I have a confession.
I haven’t shared this with many people. I’m afraid they’ll judge me, or at least think of me differently.
But I’ve been taught in this program that I should share freely, even those things that are embarrassing, because you never know who in the room might be carrying around that same secret. Getting a secret out in the open diffuses its power.
So here goes:
Every day, for years, I’ve watched a soap opera.
There. I’ve said it.
It started innocently enough. More than 20 years ago when I was in the Navy, just about everyone in the command watched this particular soap opera, in the duty room, at lunchtime.
I don’t know what it was about this particular soap opera, but it enjoyed a loyal following at every base I was ever stationed.
Even my husband, who was stationed on an all-male ship, watched it. And so did all the men in his department. If I ever had to miss an episode, I knew he could fill me in.
The show starred a set of characters I related to. They were about my age and they struggled with the things I did. They felt like my tribe. And I got hooked. Seriously.
At my final duty station, if anyone happened to be working in the conference room where the TV was located during lunch hour when the show was on, I was beside myself. VCRs were brand new, and I didn’t have one. So if I missed the show, it felt like I missed a part of my life.
But then I left the Navy and took other jobs and didn’t watch the show for nearly 20 years. When I went back to freelancing, I thought about it. But I resisted. If I didn’t watch, I wouldn’t get hooked. I held out for two or three years. Then, well, you know.
It was a lot like coming home. All those characters I related to were still there. Only now they were grown and had grown children, just like me. And they were still dealing with the same issues I was. And mostly that was okay.
Until Annie started getting crazy.
When I started going to Al-Anon meetings, I didn’t think there was anything wrong with me. I thought my daughter was the one with the problem. I was fine.
I’ve since learned differently, of course. Today, I can see all the ways alcoholism has affected me. I can see how my life was unmanageable.
But every now and then I can see, for the first time, how things really were.
And that’s where my soap opera comes in.
When I say Annie was getting crazy. I don’t mean it in the casual way people often do. I mean crazy as in headed for the mental hospital.
She had been there before. But she’d been out for a while and seemed to be getting her act together. Sort of. After all this is a soap opera.
Then she got involved with a married man. That’s when she started to lose it. Where Annie is headed would be obvious to anyone watching the show for any more than five minutes. She is certifiable.
So I’m watching all this and I’m thinking….
Oh my God. That’s me.
Not today, thank God. But there was a time when I acted an awful lot like crazy Annie.
I wasn’t having hallucinations or fantasies about stabbing anyone with a pair of scissors. But I recognized the obsession, the temper tantrums, the lightning-fast swings of emotion from one extreme to another.
Annie’s behavior reminded me of one relationship in particular. My daughter was still very young. I had been out of my family of origin for years. There were not even any active alcoholics in my life at the time.
And yet I was acting…. crazy.
It was one of those lightbulb moments.
I realized I don’t need an alcoholic in my life to be crazy. I was perfectly capable of doing that all by myself. And I was insane.
Until I watched crazy Annie and saw myself in her behavior, the phrase “restored to sanity” felt more euphemistic than accurate.
I could readily see and acknowledge my defects of character. I could see that they were the result of this disease.
But I didn’t really believe my behavior was insane.
“Once you know something you can’t not know it,” my sponsor is fond of saying.
Now I know.
I feel like Scrooge must have felt, having been visited by the ghosts of his past and future. On the next day, Scrooge decided to do what he must to ensure a better future. And so did I.
The good news is that as long as I continue to do the things I’m taught to do in this program—as long as I continue to pray on my knees, attend meetings, take commitments, sponsor others, work steps, talk with my sponsor—by the grace of God, I can have a daily reprieve from the soap opera that used to be my life.
Or I can choose not to.
I’m a good forgetter. When I start to feel better, it’s easy for me to forget what life was like. I can begin to believe I don’t really need this program.
God is a good reminder. He delivers the perfect message in the perfect medium. Preparing myself to receive the message is up to me.