Friday, August 15, 2008

Watching My Language ...

When I was drinking, I loved to tell people what to do. My two favorite phrases were "you need to ..." and "you have to ...". I was the quintessential director the BB talks about:

We are almost always in collision with something or somebody, even though our motives are good. Most people try to live by self-propulsion. Each person is like an actor who wants to run the whole show; is forever trying to arrange the lights, the ballet, the scenery and the rest of the players in his own way. If his arrangements would only stay put, if only people would do as he wished, the show would be great. Everybody, including himself, would be pleased. Life would be wonderful.

Once I got sober, I realized that trying to force my will on others is a lot of work, and never truly works. I wasn't too sure what the alternative was, but since I was willing to go to any lengths to get sober, I decided to experiment with life and try not telling every blessed soul what to do.

Here's an example: today I received an e-mail from my soon-to-be-ex-husband about whether or not I should take the washer and dryer with me when I move. Naturally, I think I should, he thinks I shouldn't. Here's an exerpt from his message:

"I also need to know that you will be dropping off the keys to my lawyer after you have moved out.... and until we are totally settled with everything and what is yours and what is mine.... the washer and dryer need to stay there..... "

I got the word "need" out of my vocabulary except when it's really, well, needed (I just love that sentence!! Get thee to a meeting!). "Needs" are things we literally can't live without, such as air, food, water, shelter, etc. My ex clearly wants the keys and the appliances, but no one is going to die if he doesn't get them.

Semantics? Not in terms of sobriety. As a recovering alcoholic, I need to be very careful with the difference between my needs and my wants as they relate to others, and here's why:

1) Overstating my wants as needs helps others see me as dishonest and manipulative. If I say "I want the appliances to stay there until we've worked this out", that's a truthful statement by any standard. Telling someone that they need to stay there just isn't true on any level. People don't like untruth: Is it not evident to all the rest of the players that these are the things he wants? And do not his actions make each of them wish to retaliate, snatching all they can get out of the show? Is he not, even in his best moments, a producer of confusion rather than harmony?

2) Overstating my wants as needs skews the real importance of the issue. Words are powerful. Most of us choose to introduce ourselves in meetings as alcoholics not because others might be confused about why we're there, but because we need to remind ourselves daily of our condition (occasionally I see someone prooftext the Big Book and pompously announce that that Big Book doesn't require that they introduce themselves as such. Technically that's true, but I'm checking my watch to see how long it takes you to get your drink on.).

I don't need this particular set of appliances. Let's face it, I can get a new set (actually, I've been lusting over the dryers with the new steam-clean settings). However, I don't want to get a new set. I want this set. In my reply, I state this exactly that way. It keeps the issue at hand right-sized in my own mind.

3) Overstating my wants as needs eliminates my HP from the equation. If I'm not careful here, I may start thinking that my soon-to-be-ex is the source of all clean laundry in the universe, that my son and I will be pounding our clothes against rocks in some creek somewhere if he doesn't "allow" me to take the appliances. If I get mired in a warr of words over this, I'm basically saying "Oh David, Great God of Rinse Cycle, how dare you smite me??"

When I did my 4th step, I recognized that my needs are not met by other people, but by God. I don't think it's overstating that case to say that I need some washer & dryer from somewhere. It is God's determination where that comes from. This takes him off the psychological "hook" for me. Now of course I don't like debating all this stuff, but it passes, and I need to not develop a resentment from it.

Now some reader out there is thinking, "But M, he's trying to screw you!" Well, maybe he is (finally), but that's not the point. Other people are going to disappoint me in this life, even though I am trying to stay sober. I don't get some sort of pass on assholes because I like alcohol too much. I have to stay sober in spite of what life presents me.

And that, by the way, is an appropriate use of the phrase "have to".


An Irish Friend of Bill said...

Yep. Been there. done that!
Thanks for sharing merideth! nice to meet you!

methedup said...

Amen to what my friend Irish says. That was fantastic.