Will I Ever Learn to Play Nice in the Sandbox?
By Jen Smith:
Every adventure in my life usually comes with a new set of people I’m expected to interact with in a healthy considerate way. Much easier said than done for this self-centered alcoholic. When I’m in charge and everyone is doing exactly what I think they should be doing everything is peachy keen but unfortunately I only rarely enjoy glimpses of such nirvana. Usually what reality dishes out is situations in which I’m not in charge and I’m forced to listen to others instructions and expectations of how I’m supposed to behave. Sometimes I’m even forced to follow directions. YIKES!
When I came to the rooms of 12 step recovery, broken and beaten, I was completely oblivious to the fact that I was a complete control freak. I found this out during an AA convention, with the help of others of course. I was completely and utterly surprised at this new revelation. My group was at Founder’s Day, a wonderful celebration of the birthday of AA in Akron Ohio attended by over ten thousand fellow alcoholics. I had brought along a newer newcomer than me named Jan and she willingly followed me around as I led the way throughout the weekend. Until… a few loving elders in my group made a suggestion. They asked me to let Jan lead. Jan was to decide what we did when, and I was supposed to simple keep my mouth shut and follow along.
The mere suggestion of such a hypocrisy was confusing to me. I did not understand why I should do this. Jan was happy, we were having a great weekend. Fortunately the disease of alcoholism and addiction had beaten me down to a point of willingness and the loving AA elders had led me to some previous revelations so I played along. On my chair, with my mouth shut, I patiently waited for Jan to decide where we would go and what we would do next despite the fact that I had already planned out the best course of action for the rest of the day.
Jan announced that she wanted to head over to a hotel where some of her friends were staying. Bad idea, I thought. The hotel was far away and there wasn’t that much time before people would be heading over to the evening big meeting. Reluctantly I kept my mouth shut and followed. By the time we got to the hotel and found the people Jan was looking for I cracked.
“We are not going to make it back in time to meet everyone for the big meeting,” I complained. “It’s a far walk back and we won’t get a good seat!” My fists were clenched, my face squished in disapproval until my eyebrows touched, my vision blurred.
“Don’t worry,” Jan replied. This was stupid, I should have never let Jan decide what to do, the night would be ruined. I sat outside the hotel room on the curb in despair while Jan happily caught up with her friends. I looked at my watch again. We would never make it back. Jan’s friends came out of the hotel and piled into a car headed for the big meeting. There was obviously no room for us. Just when I swore I would never let Jan decide anything again, these two big guys on beautiful Harley’s drove up.
“Hey Jan!” They called out, “Need a ride to the big meeting?” We jumped on the back of the bikes and cruised around Akron. The weather was perfect, the wind was filled with sweet smelling flowers, the people all waved and smiled as we passed. The ride was awesome and the best part was that they dropped us off right in front of the gate to the big meeting and there was our group all together getting ready to go in.
“How’s your night going?” Asked the AA elder.
“I think I might have some control issues,” I confided.
“No shit,” he said.
From this experience and many others I have learned that you can’t do anything about a character defect until you first recognize it. I have since learned many things about myself and many tools that have helped me get along better with people and be more comfortable with myself.
For me, the most powerful tool for playing nice in the sand box came from a fellow AA member named Andrew who announced the same thing over and over at every other meeting he went to. He would say, ‘today I had another opportunity to keep my mouth shut.’ Honestly I got quite sick of hearing him say the same thing over and over until one day I was in a situation and before I opened my big mouth I heard Andrew’s voice in my head. I kept my mouth shut that day and many others since. I am now truly grateful for Andrews’s repetitive message. I needed that to be drilled into my thick head.
I would love to hear what tools you employ when trying to play nice in the sandbox.