Do the Work
I get a text message – don’t know the number and there’s no name. All it says is, “please, please call me.” The thought process seems to be that if they know me and my number surely I must know them and theirs. I dial the number and offend the person who answers by asking who they are. With a huge sigh he offers his first name, John. This is all he says. I’m tempted to say, “oh, good I only know one guy with that name…” I recognize the voice. After the first sentence I recognize that he is drunk. This is going to be a very short conversation.
He’s a great kid even when he’s actively self destructive. He’s crying and asks me, “what’s wrong with me?” I suggest that being drunk at two o’clock on a Tuesday might have a lot to do with what’s wrong with him. He wants to argue this point but knows better. He tells me that he’s trying to forget. I ask him what he’s trying to forget. He tells me. I point out that this forgetting thing doesn’t seem to be working very well. He laughs bitterly. He wants a philosophical discussion. He’s not getting one. He asks me what to do. I tell him, “that thing that never works? Yeah. Stop doing that.” He groans.
He changes tracks by demanding to know just what it is he should be doing. “Go to work. Pay the bills. Eat healthy. Don’t drink. Go to meetings. ” This is too simple. A person who wants to stay semi-comfortably in denial will hate having a clear course of action presented to them. I explain that he can call me back when he’s sober and end the call.
The next day I meet with a young man who could be this kid’s twin brother. Mark is paying a lot of money to isolate in his dorm room and fail college. He’s really excited to see me. He has some new insights into why he’s fucked up. He’s on his fourth Red Bull of the morning. Mark is a high bottom addicts and alcoholic – meaning that he stopped using before his disease cost him dearly (relatively speaking). His speech is rapid and he’s very animated. I know he hasn’t been using but I ask anyway because he takes pride in being able to tell me that he hasn’t. He sheepishly admits he’s gone through a pot of coffee and a pack of cigarettes before noon. I nod at the Red Bull and ask why addicts like energy drinks so much. He’s irritated because he knows that I know that enough of them produces a high that’s about 1/50th as good as doing cocaine. Just enough to reminisce.
He pours out his theories and shares some journaling about inner conflicts that need to be resolved. He calls them his “demons.” This is good stuff. Unfortunately, Mark is on spring break and instead of catching up on his late school work, he’s using analysis to procrastinate doing the work he doesn’t want to do. This is subtle self deception. Familiar questions – he asks me what to do. I tell him to buy a case of Red Bull and a carton of cigarettes and don’t come out of his room until he’s caught up his term papers. He’s disappointed. This is not the answer he wanted. For an hour a week he casts me as his father figure. His role model is holding him accountable. He pouts.
Pouting earns him a lecture. The good news is my lectures last three minutes or less. The one he’s getting today is entitled, “The baby needs to eat. Feed the baby.” I explain where I was at as a young man and that analysis was an escape for me too. I was a very young father, working class poor, and a generally fucked up individual. I dealt with my demons in healthy and unhealthy ways.
The difference between he and I is that I was a dad and what good dads do is they take care of their kids better than their fathers did. Mark wants to relate to this as the reason that he wants to be a dad in the future and I stop him. He’s looking abashed and I explain to him that as amazing as it is to be a dad there are changes that come with the role. The biggest shift is in your priorities. Nothing matters compared to the needs of your children. Children have many needs – meet all of them.
Whether you’re drowning in self pity or not, the baby still needs to eat. Feed the baby. Whether you’re filled with self loathing, depression, anxiety, or pain, the baby still needs to eat. Feed the baby. Mark does not yet have a baby. He has a full time college course load. Classes are easy to ignore. Babies are not. Go to class. Do the work. Get better. Get a life.
Mark leaves feeling focused and making promises. I stop him and tell him not to promise me anything but rather to have self respect and make the promises to himself. All this talk about promises makes me think of the Big Book. Mark’s homework is to tape the following to his refrigerator. I suggest doing the same for you.
The AA Promises
If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.
We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.
We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace.
No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.
That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear.
We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows.
Self-seeking will slip away.
Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change.
Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us.
We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.
We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.
Are these extravagant promises? We think not.
They are being fulfilled among us – sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly.They will always materialize if we work for them.