After the soul-searching and confession of the previous steps, I’m probably ready for the sixth step. If not, I will be soon enough. Now that I know what to name my junk, I’m being given plenty of chances to recognize it and to get sick of it faster. Suddenly I see my anger and fear and pride, my resistance to life, everywhere. Usually, after a troubling defect has beaten me into a state of reasonableness, I’m done. I hope that by practicing the steps as a way of life, I’ll learn to get out of my own way more quickly, by choosing spiritual growth instead of the other options.
Sometimes this happens. Sometimes not.
I broke a school rule recently. Late to drop Daniel off, I discovered the penalty of humiliation at 8:10 that morning. The carpool greeters had left their posts at 8:00, so I parked and escorted Daniel into the secretary’s office, where as further punishment she made me wait. There I was, a slacker mom in wrinkled sweats, with bed-head hair and a beaten look in my sleep-crusted eyes. She corrected my behavior with her smirk. (As a drinking alcoholic, rules never applied to me. I cursed society for its enslavement, when in reality I was held hostage by my disease.) And a nice highway patrolman corrected me recently as well — the $200 speeding fine should deter my heavy foot for a while. I cried when the cop came to my window, probably from fear and flashbacks. I did not try to get out of it. I knew I was guilty. These are society’s punishments for not regulating my behavior.
This step can piss me off, because it means God will do the removing, not me. And I don’t know how or when or if He will. Here I discover the limits of my will power and control. Here I learn that He often works through people, like cops and the school administration. My focus then shifts to readying myself for God to do His job, in His time, in His manner, because in the next step I will ask Him to remove my shortcomings. For now, I get ready by being aware — by having done the previous steps thoroughly. This step and the next separate the girls from the women — those content with self-limited objectives and those willing to strive toward God’s will.
Sometimes I’m just a girl. Daniel is definitely just a boy.
Acting as Daniel’s higher powers for now, his daddy and I are tasked with correcting his behavior. But Daniel was born ready, with an innate desire for goodness, and feel-goodness, like every child. They say children with no boundaries are insecure and act out. Daniel knows the house rules, similar to the school rules: comply, don’t disrupt, don’t hit or damage property, and ask for help. They are designed to keep him and others safe. In a nutshell, all rules devolve to “don’t run with scissors” and “play well with others.” The school uses positive reinforcement as well as time-out punishment, as we do at home. But children have to act so well at school all day that they’re like pressure cookers — they need to blow off the pent-up, tamped-down defiance when they get home. I let Daniel blow off steam by running crazy, and he calms himself when he’s angry by going into another room and petting Kitty. But he still knows how to throw a tantrum, and so do I.
Today I’m more willing to give up my hobbling defects in order to show my son how to do the same. I’m ready to quit my anger when I see my son’s fallen face, to give up spending money when I’m broke, to be on time after the consequences of being tardy, and to slow down after a speeding ticket. Awareness, honesty, is a bitch sometimes. You know you’re at the sixth step when you hit your knees in prayer and desperation, and utter the short form of The Serenity Prayer: “F— it.”
My husband is not only a good example of what a boy becomes, but he also shows me how to let go of my son. I want Daniel to stay small, to do everything for him. His daddy shows him how to use a knife to cut his meat, how to shower by himself, and how to hold a real saw. Daniel got a set of real tools for Christmas, and we found him tightening the handrail on the stairs soon after. He found the right screwdriver for the job, removed the screw, then screwed it back in tight. Voilà! He is a handyman at five. After clearing the plates off the dinner table, he beams with pride at a job done well. It’s also because he was asked, and trusted, to do it.
Only God can make him grow, but Mommy and Daddy are in charge for now. It’s an awesome responsibility — what to teach and when, what to allow or not. I rely on my husband to reassure me, to tell me that Daniel is getting exactly what he needs — a balance of testosterone and challenging tasks from Daddy, and cuddles and reading from Mommy.
Daniel’s best friend in kindergarten may be held back. His mom called me recently to discuss how mad she was at their teacher for suggesting that her son will have to repeat kindergarten. I listened, as I have before when she shared her life story, full of drama and crises and depression and illness. A week later, I was sitting in an A.A. meeting and in came that same mom. It was her first meeting, and she looked surprised to see me. I wasn’t — it all clicked. I told her everything will change as she does. Alcoholism is a family disease — everyone gets sick — but I’m convinced that mom’s own healing will make things better for her son.
Sometimes it’s enough that I am not a drunk mother. That is the only defect that has been removed one hundred percent today. And I didn’t do it; I merely cooperate with God by following the good orderly directions of others.
My question for that mom was, “Are you ready?”
This step is about answering that question. I learn to see what’s right in front of me: a speedometer, an alarm clock, another drunk, and respond appropriately. It’s about cooperating with God and with my newfound intuition. It is not about struggling, interfering, or trying hard. I learn to let things work out, to get out of the way, to work with circumstances instead of resisting them. We’re not trying to get good by Thursday. Thursday is another day.