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I joined Al-Anon a little over a year ago. I’ve been recording my personal journey through the Steps in daylogs because it helps me to clarify my thinking to write it all down. Hopefully, these entries are also helpful (or at least not injurious) to others. In any event, this entry marks Step 7.

Step Seven:Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

Joining Al-Anon was my first experience with a 12-Step program. I think for many people, joining a 12-Step program and “working the steps” is the beginning of a major life change. Although Al-Anon is compatible with many religions/ belief systems, it does ask its members to consider (and try to live by) a few core points. These are, in essence,

  • that an individual is not in control of other persons or events; 1
  • that there exists some form of Higher Power on which the individual can lean; 2
  • that relinquishing the idea of control and its accompanying willfulness and expressing gratitude for the positive aspects of life can lead to a wider perspective and awareness of other life choices; "We can find peace of mind and real fulfillment only through devotion to something above and beyond ourselves"* 3
  • that it is beneficial to inventory personal strengths and weaknesses 4, 5 , do what we can to correct character defects 6 , 7 and do what can be done to right past wrongs; 8, 9
  • and that responsibility for self 10 and openness to (spiritual) guidance 11 are key elements for healthy living. 12

I read the 12 Steps years ago, and didn’t much like them. I wasn’t interested in admitting my own powerlessness over anything, I didn’t see any of my own behavior as lacking in sanity, and I had no desire to “turn my will and my life” over to anyone’s God. Fourteen months ago, however, I got to a point in my life where I was willing to give this program a try. The fact that people in the meetings and even the literature remind me frequently that I could “take what I like and leave the rest” helped calm my skittishness around the mention of God, and over time, I have developed a healthy respect for the way of life espoused by the 12 Steps.

In the past year, I have come up with a definition of a Higher Power that I’m comfortable with. I have absorbed many teachings from this program, and I have seen my life change for the better. I feel that I’m on a path that's right for me. I’m not to Step 10 yet, but every time I hear the words, "Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it", I think ‘Wow, what a good way to live--to be courageous enough to admit mistakes right away, and then move on, with a clean slate...’ I want to get there.

I am impressed with the pacing of the 12 Steps; each one is an undertaking in its own right, and yet paradoxically, when taken individually, each one seems manageable. For instance, it is the work of three distinct Steps to identify my shortcomings, become willing to change, and then ask my H.P. to remove my defects of character. As I wrote in my daylog about Step Six, the whole process makes sense to me. It stands to reason that over time I would become aware of a certain trait that has overstayed its usefulness, and then start to feel like I could let it go. In fact, I had a plan; I had a list of character defects that I wanted to get rid of. I was working on changing my behavior, becoming ready to let go. It caught me off guard when my sponsor pointed out to me that maybe my Higher Power has a different plan in mind, that perhaps my shortcomings won't be removed in the order I think. This was yet another aha! moment for me. It made me laugh—I had not meant to present my H.P. with a list, "here, take this one, I'm ready to let go of arrogance..." but that was pretty much how I had been thinking about it.

Humbly asked…

In the children's book Charlotte's Web, Charlotte the spider spins words of praise for Wilbur the pig in her web. One of the words she writes is humble, which in addition to meaning unassuming and unpretentious, comes from the root humilis, (F., fr. L.) on the ground; low. Charlotte figures this is a most fitting adjective for the pig, who is 'not high or lofty... not magnificent' and is also literally close to the ground.1

I don't like the part of the definition of humility that says "a sense of one's own unworthiness through imperfection and sinfulness; self-abasement" (Webster 1913). Rather, Charlotte's definition resonates with me; to do something humbly meaning to do something from a position of being grounded. Al-Anon's ‘Conference Approved Literature’ (CAL) defines humility as “honesty and depth of vision, a realistic assessment of ourselves and our part in the scheme of things” 2 and “having an attitude of honesty and simplicity along with a mind set of being teachable”.3

Sometimes I’m not sure which is harder to deal with, the idea that I am responsible for and can determine, to a large degree, the quality of my life experience based on my attitudes and choices, or the idea that I am ultimately not in control of the world around me, but I have the option of turning to a Higher Power that can help me in ways that I can’t help myself.

