Nebraskaa's Word of the Day!

12/2/2020

Today’s word of the day is palliate (v.) - 1. to alleviate (a disease or its symptoms) without effecting a cure; to relieve or ease (physical or emotional suffering) temporarily or superficially; to mitigate the sufferings of. 2. to make less emphatic or pronounced; to moderate, qualify, or tone down; to moderate the hostility of; to placate, mollify. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘palliare’ which means ‘cover with a cloak, conceal,’ from the Latin ‘pallium’ which means ‘cloak’ (compare with ‘pall’); the word also came into use meaning ‘excuse or extenuate (an offense) by pleading or urging extenuating circumstances or favorable represntations' around the 17th century. Bonus etymology: ‘palliate’ and ‘extenuate’ come at essentially the same idea through different figures: ‘palliate’ is to cover in part as with a cloak; ‘extenuate’ is to thin away or draw out to fineness. They both refer to the effort to make an offense seem less by bringing forward considerations tending to excuse; they never mean the effort to exonerate or exculpate completely. And with the medical sense, the care is only to lessen suffering without curing (this is where ‘palliative care,’ like a hospice, comes from). I don’t have a perfect understanding of the steps, or of AA, and my ability to communicate effectively about them waxes and wanes. Still, it’s worth trying to carry the message, I think. That said, the word ‘palliate’ made me think of the part of our literature that mentions we alcoholics are never cured of our alcoholism, but rather we have a daily reprieve from our permanent disease. Maintenance of a relationship with a Higher Power is what palliates my alcoholism. My relationship there, as elsewhere in my life, is faulty, comes in fits and starts, but is consequential, matters, and is worth attending to. Thank you for helping me conceptualize my life in daily manageable chunks of reprieve, rather than seeking a quick-fix one-time cure-all.

12/1/2020

Today’s word of the day is serotonin (n.) - (biochemistry) 5-Hydroxytryptamine; a monoamine neurotransmitter, C10H12N2O, active in the production of vasoconstriction and anaphylactic shock, and in the regulation of cycles of body temperature and sleep. The word was coined in 1948, a combination of ‘serum’ and ‘tonic,’ with the chemical suffix ‘-in’ added to the end. A serum is ‘watery animal fluid, normal or morbid; specifically blood-serum, the greenish yellow liquid which separates from the clot when blood coagulates; ‘tonic,’ other than gin’s old companion, is actually an old word meaning ‘pertaining to, consisting in, or producing tension; especially in relation to the muscles’ (so in this way, it is an adjective-form of ‘tone’); ‘tonic’ can also mean ‘pertaining to or maintaining the tone or normal healthy condition of the tissues or organs,’ and the noun form, which is most commonly used, means ‘having the property of increasing or restoring the tone or healthy condition and activity of the system or organs; strengthening, invigorating, bracing. This sense is used to describe remedies or remedial treatment, and also of naturally re-invigorating things like air, climate, etc. If you look into the etymologies of liquor names, you’ll find some similarities: ‘whiskey’ comes from the Gaelic ‘uisge beatha’ which means ‘water of life,’ and ‘qua vitae’ was an old alchemical term for unrefined alcohol that came to be applied to brandy, whiskey, etc. since the 16th century. I don’t usually do scientific words, mostly because I don’t understand much about science and have no background in it. But today, as the sun started to fade around 4:30, I began to despair and thought idly ‘my serotonin levels are going down.’ This pat narrative doesn’t have much to do with reality, but it kind of sounds smart, I guess in my head anyways. The truth is I don’t have a meaningful understanding of how my neurotransmitters work or what exactly the chemical mechanisms behind my brain’s changes are. The word invented to describe one of my brain’s many chemicals belies that chemical’s complexity, but it also sort of reveals why the word itself is appealing to me. Something as vague as a ‘serum tonic’ exists in me, and is regulated in ways I don’t understand. But life experience has given me clues as to how to keep my heart in good tone: exercise does a lot of good, prayer too, etc. So I have some evidence about the things I can change, and some opportunities to accept what I can’t, to work a first step, and to give the seasons to God, because they are out of my control, and so are the ways my mood shifts with them, for the most part. I think the acceptance helps me be less prone to acting out as a result of the dip in mood, the bubbles not fizzing so much in my serum tonic. But I’m grateful today to be satisfied with a plain tonic to drink, no gin. Thanks for being a tonic for me when times get tough.

11/30/2020

Today’s word of the day is ulterior (adj.) - 1. Going beyond what is openly said or shown and especially what is proper. 2. Further, future; more distant situated on the farther side. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘ulter,’ which means ‘farther or further; situated beyond.” A character defect I have is treating all relationships like transactions. I have spent much of my life doing things in order to get something in return. Sometimes this is fine, in terms of business transactions, work, and even a lot of informal relationships where the exchange is explicit and consented to by both parties. But, unfortunately, much of my motivations, especially with romantic relationships, have been hidden, ulterior, behind a facade of well-meaningness, kindness, care, gentleness, charm, attention, regard, etc. I know because my most recent ex-girlfriend used the word ‘duplicitous’ to describe me. Now I got very angry with her for calling me that, and was not shy about how offended I was. Then later when I calmed down, I realized she was using just the right word — I presented a side of myself that I thought she would like in order to protect myself from a fear of rejection. Ultimately, that relationship failed, and it was probably for the best. I hope today that I can take the lesson from that failure in stride, and be more up-front in disclosing the uglier parts of myself to romantic partners, to give them a fair chance to decide how they want to relate (or not) to me. This, I think, is a good parallel between the principle behind how I am supposed to make amends: just be honest, tactfully, gently honest, and let go of outcomes. People will often surprise you, that’s been my experience. So thanks for helping me get honest about my motives and move away from the ulterior.

11/29/2020

Today’s word of the day is welter (n.) - 1. A state of confusion, upheaval, or turmoil. 2. The rolling, tossing, or tumbling (of the sea or waves). 3. A surging or confused mass; confusion. The word comes to us from the Middle Dutch ‘welteren’ which means ‘to roll or twist,’ which in turn comes from the Proto-Germanic ‘*waltijan’ which means ‘to turn, revolve.’ I encountered this word for what I think was the first time today, reading the 12 & 12. Near the end of the book’s Foreword, the rapid growth of AA is discussed: “This startling expansion brought with it very severe growing pains. Proof that alcoholics could recover had been made. But it was by no means sure that such great numbers of yet erratic people could live and work together with harmony and good effect. Everywhere there arose threatening questions of membership, money, personal relations, public relations, management of groups, clubs, and scores of other perplexities. It was out of this vast welter of explosive experiences that A.A.’s Twelve Traditions took form and were first published…” and it goes on to describe the traditions as what gives today’s AA "its present form, substance, and unity.” For me it is easy to get caught up in the minutia of my own recovery, or even the small community of drunks I come in contact with on a semi-regular basis. But the founding generation of our fellowship had to reckon with a roil of various issues, the tide of drama and the crashing waves of hundreds of thousands of erratic alcoholics like me. It’s comforting to me that people worked dutifully to implement the traditions as a structure early on to protect the wellbeing of our groups and our fellowship as a whole, and that I have access to solid, time-tested suggestions about how to best preserve AA and thereby continue to ensure the message gets carried to the next alcoholic. Thanks for reminding me how important unity is in a sea of weltering emotions and issues.

11/28/2020

Today’s word of the day is gloom (n.) - 1. an indefinite degree of darkness or obscurity, the result of night, clouds, deep shadow, etc.; a deeply shaded or darkened place. 2. A state of melancholy or depression; a sad or despondent look; fits of melancholy. The word comes to us from the Scottish ‘gloom’ which means ‘a sullen or displeased look. The word’s origins are unknown, but ‘gloom’ may come to us from the Norwegian ‘glome’ which means ‘to stare somberly,’ or the Middle Low German ‘glum’ which means ‘turbid’ (turbid means thick or opaque, not clear, cloudy, dark). Bill’s sunny, indefatigable (untiring, relentless) optimism is easy to access when I’m reading the Big Book, and believe him when he writes that AA is not a glum lot. But today, in the strange cavity left where family holiday visits used to be, I feel some gloom looming. By some folk wisdom I understand that the winter holidays, at their most ancient, were purposed specifically to guard against the gloom brought on by the dark season. Today I do my best to bask in the glow of screens and bathe myself in their digital warmth, but it doesn’t quite measure up. It’s puzzling to understand myself to be so hyperconnected to everyone I know via social media and technology (from elementary school classmates to old bosses to rehab cronies to jilted exes and everyone in between), puzzling to believe myself connected and to behave so singularly. Today I had the queer experience of picking up my phone to call another AA, as was suggested to me in early sobriety, just for the heck of it, to stay connected and to gird our fellowship’s network. As I scrolled through the dozens of AAs in my phone, I got paralyzed by a feeling that striking up a conversation would open up some kind of connection I didn’t want to have to be responsible for, that I might have to feel more than I want to, or tend to a relationship I wasn’t fully invested in, or some similar bullshit. I knew rationally at the time it was bullshit, yet curiously chose to forego the call, walk around by myself, and send this text instead. I am in a moment of unprecedented isolation because of covid, and the equity for my attempt to be prudent and diligent in not spreading the disease is an unprecedented level of loneliness, a loneliness that has momentum, that has an undertow. So today I decide to just try to write about what is happening as an act of acceptance. Evidently, just for today, I am powerless over how lonely life can be. But I have the good fortune of being in recovery, where I have been taught that feelings aren’t facts, and the way things are now aren’t the way things are going to be forever, and that if I get through the day sober, I can count it as a success. So thanks for sticking with me through the doom and gloom.

11/27/2020

Today’s word of the day is bombast (n.) - 1. (figurative) inflated or turgid language; high-sounding language on a trivial or commonplace subject; a pretentious inflated style of speech or writing. 2. (literal) the soft down of the cotton plant. The word comes to us from the Old French ‘bombace’ which means ‘cotton, cotton wadding,’ from the Latin ‘bombyx’ which means ‘silk,’ and thought to have originally come from an ancient Persian word meaning pamba cotton. Bombast is a character defect of mine that recurs regularly. Where one or two humble words would do, I often spin great yarns, pad my sentences with cotton wads or wrap my words in silk. Indeed, there is something appealing to me about the fabric of language; language has a texture like a textile, text-you’re reading, text-I’ll write. Anyways. The creative talent God gave me is one I have often perverted and put to use serving my own interests, inflating my own ego, and so forth. Fundamentally, without being grounded in a Higher Power, I rely on the appraisal of humans to constitute my self-regard, which is a recipe for disappointment. I hope today I can talk with less bombast, to cut away the fluff and chuff and chaff and get at what I mean to say. And more than anything, I hope to learn to listen to you, and to hear what my Higher Power means to convey through you, and to recognize the grace interwoven all throughout the fabric of our lives like fine filaments in the firmament of heaven. Thanks for tolerating this bombastic Nebrastic.

11/26/2020

Today’s word of the day is myopic - 1. (literal) of or characterized by, relating to, or exhibiting myopia, the inability to see distant objects clearly; a refractive condition in which the image of distant objects is focused in front of, rather than on, the retina; short-sightedness, near-sightedness. 2. (figurative) - lack of imagination, foresight, or intellectual insight. The word comes to us from the Late Greek ‘myōps’ which means ‘near-sighted,’ literally ‘closing the eyes, blinking,’ on the notion of ‘squinting, contracting the eyes’ (as near-sighted people do), from ‘myein’ which means ‘to shut’ (compare with ‘mute’) and ‘ops’ which means ‘eye’ (compare with ‘optics,' ‘optical’). Today in sobriety I am grateful to have less of a problem with myopia, but it’s still there. When I think only of myself, my life becomes very small. I hunch over, curl up, squint to see the tiny life I have relegated myself to. But when I make it to an AA meeting, and when I can look with my eyes at the people at the meeting, and be looked at, seen, regarded; when this happens my horizon broadens, it unfurls like a new leaf catching sun, and I reverberate with the energy of others, and my world becomes big again. It’s a daily struggle, because it’s so easy and familiar and comfortable to just look at myself, or my possessions, or my screens, and to content myself with that. Just like with most things in AA, me comparing alcoholism to myopia is not an original idea. AA member Chuck C gave a talk that was transcribed into a book titled ‘A New Pair of Glasses’ to get at a similar idea. From page 36 of that book (Chuck being spoken to by a priest friend of his named Father Ed): ‘[Father Ed] finally turned to me, and he said, “You know something, Chuck?” and I said, “What, Father?” He said, “Sometimes I have to believe that Heaven is just a new pair of glasses.” I think that’s one of the most profound statements I ever heard out of the mouth of anybody…And that’s exactly what this program [AA] has been for me…This program is a new motivation and a new action pattern.’ Thank you for offering me a new lens through which to see the world, a clearer vision of those around me, and a broader horizon to consider.

11/25/2020

Today’s word of the day is monomaniacal (adj.) - 1. (literal) relating to, characterized by, or exhibiting monomania, a form of mental illness characterized by a single pattern of repetitive and intrusive thoughts or actions; insanity in regard to a single subject or class of subjects; mental action perverted to a specific delusion or an impulse to do a particular thing. 2. (figurative) an exaggerated or fanatical enthusiasm for or devotion to one subject; an obsession, a craze. The word comes to us from the Greek ‘monos’ which means ‘single, alone’ and ‘mania’ which means ‘mental derangement characterized by excitement and delusion.’ Today I offer a word to add to your ‘mania’ collection: you already know about pyromania, kleptomania, nymphomania, egomania; you may already know about mythomania (uncontrollable lying), megalomania (lust for wealth and power) dipsomania (an uncontrollable craving for alcohol), and today we have monomania, the one-track-mind syndrome. This mania reminds me of the folk definition of insanity often offered in the rooms: “doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” Except monomania isn’t necessarily expecting a different result, and the monomaniac may be contented with their repetitive action irrespective of outcomes. I have a very vivid, awful memory of monomania: one time in 2008 I visited New York City for the first time ever. I was sitting at a table outside some restaurant with two friends, and I mentioned a song I had heard, and defined it as ‘quintessential bhangra.’ Well the woman of Indian descent at the table disagreed with me, and made a very reasonable point that my understanding of that music style was limited and to say a popular American song that sampled som Bhangra music was ‘quintessential’ was a little myopic. Well, as you might can guess, rather than admitting I was wrong, listening, maybe opening up to a usefully diverse point of view, I completely shut down. I pouted the rest of the dinner, withdrew into myself, and nurtured a heinous resentment. I can tell you that I remember very little of the rest of my two days in NYC because I drank so so much that it’s mostly a blur. I do remember I jumped in the East River at one point and my friends were horrified at my foolishness, and have vague other memories of people being mad at me, skipping a concert to stay in the apartment alone watch TV and drink Boone’s Farm. Thankfully today, I get to avoid horribly childish selfish episodes like that, because of AA. The steps and traditions instruct me to be teachable, to promptly admit when I’m wrong, and to stay oriented toward my usefulness to others. I mean, I still may be a maniac, but I think polymania is a step up from monomania. Thanks for being friendly to this maniac and teaching me to be teachable.

11/24/2020

Today’s word of the day is ubiquitous (adj.) - present in all places; omnipresent; present, appearing, or found everywhere; widespread, prevalent, predominant; very common or popular; seeming to be everywhere or in many places at the same time; requently seen or encountered; unable to be avoided. The word comes to us from the Modern Latin ‘ubiquitas’ by way of the older Latin ‘ubique’ which means ‘everywhere,’ which in turn comes from ‘ubi’ meaning ‘where’ and ‘que’ meaning ‘any, also, and, ever. The word was originally a Lutheran theological position maintaining the omnipresence of Christ. Yesterday at a meeting I heard someone sharing about how the actions of a certain group of Alcoholics Anonymous in a different state made them feel alienated and unwelcome, and how by violating some traditions it created a resentment for that person. I heard someone share at the meeting that while this person’s critique of the group may be 100% accurate, the more important thing is to not let that critique become an excuse to not go to meetings and to not be helpful to others. These days, AA meetings are near-ubiquitous, especially with Zoom, and so in theory it should be easier than ever to simply leave behind a meeting one finds problematic and seek fellowship at another. I heard another person suggest that the person voice their concerns at the next group conscience meeting, always speaking in terms of their own experience, and see if they can come to them with level-headed, constructive criticism, for the good of AA. This approach, which names a perceived injustice and attempts to engage it, is less avoidant, and might serve the needs of both the group members and the newcomer. For me this latter approach sounded scary, because I often don’t want confrontation, and I preferred the former ‘find a new meeting’ approach. But I mention these stories because I think both are equally valid, and they present a wonderful opportunity to ask a Higher Power to come into our decision-making process, a moment where we may ask God to direct our thinking, and attempt to comply with however God’s will may manifest in our life. As graceful and elegant as our AA traditions are, they have the potential to be in conflict with one another—preserving group autonomy (Tradition 4) may interfere with carrying the message (Tradition 5) depending on who and how one believes the message is best carried. So hopefully Tradition 2 can prevail over all during these moments of tension, and God’s expression in our group conscience may serve as our ultimate authority. Thank you for reminding me of the value of diverse viewpoints and helping me avoid monomaniacal thinking in recovery.

11/23/2020

Today’s word of the day is stolid (adj.) - dull and impassive; having little or no sensibility; incapable of being excited or moved. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘stolidus’ which means ‘insensible, dull, slow, brutish, rude, stupid,’ properly “unmovable,’ rlated to ‘stultus’ which means ‘foolish’ (compare with ‘stultify’), originally from the Proto Indo European root ‘*stel-‘ which means ‘to put, stand, put in order.’ This word is interesting to me, because from the definition it seems negative or pejorative, like being stolid is a bad thing. However, the definition to me reminds me of how I imagine my Higher Power might have me be: not reactive, impassive in the face of disorder and difficulty, not reliant on others for my sense of self and wellbeing. If I could be solid in God and stolid with regards to the whims of the material world, I think I would be better off. It comes up a lot for me when I am at work, when, if I’m not careful, I can end up in petty and bitter arguments with strangers, trying to prove I’m right to make myself feel like a big man, to protect my fragile ego, etc. So today I hope to stultify that imperious urge, to be serene and placid and stolid in my dependence on a Higher Power, and to remember that my Higher Power would have me be patient, kind, tolerant, and loving toward all, regardless of how they seem to me. Thank you for encouraging me to act in line with my Higher Power’s will.

11/22/2020

Today’s word of the day is scurrilous (adj.) - using such language as only the license of a buffoon can warrant; characterized by coarseness or indecency of language, especially in jesting and invective; coarsely opprobrious (expressing scorn) or jocular (joking). The word comes to us from an SAT study book I bought from Borders Books circa 2003, by way of the Latin ‘scurrilis’ which means ‘buffoonlike,’ which in turn comes from ‘scurra’ which means ‘fashionable city idler, man-about-town’ (compare with ‘flâneur’), which itself is a loan word from the Etruscan language, which was the source of the Latin language. Buffoonery in AA is one of my favorite parts about recovery. For me, there’s nothing more disarming than hearing a group full of drunks laugh and carry on about the terrible things they did in their life, or that I did in mine. Don’t get me wrong, I remember being in the rooms sometimes early on and getting bothered by this, too—but I think more often than not, my resentment to their joviality had more to do with my desire to nurse a resentment or to remain in a rut of self-pity than it did with them. For a grim, sorrowful, morose, depressed drug addict like me, life needed a little levity. I took myself way too seriously. Honestly, I look at my suicidal ideations and attempts as an outcropping of me taking myself too seriously, of believing that since I didn’t meet my own ridiculously high standards of behavior, achievement, excellence, whatever, that I deserved to die. Now, in sobriety, (and in therapy) I have been slowly introduced to the idea that that sort of toxic internal environment often mirrors my attitude toward others. I remember one time having a friend listen to me crying and describing how sad I was after my girlfriend broke up with me, and I was really laying on the self-criticism thick. And eventually my friend interrupted me and said ‘stop talking shit about my friends,’ meaning me, as in, I wouldn’t talk this way about anyone else, so why is it ok for me to talk about myself this way? Well it wasn’t, and it’s still not. And being among a group of drunks who have become acquainted well enough with their disease, its commonness and its solvability, that they can laugh at their own expense—it’s a magic remedy that deflates egos, helps me take my guard down, allows me to open up to others. Thanks for your scurrilous comments and for, countless times, convincing me to smile despite the bad mood I had committed myself to.

11/21/2020

Today’s word of the day is meshuga (n.) - madness, craziness; nonsense, foolishness; a foolish idea; a foible, an idiosyncrasy. The word comes to us from the Hebrew ‘meshugga,’ participle of ‘shagah’ which means ‘to go astray, wander.’ Continuing on the theme of a disordered mental state and the way my lifestyle often parallels my mental state, we have ‘meshuga,’ which up until today, when I was trawling the internet for new words to look up, I thought was just a cool band name. I have had the experience recently of seeing someone I worked with a lot in AA go back out. The news came abruptly, and, weirdly, for me the news was equally shocking and plausible. After all, the disease I struggle with, that we struggle with, has madness as one of its components. Madness is illogical, unpredictable, uncanny. So upon receiving that news I tried to bring God into it; the best I could come up with was ’thanks for telling me, I love you, I’m here to talk if you want.’ Because, for me, as much as I want to believe another person’s sobriety is contingent upon my engagement, my work ethic in service, my best effort, etc., it’s just not. At the end of the day, I do the service work because I am meshuga, because I am one spiritually unfit day away from that next drink, and because I know for me to drink is to die. It’s easy for me to skimp on the second step because I think I got it in the bag once I hit my knees in the morning. But for me, I feel like the step means more when I reflect on it, even for one or two minutes, and I recognize that I have a literal insanity that I can’t deal with on my own. It gets easy to ignore because materially my life is quite stable at the moment. But I’m not that different from the person who went out, I’m just as risk-prone, sick, and foolish as the next garden-variety drunk. "There but for the grace of God go I” is a phrase attributed (according to Wikipedia) to a pious Martyr named John Bradford who lived in England in the 16th century; he was imprisoned in the Tower of London for alleged crimes against the queen and executed by way of being burned at the stake. Supposedly Bradford, when he saw a poor criminal led to execution, would say ‘there, but for the Grace of God, goes John Bradford.’ This was to identify that the same evil principles of the condemned, which had brought the criminal to that shameful end, were in his own heart, even though he spent his life as a pious protestant scholar, theologian, and preacher. And the idea behind it is supposed to be an expression of humility and reliance on God’s grace rather than one’s own morality, which I like a lot. It matches with AA's sort of folk-theological refrain: ‘God loves me because God is good, not because I’m good.” Thank you for encouraging humility and tolerance in me as I strive to shake off the meshuga, and stay sane and sober one day at a time.

11/20/2020

Today’s word of the day is flâneur (n.) - a lounger or saunterer, and idle ‘man about town,’ a habitual loafer. Traditionally depicted as male, a flâneur is an ambivalent figure of urban affluence and modernity, representing the ability to wander detached from society with no other purpose than to be an acute observer of industrialized, contemporary life. The word comes to us from the French ‘flaner’ which means ‘to stroll, loaf, saunter,’ which in turn comes from the Old Norse ‘flana,’ which means ‘to wander aimlessly.’ I got “sober” for about three years on my own starting in 2011 — sober meaning I quit drinking and smoking, but if I found pills in a medicine cabinet, well, who could blame me for seizing the opportunity, and anyways, who would ever know? and the important part about sobriety for me at that time was other people thinking I was sober, not actually being sober. During this period, I think ‘flâneur’ would be a great way to describe me. I had managed to wrest some control via self-will; I had quieted the major instability and disorder of the first leg of my drinking and using career; I was a part of a community and had relationships. My main goal was to drift through life with as little effort as possible, a sort of practical exoneration of what drinking/drugs did for me, and a big part of why I let opioids stay a part of my ‘sobriety.’ I did a lot of traveling, sleeping on couches, hitchhiking, scamming bus tickets, and a profound amount of shoplifting, all in the interest of working as little as possible and optimizing my loafing. Honestly, there is still a queer charm in that lifestyle to me, and there are parts of it I miss. It’s quite pleasant to have no responsibilities (or to at least imagine having none), and it is far easier to live a life unaccountable to anyone than it is to be accountable, dependable, reliable, consistent. And I think for some people, they can loaf and wander and drift successfully, without doing damage. Me personally, I could not. I craved more and more amnesia and absence, and was without a moral compass, so my proclivity for theft and deceit eventually bled into my interpersonal relationships, began to damage my community, and ultimately led to severe internal damage to myself. Luckily, the program of AA has introduced me to a structured way of living that minimizes the violent listlessness I am prone to. And by seeing medical professionals and following their instructions, I’ve been able to minimize the disorder in my mind, as well. It’s imperfect, but my life looks almost exactly the opposite of what it did five years ago, and I now get to enjoy the things I used to think were boring death sentences—reliability, dependability, routine, accountability, consistency. I was not able to generate these qualities on my own; the fellowship around me gave me the tools to build a relationship with God, and those qualities seem to naturally arise with people who practice that long enough. Of course, I only get a daily reprieve, and I’m liable to slip back into loafing, as my 5-day hiatus from writing these words of the day can attest. But luckily I am enjoined to seek progress, not perfection, and can count any day as a success that ended with my head hitting the pillow drug and drink free. Thanks for helping this drifter stabilize.

11/19/2020

Today’s word of the day is dreck (n.) - worthless, distasteful, or nonsensical material; something regarded as worthless or of poor quality; rubbish, trash. The word comes to us from the Yiddish ‘drek,’ which means ‘filth, trash,’ which in turn comes from the Middle High German ‘drec’ by way of the Proto-Germanic ‘*threkka’ which means ‘rubbish,’ which is thought perhaps to come from the Greek ‘skatos’ meaning ‘dung’ and/or the Latin ‘stercus’ meaning ‘excrement.’ I have noticed I can often veer into the high-minded, academic, theological, sparkling, polished words in these words of the day. I do find much of language beautiful, but I am equally enchanted by the vulgar (coarse, ill-bred; but also: common, ordinary) and crass parts of language. I had a blog in rehab that I kept for my first 6 or so months sober that I called, cringeworthily, ‘Lovely and Despised,’ a play on the phrase ‘lowly and despised,’ a paraphrasing from 1 Corinthians 1:28 which says “God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important (New Living Translation).” Now I am no biblical scholar, no theologian; rather, I am a guy who just three years ago was smoking crack in a 1996 Volvo near the graveyard beside the railroad tracks in Durham with a stranger. The quote was a reflection, I think, of my low opinion of myself, but also a kind of schmaltzy (extremely or excessively sentimental; corny [a word also of Yiddish origin; ‘schmaltz is the word for ‘chicken fat’ in Yiddish’]) optimism. And that optimism was not something I had internal access to; recently suicidal and frequently nihilistic, perenially cynical and seasonally depressed. Rather, it was a 12-step fellowship that offered me the simple notion that “we do recover.” Back in early recovery, my rehab took us in vans to AA, CA, and NA meetings, and ‘We Do Recover’ is a short reading that I think is done at the beginning of NA meetings, kind of like the preamble or How It Works in AA. I’ll end with that reading quoted in full, because it gave me hope, when I was near my lowest, that I wasn’t mere dreck, that I had not thrown my life away, that there was a future for me, somehow, still: “When at the end of the road we find that we can no longer function as a human being, either with or without drugs, we all face the same dilemma. What is there left to do? There seems to be this alternative: either go on as best we can to the bitter ends—jails, institutions or death—or find a new way to live. In years gone by, very few addicts ever had this last choice. Those who are addicted today are more fortunate. For the first time in man’s entire history, a simple way has been proving itself in the lives of many addicts. It is available to us all. This is a simple spiritual—not religious—program, known as Narcotics Anonymous.” (Insert your favorite 12-step program at the end there if you don’t go for NA; the message resonates with me fully even though I only go to AA meetings these days.) Thanks for helping me learn to think of myself as something other than trash.

11/18/2020

Today’s word of the day is paucity (n.) - smallness of quantity or size; thinness; the presence of something in only small amounts; scantiness; a small or scant quantity. The word comes to us from Latin ‘paucitatem’ which means ‘fewness, scarcity, a small number,’ which in turn comes from ‘paucus,’ which means ‘few, little.’ There has been a recent paucity of these words of the day recently—partially due to having a busy work schedule, partially due to getting really into exercising and then being exhausted afterward, partially due to having some doubts about how legitimate a source of service these texts are, and partially because my life is full of things I like doing and people I love, a blessed fullness that is a gift of sobriety beyond what I would ever have imagined for myself. The doubts I have are more oriented toward selfishness than helpfulness, so I decided to keep going and play catch-up today. I’m happy to have that quick test to apply to decision-making now, and even happier when I can put it into practice. I don’t have to come up with an original idea all the time, since I have the helpful short sayings of AA to guide me. Thanks for reminding me that ‘easy does it,’ to give myself a break, and to try to do the next right thing.

11/17/2020

Today’s word of the day is prosaic (adj.) - 1. Of or relating to prose; consisting of or written in prose. 2. Of language or writing: having the character, style or diction of prose as opposed to poetry; plainly or simply worded; lacking in poetic expression, feeling, or imagination; of a person or thing: unpoetic, unromantic; dull, flat unexciting; commonplace, mundane. The word comes to us from the Medieval Latin ‘prosaicus’ which means ‘in prose,’ from the Latin ‘prosa’ meaning ‘prose.’ The original sense of the word distinguished prose writing from poetry writing; only in the 19th century did the extended sense of ‘ordinary’ come about. From the Big Book: "The prosaic steel girder is a mass of electrons whirling around each other at incredible speed. These tiny bodies are governed by precise laws, and these laws hold true throughout the material world. Science tells us so. We have no reason to doubt it. When, however, the perfectly logical assumption is suggested that underneath the material world and life as we see it, there is an All Powerful, Guiding, Creative Intelligence, right there our perverse streak comes to the surface and we laboriously set out to convince ourselves it isn’t so.” I found some forum posts about this passage on e-aa.org and found them pretty insightful. One called Tommy-S says “what Bill was driving at is that our perception of the world around us is not always as it seems…a steel girder appears and feels solid, yet on a different level, there is a constant motion, vibration, movement, etc.” Then another called Tosh says “Bill’s saying that there’s an unseen complexity to the universe and posits that it’s logical to assume that an ‘All Powerful, Guiding, Creative Intelligence’ is responsible for it.’ All I’d add is that I, as an alcoholic, have a tendency toward amnesia and complacency. When things get bad, I often feel like things will never be good again, or maybe that things were never good in the first place. Considering the prosaic steel girder, there’s an invitation to be curious about the world, to find its wonder, and to do some very consequential remembering, to remember there is an invisible, elegant order that underlies existence. The organization of subatomic particles is a great example, and I think the notion applies much more broadly than physics. As someone who has suffered from a disordered mind, it is comforting to conceive of my Higher Power as a great source of Order. Thanks for inviting me to be curious about my world and to find its hidden beauty and order.

11/16/2020

Today’s word of the day is onerous (adj.) - of the nature of a burden; burdensome; troublesome, tiresomely difficult. The word comes to us from the Old French ‘onereus’ by way of the old Latin ‘onerosus’ which means ‘burdensome, heavy, oppressive,’ which in turn comes from ‘onus’ which means ‘burden.’ I would say the last five years of my life prior to sobriety felt quite onerous. I was tired, troubled, and burdened-feeling often. My attitude toward life became one in which I needed to identify and activate any source of relief to manage living. Third Eye Blind put it best when they said “I need something else/to get me through this/semi-charmed kind of life.” This was a song I sang along to in elementary school but only recently learned the song was about doing crystal meth. Anyways, this phenomenon is discussed in a more optimistic light in our literature. In the Twelve and Twelve, it says: “[The recovering alcoholic who has experienced a spiritual awakening] has been granted a gift which amounts to a new state of consciousness and being. He has been set on a path which tells him he is really going somewhere, that life is not a dead end, not something to be endured or mastered. In a very real sense he has been transformed, because he has laid hold of a source of strength which, in one way or another, he had hitherto denied himself.” So, it seems to me, developing and maintaining a relationship with a Higher Power is the key to shedding that old attitude of life as an onus. It offers me a way to make sense of a life that felt meaningless, disordered, and chaotic. It offers a sense of purpose: be useful to others. And I get evidence that I can in fact be useful all the time, thanks to service in AA. Thanks for helping me see my life as fully charmed.

11/15/2020

Today’s word of the day is retinue (n.) - 1. (literal) a group of people in the service of or accompanying a person, especially a sovereign, noble, or person in authority; a train, a suite. 2. (figurative) a set of associated objects, emotions, circumstances, etc., that accompany or follow something 3. (historical) the state or condition of being engaged in the service of another person; the fact of being dependent on or subordinate to a person. The word comes to us from the Old French ‘retenue’ which means ‘group of followers, state of service,’ literally ‘that which is retained.’ I came across this word reading yesterday, and it was being used in sense #1 above, describing the court of a king, the people surrounding him and in service to him. I didn’t know about sense #3 until I looked it up—it pleased me that this word could be pretty readily applied to AA in terms of service work. But in sense #1 I think it can work too, maybe, if I imagine our fellowship as God’s retinue. Naturally, we all have our own unique conceptions of God, are conscious of our Higher Power in different way. But I like to think that no matter how we imagine or relate to God, each of us is working toward love and tolerance of others, each of us is accumulating capacity to become more of service to the people we encounter, each of us is transitioning away from taking and toward contributing. It’s a comforting thought. Thanks for allowing me to imagine myself as part of a good group of followers in a state of service.

11/14/2020

Today’s word of the day is obstinate (adj.) - firmly adhering to an opinion or chosen course of action despite argument, persuasion, or entreaty; inflexible, resolute, refractory, stubborn, self-willed; indicative of or characterized by inflexibility or stubbornness. Usually with pejorative connotation. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘obstinatus’ which means ‘resolute, resolved, determined, inflexible,’ from ‘ob-‘ which means ‘by’ and ‘stinare’ which means ‘stand, make or be firm.’ I have been by turns very pliant in some ways in my life and very obstinate in others. I have been reading about the fourth step in the Big Book lately, and I was reminded by a person at a meeting that a good inventory is not one-sided, it takes into account good and bad stock. I have a tendency to look at my past like it was a 30-year-long car wreck, an eternal flame smoldering in a dumpster, a relentless, unending mosquito bite. Obviously, that’s not quite right, there were all sorts of little and big moments of joy, relief, ecstasy (non drug-induced), glee, gentle love, compassion, achievement, kindness, peace, and of course, ecstasy (drug-induced). It’s much, much simpler to adhere obstinately to a one-dimensional narrative of horror and sorrow in my past, and then act like a switch got flipped on my sobriety date, and now all is sunshine and lollipops. So to that end, it’s important for me to recognize the negatives in my life today, in recovery. Luckily, AA has encouraged me to become teachable. I don’t have to bend to anyone else’s will; ultimately I am responsible for and accountable to my own actions. But I’m constantly shown proof that the more I can incorporate others’ experience into my own, weave their wisdom into my decision making, the richer my life becomes, and the less times I have to burn my hand on the stove. It’s still a daily thing to combat obstinacy, but when I do, I’m usually rewarded. Thanks for teaching me how to bend without breaking.

11/13/2020

Today’s word of the day is imperious (adj.) - 1. Having, expressing, or characterized by a domineering character or manner; overbearing, dictatorial; arrogant 2. Of the nature of an absolute command or demand; urgent, imperative. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘imperiosus’ which means ‘commanding, mighty, powerful,’ from ‘imperium’ which means ‘empire, command’ (there is an older sense of the word whose definition is ‘of the nature or rank of an emperor or supreme ruler; belonging to , befitting, or characteristic of an emperor or supreme ruler; imperial’). I was reading through ‘How It Works’ today and saw the part wherein the fourth step is discussed; the passage says: “If sex is very troublesome, we throw ourselves harder into helping others. We think of their needs and work for them. This takes us out of ourselves. It quiets the imperious urge, when to yield would mean heartache.” Sex certainly has been very troublesome for me. It gave me pause to try to imagine how ‘imperious’ fits into my sex inventory. In my memories, it is hard to look at the moments where the imperious urge had not been quieted. I was often insistent or else pouting, demanding and impatient, frequently inconsiderate. It’s an ugly thing to sit with, to try to fully acknowledge and embody. But the truth is, this dimension of my life is not so different than any other. These same tendencies, the imperious urge, applied equally elsewhere, to platonic interpersonal relationships, to material posessions, to status, etc. For me it’s more difficult to process the sex inventory, because it’s so intimate, because so many other emotions are tangled up with carnal (pertaining to the body, sensual, not spiritual) desire, and because I was so seldom sober for those intimate moments. So I try to throw myself into service, even if that just means making a meeting and listening, being a body in the room. I don’t get to shut the door on the past but it does no one any good for me to agonize over it. I was lucky to hear some great shares about grief and grieving last night; AA is wonderful for providing just the right topic at the right time, in my experience. Thanks for helping me step gingerly through that minefield of the past I call my sex inventory.

11/12/2020

Today’s word of the day is ambit (n.) - 1. a space that is left vacant around a house, castle, town, etc.; the precincts or grounds of a place; the enclosing boundary (obsolete). 2. the sphere, scope, or reach of something; the full extent. Also: a sphere or area within which something or someone is active or effective. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘ambitus’ which means ‘a going round, a circuit, circumference.’ Today as a recovering alcoholic, it is important for me to recognize what is within my ambit and what is not. I used to think of any acknowledgement of limitations as a sign of weakness, and so I carried myself in an arrogant way, full of false swagger and plagued by unrealistic dreams of greatness. Bill describes something similar: “My talent for leadership, I imagined, would place me at the head of vast enterprises which I would manage with the utmost assurance.” Delusions of grandeur have been common to me, both before getting sober and after. But AA has taught me that one of the paths to serenity is humility. When I come to terms with my limitations, and when I accept that it is an absurd proposition that I should be limitless, I move toward a more realistic view of the world, and can be more at peace with it. Thank you for encouraging me to live life on life’s terms.

