Over the years, I have had many very good lessons on how our recovery is a matter of progress and not perfection. I realize how incredibly selfish I can be. I am good at casually, but intentionally, including in my sharing and stories things like “during the two years I drove Meals on Wheels 5 days a week” or “during one of my recent medical mission trips to Panama” and so forth. But I also realize that those are acts done on my terms, when I choose to do them. In cleaning out some paperwork the other day, I came across some notes from a few years ago where I certainly came up short. Here are a couple of those stories from a while ago . . .
I was going to mail a letter on my way to a meeting. I pulled into the P.O. lot to the mailbox. Another car was parked there in front of me. They were fumbling with something inside their car, wasting my precious time. I congratulated myself that in the past I would have blown my horn to alert them to their being in my way. Instead, as I was running late, I got out of my car, walked beside the other car to the mailbox and put in my letter. As I was walking back to my car, from the other car, came a voice “Can you do that for me too?” I pretended not to hear. As I drove away, I saw the elderly person in the car extend their hand toward the mail slot but drop their two letters on the ground. Their car door opened and they started to try to pick up the letters. I drove off. I was a half block away when the full impact of my arrogance hit me. I was a block away before I thought I should go back, but was too embarrassed by my selfish behavior to do so. I was two blocks away when I ran through all the rationalizations on why it was really this persons problem and not mine, they should have pulled up closer to the box, and so forth. I was a couple more blocks away when the absolute arrogance, stupidity, and just plain inhuman nature of my behavior hit me like a ton of bricks. This was probably the most knowingly inhuman act I committed in a while. Not a big deal, one might think, but to me, it had all the characteristics of that “self-will run riot” of addictive behavior. I know that type of behavior is what will lead me to relapse. Bottom line, I did not go back, rightly or wrongly, figuring the issue was resolved by the time I processed this all through, but also convinced that I needed and absolutely must have a complete change in attitude. I learned something.
And . . . I came home from work and there were two dogs sleeping in our front yard. They were reasonably well fed but had no collars. Clearly, someone had gotten tired of the dogs and dumped them on our street. My wife wanted to do “something” for them. I immediately went into my “we already have three rescue dogs . . .” The larger of the two abandoned dogs was panting from lack of water. The little one incessantly barked at me. The larger would walk in front of the barking dog trying to quiet him basically saying “hey we are lost, these people are at least paying attention to us, I am thirsty, give it a rest.” Fresh from the mailbox incident, I was able to process through my selfishness a bit quicker this time. Our dogs were barking like crazy on the inside of the house. I got the strays a bucket of water that they drank up quickly. An hour later they were still laying in our front yard. We sent out an email to the neighborhood asking if anyone was missing the dogs. It was going to rain. I went to get a couple of kennels from our back yard to set in the front so the dogs could at least stay out of the rain. By the time I got to the front, the dogs had followed someone else down the street. They have not come back.
Here is my point in telling these stories, even though from a few years ago. I am forever grateful to Alcoholics Anonymous for giving me the tools to at least process through my behaviors. I have been sober for a bunch of years. I thoroughly enjoy and am excited by the fact that I can continue to make progress, never achieving perfection. During my active alcoholism, I would never have gotten to the point of even questioning my motives and behaviors. I always started from the premise that I was right and it was the world that was wrong. I realize today, that self-righteous attitude often is still my starting point, but through the experience, strength, and hope of recovery, I am able to move beyond my own self-serving behaviors and think about others as well. That gift is what keeps me coming back. Two of my favorite sayings are “process, not an event” and “progress, rather than perfection.”