Some days I feel that I’m acting prematurely on this step. Some days I’m not sure what I believe, or how much I believe it. I am coming to believe in a power greater than myself—not just the good will of the people around me, although that is part of it—but in a benevolent force in the Universe. Sometimes I call it Love. Sometimes I call it God. Whatever it is, I have found that I can ask for help with a problem, relief from obsessive thinking or worrying, for patience or perspective, and it arrives. I find answers I didn’t see before. Frankly, it doesn’t matter to me whether this is all the work of a spiritual force or a figment of my own imagination. I can't explain it, but whatever it is, it’s working. As Anne Lamott put it,

Why does God always use dreams, intuition, memory, phone calls, vague stirrings in my heart? It would say that this really doesn’t work for me at all. Except that it does.4

It comes as a relief to me that I am not working alone to exorcise my defects of character. My job is merely to become aware of them, be willing to let go of them, and ask to have them removed. I heard a Russian folk saying quoted on NPR the other day--"Trust in God, but keep rowing toward shore". Along that note, I like what it says in the CAL:

Sitting back and behaving in all the same old ways while asking God to remove the defects is not effective. We cannot continue to do the same things over and over and expect different results...In turning to the God of our understanding for removal of our shortcomings, we find we are given countless opportunities to see our requests answered.5

I am willing to do my part, and I am comforted by the idea that the outcome is not only not entirely up to me, and may in fact be better or more than I can imagine. Above my desk, I have tacked to the wall a drawing from a journal illustrated by the artist who calls herself Flavia. The drawing shows flowers above ground and their root systems below, and the caption reads "We are unaware of what sweet miracles may come." This sums up what I feel about the seventh step; I need to trust, and ask, and wait and see what happens. It's simple, but it’s not easy.


Okay, so I did it. I humbly asked God to remove my shortcomings. I amended the prayer I had made up back on Step 6,

God, today I place myself in your hands I trust that you will guide my thoughts and actions. Thank you for everything. Please take my character defects, in whichever order and whatever manner you see fit.

Many of the Steps make it sound like you do the action once, and are done with it, but really how it seems to work is that you go over them repeatedly, sometimes daily. What’s listed above is the more formal version of my asking; some days, I just say to God, “Go for it”; sometimes I say “they’re all yours.” I figure, if nothing else, by repeating the request I am remaining mindful of it.

So the funny thing is, I have this little bad habit, not anything I had even thought to inventory, or to ask to have taken from me—something like scratching mosquito bites too much, or biting my nails. Anyway, I thought about performing this bad habit the other day, and the thought came into my head, ‘I don’t do that anymore.’ I have no idea where that came from. I don’t feel like I made a conscious decision to quit. However, having had that thought, I’ve decided to run with it; maybe I really don’t do that anymore. Maybe this is how it works. I guess time will tell.

_________________

* One Day At A Time in Al-Anon, p. 122. 1 Thanks to Webster 1913 for the definition; the book Charlotte's Web was written by E.B. White, and illustrated by Garth Williams. 2 Al-Anon’s Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, 1981, Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., p.45. 3 Paths to Recovery: Al-Anon’s Steps, Traditions, and Concepts, 1997, Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, p.78. 4Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, Anchor Books, 1999, p. 82. 5 Paths to Recovery: Al-Anon’s Steps, Traditions, and Concepts, 1997, Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, p.73. Artwork and journals by Flavia can be viewed at www.flavia.com.

Related musings: step one | step two | step three | step four | step five step six step eight

Today's lesson is: Exploring the Male Thought Process.

I was out at the mall today doing some shopping for redecorating my apartment. It's time to add some new things and discard the old; the place is still basically the same as when I moved in five years ago. I bought some new towels and finally found a cabinet to store my computer accessories, but what I was really looking for was something to place next to the television in the bedroom. It's a 13" TV placed atop the bookcase and there's room there to put something else next to it. I wanted something to fit that space for around $30-$50, but nothing I saw jumped out at me. That's when I got to thinking...

"Hmm... I could just get a larger TV to fill the entire casetop... but I want to get a bigger TV for the living room eventually, and put the current living room TV in the bedroom... so I could just go on and get a bigger TV for the living room now..."

See how quickly these things snowball? I pulled back from buying a $400+ television and left the space empty. I'll find something to fill it eventually.

Random meeting to tickle the soul

I had been attending an 8 week course out of the local museum focusing on black and white photography, which was coming to an end last Sunday. There was one other guy named Bill in the class, and a teacher named Tina, though I was always calling her Lisa for some reason. I don't even know anyone named Lisa, and it always struck me as very odd.

We were allowed to take advantage of their Darkroom anytime the museum's doors were unlocked and no one else was using it. Of course my new job and the museum's hours of business clashed during the week, so I didn't get to take advantage of this too often. I decided that the last Saturday before class was over, I would dedicate to the Darkroom, and I went in to see if it would be possible. The lady at the front counter was a new volunteer, which was a common occurance. She knew nothing about the Darkroom, and she couldn't find the gentleman who could unlock it. She was generally discouraged with her first day, it seemed. She kept pushing buttons on the phone, then hanging it up out of frustration only to have it ring and no one too be there.