11/11/2020

Today we have a phrase of the day instead of a word of the day — Janus word - a word having opposite or contradictory meanings depending on the context in which the word is used (this type of word is also called an antilogy, contranym, or autoantonym). ‘Janus’ more generally can be used to designate any material with a double facing, or things having a two-way actionThe word comes to us from Janus, the name of an ancient Italian deity, regarded as the doorkeaper of heaven, as guardian of doors and gates. Janus was represented with a face on the front and another on the back of his head. I’ve interpreted several of the recent words of the day as Janus words recently; here are some more examples: ‘weather’ can mean ‘to endure’ or ‘to erode;’ ‘sanction’ can mean ‘to allow’ or ‘to prohibit,’ ‘left’ as a verb in the past tense means ‘to have gone’ but as an adjective it means ‘remaining.’ The way language and meaning can warp and morph depending on context makes it a great joy for me. I’m fascinated by language and interested in the benefits of interpreting it. I think the idea of the Janus word just underscores how important my approach is to a given situation in life, how there are two sides to every story. AA taught me that the people who I resent or feel wronged by deserve to be prayed for and treated with kindness and care, as one does to a sick friend. This is because there’s a second face behind whatever perceived slight or wrong I see, a face of someone hurting, someone let down by their community, someone traumatized, someone reacting to instinct, someone who has let a once-healthy coping mechanism mutate into something ugly, or any number of other motivators that I just can’t see. So today I hope to embrace the two-faced nature of life, or at least tolerate it, and accept that things aren’t always what they seem. Thank you for teaching me I can’t save my ass and either of my two faces at the same time.

11/10/2020

Today’s word of the day is diffident (adj.) -1. lacking in trust or faith; full of or characterized by doubt or misgivings; wanting confidence in another’s power. 2. lacking in self-confidence; timid, shy; modest, self-deprecating. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘diffidere’ which means ‘to mistrust, lack confidence,’ from ‘dis-‘ meaning ‘away’ and ‘fidere’ meaning ‘trust’ (compare with fidelity). Once again we have a word with two sides whose context could cast it in a positive or negative light. I’m very familiar with the negative connotation: I accumulated a heavy plaque of cynicism over my first thirty years. I lacked faith in the basic institutions of society: family, school, work, law & order, community. I even wrote caustic tracts deriding these things as inherently flawed and endemic to a problematic way of life. While some of the critiques may have had a certain plausibility, I think overall my approach was unbalanced, and I projected my own lack of self-confidence onto society writ large; instead of acknowledging my own shortcomings and limitations I named them as cultural ills. Looking back, it’s easy to gain momentum down the road of cynicism when I myself act according to no values nor conscience, and when I consistently betray my own ideals, consistently harm myself physically chemically and socially. It was not until I came into AA that I started getting acquainted with my own capacity to care for myself and to ask for help. It is in this mode that the positive sort of diffidence was introduced in my life: I wanted confidence in another’s power, I began to recognize that ‘humility' is another word for a certain healthy lack of self-confidence, that acknowledging limitations is a form of humble and humane power. Thank you for helping me build trust in myself and in my Higher Power.

11/9/2020

Today’s word of the day is remonstrance (n.) - 1. an appeal, a request; a written or spoken demonstration, statement, or account (obsolete). 2. A formal statement of grievances or similar matters of public importance, presented to a governing body or monarch; a petition. 3. A protestation, an objection; an expression of disapproval or disagreement; a warning against a particular course of action. The word comes to us from the Medieval Latin ‘remonstrantia’ which means ‘point out, show;’ from ‘monstare’ meaning ‘to show’ (compare with ‘demonstrate’). I was reading Bill’s Story with another alcoholic recently, and on page 3 Bill discusses his ascent into business prowess and the ascent of his alcoholism alongside that prowess: “I made a host of fair-weather friends. My drinking assumed more serious proportions, continuing all day and almost every night. The remonstrances of my friends terminated in a row and I became a lone wolf.” What I think this passage means is that Bill’s fair-weather friends at one time abided his drunken misbehavior, then later they expressed disapproval at it, and then finally they stopped bothering expressing their disapproval, and they stopped talking to him altogether, leaving him to be a lone wolf. Assuming I’ve got his meaning right, I can really relate to this. There is a particularly poignant (sharp, stinging, arousing deep emotions of sorrow and regret) type of feeling I have when I think about how consistently bad I must have fucked up to push my friends to eventually terminate their remonstrances, to stop bothering to try to criticize me constructively, and instead just throw up their hands and move on from our hopelessly imploded relationship. It’s something I actually don’t think I have fully grieved; I am still haunted by the past in some ways, wondering what life would be like if I hadn’t detonated this or that friendship or community of friends. I sometimes drift into morbid self-reflection, or want to blame them for not being dedicated enough, being too ‘fair-weather,’ not helping me out more. But AA has taught me this type of thinking benefits no one, and specifically impedes my ability to heal, be well, and to be useful to others. Part of life is letting what was once green and lush wither and fall to the ground, to become soil for the next season. Clearly fall has got me in a mood. Today I can absorb constructive criticism through AA’s unique protocol of sharing from personal experience, so that I don’t bristle at the lessons, and instead I get to pick them up myself. Sometimes it requires some gentle cajoling, but I know I’m much better than I used to be at taking suggestions and asking for help than I once was, and I am heartened by the notion that I may still get better yet, provided I continue to work the program and grow within it. Thank you for demonstrating healthy remonstrating.

11/8/2020

Today's word of the day is pathetic (adj. & adv.) - 1. arousing sadness, compassion, or sympathy, especially through vulnerability or sadness; pitiable; 2. expressing or arising from passion or strong emotion; passionate, emotional (obsolete) 3. Miserably inadequate; of such a low standard as to be ridiculous or contemptible (colloquial). The word comes to us from the Latin 'patheticus,' which in turn comes from the Greek 'pathetikos' which means 'subject to feeling, sensitive, capable of emotion,' from 'patheos' which means 'liable to suffer; it shares a root with 'pathos' which means 'quality that arouses pity or sorrow,' both come from the Proto Indo European root '*kwent(h)-' which means 'to suffer.' I thought I knew the definition of this word, when actually I only knew the colloquial sense of the word (#3 above). This came up yesterday during a Big Book study, where, in The Family Afterward, Bill is discussing the potential difficulty of an alcoholic parent rebuilding relationships with their children: "Without saying so, they may cordially hate him for what he has done to them and their mother. The children are sometimes dominated by a pathetic harness and cynicism. They cannot seem to forgive and forget." At the meeting I took a guess at the meaning but missed the mark; luckily someone else actually looked it up and revealed the original senses of the word (#1 and #2 above). To fully understand this passage, it's also worth defining cordial: 1. of the heart as the seat of feeling, affection; internal 2. stimulating, comforting, or invigorating the heart; restorative, reviving, cheering 3. hearty; coming from the heart, heartfelt; sincere, genuine, warm; friendly (cordial shares the root of cardiac, the Latin 'cor' which means 'heart'). So, it seems to me, the children, having been harmed by an alcoholic parent, may hate their newly sober parent in their hearts, with their hearts, but may express their hate outwardly as such; rather, they may instead transmute the hate in their hearts with a hardness and cynicism designed to arouse sadness, compassion, or sympathy in the parent. I have no kids, but this interpretation of the passage evokes for me the complicated and expressive look of love/despair/worry/disgust/compassion/resentment/hope that I have seen on my mom's face as a result of my addictive behavior. So what I hope to take away from my reading of this passage is to permit the family time to process their grief over me in their own time, not take their inventory, not saddle them with unreasonable expectations of instant acceptance and affection. I like and fear this chapter because it really makes me have to inhabit the perspective of people affected by me. That is the kind of discomfort I like to believe leads to spiritual growth and healing. Thanks for helping me learn how to be less hard-hearted.

11/7/2020

Today's word of the day is recrudescence (n.) - 1. the action or fact of breaking out afresh; a recurrence of a disease or medical condition, or of an undesirable state of things, bad feelings, etc., especially after a period of quiescence (inactivity or dormancy) or remission. 2. a revival or rediscovery of something good or valuable. The word comes to us from the Latin 'recrudescere' which means '(of wounds) to re-open,' literally 'to become raw again, from 'crudus' meaning 'raw' (compare with 'crudités' which are raw vegetables cut into bite sized pieces and served as a snack or appetizer, or crude, as in crude oil, that is' unprocessed, unrefined) and 're-' meaning 'again.' To be more precise, this word actually comes to us from Dirck, word of the day reader and now guest contributor, who mentioned the word in a letter from prison. This is another of those mutable words that can have a positive or negative connotation depending on your perspective. Sense #1 for me evokes relapse, that tragic slip off the cliff of sanity which we all walk gingerly, one day at a time, together, to avoid, a slip against which we try to take out insurance by cordoning ourselves onto the people in our networks with steady footholds in recovery. And as many of you probably have experienced, the relapse-feeling can occur without taking an external substance into our bodies--a bad argument, a risky sex encounter, a decision to binge or purge or self-harm, an eruption of physical violence--these raw moments can feel so destabilizing, can shake me to my core. One of the manifold benefits of AA meetings is getting to hear how commonplace these occurences are, and what circumstances preceded the recrudescence, so that I can look to my own life and seek to intervene before it's too late. Snse #2 is much more optimistic for me: recrudescence is that healthy-raw feeling of, well, feelings themselves, that begin to recur after I've stopped my numbing regimen. It's the kind of painfully bracing breath that a smoker draws on day two after quitting. As we recover, there is a revival in all the spheres of our lives, and we rediscover that life is, after all, worth living, and can be enjoyed, not just endured. Thanks for accepting all of me, the rude, the crude, and the ugly.

11/6/2020

Today's word of the day is cipher (n.) - 1. Literal: an arithmetical symbol or character (0, aka 'zero') of novalue by itself, but which increases or decreases the value of other figures accoreding to its position. 2. Figurative: a person who fills a place, but is of no importance or worth, a nonentity, a mere nothing. 3. An astrological sign or figure (this use is now obsolete). 4. Codes: A secret or disguised manner of writing, whether by characters arbitrarily invented or by an arbitrary use of letters or characters in other than their ordinary sense; a cryptograph (aka 'cypher). The word comes to us from the Old French 'cifre' which means 'nought, zero,' which in turn comes from the Latin 'cifra,' which originated from the Arabic 'sifr' which means 'zero' or 'empty, nothing;' this word in turn comes from the Sanskrit 'sunya-s' meaning 'empty.' The figurative sense (something or someone of no value) did not come into use until the 16th century; the meaning having to do with codes (cypher/decypher) did not come into use until the 19th century. First of all it's cool to trace a word back to Sanskrit, I think this is the first time that has happened in Brasky's WOTD, so that's exciting to me, a word nerd. Second, I picked this word because it appears in Bill's Story when he writes 'I was not an athiest. Few people really are, for that means blind faith in the strange proposition that this universe originated in a cipher and aimlessly rushes nowhere.' So my guess is that Bill is using the word cipher in sense #2 above; he proposes a meaningful order and rhythm that governs the spheres of the universe, originated by a creative progenitor whose nature is the business of the individual interpreting that progenitor. And so today I won't divide by zero by convoluting the message any further; I think Bill put it beautifully, and I hope that a contextualization of the word 'cipher' offers deeper insight into this passage from our literature. Thanks for helping me understand myself as neither zero nor hero.

11/5/2020

Today's word of the day is fulminate (v.) - to pronounce, to publish; to utter, to deliver; to issue a formal censure against a person or thing; to rail or speak violently; to inveigh; to rage; to denounce vehemently or in scathing terms; to flash forth; to unleash; to wreak. There is also a literal definition related to the above: to emit thunder and lightning; to make a violent or startling manifesttation; to strike with lightning; to explode with a loud report; to detonate. The word comes to us from the Latin 'fulminatus' which means 'hurl lightning, to thunder;' the word is related to 'fulgere' which means 'to shine, flash,' originally from the Proto Indo European root 'bhel-' which means 'to shine, flash, burn.' Today I picked a fire-related word because I celebrated something via burning. It took a little more than 2.5 years, but I finally cleared out every last thing from my parent's garage--every last personal item that was cleared out of my apartment after I went to jail/detox/rehab/oxford. I have had a tremendous mental block about these items; I've gone back no less than a dozen times in the last two years with the intention of clearing them out, only to find myself silently beholding these talismans of my past, paralyzed, unable to act. So I kept just putting it off, putting it off. Today, as I pawed through the warped and mouldering stacks of books and clothes in the dank storage garage, something came over me and I just started piling anything plausibly flammable (fun etymology bonus, 'inflammable' means the same thing as 'flammable') on a pile usually reserved for leaves and yard waste. My dad generously supplied me with about half a gallon of gasoline, which I used to douse the cursed and rotten ephemera of my past. A satisfying whoooomph, and a cathartic fulmination. I may not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it, but I do from time to time want to set certain parts of it on fire. Progress, not perfection. Thanks for helping me carry the message, which burns like a torch to light up the dark moments, and burns like a trashbag full of t-shirts on a warm November afternoon, also.

11/4/2020

Today’s word of the day is subterfuge (n.) - deception by artifice or stratagem in order to conceal, escape, or evade; a deceptive device or stratagem. The word comes to us from the Medieval Latin subterfugium’ which mans ‘an evasion, which in turn come from ‘subterfugere’ which means ‘to evade, escape, flee by stealth,’ whose parts are ‘subter’ meaning beneath, below’ (compare with subterranean) and ‘fugere’ which means ‘flee’ compare with fugitive). I can remember spending a lot of time trying to deceive the people around me when I was in active addiction. I wanted to convince people that I was ok, that I was sober, that I was “fine;” more than anything I wanted people not to care about me, so that I did not have to be dependent on nor accountable to anyone. So I would skulk around, avoid social situations at all costs, and near the end I remember specifically avoiding conversations with people because there was nothing I could talk about that wasn’t a lie. Today in sobriety, I skulk around less, but I am still prone to subterfuge in the form of evasion, avoidance, and escape. And I’m still prone to deception to pad my ego, which is fragile still. Luckily, with the help of AA I have developed ways to curb subterfuge and get honest. Inventory and amends have been the principle means by which I have learned to feel ok with myself in this world, and I hope to continue on that path. Thank you for helping me learn to tell the truth more often and that I don’t need to slink around as a child of God.

11/3/2020

Today’s word of the day is quotidian (adj.) - recurring or occurring every day, specifically at 24-hour intervals; of an everyday character; commonplace, mundane, ordinary. The word comes to us from the Old French ‘cotidian,’ which comes in turn from the Latin ‘quotidianus’ which means ‘daily;’ ‘quotus’ means ‘how many? which in order or number?’ (compare with a price ‘quote’) and ‘dies’ which means ‘day.’ Last night in a meeting they the 11th step was discussed. For me, this step is important because it adds a definite structure to my day. The quotidian morning process of reading pages 86-87, and spending a few minutes praying, meditating, and reflecting, makes me feel good, clear, purposeful, capable—and some days when I look back, that 15 or 20 minutes I spent at the beginning of the day doing step 11 was the only thing I’m glad I did. Only a few years ago, I considered routine to be tantamount with boredom, with the choking tendrils of a predictable, joyless life. I avoided routine as much as I could, preferring instead to follow my instincts and pursue my desires wherever they lead me. While this was indeed often more exciting, the cost was a fraying and tenuous grasp on my mental health, general unavailability when folks needed me, and a tendency to find myself in precarious, high-risk situations. AA has introduced order into my life, and, in conjunction with medication prescribed by a psychiatrist, helps keep the highs less high and the lows less low. Today, without alcohol, and through the grace a Higher Power, my life is manageable. When I follow the daily routines suggested by our program, it tends to stay that way. Quotidian, after all, is just a fancy way of saying ‘one day at a time.’ Thanks for helping me live life 24 hours at a time.

11/2/2020

Today’s word of the day is hagiography (n.) - the writing of the lives of saints or venerated persons; saints’ lives as a branch of literature or legend; an idealizing or idolizing biography or account of a person as saintly. The word comes to us from the Greek ‘Hagiographa’ which literally means ‘sacred writing,’ and which refers to the last of the three great divisions of the Hebrew Scriptures. Bill and Bob are venerated for good reason, and each has a unique and exceptional story; becoming more familiar with these stories through ancillary AA texts like ‘Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers’ and ‘As Bill Sees It’ has enriched and contextualized my relationship with AA. Dr. Bob took great pains throughout his life to downplay his role as a saint,” frequently saying that he did n’t do anything; rather, God simply put Bob to God’s use. I admire this and hope to grow spiritually enough to be confident in the notion of myself as an instrument of God’s peace. I know I have to be careful to avoid idealizing people; it’s a character defect that has popped up in different ways in my life. Frequently, I treated the women I dated as saintly, perfect, incapable of wrong, in a way that typically left me treading water in shame and fulfilling a prophecy of harmful behavior, a cycle I hadn’t been able to break until I got sober, and even still it requires a lot of therapy, reading, and step work to engage. To me it elucidates a more general defect I have as an alcoholic: not seeing the whole picture, getting fixated on an idea and living in my head to nurse that incomplete picture rather than venturing out in reality to collect the facts that would provide a balanced whole. Hagiography is typically as wrong a move as me considering myself a monster. The truth in my experience is somewhere in between, in shades of gray, mutable and contingent, and highly dependent on perspective and context. Thank you for helping me recognize the world isn’t always in black and white.

11/1/2020

Today’s word of the day is craven (adj.) - cowardly, weak-hearted, abjectly pusillanimous (lacking courage and resolution, marked by contemptible timidity). The word comes to us from the Old English ‘cravant’ which means ‘defeated, vanquished, overcome, conquered;’ originally from the Latin ‘crepare’ which means ‘to crack, creak.’ The sense shifted from ‘defeated’ to ‘cowardly' in the 15th century. My behavior in active addiction was often craven: I’d skulk around, not wanting to be seen or heard, either because I was actively trying to steal something or because I feared being known. Or because I feared feeling. And spending as much time as I did avoiding feeling, maybe it should come as no surprise that my heart became weak. One of the ways recovery looks in my life is like a rehabilitation of the heart, a rebuilding of the emotional musculature I let atrophy. It is a slow and arduous process for me. I sometimes backslide, find ways to let the heart slack and dull, immerse it in the plaque of bodily pleasures or the pursuit of material gain. But I’m consistently able to right my course when I ask for help, and these days I’m encouraged to recognize myself as someone with courage, even bravery, for being willing to try to heal. And when the fear overcomes me, when depression rears its head unexpectedly, when I suffer a setback or a loss, I always have access to the collective hope of the rooms of AA as a source of solace and resilience. Thank you for helping me face my fears and strengthen my heart.

10/31/2020

Today’s word of the day is mask (n.) - a covering worn on the face , a false face. The word comes to us from Middle French ‘masque’ and the Italian ‘maschera’ by way of the Medieval Latin ‘masca’ which means 'mask, specter, nightmare,’ and is a word of uncertain origin; it may have originated from the Arabic ‘maskharah’ which means 'buffoon, mockery, ridicule,’ or it may come from the Provençal ‘mascarar,’ which means 'to black (the face)’ (compare with ‘mascara,’ a cosmetic used to blacken, darken), which is held to be from a pre-Indo-European language, and Old Occitan ‘masco’ which means ‘witch,’ or 'dark cloud before the rain comes.’ The word can also be used as a verb: to go about in disguise; to hide one’s true form or character behind an outward show. Looking up the etymology of ‘mask’ revealed it to be a word with the most ancient roots I’ve encountered. It’s enchanting, and a little chilling, to try to imagine my forebears in antiquity, whose access to the rich and complex grammar of facial expressions may have been a more reliable source of information than language. Concealing that font of knowledge must have been in turns useful and playful, a way to cope and a way to caper, since the earliest days of humanity. Today the mask is employed by most of us to protect our neighbors from our potential miasma (noxious vapor) at the expense of sharing our full range of expression. Just behind that thin film of sterile fabric, a visage can seem sinister; the mind fears what it can’t comprehend. It’s dark behind the mask. Winter looms, the air tastes bitter and thin, murmurs of civil war and plague murmur in the thick cast cauldron of the fates. Some believe themselves so disfigured that they consider the lie of the mask a mercy compared to the awful truth of their countenance. Others react to the mask like wild horses to a bit, like wolves to a muzzle, foaming chapped and raw, seething caustic honesty. Asylums bulge with gleeful trespassers. Demagogues bray, tensions thrum, cancers bloom. In soft silence hermits disfigure themselves, inside the body and out. Our deceased are painted and still. Still, a semi-secret network gathers in digital hollows, as delicate-resilient as mycelium (the underground web of fine fungal filaments just under the soil that connects an ecosystem of mushrooms). In the circle where we convene for the anonymous rite, those who have left the spirits-world peel back their masks, if only for a moment, to share their tales of cheating death. There are those among us who have even perished, but were brought back to life, not quite suffuse with sufficient poison to make the visit to the void permanent. “I should be dead” is a common refrain. Some can’t bear to part with the mask, and audit the rite silently, or softly sob at the circle’s edge, as I did at my first meeting. The circle takes what it will of each offering, and leaves the rest to richen and rot back into our loam. When each incantation has come to its end, the group joins hands for the final incantation. Together they invoke the the name of the Unseen One, which they entreat for a trancelike state of serenity. Privately afterward, each member performs his secret ritual, offering a sacrifice of power to the One, hoping to awake the next morning unfettered by the corporeal coil of self. None ever succeeds, and it is in this willful madness that the Group finds its gyre, by turns inhabiting insanity each day and propitiating for that sanity to be restored each night. They say if you walk down to the turning point, you can see them standing, their eyes wild with complete abandon, their voices ragged but tempered by the discipline of great suffering, a cloud of thick yellow smoke hanging just above them, perfuming them with the sickly sweet of nicotine. And if the wind blows just right, you’ll hear their eerie refrain: thywill, thywill, thywill…

10/30/2020

Today’s word of the day is discomfit (v.) - 1. to defeat (an opponent or enemy) in battle; to beat, rout; to vanquish, overthrow. 2. to frustrate the plans or hopes of, thwart, foil; to throw into perplexity, dejection, or confusion; to cause unease, embarrassment, or discomfort to; to disconcert. AA has taught me the valuable lesson that I have a lot to gain when things don’t go my way. When my best-laid plans are thwarted, if I am teachable and carrying some humility, I often find that things go even better than I planned. As we like to say about AA, nobody got here on a winning streak. The warped hopes of the days of active addiction have fallen by the wayside for the most part, and have given way to more modest, balanced, and beneficial ones. I’m glad to be able to meet discomfiture with grace more often today, even if it’s still tough. Thanks for teaching me how to do that.

10/29/2020

Today's word of the day is immure (v.) - to wall in, to surround with a wall or walls; to fortify; to shut up or enclose within walls; to imprison; to confine as in a prison or fortress; to shut off, exclude, seclude from; to build into a wall; to build up or entomb in a wall. The word comes to us from the Medieval Latin 'immurrare' which literally means 'to shut up within walls,' which in turn comes from the Latin 'murus' which means 'wall' (compare with 'mural'). Part of what I love so much about language and words is how mutable (able to be changed) they are. Like clay or a length of pipe cleaner or a pile of thick soap lather, we can form them and make our own meaning from them depending on which way we look at it. My first thought with 'immure' is the sort of lovely feeling of fortification I sometimes enjoy after a moment of prayer or meditation, how I feel safe and secure and protected inside the spiritual fortress provided to me by my Higher Power. My second thought was how dangerously antisocial I can become when I wall myself off from those about me, how I have a tendency to isolate, and how that creates a negative feedback loop of self-sufficiency that often leaves me flustered, agitated, and beleagured. So I can recognize and smile at the idea that a wall is a neutral object, to immure isn't an inherently good or bad act; rather, the value of the wall-making depends on what I aim to keep in or keep out. Thank you for helping me decorate the walls that protect me and demolish the walls that deject me.

10/28/2020

Today’s word of the day is eschatology (n.) - The department of theological science concerned with ‘the four last things: death, judgement, heaven, and hell; the study of the end of the world; the part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind. The word comes from the Greek ‘eschatos’ meaning ‘last, uttermost, furthest, extreme, most remote’ and ‘-ology’ meaning ‘the study of.’ During my last year of active addiction, I spent a great deal of time preoccupied with eschatology — I knew (I thought) that I had been judged irrevocably for my wrongdoing, and that the world (my life) would end soon. I remember getting a sort of sickly sweet satisfaction returning to that notion in my head, the thought of suicide, the relief that would bring to me, the final heroic act I would undertake in order to redeem my unique suffering, to vindicate my awfulness, to demonstrate once and for all the totalizing and unbearable gravity of my heartache. By Grace (or by luck) I did not manage to succeed in fomenting my own end. And in the unexpected space of life after anticipated death, the people in AA introduced me to God, or rather, they invited me to introduce myself to my God. As I attempt to develop contact with my Higher Power, I try to think of how God is with us. I think maybe in God’s ubiquity, God is with those of us who do die by our own hands, or who go to prison for decades, or who commit atrocities — I think God remains accessible to whoever seeks God, and that violently antisocial, criminal, deviant or destructive behavior does not count as an indicator that ‘God didn’t have a plan' for this or that person. Luckily, my God does not require me to be an expert theologian, nor a brilliant thinker, but instead allows me to remember God whenever I can give up some self. Thanks for helping me get acquainted and reacquainted with my Higher Power regularly.

10/27/2020

Today’s word of the day is solipsism (n.) - 1. excessive regard for oneself and one’s own interests to the exclusion of others; preoccupation with oneself; extreme selfishness, self-centeredness, or self-absorption. 2. (Philosophy) The theory or belief that one’s own self or consciousness is all that exists or all that can be known. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘solus’ which means ‘alone’ (compare to ‘solo’) and ‘ipse’ which means ‘self’ (compare to the phrase ‘ipso facto’ which means ‘by the fact itself,’ or in other words, that a specific phenomenon is a direct consequence of the action in question, instead of being brought about by a previous action). In my experience, the first definition of solipsism given above pretty well sums up the main problem I have heard people struggle with in alcoholics anonymous. In fact I think it’s probably true that many people, even non-alcoholics, have to grapple with excessive self-regard occasionally. The problem for me as an alcoholic though is that mine feels excessively excessive, my life feels completely lacquered in a thick coat of preoccupation with myself, and I end up harming myself and other people the longer I go without trying to strip that lacquer. Curiously, I believe it is the philosophical sense of solipsism above that enables AA to be so effective. It seems to me that most alcoholics share only on their experience because that’s all they believe they can truly know. Epistemological solipsism is a fancy way of saying 'share using the word “I” instead of using the word ‘you.’” And that enables everyone listening to take what they hear with a grain of salt or to take it to heart; solipsism prevents us from trespassing or encroaching on one another’s truths, I think. So I feel important, heard, and entitled to my own narrative — and I believe having access to my own narrative and developing a sense of ownership over it is an important component of re-learning self-esteem, of compiling an more complete inventory, and offering more earnest amends. Thanks for helping me balance the access to self I need with the dependence on and service to others I need.

10/26/2020

Today’s word of the day is repine (v.) - to feel or express discontent or dissatisfaction; to grumble, complain; to be fretfully discontented. The word comes to us from the Old English ‘pinian’ which means ‘to suffer’ and ultimately from the Latin ‘poena’ which means ‘punishment’ (compare to ‘penal, penalty). Yesterday in a meeting I heard someone say that they were refreshed when they asked a man how he was doing and the man replied ‘my life fucking sucks.’ The honesty mattered, it was relatable, it was an undiluted answer to a question that often gets batted away with a dismissive ‘fine’ or a quick parry to ‘good how are you?’ I know for me personally, it can be tempting to try to present a facade of wellbeing, stability, and grit to people around me. I figure it developed as a coping mechanism, motivated from a healthy desire to wish people to not worry about me. Except, it’s not wholly up to me who gets to worry about me and who doesn’t, and it’s not for me to say whether or not I am worthy of worry, nor whether or not that worry does any good. If I answer honestly and tell people how bad or good I’m doing in a moment, it might actually reduce net worrying, because people would have more consistent access to an accurate snapshot of how I am. It goes back to my old defect of feeling like I need to control everyone around me, like I need to seed them with certain false data in order to keep them feeling a certain way about me, ultimately because I am afraid to be subject to how they might feel if they knew how bad I really am. But of course, people will think what they think, and as my sponsor likes to say, ‘what other people think about me is none of my business.’ So today I can try to remember that a little repining now and then may enable me to better connect to my fellow suffering alcoholic, and that an honest appraisal of our discontent together may bring about more healing then sitting silently and suffering beside one another. Thank you for staying with me through the spring, summer, autumn, and winter of my discontent.

10/25/2020

Today's word of the day is pecadillo (n.) - a minor fault or sin; a trivial offense; a petty fault. The word comes to us from the Spanish 'pecadillo,' the diminuative form of 'pecado,' which means 'sin;' this in turn comes from the Latin 'peccatum' which means 'a sin, fault or error,' the past participle of 'peccare' which means 'to miss, mistake, make a mistake, do amiss, transgress, offend, be licentious, sin.’ In a meeting yesterday I heard it mentioned that alcoholics often have a warped sense of their family members, and tend to be hypercritical of family for their pecadilloes. I could relate: I have spent years thinking I had a complete and accurate analysis of the personalities of my mom dad and sister. But in the Big Book it reminds us: “Years of living with an alcoholic is almost sure to make any wife or child neurotic. The entire family is, to some extent, ill.” This threw me for a loop, because I think what the author is trying to tell me is that all the little foibles and pecadilloes of my family members may in fact have arisen as byproducts of my decade or so of alcoholic behavior. And if this is the case, it becomes a whole lot less appealing to me to continue to nurse the resentments I have against these family members for these petty reasons. The wind has stopped blowing—I’m no longer a violent weather system decimating the fragile emotional ecosystems of all those around me—but damage has been done, impressions left, callouses hardened over. It will take time for wounds to heal, and so I think I do better when I try to set modest, humble goals, like just not being a dick to my family, rather than extravagant goals like immediately returning to their good graces and full confidence upon proof of my receipt of a one-year chip. It’s tough to be invited into the perspective of a family habitually harmed by me, but when I’m able to tolerate that perspective, even for a little while, I think I grow spiritually as a result. Thanks for helping me get out of my head.

10/24/2020

Today’s word is telekinesis (n.) - the supposed phenomenon or ability whereby a person moves or affects physical objects at a distance by mental effort or by other non-physical means. The word is an English translation of the German word ‘Fernwirkung’ which means ‘a remote effect; action at a distance; the English word comes to us from the Greek ‘tele’ which means ‘far off, afar, at a distance’ and the Greek ‘kinesis’ which means ‘movement, motion’ (compare with ‘kinetic,’ ‘kinesthesiology’). Prior to recovery, I spent a lot of time trying to change the world with my good intentions, or fearing reprisal as a consequence of my evil thoughts. I often sat motionless and fucked up in my room fantasizing about my egoic prowess and the tremendous impact my notions would have on society at large; "smoking crack and saving the world 8 minutes at a time” as someone in my rehab once put it. The people in the rooms of AA taught me: “move a muscle, change a thought.” This is an elegant, perfect inversion of telekinesis, I think. My thoughts and feelings matter, but they are subordinate to my actions. And this brings up another related issue I face as a commonly recurring character defect: clairvoyance (n.) - the paranormal gift of seeing things out of sight (in my case, “mind-reading”). I was reminded last night in a meeting that I might do a lot better in life if I could take people at their word, take their actions at face value, and not try to read into everything and deploy my flawed clairvoyance. Today I’m grateful to generate self-esteem through esteemable acts, and to be able to give the worst thoughts to my Higher Power, secure in the understanding that today the material actions I take matter more than the thoughts that occur to me. Thanks for teaching me to take action.

10/23/2020

Today's word of the day is adduce (v.) - that which is dropped from the posterior after one has consumed significant quantities of coffee, tea, or certain fruits. Just kiddding the definition is - to offer as example, reason, or proof in discussion or analysis; to bring forward (a person or thing), especially in support of a case or an argument; to produce (a witness); to cite as evidence (a fact, an example, etc.). What makes AA so effective to me, a skeptic, is that it is completely evidence-based. Nobody came up to me with a clipboard and asked me to sign up for AA because it's a fun activity or a good resume-booster. I dragged myself in after I had put myself through the ringer. And I watched people I had never met tell stories that matched mine almost perfectly. Except they looked happy and clean and they smelled nice, unlike me. So I wanted what they have, and I listened to them tell instructions, step-by-step, simple (not easy) instructions on what lengths I had to go to get what they have. Nobody sat my down and presented an eloquent logical rhetorical argument for why I ought to do AA. I watched it work from day one in other people, and I soon saw it start to work in me. The evidence is my experience. Spiritual growth is evident and vivid and attractive and hangs like perfume above the hallowed church basements of AA like a halo. Or is that the vape clouds...? Either way, I'm glad to be a part of this thing, and not apart from this thing. Thank you for keeping me close.

10/22/2020

Today's word of the day is fractious (adj.) - refractory, unruly; cross, fretful, peevish; quarrelsome, irritable. The word comes to us from the word fraction, in an obsolete sense of 'a brawling, discord,' which in turn comes from the Latin 'frangere' which means 'to break in pieces, shatter, fracture, fragment.' I was talking to someone in the program earlier this morning about the experience of being asked to do something (whether by a parent, a boss, a child, even a friend) and getting so upset about it. I once made a whole identity out of being contrary and defiant. I had the notion that I was a singular force moving through the world in the right direction, and that if anyone asked me to stray from that course, they were imposing on me in a way that was unfair, disruptive. How dare they interfere with my plans for myself? Nursing that attitude made me get comfortable in the idea that I was put-upon, that my decisions and plans and emotional landscape mattered more than anyone else's. In AA I am invited to consider the possibility that the things other people ask me to do may in fact benefit me; I am encouraged to recognize that the things I choose to do myself have often harmed me and caused harm to others. This is another one of those 'simple but not easy' axioms of the program, and it's much easier said than done for me. But usually if I start my day with some quiet time, attempt to remember periodically throughout the day that virtue is its own reward and that I want to live in God's world, it can get easier. Thanks for helping me tamp down my needless opposition to suggestions!

10/21/2020

Today's word of the day is arch (adj.) - 1. chief, principal, prime, pre-eminent (think archangel, archbishop, archenemy, etc.) 2. Clever, cunning, crafty, rougish, waggish. This prefix figured in so many derogatory uses (arch-rogue, arch-knave, etc.) that by the mid 17th century it acquired a meaning of 'rougish, mischievous,' although it eventually softened to a connotation of 'saucy' by the 19th century. The word comes to us from the Old French 'arche' which means 'chielf, principal; extreme, ultra; early, primitive,' which in turn comes from the Greek 'arkhos' which means 'a chief, leader, commander' and 'arkhein' which means 'to be first, begin.' I used to think the best thing I had to offer the world was being clever; I used to think cleverness was worth striving for; that cleverness was an end in itself. Once I could convince people I was worth considering arch, then I could accumulate social capital and be lavished with the praise attention and regard commensurate with my genius. So I sought a life of the mind, moved in "intellectual" circles, consumed tons of political theory and philosophy, and worked to really optimize my thinking. And my best thinking got me locked up for DWI overnight, then in a detox/psych ward, etc. etc. etc. One of the most important lessons I have learned in AA is that my cleverness typically is best kept to myself, a fine diversion or hobby, but not something of much use to others. AA has taught me that I have a lot to offer others! But that looks like showing up, being honest, giving instead of taking, listening, and being still. Archness is one of those double-edged blades of assets and defects, and while I still cut myself on it often trying to handle it, I get good evidence of its futility the more time I spend in the rooms. Thanks for teaching me to have a healthy skepticism of my own cleverness.

10/20/2020

Today's word of the day is hiraeth (n.) - this is a Welsh word with no direct Enlish translation; the word means something like 'a homesickness for a home to which one cannot return, a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, a deep yearning, the grief for the lost places of one's past. The etymology of this word is unknown beyond its origin in Welsh. I came across this word randomly on the internet and found it very relevant to my experience in recovery. These days my mind tends to orbit around a couple imaginary spheres. One is the perfect life I would have had if I didn't ruin it by choosing to be an addict and alcoholic (this is stinking thinking). Another is the abyssmal life I led in active addiction, which was characterized singularly by harm and depravity, and contained not a sliver of decency, wellness, or joy. Neither of these speheres exist; still, they have their gravitational pull on me...I want to go home to that perfect life I would have had before I took that first drink. But the truth, I suspect, is that I'm homesick for a home to which I cannot return; I grieve something which never was. Maybe the notion of the hiraeth is a fancy way to spin 'morbid self-reflection' (maybe this whole 'Word of the Day' thing is that, for that matter...) but still, I like the idea that there is a word for this imaginary grief, because that indicates it is a common experience, something that can be named, coped with, and learned from. AA has given me the perspective to remember that so much of human experience is common, problems and solutions both, and I don't never have to suffer alone again. Thank you for inhabiting this reality with me, whether what we go through is nameable or unnameable, and reminding me that there is a solution, no matter what.

