Complacency--AND Fear (Pt. II)

Complacency. n. a feeling of quiet pleasure or security, often while unaware of some potential danger, defect, or the like; self-satisfaction or smug satisfaction with an existing situation, condition, etc.
We tend to think of this word to describe the condition of “resting on our laurels.” The state in which I found myself at the beginning of this year wasn’t at all a “quiet pleasure”—if anything, it was an agitated, fearful state.

Even so, complacency is a good, if not complete, word to describe how I ushered in the then-new year.

I was facing the last semester of my graduate studies, two and a half years into a three-year adventure that I’d begun with my family’s blessing. I was living a few days a week (and up to five) away from my husband and children, but I had more than a few weeks where, for whatever reason, my presence was needed at home (or, more likely, I thought it was needed), and I’d wake up and go to sleep in a different town every day for five, six days in a row. I had a manuscript to finish. I had vacant slots on my thesis committee to fill. I had my mother’s estate to finalize. I had months of travel in unpredictable weather and a body that was balking at the cold and snow. I knew what I needed, and the whole point of this endeavor was to receive the credentials that would help me find employment, which, of course, would benefit my most supportive family, so asking for help to get it all done wasn’t selfish, was it?[1]

So, without realizing that it was happening, my prayer upon awakening changed from “Thank you for another day. Please help me stay sober and show me what you want me to do today” and became the time I let God know what I had to get done and asked for the strength, the time, and the inspiration to get it all finished. It was almost as though the “show me what you want me to do” was a sham. After all, God had led me through four years of undergraduate study and into grad school, seemingly without a lot of intervention from me. I did what was in front of me to do, and that was that. Now that I’m here, I know, right? I know what needs to be done. I know what I need.

Problem was by altering my prayer, I restricted what I was willing for God to bring into my life. I was still reeling from the events of last summer when I had to make the decision to put my mother in a nursing home, only for her to die three weeks later (see my IOCC posts from last July here and here). It wasn’t what I’d have planned or asked for, but I was given the strength to do what needed to be done. Maybe part of me wanted to nudge closed the door on the unexpected. I was yearning for a little complacency—a little security in myself as writer, some self-satisfaction with my place in life without the intrusion of outside demands, my immediate family excepted, of course. I let my home group know in November when we elected new trusted servants that I couldn’t serve in any official capacity. Although I’d been volunteering in past semesters for Friday evening county jail meetings, I stopped doing that. I handed my phone numbers to new women, qualifying my offering by saying I may be reached during the week, but if they had an urgent need, they should make sure they had plenty of local women as contacts. I didn’t take on new sponsees—after all, my family had my time and attention only on the weekends, and wouldn’t I be depriving them if I made myself available for sponsorship? I continued to work with a few women who’d been sober a number of years and had taken their steps formally. I maintained only one relationship that existed primarily via email, and the rest just sort of fell by the wayside. I recall telling myself that I was so blessed, had such a full life, that to take on new women would be tantamount to depriving the other women who didn’t get asked as often. Talk about being full of denial—and of myself!

Here’s how it all shook out: By the end of April, I had an intact thesis committee that approved my manuscript (much of it furiously written in the previous three months), and I had fulfilled all the requirements of graduation. Our garden, which is my spring, summer, and early fall joy, had been tilled and all the spring crops were planted. My husband encouraged me to take a breath, enjoy the accomplishment, and spend some time feeling the gratitude for having been brought through, alive and in once piece (he didn’t put it quite like that, and if he reads this, I’m sure I’ll hear how I like to recharacterize his sentiments!). But I had things to do still. Revise some sections of my book. Write a book proposal. Find a job.

It occurred to me, a few weeks post-graduation, that while I did have much for which to be grateful, I was still focused on what I thought needed to be done, what I thought I should be doing, and, of course, praying for God's help so I could accomplish these things. I had become, without realizing it, the actor trying to run the whole show.[2]

Perhaps if I’d been talking a little more to my fellow alcoholics who, unlike God who rarely issues loud and clear directives, I may have uncovered this 11th Step lack sooner.

But why the shift in the first place? Fear, of course. I understand that “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.”[3] Although I’m not much of a Biblical scholar or an adherent to all that I find within its pages, I can get on board with that—I have been mightily blessed, which means that my debt of living, active gratitude is the greater still, but my fear, stealthy and sly that it is, crept in and shook my faith. God has always provided for me—whether in time, patience, strength, or something else I may not have realized I needed. Fear was robbing me, just as my text says that it will[4]

I should also note that my nighttime prayers, those where I review my day in concert with God, had shifted also from a humble review to one of “worry, remorse [and] morbid reflection.”[5] I wasn’t asking for any kind of forgiveness for any lack I found; instead, I gave myself a good lashing and renewed my fears for tomorrow’s obligations.

As with most things, misery drove me to the state of humility necessary to right my spiritual state. I’m not sure who around me noticed things off kilter (I am very adept at veiling my state when necessary—years of alcoholic practice, and I can slip back into it like a well-worn glove), but when I emerged, I did start talking: to those who offer me recovery support; to my sponsees, to whom I was less than available; to my husband who witnessed his exhortations to slow down fall on deaf ears. And I began again to ask for direction, for God, not Jody, to make the day’s list. Doesn’t mean I don’t start the day with some goals, but I understand those are my human goals. The day, and God’s plan for my day, may hold something else.

Today, I sit here on the first day of “my” month on the IOCC, typing away on my front porch, my troublesome right leg elevated and aching. I had plans to weed the second plantings of lettuce and beans so the kids could get out there and mulch them. I cursed a bit stepping out of bed today, knowing “my plans” for the day would need some adjustment. Then it dawned on me that it was July 1st, the first day of my committed month to share what little insights I’ve gained in the last year with you all. I smiled. No, I don’t think God had anything to do with my sciatica, but if it were to act up (and with the demands I’ve been putting on my back lately, it was sure to happen), what better day than when I promised to do something else?

I’m not sure what I’ll do with my next essay yet, but I’m thinking that a lot has happened in the past month and a half since I’ve been set upright again, and I think I’ll share some of that.

Peace & Love,
Jody K.

[1]”We ask especially for freedom from self-will, and are careful to make no request for ourselves only. We may ask for ourselves, however, if others will be helped.” Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 87.

[2] Alcoholics Anonymous, pages 60-62.

[3] Luke 12:48, KJV The Bible.

[4]Alcoholics Anonymous, pages 67-68.

[5] Alcoholics Anonymous, page 86.

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