"Ding!"

The elevator doors open up to my right to reveal a young lady that was somehow very attractive, but I couldn't tell you anything specific that made me feel that way. She walked up to see what was the matter with the new volunteer. She had an appreciation about the whole scenario that made me feel very good about her, sneaking a smile in on the side of her face not visible to the volunteer, yet calmly and light-heartedly giving her several solutions to her troubles.

"I can just take him down and unlock the Darkroom", she suggested. No problem by me. I was fascinated by her.

We hopped into the elevator, and down to the basement of the museum. Our conversation consisted of enough to draw out a few laughs to break the ice and then it was over. She unlocked the door and let me in.

"What was your name" she asked. I had completely forgotten to introduce myself. I've never been too good at spittin some game, but I was slipping on the most bare of rules. I responded with my first and last name, which I later examined and found to be a little too formal.

"And yours", I asked.

"Lisa"
I was christened and raised Catholic, born to Polish Catholic parents who were very traditional in most regards. My kindergarten and primary school were attached to the Polish Catholic church where I was christened, and where I later received my first communion. Twice. Once through the school, and then, again, with a group of Polish children a few months later. The primary school was run by nuns whose convent was part of the school/church complex. Later I attended a Catholic Girls' college for my secondary education.

You could say I had a very sheltered upbringing and you'd be right.

About the age of sixteen I started rebelling against the Sunday visits to Mass, finding excuses not to attend, which first angered my mother, and then grieved her. It was around this time my mother reminded me of the trip she and I made to Poland back when I was eleven.

My mother had moved to Australia from Poland as a teenager back in the late 1950s, and she had never returned, so in 1987 she took me with her on her first trip back to her homeland. We spent ten weeks travelling around Poland, seeing castles and palaces, exploring towns and cities. Her best friend at the time was also in Poland with her nine year old daughter Natalka, and we met up in Zakopane, a wee town in the Tatry for a week. My mother's friend brought her brother along, a Polish catholic priest who was about thirty at the time. We spent the days as one would expect, hiking, shopping, and swimming. The exchange rate back in those days was amazing - a dinner for 4, including alcohol, in the the top restaurant in the country would set you back a whole $40 US. We were living it up.

One evening our mothers left us at home with the family we were all boarding with, and went out to a hotel for a night of dancing and drinking. They arrived back late at night, and decided to not move me to the room I shared with my mother, but instead to leave me in the room where Natalka and I had fallen asleep. My mother and her friend decided to share mum's room, and the priest would sleep in the third bed in the room where I slept.

I awoke late in the night to him climbing into bed with me. I told him to get out but he said that he just wanted to cuddle, as he pressed against me. I cried and cried until he left my bed and ran to my mum's room, where I told her friend, the priest's sister. She told me that my mother would be angry if I woke her up, and to go back to bed. I did as I was told. He didn't touch me again.

Why am I writing about this now, seventeen years later?
There are a few reasons. My mother has been dealing with this for the last few years, blaming herself for not protecting me and not standing up for me in the days that followed. The other is that I am planning my wedding, and growing up I had always imagined that this would take place in a church.

The 'snuggling' hasn't affected me as such, but many things surrounding the experience still do. The first is that as my mother has been working through this issue, she has talked to people - friends of many, many years in the Polish community, and she has been treated the same way by most. They blame me, saying I must have made it up. One of the friends said to her, "You can't go around saying things like this about a Priest, he might get offended!" My mother has now distanced herself from the Polish community in our city, ashamed that she was once one of these people.

But this is the whole issue with Catholic politics, especially in a small, conservative culture. In the Polish community where I live, priests are treated as superior, regardless of their actions. My mother spent a lot of time volunteering in assorted committees, and through this became part of the inner circle of friends of a number of priests. Because of this I saw them at their worst - I was brought up seeing them as drunken men who slept with women in the congregation, and then stood there on a Sunday telling us that (for example) "we should help homosexuals because they are all sick". They showed themselves to be a bunch of hypocrites and I didn't want to be anywhere near the church I had grown up in.

I will point out that I know that this is not what the whole Catholic church is about, nor is it how I see the church as a whole, but these are my experiences, and this is the reason I have been a non-practicing catholic for a decade.