10/19/2020

Today's word of the day is puerile (adj.) - Of, relating to, characteristic of, or suitable for a child; (hence) youthful, innocent; elementary; of conversation, thought, humor,etc.: befitting children rather than adults; childish, infantile, immature; unsophisticated; silly. The word comes to us from the Latin 'puer' which means 'boy, child.' This word reminds me of how in school I was taught the difference between childish (usually pejorative) and childlike (usually praising). It reminds me of how in AA we understand how there can be positive and negative aspects of the same thing, and that the world is more grey than black-and-white. For example, my emotions of rage and despair, which can seem awful and pointless, are God-given, and rooted in some appropriate response to a stimulus, but my reactions as an alcoholic tend to get out of control. The same applies to my character defects, which often arose at one point as some coping mechanism to deal with an outside stressor; the problem is I never learned a healthier way to cope and got complacent in them. In the same vein, being 'puerile' has its benefits and pitfalls. A sense of childlike wonder can bring me into a moment, help me be where my feet are, stay present, and avoid the morbid self-reflection or anxious future-tripping I'm prone to. Conversley, behaving childishly--inconsiderately, selfishly, acting helpless, refusing to take action, pouting, etc--is at the core of my problems as an alcoholic, and that sort of behavior has no place for me in recovery. So I return to trying to seek balance, to avoid all-or-nothing thinking, and remembering to not take myself too seriously. Thanks for walking with me as I try to understand myself as an adult among adults and a child of God.

10/18/2020

Today's word of the day is aegis (n.) - a shield, a piece of defensive armor, or garment carried or worn by a god in classical mythology; a protection or impregnable defense (literal); the backing or support of a person or thing; protection (figurative). The word comes to us from the Greek 'aigis' which was the name of the shield of Zeus, a word said by Herodotus to be related to 'aix' which means 'goat,' as the shield was made of goatskin. Today in recovery I know that if I choose to drink, I lose the power to chose in drink, and that my will power is an insufficent aegis against the first drink. So instead I'm invited to take refuge under the warm shade of the shield provided by a God of my understanding. I also like that AA invites me out of the war metaphor: "And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone - even alcohol." It goes along with other lessons I have learned through AA: that life is not something to be endured, not a fight to be won. And that we can heal and recover together, that it's not a zero-sum game, that "you don't have to fuck people over to survive," as my anarchist friends used to put it. We collaborate and become interdependent so that we never again have to become codependent in our relationships or substance-dependent in our chemicals. Thank you for helping create the shield of mutual aid I rely on to survive!

10/17/2020

Today's word of the day is retrograde (adj.) - (of a planet or other celestial object) temporarily appearing to move across the sky in the reverse direction to that which is usual for it; directed or moving backwards; in a direction contrary to the previous or usual motion; retreating; tending or inclined to fall back or revert to an inferior or less developed (former) condition; declining; deteriorating; also reactionary, backward-looking. The word comes to us from the Latin 'retro' which means 'backward' and 'gradi' which means 'to go, to step.' This word came to mind to me today because I had a few things kinda blow up in my life, minor things in the grand scheme of things, but difficult ones nonetheless--my laptop was destroyed by either me or my cat (the jury is still out on this) which makes making meetings on Zoom tougher and also makes writing these Word of the Days tougher. Then the day after that I managed to contract some truly horrific stomach bug that has given me the most intense and unpleasant stomach problems of my life...I think the best way to describe my experience in this regard without going into unnecessary detail would be 'gastric upheval.' So this has meant more time curled in a fetal position on the couch and less time sitting upright typing. Some folks who seek answers from the stars contend that when Mercury goes in retrograde, it can explain breakdowns in communication, technology, and scrambling of all sorts of other aspects of life. I don't know enough about astrology to say I know this is what's happening, but in a way it is a little comforting to be reminded that there are forces in the universe beyond my control and that I am durable enough to live without the convenience of a laptop or the comfort of a settled stomach, at least for a little while. So today I can try to focus on remaining prograde (the opposite of retrograde) in my recovery; not being reactionary nor backward-looking. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this constellation of recovery with you.

10/16/2020

Today's word of the day is officious (adj.) - volunteering one's services where they are neither asked nor needed; unduly forward in offering help or in taking business upon oneself; doing, or prone to do, more than is asked or required; interfering, intrusive; inclined to assert authority in a self-important or pompous way, especially with regard to petty or trivial matters. The word comes to us from the Latin 'officium' which means 'duty, service,' contractied from 'opificium' which means 'work-doing;' 'opus' meaning 'work' and 'facere' meaning 'to make, to do.' I remember before I got sober, I often had a lot of good intentions with misplaced motives. I would regularly offer "help" or "explanations" where they were not needed nor asked for. In some cases, this looked like 'mansplaining,' that toxic habit of feeling like I need to immediately and completely explain something because others, especially women, won't be able to understand unless graced with my canny wisdom. Other times it looked like attaching strings: I'll give you this ride or let you borrow this thing and whether you agree to it or not, I will be expecting a favor returned; my life was very transaction-based. While these defects are not quite as glaring in sobriety as they were prior to sobriety, they still exist for me, and I have to work consciously against indulging them. And in sobriety I have found that a new sort of defect of officiousness arises when I'm not careful; trying to name unhelpful busy-work as 'service' or giving advice in sobriety where none was asked for, or, especially at work, asserting my knowledge in a self-important way without having it grounded in facts or research. Luckily AA reminds me to find humility, and those guides have been helpful to me. Thank you for helping me stay right-sized.

10/15/2020

Today’s word of the day is emotion (n.) - strong feelings, passion; instinctive feeling as distinguished from reasoning or knowledge. The word originally meant 'an agitation of mind; an excited mental state,' before coming into its current meaning of 'any strong mental or instinctive feeling, as pleasure, grief, hope, fear, etc., deriving especially from one's circumstances, mood, or relationship with others. Several centuries ago, the word was used to mean 'political agitation, civil unrest; a public commotion or uprising. The word comes to us from the Latin 'emovere' which means 'move out, remove, agitate' (the same root as 'move' and 'motion'). As an alcoholic, I have a frayed relationship with my emotions. In AA literature I've read and understood that I'm prone to misuse and pervert my instincts, that my emotions can be deformities and traps. In the rooms of AA I've heard and abided by "fuck your feelings" as a practical methodology of staying sober. But a phrase I like better, and one that connects to this word's specific etymology, is "move a muscle, change a thought." Emotion is rooted in motion. In a self-help book I'm reading, the author says: "...emotions may be pleasant or unpleasant, but they are not good or bad...they are energies that move us to act." And the AA literature ultimately locates emotions as "great natural assets;" God-given, purposeful, and appropriate when balanced--problems arise when the satisfaction of intstincts becomes the sole end and aim of my life. So today I pray for balance and the capacity to recognize the purpose of my emotions, and to put that purpose to good use. Thank you for helping me meet with my feelings.

10/14/2020

Today’s word of the day is mythomania (n.) - an abnormal or pathological tendency or compulsion to create myths, exaggerate, or tell lies. Also: an obsession with myths and mythology. The word comes to us from the Greek ‘mythos’ which means ‘saga, tale, myth, anything delivered by word of mouth,’ a word of unknown origin (Nebraska’s note: I wonder if myth/mouth come from a common root, due to sounding similar? myth mouth myth mouth) and the Greek ‘mania’ which means ‘madness. frenzy; mad passion, fury.’ (Compare mythomania to other similar formulations like kleptomania, pyromania, nymphomania, etc.). At a recent meeting I was reminded how critical it is to identify and inventory dishonesty in my life early and often. I know for me personally, I have furnished the crowded damp catacombs of my mind with a bunch of myths about how I am, about how the world is, about what the future must hold for somebody like me. I am somebody who attaches to a story that scares me, I am somebody who gets pretty impressed with my myths, my mouth seems to love thoughtlessly parroting those myths lacking some sort of intercession. One faith tradition I have studied describes God as a force who ‘intercedes on my behalf,’ he gets in between me and the myth. My Higher Power (I think) recommends stuff like: "No need to lie to the landlord, just mention the cat up front. No need to avoid recovery in my dating, mention AA up front. Don’t avoid taking responsibility for the mistake at work; people care a lot more if you cover it up but won’t usually judge you if you own up to it right away.” And so forth. So the daily inventory and the spot check inventory enjoined by the 10th step seem effective at intervening against my mythomania. I still find myself lying sometimes, things that seem like they don’t matter, but I am reminded by the fellowship that dishonesty can be a slippery slope. A couple more little gems that have been rattling around in my rock tumbler of a brain: “character is who you are when no one’s watching” and “virtue is its own reward.” Thank you for telling me to take honesty seriously.

10/13/2020

Today’s word of the day is equanimity (n.) - the quality of having an even mind; evenness of mind or temper; the quality or condition of being undisturbed by elation, depression, or agitating emotion; unruffledness; fairness, impartiality. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘aequus’ which means ‘even, level’ (compare with equal, equilibrium) and the Latin ‘animus’ which means ‘mind, spirit’ (compare with animus, animal). Sometimes for me, the word ‘serenity’ can be a little abstract, — I imagine myself hovering above a meadow, dew-eyed and there’s a butterfly sunning its wings on my shoulders, and on a nearby pond, still as glass, a single petal from a cherry blossom falls, creating a perfect regular pattern of concentric ripple circles on its smooth surface, or something like that. Equanimity, as I read the definition, strikes me as a pretty good approximation of what I might mean, practically, when the abstract notion of ‘serenity’ is conjured in me. Lately as I try to improve my conscious contact with God, I have thought about how in my Higher Power’s world, balance is a keystone. Not too much or too little of anything, evenness. And the quality of ‘being undisturbed’ connoted by equanimity matches just right with the AA precept of ‘if I’m disturbed, I’m disturb-able,’ I think. So today as I loll lazily, draped over my couch, slouching before the dull electronic hearth of my laptop, I pray my Higher Power may bring me into a life of balance, may bring my mind to an even place, and may help me find a way to be undisturbable, and not reactive. Thank you for helping me imagine and re-imagine serenity in action.

10/12/2020

Today’s word of the day is chicanery (n.) - the use of deception or subterfuge to achieve one’s purpose, especially a legal, financial, or political purpose; petty quibbling or trickery; slyness or wiliness of character, inclined to trickery, deception, or pettiness; a dishonest trick. The word comes from to us from the French ‘chicanerie’ which means ‘trickery,’ which in turn comes from the Middle French ‘chicaner’ which means ‘to quibble or to use deception or subterfuge to achieve on’s purpose in a legal matter,’ whose origin is uncertain, but it is thought that the word may come from a blend of ‘*tsikk-‘ which is an expression of smallness, parsimoniousness, and ‘ricaner’ which means ‘to bray, to laugh in an affected way.’ When I was a kid I used to watch the sports car races my dad would put on TV, and a lot of road races had a part of the track called a ‘chicane,’ which was a sharp double bend created to prevent competitors driving at speeds deemed unsafe. It’s interesting to think of this word in the sense of subterfuge — I used so much chicanery on others and myself during my decade plus of active addiction that I’m still trying to untie the many frayed mental knots I created. But in the other sense of the word, today, in sobriety, I am invited to move through though the track of life more slowly thanks to the spiritual chicane of God that the program of AA has introduced me to. Ideally, I follow the path and slow down along the sharp curves so that I don’t get too carried away revving the accelerator on my self will, tap the brakes, and drive life on life’s turns. Thanks for letting me ride shotgun on this spiritual roadtrip!

10/11/2020

Today’s word of the day is adventitious (adj.) - coming from outside or from an external source; added or occurring as a result of an external factor or of chance, rather than by design or inherent nature; extraneous, foreign; incidental; (biology) formed accidentally or in an abnormal anatomical position. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘adventicius’ which means ‘foreign, strange, accidental,’ which is the past participle of ‘advenire’ which means ‘to arrive at, reach, come to’ (compare with ‘advent,’ which means ‘important arrival’). For me it has been useful to think of my Higher Power as adventitious as one of its most primary attributes. It can be summed up nicely in a phrase I’ve heard in the rooms: “all I need to know about God is that I ain’t him.” A power greater than myself is a power outside myself. I can’t generate the power from within, but if I’m lucky, I can tap into the grace of that power, and use whatever courage I can muster to change the things I can and try to align my will with that adventitious power. Thank you for helping me learn to look for help without instead of only within.

10/10/2020

laugh; given to laughing. The word comes to us form the Latin ‘risibilis’ which means ‘able to laugh,’ past participle of ‘ridere’ which means ‘to laugh’ (compare to ridicule, ridiculous). In the Big Book, we are reminded — "But we aren’t a glum lot. If newcomers could see no joy or fun in our existence, they wouldn’t want it. We absolutely insiste on enjoying life. We try not to indulge in cynicism over the state of the nations, nor do we carry the world’s troubles on our shoulders.” Today was a gloomy day, and in this moment in our nation’s history, it can be hard for me, the egotist with the savior complex, not to feel the weight of the world on my shoulders. Lucky for me, I found a meeting, and the first minute I was there somebody made me laugh even though I was pretty comfortable in and committed to my gloomy mood. I’m glad I have a group who protects me from the gloom and the glum. I can be risible thanks to this fellowship. Thanks for helping me remember to try to not take myself too seriously, to try to wear this world like a loose garment.

10/9/20020

Today’s word of the day is upbraid (v.) - to censure, find fault with, carp at; to reproach, reprove; bring forth as a ground for censure. This word comes to us from the Old English ‘bregdan’ which means ‘to move quickly, intertwine;’ the meaning ‘scold’ is first attesteed in the thirteenth century. Today in AA I know that the more I find fault with others and find fault with the world, the more I suffer. I recognize that serenity depends on my being willing to live life on life’s terms. For me, the 11th step is where this shows up for me. I heard somewhere that meditation is ‘no place for debate,’ and have felt good when I can sit quietly and just try to imagine that everything is exactly the way it is supposed to be. I’m not supposed to be somewhere else, with better things, with a certain relationship, career, etc. I am exactly how I am supposed to be, and I am the right size. Those moments of acceptance are often quite short for me, but when I find them, it’s like a warm wave of blankets or something similarly soft and safe feeling. Thank you for encouraging me to find my own right-size.

10/8/2020

Today’s word of the day is vitiate (v.) - to render incomplete, imperfect, or faulty; to impair or spoil; to corrupt literary works or language by carelessness, arbitrary changes, or the introduction of foreign elements; to render corrupt in morals; to deprave in respect of principles or conduct; to lower the moral standard of persons; to spoil; to make bad, impure, or defective; to render of no effect; to invalidate; to destroy or impair the legal effect or force of something. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘vitium’ which means ‘fault, defect, blemish, crime,’ a common root of ‘vice.’ I have a positive genius for vitiating a good mood. I blank on my spiritual principles for just a moment, I begin to indulge in my character defects, I take back what I had tried to turn over to God, I relish the conflict and vitriol. The moment of blissful tension passes, I recognize how little I proved by being reactive, I begin to feel guilty for being disturbable, I lament having not been kind and tolerant to all. And in particular, I have a real hard time not engaging in morbid self reflection after a slip like this. I dwell on it often, I do my classic ‘pride in reverse’ routine. The good news is, these days, the slips are often minor, can be reasonably well amended in relatively quick time, and no one’s life is ruined. Then if I turn my thoughts to helping someone else, pray about it, and reach out to another alcoholic, I’m usually able to let it go. It’s hard to remember in the moment, but it’s never too late to re-start my day. No matter how spoiled or corrupted or depraved or blemished I think my day is, I get to ask HP for help, ask for guidance, and reboot. Thanks for helping me learn to be less obsessed with my own mistakes.

10/7/2020

Today’s word of the day is inculcate (v.) - to endeavor to force (a thing) into or impress it on the mind of another by emphatic admonition, or by persistent repetition; to urge on the mind, esp. as a principle, an opinion, or a matter of belief; to tech forcibly. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘inculcatus,’ which means ‘fore upon, insist; stamp in, impress, tread down,’ which in turns comes from the root ‘calx’ which means ‘heel.’ One of the most consistent things about me throughout my life is my tendency to oppose and defy authority. For better and (usually) for worse, I have an innate antipathy for authority, I resist being told I have to do anything. If someone tries to admonish me to do a thing, to impress upon me a wisdom, and especially gives me any sort of unsolicited advice, you can bet I will either ignore them or do the opposite, out of spite. Luckily, AA knows that this trait of mine is pretty common among alcoholics, and set up a program that never tries to inculcate anything. Each person shares their own experience, no one gives advice, and there are no leaders. This effectively annuls whatever oppositional defiant disorder I might have, and invites me to look for what works to keep me sober and leave the rest. And in time, I began to actually ASK for suggestions, something almost completely foreign to me before recovery. Thank you for helping me learn to become teachable, and that contrarianism is not an effective ethos for me to live by.

10/6/2020

Today’s word of the day is bucolic (adj.) - (literal) of or pertaining to herdsmen or shepherds; pastoral; pertaining to country life; rural, rustic, countryfied; relating to country life or the affairs and occupations of a shepherd. The word comes to us from the Greek ‘boukolos,’ which means ‘cowherd, herdsman,’ from ‘bous’ which means ‘cow’ and ‘-kolos’ which means ’tending. Related to Latin ‘colere’ which means ’to till (the ground) (compare with ‘cultivate, cull). Here in Chapel Hill there are occasionally days that are so beautiful that I forget to tell myself how worried and upset I am. I found myself outside yesterday, and scented fragrant tree pollen on the breeze, caught a sunset, saw birds and shit, and just generally felt present in the physical world, as a citizen of this city, among people and living things. It’s rare and uncanny and I can’t attribute it to me having done some wonderful good deed or act of selfless service. It reminds me: God does not love me because I’m good, God loves because God is good. Maybe this makes me a fairw-eather friend to the lord: I find it easier to appreciate the creative intelligence in the universe when the wind blows my way, when the sun warms my face. Maybe so, maybe not; each day is its own day. I know I can see God when the landscape (emotional and environmental) is bucolic; I know I can miss God when it’s nice out too. What keeps me grounded is meetings, where I get to collect and consider the fellowship’s rich and varied spiritual experiences, and lean on them, and borrow their faith when mine runs out from time to time. Thank you for being my friends, fair-weather and otherwise.

10/5/2020

Today’s word of the day is wanton (adj.) - of a person, a person’s will: undisciplined, ungoverned; unmanageable, rebellious; of an action: lawless, violent; rude, ill-mannered; careless, hazardous; showing no regard for justice, propriety, or the feelings or rights of others; reckless; unprovoked, arbitrary, gratuitous. The word comes to us from the Middle English prefix ‘wan-‘ which meant ‘lacking, deficient’ and suffix ‘towen’ which meant ‘trained, disciplined.’ I remember the sort of sickly sweet feeling of being completely fucked up and acting with complete arbitrary destructiveness, unprovoked and gleefully ruining whatever was nearby, whether it was a door to punch a hole in, a window to kick out of a car, a factory floor to fall through, a tire to slash, a heart to break, a care to neglect, a trust to betray, and so on ad nauseam. I was hurting and unable to get at the root source of the hurt, so I distracted from the pain by inflicting some of my own. Sometimes I knew I was doing it and felt it was justified, other times I thought I wasn’t doing it and I didn’t know I was doing it from willful ignorance and chemical impairment, often I just didn’t care. A through-line of my alcoholic career that persists into my recovery is that I have an exceptionally difficult time truly understanding the way my actions affect other people. I have some cursory, logical/mental notes about this, but to truly empathize and to recognize the effect I have on others is something often too uncomfortable for me to bare. I do what I can to avoid that feeling, which is a major character defect I have. AA literature has its faults, especially the antiquated ‘To Wives,’ but still, in a step study meeting this weekend I recognized a major function of that chapter is to invite me to consider just how serious my wanton behavior is, and the true depth of how it affects those about me, especially those close to me. I pray to my Higher Power for an increase in my empathy and an ability to be more careful, and less reckless. Thank you for encouraging me to peer through others’ eyes at myself.

10/4/2020

Today’s word of the day is torrid (adj.) - (literal) scorched, burned, exposed to great heat; intensely hot, burning, scorching; (figurative) in reference to the ‘heat’ of persecution, or sometimes to the burning of heretics; hot in temper or passion; ardent, zealous, enthusiastic. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘torrida zona’ which meant ‘the region of the earth between the tropics’ which in turn came from the Proto Indo European root ‘ters-‘ which means ‘to dry.’ Today I have learned that my tempers and passions are perilous and often lead to heartache. Speaking of hearts, I picked this word because I remember I had a friend in high school whose AIM user name was torridXheart and I never looked up that word until now. I wonder if her heart was burned, or maybe she had a passionate heart, a zealous, ardent, enthusiastic heart. The latter notion seems to reflect the type of character trait I would hope to bring to my service in AA. Working with others with zeal and enthusiasm doesn’t always come easily when I try to do it, but I can definitely say that the times for me early in sobriety when an alcoholic worked with me enthusiastically, it often made an impression, and made me feel a part-of. Thanks for helping me keep my heart pointed in the right direction.

10/3/2020

Today’s word of the day is impetuous (adj.) - (of physical things or actions) having much impetus; moving with great force or violence, or characterized by violent motion; (of feelings, etc., or of personal action or disposition) hot-tempered, fierce; very rapid, forcibly rushing, violent; acting with or marked by great, sudden, or rash energy; vehement, violent, passionate, ardent. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘impetuosus’ which means ‘violent,’ which in turn comes from the Latin ‘impetus’ which means ‘attack,’ which in turn comes from the Proto Indo Europeon root ‘petere’ which means ‘aim for, rush at.’ I consider myself someone who has a great capacity for impetuousness. That capacity has been well-muted these days, with a routine of prayer and meditation in the morning, along with taking my psychiatric medication as prescribed by a doctor, and staying in touch with people in recovery to whom I am accountable. Still, the capacity remains; I have access to a daily reprieve from my hot-tempered disposition, but can find myself quickly back in that mindset when I neglect the maintenance of my spiritual wellbeing. And it’s insidious, because for me it feels good, natural, instinctual to be agog, rushing, rash, vehement — indeed I would say that these sorts of traits are often portrayed in a light of admiration as ‘passionate’ in our American/Western culture. So I’m very grateful today to be a part of a program that reminds me mere blind obedience to my passions will usually lead to me and those around me being hurt. Thank you for helping me recognize the links between passion and ‘disturbability.'

10/2/2020

Today’s word of the day is artless (adj.) - (literal) devoid of skill or art; constructed or designed without skill or art; crude, clumsy inartistic; (figurative) without guile, without deception, sincere, ingenuous, free from artifice; natural, simple; direct, candid, forthright. This word’s etymology is pretty straightforward; ‘art’ comes from the Latin ‘artem’ or ‘ars' meaning ‘a work of art; practical skill; a business, craft’ which in turn comes from the Sanskrit ‘rtih’ which means ‘manner or mode,’ and is related to the Greek ‘artizein’ which means ‘to prepare’ and the Latin ‘arma’ which means ‘weapons.’ And ‘-less’ of course means ‘without.’ Last night in a meeting, somebody shared this notion: “truth without love is cruelty.” That resonated with me. I’m someone who has been very prone to “telling it like it is,” or so I thought. In AA I have recognized that my crass delivery of “truth" is more often a selfish way to put people down, to privilege my own experience or perspective over that of my fellows, to belittle or to manipulate people into believing my version of reality is the correct one. I might say that my capacity to try to get my own way was a form of art — an ornate, creative system of representing a world that exists only in my imagination. So I might strive to become more artless in my communication, to be more direct and forthright, and then seek to alloy that artlessness with the love and kindness enjoined to us by the fellowship of AA, so that my ‘truth’ (my experience) is delivered gently, rather than cruelly. Thank you for reminding me to stick to my own experience and to try to honors others as I honor my own.

10/1/2020

Today’s word of the day is operose (adj.) - tedious, wearisome. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘operosus,’ which means ‘diligent, painstaking, or laborious;’ combining ‘opera,’ which means ‘activity, effort, or work’ with ‘-osus’ which means ‘full of’ or ‘abounding in.’ There’s a song lyric from the 1990s band Harvey Danger that says “…if you’re bored then you’re boring” which always fucked me up and made me feel boring. Moreover, my ex-girlfriend had a stick-and-poke tattoo on her hip that said ‘boredom’ with a line through it. Today in AA, I am told from the 12 & 12 that “[The alcoholic] has been set on a path which tells him he is really going somewhere, that life is not a dead end, not something to be endured or mastered.” What does all this have in common? For me, I’m a person who, unchecked, will build a life around satisfying my own desires, and find it boring and meaningless. I think the song and the tattoo mean that we as individuals and as communities are responsible for creating our own meaning in life. The striving toward supposed objective goals like ‘success,’ ‘wealth,’ ‘romance,’ etc., for me can be abstract and impersonal; I might even obtain them and remain bored. However, in AA, I coalesce a value system through my asking of questions and taking actions based on suggestions, and acting in according to my own values generates meaning in my life. I get bored mostly when I decided I’d prefer not to act on the values I’ve accumulated. Life for me sometimes still feels operose, but much less frequently than it used to. I attribute that in large part to AA, which introduced me to a HP, which helped me start to take my actions and the ideals behind them seriously. Thank you for helping me lead a less boring life.

9/30/2020

Today’s word of the day is internecine (adj. yuKL) - (figurative) of a conflict in which either side aims to kill or destroy the other; mutually antagonistic, bitter; conflict or rivalry that takes place within a group, society, or organization; internal, civil, domestic, in-fighting. (literal) of a conflict (especially warfare): characterized by great loss of life; deadly, very destructive, devastating (obsolete). The word comes to us from the Latin ‘internecinus’ which means ‘very deadly, murderous, destructive,’ which in turn comes from ‘internecare’ which means ‘kill or destroy.’ I have heard it said in the room that a spiritually fit person sees life not as something to be merely abided or endured. I can say I lived much of my life before getting sober LARPing as a sort of wayward AWOL soldier, feigning amnesia as to what the war was over, who was fighting, and what side I was on. I had committed myself to no value system, and so had not internal ethical compass. I had committed myself to lonerism, was myself often undependable, and so had a flimsy and capricious connection to community. And of course I was my own higher power, which meant my prayers went unanswered or were answered wrong. I assumed that society was a battle, a bitter internecine conflict, and that in a life a human takes as much as possible to protect his own, and fucks people over as necessary toward his own security, squirreling away resources and opting to depend on others as little as possible. Today in AA I have been introduced to the notion that life is not a fight to win. Life is not a contest or a competition. And life becomes rich and full only when I am interdependent, honest about my lack of power and need for assistance, and giving freely of what abundance I have. These are still in many ways cerebral lessons that have not yet made their way to my heart, to the soles of my feet, to action. Still, I have a chance every day to make good on these principles, and to practice them in a given affair, just for today. Thanks for helping me find and wave the white flag.

9/29/2020

Today’s word of the day is trivia (n.) - trivialities, trifles, things of little consequence; useless information or knowledge of matters of little importance. The word trivia is the plural form of the Latin word ‘trivium’ which means ‘place where three roads meet,’ and so implied ‘an open place; a public place’ and came to denote ‘common, commonplace.’ The ‘trivium’ is also the name given to the ‘three ways’ to knowledge: grammar, rhetoric, and logic (the first three of the seven liberal arts in the classical European tradition). The word has a weird and meandering etymological path, but basically a writer in the 18th century wrote a poem about the minor Roman goddess Trivia (aka Hecate, so-named because of her triple aspect: Selene/Diana/Prosperine), and a fan of his wrote a book in the early 20th century that borrowed the name, Trivia; the book was a collection of short narrative observations of the daily and commonplace. From the popularity of this book and its sequels, the word Trivia in America came to mean ‘small facts and details of possible interest and no great importance,’ and got further cemented into our vernacular through ‘trivia’ games where small detail questions were asked. I can say that for a very long time I considered my own life a ‘Trivial Pursuit,’ one in which my actions did not matter, and I would die, and it would be of little consequence. Looking back, I can see that maintaining an attitude of ‘nothing matters’ really enabled me to hurt and continue hurting people, because I mistakenly assumed that my internal attitude of nihilism meant that others couldn’t be affected by me. But the truth is, like it or not, I matter, my actions have effects, and the way I treat myself tends to reverberate out onto others. I found out through AA that my life is not trivial, which is a beautiful lesson, one I am invited to relearn at each meeting. And along the way I get the added bonus of learning lots of little trivia tidbits about my fellows’ lives through the stories we share in the rooms. Thanks for sharing your life with me; the trivial and the consequential together.

9/28/2020

Today’s word of the day is perspicacity (n.) - clearness of understanding or insight; great mental penetration; discernment; keenness of sight, clearness of understanding. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘perspicax’ which means ‘sharp-sighted, having the power of seeing through’ which in turn comes from the prefix ‘per-‘ which means ‘through’ and ‘specere’ which means ‘look at, observe’ (compare with spectator, perspective, spectacle). Perspicacity is something I do not have a lot of. What I understand often feels murky, contingent, superficial, flimsy. A lot of what I understand has to do with what I’m feeling and what I’m used to, and especially what I’m close to. So things like global finance, politics, environmental change, disease, etc. often feel like unknowable, unsolvable problems of immense opacity to me. Luckily, these problems may be engaged fully without my understanding. When I am in a good state of mind, I remember that I need not understand the world fully to be a citizen of it, to be a person among people. I understand today that even with my limited capacity, I have something unique and worthwhile to offer to my fellows. I need to understand how to clean up my side of the street mostly. I benefit from seeking to understand God with the recognition I will never fully understand God, and I can trust that the people I encounter along that path will help guide me and keep me. Thank you for being among those people.

9/27/2020

Today’s word of the day is penetralia (n.) - the innermost parts or recesses of a building; the sanctuary or or inner sanctum of a temple. Also (figurative): secret parts, mysteries, etc. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘penetralis’ which means ‘interior,’ from the stem ‘penetrare’ which means ‘to put or get into, enter into’ (compare with ‘penetrate’). In AA I am consistently invited to share, to tell my story. When I first started AA I used to wonder how people who go to these meetings for decades could possibly have anything new to share, and I figured it must be a tedious, ponderous club to be a part of. I’ve since learned that (1) AA benefits me not as a laboratory for new ideas but rather a repository of effective, beneficial old ideas, and (2) as I spend more time in recovery, the way I share my story changes, even though the story itself, the past, doesn’t change. Amnesia, selective remembering, and repression have all been hallmarks of my mental landscape for most of my life, amplified and abetted by alcohol and drugs. It is only in the last couple of years that I’ve started to feel sturdy and durable enough to take a second look at my past and reassess the stories I’ve been telling myself. It manifests in small ways that feel hugely meaningful — around 18 months of sobriety I was able to look at emails from an ex-girlfriend that I refused to touch for the past 5 years; this is just one example. Our promise-maxim “you will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it” has meant, for me, a new and unprecedented access to the penetralia of my heart. It is often uncomfortable, and I don’t always have the willingness to look at it, but by leaving the door to the past open, it feels more possible today to change and grow for the better. Thank you for helping me find that spiritual doorstop.

9/26/2020

Today’s word of the day is aleatory (adj.) - of uncertain outcome; contingent or dependent on uncertain events or occurrences; haphazard, random; of music, art, etc.: created, composed, or performed according to a chance process; employing or including random elements. The word comes to us from the Latin; ‘aleatory’ literally meant ‘depending on the throw of a die,’ from ‘aleator’ which means ‘a dice player,’ from ‘alea’ which means ‘a game with dice; chance, hazard, risk; a die, the dice;’ the word’s literal origin may be from ‘a joint-bone’ because marked knuckle-bones were used as early dice. It’s easy for me to see my life so far as a series of haphazard events, random occurrences in circumstances beyond my control that just so happened to lead me here. For a long time I called myself a nihilist, and was convinced that any meaning ascribed to this or that event was just the result of willful imagination, magical realism on the part of humans, and I supposed that was somehow false, or arrogant, or ignorant, or something. That mental position came easy to me, as I understood myself to be permanently and irrevocably dissociated from society, a part of nothing, immersed in harm and hurt, and headed toward a meaningless death. When I didn’t die by my own hand, I was desperate enough to try sobriety. In sobriety I have begun to look for order and meaning in life. I have come to understand myself as a part of the world, a world in which effects have causes and actions have consequences. While I can’t assimilate all the suffering and entropy and confusion into a single pat ‘ordered’ reality, today I have evidence that even a ‘random’ existence has meaning if I’m able to care about something other than myself. Whether I was ‘supposed’ to die or not, whether ‘God’ is a trite invention of a fearful earthbound species, is immaterial. What counts for me today is that it matters to treat people with love and tolerance, and I believe it’s possible for me to form a partnership with another human being, because I understand that I have an effect on people, and that I am effected by people, and that I am present in this world, not apart from it. Thank you for helping me understand myself to be a resident of existence and not an alien.

9/25/2020

Today’s word of the day is sanguine (adj.) - optimistic or positive, especially in an apparently bad or difficult situation; causing or delighting in bloodshed; blood-red; of or pertaining to blood. The word comes to us from the medieval physiological notion that a person characterized by the predominance of the blood over the other three humors (black bile, yellow bile, and phlegm), indicated by a ruddy countenance and a courageous, hopeful, and amorous disposition. The word originally comes from the Latin ‘sanguineus’ which means ‘of blood.’ I’m happy today and there’s not really any good reason, at least that I can perceive. Today I have moods that come and go, that don’t destroy me, that don’t last forever, that are in turns bearable or even enjoyable. And although I’d probably still rather be able to control my feelings at all times, as time passes I am getting more durable and adaptable to the season of my emotions. So today I thank my Higher Power I’m feeling a little more sanguine, and I’ll do my best to thank my Higher Power for my wellbeing no matter if I’m feeling sanguine, bilious (testy, peevish, ill-tempered; pertaining to ‘bile’), or phlegmatic (cool, calm, self-possessed; pertaining to ‘phlegm’). Thank you for loving me no matter my humor.

9/24/2020

Today’s word of the day is rebarbative (adj.) - repellent; attractive; objectionable. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘barba’ which means ‘beard’ (compare with ‘barber’). Some days I feel repellent. Having been diagnosed at different times with bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder, I recognize that I will sometimes descend into troughs of depression. At the moment I’m at a nadir (low point) as I’ve been unable to run due to a minor leg injury and also today I was told by someone I had been on a few dates with that she thought I was special and interesting, but that she did not feel healthy enough to be dating at the moment. It’s a sad thing because I’m afraid I’ll be alone. I know that not everything is about me, and that to have someone be honest up front like that can save a lot of grief later on. And I know that if I can find a way to turn my fear over to God I can feel relief. And I know that doing service is a good way to feel better also. So I mailed some magazines to our friend Dirck in prison. But in sobriety, life is not always neat and transactional; I don’t get instant and commensurate relief the exact instant I do service or pray. So in the mean time I seek to grow in the discomfort and not merely wallow. And I can trust even when I feel rebarbative I have a purpose and am loved. Thank you for being a supportive friend group.

9/23/2020

Today’s word of the day is mimetic (adj.) - having a particular aptitude for mimicry or imitation; habitually practicing imitation or mime; representing, picturing, or presenting the real world through representation; pretend, counterfeit. The word comes to us from the Greek ‘mimos’ which means ‘mime (a buffoon who practices gesticulations, mimic actor).’ Returning to the ‘imposter syndrome’ mentioned yesterday, it can sometimes feel like I am doing a performance, like a mime, in order to signal to people that I am sane, well, and stable. Yesterday at a meeting I was reminded of how dangerous it can be to secret the insanity, how dangerous it can be to try to tamp it down and ignore it. I have ‘outside issues’ that AA has helped me with a lot — mental illness, a history of abuse, sex addiction, self-harm and suicidal ideations — but sometimes I ignore these problems and pretend like my only issue is alcoholism. I am sometimes too embarrassed or ashamed to share about these things with the men in my network. And that puts me at risk for ‘acting out,’ which is language describing returning to unwanted or harmful behavior from my ‘outside issues;’ it’s like a relapse involving something other than substances. Common refrains remind us: “You’re only as sick as your secrets” and “An addict alone is in bad company.” The collective wisdom of the AA fellowship suggests I get honest with myself, another alcoholic, and my Higher Power about what I’m ashamed of; that’s a fifth step and/or tenth step; that’s action I can take today to keep from getting sick from my secrets. And AA is a place that has loved me unconditionally, accepted me, not judged me, and told me to keep coming back, no matter what. So today I say thanks to ya’ll for listening and making me feel like I belong.

9/22/2020

Today’s word of the day is doggerel (adj.) - of verse: comic, burlesque and usually composed in irregular rhythm. Also (of verse or writing) badly composed or expressed; trivial. Doggerel can also be used as a noun, referring to bad or trivial verse; poetry of irregular rhythm; any rhyming verse in which the meter is forced into metronomic regularity by the stressing of normally unstressed syllables and in which rhyme is forced or banal. The etymology of this word is unclear, but the word probably comes from the pejorative suffix ‘-rel’ combined with the word ‘dog,’ the idea perhaps being that the poetry was made with a puppyish clumsiness, or being fit only for dogs, or from the “mean, contemptible” associations of ‘dog’ in Middle English. At the beginning of Bill’s Story Bill mentions seeing a doggerel on a tombstone commemorating a soldier who ‘caught his death by drinking cold small Beer;’ Bill describes it as an ominous warning he fails to heed. Here’s a picture of the unabridged tombstone: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/da/Thomas_Thetcher_Gravestone_2014-03-05_20-12.jpg I can tell you that more days than not, I face down feelings of doubt and imposter syndrome when it comes to writing. I worry that the words I come up with will be banal (so lacking in originality as to be obvious and boring) and trite (overused and consequently of little import). I worry that the voice I employ is forced — that it is an aspirational mimicry of an imaginary AA status quo that is not specific enough to my experience and that it will ring hollow. Luckily, the grim and despairing thoughts come less frequently these days. I am reminded of an excellent piece of advice I got from a fellow AA: “when you are self-deprecating, who does that help?” So I try to take that to heart, make an effort at service and try not to fixate on outcomes. Whether or not my writing is doggerel, I’m grateful to have a fellowship to share it with. Thank you for helping me feel ‘never forgot.'

