from your life—you enhance your thought process—and other aspects of your life that need to change become exposed. Just remember, these defects have always existed—and you now have an opportunity to work on them to become a better person. It’s not going to happen over-night—it’s not going to happen in one year—it’s about progress, not perfection.

I can’t change what happened, I can’t turn back time—but moving forward I can do a better job, and raise the bar.

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