Planning a wedding has drudged up a lot of these issues for me, and I wasn't expecting that I had issues and baggage I had to deal with. Instead of walking down the aisle in a white dress, signing documents stating that I would accept children willingly from God and bring them up as catholics (as my brother did when he married a non-catholic), I realised I wanted the opposite. No church, no aisle, no priest, and no mention of Jesus and what he went through for 'our sins'. I only want to make promises I mean to keep. The vows I make on this day will be meant with my whole heart and soul; having as many childen as God wishes to shower me with is definitely not one of them. I realised my wedding day, to the love of my life, should be a day filled only with positives and love, not formality, stress, and the fear of God's vengeance. I do want God to be part of the ceremony; I have a very strong faith, and a great relationship with God, it's just the religious aspect I want to exclude.

This has pained my mother no end. Despite understanding why, she has to accept that her only daughter would never have the traditional white wedding she'd built up in her mind since the day she first held me in her arms. And trust me, she's been planning it for that long.

I was dumped today. And this place seems a good a place as any to tell absolute strangers about my life.

I'm in a Hall of Residence at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand (I'll only be that specific in case there just happens to be someone in my hall that read E2). Within a week and a half of arriving I had broken the cardinal rule of communal living and had started fooling around with a girl on my floor. It started out innocent enought, when she decided to help make my bed. She lay down on it. I lay beside her and then we sort of just lay there next to each other. Suddenly she kissed me for about 5 seconds. She then stopped and mumbled something and left. Now as you can imagine I was a bit worried that our friendship had turned to custard. But fortunately she came in the next day and sat beside me and gently started to hold my hand.

From there it was basically just hooking up after everyone else had gone to bed. But then as the weeks progressed it became more and more serious. We decided one night that we should be boyfriend and girlfriend. Although we never actually had sex, we did everything but, if you know what I mean.

Everything seemed to be going fine - then the holidays came. We had to spend three weeks apart. And we live at opposite ends of the South Island - about 1000 km. We survived (or so I thought), sending txts and chatting online to each other. I missed her so much and couldn't wait to see her and continue where we had left off.

Everything seemed fine the first night back together as we did all the things we done before. But then she said she was really tired and so kicked me out her room. I was happy with this - there was always the next night. But then the next night came and she said that she really needed to type up some notes. Then the next night she said she just felt strange about us but thought it was because she was just getting used to being back in the hall.

Once again I was fine with this. I loved her too much to start getting all annoyed because I was getting my fun at night. And anyway there was always high speed internet. But as the week wore on I became more and more annoyed with her refusals each night. What the hell was going on? She assured me that it was nothing that I'd done.

Things came to a head on Friday night when I got annoyed with her refusals. I felt so bad about the way that I'd acted that I apologised within about five minutes and she was again assured me that it was nothing that I'd done and it was all her fault. I felt bad that she thought this way but there was little I could do.

Then things just got strange on Saturday. I had a Maths assignment due and so went to the University to finish it a place where there would be little my computer. I got back around lunchtime and she was dressed and brushing her teeth. I commented that she had said she was going to spend the day in bed and she said that something had come up with her auntie and promptly left.

She arrived home around 6 pm. She didn't come into see me, instead talking to someone else on our floor. I came out to say hi to her and all I got was 'uhh hi' and then she quickly left the room. She then left once again without saying goodbye. By this stage I'm getting fucking pissed at her, and so sit down and right a rambling 1 and a half page letter to her outlining my side of the story. I thought of slipping it under her door that night but then decided to keep it for the moment and see what happened.

Then the next morning she comes into my room and says that 'we need to talk'. I could instantly see what was coming. She talked about how it was not my fault (and I believe her) but it was just that she had so much going on in her life and that it wasn't fair on me that she treat me the way that she had been during the week. She then added that she wasn't saying that it might not work at another time. Now as you can imagine I wasn't that happiest person at this point. A girl that I told my deepest secrets and fears, was breaking up with me for what seemed to be no apparent reason.

But I decided that I couldn't be mad or angry at her. I can't stop feeling the way I do about her. But now I miss being able to gently stroke her hair or lie beside her a bed while we watch TV. And its driving me mad. I just want this to be a bad dream.

I love markets. All sorts of markets. I love food markets, I love trash 'n' treasure markets, I love the fish markets, I loved the regular markets of The Netherlands, I just love markets. I hope to be pushing for a growers' market in Cronulla, oh yeah baby.

So today, when the Rotary Club held their monthly market at Caringbah, I was there. Finally having the chance to, after two years. I had been to the one at nearby Bangor, and it was nice, a little bit of bric-à-brac, a little bit of new 'innovative' products, a little bit of local crafts, a little bit of food, oh yeah, and a guy playing a guitar flogging his CD. I bought one.