9/21/2020

Today’s word of the day is autumn (n.) - the season between summer and winter, (traditionally regarded as beginning with the annual harvest, and now generally regarded as lasting from September to November in the northern hemisphere and from March to May in the southern hemisphere) during which the leaves of many deciduous trees change color and are shed, the nights get longer, and the weather typically becomes cooler. Autumn also has a definition as a verb - to cause to mature or deteriorate with the passing of time; to cause to age. The word comes to us from the Old French ‘autumpne,’ which in turn comes from the Latin ‘auctumnus,’ which is of unknown origin. There is no identifiable common root of the word, although different words across languages connote ‘drying-up season,’ ‘harvest,’ ‘reddish,’ ‘under-winter,’ and ‘waning of summer.’ As the seasons shift I have felt some relief to be reminded that there’s always a softening to the mania, anger, and agitation that usually come with summer for me. I’m reminded of the balance built-in to the world, and reminded that typically I’m the one who tips the scales out of balance in the first place. Now that I’m sober, I noticed I have a stronger sense of connection to how time passes, the natural rhythms of things, seasons, recurring phenomenon, etc. It’s cool to me because my goal when I was using was looking for an unshifting, smooth, numb, stillness in time, specific only to my mind and my sensations, detached from society and nature. So these days I’m slowly getting back to being more attuned to the environment, natural and emotional. So thanks for weathering the many strange seasons of sobriety with me.

9/20/2020

Today’s word of the day is gestalt (n.) - a shape, configuration, or structure which as an object of perception forms a specific whole or unity incapable of expression simply in terms of its parts (e.g. a melody in distinction from the notes that make it up); quality of perceiving a comple organization of things or events as an organized whole and also as more than the sum of the parts.. Gestalt psychology is a school of psychology which holds that perceptions, reactions, etc. are Gestalts. The word comes to us from a German philosopher who used the word ‘Gestaltqualität’ in 1890, which was abstracted from the German word ‘ungestalt’ which means ‘deformity’ or ‘misshapen.’ In general terms the concept connotes the ‘holistic.’ In terms of psychotherapy the term emphasizes the experiential idea of ‘here and now’ connections between the body, mind, past generations and present society at large. There’s an emphasis of personal responsibility in this therapudic tradition, which I think mirrors that of AA: we stop blaming others, we recognize we don’t have all the power, but we become willing to do work to try to set things right in our lives, and have faith that this personal order will reverberate into order within and among relationships in our lives. In AA, we know that Unity is a foundational concept and one that makes us more than just a club or social organization. AA Unity is special because it does not connote any single set of beliefs, theories, or ideologies. Quite contrarily, AA thrives as an organization of disparate voices, of people who would not normally mix. Rather than requiring a common creed, we share only a singleness of desire — the desire to stop drinking. From there it’s up to each individual member to take the tools from the kit laid at their feet that enables them to stop drinking and stay stopped, and to leave the rest. In this sense, the whole of AA is more than its parts, and there are parts extraneous to the whole. While it seems paradoxical, I think the gestalt concept is a perfect setup for a group of sober alcoholics, walking contradictions as we sometimes seem. Thank you for helping me be a part of something great, and helping me become whole again.

9/19/2020

Today’s word of the day is resarciate (v.) - to make amends for, compensate for. The word comes to us from the classical Latin ‘resarcire’ which means ‘to patch up, mend.’ September being the ninth month, I have encountered some meetings where the ninth step is discussed. I get to hear about peoples’ different approaches to patching up the past. The material amends where items and money are returned are straightforward. But for the other amends, this step is one where I think the words we use mean a great deal — my idea of a good amends avoids an apology and the word 'sorry.’ A good amends contains a matter-of-fact report of a harm or a wrong I committed; so I try to use plain language to describe something often quite awful, even horrific. It contains an offer to act to make it right, ideally proactive and receptive. And it contains an invitation for the person I have harmed to add to what I have said (an ‘amendment’ in-kind, as it were, in the sense of how our constitution has amendments), and so it requires listening, hearing, quiet, stillness. But the amends for me is somehow more than its component parts; in this way the amends is gestalt, a word I will try to go into more tomorrow. An amends being greater than the sum of its parts is an appealing idea to me, because the stated purpose of the amends is supernatural, or at least superrational — rationally, I know it is impossible to patch up the past; it’s abstract, it’s a metaphor, it’s a figure of speech. The past is not a popped tire nor a ripped quilt. I can’t undo the past. I can’t compensate for traumatizing or neglecting or abusing someone. But I can add to the past with present action in good faith guided by the fellowship and my higher power. And this adding-to is the sense of ‘amends’ that I mention above, and it is appealing to me as a literal and rational conception of what’s really happening when I make an amends. Luckily for me, the effectiveness of an amends does not depend on my understanding of the word amends, nor does it require me to have linguistically analyzed obscure synonyms for amends like resarciate. All that is required of me is action, and I have a sponsor and Higher Power to guide that action. Thank you for reminding me that faith without works is dead.

9/18/2020

Today’s word of the day is canny (adj.) - knowing, wise; judicious, prudent; wary, cautious; careful in worldly or business matters; shrewd. The word comes to us from the Scottish ‘can’ in its sense of ‘know how to’ and ‘-y’ the common suffix formation; ‘can’ in turn comes from many Old European and Scandanavian words ‘kunna, konna, kunnen, kunnan,’ all which carried meanings of ‘to know, to understand, to know how’ (‘cunning’ has the same root, a word with a similar meaning but a distinct sense). My birthday was last week, and a friend of mine told me that they would use the word ‘canny’ to describe me today. This is someone who knew me as an alcoholic of maximum unloveliness when I was in my cups, a person who watched me deteriorate and still abided me, someone who I managed to harm in ways that did not outweigh their capacity for grace. They were the only person who came to visit me in detox, which means they saw me during my first week of sobriety, full of lithium and a pathetically small dose of ativan, wrist still scabby, without glasses because I had lost them somewhere between the DWI and the psych ward. I remember I was drawing a lot with colored pencils to pass the time in detox, and I actually gave them this utterly grim and wholly inappropriate drawing I had made of myself being pulled out of a grave with marionette strings, a self-portrait most maudlin (self-pityingly or tearfully sentimental, often through drunkenness). Two and a half years pass and they told me the word they would use to describe me is ‘canny.’ I heard it said at a meeting yesterday that we tend to share more about ‘experience’ and less about ‘strength’ and ‘hope.’ So to that end: here is me sharing my strength, the strength of recovering in someone’s eyes, of going from foolish and volatile to wise and careful. And I heard it shared last night that in AA, ‘hope’ is not an individual act; rather it is a communal one, it is a collective faith that is available from the group when we are unable to generate it from within. Here’s hoping what I have to share may pack more hope into our stream of life. Thank you for helping me become canny in the eyes of my friend.

9/17/2020

Today’s word of the day is emprise (n.) - 1. an undertaking, an enterprise; especially one of a bold, adventurous, or chivalrous nature. 2. renown, glory, achievement. 3. Martial prowess; courage, daring; enterprising character, especially as typical of a knight. The word comes to us from the Old French ‘emprendre’ which meant ‘to undertake,’ by way of the Latin ‘imprehendere,’ which meant ‘to take in hand.’ Tonight I am grateful to have started the emprise of recovery. Looking back it is nothing short of bold; and I can see it as adventurous in the sense of 'adventuring’ into heretofore foreclosed emotions and intentionally forgotten experiences. This enterprise requires a great deal of courage and daring, and it may in a sense be the ‘final’ adventure, in so far as I don’t ever expect to fully finish the harrowing exploits into the depths of frightful feelings required of me in a 4th step and 8th step. So I’m grateful tonight to have a strong, supportive group of adventurers by my side as I go once more into the old breach.

9/16/2020

Today’s word of the day is bonhomie (n.) - cheerful friendliness or good nature geniality, affability. The word comes to us from the French ‘bonhomme’ which literally means ‘good man;’ the term ‘bonhomme’ was also used to describe various mendicant friars (itinerant (traveling) Roman Catholic monks who lived solely of off alms [charitable relief given to the poor or needy] who took a vow of stability; ‘friar’ itself comes from the Old French phrase ‘beu frere’ which means ‘fair brother’). Today I managed to fulfill my professional responsibilities, but basically balked at the other things in my life — instead of paying attention at the AA meeting, I checked emails, shopped, texted, swept up, and paced around. Instead of exercising or praying or meditating, I ate a tremendous amount of cereal and took a two hour nap at 5pm. Yet I know that in terms of sobriety, today was a complete success. I didn’t mistreat anyone, and I didn’t harm myself. I wasn’t a floating monk nor a service superstar nor a genius researcher nor a hardcore endurance athlete (which are often things I tell myself I have to be in order to be ‘ok’). But I also tried to ‘put down the bat,’ to give myself a break, and just be, and just accept my day for what it was, imperfect, sporadic, and unpredictable as it was. I believe that I can offer myself that kind of good will because I learned it from the bonhomie that was consistently and unconditionally offered to me in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. Thank you for helping me learn to treat myself with more compassion and to keep my priorities right.

9/15/2020

Today’s word of the day is nomad (n.) - a member of a people that travels from place to place to find fresh pasture for its animals, and has no permanent home; an itinerant person; a wanderer. The word comes to us from the classical Latin ‘Nomas’ which means ‘member of a wandering pastoral tribe, by way of the ancient Greek ‘νομάς’ which means ‘pasturage.’ Since I’ve gotten sober, I’ve finally been able to settle down and come to terms with staying put. Or was it that since I’ve been able to settle down and come to terms with staying put, I have been able to get sober. Either way, the two seem to dovetail nicely. Prior to sobriety, I habitually ‘pulled a geographical,’ whereby I resolved that moving to a new physical location would solve the problems I was having. Sadly, wherever I went, there I was, which meant the problems were there too. In AA I learned that I could seek to heal and recover in a way that would enable me go anywhere and feel safe, secure, and protected. Thank you for helping me bring my days of nomadism to an end.

9/14/2020

Today’s word of the day is axial (adj.) - forming an axis (imaginary motionless straight line around which a body rotates); of the nature of an axis; of, or belonging to, an axis; round, or about, an axis. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘axis’ which means ‘axle, pivot.’ I encountered this word in the phrase ‘Axial Age,’ which was a term coined by philosopher Karl Jaspers — the term refers to the period of ancient history from about the 8th to the third century BCE. During this period, according to Jaspers, new ways of thinking appeared in Persia, India, China, and the Greco-Roman world in religion and philosophy in a striking parallel development, without any obvious direct cultural contact between all of the participating Eurasian cultures. Great thinkers and movements inaugurated dduring the Axial Age include Confucianism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism (believed to have influenced the modern Abrahamic religions), Jainism, Buddhism, and Platonism (believed to be a major influence on the western world through both Christianity and secular thought). AA has impressed upon me the necessity of developing a spirituality, of turning my will over to a Higher Power with whom I can build and grow. AA is a program of experience more than thought, and I recognize that the intellectual plane will sometimes be insufficient to improve my conscious contact with God. Still, I think a rational, generalized understanding of the ‘God-sized hole’ that most people experience can help me be of maximum service to others — recognizing that across cultures a wave of consciousness of a "Higher Power” rose simultaneously during the axial age impresses upon me how common our need for a power greater than ourselves is, whether or not we are alcoholics. But especially because I’m an alcoholic, I want to keep learning whatever I can that might help me grow along spiritual lines. I feel safe and supported to do that in AA, which is more than I can say about just about any other context in my life (social, professional, political, family, etc.). So thank you for contributing to this precious, fecund culture of safe spiritual growth.

9/13/2020

Today’s word of the day is bogus (adj.) - counterfeit, spurious, fictitious, sham; originally: a counterfeit coin; an apparatus for counterfeit coining (obsolete); a liquor made of rum and molasses (rare, U.S. dialect). The word comes to us from American slang, it was originally a cant word (language peculiar to a specified group or profession and regarded with disparagement) used to describe a counterfeit coin machine discovered in Ohio in the early 19th century. The exact etymology is unknown — some have speculated it is short for ‘tantrabogus’ which was another dialectical word from Vermont applied to any ill-looking object; evidently the word ‘tantarabobs’ is an old English word for the devil. Some suggest bogus is of the same origin as ‘bogey,’ as in ‘a frightening specter,’ like ‘bogeyman,’ ‘bugaboo,' or ‘bugbear;’ ‘bug’ once had a meaning ‘goblin, scarecrow,’ which is now obsolete. For a long time in active addiction, I couldn’t shake the idea that I was a phoney, a fake, that my whole existential being was bogus. I got a kick out of counterfeiting, I liked faking my way into resources, and typically I would work tremendously hard to make it seem like I did work without actually having done that work. Today I have the understanding that ‘imposter syndrome’ is a phenomenon common not only to alcoholics but to humans in general, especially during times of growth or transition. It’s easier to feel less bogus these days for me because I act less based on trying to convince people of falsehoods, and I act more based on sincerity. Of course, I still do have to fake it in lots of ways, and I also probably do some bogus stuff that I’m not even aware of, or that I choose to ignore, because that’s a character defect of mine. I know without being careful I will try to present a falsely inflated version of myself, virtue signal, and can end up being duplicitous in that way. Luckily I have a network that holds me accountable more and co-signs my bullshit yes than I did back before I was sober. Thanks for helping be a more real person!

9/12/2020

Today’s word of the day has three versions: 1. hermeneutic (adj.) - of, relating to, or concerning interpretation or theories of interpretations. 2. hermeneutic (n.) - a method or theory of interpretation; a particular interpretation. 3. hermeneutics (n.) - the interpretation of scriptural texts; such interpretation as a subject of study or analysis, esp. with regard to theory or methodology. Also: a particular system of interpretation for scriptural texts. The word comes to us from the Greek ‘hermeneutikos’ which means ‘of or for interpreting.’ One time I heard in an AA meeting somebody say “I never had an original idea in AA.” At first I didn’t like it, I was like “I’m no sheep, I have original ideas all the time, I’m clever and creative and savvy yadda yadda yadda.” What the guy meant, I think, is that he was relieved of the burden of his own tendency to have to always be coming up with original ideas about things in AA. He meant the program is simple, practical, and action based, and outlined simply in the Big Book. He implied “my best thinking got me into AA,” which is another phrase it took me some time to reckon with. But nowadays I see it as an invitation to humility, to turn my will over. I don’t have to re-invent the wheel in AA. In fact, I tend to burn up a lot more energy trying to reconfigure AA to suit my moods then the energy it would require to just work a step with a sponsor. But that’s just my nature as an alcoholic I guess, and at least these days I have meetings to remind me that my best thinking is only going to get me so far. The other thing is that as a sponsor, no hermeneutics are required of me, and in fact might spoil the message I’m trying to carry. I don’t do much in the way of annotation or commentary or ekphrasis (the use of adetailed description of a work of art as a literary device) when I meet with a sponsee. I can just say what my sponsor told me, say my experience, and say what’s in the book, and that’s sufficient. Which is a relief! So thank you all for helping me cast off the burden of excessive interpretation

9/11/2020

Today’s word of the day is interlocutor (n.) - one who speaks in a dialogue or conversation. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘interloqui’ which means ‘speak between; interrupt,’ by way of ‘loqui’ which means ‘to speak’ (compare loquacious, eloquent). Today I want to repeat what was said at a meeting, and what is written in the Big Book: "…it was most evident that a solitary self-appraisal, and the admission of our defects based upon that alone, wouldn’t be nearly enough." So it’ll be a short one tonight, with the hope this word can remind us to be interlocutors, to participate in dialogue, to talk through whatever it is we have with anyone else, and in that way be freed of the bondage of self. Thank you for all the great dialogues ya’ll have had with me!

9/10/2020

Today’s word of the day is bilk (v.) - to balk (hope, expectation); to cheat, deceive, betray; (of a person) to cheat someone out of their due, defraud; to evade payment of a debt; to elude, evade, escape from. The word is said to be of uncertain origin; evidently it was first used as a verb as a technical term in the game of Cribbage, where it was interchanged with balk (hesitate), and where it also meant ‘to spoil someone’s score.’ It was believed in the 17th century to be ‘a word signifying nothing.’ Whatever the origin, I’m confident I’ve done my share of balking and bilking in my life. Cheating made me feel smarter than other people, deception felt necessary to trick people into loving me, betrayal was impossible of course because I didn’t owe anybody anything. And I constructed an ornate and complicated identity out of debt payment evasion. The next drink was always the one that would allow me to elude reality, evade feelings, escape accountability. To bilk was the easier softer way, and so naturally when it was time to take the opposite path, I balked at some times. I still balk — remaining forgetful, comfortable, undisturbed, and with my fragile ego fully intact is still my default mode. But I’ve learned that I can rewire my mode and incorporate some circuits of service, tolerance, and faith. Thank you for helping me do that rewiring.

9/9/2020

Today’s word of the day is retrenchment (n.) - 1. A diminution, a lessening; reduction in extent, size, amount, or importance. 2. The action of detaching something by cutting, lopping off, pruning; an instance of this. 3. The action of economizing or reducing expenditure (finance). 4. An inner line of defense constructed within a fortification. The word comes to us from the French ‘retrenchement’ which means ‘a cutting off or out,’ but this is for the figurative sense; the word's origin comes from its literal components ‘trench’ as in ‘ditch’ and ‘re-‘ as in ‘again,’ which in turn comes from the Latin ‘truncare’ which means ‘to maim, mutilate, cut off’ (compare with ‘truncate,’ which means ‘shorten’). I came across this word reading something that was talking about how financialization can contribute to keeping people indebted, at the mercy of the state, and subject to rights violations as debtors. I had to look up the definitions of financialization, and when I tried doing that I found out it’s super complicated, at least by my standards, and kind of impossible for me to do a definition on. So I went with ‘retrenchment’ because it was mentioned and had a more finite-seeming definition. What it makes me think of is that a lot of my successes these days don’t look like milestones or anniversaries or huge monumental events. They look like retrenchments of my old harmful tendencies. With the exception of complete abstinence from alcohol and drugs, all my other achievements are reductions, lessenings, pruning off of the past. I don’t steal anymore, except when I trick myself into believing I’m allowed to, like with printer paper from work or soda from a fountain when I ordered water — a recurring character defect for me is thinking the rules don’t apply to me. I cut the big larceny branch down, but it will grow new buds without constant maintenance. The same goes for lying, cheating, and so on. I’m glad we claim spiritual progress, not perfection; otherwise I’d be kicked out of AA. But you all remind me living a life based on spiritual principles is an end worthy of pursuit in itself, not just a means to feel better. So I strive for that today and ask for help from my Higher Power. Thanks for helping me keep that perspective.

9/8/2020

Today’s word of the day is desultory (adj,) - skipping about, jumping or flitting from one thing to another; irregularly shifting, devious; wavering, unsteady. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘desultorius’ which means ‘hasty, casual, superficial,’ which is the adjective form of the word ‘desultor,’ a noun meaning ‘a rider in the circus who jumps from one horse to another while they are in gallop; the root ‘desul-‘ means ‘to jump down.’ I can certainly relate to feeling desultory in many areas in my life. When it comes to career paths, I’ve been sure at various points in my life that my destiny was to be a journalist, an editor, a chef, a DJ, a graphic designer, a drummer, a writer, and, most recently, a lawyer. When it comes to relationships, I’ve always been more prone to jump off the horse than try to coax its wild gallop to a trot. And in sobriety lately, I’ve felt the same desultory impulses welling up: sometimes I think AA should be my entire universe, other times I think therapy and psychiatry are the only legitimate refuge, other times I believe I need to just be religious and find a congregation and let that subsume me, still other times I think that my true community is among activists and social justice advocates, and that my work should be exclusively legal advocacy and prison abolitionism. I would prefer a simple, singular, cohesive narrative and context for my life. There are times when it really gets me down to think about how frenetic (deranged, delirious) and capricious (fickle, apt to change mind suddenly) my decision making has been, how my life path has been a kind of zigzag or scribble rather than a linear progression. Still, in my better moments, I can recognize that there is purpose and grace behind all the false starts and second guesses; I can appreciate that single-minded perfection isn’t the right size for me, and take comfort in the richness of my varied experiences. I’m lucky to have access to such a robust network of care and support, and I ask God today to help me vindicate and reciprocate that support through acts of gratitude. Thank you for helping me remember to be grateful!

9/7/2020

Today’s word of the day is querulous (adj.) - Of a person: complaining, given to complaining, full of complaints; fault-vinding; peevish. Of an animal or thing: uttering or producing sounds suggestive of complain; plaintive. The word comes to us from the Old French ‘querelos’ which means ‘quarrelsome, argumentative,’ by way of the Latin root ‘queri’ which means ‘to complain.’ A common manifestation of my alcoholism is that I complain about petty things. Even if I don’t do it out loud to another person, my internal monologue seems always to fill with little annoyances about how what I have isn’t good enough, how I don’t have as much as the next person, how I’ll never measure up because I got a bad lot in life. This can be material with possessions, like a car, house, etc., and it can be conceptual, like a family, a true love, a community, a friendship. Whatever it is, it isn’t good enough, and I don’t have enough of it. That certainly matches with how I approached drugs and drinking too. There was perhaps a moment of sufficiency, but 99% of addiction for me was chasing that moment again, rising toward it or falling away from it, but never quite reaching it, like an asymptote (a math term meaning 'a line that continually approaches a given curve but does not meet it at any finite distance’). As I type this I can hear my current sponsor and my past two sponsors saying ‘make a gratitude list.’ I know rationally that gratitude and humility are excellent modes of being to crowd out the querulousness. Unfortunately I find those modes most easily when I am humiliated, defeated, destitute, assed-out, depraved, etc. Attending meetings gives me access to the vivid reminders of how bad it can get and may yet be again for me if I don’t find my way away from the querulous and into the grateful. And I get support and sympathy from my fellows along the way, who remind me that my character defects are common, and don’t make me a bad person, and can be reckoned with via vigorous work with another alcoholic and searching and thorough work on myself via the steps. In the mean time, I will seek to give my complaints to God and trust they will be heard, attended to, and dismissed as necessary. Thank you for your sympathetic ears.

9/6/2020

Today’s word of the day is scripturiency (n.) - passion for writing; an urge to write. In early use: the tendency to produce an abundance of trivial or inferior writing. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘scribere’ which means ‘to write’ and ‘-urire,’ a suffix that forms desiederative verbs )verbs formed from another word and expressing a desire to do the act denoted by the root verb). For much of my life I have experienced scripturiency, and I think about it a lot these days. Back in active alcoholism, I was convinced of an idea that I was an in-person failure, that I would never have a meaningful relationship, that I was somehow defective, and that my defectiveness would be permanent and irrevocable. I deeply knew that, because of all this, I must be a writer, I must exist on the page, I must have something to offer through my text, as a way to balance how little I had to offer in real life. My perspective has shifted some thanks to AA. I recognize that I have habitually tried to find ways to explain interpersonal deficiency by coming up with excuses, blaming, and feeling sorry for myself. I have been prideful in my assumption that what I struggle with is somehow unique to me. I now understand writing as a tool that may be put to various uses depending on my will and ego, or lack thereof. Writing won’t make me whole, but I have faith that building conscious contact with my Higher Power will. And if writing is anything like every other area of my life, it will get better once I release my deathgrip of self-will over it, and turn it over, and trust that I will be taken care of. I write these group texts today because I believe I have a God-given talent, and that writing for me is an example of how ‘God gave us brains to use.’ My hope is that by using writing as a tool to think a little about others, and to think about how I am a person among people, I might in time free the practice of writing from the prison of my ego. And even if I don’t, I think it’s healthy to try, and trust that more will be revealed. So thanks for your indulgence of me and my scripturiency.

9/5/2020

Today’s word of the day is extricate (v.) - to unravel what is tangled; to clear of intricacies or perlexities; to free someone or something from a constraint or difficulty; (in Chemistry) to liberate, disengage from a state of combination. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘extricare’ which means ‘to disentangle.’ Today is a meta-word of the day, because we are going to try to extricate the meaning of extricate from a text. The other day I read the following sentence in the 12 & 12 on Step 8 and was having a hard time understanding what it meant:

“While the purpose of making restitution to others is paramount, it is equally necessary that we extricate from an examination of our personal relations every bit of information about ourselves and our fundamental difficulties that we can.”

If you’re having difficulty too, I believe that its functional equivalent is this:

“The purpose of making restitution to others is paramount. We can learn about ourselves and our fundamental difficulties by examining our personal relations. This examination is as necessary a purpose as restitution, and so we must extract as much information from this examination as we can.”

This ‘translation’ is based off the next two sentences, which support the above meaning with context clues:

“Since defective relations with other human beings have nearly always been the immediate cause of our woes, including our alcoholism, no field of investigation could yield more satisfying and valuable rewards than this one. Calm, thoughtful reflection upon personal relations can deepen our insight.”

So the gist, I think, is that a necessary component of an effective 8th step is thoroughness, which includes reflecting on personal relationships to identify our character defects.

Now, if you’re like me, you might have thought this was a 6th/7th step thing, with the defects hopefully having been identified through a good 4th/5th step, with feedback from a sponsor provided to augment the often-inadequate solitary self-appraisal of defects. But Bill I think is saying that the material act of making a thorough list of persons we had harmed and the intention-setting spiritual act of becoming willing to make amends to them all is a place for us to “go far beyond those things which were superficially wrong with us, to see those flaws which were basic, flaws which sometimes were responsible for the whole pattern of our lives.” And to this extent, we are unraveling ourselves, disentangling history, freeing the defects packed like dead insects in the amber prison of our past. Or something. Either way, I like trying to read our literature closely and understand what it means and try to apply it to my life. Thank you for letting me share my thoughts with you.

9/4/2020

Today’s word of the day is as follows: j0[\drefPO;………………..i6op11`q`5 d7` The word comes to us from my kitten Bryan, whose mastery of the English language is, shall we say, wanting. Still, Bryan brings up some good points. When I see ‘drefPO,’ it reminds me that I managed to make it into sobriety without every having a Parole Officer assigned to me, even though my behaviors were at times violently anti-social. drefPO also reminds me of the Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF), an outshoot of the Red Cross, that provides support to communities impacted by emergencies and crises. I often lay awake at night thinking how my work is not meaningful, how I should be doing something heroic, like being a paramedic or doctor or firefighter, or a first responder to a disaster site like the people in DREF. When I’m right-sized, I sometimes can recognize that I am responsible for my own small wake of destruction, and I have a lot of work to do here on the ground zero of recovery to attend to the wounds I caused and work to prevent doing more wounding. It’s also telling that Bryan mentioned ‘………………..’ which is typically my first thought whenever anyone asks me to do something for them that does not serve my own personal interests. I cultivated an attitude of always feeling put-upon, like I owed no one anything, and that it was an affront to my character should someone deign to ask for help from me. Thankfully, AA has given me the tools to have a second thought after that first thought, and I can invite my Higher Power in to my decision making process, and sometimes I’m able to offer myself to be helpful rather than my preferred response of cold aloof ellipses. Finally, I’m humbled that Bryan mentioned ‘i6op,’ because it reminds me of the 6 months of rehab I did in Charlotte, and the Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) that was required of me as a condition of my probation. It’s a real marvel that I’m now trusted to live on my own, drive my own car, make adult decisions without the oversight of a drug and alcohol counselor and a licensed substance abuse clinician. But just because I’m sober enough for the state doesn’t mean my state of mind is permanently clear. The daily reprieve offered by the spiritual program of AA allows me to do the maintenance I need to, and God willing, I’ll never have to watch videos about opioid abuse in a strip mall in Charlotte with strangers ever again. Thank you for being instrumental in helping my find that reprieve.

9/3/2020

Today’s word of the day is philoxenist (n.) - a lover of hospitality to strangers. The word comes to us from the Greek ‘philoxeny’ which means ‘loving strangers, hospitable’ and is related to the Latin ‘philoxenus’ which means 'a person who keeps good hospitality.’ I love how in AA hospitality to the newcomer is paramount. Even though they may seem like a complete stranger, once somebody opens up and shares their experience with alcoholism, for me they often feel like someone I’ve known for a long time. At a meeting last night the speaker concluded by mentioning that they knew everyone in the meeting had gone through some shit to get to this point in their life, that everyone in the meeting was a survivor, and that they loved everyone for that reason. Another person mentioned that they might not like everyone at the meeting, but they loved everyone at the meeting, whether the people at the meeting liked it or not. I heard it said at a different meeting that being a newcomer in AA is like being beaten to death with a Hallmark card. I definitely remember it being kind of overwhelming at first to have so much attention and love poured over me when I first showed up, but in that moment in my life in very early sobriety, I felt quite monstrous, like a fuck-up, and wasn’t getting much affection from anybody else or myself. Luckily the cadre of philoxenists in AA told me I was welcome, invited me to keep coming back, and helped me believe I was on my way to doing the next right thing. Thank you for your hospitality to this stranger.

9/2/2020

Today’s word of the day is cavil (v.) - a captious, quibbling or frivolous objection (‘captious' btw means '(of a person) tending to find fault or raise petty objections;’ ‘quibbling’ means ’to argue about a triviality; to evade the point at issue through equivocation, evasion, or frivolous objection based on ambiguity or uncertainty of wording). The word comes to us from the Middle French ‘caviler’ which means ‘to mock, jest,’ which in turn comes from the Latin ‘cavillari’ which means ‘to jeer, mock; satirize, argue scoffingly,’ and its root is related to calumny (slander, false accusation). On a day to day basis, I notice I often justify having a mean thought about someone via caviling. Like today at work I noticed that I was annoyed by how raspy someon’s voice was, and because of that caviling annoyance, I watched myself start to treat the client with derision, before I was able to catch myself and treat him with baseline decency and professionalism. The fact that I could see it happening at all feels like a small miracle; I attribute the awareness and capacity to intervene to my Higher Power’s will, which I’ve learned to look for via our program in AA. In thinking about yesterday’s word, I was trying to reflect on what feels like a good, effective meditation for me. And I thought the best ones are the ones where I get out of my own way, because when that happens, I can get a glimpse of God’s will, I think. More accurately, a good meditation for me is when I recognize all the instances of my own willfullness, and through that recognition, acknowledge what God’s will is NOT. Like I said yesterday, I’m no mystic and my gnosis is faulty, erratic, and infrequent. But the beautiful thing about AA is that it gives me the tools to see how actively I play a part in creating the chaos and strife and misery in my life, chiefly through listening to suggestions and asking for help. And that has shown me things I do, like judge people on petty things and find ways to be annoyed and use that annoyance to justify treating people like shit. Caviling is among my character defects, and I have a solution thanks to AA, and thanks to you.

9/1/2020

Today’s word of the day is meditate (v.) - to exercise the mind in thought or reflection; to engage the mind in religious or spiritual reflection, contemplation, or other discipline; to ponder, think abstractly. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘meditationem’ which means ‘to think over, reflect, consider;’ the word comes from the Proto Indo European root ‘med-‘ which means ‘take appropriate measures.’ I attended a meeting tonight whose topic was Step 11, and the wonderful breadth of approaches to meditation taken by people in our fellowship made me want to look up the definition of the word. There’s some old adage along the lines of ‘realizing what we don’t know is the first step to knowing’ that comes to mind. There’s a concept in zen buddhism that’s related: ‘don’t-know mind’ is an approach to mindfulness and occupying a moment by detaching everything I think I ‘know’ about a situation. For me, an alcoholic, don’t-know mind seems like it be a helpful concept to apply to daily life. Because in a given moment in a day, I know for SURE that the customer at work needs to be corrected and cured of his ignorance by me, immediately; I’m KNOW the co-worker who made a minor mistake needs to be corrected rudely; at night trying to sleep I KNOW I’m a miserable bastard whose life is a grim parade of mistakes and whose purpose in life is to sow corruption and cause harm. But these are all false knowledges, and represent something more like an affinity for familiar instincts than anything close to the truth. In a moment, if I was willing to un-know those old attachments and let go of my old stories, I sometimes get an opportunity to see myself as I am: helpful, flawed, purposeful, goofy, well-intentioned, loving, clumsy, fallible. Some don’t-know mind makes space for me to listen to a silence where God’s will might be. It gives me a chance to face reality and see if I can align my will to something other than the way I believe things should be. There are tons more definitions of meditate, and a cornucopia of practices and approaches to try. I lack mental discipline, I’m no mystic, and my spirituality is piecemeal and inconsistent. But usually when I make the effort to get quiet, sit still and try for a second to not-know, I get a glimpse of not-me, whether it’s God, other people, nature, or nothing, and I think that gives me some good balance, and it’s nourishing. So here’s a big thank you to all of you for sharing your various ways of practicing meditation, and for helping me believe that I’m eligible to make conscious contact with a power greater than myself.

8/31/2020

Today’s word of the day is meliorism (n.) - the doctrine that the world, or society, may be improved and suffering alleviated through rightly directed human effort; a policy embodying this doctrine; the belief that society has a prevailing tendency toward improvement. (This is frequently contrasted with optimism or pessimism, and expressing the belief that the world is neither the best nor the worst of all possible worlds, but may be improved). The word comes to us from the classical Latin ‘melior’ which means ‘better’ (maybe you’re familiar with the word ‘ameliorate,’ which means ’to make better’). I’ve heard AA described as ‘the be a better person club,’ and I really liked that idea. We know we have a problem, and we recognize we have room to grow and get better. We’re not irrevocably broken by alcoholism and we’re (hopefully) not deluded that we might become perfect angelic saints in AA. We just keep coming, and try to be better people. And I know for me I see myself getting better incrementally, enough to where I want to keep coming back. My friend told me AA is an ‘iterative process,’ and I like that too. What counts as being a better person in the first 90 days is I only steal from businesses, not my friends. At a year sober being a better person meant trying to get used to praying once a day. At a two years, trying to stop arguing with clients on the phone at work. Who knows what I’ll say in three years sober, if I make it, God willing. But what I have faith in is that whatever it looks like, it will be better. I subscribe to meliorism, and I think AA is good proof to support that. Thank you for helping me believe I can always get a little better, every day.

8/30/2020

Today’s word of the day is kenosis (n.) - the self-emptying of Jesus’s own will and becoming entirely receptive to God’s divine will; the self-renunciation of the divine nature, at least in part, by Christ in the incarnation. The word comes to us from the Greek ‘κενόω' (kenóō) which means 'to empty out;’ simplified definitions of the noun include ‘emptying, depletion, hunger, waning. I am no theologian, but when I came across this word I liked how it seemed to apply to our project as recovering alcoholics. John the Baptist is said to have displayed this attitude when he said of Jesus, “He must become greater; I must become less.” That reminds me of the common quick summary of the first three steps ‘I can’t, he can, I’ll let him.’ Kenosis is a paradox in the sense that the work to empty one’s self results in the self being filled with divine grace and union with God. I think AA is a perfect place for paradoxes: ‘sober alcoholic’ seems like a contradiction in terms at first; I know I felt that I loved life and sought death with equal verve and vigor during active addiction. And we learn from experience that we only regain control by surrendering it; we can only keep what we have by giving it away. So whether it’s paradox or orthodox, I like the idea of emptying myself of self to make space for God’s will, and recognizing that as a process of alignment that will never be perfected and that requires regular tune-ups. Thanks for helping me make sense of a paradoxical life.

8/29/2020

Today’s word of the day is ataraxia (n.) - freedom from disturbance of mind or passion;stoical indifference; calmness, impassivity. This word comes to us from the Greek 'ἀταραξία’ which means ‘impasiveness;’ the words Greek roots mean ’the negation of tarachê (disturbance, trouble) by way of the Proto Indo European root which meant something like ‘without confusion.’ I learned this word in a podcast about ancient philosophers; there was a school of thought called ‘stoicism’ in which practitioners sought an ideal of ataraxia, which has been translated also as ‘unperturbedness,’ ‘imperturbability,’ and ’tranquility. What these philosophers were after was a lucid state of robust equanimity characterized by ongoing freedom from distress and worry. When I learned about this, it sounded an awful lot like what we AAs are going for in our fellowship. The difference is, the stoics sought to achieve happiness through ataraxia (Epicureans, a contemporaneous philosophical school, argued that pleasure is the highest good, and that ataraxia is a key component of that good pleasure); AAs seek to stay stopped drinking, and we may find ataraxia as a byproduct of that sobriety, and we may find happiness as a byproduct of that byproduct; typically we steer clear of seeking pleasure for pleasure’s sake. Ataraxia has also been used in non-philosophical contexts to describe the ideal mental state for soldiers entering battle; I for one can definitely appreciate the applicability of this battle-ready state of mind when the enemy is relapse, especially in early sobriety. AA teaches me that if I’m disturbed, I’m disturbable; that taking responsibility for my role in the problems in my life and turning those over to a Higher Power of my understanding is the path to defeating the disturbance, the path to ataraxia. So thank you for helping me suit up for battle every day, and reminding me I never have to fight alone.

8/28/2020

Today’s word of the day is dependence (n.) - the realtion of having existence hanging upon, or conditioned by, the existence of something else; the fact of depending upon something else. The word comes to us from the French ‘dépendance’ which means ‘something subordinately attached or belonging to something else,’ from the Latin ‘dependere’ which means ‘to hang down from, to be suspended.’ As an alcoholic I’m familiar with chemical dependence. I know what it’s like to believe I require an external substance to feel the way I believe I need to feel. In meetings this week ‘emotional sobriety’ has been brought up a couple times, and in rereading the letter Bill wrote, I found that he framed it in terms of dependence. So I’ll finish with his quote, which I think worth reflecting on as I consider what sobriety means to me, and how an absence of unhealthy dependence might look. Thank you for being dependable friends to this recovering dependent of alcohol. From Bill’s letter: "Plainly, I could not avail myself of God's love until I was able to offer it back to Him by loving others as He would have me. And I couldn't possibly do that so long as I was victimized by false dependencies. For my dependency meant demand—a demand for the possession and control of the people and the conditions surrounding me."

8/27/2020

Today’s word of the day is a word we all know the definition of, but it’s a word that I thought might be interesting to hear defined by a something other than google or Webster’s or the OED. I’m also opting not to reflect on today’s word, but just to let it stand on its own, because I like the definition so much that I think it’s worth just reading a couple times, and maybe meditating on. Today’s word is humility, and it comes to us from the book 'Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers’ — On his desk, Dr. Bob had a plaque defining humility: “Perpetual quietness of heart. It is to have no trouble. It is never to be fretted or vexed, irritable or sore; to wonder at nothing that is done to me, to feel nothing done against me. It is to be at rest when nobody praises me, and when I am blamed or despised, it is to have a blessed home in myself where I can go in and shut the door and kneel to my Father in secret and be at peace, as in a deep sea of calmness, when all around and about is seeming trouble.”

8/26/2020

Today’s word of the day is facinorous (adj.) - extremely wicked or immoral; grossly criminal; vile, atrocious, heinous; infamous. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘facinorosus’ which means ‘criminal, wicked,’ which in turn comes from the Proto-Indo European ‘facere’ which means ‘to do’ and a suffix forming legal terms relating to property. These last couple of days I’ve been feeling down, the kind of hazy weight that hangs all around and pushes down on the top of my head and behind my eyes but is nowhere to be seen. I have the language to name it as depression, but sometimes I can only find that name after I’ve been soaking in it for a few hours or a few days. It’s sneaky like that, and during the time before I name my nemesis, I am often plagued by relentless waves of unwanted thoughts. In the thoughts, I am facinorous. I am a career fuck-up, my life is a parade of mistakes, I am an entity whose purpose is harm. I am my Mom’s disappointment. I am a taker. I am treated to a supercut of the ugly moments of in my past: the look on the face of a disgusted ex-lover, the gaffes I made at the middle school lunch table, the fear I felt hiding in a home I broke into, the bright red of self harm on an heirloom carpet, the vertiginous flight of stairs I employed to get a pain pill prescription, etc. etc. ech, ugh. In such moments, I often feel paralyzed, weighted down, like my whole body is made of play-doh, and instead of air surrounding me, there’s sand. Often I am prone to self-pity, and then violent self-talk admonishing myself for feeling sorry for myself. But this morning at 4am I woke up, upset, and for no good reason, I had a thought cross my mind: no one earns depression, and no one gets cured of it because they are virtuous. Depression is not a boot-straps thing. I have the privilege of access to affordable healthcare, and so I can talk to my therapist and psychiatrist about it. That’s my responsibility. I have the grace of AA, and that means I get to sit and pout at meetings with my video off until I feel like packing something into the stream of life by sharing my experience. What got out of bed and typing this was a special moment I had after the 4am thought: I considered taking a drink or drug to “fix” how I felt. But the thought passed, and, even with a mind made out of play-doh and lungs full of sand, I knew better. I know that when I feel bad it won’t last forever. I’m no angel and I’m not facinorous either; I’m a garden variety drunk with ordinary pain and some manageable depression. AA taught me this kind of perspective shift; AA made me durable, even when I’m not patient. Each of you matter in my life because you helped me build that durability. Each of you serves an important purpose every day for me and lots of other people too, just by being a part of our fellowship. Thank you.

8/25/2020

Today’s word of the day is ‘pharmakon’ (n.) - (in philosophy and critical theory) a composite of three meanings: remedy, poison, and scapegoat. The first and second senses refer to the everyday meaning of pharmacology (and to its sub-field, toxicology), deriving from the Greek source term φάρμακον (phármakon), denoting any drug, while the third sense refers to the pharmakos ritual of human sacrifice. Part of the idea with ‘pharmakon’ is that is undecidable, meaning it is at once both remedy and cure and also neither. I picked this word because I think it is a good one to finish out the little 3-part miniseries on words that can be used to describe alcohol. For me, alcohol has been remedy, poison, and scapegoat: I used it to relieve pain, I overused it and poisoned myself, I blamed my harmful behavior on alcohol even though I myself was the root cause. Its reminiscent of the quote I mentioned last week that names alcohol as the cause of, and solution to, all life’s problems. Today I have the antidote to the poison, I know the truth about the false cure, and I am learning to find my part in all the resentments I have, which renders scapegoats obsolete. This is all thanks to you, my friends and fellows in AA.

8/24/2020

Today’s word of the day is ‘panacea’ (n.) - a remedy, cure, or medicine reputed to cure all diseases; a solution for all difficulties. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘panacēa’ which referred to any of various plants reputed to have universal healing powers; this in turn comes from the Hellenistic Greek ‘πανάκεια’ which means ‘universal remedy.’ This word is very similar to yesterday’s word (nepenthe), and I think is a great candidate for a word of the day since it is another weird word for an external substance used to fix everything, which is the way I used alcohol. After a short time separated from the chemicals I was addicted to, I was relieved of the physical craving to drink, and I had a strong sense that drinking again would not be a panacea for my problems. Still, I craved a panacea just the same. In any given system, this alcoholic seeks the quickest, easiest way to relieve my pain. I chose this word today because a speaker at a meeting last night remarked ‘the tenth step is not a panacea,’ referencing how they were also prone to looking to this step for the quick fix to grief and pain. I related to that a lot, I am of a mind to just try to go through the motions, check off the boxes, and expect to be blissful and pain-free regardless of my effort, intent, or sincerity in those motions. I’ve had some rude awakenings the last few weeks that remind me how little those half-measures yield. The nice part is, AA acts as a safety net, a calibrator, a resource where I can fine-tune my program through sharing and asking for suggestions, and in return feel the warmth of unconditional love and acceptance. Thank you for providing that amazing resource to me.

8/23/2020

Today’s word of the day is nepenthe (n.) - a drink, a potion, or drug bringing (or supposed to bring) forgetfulness of trouble or grief. The word comes to us literarily from the ‘Odyssey’ as a magic potion of Egypt mentioned as capable of banishing grief or trouble from the mind; the word comes to us etymologically from the Greek ‘nēpenthēs;' ‘ne-‘ meaning ‘no, not’ and ‘penthos’ meaning ‘pain, grief; to suffer.’ The word later gained use in the medical word as ‘a drug having sedative properties.’ Alcohol for me was the original nepenthe, and banished grief from my troubled mind until my tolerance made that option less viable. I pursued potions of all varieties before sobriety, and even today I still mix exercise, food, sex and work in various combinations to concoct something to dull my suffering. But AA taught me I am not qualified to prescribe myself medication of any sort. Still, AA has an interesting relationship to medicine. I’m not a paramedic, but AA is paramedical; we see this when the med students visit our meetings and do their best to understand how we do our healing. After all, our fellowship mends psychic wounds, teaches us to tend to our hearts and to grieve well. These operations are outside the purview of medicine proper but are connected to our physical wellbeing. It’s a special feeling to understand myself as one among many healers in AA, as capable of doing healing rather than doing harm, which is what I used to think was all I would ever do. Thanks for helping me learn about my capacity to heal and do healing.

8/22/2020

Today’s word of the day is pleonastic (adj.) - of a sentence, speaker, or writer: characterized by pleonasm; using more words than are necessary, redundancy. The word comes to us from the Late Latin ‘pleonasmus’ which means ‘to be more than enough’ or ‘to add superfluously.’ Often I say more than is necessary. So, for a change, just for tonight, I’ll say what feels like it matters most: all of you matter, I’m glad ya’ll are alive, you help me treat people better. Thank you for helping me recover.

8/21/2020

Today’s word of the day is vituperate (v.) - to blame, speak ill of, find fault with, in strong or violent language; to assail with abuse; to rate or revile. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘vituperat’ which means ‘to censure, blame, disparage, find fault with.’ Today I found myself in trouble at work for not once but three times arguing with customers on the phone and raising my voice. Customers who called seeking information were met with my attitude and impatience, and while it might not have been full vituperation from me they were facing, the consequences came nonetheless. It’s hard for me to understand why my temper, ego, and whatever other character defects find their way into these conversations with strangers. Why should I argue to prove a point to some anonymous client? Why bother trying to be right, win an argument? Literally all I have to do is put someone on hold, or transfer them, take a breath, and let a superior handle it. Yet I lean in. Not always, but three times out of about 1,000 this week, enough to have consequences threatened. Well, as an alcoholic, I’m used to ignoring praise and taking the threat of consequences seriously. Wasn’t detox, rehab and the halfway house all a concession in exchange for no jail time? I can tell you I wasn’t going to the SAIOP classes out of any sense of duty or curiosity. Rather, I’m a simple, selfish, fearful man who will tend to stray into the risky and reckless if left unchecked. Today I have AA to help keep me on track, so that I usually don’t get to the point where consequences are threatened. And the magnitude of my mistakes is of a much smaller order now, mercifully. Still, I asked for help from my fellows. AAs told me: if I am prone to argument with a stranger on the phone, it might be because I’m not solidly anchored in my value in the eyes of my Higher Power. AAs told me: we alcoholics seek conscious contact with God to keep from becoming reactive, to keep from allowing others to control my actions. It’s evident I didn’t rely on HP enough for my sense of wellbeing, because I was trying to connive it out of random speeders on the phone by making myself feel superior to them. An ugly instance of the will welling up. If a client wronged me, it’s my job to recognize they were perhaps spiritually sick, and retaliation and argument are no way to treat sick people. The Big Book suggests this perspective as a means to mastering resentments. And I know I won’t master them, and I know I’ll slip up again, but I have to try to take action to be helpful as much as I can, and where I can’t trust that God will show me how to take a tolerant and kindly view of each miserable bastard who calls to pick an argument over nothing with me at 4:59 pm on a Friday. Progress not perfection. My job is to spare them my vituperation, my feeble ego-stroking, my petty condescension, and remember that I’m not allowed the dubious luxury of the grouch, because the business of resentment is infinitely grave. So thanks to you my patient friends for being there to listen to my rants, to make me feel like I belong someplace, and to offer a kind ear and a bit of helpful advice when I falter, which I will continue to do.

8/20/2020

Today’s word of the day is anathema (n.) - anything accursed, or consigned to damnation; any denunciation or imprecation of divine wrath against alleged impiety, heresy; loathsome, repugnant, or extremely objectionable to. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘anathema’ which means ‘an excommunicated person, or the curse of excommunication, which in turn comes from the ecclesiastical Greek ‘ἀνάθεμα’ which meant ‘a thing devoted to evil, an accursed thing.’ I used to really lean into my identity as an ‘anathema’ to society; while the context I understood it in was more political than religious. We even had a newsletter called ‘Anathema,’ so this is no exaggeration. When I look back, it makes sense to champion this identity for a lot of reasons — people like me who felt they were outcasts, who grew up being told they were wrong or less-than or not a part-of or any number of things on this spectrum…I believe it was none other than rapper laureate Eminem who penned the famous verse ‘I am/whatever you say I am/If I wasn’t/then why would I say I am?’ And that more or less sums it up. Today, I have a little bit different perspective. For one thing, for me, identity is less important than ever; other than admitting that I am an alcoholic, I’m now more interested in the identity constituted in terms of how I treat others and the actions I take in private, more than whatever I may or may not identify as. The other is that I recognize a character defect pattern of mine: I’m the type to make a mistake, and fixate on it so rigidly and steadfastly that I doom myself to repeat the mistake. If I’m not careful, I crowd people out, I don’t accept forgiveness, I won’t give myself a break, I just torture myself for the pitiful reason that I am not perfect in your eyes. AA teaches me: put down the bat, let go of outcomes, what other people think of me is none of my business, shame is just pride in reverse. Old me: doing a bad thing, feeling bad about it, but being kind of committed to being and feeling bad, and then making an identity out of it. New me: doing a bad thing, feeling bad about it, trying to let go and let God, and move on, with the understanding that I am a human among humans, the race of mistake-makers, all eligible for forgiveness. Thanks for helping me realize this.

8/19/2020

Today’s word of the day is solecism (n.) - a breach of good manners; a piece of incorrect behavior; gross grammatical error; a small blunder in speech; any absurdity or incongruity, a violation of the conventional rules of society. The word comes to us from the Latin solecismus’ which means ‘mistake in speaking or writing,’ which in turn comes from the Greek ‘soloikismos’ meaning ‘speaking (Greek) incorrectly’ and originally meaning ‘speaking like the people of Soloi,’ which was a Greek colony in Cilicia whose dialect the Athenians considered barbarous. Bonus etymology: ‘barbarians’ are so-called because “civilized” peoples mocked the speech of unintelligible “foreigners” by saying ‘barbar barbar’ as an ignorant imitation of that speech. This word resonates with me because in active addiction I was kind of a poet when it came to saying just the wrong thing in a social situation. I also made a habit, lifestyle, and identity out of violating the conventional rules of society. Back then, I felt clever, powerful, slick, cool when I shoplifted, did graffiti, broke a window, trespassed, ran a scam, etc. It really constituted my sense of self in a major way. I chose to forfeit many of the material privileges I had access to in favor of a self-styled poverty backed with a parental safety net, which I fell into from time to time. I liked having bad manners, I liked carrying myself with an air of superiority, and I liked especially to disagree with whatever you held as a value; my values where anti-values; I remember a peer of mine used to wear this jean jacket with a back patch that said ‘ANTI-YOU,’ and that pretty well sums it up I think. Today, in recovery, I have a different perspective. I see where good manners are a small act of service, not a lame thing that squares do. I see the rules of society as worth following (for the most part), even if I don’t agree with them. I try to do what my sponsor suggests, which is to bring a high degree of acceptance to every situation, and a low degree of expectations. This is not the right way to be an effective nihilist, revolutionary, or activist, I think. But it is the right way for me to seek serenity and to give up a lot of my own self-styled problems in exchange for some peace of mind. Thanks for being here for me and helping me accept life on life's terms.

8/18/2020

Today’s word of the day is lich (n.) - corpse. The word comes to us from the Old English ‘lic’ which means ‘body, dead body, corpse;’ which in turn comes from the Proto-Germanic ‘likow’ meaning ‘form, shape.’ Old English contains ‘lichama,’ hama meaning ‘shape, garment, covering;’ ‘lichama’ refers to the body as a garment of the soul. A litch-gate was a roofed gate to a churchyard cemetery; a lich-owl was a screech-owl, so-called because it was supposed to forebode death. Lich, as far as I can tell, is only in contemporary use in the context of fantasy or literature — H.P. Lovecraft uses it in its literal sense in ‘The Thing on the Doorstep’ to refer to a corpse; in the show Adventure Time the main antagonist is a powerful undead being called ‘The Lich;’ the card game Magic the Gathering has a few necromancy-related cards with ‘lich’ in their name. This is a word that came to mind today as I lay supine on my comfortable futon feeling like complete shit. I guess I have come down with a cold or something; my body is covered in aches and pains and my head is throbbing. I figured rest was the answer and got comfortable in my little ditch of self-pity, but then was mercifully roused by listening in on an AA meeting and turning to this word of the day, a little readymade act of service I have at my disposal, conceived mostly to convince myself there was at least one minute in the day I didn’t think only of myself, even if that was just to share the definition of a weird word with my friends. My alcoholism turns some aches into the brink of death; I catastrophize and spiral, make the worst out of a bad situation, compound my physical suffering with psychic torment. The remedy I know best is: turn your thoughts to helping others. I can’t do the dishes at BPW or put away chairs at the Chapel of the Cross or buy some cookies for Log Cabin like I’d like to, but during these extenuating times, I have to make do with the service that I can access, as small as it may be. And whether or not this has any meaningful impact on your life, I can tell you that a few minutes typing with my friends in mind was a few minutes I wasn’t concentrating on how I hurt, and that’s a lesson I learned in the rooms of AA, from you guys. Thank you.

8/17/2020

Today’s word of the day is two words: John Barleycorn (n.) - title of an old English folk song, personification of barley and the alcoholic beverages made from it. In the song, John Barleycorn suffers indignities, attacks, death, and ressurection that correspond to the various stages of barley cultivation; the song also celebrates the reviving effects of drinking John Barleycorn's blood.' Barleycorn is thought to be linked with Beowa, an ancient Anglo-Saxon pagan figure associated with barley and agriculture ('beow’ being the Old Norse word for ‘grain’). In the chapter on Step 2 in the 12 & 12, Bill talks about a common folly of alcoholics, which is to become prideful and self-reliant, and to dismiss the notion of God in favor of making a god out of intellect. He goes on: “But again John Barleycorn had other ideas…We found many in A.A. who thought as we once did. They helped us to get down to our right size. By their example they showed us that humility and intellect could be compatible, provided we placed humility first.” Bill makes his point beautifully and I don’t have anything to add. But I think it’s interesting how we sometimes characterize alcohol as a person (i.e. John Barleycorn) and at other times we characterize ourselves as alcohol (i.e. Jim Lahey in Trailer Park Boys saying “I am the liquor.”). I know for me it’s easy to identify with, and even as, alcohol: alcohol was often my only priority, the main and totalizing and supreme fact in my life. I think Homer Simpson said it best in a toast after defeating prohibition “Here’s to alcohol: the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.” It certainly used to feel like that. Thankfully today I have a better solution. The spiritual toolkit AA lays at my feet means all I have to do is pick up a tool, try to do the next right thing, get honest, be teachable, remain willing, and I no longer have to risk losing myself in the liquor. It also means I have to take responsibility for things I’ve done, both drunk and sober, because although liquor facilitated some of them, at the end of the day, I acted. So here’s hoping I’m putting humility before intellect, and here’s thanking you for keeping John Barleycorn out of my life for another day.

8/16/2020

Today’s word of the day is bacchanalian (adj.) - characterized by or given to drunken revelry; riotously drunken. The word means ‘relating to the Bacchanalia’ which is the name of a Roman festival held in honor of Bacchus, the Greek god of wine and revelry (a later name of Dionysus); the festivals were notorious for excess. Today as I was reading a passage from the 12 & 12 in the chapter on Step 5, and it contains the quote “But even Bacchus boomeranged on us; we were finally struck down and left in terrified loneliness.” Bacchus is a personification of alcohol/excess used by Bill; another is ‘John Barleycorn’ which I’ll do word of the day on soon. The context of that quote in the 12 & 12 is that we alcoholics used substances to provide a sense of togetherness, but it was usually a false sense, and we were left with the ‘pangs of anxious apartness’ afterward. The remedy suggested by Bill is Step 5, wherein a ’true kinship with man and God’ is catalyzed by talking with complete candor about our conflicts and listening to someone else do the same thing. I know I’ve fallen into a kind of rut of solitary self-appraisal lately; I tend to be willing to name a character defect in action but unwilling to admit it anywhere other than a brief journal entry or a slapdash prayer. The truth is that lately I’ve felt myself slip toward an old habit of seeking esteem, regard, and worth from romantic relationships, and I’ve noticed that has crowded out contact with my Higher Power. I struggle as ever to determine where my instinct to seek closeness and companionship is healthy and where I cross the line into codependency, sex addiction, and the silky oblivion of a warm embrace — an oblivion of different origin but of a similar order of magnitude to the oblivion I sought in alcohol. Luckily, today my revelry is not drunken, and so my excesses are comparatively mild, and I have the means to take corrective action. I know that if I get honest with another alcoholic, and especially pay attention to Bill when he says how essential listening is, too, I have a chance to try to re-align my will with the God of my understanding, and try to do the next right thing. My Higher Power loves me because he’s good, not because I’m good. And there’s not a part of my life that’s inappropriate to turn over to God. So today I’ll pray for inspiration, an intuitive thought or decision, and, God willing, I’ll talk with another alcoholic, listen and take suggestions, and try to put my faith into action. Thank you for being among the drunks I can trust with the dark parts of my heart, and for trusting me with the dark parts of yours, so we can find the light cast by God, together.

8/15/2020

Today’s word of the day is propitious (adj.) - giving or indicating a good chance of success; favorable. The word comes to us from the Old French ‘propicius’ which means ‘gracious, favorable, useful’ which in turn comes from the Latin ‘proitius’ which means ‘favorable, kind, gracious, well-disposed’ (you may remember a previous word of the day, ‘propitiate,’ which means ‘to atone,’ and the words share a common root). The type of success available to me today differs from the type of success available to me before sobriety. I was always on a solo mission, a self-styled lone wolf, so desperate for full autonomy that I would happily sacrifice a career, a relationship, and my physical wellbeing if it meant I didn’t have to be told what to do. I remember as a little kid looking at the homebums who pushed their carts of bags and bottles around, marvelling at their modern nomadism. I believe that but for the grace of God that brought me into the rooms of AA, I could easily be a cart-pushing guy flying a sign on a corner and selling scrap metal. The work lacks traditional ‘dignity’ but the self-determination is unparalleled. I was sort of working a more bourgeois version of the same hustle as recently as 2017, when I used to assiduously (with great care and perseverance) dumpster dive at universities and extract text books and electronics to re-sell on secondary markets. The “work” was exactly what I wanted: no boss, no schedule, no accountability. My eyes glistened with wonder at a propitiously bulging dumpster near dorms around the change of semester. And I’d of course always secretly hope to find that holy grail of trash scores: the half full pill bottle carelessly thrown away by a non-addict. I pawed through a great deal of hair, Q-tips, tisssues and Band-Aids in my search for this opioid grail. My notions of success were warped, to put it mildly. Today in AA, I’m invited to succeed by becoming dependable, being teachable, being honest. As I slowly come to rely on a Higher Power, I notice being able to add things to people’s lives, to increase their capacity, rather than to take away. Success for me today is to form a true partnership, to be a people among persons, to be of service, to find ways to loose myself from the yoke of self. I love the apothegm we have in the rooms: “normal people change their behavior to meet their goals; alcoholics change their goals to meet their behavior.” That has absolutely been true for me. And today I get to borrow an ethics where I had none before, I get to pull threads form the experience of others to construct a fabric of wisdom, instead of just pushing that cart all by myself. And the new approach in recovery is much more propitious than what I could accomplish alone. Thank you for helping me redefine success.

8/14/2020

Today’s word of the day is nitid (adj.) - bright, lustrous. The word comes to us from the Latin 'nitidus’ which means ‘bright, neat,’ from ‘nitere’ which means ‘to shine.’ Having read and wrote a little poetry, one thing I have encountered a lot is super fancy names for ‘bright’ - ‘coruscate’ means ‘(of light) flash or sparkle;’ ‘effulgent’ means ‘shining brightly; radiant;’ ‘resplendent’ means ‘attractive and impressive through being richly colorful or sumptuous.’ Later in life, I would have to come to terms with the fact that my familiarity with the thesaurus did not equate to making me a good poet. And of course, the poetic need not be concerned with the bright, the nitid. In AA, the fluorsecent lights in church basements are often quite bright, but not in a beautiful way, to my eyes. They are usually harsh, bare, and maybe in that way similar to the candor and caliber of the stories being told under them. The quality of light in the Rooms differs starkly from the muddled haze of dim bars, deserted parking lots, furtive bathrooms, the sorts of spots where my drinking and drug use flourished like mold. In AA, my friends are the people who help me shine the light on myself, to carry that torch to the ugliest and most debased corners of my past, so that I can do my inventory on them, and do what I can to make them right, and move on. And one of the most freeing things for me in AA is that my intellectual ‘brightness,’ or lack thereof, does not figure in to the strength of my program. When I come to AA with a lot of bright ideas, the wisdom of the group typically helps me identify how I’m just polishing resentments. When I come to AA with an open mind, willing to absorb the knowledge of the heart, a knowledge borne of hard-won experience, I benefit a great deal, and I heal. So thanks for the light you shine, and for brightening my life.

8/13/2020

Today’s word of the day is obdurate (adj.) - stubbornly refusing to change one’s opinion or course of action; stubborn, inexorable, unyielding. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘obduratus’ which means ‘hardened, rendered hard,’ which in turn comes from its component parts ‘ob’ which means ‘against’ and ‘durare’ which means ‘hard.’ I am a hard-headed alcoholic. I know one of the worst things I can do is have a stubbornness that blocks off suggestions, that interferes with my openness. So tonight I’ll quote from the Big Book again, which speaks on the risks of a specific kind of obdurancy: "Most emphatically we wish to say that any alcoholic capable of honestly facing his problems in the light ofour experience can recover, provided he does not closehis mind to all spiritual concepts. He can only be de-feated by an attitude of intolerance or belligerent denial.We find that no one need have difficulty with the spirituality of the program. Willingness, honesty and openmindedness are the essentials of recovery. But these are indispensable.“There is a principle which is a bar against all informa -tion, which is proof against all arguments and which can-not fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance—that principle is contempt prior to investigation.”—Herbert Spencer"

8/12/2020

Today’s word of the day is dint (n.) - an impression or hollow in a surface; to mark (a surface with impressions or hollows; ‘by dint of’ means ‘by means of.’ The word comes to us from the Old English ‘dynt’ which means ‘blow dealt in fighting.’ We alcoholics have been dealt our fair share of blows, and I know most of my own dints and dents in my own skull have been self-inflicted. Lately I’m feeling especially self-wounding and selfish. And also not super inspired to write these. So I’ll close this one with a quote from Page 62 of the Big Book: "Selfishness - self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate. Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt. So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves, and the alcoholic is an extreme example of self-will run riot, though he usually doesn't think so. Above everything, we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it kills us! God makes that possible."

8/11/2020

Today’s word of the day is numinous (adj.) - having a strong religious or spiritual quality; indicating or suggesting the presence of a divinity. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘numen’ which means ‘divine will,’ and more specifically means ‘divine approval expressed by nodding the head,’ which in turn comes from ‘nuere’ which means ‘to nod.’ It’s a good sign to me when I’m nodding in agreement during a meeting. It’s because it usually means I’m identifying with what I hear, which means I’m engaged. One thing that’s great about AA is I’m often spared the dubious proposition of nodding yes or shaking my head no to agree or disagree with another member’s position on politics, religion, or culture. The focus of our primary purpose helps keep most discussions related to the recovery from alcohol and the sharing of experience strength and hope. When someone shares their experience, it’s a mercy, because there’s no need to agree or disagree; their experience is their truth. It wasn’t too long ago I craved the nod of opiates, the awful self-assent to smooth numb nothing. So maybe the numinous is a way to imagine whether or not I am aligning my will with God’s will — for a given thought or action, would God nod? One thing our Book reminds is that most of us have only recently made conscious contact with God, and so we ought to be patient with ourselves, and not take it too hard if we don’t always feel inspired. Others in the program have shown that by staying near the middle of AA for long enough and continuing to work with others, that spiritual progress tends to get made. So thanks for nodding with me, and for helping me learn to look for ways to make God nod, too.

8/10/2020

Today’s word of the day is rakish (adj.) - having or disnuplaying a dashing, jaunty or slightly disreputable quality or appearance; debauched. The word is made up of its components ‘-ish’ which means ‘-like,' and ‘rake,’ which means ‘debauchee; idle, dissolute person, which is in turn a shortening of ‘rakehell’ which means ‘hasty, rash, headstrong,’ originally from the Old English ‘racian’ meaning ‘to go forward, move, hasten’ (compare with ‘race’). I heard this word the other day in a meeting and when I looked it up I identified with it completely. I had a whole identity tied up in being slightly disreputable, conveying my risky disregard as something dashing, attractive. And of course we playfully named our get-togethers — soirees in which we raced toward oblivion, and sometimes past it into poisoning — we called these activities ‘debauchery,’ probably a more interesting word for it than it deserves. But long before I drank I was a rakehell: always rushing, eager, hasty, headstrong. That’s a character defect that preceded and outlived my drinking. So today I count every opportunity to slow down a blessing. AA teaches me I ought to try to pack something into the stream of life, maybe bring some cheese to the rat race rather than trying to win it. Thanks for helping me learn this lesson.

8/9/2020

Today’s word of the day is arrant (adj.) - complete, utter. The word splintered from the word ‘errant’ which means ‘erring or straying from the proper course or standards; traveling in search of adventure. Arrant comes to us from the use of phrases like ‘arrant thief’ which meant an outlawed, roving thief, and gradually over time lost its opprobrious (scornful, critical, disparaging) force, and acquired a meaning of ‘thoroughgoing, downright, notorious.’ As an alcoholic I often erred, deliberately strayed, was frequently wound up and frayed. An unkempt mess of loose ends. I was thorough when it came to obsessing over the way I felt, but was otherwise much more errant than arrant in my activities. Being incomplete back then made me seek unholy wholeness. Now I have a chance to recognize the things I lack can always be filled in by my higher power and the collective good will of the group. Thank you for helping me when I stray.

8/8/2020

Today’s word of the day is froward (adj.) - (of a person) difficult to deal with; contrary; turned against, perverse, disobedient; peevish, petulant; adverse, difficult. The word is the opposite of ‘toward,’ and comes to us from the Old English ‘fromweard’ which means ‘away from,’ and is was an early English translation of the Latin ‘pervertus;’ it also meant ‘about to depart’ and ‘doomed to die.’ Compare to ‘untoward’ which means ‘unexpected and inappropriate or inconvenient. I have gone through seasons of deep abiding obedience and oppositional-defiant contrarianism in my life. I don’t think they sync up exactly with whether or not I was drinking; I think I will tend to obey an authority if it means I get what I want, and if I don’t, I’m certainly apt to rebel. At times I considered my froward attitude a political position: contrarianism as anti-authoritarianism, nihilism as a supreme exhortation of negation. There was earnest and genuine intent to trouble and destabilize the forces of oppression in the world. But there was also a lot of ego, a lot of righteous indignation, and a significant amount of ‘fuck shit’ as my ex-girlfriend once put it it. My issue was and is that I am already quite prone to mental and emotional instability and volatility as a mentally ill alcoholic. I used the dubious luxury of a nihilist worldview to rationalize a great deal of perverse, untoward, heinous, inconsiderate and damaging behavior. In the last couple years of sobriety, I’ve slowly begun to assemble a sense of consequence whose arbiter is a God of my understanding, rather than a fear of being punished. I’ve seen small acts of grace that had a real material impact on my life. I’ve been shocked to learn I am capable of reciprocating that grace, that I am not a ruined body/mind whose lot is permanent harm. Rather, I do recover, I regenerate, I get better, and it never happens alone, it only happens as the result of getting outside myself, getting involved with the lives of other alcoholics and working to acquaint myself with a Higher Power. Now I no longer live on the froward precipice, always about to depart and doomed to die. Thank you for helping me become more toward.

8/7/2020

Today’s word of the day is effete (adj.) - (of a person) affected, overrefined, and intellectual; no longer capable of effective action; functionless as a result of age or exhaustion. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘effeta’ meaning ‘exhausted, unproductive, worn out with bearing offspring; that has given birth’ from ‘ex-‘ meaning ‘out’ and ‘fetus’ meaning ‘offspring.’ The word gained a connotation of ‘decadent and effeminate’ in the 19th century. Yesterday I had the good fortune of chatting casually with a person before a meeting they were slated to speak at. The person asked me whether they I thought they should try to prepare some notes and make a plan of points to make as they brought the topic. I told them that in my experience, when I share at a meeting with a point I want to make in mind, I can often get preoccupied with coming off as smart or wanting to look like I have a strong program, and as a consequence my share can become effete. Curiously, I have gotten the best feedback from people ("I really related to that," "I identified a lot with your share," "thanks for what you said,”) when I just start sharing because I’m agitated and I need to tell somebody else about it, when I just talk about what’s happening to me and try to give my plainest and most honest take on it. I know I get a lot from hearing people who just share where they’re at. It’s so often vulnerable, earnest, and relatable; I end up more engaged in the meeting, and I get that refreshing reminder that I am in the right place, experiencing the difficulties as a recovering drunk among recovering drunks. And of course the other thing is, I’ve spent entire meetings trying to craft the perfect share in my head, and even if I made a good point, I lost out because I wasn’t paying attention to what other people were saying. I started saying the Saint Francis prayer in the morning, and one part of that prayer is ‘Lord…help me seek not so much to be understood as to understand.’ I think that gets at the heart of why meetings can be so nourishing one day and feel completely useless the next: it has to do with how much willingness to understand I bring. Thank you for so often being willing to try to understand me.

8/6/2020

Today’s word of the day is imprimatur (n.) - a person’s acceptance or guarantee that something is of a good standard; license to print, granted by a licenser of the press. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘let it be printed,’ originally used in the context of permissions to print an ecclesiastical or religious book granted by the Roman Catholic Church. In AA, we have a phrase, “conference-approved,” which to me feels like our version of an imprimatur. According to the GSO (General Service Organization), ‘conference-approved’ describes media approved for publication by the GSO, media that “represents solid A.A. experience” and has been thoroughly vetted by the A.A. World Services, Inc., an operating corporation of the General Service Board and publisher. (I actually wasn’t able to find out that much about the particulars of the vetting process, so if you have insight on that, I’d be interested to know.) Conference-Approved literature includes the Big Book, the 12 & 12, As Bill Sees It, Daily Reflections, Living Sober, A.A. Comes of Age, Dr. Bob & the Good Oldtimers, Pass It On, The Service Manual and Concepts, and Our Great Responsibility, many pamphlets, and more. I think my experience in recovery has benefitted from the fact that service-minded drunks got together and tried to come up with a standard of what’s helpful and what’s not when it comes to AA literature. Obviously, when I got to AA, I read every last thinkpiece excoriating (severely criticizing) AA as a cult, a waste, a fraud, etc. And, a few weeks sober, I of course wrote pages and pages about how to improve the program so that it would ACTUALLY work. So obviously no standard will keep me from reading whatever I want about the program, and the presence of good literature will not keep my head on straight. But the nice thing about AA is that I do not have to come up with any original ideas in this program. The program is solid as it is, and it works. And when I am of a mind to try to carry the message - AA’s message, not my message — then conference approved literature is a great imprimatur. I can tell you I won’t be quoting from these word of the days at any AA meeting, but you can bet I’ll read a paragraph from the 12 & 12 just to make sure my share isn’t 100% nonsense. Thanks for thinking with me through the approved and unapproved words of recovery.

8/5/2020

Today’s word of the day is ofay (n.) - an offensive term for a white person, used by black people. The word is of unknown origin. I came across this word reading ‘Afropessimism’ by Frank Wilderson III. When I looked it up and found only the above, it was sobering. It reminded me that 1 — my approach in this word-based recovery devotional is a narrow one; I typically use google and etymonline.org for the definitions of the words I use. The words I look into have big complicated histories, and context will inevitably lost in the process of shoehorning them into this little missive. 2 — there some words that defy etymology; etymology tends to privilege written histories of words with clear, singular meanings; words with a complicated, offensive, occultated history resist this process. 3 — there are words that exist outside the imagination of white consciousness. And that’s ok. I think for me, in sobriety, it’s important to acknowledge and accept limitations. This is a part of recognizing my Higher Power — I don’t have to understand everything, and I’m not entitled to access all knowledge. It's also important to recognize I will never be liked by all people, and that’s ok. There may be people who dislike me for good reasons, and for bad reasons; for reasons I feel are true and ones I feel like aren’t, and the point is that in recovery, I have to let go of the desperate desire I once had to be liked by everyone. “What other people think about me is none of my business” is a favorite refrain of my sponsor. The thing about this word of the day is that it’s just a lens for recovery, a way in to get me talking and thinking about being sober, a way to use something I’m excited about and have natural affinity for to try to stay connected to my network, my AA community. So thank you for being a part of my life, abiding me in ignorance and wisdom, and being with me as I try to grow strong enough to accept my limitations.

8/4/2020

Today’s word of the day is poignant (adj.) - evoking a keen sense of sadness or regret; painful to physical or mental feeling. The word comes to us from the Old French ‘poignant’ which means ‘sharp, pointed,’ from the Latin ‘pungere’ which means ‘to prick, pierce, sting,’ figuratively ‘to vex, grieve, trouble, afflict;’ the word’s original sense meant ‘sharp to the taste’ (compare to ‘pungent’), though that sense is now obsolete. This word is one I remember learning because I used to think it meant something like ‘a beautifully made artistic point.’ Just one in the ceaseless parade of assumptions I have made in my life that was only later corrected. Much of my life I have felt well-acquainted with the poignant. I have a distinct memory of being a kid, age 5ish, and crying on the stairs of my childhood home, and not knowing why I was crying. As a teenager I would experience depression for the first time, and regularly felt at home not in anger or fear, but in sadness. Maybe it’s no wonder then that I got very comfortable with the predictable measured sadness of alcohol. I used to have this idea that since I was depressed, when I drank a depressant, it had a double-negative effect, and became a stimulant. Crazy as the idea was, I certainly did get animated and remember the invigorating, exhilarating effects of alcohol. Still, more time than not was probably spent out at that old picnic table, stuck in suspended animation, smoking the same cigarette for years at a time, mulling over the choicest poignant moments of my weary past. Today, I have had a chance to break the cycle of sadness that feeds in on itself so violently when fueled with alcohol. I have tried to make attending to my own grief a part of my life, and I’ve tried to meet the poignant moments with faith and action rather than rumination and remorse. AA gave me the spiritual toolkit to make that change and break that cycle. Thank you for encouraging me to use it.