So, today I was a little disappointed when more than 90% of the stalls were secondhand crap. OK, there was a kitcheny stall, and there I bought my first mortar and pestle - which would be a more positive focus for this write up, but since I haven't actually grinded anything in it - it would be a very short write up.

But I went through each stall looking for a 'double helix corkscrew'. By far the most efficient and effective design, and yet you can't find them anywhere anymore. People sell expensive, foolproof corkscrews that look like you need a Masters degree to operate, and even then, they certainly look fool-prone.

We had nearly left, when we went up a side alley which was easily overlooked completely. As we passed through, a woman walked past me and threw away this line:
"We're going to sell everything on that table for a dollar."

I love a bargain. That's probably the attraction for markets. So I 'walked calmly' over to the table, my heart beating so loudly in my own head. A whole table worth.

Now now, Proq, stay calm. You only have a small apartment, don't fill it with crap - even bargain crap.

I looked over the table. I felt sorry for the woman. When she organised having a stall, I am sure she didn't imagine she'd be offering her whole table for a buck. What had gone so wrong? How much had she paid to have the stall at all?

I looked over the table worth of stuff. There were a couple of items that would have been nice as a 'throw in' for a dollar, but seriously, there was absolutely nothing there that I could just take off her hands. Nothing on her table worth paying a buck for.

I looked down at the ground and we walked away from the side alley. I was wondering if I should have just donated a dollar to her, and not taken anything. I wonder if she would have been pissed off with the gesture. Her stuff, all of it combined, wasn't even worth a buck.

And the moral to the story: Buy yourself a mortar and pestle.

I had a great hang glider flight today. I launched from Crestline, 5,200 feet MSL and climbed a couple of thousand feet and headed to the west end of the ridge, 7 miles or so away. There I found a thermal that started out weak, about 150 FPM clmb rate, that solidifed and got stronger, eventually climbing at more than 800 FPM until I got to 11,200 feet MSL. I crossed Cajon Pass and I-15 to the east end of the San Gabriel Mountains, a little west of where I had gotten to last week. I found lots of sink, but poked around until I found another weak thermal that got good. I wanted to fly over Cucamonga Peak, ~8900 feet MSL, but wanted to be at 11,000 feet before making the last two mile jump. I only got to 10,500, and decided to head for the sharp ridge that comes off the peak to the northwest. When I got there I found massive lift, >1,000 FPM, and was soon at 12,000 feet, and getting cold. I looked at the peak of Mount Baldy a few miles away and deep in the craggy mountain complex, but decided I'd make my predetermined goal and head back home. Right over Cucamonga Peak there was strong lift, and I let myself climb to 13,700 (500 feet higher than my highest point last week) and the turbulence meant I was having lots of weightless moments. I headed back toward Glen Helen, home of Blockbuster Pavilion, and San Bernardino beyond. I decided to fly over my current residence to the southeast of Little Mountain before heading for the LZ. That was fun - I was about a mile AGL and could see my house and my brother's car and stuff. Landed at the LZ uneventfully after a two hour flight that covered at least 25 miles. It has been at least 10 years since I last did the Cuc-and-back run, and that was a day when staying at high altitudes required only being in a glider, unlike today, when it took being patient and working what lift could be found. It is really neat being two miles off the ground, seeing private planes way down below, and even looking down at the occasional jet airliner heading for Ontario or LAX. There were literally a couple of million people in my field of view, but only a handful of us were up in the wild blue yonder in direct touch with those awesome forces of nature (forgive me if I wax a bit poetic).

Before launching I went to my old place up near Crestline launch to see what was wrong with the weather station that uploads wind and weather data to the Crestline Soaring Society website every five minutes. It had been down since Friday morning, even though I phoned the neighbors Friday and they had gone in and rebooted the computer. My Ex is away on a trip. I had the neighbor go in with me. It seems the house sitter, who wasn't there, had accidentally unplugged the weather station when he plugged in a USB hard drive or something. I plugged the station back in and reset time, date, barometric pressure, etc. A few hundred hang glider and paraglider pilots in Southern California rely on the graph of the wind and weather data to tell whether Crestline is the place to fly on any given day. There's a webcam looking over the valley too. So I did my good deed for the day before flying, even though it is still very painful to visit my old home - I only moved out 5 weeks ago. The other neighbors, who bought the place since she couldn't make the house payment herself, have said that when she moves away, within the next six months, I'll be able to keep the weather station there in exchange for computer help. That seems like a more than fair deal. Our club will probably keep paying for the DSL connection in compensation, so everybody benefits.

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