8/3/2020

Today’s word of the day is libidinal (adj.) - relating to the libido (sexual desire; psychic drive or energy, usually associated with sexual instinct). The word comes to us from the Latin ‘libido’ meaning ‘desire, eagerness, longing; inordeinate desire, sexual passion, lust; this word comes from the Proto Indo European root ‘leubh’ whcih means ‘to care, desire,’ and is a common root of the word ‘love.’ I was reading a book this weekend that contained the phrase ‘libidinal economy,’ which is a phrase coined by French Philosopher Jacques Lacan. Now, when it comes to philosophers and critical theory, I have historically been a charlatan (a person falsely claiming to have a special knowledge or skill; a fraud), so let me get out ahead of that and tell you I lack this special knowledge. Still, the phrase fascinates me. Maybe it’s summer — its sweat, exposed skin, heat, anger — that conjures the libidinal economy. As I predictably pursue companionship and fail to form a true partnership, I have been trying to reflect on my sex ideal. Often I shy away from talking about this, because it makes me feel repulsive, embarrassed, ashamed. And while sex misconduct is a part of my story, AA has taught me that shutting the door on any part of my past is risky; trying to keep God out of any part of my life is a mistake. So I recall that prior to recovery, if ever I did something for you, it was because I wanted to get something out of you. And that form of exchange, transaction, debt on the plane of the interpersonal, I think it’s fair to call it an economy. It pervades the platonic and the romantic for me. So if I might somehow seek to invest a little less in the libidinal (one of my many unchecked instinctual desires) and invest a little more in my conscious contact with God…well, there’s no telling. But there’s one thing I do know, which is that, as we say, “if nothing changes, nothing changes.” And I have the good fortune of a stable foundation to try changing something, to try to bring God into my sex ideal, and ask God to direct my thinking, divorce me from self-seeking motives, and maybe I’ll have a chance to start a new chapter of how I relate to people in the future. One of the affairs in which I ought to practice the principals of AA is in, you know, literal affairs, and so I hope to turn over some of my will and let myself be shaped by my creator, to have my desires calmed and to have my capacity to care increased. God knows best what will happen. Thank you for being here with me as I try to grow for the better.

8/2/2020

Today’s word of the day is grotesque 1. (adj.) - comically or repulsively ugly or distorted; wildly formed, of irregular proportions, boldly odd 2. (n.) - a very ugly or comically distorted figure, creature, or image. The word comes to us from the Middle French ‘crotesque,' which in turn comes from ‘grottesque,’ which literally means ‘of a cave’ (the root word ‘grotto’ means ‘picturesque cavern or cave; hidden place; vault, cavern’). Some linguists believe the word comes to us as a way to describe the images of painting found on the walls of Roman ruins revealed by excavation. The original sense was merely fancifal and fantastic, then became pejorative, connoting a sense of the ‘clownishly absurd, uncouth.’ When I read ‘Upon Awakening’ in the big book today, a part of the passage that jumped out was “We might pay for [the presumption that we will be inspired by God at all times] in all sorts of absurd actions and ideas.” When I was my own God, I lived in this state of absurdity perpetually. I regularly engaged and re-engaged in activities I found, by my own meager ethical standards, to be grotesque. It was a habit to awake repulsed by my actions the previous night, if I could remember them. My face and body became irregularly proportioned as my guts swelled and I withered from poor nutrition. Today, some of my behavior was rooted in thoughts so wildly formed that it feels comical, but I only permit myself the laughter after uncannily surviving them somehow unharmed and un-incarcerated. I think the metaphor of ‘cave-like’ fits my drinking career well — I spent time alone, in the dark, and suffered in lonely isolation. If I’m not careful, I am prone to believing myself to be intrinsically grotesque for having done so many repulsive, ugly, absurd things in the past. However, AA has taught me that I amount to more than my worst decisions, and that if my past was indeed grotesque, then that past is a valuable asset that enables me to carry the message of this program to other suffering alcoholics more effectively. Thank you for helping me understand how to make peace with and use of my ugly past.

8/1/2020

Today’s word of the day is imbroglio (n.) - an extremely confused, complicated, or embarrassing situation; a jumble, an entanglement; a confused heap. The word comes to us from the Italian ‘imbrogliare’ which means ‘confuse, tangle, embroil;’ to ‘throw into disorder.’ Disorder used to be the watchword (a word or phrase expressing a person’s core belief) for me in active alcoholism. For one thing, I had a mental disorder, and I had decided I would be prescribing my own pain relief for that. That of course made me more confused, led me into embarassing situations, jumbled my thoughts worse. I don’t think I ever had the ‘wet brain’ syndrome mentioned in the Big Book, but the place where my brain should’ve been felt like a big wet tangled knot. Unable to conceive of a mind un-knotted, I just pulled the knots tighter and tighter, until eventually everything just unravelled and upon myself I physically inflicted the mental disorder I had been experiencing. Imbibing was a big imbroglio. Mercifully, I found a way to order my thinking in AA. My mind wasn’t the scattered shards of ground glass I imagined it to be. With the right medication and forced physical separation from the wrong medication, I was able to start to think clearly. Today I don’t have a diamond of a mind by any means, but I have a simple toolkit in the program of AA to work through all the disorder life throws at me. Thanks for helping me get disembroiled rather than disemboweled.

7/31/2020

Today’s word of the day is adroit (adj.) - clever or skillful in using the hands or mind; dexterous. The word comes to us from the Old French ‘adroit’ which meant ‘upright (physically and morally); able, clever, skillful; it comes from the phrase ‘a droit’ meaning ‘according to right.’ I’m grateful for the adroit minds of AA’s founders; I use the Big Book and 12 & 12 as manuals for living. I, like many people who I have heard share, used to feel like I got left out when they were passing out the how-to-live-life manuals sometime during early childhood. Better late than never; I have a plain, practical, easily accessible user’s manual for living in our AA literature. It relieves the awful burden of feeling like I need to use completely original ideas to solve the problems in my life, to invent fire and the wheel and sliced bread day in and day out. It’s a clever trick too, to be able to do a thing you don’t want to do, but trust that you’ll feel better after having done it. I still get nervous or cranky sometimes when it’s time to share at a meeting or meet with another alcoholic. But like clockwork, I’m feeling better halfway through the action. This is the works that invigorates my faith; the action that supersedes thought. So I try to do the next right thing, and the literature and suggestions of our program make it easier for me to be adroit while doing it. Thank you for helping me keep my mind right.

7/30/2020

Today’s word of the day is agog (adj.) - very eager or curious to hear or see something; in a state of desire or imagination; heated with the notion of some enjoyment, longing. The word comes to us from the Old French phrase ‘en gogues’ which means ‘in jest, in good humor, joyfulness,’ which in turn comes from ‘gogue’ which means ‘fun.’ This word reminds me of what I was like when I was still drinking and using. It’s tricky because in some ways, I kind of miss being in a state of desire, to be longing, to express the kind of joyful excitement that used to feel easier with the assistance of an outside substance. But the truth is, I just associate those two things with each other because I told myself the story that I couldn’t source natural joy, eagerness, desire or imagination from within. It’s true that I’m more subdued now, more even-keeled, perhaps less passionate. Indeed, the literature in AA has led me to believe that less reliance on my ‘instincts’ will tend to lead toward less resentments, and that if I come to rely on the inspiration my Higher Power makes available to me I can stay serene. Often, what I’m eager for, what I desire is not what’s best for me. I heard it said in a meeting yesterday that if I got everything I wanted when I first came into the rooms, I would sell myself short. That’s absolutely true for me. My imagination was just as broken as the rest of me, body mind and spirit all were in disrepair in early sobriety. Now I have glimpses of heretofore unimaginable peace and tranquility, and they seem within reach, and they’re not attached to material markers of ‘success.’ No longer agog as I once was, I may be slightly less fun at parties (I may not go to parties at all), but what I’ve gained in exchange is incomparably better. I’m happier today, and others can rely on me. I like that feeling. Thank you for helping me become a more reliable and less agog person.

7/29/2020

Today’s word of the day is aporia (n.) - an irresolvable internal contradiction or logical disjunction in a text, argument, or theory; the expression of doubt; a point of undecidability. This word comes to us from the Greek ‘aporia’ which means ‘difficulty, perplexity, want of means, poverty; which in terms comes from the roots ‘a-‘ meaning ‘without’ and ‘poros’ meaning passage. I came across this book in a memoir of a philosopher trying to articulate an experience outside of personhood. While I can’t say I quite grasp what he was getting at, I can say that the notion of ‘aporia’ intrigued me. As a sober alcoholic, I am a walking oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. My permanent dual state of love-of and hate-for alcohol makes me a curious metaphysical character. And irresolvability is very familiar to me: I live a life marked by a violent and volatile past, filled with harms I will never be able to undo, tensions I am unable to resolve. And that held tension, under the best of circumstances, leads to intensive work on my spiritual condition, necessitates it. As for the ‘point of undecidability,’ it reminds me of ‘the jumping off place’ mentioned in the Book. It’s a physical place when we’re contemplating suicide, yes, but also it’s a feeling we alcoholics encounter when we have that moment of realization that drinking isn't working and not-drinking isn’t working either. That moment of desperation is, for the lucky among us, a place where a Higher Power showed up, confounding the logic of the whole equation, giving us a chance we thought we weren’t supposed to have. Or, to relate it to aporia, it provided the means, the way, where before there was none. A common contradiction for me is needing to really be awful before I feel like I could ever get better. In AA some call it the Gift Of Desperation, a shorthand for G.O.D. when Group Of Drunks or Good Orderly Direction isn’t doing it for you. Today I’m able to occupy irresolvable moments, to be undecided, to have a fractured identity, to be a disjunction and a contradiction, and still be serene and happy. Because the obeservation of my metaphysical qualities has very little to do with my health and wellness. It’s all about how I treat people; and the work to treat people better is where my spirituality lives. Thank you for helping me survive both the physical allergy to alcohol and the metaphysical conundrum of aporia.

7/28/2020

Today’s word of the day is baleful (adj.) - threatening harm; menacing; having a harmful or destructive effect. The word comes to us from the Old English ‘bealufull’ which means ‘dire, wicked, cruel,’ which in turn comes to us from the Proto-Germanic ‘balu’ which is the root of words meaning ‘evil, mischief, noxious, torment, wound.’ Often in the cold light of sobriety, I see a version of my past wherein my defining trait my balefulness. I seemed to have a harmful effect on all that touched me, when I get in that headspace. It’s easier to remember my past as all-or-nothing, black-and-white, because the less traumatic (and often the good) memories aren’t as easily recalled for me. I fixate on the damage I’ve done, my capacity for opening wounds and spreading noxious lies. I think to grow spiritually that inclination to fixate on the bad has helped me; it makes me take my spiritual growth very seriously, because I don’t know where else to source the redemption I crave, a redeeming I know I cannot ask for from the parties I’ve harmed, in some cases. I think when I happen upon a case of someone whose life seems relatively free of baleful behavior, this image of myself as irredeemably baleful intensifies. Like, I keep deleting and trying to make new twitter accounts because all my old ones are filled with horrendously regrettable tweets, and also marked by followers I am estranged from, disgraced by, or enemies with. I see a person with a substantial twitter following and think with envy of their singleness of identity, their consistent, smooth trajectory in life, their viability and eligibility as a public figure. Of course, I require none of these things to live my values today — and the interruptions, stains, diversions and implosions I experienced give me a greater capacity to empathize with my fellow alcoholics. So here’s hoping that the baleful mood passes, that I return to the esteemable acts available to me in AA that help me see myself in a different light. Thank you all for always being willing to see the good in me.

7/27/2020

Today’s word of the day is yeoman (n.) - (historical) - a man holding and cultivating a small landed estate 2. a servant in a royal or noble household 3. service or help that is needed, efficient or useful. The word comes to us from the Middle English ‘yeoman,’ likely from the Old English ‘iunge man’ meaning ‘young man.’ I chose this word of the day today because I heard it used at a meeting last night to describe someone in an AA service position. I think I’m about as far from royalty and nobility as it gets, but the phrase resonates with me just the same, especially as used in sense #3 above. Even in sense #2 I can see it being used to describe a person in AA: we cultivate our small patch of sobriety, do what we can to nourish our imperfect lot. If the crop is spiritual fitness, we know what fertilizers to add to yield maximum results: trusting God, cleaning house, helping others. The recipe is simple, and while I may not command a lush, verdant, sprawling acreage of recovery farm-land, I’m quite content with what I’ve got. I’m grateful to you and the program of AA for helping me tend my lot when it gets overgrown or withered.

7/26/2020

Today’s word of the day is kismet (n.) - destiny; fate. The word comes to us from the Turkish ‘qismet,’ by way of the Arabic ‘qismah, qismat,’ which means ‘portion, lot, fate.’ Today I have faith, and I’m receptive to the notion of divine will. But before I had any sort of formal spiritual practice, I had heard the word ‘kismet,’ and I believed in it. I encountered the term as a word in a love letter, a faintly exotic term for a tryst (a private romantic rendezvous between lovers) that was clearly meant to be. Now, whether or not my experience — doing bong rips and shotgunning PBRs prior to a clumsy makeout session during the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie — could be rightly categorized as a moment of pure destiny fated by God…well, God knows best. The point for me is that back then, anything I wanted to happen was God’s will in my eyes. Because I was my own God. Or my pleasure, comfort, was my God. So whatever brought about minimal friction and tension (and usually, accountability, dependability, honesty, etc.), that was what was the Universe had created just for me. Today in AA, I have picked up one of the most valuable lessons of my life: discomfort is a space in which I have done most of my meaningful growth. Today, with the concept of a Higher Power, I don’t have to make sense of tragedy as proof of a cruel and indifferent God. I get a chance to practice acceptance. I get a chance to avoid ‘should’ and ‘supposed to,’ and whatever comes next, I can work to incorporate that into my weltanschaaung (worldview). AA has taught me that the world is the way it should be; it should be the way it is. I’m tempted to say my sobriety is kismet. But I think that might lead me into complacency. My fate today is: I can live one day at a time. My awareness of God and sympathy to the life of the spirit doesn’t guarantee sobriety. But I have received the mercy and grace of having the physical addiction and mental obsession lifted, and that means I have a fighting chance. My immersion in a community makes that chance even stronger. Thank you for keeping my chances strong.

7/25/2020

Today’s word of the day is coruscate (v.) - (of light) flash or sparkle; emit vivid flashes of light. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘coruscare’ which means ‘to vibrate, glitter.’ For me, AA has often been a program of light. The process of inventory and amends forced me to shine a light on my past; something I would have preferred to keep dark if left to my own devices. In AA I’m surrounded by brilliant (very bright and radiant) people whose experiential knowledge and suggestions provided me a scaffolding for spiritual growth. Light comes up a lot in our literature: in the Spiritual Experience appendix of the big book, it is written: “…any alcoholic capable of honestly facing his problems in the LIGHT of our experience can recover, provided he does not close his mind to all spiritual concepts” (emphasis mine). So much of my life as an alcoholic was overcast with the shadow of contempt prior to investigation; a cocktail willful ignorance and righteous indignance that would have left me permanently stunted if left unchecked. I love when somebody says during the chips: ‘[the light of the] blue skies ahead, no more blue lights behind.” And we are brighter together, coruscating with vivid love and tolerance, pulling up our friends who slip because we remember ‘there but for the grace of God.’ I do what I can to keep my hand available as much as I can to those who reach out because I have a sense of responsibility to give back what was so freely given to me. I know there’s no way my own soul and heart could have produced that kind of light on its own. I have you to thank, my friends in AA, for casting light and keeping me well.

7/24/2020

Today’s word of the day is sunder (v.) - to split apart (you may be familiar with a related adjective form of the word, ‘asunder,’ often used with ‘ripped’ or ‘torn.’) The word comes to us from the Old English ‘syndrian’ which meant ‘to separate, divide,’ which in turn comes from the Old High German ‘suntar’ which meant ‘aside, apart.’ There is a fantasy game called Magic: The Gathering that I used to play, and one of the creatures in that game is called ‘Sundering Titan,’ and that’s the inspiration for today’s word. Because, being 6’5” and prone to tearing friendships and families apart, I kinda relate to the Sundering Titan. When I run on instinct, I tend to rend: I tear away from society and become violently anti-social, I split up from partners, my mind breaks away from reality. And I remember early in AA, when I was kinda iffy on the ‘spirituality’ thing, I was compelled (being a word nerd as I am) by the idea of ‘holiness’ being another way of saying ‘wholeness.’ I was split apart, spread like so many cursed horcruxes (a made-up word in the Harry Potter world meaning ‘an object formed by dark magic used by wizards or witches to achieve immortality by splitting a soul into separate pieces’) across the eastern seaboard, in literal disarray. In AA, I felt like I was being put back together again. And this reminds me of another crucial notion that is easy forget for me: I could not have put myself back together. AA is a circle that enables us to do together what we could not do for ourselves. I have peace of mind now, because my mind is not in pieces. I accept what’s holy now, because my mind is whole. I remember being in early sobriety thinking I had permanently fucked my mind and that I would be forever broken. While I’m definitely still a little bent, I’m pleased to report that I have regenerated far beyond any capacity I would have hoped for, and I’ve seen it in other AAs too. So thank you for putting me back together, helping me become whole.

7/23/2020

Today’s word of the day is fête (n.) - a celebration or festival; (v.) - honor or entertain (someone) lavishly. The word comes to us from the French ‘fête’ which means ‘festival, feast,’ from the Old French ‘feste,’ meaning ‘feast, celebration’ (compare to ‘festival’). During these times of plague festivals and celebrations are rarer, and the ones that do occur can be dodgy for their risk-factor for spreading the virus. Our old human habit of feasting together, breaking bread, has been limited. Nevertheless, I love how we find still ways to celebrate one another in AA. Every newcomer who mentions their day count gets encouragement, praise, and often applause. The chips ceremony reinforces the truly exceptional achievement of staying sober, whether 30 days or 30 years. And we get the treat of an extemporaneous (unplanned) speech from people celebrating their ‘real’ birthdays (as opposed to the belly-button birthday, which we didn’t choose, and weren’t we mostly drunk or depressed on those days anyways?). We have people who make it their business to not take themselves too seriously; we’re not a glum lot, and so there’s a jocund (cheerful and lighthearted) and convivial (lively, friendly, enjoyable) atmosphere at our meetings. In a world deprived of get-togethers, we feast our eyes on our companions in recovery, we celebrate the miracle of another day sober, together. Thank you for participating in the fêtes we conduct to celebrate our sobriety, which is no small feat!

7/22/2020

Today’s word of the day is gyre (n.) - a circular or spiral motion or form; a giant circular oceanic surface current. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘gyrus’ which in turn comes from the Greek ‘gyros’ which means ‘ring or circle,’ (gourmands may recognize this etymology as the basis of the food item called a ‘gyro,’ so-named because of the circular and slowly spiraling hunk of meat on a rotating spit). In the office, I hear a lot about ‘circling back’ to a previous topic; in the rooms of AA, I hear a lot about ‘spiraling out of control.’ Some of our most ancient and primordial symbols are the circle, the sun, the congregation; and the spiral, the helix, the blueprint of our genetic life. But I think the gyre I relate to the most is the small circular motion of stirring vodka in a cup. This miniature aquatic event became the inescapable riptide in my life, the undertow of the undertaker, and I was able to keep my head above water thanks to the circle-shaped life preserver of AA, inscribed with its triangle of Unity-Service-Recovery. In the book it describes us sober alcoholics as ‘…like the passengers of a great liner the moment after rescue from shipwreck when camaraderie, joyousness and democracy pervade the vessel…” identifying both the raw jubilance of recovery and our capacity to mix across social striations. I may be washed up, but I’d rather be washed-up on shore than down at the bottom of a high-proof ocean. I’m un-sunk after the violent gyre of the big drink, and I have you to thank for it.

7/21/2020

Today’s word of the day is autochthon (adj.) - an original or indigenous inhabitant of a place; an aborigine. The word comes from the Greek ‘autokhthon’ which means literally ‘sprung from the land itself,’ used of the Athenians and others who claimed descent from the Pelasgians, from ‘auto-‘ meaning ‘self’ and ‘khthon’ meaning ‘land, earth, soil.’ Selecting these words of the day sometimes I try to choose a word that will have a nice hook that can be tied into sobriety. Other times I see a sweet word whose meaning I can’t understand and go with that. Today’s word is of the latter variety, a word I came across in one of the many free-falling swan dives into that glittering abyssal pool called youtube I like to make. To me the word has the mouthfeel of something ancient, primordial, like the utterance of a forebear from antiquity. I guess a form of humility is being reminded of the kind of momentary blip I will occupy on this earth in terms of the grand textured tapestry of human history. Although you wouldn’t guess it if you could read my thoughts, which are often concerned with curating the legacy I will leave, the indellible mark left by my genius on the earth. Mercifully, this type of thinking has waned since I’ve been in AA, and I’ve had glimmers of more modest goals: just be there for a friend, have dinner with mom, try to grieve, take a sadness seriously, show up, do what’s asked of me, be careful. These may not be actions worthy of monuments, and it’s probably better for all inhabitants of earth if no monuments are made to commemorate any of my actions in active addiction. In a moment of deep divisiveness, I’m reminded of the core concept of Unity in AA. We drunks, all sprung from the gin-soaked soil of some autochthonic alcoholic progenitor, we all inhabit this same alcoholic lineage, and we get well together. Thank you for sharing this sliver of history with me, my friends.

7/20/2020

Today’s word of the day is duress (adj.) - threats, violence, constraints, or other action brought to bear on someone to do something against their will or better judgment. The word in Middle English meant simply ‘harsh or severe torment,’ and came to us from the Old French ‘duresse’ which in turn came from the Latin ‘duritia,’ which means ‘hardness.’ I have felt hardness in my heart today. I turn clients to adversaries in a split second; unwittingly browbeat them for ignorance in an unprofessional way, not of service to my employer nor the customer. I get agitated during an AA meeting, confuse the way I imagine things to be with the way things actually are, catch a resentment because I can’t hear myself think. It’s tough when a day starts out well, when I hit my knees, read Upon Awakening, ask for guidance, and slowly slip into self-will. I’ll think I’m out of it, hit a pocket of complacency, and make a gaffe (unintentional remark causing embarrassment to its originator), clumsily but promptly admit I was wrong, then spend the next hour or so wishing I could have just kept my mouth shut. Before AA, I just went about my day doing these things and not noticing or feeling bad about it. Now, I’m coming to terms with what it’s like to have a conscience, to consider my life and actions consequential, to have a sense that the feelings of others matter. It’s no fun. I feel today that I am often under duress from my base ego, my will, so prone to running riot, eager to run the show, to tempt me with old instincts into familiar hurt. I’m still feeling at war with myself. But that may just be the mode of the summer heat; I could just as easily portray the tension as an internal peacemaking, whereby I employ the mechanisms offered to me by the Program and Fellowship of AA to quell that old will to be embattled and embittered at every turn. It’s unpleasant to keep making mistakes, but it’s pleasant to know I care about doing better, and it’s redeeming to be surrounded by a fellowship that loves me no matter what mistakes I make, and encourages me to get better, one day at a time. Thank you for being a part of that.

7/19/2020

Today’s word of the day is paragon (n.) - a person or thing regarded as a perfect example of a partricular quality; a person or thing viewed as a model of excellence. 2. a perfect diamond of 100 carats or more. The word comes to us from the Italian ‘paragone’ which means ‘touchstone to determine between good gold and bad gold,’ which in turn comes from the Greek ‘parakone’ which means ‘whetstone’ (a whetstone is a fine-grained stone used for sharpening tools; the unscratchable diamond stone being the best suited for this task). Often in life I have worried that I will die without achieving the status of ‘paragon of virtue’ which I have always understood to be my destiny. The grandiosity of my imagination knows no bounds. At a funeral for a dead friend this weekend, I reflected on life and death a little. I remembered my friend, good and bad, his wisdom, extreme generosity, good humor, his friendliness. I also remembered his slurred speech when we were drunk together, our less-than-wholesome appraisals of objects of desire, our pipe dreams of violent anti-social behavior. He was nothing like a paragon of virtue. Still, his death was no less heartbreaking. I was confronted with the stark stop of life, a life whose stock was to be taken on its own terms, good and bad. Being obsessed with my legacy, trying to control how people remember me, this is just another iteration of my florid egotism. All I have is today to try to treat someone right, show up, be available, be patient, take care. The hereafter may consist of my presence or absence in the collective imagination of an amorphous community who, mercifully, thinks of me much less than I think of myself. So I instead look to borrow the programs of the people whose sobriety is sharper than mine, to find the whetstones in our fellowship to grow toward, and seek to loosen my clutch around that imaginary diamond of perfect ascetic saintliness. You drunks help me do that, thank you so much that help.

7/18/2020

Today’s word of the day is grandiose (adj.) - impressive and imposing in appearance or style, especially pretentiously so; excessively grand or ambitious. This word comes to us by way of Italian ‘grandioso' from the Latin ‘grandis’ meaning ‘big.’ (A related phrase is ‘delusions of grandeur;’ a phenomenon of imaginary splendor or importance, often experienced as a component of mental illness). In the Step 12 section of the 12 & 12, Bill writes: “most of the alcoholics…were still childish, emotionally sensitive, and grandiose” to describe a common personality trait shared by alcoholics studied by a doctor. He goes on to say that ‘as to our grandiose behavior, we insisted that we had been possessed of nothing but a high and legitimate ambition to win the battle of life. Looking at life as a game to be won, a high score to be achieved, a fight to dominate, has been a running theme in my life. Acquiring the symbols of impressiveness is still a pathological need for me; I am desperate to provide visual evidence to contravene the huge weight of a harmful past. Of course, we recognize that our ambitions, our bigness, our splendor and ostentation, all of these are fleeting, immaterial, and ultimately for me, less important than that most-important indicator of status: the way I treat other people. The program of AA helps me work against those delusions of grandeur I love to entertain; thank you for your part in that.

7/17/2020

Today we have two words of the day, prodigious & prodigal, which are words I get mixed up sometimes. Prodigious (adj.) - remarkably or impressively great in extent, size, or degree. Prodigious also has a connotation of ‘unnatural, abnormal, ominous,’ which is now obsolete, and this connotation comes from its Latin root ‘prodigiosus,’ which means ‘strange, wonderful, marvelous, unnatural.’ Prodigious is related to the word ‘prodigy,’ whose Latin root ‘prodigium’ means ‘prophetic sign, portent, omen,’ and only later came to refer to ‘a child with exceptional abilities.’ Speaking of children, some of us may be familiar with the ‘Prodigal Son,’ a parable from the Bible in which a wasteful and careless son squanders his wealth inheritance and returns home begging his father to accept him as a servant. Indeed, the definition of prodigal (adj.) - 1. spending money or resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant 2. having or giving something on a lavish scale (regular readers will recognize the similarity in definitions between this word and our previous word of the day, ‘profligate’). This word comes to us from the Latin ‘prodigalis,’ which means ‘wasteful.’ So for, me I’ve seen myself as a person with prodigious potential and untapped talent, whose prodigal tendencies have kept me just short of greatness my whole life. This is a common phenomenon in AA, I think. I hold myself to unrealistically high standards, inevitably fall short due to my being a fallible human and not God, and then beat myself up for missing the mark. In my most morbid and maudlin moments, it can feel like a cruel joke, this life of internal warring and self-deprecation. But there are other times, like for instance a cool summer morning when the hammer of the sun has not quite fallen, when there is a blanket of quiet potential covering every clean surface — moments like these when I remember the difficulties I face offer me an uncommon wealth of experience and a richness of resolve that constitutes character; makes me who I am. So just for today I’ll try to tap into the prodigious grace my Higher Power has at the ready for me, which I can access better when I release my will to selfish prodigal acts. Thank you for prodding me in the right direction to live a better life.

7/16/2020

Today’s word of the day is eidolon (n.) - an idealized person or thing; a specter or phantom. The word comes to us from the Greek ‘eidolon’ which means ‘appearance, reflection in water or a mirror,’ and later came to mean ‘mental image, apparition, phantom,’ and ‘statue, image of a god, idol; the word originated from the Greek ‘eidos’ which means ‘form, shape.’ The last couple weeks I’ve found myself not living up to the eidolon of my perfect self, and being haunted by the specter of my imperfect past. I’ve noticed a specific dynamic embedded in this is that I feel unable to receive praise, or at least to take it seriously. The news I report is usually: what’s wrong, what I did wrong. But this week I published a zine of my short stories, helped friends with a housing application, called my sponsee (and even called again and made amends to him for being impatient on the phone the first time), I attempted to put a smile on the face of a friend who was grieving, I worked super hard for my employer and truly believed I was service to both them and our clients. I wasn’nt nice to all of them, but I made the extra effort a few times and managed to demonstrate a little common courtesy and tolerance even in the face of people being irate and belligerent. I completely moved into a new place, in a day, without taking a day off work. I made the appropriate arrangements to go to Philadelphia to attend the memorial of my friend Ron who passed. So, all that to say: I have an easy time bearing witness to my shortcomings, and not such an easy time with seeing the good side. And in a way, that is me not doing a complete 6/7th step: because I need to turn over all of me, good and bad, to God. Remembering that my morose self-flagellation stands in the way of my usefulness to others, which means it must be turned over. I don’t have the luxury of holding on to that stuff anymore. Today my friends I enjoin (urge) you to do a little positive inventory, look for what’s right with you, take a little credit for what good you’ve done. Because if you’ve done the kind of good in others’ life the way you have in my life, then you absolutely have some acts of service, grace, and regard to reflect on. We may not be the eidolons of ourselves that we imagined, but we’re all better than we were, and we heal and recover move toward wellness one day at a time.

7/15/2020

Today’s word of the day is vex (v.) - make (someone) feel annoyed, frustrated, or worries, especially with trivial matters; cause distress to (someone). The word comes to us from the Old French ‘vexer’ which meant ‘harass,’ which in turn comes from the Latin ‘vexare’ which means ‘to shake, jolt, toss violently. Lately I’ve been vexed by own ‘vexability,’ or, if you like, ‘disturbability,’ as in, ‘if I’m disturbed, that means I’m disturbable,’ as my sponsor says. I tried to reach out to someone I cared for two days ago and send a nice note about a mutual friend of ours who had died. In so doing, I managed to cause harm by misremembering a detail about the old friend. So materially what I was left with was the person who I had hoped to bring a little joy and cheer to actually being upset with me instead. This left me vexed. Why can’t I be more memorious (a word made up by Jorge Borges, meaning ‘able to remember’), why can’t I be more considerate, more sensitive, less selfish? Why can’t I say the right thing the first time instead of blowing it and having to go back and make an amends? The ugly truth in my experience is that just because I’m sober doesn’t make me perfect. Just because I have good intentions doesn’t make me perfect. Just because I’m talented and smart doesn’t mean I can’t fuck up and do really stupid shit. As I heard it put in the rooms of NA once: "It’s a hard pill to swallow, and believe me, I’ve swallowed my fair share…” I want to be this ascetic saint hovering a couple inches off the ground, but the truth is that I’m a drunk looking for God. I no longer have the luxury of not noticing (or not remembering) the harm I cause. I have to feel it now, I have to bear witness to my mistakes, instead of the old ‘ignore/deflect/belittle/dismiss’ protocol. It’s vexing to be a sober alcoholic; indeed we live what seems to some like a contradiction in terms. But for all the frustration annoyance and worry, there are so many magical warm vivid moments of lightness, and serenity, and joy. That’s worth it for me. Thanks for helping me remember that.

7/14/2020

Today’s word of the day is profligate (adj.) - recklessly extravagant or wasteful in the use of resources; licentious (promiscuous and unprincipled in sexual matters); dissolute (lax in morals). The word has a now-obsolete meaning: ‘overthrown; routed (decisively defeated);’ profligate comes to us from the Latin ‘profligatus’ which means ‘destroyed, ruined, corrupt, abandoned, dissolute,’ in turn derived from ‘pro-‘ meaning ‘down, forth’ and ‘fligere’ meaning ‘to strike’ (compare with ‘flagellate,' ‘afflict’). The modern sense of profligate meaning ‘recklessly extravagant’ came about in the 18th century via the notion of ‘ruined by vice,’ as in someone’s morality had been overthrown, routed, and in that way, they were profligate. I feel like this is one of those words that really captures the unlovely nature of an alcoholic in his cups. In the depths of my using and drinking, I was absolutely reckless, extravagant, wasteful, promiscuous, unprincipled in sexual matters, and dissolute. I actually remember being at a techno show in Philadelphia, watching a famous techno artists whose project was called ‘Profligate,’ drunk and on twitter, posting mean-spirited morose things about the state of the music scene. It’s the type of memory that makes me shudder, for all its self-centeredness, lack of self awareness, and contradiction. But that’s just what me, an alcoholic, is like. I’m someone who has to come to terms with an ugly past and not wish to shut the door on it, to seek to gently integrate it into my understanding of myself, and to find faith that I am not doomed to repeat those old profligate ways. This is a real challenge for me, who likes to imagine myself as perfect and flawless in the eyes of others; for me, who becomes violently crestfallen when I am seen making a mistake because it shatters that imaginary visage. AA reminds me to seek balance, that life is not ‘all-or-nothing,’ and that we do recover. Our dark pasts become a great asset. And our profligacy gives way to serenity, one day at a time. Thank you for being here to help me remember that.

7/13/2020

Today’s word of the day is megrim (n.) - 1. depression; low spirits 2. A whim or fancy 3. migraine (archaic). The word comes to us from the word ‘migraine,’ which means ’severe headache, especially on one side of the head, which in turn comes from the vulgar pronunciation of the Late Latin ‘hemicrania,’ which means ‘pain in one side of the head, headache,’ from the Greek ‘hemi-‘ meaning ‘half’ and ‘kranion’ which means skull. I chose this word of the day today because I have been in low spirits. Difficult circumstances have piled up, I’m feeling financially insecure, I’ve been short with people who I meant to be kind and gentle to, I’ve got a move coming up, i’m going to a memorial service for a friend this weekend. They have a saying in AA we all probably know: “poor me, poor me, pour me another drink.” I’m doing what I can to not wallow in self pity. I know to turn my thoughts to helping another person. Sometimes I also just have to let my body be still, and trust that the pain in my head and my heart will run its course. Thank you for being in this fellowship with me.

7/12/2020

Today’s word of the day is frisson (n.) - a brief moment of emotional excitement; a sudden strong feeling of fear; a thrill. The word comes to us from the French ‘frisson,’ which means ‘a shiver or thrill;’ which comes from the Latin ‘frictio,’ which means ‘friction,’ although the word was originally thought to come from the Latin ‘frigere,’ which means ‘to be cold.’ I once pursued the exquisite artificial frisson of dry goods as a means to vindicate the feeling of drowsy self-exultance I carried around with me like a cross. Often I missed the mark — that one perfect high I got X years ago in the quiet air-conditioned secrecy of a housesitting job wherein I decided my sobriety was a social construct; that as long as no one knew I wasn’t sober, then that meant I was sober. Still, the enchanting memory of that frisson, distant as it became over the years, was sufficient motivating force to doggedly pursue its replication, to the bitter end. Now, in recovery, I have found that moment of frisson to be accessible in places I hadn’t looked before: behind my knees at the end of an intense workout, behind my eyes after I’ve shared my story in front of a group of alcoholics, behind my sternum when I listen to another man’s Fifth Step. I do worry that I may be possessed of an interminable character defect whereby I seek thrills and pleasures excessively; this persists in sobriety. But compared to the old thrill-seeking behavior, I’ll take it any day. And this program reminds me that the way I ‘am’ now need not be permanent, that I may have permission to live my life on a spectrum of progress, with the understanding I may take steps backwards at times, and that that’s ok. Thank you for being with me for the strong feelings and thrills, good and bad.

7/11/2020

Today’s word of the day is sangfroid (n.) - composure or coolness, sometimes excessive, as shown in danger or under trying circumstances; presence of mind. This word comes to us from French slang ‘sang froid’ which literally means ‘cool blood’ from the Latin ‘sanguis’ meaning ‘blood’ and ‘frigidus’ meaning ‘cold.’ I feel that AA has afforded me sangfroid during times of strife and peril. The highs are no longer as high, the lows are no longer as low, these days. “This too shall pass,” “have a high degree of acceptance and a low degree of expectations,” “expectations are just premeditated resentments,” “resentment is the number one offender” and similar apothegms have formed a dampening web inside me, reminding me that it’s usually my reaction to a problem that turns it into a crisis. There’s a narrative I used to subscribe to that passion, intensity, and unpredictability were qualities worth striving for, defenses against boredom-as-death-sentence, the real markers of youth and vigor. Now, older, sober, I am less frequently enchanted, swooning, livid, devastated, undone. I remember the phrase used by the live-in counselor at my rehab in Charlotte: “like water off a duck’s back.” That’s how we take things now, good and bad. Wearing life like a loose garment. Not taking myself too seriously. These simple little phrases do a wonder of good during moments of high tension. I’ve watched myself survived grisly violence, perilous risks, madness, bitter rancor (long-standing bitterness, resentment, grief, affliction), glittering love and exquisite numbness. So I know about myself that I can endure a great deal. I have learned, through AA, that me surviving matters, and that I have a purpose, which is to carry the message to the alcoholic who still suffers. And I’m more effective at carrying the message when I keep my blood cool, when I don’t let it boil, as it wants to especially in the summer heat. Thank you for keeping me cool.

7/10/2020

Today’s word of the day is watershed (n.) - 1. (literal) an area or ridge of land that separates waters flowing to different rivers, basins, or seas. 2. (figurative) an event or period marking a turning point in a course of action or state of affairs. Thought to be a loan-translation of the German Wasser-scheide which means the same thing, perhaps derived from a description of ‘the part of the hair of the head’ applied to ground slopes for water table runoff. The word is relatively new, only being originated in its literal sense in 1803, and attested in its figurative sense in 1878. I picked this word because I heard it today in a meeting and didn’t know what it meant. To me it always conjured an image of like a backyard toolshed, except instead of being filled with tools, it's filled with water. My mind is capable of this sort of creative absurdity in all aspects of life. I’ll get a vague notion of how I think something is, and often, rather than investigate its nature, or in the case of a person, ask the person about themself, I’d much prefer to develop my own fantastical figment in my mind, irrespective of reality. Sometimes it’s an asset: I can write creatively with that tendency, make jokes. Sometimes a liability: I relate to my own idea of a thing or person more than the thing or person itself, and end up getting it wrong. A guided meditation I listened to recently encouraged me to approach things with a sense of curiosity, like I wasn’t quite sure what they were. Common everyday objects: blanket: what is this soft rectangle I employ for sleep and sometimes find mottled with pools of drool? While a curiosity-mindfulness exercise is by no means conference-approved, it does evoke the sense of openness the book tells us is critical to developing a relationship with a Higher Power, and to growing along spiritual lines. I might miss out on a rich, edifying (improving) relationship with a Higher Power because I am stuck on a half-baked notion of God I picked up in elementary school. I might miss out on a nourishing partnership because I treat someone like I assume someone with their face-shape ought to be treated. And on and on. Willingness to be present, to confront reality: this is a challenge and blessing I encounter in AA. And the fact that I am now sometimes able to meet that challenge unflinchingly is a watershed moment in this alcoholic’s life. Thanks for helping me shed some of the firewater that was keeping me from growing.

7/9/2020

Today’s word of the day is uxorious (adj.) - having or showing an excessive or submissive fondness for one’s wife. From the Latin ‘uxoris’ which means ‘wife,’ which in turn comes from the Proto Indo European ‘uk-sor’ which meant ‘she who gets accustomed to a new household after patrilocal marriage.’ In and out of sobriety, I’ve frequently looked to a partner as a higher power. Now, I’ve never had a wife, but I’ve certainly demonstrated para-uxorious tendencies toward people in whom I was romantically interested, often at my own peril. For me, the problem of low self-esteem was easily solved by being esteemed by someone else. Of course, I only found out recently that the AA way to deal with low self-esteem is to do esteemable acts. But before that, I would make relationships the epicenter and fulcrum (figuratively speaking, a thing that plays a central or essential role in an activity, event, or situation). I remember distinctly a moment in 2013 when I made up my mind that my top priority in life would be ‘love,’ whatever that meant. I recently went thorough a breakup (got dumped) and learned a few lessons I want to try to abide and carry — I can think I’m in love with a person when I’m really more interested in proving I am eligible for love, proving I’m stable, desireable. I can offend and objectify someone without realizing it until it’s too late. I can be volatile, condescending, duplicitous, and ugly toward someone when I think I’m being kind or affectionate. Sometimes both happen together. I have come to understand that seeking a relationship as a stepping stone toward becoming who I want to be can feel really awful for the other party. ‘Object of affection’ feels like a particularly apropos term here. I also am learning that I can hold these truths simultaneously with truths that I provided meaningful support, made someone feel cared for and special, that I was not entirely to blame. I can chalk this breakup up to ‘incompatibility,’ which for me feels like a really safe place to settle a severance, a neutral zone for closure. In the past, my uxorious tendencies meant a breakup would, like clockwork, result in a mental breakdown, relapse, and lashing out. This time I get knocked down by the grief, I get the wind knocked out of me by flashes of realization of selfishness and being inconsiderate, but I’m not devastated. I owe that durability to AA. Thanks for helping me become durable.

7/8/2020

Today’s word of the day is plenitude (adj.) - an abundance; the condition of being full or complete. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘plenitudinem,’ nominative of ‘plenus,’ which means ‘full, filled, greatly crowded; stout, pregnant; abundant; abounding; complete.’ I am possessed of a plenitude of problems that I myself have manufactured. I get upset, and I’m inclined to shut people out, talk down to them so they’ll leave me alone, lash out in anger, become petty, vindictive, spiteful. When I am hurting it hurts less to hurt someone else. I know rationally that causing harm is the locus of my own self-loathing, an ancient roadblock to self-esteeem. But in the active animated agitated moment, my will to gleefully flay someone emotionally becomes irresistible. The Big Book reminds us that self-knowledge is insufficient. My understanding of my character defect is neccessary, to be sure, and that’s a fourth step thing. But I have to literally pause what I am doing when I am agitated in order to get outside my instincts. And I can read the book and believe that I will pause when agitated in the morning, then I’ll get agitated, and kinda get excited, this sort of evil feeling of how good it will feel to put somebody else down. That’s a part of me. There’s probably a good use I can put it toward somehow, because God put it in me. There’s probably a lot of relief available to me if I can just try to give it to God. Understanding myself isn’t enough. Intellectual understanding will not produce a change in my behavior. It’s the actions we are directed to take in AA that produce the character change. So when I find the grace to stop overthinking it, and just try to do the next right thing, I usually remember that there is a plenitude of ease available to the humble and tolerant alcoholic. Thank you for tolerating me when I’m at my most graceless.

7/7/2020

Today’s word of the day is denouement (n.) - the final part of a play, movie, or narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together and matters are explained or resolved; the climax of a chain of events, usually when something is decided or made clear; the solution of a mystery. The word comes to us from the French 'dénouement’ which means ‘an untying,’ which comes from the latin ‘nodus’ which means ‘a knot’ and the prefix ‘des-‘ which means ‘un-, out.’ This word occurred to me today as I grieved the loss of my dear friend. He wasn’t in our fellowship, but he may have been one of us. He and I talked at length about the choke of depression, and we found solace together not in sobriety, but in music. Ours was a friendship of harm reduction, I think; during a time when I thought about suicide daily and often didn’t leave bed, making music with him was a reason to get up. He’s my age. He died yesterday. So in one sense, I have an unwelcome shock of a denouement: his plot has ceased, his knot undone. In another sense, the mystery is only further compounded: did he die as a still-suffering alcoholic outside these rooms from the suicidal madness of King Alcohol? Was his death completely unrelated to mental health and substances? Am I reaching to project a memory onto a friend I had grown distant from to serve my own selfish ends of creating a familiar, legible, coherent narrative to ply on to death? His death strikes me as all the more tragic because it occurred during this moment of extremely amplified isolation, when day to day life is now characterized by being-alone — that most perilous and high-risk circumstance for the depressed and suicidal. I’ve heard people say God brings people home when the time is right, and I reckon I have no business trying to comprehend God’s grace in any of its form, tragic or brilliant. Ron was both, tragic and brilliant, kind, a weird inverse bizarro version of me, who wore his depression not as a spiky shield like me, but instead as a sort of clown nose, not taking himself too seriously, eager to laugh and joke, connect, be in a moment despite any preponderance of dire circumstances he was enduring. I used to hate hearing the phrase ‘more will be revealed.’ Nowadays, it feels almost like a prayer. I want so desperately to untie the knot of Ron’s brain, find out where I could have interceded, connected, touched, to invite him to stay on this side awhile longer. I want that movie-ending storybook journal-entry denouement. But as a suicidal depressive who has made the attempt, I know sometimes it just doesn’t matter. Rationality doesn’t factor in. There’s a phrase in Old Anglo-Latin: ‘felo de se’ which means literally ‘felon of himself,’ reflecting the still extant status of suicide as a crime. Of course, we alcoholics know better than most that the crimes we committed don’t make us who we are, and we know better than most how to care for criminals, how to relate, and to nourish the festering remorse and guilt that can cause us to redouble our harm in the wake of a felony, criminal or spiritual or otherwise. We alcoholics recognize redemption because we have all experienced it in some form or another, firsthand, via this program. There is the notion of ‘the wounded healer’ in Native American culture, and all appropriation notwithstanding, this tradition is realized in a way in AA, where we blindly lead the blind and find our unique healing, in an abstract pool called serenity. I think that the place I’m stretching toward when I pray is the place where Ron is now. I have a sense that his grief is through. I get to carry my grief for him, now, and for Christine, and for the others still sick and suffering, alcoholic or not, AA or not. Because I work my 12th step when I feel feelings, when I cry, when I let myself get sad and ugly over a death. I’m practicing the principle of ‘love and tolerance is our code’ when I say I love Ron no matter how he died or why. You all taught me how to love myself. You taught me I get to give my felony of self over to a Higher Power, and that if I’m still breathing that means my Higher Power has some service to put me toward yet. I learned that here. So as I work to keep Ron alive in my heart, I want to thank you all for keeping me alive in yours.

7/6/2020

Today’s word is evanescent (adj.) - soon passing out of sight, memory, or existence; quickly fading or disappearing. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘evanescere’ which means ‘disappear, vanish, pass away;’ or, figuratively ‘forgotten, wasted.’ This word evokes many modes of the alcoholic: passing out, fading memory (getting faded), vanishing, passing away. I vanished from the world in order to maintain my drinking habit. I turned friends into burdens, chores, and enemies so that I could prioritize my alone time, disappeared, passing the time away alone with my true love, alcohol. Of course, many did not make it far enough to tell this story in the past-tense. We lost Christine recently, and untold alcoholics worldwide suffer and die in silence, forgotten, vanished. Our time on earth is evanescent, as the recent pandemic and social upheavals make plain. A good reason not to waste another single waking moment wasted. A call to action to me, to improve my memory: this occurs when I leave the door to memory open, fight the inclination to amnesia, seek to come to terms with it, eschew regret for accountability and growth. Thank you for not vanishing from my life; I’ll work to remain unvanished, just for today.

7/5/2020

Today’s word of the day is specious (adj.) - superficially plausible, but actually wrong; misleading in appearance, especially misleadingly attractive. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘speciosus’ which means ‘good-looking, beautiful, fair;’ originally from ‘species’ which means ‘appearance, form, figure, beauty. I chose this word today because yesterday I heard a word whose sound and definition is very similar — spurious (adj.) - not being what it purports to be; false or fake; apparently valid but not actually valid (of a line of reasoning). I find that my tendency in life is to be misled by the attractive; to be captivated by the superficially plausible. Typically this looks like me believing something that isn’t supported, but which serves my interests. My assessment of a recent love interest was specious, I think, because I was more interested in being-in-love than in the actual person I was trying to convince myself I was in love with. A tricky thing about love is how analgesic (pain-relieving) it can be, and how all problems seem to attenuate in its wake. I truly believe a partnership can make the going easier and more tolerable for both parties involved, provided they have a mutual regard and investment in the wellbeing of one another. As we are reminded in the 12 & 12, the alcoholic’s tendency to seek to either dominate or depend on a person is an imbalance that often stands in the way of forming a true partnership with another human being. So in the smooth empty space created by a breakup, I have the opportunity to reflect on where I was wrong, where I was selfish, and what was really happening. I called it love, but I think I truly wanted to have some proof I was lovable, which is of course not the same. While I don’t think my shortcomings invalidate the realness and value of what connection we had, I do think more work on my sex ideal inventory and more attention to my conscious contact with God will give me a chance to grow and heal in the ways I need to to truly be of service in my next partnership. AA has been the reason I don’t go off the deep end when things don’t go my way. And I’m reminded that when my plans and designs go wrong, something much better often goes right. Thanks for being a part of my life and helping me navigate the wrongs and rights and everything that’s left.

7/4/2020

Today’s word of the day is aphelion (n.) - the point farthest from the sun in the path of an orbiting celestial body (such as a planet). The word comes to us from the Latin ‘ap-‘ which means ‘away from’ and ‘helion’ which means ‘sun,’ from the Greek ‘helios.’ Today I found myself uncommonly tired, and the exhaustion did not have an immediate apparent cause. I sought refuge from the sun in my cool dark apartment. I considered the Independence Day festivities, the protests, the beach trips and family BBQs, and was overwhelmed. I was informed by my body that I required rest. It required a lot of work to accept this, on a day when I had a long to-do list and aspirations to be Service Incarnate, a source of joy and a wise respite for all who encountered me. Instead, I took two two-hour-long naps and ate a great deal of cheese. When the book says that we came to recognize ‘we are no longer running the show,’ I like to think that means: ‘I pray first thing in the morning, and then I proceed to run the show.’ Days like this make it real apparent how powerless I truly am. Maybe depression, maybe exhaustion, maybe a migraine, panic, ambient sadness, isolation, all or none or something else. The fact is I am a doughy, finite animal who requires love and community and often falls short of my plans. That’s my humanity. AA gave me a kind of independence when it taught me I could be free if I accepted my limitations. I don’t know how my Higher Power will use me, and some days my work is just to stay still, try to heal. And even though I feel sort of sad and kind of lonely, I didn’t have to take a drink over it. And God willing, I’ll have another day tomorrow, and I can trust it won’t be exactly the same. Thanks for being your perfect imperfect selves. P.S. I guess the point was that I was avoiding the sun? So like I was at my aphelion? They can’t all be winners ok

> 7/3/2020

Today’s word of the day is imago (n.) - 1. (in entomology [the study of bugs]) the final and fully developed adult stage of an insect. 2. (in psychoanalysis) an unconscious idealized mental image of someone, especially a parent which influences a person’s behavior. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘imago’ which means ‘an image, a likeness,’ which in turn comes from the Proto Indo European root ‘aim-‘ which means to copy (c.f. ‘imitate,’ ‘emulate,’ ‘imagine,’ ‘imitate,’ ‘image.’). As an amateur etymologist, I do occasionally dabble in entomology, usually by accident. Although perhaps etymologists have a sophisticated understanding of resentments — that ‘bugs’ me originated in the 1940s in swing music slang, a reference to our familiar insect pest companions. The imago, the fully formed bug, is maybe the monstrous locust I allow to spew like a plague from my mouth when I don’t do my spot check inventory and try to nip resentments in the bud (in the bug). Imago, the mental image of someone, puts a fine point on a common source of strife and conflict in my relationships. This alcoholic would much rather fall in love with my idealized version of you than you, yourself; this is because I can more easily remain self-centered if my love for you depends less on you and more on me. It gets ugly when this is exposed, and has caused more than one important bond in my life to crumble. Still, each time it happens, I’m offered a fresh chance to honor the mistake and seek to avoid it in the future. The 12 Steps give me a practical framework to “cope,” as was mentioned yesterday, and service work gives me the portal outside myself into concern and care for another person. I suspect that sustained activity in this realm might be the secret to forming a true partnership with another human. But I’ll get back to you on that once I know for sure. In the mean time, thanks for helping me outside of myself, especially when I’m bugging out.

7/2/2020

Today’s word of the day is cope (v.) - (of a person) to deal effectively with something difficult; (of a machine or system) to have the capacity to successfully deal with. While this word’s definition may be an obvious one, I think the etymology is less so. The word comes to us from the Old English ‘coupen’ which meant ‘ to quarrel, come to blows, engage in combat;’ which in turn came from the Old French ‘couper’ which meant ‘hit, punch,’ and is a common root to the contemporary English word ‘coup’ which we understand to mean a notable or successful move; or a sudden, violent, and illegal seizure of power from a government. This word fascinates me, because I often think of ‘coping’ as a gentle act, something nourishing, adaptive, healing. But the word’s etymology belies a more combative connotation. And to me that illuminates something I feel all the time: like I have to fight with myself to stay alive. Fight the urges to drink. Fight the bad thoughts that come at night. Fight the despair, the torpor, the anomie. It gets to be tough feeling like I’m always at war with myself! I don’t think my Higher Power wants it that way. I think I am meant to make peace with myself — as mentioned yesterday, the search for the serene, the irenic, continues. I chose this word of the day today because I heard this phrase in a meeting: ‘…we may call them character defects, but they’re often actually coping mechanisms that no longer serve us.’ Incredible how a turn of phrase like this can instantly shift the blame. I hear this and I hear: reprieve. I hear: what is wrong with me isn’t ALL my fault. I get to find my part in any resentment, yes, but I also get to put down the bat. I am someone who hurts and has hurt. The ways that I have hurt form a pattern, but they need not be inevitable. Coming to my character defects with a different perspective, maybe I’ll have an easier time loosening my grip on them, so I can turn them over to my Higher Power. Thanks to all of you for your inspiring words and fresh perspectives.

7/1/2020

Today’s word of the day is irenic (adj.) - aiming at or promoting peace; conciliatory; non-confrontational. The word comes from the Irenicism movement in Christian theology which attempts to unify Christian apologetical systems by using reason as an essential attribute. The word is derived from the Greek 'eirene’ which means ‘peace.’ Wordsmiths with a sharp eye may recognize the similarity of the word ‘eirene’ and ‘serene.’ This appears to be a coincidence however; serene is derived from the Latin ‘serenus’ which means ‘peaceful, calm, clear, unclouded’ and originally referred to clear, dry weather. Now, to go deep, the Rastafarians among you might recognize the word ‘irie,’ which Urban Dictionary defines as ‘to be at total peace with your current state of being, the way you feel when you have no worries.’ Etymologists speculate it may be a stylized contraction of ‘all right.’ It bears mentioning that I’m no linguist, and often I’m relying on similar word sounds to make connections. That being said, the idea here is a plain one: I seek peace. I pray along with you to ask for serenity. Still, mentally, I experience warring emotions, agitation, remorse. I think I’ve got things figured out, and then I find myself in a situation confronted with new problems, feelings ways I haven’t felt before, unsure of how to deal with it. I mistake comfort for serenity, and find myself secluded and without relief. The answer for me is reaching out for help in this program. My friend said to me something today that I thought was quite beautifully put: "Your higher power will meet you in places you haven't felt before.” In AA I am reminded that I now have the blessing of feeling my feelings again. It’s scary because the new feelings are unknown. But they don’t last forever. And I have an opportunity to heal, make amends, and do a little bit better, even after I make mistakes. We all have that grace afforded to us through this program. I’m so grateful for you all for bringing that to my life, and in that way, helping me find peace.

6/30/2020

Today’s word of the day is askance (adv.) - with an attitude or look of suspicion or disapproval (usually used with ‘look,’ as in ’they looked askance at them.” The word’s origin appears to be obscure; some guess that the Old French ‘escone’ (hidden) or the old Italian ‘scancio’ (obliquely, slantingly), or possibly a cognate (of the same linguistic derivation) with ‘askew’ (wrong, awry). I chose ‘askance’ today because I have a character defect of looking askance at people, looking down my nose at them. I have seen this cost me friends, respect, loved ones…looking askance at people may make me feel superior in the moment but leaves me enfeebled, lonely, and inferior. In the Big Book it says "As God's people we stand on our feet; we don't crawl before anyone.” That means I don’t get to put myself above anyone. And the people whose program I respect: I never see them look askance. I see them listen patiently, with love and tolerance. I wanted to get sober to stop wreaking havoc and hurting the people I love. Stopping drinking helped, and now I get to learn and grow from smaller and smaller harms. But I still mess up. And I have a loving support network to help me use the mistakes to help another alcoholic, get out of self pity, and stay sober another day. Thank you for helping me stay sober today.

6/29/2020

Today’s word of the day is recherché (adj.) - rare, exotic, or obscure. The word comes from the French ‘recherché’ which originally meant ‘carefully sought out;’ from ‘cherecher’ which means ‘to search,’ and originally from the Latin ‘circare’ which means ‘to wander hither and thither.’ For me, a common character defect is seeking the rare, exotic, or obscure, just for the sake of its exoticness. This has been true in the field of wide-breadth drug experimentation, problematic dating proclivities, accumulation of cryptic and often useless knowledge, obsession with cultures other than my own. It’s tricky for me to determine where my intent lies sometimes, whether I have an abiding distaste for xenophobia that has caused the pendulum to swing too far in the other direction, or what. The program tells me that my disease is common, and that I am a garden variety drunk. No amassment of arcana and esoteric wisdom will change this. Likewise, a mystic divination and gnosis will not bring about a strong relationship with my Higher Power, necessarily. The aesthetics of the exotic are intoxicating to me, and often serve as a way to avoid the substance of a matter. AA is a program of action. The toolkit is simple, but not easy. I have the blessing of recognizing my defects of character today, and I get the opportunity to try to get a little better, every day, remembering that there’s no problem I have that a drink won’t make worse, and there’s no problem I have too big to turn over to my Higher Power. My character defects don’t define me, and through AA I slowly accumulate, reactivate, and remember many of my character assets. There is a song lyric that says: “Everything you learn, you’re only remembering.” Similarly, I had a friend who described faith not as 'worshipping God,' but 'remembering God.’ In that same song, there’s another lyric — you can choose to say "Good morning God” or "Good God, morning.” Thanks to AA I say the former much more than the latter these days. Thank you all for your common grace and love.

6/28/2020

Today’s word of the day is rococo (adj.) - extravagantly or excessively ornate or florid in speech; highly ornamented and florid; (of furniture or architecture or art) characterized by an elaborately ornamental late baroque style of decoration. The word is a relative neologism, only first attested in 1836, from the French, an alteration of ‘rocaille’ which means ‘shellwork, pebblework’ as a derisive comment on excessive use of shell designs in the mid 19th century in French architecture. I noticed this word reading the other day and it reminded me how passionately I will work to beautifully clothe an ugly truth. I think my love for words is a good talent, but like many talents, it has its capacity as a defect as well. AA is a wonderful program because it makes things simple and plain. I can’t, He can, I’ll let Him. Trust God, Clean House, Help Others. Do the Next Right Thing. One Day at a Time. Those four sentences constitute a comprehensive program of action, spiritual growth, and vigorous social engagement sufficient to produce a character change and challenge the disease of alcohol in my life. I’m content to just leave it at that for today. Thank you for being a part of this fellowship.

6/27/2020

Today’s word of the day is maundering (v.) - 1. to talk in a rambling manner; to grumble 2. to move or act in a dreamy or idle manner; to wander aimlessly. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘mendicare,’ which means ‘to beg, ask alms.’ The word ‘maund’ was used to mean ‘beg’ in the 16th century, and it evolved to describe the conversational and directional tendencies of beggars. I’m interested by ‘aimlessness.’ It’s usually a pejorative that describes someone with no ambition, no plan, no ends in mind. But through the lens of AA, I can imagine ‘aimlessness’ as a cousin to ‘freedom from self will,’ maybe a nephew of ‘powerlessness.’ I’m remembering how infrequently my own ‘aims’ turned out like I wanted them to. I’m thinking about how frequently I enter into a conversation (or relationship) with a specific ‘aim’ in mind that practically looks like me trying to control outcomes, manipulate situations, and play God. And I’m thinking about those sort of random moments of unexpected spiritual experience (I heard them called ‘God shots’ in a meeting the other day). They seem to depend on aimlessness. I heard someone share last night that, as a sponsor, they heard their sponsee share the one thing that they, the sponsor, had left off their fifth step. And so in an unexpected reversal of roles, the sponsor got to do the admitting and the sponsee listened and related. And this was a huge burden removed from the sponsor, and it came about in a way they did not plan for at all. So to me it’s like a serenity prayer thing: let me keep showing up to do what seems like the next right thing, being open honest and willing, and then trusting that to be enough of an ‘aim,’ and letting the HP take care of the rest. Wandering aimlessly with an attitude of selflessness and service…to me it sounds almost saintly. For today, I’ll try to be present one time with someone and offer what I have without an aim. That’s enough of my maundering for today. Thanks for wandering this path with me.

6/26/2020

Today’s word of the day is sybarite (n.) - a person devoted to luxury and pleasure. The word literally means ‘inhabitant of Sybaris,’ which was an ancient Greek town whose people were noted for their love of luxury. In AA I have formed a value system, an ethics, and a conscience that feels more cohesive and sturdy than anything before. I think they are externalities (figuratively: side effects or consequences) of working the steps. Now that I have these things, I sometimes reflect on what preceded them. In my estimation, my value system before getting sober was simply: a devotion to pleasure. That devotion contained all the machinations (plots or schemes) I believed were necessary to remain in control of how I was feeling at all times. In some ways I view many of my character defects as externalities of this simple devotion to pleasure. I don’t think I get any real sense of qualitative enjoyment from lying or being manipulative. But when those activities serve my central purpose in being — pleasure — then I don’t have a problem with them. Relatedly, my self-centered nature feels inexorably coupled with my sybarite tendencies. Practically, in order to be in control of my feelings and specifically to be manufacturing more pleasurable feelings all the time, I must necessarily be self-centered. I can’t trust anyone else to take care of me or that I might feel ok for a reason other than the externality (literally: something outside of something else) that I put into myself in order to achieve its sensate effects. Getting sober dampened all these tendencies, AA gave me a framework to acknowledge them and a spiritual toolkit to work on diminishing them. AA also gave me a group of drunks to talk to when I inevitably fall short and I need a helping hand to get back up. Nowadays I still prefer luxury and pleasure, but I’ve learned the value of discomfort and witnessed first hand how the displeasurable often constitutes real spiritual growth. Thank you for helping me abandon my sybarite tendencies and seek to be of service.

6/25/2020

Today’s word of the day is enervate (v.) - to cause (someone) to feel drained of energy or vitality; weaken; deprive of force or strength. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘enveratus’ which meant ‘to weaken. As an AA I am acquainted with powerlessness as an asset. That doesn’t make it easy to accept evidence of my powerlessness on a regular basis. But that kind of acceptence is required of me as an alcoholic, I think. Yesterday I acted poorly at work, gave direction to someone in a way that was condescending and arrogant — familiar character defects that cropped up. My meeting attendance and prayer and meditation have all been spotty, so no big surprise there. I did my best to get right with my Higher Power, to turn it over, do an inventory, and make an amends. Today I thoughtlessly forgot more than one thing in a conversation with a loved one. Forgot as in just blanked on important experiences we shared together. So I feel foolish, ashamed, insensitve, selfish. More common character defects for me. I am enervated by these events. Like the wind is out of my sails. It’s a healthy calm, even though it feels feeble right now. I like living on self-will. I like the effect produced by selfishness. I’m an alcoholic through and through. But I lack the power to be loving and tolerant at all times, even though that’s our code. And I lack flawless memory. I have a hard time accepting what I lack. I am holding myself to a godlike standard. Although I am brilliant at coming up with unique spins on new problems, the old solution remains the same. On page 62 it still says: “First of all, we had to quit playing God. It didn’t work.” So that’s my work today. Take a blow to the ego. Endure the ambient truth that I am less-than-perfect in the eyes of my co-worker and of my loved one. Take the mistakes seriously. But turn them over to God, because I’m prone to that old pride-in-reverse of remorse/shame. Reach out to another alcoholic…that’s you guys. Make a meeting. Try to be of service. I have a good toolkit at my feet. And although I am powerless over alcohol, today I can say that I have a good power at my disposal, the power to pick up the spiritual toolkit of AA, and to try, imperfectly, to bring works to my faith. I am enervated, dampened, fatigued…burning up energy as I have been trying to run the show. It doesn’t work. What I lack is in many ways who I am. Some traditions teach words’ definitions by their opposites. I’m reminded of a helpful bit of advice to the agnostic AA: the only thing I need to know about God is that I ain’t it. In the sort of sad and familiar space of having-made-mistakes, I’ll try now to be humble, find humility, and not lash out. Getting right sized is the next right thing. It’s not so easy. But I get to go through it with the prismatic and uncommon grace afforded by this fellowship. Thank you for adding your light to its prism.

6/24/2020

Today’s word of the day is mawkish (adj.) - sentimental in a feeble or sickly way; having a faint sickly flavor (e.g. ‘the mawkish smell of warm beer'). The word comes to us from the Middle English ‘mawk’ which meant ‘maggot,’ from the Old Norse ‘mathkr’ which meant the same thing. This word was evocative for me because that example above describing the smell of warm beer brought back a very vivid sensory experience. What was once cold, bubbly, refreshing, and which held a promise of pleasure, relaxation, and ease, is revealed in the harsh light of the next morning as a maggoty swill. Of course that never prevented me from dutifully patrolling wherever I had been sleeping for all the ‘wounded warriors’ and polishing them off to hedge against a hangover. Figuratively, I see myself being prone to sickly sentimentalism. Sometimes I want to believe that, were it not for my weak character and were it not for being introduced to the evil elixir of alcohol, I would have ended up the respected, upstanding, heroic savior I was always meant to be. Of course, this is mawkish nonsense. I am exactly who I was meant to be. My journey down the scale is now an asset. Enduring the hardships I have faced has not always made me stronger, but I have found that since joining AA, I recognize the potential for growth in pain and discomfort. I had a friend say to me once: “Comfort? More like chump-fort.” I think that rings true today. The point for me is that when I’m sentimental and sickly sweet in my assessment of the past, I devalue good things about the bad experiences, and I over-inflate the trite pleasures of drinking to make them seem more good. AA is the main resource I have for correcting those misconceptions, and guarding against that nefarious mental obsession to drink. Thank you for helping me keep my head on straight.

6/23/2020

Today’s word of the day is canaille (n.) - the common people; the masses; the riff-raff; people of the lowest order. This word comes to us from the Italian ‘canaglia,’ which literally means ‘a pack of dogs,’ which in turn comes to us from the Latin ‘canis’ which means ‘dog.’ AA is a unique place for a multitude of reasons. One big one for me is how our fellowship’s members seem to be so manifold (many and various), how we come from all sorts of walks of life. In AA I regularly attend meetings where people with post-graduate degrees rub elbows with the formerly incarcerated. Occasionally these two are even the same person! The point is what the Big Book tells us: “We are people who normally would not mix. But there exists among us a fellowship, a friendliness, and an understanding which is indescribably wonderful.” I was reminded in a meeting last night that this is not just a warm fuzzy observation on the part of Bill. Rather, one may interpret this passage as a reminder of Unity’s fundamental importance in our fellowship. Last night I heard it said beautifully by one drunk: “I need to curate my life less, the universe has better ideas about who I should mix with than I do.” Unity means I’m at my best when I go up to the newcomer and shake his hand no matter what he looks or smells like. And it sits well with me because my first go-round in AA the scabs from the cuts on my wrist hadn’t healed up yet, I hadn’t showered in days, my hair was bleached a sickly hay-yellow with three-inch roots, and I of course was glowing with the wan (of a person's complexion or appearance) pale and giving the impression of illness or exhaustion) coat of sallow pastiness that one sees upon the unwell-to-do. The point is that I’m still clinging to shards of driftwood after surviving the same shipwreck the rest of you drunks survived too. I can’t afford to pick and choose who I reach out to and who I ignore. I’ve been blessed with sobriety and I want my hand to be that hand we talk about in the responsibility statement. So thanks for helping me remember a concept I often forget, Unity, and keeping me at my dog-gone best among the canaille.

6/22/2020

Today’s word of the day is harangue (noun, verb) - a noisy, ranting, public oration, usually delivered extemporaneously (without preparation). The word comes from the Old Scottish ‘arang’ which meant ‘a public square, platform; pulpit; arena’ and before that from the Old High German ‘hring’ which meant ‘circle’ in the sense of a circular gathering. I like this word because it reminds me of the word meringue, which is of course a delicious dessert. I can relate to the word harangue because most of my shares in AA are harangues. And I think that’s a good thing! Of course, a careful, well-considered, prepared statement has its beauty and value and is absolutely appropriate for a share in AA. I go for those sometimes. But my favorite shares start going one direction, but the speaker seems to learn something about themselves during the share, and makes a point they didn’t expect to make. Through extemporaneous speech, new truths can crystallize. More than that, a share made without a definite purpose in mind can sometimes be an example of humility, I think. I know I often feel hollow and pedantic (excessively concerned with displaying academic learning) when I serve up a real well-crafted share. And I often miss out on the message of the speaker or others sharing because of how much mental real estate focusing on manufacturing a ‘great’ share can take up. But when I open my mouth and try to be open, honest, and willing, I sometimes arrive somewhere new, and find myself refreshed with what I hear. Thanks for sharing your harangues and enduring mine my friends!

6/21/2020

Today’s word of the day is maudlin (adj.) - tearful, weeping; self-pityingly sentimental, often through drunkenness. The word comes to us from the Old French 'Madelaine,' woman's name, originally ‘Magdalene,’ the last name of Mary Magdaline, the repentant sinner forgiven by Jesus in the New Testament of the Christian Bible. In paintings, Mary Magdalene often was shown weeping as a sign of repentance. The more recent meaning of "characterized by tearful sentimentality, over-emotional” began in the 17th century, and the old slang "tipsy, foolish from drink” gained popularity starting in the 18th century. I love doing these word of the days because I had no idea the weirdly alcoholic etymology of this little word, nor its Biblical background. So for starters, maudlin was probably my most common emotional mode when drinking. I got weepy, wistful of a halcyon past, lamenting my woebegone state, pining over lost loves, etc. etc. I really had a sense of identity as this kind of tragic genius, as I’ve stated here before. It was like I was cursed with oversensitivity and had to endure the weary life of a tender poet. Of course, in reality, I was extremely attentive and sensitive to my own feelings, but that alleged empathy ended when it came to the thoughts, feelings, needs, and boundaries of others. My maudlin tears were just another ornament on that prickly brown rotted xmas tree of self-centeredness that I garlanded with fresh traumas on a regular basis. Nowadays, I get to grieve in more appropriate ways, and I have a sense that my grieving is less selfish because of the perspective and healing the 5th and 9th steps have given me. More than anything, when I get to that self-pitying state nowadays, I am reminded by this program that vigorous work with another alcoholic is the best remedy. It gives me a sense of purpose, it takes me outside my own needs and feelings, and it reminds me that I’m struggling alongside many other garden variety drunks just like me, and that I’ve been graced with a solution. Thanks for being there for me as I learn to grieve better.

6/20/2020

Today’s word of the day is halcyon (adj.) - denoting a period of time in the past that was idyllically happy and peaceful; quiet, calm. The word can also be used as a noun to mean ‘a mythical bird said by ancient writers to breed in a nest floating at sea at the winter solstice, charming the wind and waves into calm; an actual bird called a kingfisher with brightly colored plumage. The word comes to us from the Greek ‘halkyon,’ which meant ‘kingfisher.’ Nowadays, ‘halcyon’ is used to describe a better time in the distant past, when things were simpler, as in ‘halcyon days.’ I think as a member of AA I have a tendency to do a sort of weird inversion of this, whereby I categorically describe all of my life experience before sobriety as a nonstop pain-filled horror story and carnival of betrayal and sin. I think it’s tempting for me to kind of inflate the badness of the bad times. For one thing, it kind of retroactively confirms my decision to get sober by creating a stark contrast with how life was before. For another, the bad times can be a lot more memorable than the good in my experience. And for another, there is something really cathartic and freeing about telling somewhat embellished ‘war stories’ about the mistakes I made in my past. These have there place, but I’m reminded that, more often than not, I live in the mundane, the banal, the common, the grayscale, not the black and white. My life is not all or nothing. There were good times before sobriety, hell there were even those rare sober days before recovery. And there are parts of me worth preserving, actions that were laudable, some shreds of decency from back then. I allow myself to collect those and carry them so long as I’m using them to steady myself to be of more service and take better care of myself; they’re not to be used for ego trips or for false evidence that I ought to go back to drinking or using. There were much simpler, calmer times during active addiction, and in a way they were halcyon days. But they were usually hollow, and my ethical framework back then was simply ‘feel as good as possible as often as possible.’ These days, in the cold light of sobriety, post-halcyon, I have a new richness and purpose to my life that was always absent prior to the personality change brought about by working the steps. I have a spiritual life that was completely atrophied back then. I have a sense of purpose, of a good future ahead of me, and a solid network of support in the present. I attribute that to alcoholics anonymous. And I’m happy that I’m less prone to fantasizing about imaginary ideal days of yore, and more practical these days. Thanks for helping me calibrate my perspective and prefer today’s serenity to the alleged halcyon of yesterday.

6/19/2020

Today’s word of the day is vilipend (v.) - to hold or treat as of little worth or account; to express a low opinion of. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘vilis’ meaning ‘cheap’ or ‘vile,’ and ‘pendere’ meaning ‘to weigh’ or ‘to estimate.’ A lot of my internal life has had to do with vilipending. I spend a great deal of time worrying that I will be held in poor esteem among some faceless collective consciousness out there in the judgy imaginary population of the world. I fixate on my past mistakes, the vile transgressions I carried out, sober and otherwise, and despair about the friend groups I left behind and the low opinion they must hold of me. This is just another creative application of my ‘pride-in-reverse,’ that peculiar and insistent action in my mind whereby I permit myself to think of nothing but myself, so long as it is in terms of my shortcomings. Today I have ammo against this tendency, because in AA I have treated people well, have found purpose, and have learned to do service for service’s sake, not for my own conniving ends. I am reminded that most people honestly just don’t spend that much time thinking about me, and that whenever they do, it’s none of my business. My business is to seek an improved gnosis of God, an improved conscious contact with my Higher Power, to trust that Higher power, clean up my side of the street, and help others when I can. No matter how vivid my nightmares or how vile my internal monologue, I get to trust the way I treat people as the true barometer of my wellness and worth. Being offered this new perspective is something I attribute to AA. Thank you for bringing me to this understanding and inviting me outside of myself.

6/18/2020

Today’s word of the day is abrogate (v.) - 1. repeal or do away with (a law, right, or formal agreement); abolish by authoritative act. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘abrogare’ which means ‘to annul, repeal. I picked this word because the handful of landmark decisions by the Supreme Court reminded me that no matter how permanent a law may seem, it is ultimately subject to the will of the people and liable to change. For me depression can often occupy the space of ‘things are terrible; things will always be this way; why bother.’ To be honest, this malaise has afflicted me more intensely lately. As an alcoholic, I can see the world evolving, changing for the better, and growing into a better place, and still feel like I’m somehow left out, like I’m dissociated, like I’m watching it all happen through a screen. I’m reminded of that familiar refrain that can be heard at the beginning of almost all of our stories: “growing up, I feel like there was an instruction manual for life that was passed out to everyone but me.” I get a chance to remember that my feeling of distance, uncertainty, paralysis, and disenchantment are products of my alcoholism, character defects that I’m allowed to give to God. The feelings I have aren’t evergreen facts, and I don’t have to be loyal to the worst parts of me. Indeed, there can be a feeling of a grim psychic law that governs my experience, and I must remember that this law is subject to abrogation just like the law of the land. Thank you for being a source of emotional activism in my life, and petitioning the defects that be to repeal the worst of my laws of malaise.

6/17/2020

Today’s word of the day is empyrean (adj.) - relating to heaven or the sky; it can also be used as a noun, meaning ‘the highest part of heaven.’ The word comes to us from the Greek ‘empyros’ which meant ‘formed of pure fire or light,’ which in Greek cosmology was said to be the nature of the highest heaven, the sphere of pure light, and only later Christianized in the sense of meaning ‘abode of God and the angels.’ This is another word I just picked because I think it’s pretty. The etymology reminds me that heaven is a pretty subjective thing. When I hear heaven, my natural tendency is to look up, and I think for better or for worse, my imagination tends to place the afterlife somewhere up above. Of course, space extends away from me in all directions, not just up, and I’m spinning around constantly, and whatever direction happens to be up above my head need not necessarily point toward heaven. I’ve heard people say they believe God works through people; I’ve also heard people describe folks in their lives as ‘literal angels.’ I certainly am tempted to do so myself, when I look at the people who paid attention to me, regarded me, cared for me, and didn’t give up on me when I was all the way down the scale in active alcoholism. It’s not my place to say whether or not there is a heaven or angels or not. But I like the idea of the grace I received being not strictly empyrean. Rather, grace is within the purview (the scope of the influence or concerns of something) of humanity; it is our work when we’re at our best. So this means I have the capacity to give it, as well as to receive it. The small favor or kindness can feel like an act of unconditional love to its recipient. Or it can mean nothing at all. I value AA’s old adage ‘let go of outcomes,’ and remember that as long as I’m trying to be of service, I’m on the right path. Thanks for helping me pull my head out of the empyrean clouds and get used to not being so high all the time.

6/16/2020

Today’s word of the day is hodiernal (adj.) - relating to the present day. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘hodie’ which means ‘today.’ I was excited to find this word because it captures the essence of a 12-step mantra: "just for today.” There’s probably been no piece of advice more sagacious (having keen mental discernment and good judgment) that I have received in AA than the old adage: “you don’t have to stay sober for the rest of your life; you just have to stay sober today.” I’m prone to making plans off in the distant future and becoming preoccupied with the frightening demands of uncertain days to come. Even worse, I spend so much time reliving and inhabiting the cringey and awful moments of my past, fixated on what I did wrong, weighted down by remorse. However, when I’m able to ‘be where my feet are,’ to ‘put down the bat’ and to give myself a break, I suffer less. I can see so much or so little when I look around. I can see a safe quiet home, enough food, a job that pays, and folks that answer when I call them. Or I can see a world where my genius goes unappreciated, where my ex-girlfriends defame me, where my lack of radical action leaves the world to crumble under white supremacist hegemony, where I’ll never find true love, and on and on. The point is, it’s all a matter of perspective. When my perspective is hodiernal, when I look at what the material facts are of my life today, my wellness, growth, and purpose are vivid and brilliant. Regularly attending meetings gives me a cadence and stability in my days, as well as helpful reminders on how to return to ‘today-ness,’ usually by reaching out to another alcoholic and working a step. Thank you for giving me today, which, after all, is all I’ve ever had.

6/15/2020

Today’s word of the day is lackadaisical (adj.) - lacking enthusiasm and determination; carelessly lazy. In the 18th century and earlier, the word meant something more like ‘sentimentally woebegone,’ which comes from the old phrase ‘lackadaisy,’ which came from the phrase ‘lack-a-day’ which comes from ‘alack the day’ which was an old fashioned exclamation of sorrow or regret. Finally, ‘alack’ is a contraction of the two words ‘ah, lack.’ I can say with some certainty that I’ve lived much of my live fixated on lack. Growing up I lacked social grace, I lacked cool clothes and video games and other material things I wanted. Then when I was a teenager I started finding other lacks in my life, and first got acquainted with the lack of happiness for no good reason at all, and acquainted with the lack of a will to live. When I learned to quell that feeling by self-medicating, my problem was, naturally, a lack of medication. As is sometimes mentioned in another 12-step program, for me, ‘one was too many, and a thousand was never enough.’ The nature of lack in my life shifted to a lack of accountability, a lack of self-control, a lack of empathy, a lack of remorse for my actions, a lack of a moral compass. Later, after getting sober, I came to understand myself as a creature who was desperately thirsty for a spiritual life and a connection with a Higher Power. This was maybe the biggest lack of all, and for most of my life I didn’t know I lacked it. I heard today a phrase I liked: “‘I don’t know’ is half of knowledge.’” The idea is, I can tell I’m learning when I start to acknowledge how little I really do know. AA is just like that for me: they told me my best thinking got me into AA, and that no original ideas were required to get sober. That floored me when I first heard it, my whole life I’ve labored under the wisdom-lacking notion that I had to come up with my own idea about everything all the time, and share it with the world. Now, a couple years sober, I am finally starting to enjoy what my life lacks: I lack pending criminal charges, I lack active enmity in my interpersonal relationships, I lack the crippling dread that I used to greet at every sunrise. I have come to known myself in clean clear space made in me by a lack of alcohol. One thing I have never lacked in this fellowship is dear, genunine friends — thank you for being among them.

6/14/2020

Today’s word of the day is ylem (n.) - the primordial matter of the universe; in the Big Bang theory, the matter at the start of it all, originally comceived as composed of neutrons at high temperature and density. The word comes to us from the Late Laten ‘hylem’ which means ‘matter.’ I chose this word today with the notion that I could use it as a reminder to make space in my speech for a broad conception of a Higher Power. I’ve had an opportunity to work my 11th step and try to get close to a God as I understand God. That relationship is intensely personal, imperfect, and mutable (liable to change). Even so, spiritual growth can be quite intense, and I know personally I am prone to getting attached to my way as the best way, in every walk of life, including relating to a Higher Power. They really say it best in the Book, so I’ll include a whole paragraph from “We Agnostics’ — Much to our relief, we discovered we did not needto consider another’s conception of God. Our ownconception, however inadequate, was sufficient tomake the approach and to effect a contact with Him. As soon as we admitted the possible existence of aCreative Intelligence, a Spirit of the Universe under-lying the totality of things, we began to be possessedof a new sense of power and direction, provided wetook other simple steps. We found that God does notmake too hard terms with those who seek Him. To us,the Realm of Spirit is broad, roomy, all inclusive; neverexclusive or forbidding to those who earnestly seek.It is open, we believe, to all men. — what this means is whether I think it was a big guy in the say resting on day 7 after making everything or whether I believe a spontaneous reaction of primordial ylem started it all, for the purposes of my recovery, it truly does not matter. All I have to do is turn my will over to a Higher Power, and the rest will be taken care of. Thanks for being a part of my original Higher Power in the program, the fellowship of AA.

6/13/2020

Today rather than a single word of the day, we have three: radical, deracinate, and extirpate. All three have to do with roots. Radical (adj.) - has its familiar definitions as ‘advocating on complete political or social change’ (compare to our old word of the day, ‘upheaval’ — radical also means 'relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; forming an inherent part of something,’ and in Linguistics, Music, and Mathematics, the word radical is used to describe the root of a word, note, or number (you may remember in math how the square root sign is called a ‘radical.’ This word comes to us from the Proto-Indo-European root (as it were) '*wrād-‘ which means ‘branch, root.’ And This root-root is also the root of our next word, ‘deracinate’ (v.) - to tear (something) up by the roots. Other words that share this root are eradicate, radish, rhizome, rutabaga, and wort. A related word from a different root is ‘extirpate,’ which means ‘root out and destroy completely,’ and comes to us from the Latin ‘ex’ which means ‘out’ and ‘stirps’ meaning 'stem.’ I remember being told a long time ago that to be a ‘radical’ did not necessarily mean to possess any certain type of politics; rather, it meant to have an attitude in life of seeking to get at the root of things. I loved that, because it has no agenda, and to me it suggested that by minding things, being careful, considering things, being curious, investigating, that one could gain uncommon insights from even the most commonplace things. That notion pervades my work with these words of the day, I think. Now, as an alcoholic and drug addict, I always had to do my own research when it came to making mistakes. I was not one to take your word for it if you told me a weeklong Aristocrat bender was a bad idea, I needed to do that groundwork or legwork or whatever myself. I’m still a relatively hardheaded person, and being receptive to wisdom derived from the experiences of others does not come easily for me. A sad consequence of three months of quarantine that I have noticed is I get less snippets of random conversation the way I would before or after a meeting, and I lose some of the richness of our fellowship’s ambient wisdom. Now, I have not had the obsession to drink for a long time, and I like to think I have fully extirpated that desire. But alcoholism for me may be more like a spore system, something hardy and diffuse, capable of lying dormant, able to regrow in many different ways, without a main source I can destroy. So a little tending to my spiritual garden daily is necessary to stay sober, and to avoid the kind of earth shattering deracination it took to get me sober in the first place. Thanks for shining your ambient brilliance on me and helping me stay rooted, in the best ways.

6/12/2020

Today’s word of the day is canorous (adj.) - (of song or speech) melodious or resonant. The word comes to us from the latin ‘canere’ which means ‘to sing’ (e.g. a Christmas ‘cantata,' the ‘cantos' are verses of long classical poems, ‘enchantment' under the spell of a song, and the word ‘recant’ which means to take back something once said, but can be defined literally as ‘sing again.’ I like this word because it made me think of all the vibrations going on in an AA meeting. The sonorous (imposingly deep and full) baritone of big men like me doing our best to carry the message, the wavering in the voice of someone whose share has unexpectedly caused them to cry, the lilting, predictable cadence of the promises, with their call and response. And I know I say ‘that really resonated with me’ to describe hearing something that I could relate to, that made sense, that vibrated on my frequency. And canorous makes me think of how in our own ways we are all God’s instruments, shaped just-so and capable of transmitting canorous or cacophonous sound waves, strengthened and more deeply moving when in chorus, in regular need of tuning-up. I’m glad to be able to think of myself as an instrument for my Higher Power these days, and not just an empty drum constantly looking for something to fill me up and dull my resonance. Thanks for banding together with me and attuning to my frequencies!

6/11/2020

Today’s word of the day is bruxism (n.) - involuntary habitual grinding of the teeth, typically during sleep. The word comes to us from the Greek ‘ebryxa,’ aorist root of ‘brykein,’ which means ‘to gnash the teeth.’ (The word gnash means ‘to strike together; grind,’ and is usually used in reference to the teeth; it comes to us from the Old Norse ‘gnastan.’) I have experienced bruxism in my life and it’s unpleasant. While it need not be a side-effect of emotions, my teeth-grinding is something I look at as a product of unresolved tension in my life. Maybe you’re familiar with the phrase ‘weaping and gnashing of teeth,’ which appears in the New Testament of the Christian Bible as a description of the fate of the unrighteous. I certainly have conducted my fair share of unrighteous behavior, and for me it can be tempting to view myself as a fallen angel, a woebegone child of God led astray, permanently marred and warped by the mistakes of my past and doomed to suffer in this life as a result. In my better moments, I recognize that regretting the past and wishing to shut the door on it are common symptoms of an alcoholic life. Even nonalcoholics have their regrets. I feel better when I can give today an honest effort at doing something decent, even if it’s not righteous. Because my life is not a story of a great man, a historical heavyweight, a warrior on the embattled front between heaven and helll. I’m a garden variety drunk, I made the same mistakes most of us made, and if I don’t take a drink today, I have a good chance not to make them again. I can tell you that an estimated 8 - 31% of the general population experience bruxism, and I doubt it’s because 8 -31% of people have committed sins that are unforgiveable in the eyes of God. More likely is that life has its discomforts, the body has its idiosyncracies and peculiarites, and it doesn’t do me a whole hell of a lot of good to read into everything so much. Stevie wonder has a song called ‘Ordinary Pain’ that I think illustrates this point beautifully. As a sober alcoholic, I have the wonderful gift of experiencing life’s ordinary pains, and in so doing being a true citizen of the human race. Here’s wishing us all some dental nonviolence as we sleep tonight, and here’s me saying thanks as always for bearing with me, even when I bare my teeth.

6/10/2020

Today’s word of the day is gest (n.) - 1. a tale of adventures; especially a romance in verse 2. an adventure or exploit. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘gestus’ which means ‘to wage, to bear, or to carry;’ you may recognize it as the root of words like gesture, ingest, jest, register, and suggest. I like this word because it reminds me of what to me is the juiciest part of AA: the ‘war stories,’ the tales we spin from our time in active addiction. I think they’re fabulous (bonus etymology: the root of the word fabulous is ‘fable,’ and the word originally meant ‘mythical, legendary, pertaining to a tale or story,’ and only started being used as ‘marvelous, terrific’ in the 1950s). In my early days in AA, I was scandalized to hear people share things casually at meetings that I swore I would take to my grave. And rather than being met with cruel derision, people laughed! When people said ‘we are not a glum lot,’ I didn’t get it at first. But slowly I came to understand that my maudlin (self-pityingly or tearfully sentimental, often through drunkenness) fixation on the sins of my past was just another form of pride. I was (and still sometimes am) unwillingly to let go of the harm I’ve done, and when I cling to the past in that way, it interferes my capacity to be useful to others. So one way AA has found to combat that tendency is by providing a safe space to bond over our past moments of monstrosity. The wisdom seems to be, we can either ruminate or we can laugh it off, leave the past in the past, and move on. And even though staying in the solution is preferred, these gests are a way I was able to begin to form a partnership with other people in AA, to feel like I belonged, to trust that I wouldn’t be judged. And that increased my Openness in that practical AA trinity of HOW - Honest Open & WIlling. Our gests, our fables, our yarns: these strands are interwoven to form a substantive fabric in our fellowship, sometimes even a safety net. So thanks for your gestures of kindness and your gests, and for making me feel like I’m in the right place.

6/9/2020

Today’s word of the day is augury (n.) - a sign of what will happen in the future; an omen; the word of an augur; divination (from the flight of birds). You may remember one of the words last month, august, who shares a root with augury: the Latin word ‘augur’ referred to an official in ancient Rome who foretold events by observing and interpreting signs, particularly related to the increase in crops; for this reason the word’s origin before Latin is thought to be the Proto-Indo European ‘aug-’ which means ‘increase’ and may be familiar as the root of ‘augment.’ I heard in a meeting today that I don’t need any degree in theology nor any capacities as an esoteric mystic to understand my Higher Power. I don’t need augury, telekinesis, or any supernatural sense. Some things in my life that operate to help me understand my Higher Power are grace, gratitude, humility, and acceptance. Mostly when I recognize that I have been taken care of not because of my excellent character or hard work, quite the contrary, I am taken care of because I alone cannot take care of myself. Recognizing that, I can strive toward ‘humble helpfulness,’ another thing I heard in a meeting as one person’s understanding of God’s will for them in the world. This reminds me: I don’t have to be in a position of power, of social success, of great renown, or even stability in order to help another person. Quite often, the helping improves my wellness or stability. But my alcoholic mind regularly forgets this, and I figure as long as I can design myself some relief I’ll be fine. Inevitably, me playing God doesn’t work. Our Big Book reminds us of this. And when it doesn’t work, I get broken down, and I need help, and as we know, being on the receiving end of help is a form of service in itself. When I open myself up and let another person care for me, I must remember that the service another person experiences in helping me benefits them. For an avoidant-hermit type like me, this bears repeating: allowing myself to be helped is good for me and for others. It’s a way to act in humility, to turn my will over. Thank you all for helping me, and for keeping me away from a life run on self-will run riot.

6/8/2020

Today’s word of the day is aplomb (n.) - self-confidence or assurance, especially when in a demanding situation. The word comes to us from the French ‘aplomb’ which means literally ‘perpendicularity,’ from the phrase ‘à plomb’ which means ‘poised, upright, balanced. Handypeople or builders may recognize the word’s root, ‘plumb’ as a word that means ‘straight up and down,’ basically the vertical version of level. The root of that word is ‘plumbum,’ which is the Latin word for the metal ‘lead,’ which was the traditional material used for the weight at the end of the string used to check if things were plumb. I like how deep the etymology for this one is, and how familiar it is as a concept. I like to think I’m a more upright person now that I’m in recovery. I mean I stand up more often, for one thing, because I spend a lot less time passed out or recovering from a hangover in bed. I also have for the first time a fairly upstanding status in the community; it’s amazing how nice people can be when you don’t constantly steal from them and lie constantly. But more than being merely ‘upright,’ aplomb usually has a connotation of grace under fire. I imagine great gnarly tree standing up tall against the squalls of a bad storm. I also imagine my Mom holding her head up to finish a task of caring for me despite how bad my addiction dragged her down. There’s a great deal of aplomb among the people in my life who are not in recovery who bothered to prop me up and keep trying even though I had already decided I had gone too far down the scale. So tonight I’d like to focus my gratitude outward to all those folks without our disease, whose work in the world may not follow a strict program, but whose contributions and service matter just as much, and have benefitted me a great deal. That kind of aplomb reminds me another way in which I can’t run the show, and how depending on others and being among a community makes me stronger.

6/7/2020

Today’s word of the day is adumbrate (v.) - indicate faintly; foreshadow or symbolize; report or represent in outline; overshadow. The word comes to us form the Latin 'umbrare’ which means ‘shadow, darkness, shade’ (a related word is ‘umbrage’ which means literally ‘shade or shadow’ but is often used figuratively with ‘take’ as in ‘take umbrage’ to mean suspicion that one has been slighted. I have done my fair share of adumbrating in my life. In AA, for example, I get opportunities to outline my story, to sketch out my path to recovery, and in so doing, learn more about myself in the safety of the gaze of this fellowship. I also get a potpourri (a mixture of things) of foreshadowing when I listen to the stories of AA, some foreboding, some optimistic. And I can imagine myself before I got sober as an adumbration of the person I am today: a kind of hollow wraith, stuck in a loop, committed to the drink. Only back then it didn’t feel like a foreshadowing, it felt like the last days before a personal apocalypse. And that old shadow version of me, there are times today when it looms large, and the sins of my past overshadow who I am today. But only in my own head. There’s an old fable about how dangerous it is to get scared of your own shadow, and I think the lesson more or less is that I can be my own worst enemy. I get real scared at night, lately, even after a great day, in that 30 minutes or so between getting in bed and getting to sleep. The shadows all mix on the walls and behind my eyelids, and I get all mixed up, I forget my progress, my decency; I remember things like that really awkward thing I said to a crush at age 15 or the look on the face of a partner who had finally had enough of me. So sleep is a scary place. And that squares with most of my life, really, and it was a problem too easily solved with liquor. So every morning I wake up sober today, I know that even the battleground of my bed and the small fights I win there is something worth celebrating. I’m recovering. I can’t always see my progress, but it’s there. I see the progress in you all, and I gather strength and refresh my resolve when I’m seen by you all. So thank you for that.

6/6/2020

Today’s word of the day is quincunx (n.) - 1. an arrangement of five objects with four at the corners of a square and the fifth at its center, used for the five on dice or playing cards, and in planting trees 2. An aspect of 150°, equivalent to five zodiacal signs. The word comes to us from the Latin, literally “five twelfths.” In my inventory today, I reflect on being called ‘volatile’ by a loved one in sobriety. I recall that my character defects remain at my side, loyal like dogs, they stay close so long as I feed them. Or maybe they survive on scraps and will come and go as they choose. I realize as I write these things, the point I aim at making may be influenced by a prayer, or a whim, or a rhyme, or a fragment of memory. Some nights, it can feel like a roll of the dice. I picked quincunx because it’s such an unusual word and because I like how it looks. The pattern of five on a die’s face is quincunx. Five-twelfths of the way through this program, I got a chance to admit every single last thing about myself, my worst secrets, to myself, to another human being, and turn them over to my Higher Power. Not higher as in the stars, where the zodiacal realm is and where the stars are degreed in houses divided by twelve, but higher as in I never have to get high again. Thank God. Thank you.

6/5/2020

Today’s word of the day is acerbic (adj.) - sharp and forthright, especially of a comment or style of speaking; tasting sour or bitter. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘aceribus’ which means ‘sour-tasting.’ I like this word because it reminds me of how some of my favorite people in AA speak. I’m a tender soul, gentle, sensitive, and I bristle easily. I’ve made a habit in life of avoiding criticism, conflict, and tension. And what that has meant practically for me is that I ignore and avoid the voices of criticism in my life that ask me to make hard decisions, especially the ones leading to personal growth. In AA, I was thrust into a world of acerbic wits and personalities. Sometimes when I shared at meetings, I’d hear somebody share afterward who seemed to me to be sharing AT me, usually emphasizing the necessity for taking action, having faith, being willings, and getting honest. My drinking problem was so huge that AA was my last refuge. So I had to endure the sharp, forthright, sometimes sour and hard-to-swallow wisdom I got in the rooms. But I think that hearing and heeding difficult suggestions has made me better, and I’m grateful to you all and for the program for offering it to me.

6/4/2020

Today’s word of the day is effrontery (n.) - insolent or impertinent behavior; shamelessness, impudence, boldness in transgressing the bounds of modesty and propriety. The word comes to us from the Old French ‘esfronte’ which means ‘shameless, brazen,’ and probably originates from the Late Latin ‘effrontem’ which means ‘barefaced, shameless, audacious.’ Today at work I experienced what I considered an affront (with an a, not an e) to my work — a superior made a dismissive comment that I didn’t appreciate. I noticed that it agitated me. And rather than let it go, I had that sickly sweet feeling that I needed to let him know exactly how wrong he was, right away. And this, on my part was effrontery; it was a bold, and frankly, needless, transgression of the bounds of propriety to prove an exceedingly small point. My ego can still take over. My selfishness often lays dormant, and I can convince myself I am a sane, graceful, considerate person at all times. And in those moments of complacency, you can usually see the worst in me. Luckily, AA has heavily impressed the need for quickly admitting my wrongs, and so I took a breath, swallowed my pride, and said how I made my mistake in a new message. After all this, I felt foolish, volatile, oversensitive, unprofessional, overly emotional, and in general weak, silly. It may not surprise you to hear that I missed the meetings I usually go to the previous 3 days this week. I often get to feeling good, and all it takes is a moment of basic discomfort or tension to remind me how little power I do have. And I’m glad today I can get put back into my right size without a full collapse or crisis. Thank you for being a part of my life.

6/3/2020

Today’s word of the day is enthrall (v.) - 1. capture the fascinated attention of 2. to hold in mental or moral bondage; enslave. The word comes to us from the Old Norse ‘praell’ which meant 'slave, servant' or could be used figuratively to mean ‘wretch, scoundrel.’ This word came to mind today as I continued to watch the news. While I felt some relief and perhaps even superiority as I dodged news and kind of buried my head in the sand with regard to news about covid, I found myself unable to turn away from the news about the worldwide demonstrations decrying police violence; I found myself enthralled. I think it’s interesting how the word for ‘capturing attention’ came from a word for ‘slavery;’ and you can see something similar with the word ‘captivated.’ Today I live in an attention economy in many ways, and I feel pressure to make decisions about my identity via the things that I buy and the images and words I choose to consume. And in fact over the last several days I chose to watch news and attend protests over attending AA and recovery meetings. Even a few days skipping meetings for me had a profound impact on my mood. I recognized how stabilizing a force AA is for me. I have qualms (an uneasy feeling of doubt, worry, or fear, especially about one’s own conduct) about seeking stabilization during a moment of social rupture. I feel drawn to the fire like a moth. I have the benefit of hindsight, of ‘playing the tape all the way through,’ to know that I can’t sustain a courtship with instability. In some ways I have to come to terms with what the Big Books says — namely that resentments invite the insanity of alcohol back into my life and that anger, righteous or otherwise, is among the dubious luxuries of normal men, which for me, an alcoholic, is poison. So, in as much as I am, by Grace, yet sane and capable of choosing how to divide my attention, tonight I look forward to an AA meeting inside, and I set an intention of being fully present and paying attention to just the message being carried, and not on news or social media. It feels hard like getting back to exercise. But even one hour at a time, I know I can stay sober with the help of this program. Thank you for being a part of it.

6/2/2020

Today’s word of the day is wan (adj.) - (of a person’s complexion or appearance) pale and giving the impression of illness or exhaustion; weak; strained. The word comes to us from the Old English ‘wann’ which means ‘dark, black,’ and that word’s origin is unknown. My heart has been heavy the past few days, and like clockwork when the going gets tough I start to believe I ought to be able to make it on my own, and if I’m not, it’s because I’m too weak, too sick, to damaged, too broken, to put up a worthwhile fight. The fear of a drinking dream in which I made the sickly mental maneuvers to try to figure out how I could avoid revealing to AA members I had relapsed. Waking up from a bad dream like that leaves me wan. Sleep disturbances and the doldrums that accompany depression for me are well-battled when I remember the fight is common, the problem is common, and our solution is common. I feel apart-from when I get fixated on unrealistic expectations, when I lose my capacity for acceptance, when I nourish resentments instead of turning them over. I feel weak and strained right now. During moments like these I write aspirationally to remind myself — I have done nothing to earn the love of my Higher Power, and that’s the beauty of Grace: it comes unearned, undeserved, to the worst of us, at our lowest points, when I feel weak and repulsive and powerless and defeated, my God loves me just the same. My God doesn’t love me because I’m good, God loves me because God’s good. A wan moment after an explosion of exuberance, vivid grief, prismatic rage, creative resistance…what else is this besides a beautiful moment of nature’s tendency toward equilibrium. I heard a phrase once, from a poet: “water seeks its level.” I heard another phrase in rehab: “like water off a duck’s back.” The deluge may come, and I may let it wash in or bead and roll off me. The water, and me will end up where we belong. I am where my feet are. I am grateful for today. Thank you for being a part of my life, and helping me stay sober, one day at a time.

6/1/2020

Today’s word of the day is interregnum (n.) - a period when normal government is suspended, especially between successive reigns or regimes; an interval or pause between two periods of office or other things. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘inter’ which means ‘between’ and ‘regnum’ which means ‘kingship, dominion, rule, realm (compare to regent, reign, regulate). Today I have a moment to catch my breath, and I thank my Higher Power for the simple joy of good weather and a life with loved ones nearby. Today I reflect on the ‘pause’ sense of interregnum. As we all have the right to say at any meeting — tonight I think I’ll just listen. I stayed sober today. I’m grateful to be in AA. I love ya’ll.

5/31/2020

Dear friends, when I write and share in meetings, I take pains to tow the line in AA, or at least my perception of it; attempt to keep discussions channeled to the work of recovery and my own experience. I may be wrong in doing so and I may fail at it, but I do try. My word of the day loves AA, lauds it, applauds it. But I want to make clear here that I speak only for myself, as an individual; ’Nebraska’s Word of the Day' is not AA. This one tonight, especially — I write, for longer than usual, through feelings about society as I experience it. It may come off as political or offensive or not recovery-focused, and if that’s not what you want, stop reading now, and also as a friendly reminder to everyone, should these texts ever become ponderous (dull, laborious, too-heavy, boring) for any reason, please just text ‘stop’ to me and I’ll take you off the chat loop, no questions asked. I have a great deal of love and respect for all of you, and what follows does not change that one bit.

Today’s word of the day is upheaval - (n.) a violent or sudden change or disruption to something. The word comes to us from the Old English verb ‘upheave’ which meant literally ‘throw up,’ related to the German ‘aufheben,’ a word whose meaning connotes ‘repeal, annul, abolish, revoke, reverse, cancel void, lift up, pick up, raise, lift off.’ An alternate definition of the word ‘upheaval’ is ‘convulsions in society,’ and I find that conception particularly resonant. In a dream I imagined rioters as antibodies working against something toxic in our body-politic, an amorphous diffuse plastic-smog-vapor-electromagnetic-5G-carcinogen-GMO-freeradical-bluelight-chemtrail poison of indeterminate origin and expanse, threatening to suffuse the air unless the rioters could shatter the physical infrastructure that propped it up; the sound of convulsing metal and glass crackled refreshingly as they fought the infection, intersection by intersection. ‘Pipe dream’ is a phrase that comes to us from the unusually vivid dreams experienced by users of pure smoked opium in the old days, back before the opioid epidemic and its recent eclipse. And while I haven’t touched an opioid in years, my dreams are sometimes just as vivid, farfetched, and senseless as a pipe dream.

In my waking life, I have experienced convulsions at a host of toxins — screen overload, poisoning from too much drugs, withdrawal from not enough drugs, the paralysis of isolation, the quicksand of a relationship, the gravity of abuse, the albatross of remorse, the black hole of mental illness, the weight of family, the yoke of guilt, the rot and cavity of an undernourished spirit, and just plain disassociation. I have sat in a perfectly silent serene apartment surrounded by polished wood, dark glass, and soft fabric — stomach full, without pain, and utterly discontent. In AA I often say and hear: protect me from what I want. Two years ago, by grace, violent ruptures in my psyche and behaviors gave way to an upheaval in my behavior that helped me remember that I am blessedly powerless, and that realization enabled me to stay sober one day at a time. But I ingest all sorts of other poison, all the time. The poisons taste and feel different, and sometimes I don’t notice myself taking them in. At root, I am addicted to comfort, averse to conflict. In exchange for immediate ease, I inhale something in our atmosphere that hurts me and that hurts other people. As an addict, it’s in my nature.

My heart tells me: a society that permits black murder is sick. I watched the video of George Floyd die and it made my heart sick. Heart- and spirit-sick, a new layer of sickness during a pandemic. A man suffocated during a moment when I must check my breath’s length daily as a signal of whether or not I have covid. My breath, which I have the privilege to attend to in meditation, which for instance this month I have filled with air that smells like rain and flowers and cucumbers and watermelon in the lush, verdant, peaceful enclave of Chapel Hill. Today it occurred to me, this is maybe the intoxicating perfume of velveteen whiteness. I used to hand-wring about white guilt, but AA gave me new language for it. One of my character defects is racism. Anti-blackness. White supremacy. They are inside me. They are not who I am, but I contain them. On the phone at my work when I hear the accents I associate with blackness, I recognize a reaction in me that is often ugly, and that must be managed in order for me to act in line with my values: all people deserve dignity, everyone is entitled to basic respect and regard. This is just one small sliver of the totalizing choke of white racism that hangs above me like columns of atmosphere in every single sphere of my life.

Part of upheaval for me means allowing the convulsion to move through my body, and in recovery I have developed a unique capacity to feel the healing in that moment of discomfort. In AA meetings I love hearing people remind each other that one of the worst parts of being sober is that you have to feel feelings again. It hurts to feel this. I think about the scale of my hurting and my feeling. I think: me not feeling this fully could perpetuate racism. I worry: my racism is a part of why George Floyd died.

Here’s another sliver of my racism. Plenty of you have heard my story, how I used to use, how I got sober. Trying to reflect, I think the way I share about using crack is illustrative of something awful, ugly, and common: at first I was addicted to powder cocaine, a white drug, a luxury drug, and then got so desperate that I smoked crack, a black drug, a poverty drug, and that was my lowest bottom. Maybe you can relate. These slivers of race are only slivers to me because part of the insidious nature of white privilege as I experience it is that it makes my racism largely invisible. In this age, the information I have access to bombards the comfort of ignoring racism. How often do I let it in? Statues have been torn down, and streets renamed, in recent memory, here and in the Triangle and in my hometown. How does this align with the Big Book's promise: ‘we will not regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it?’ AA as a program for me fundamentally depends on the concept of ‘acceptance.’ Acceptance is the gravitational center of our most-uttered prayer. Now, routine is also a bedrock in my recovery, which means I pray whether I feel anything or not. But in my experience, a really good prayer happens when it lasts longer than I intended it to, when I leave feeling something unexpected, weak-kneed, dizzy, short of breath. So, I pray now to ask myself, what can I accept? I take a deep breath in. As the Big Book says: “Here we ask God for inspiration, an intuitive thought or a decision.'

I love our Big Book because the authors state matter-of-factly what We do. They pull no punches and mince no words. I require inspiration. I know that from the book. I require breath, too. And to talk about breath is to talk about inspiration (n.) - to fill (someone) with the urge or ability to do or feel something, especially to do something creative; to create a feeling, especially a positive one, in a person; to animate; to give rise to. To talk about breath is to talk about aspiration (n.) - a hope or ambition of achieving something. Spanish speakers may recognize ‘Esparanza,’ the noun and name which means ‘hope.’ Because the common root of all these words is the Latin ‘spirare,’ a verb meaning ’to breathe.’ To talk about breath and our common access to it is to talk about ‘conspiracy,’ a word whose connotations are often negative, but whose origins lie in a concept of collective action: a group of people who are thinking in harmony, so close that they even breathe together. And to talk about breath is to talk about ‘spirit’ (n.) - that animating or vital principle in man and animals. The spirit, the breath, is where life originates, where our emotions are seated. To talk about breath we must talk about its lack, its cessation: expiration (n.) - termination, end, close; death. For me this stirs up the imagery of folks with covid intubated, ICU, bellows, frantic beeping; the deaths of those whose breath left them, as testified by their breathless next of kin. We are reminded of the respirator’s root and purpose. ‘Spirit' is the earliest English etymological root in this word family, the Proto-Indo European root is '(s)peis’ which means ‘to blow.’ I have wondered what precedes this, what occupies the space between our chattering present and mute antiquity. Some linguists speculate that the utterance that signifies breath originated as an onomatopoeic formation imitating the sound of breathing. Listening to a breath in and out, I can hear the sibilance, the hiss, the spsssth, the spirit. I breathe in: I am braced, empty space.

But inevitably, I sigh. My love for language is sincere. It also exposes me to a risk of looking down on people who use language less precisely, with less fixity, who speak in dialects and slang and creole, who invent their own names and spell things their own way and confound the predictable rhythms and forms of words and syntactical structures that Proper English has consecrated. Black naming traditions have been used creatively and contra-historically to differentiate chosen names from the assignations of the ancestral overseer. English is the world’s lingua franca, and it became that way because it is the language of imperialism; it’s the language of the colonizer and the slaveowner, the language in which contracts to buy and sell human beings were written. These are all my opinions, and potentially inflammatory ones. For those averse to ‘politicizing’ the discussion, one need look no further than the racism which functions through colorism (prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group; Andre 3000 once wore a jumpsuit with words sewn on that sum up the notion succinctly. His jumpsuit read: "Across cultures darker people suffer most, why?"). Colorism is a system that props up racism and that is embedded in our everyday speech. This excerpt from Robert B. Moore’s 1976 essay "Racism in the English Language" illustrates the point well:

“Some may blackly (angrily) accuse me of trying to blacken (defame) the English language, to give it a black eye (mark of shame) by writing such black words (hostile). They may denigrate (to cast aspersions; to darken) me by accusing me of being blackhearted (malevolent), of having a black outlook (pessimistic, dismal) on life…which would certainly be a black mark (detrimental fact) against me. Some may black-brow (scowl at) me and hope that a black cat crosses in front of me because of this black deed. I may become a black sheep who will be blackballed (ostracized) by being placed on a blacklist (list of undesirables) in an attempt to blackmail me to retract my words…However, it would be a black day when I would not “call a spade a spade,” even though some will suggest a white man calling the English language racist is like the pot calling the kettle black. While many may be niggardly (grudging, scanty) in their support, others will be honest and decent—and to them I say, that’s very white of you (honest, decent). The preceding of course is a white lie (not intending to cause harm) meant only to illustrate some examples of racist terminology in the English language.” These days, when I hear myself say ‘denigrate,’ it means something much different than it used to. To be abundantly clear: ‘denigrate’ comes to us from the same place the N-word comes from.

The depth of colorism and its symbols is obviously far beyond my scope here. But I remember learning about these things for the first time and being horrified. A secret I’ve unlocked in recovery is that I don’t get to learn something once and coast on that for the rest of my life. I have to learn it over and over. Just like I relearn my powerlessness daily, I have to relearn my racism. It is this pragmatic approach that makes AA effective: we treat our problems as practices to come to directly and develop measures against. All this speaks to a larger point about my experience, which is that I often learn (or re-learn) of the ways in which I perpetuate and am complicit in racism, and it makes me sick. It makes me want to throw up. It makes my body want to upheave. And as every single one of you drunks knows, when it’s time to throw up, it’s time to throw up. There’s no stopping the convulsion. So, as I consider my role in the world, how do I respond to the sickness?

I do not know the answer. I am not required to know the answer. I am meant to be of service. I have a duty to take care of those to whom my attention heals. That for me means I may not be the revolutionary flag-bearer at the front of the march, not the bard-propagandist behind the megaphone, not the cunning saboteur nor the raw agent of physical destruction I once lusted so desperately to be. My job is often to be quiet, and to be still. A white person’s duty in this day and age can be discharged magnificently at any given moment by not needlessly calling the police on a black person. That is an act of stillness and of service that can materially save lives; an act which is not to be taken for granted. Contrastingly, I can be of service when I choose not to be silent if a black person is being harmed. The non-action for me as a white person is not always neutral, and sometimes my stillness or silence may mean complicity. When it does or does not is a question I can ask my Higher Power with a simple tool like the Serenity Prayer.

At the end of the day, I must not have a political agenda. This is a reminder to myself — I have experienced firsthand the toxicity of righteous indignation (and I don’t mean the good Toxicity from System of a Down, either). My job is not to mold others’ hearts and minds. My job, again, is to be of service. Another of my character defects is being manipulative and trying to control outcomes. My 6th & 7th step requires me to become truly willing and to ask God to remove those and all the other defects of character I have that get in the way of me being of service. My job is to share my experience. My job is to clean up my side of the street. And right now I’m not worried about the glass shards there, I’m worried about the pang of fear in my heart that I get when I jog past a black man late at night. At a meeting the other day someone I trusted a great deal said: “I’m not going to be the agent of change in this world…I’m just not.” To me, this is humility, this is being right-sized, this is a reminder that although I posess a talent to write with candor and to present myself authoritatively, I DO NOT have it all figured out, and I learn about myself (including unexpected ways my shortcomings may manifest themselves) when I write. Today, I have a Higher Power who I’m allowed to turn ALL this over to. I can avoid the temptation of conflating ‘revolution,’ that just-around-the-corner and highly-charged political act, with ‘revolution,’ whose definition at its plainest is ’to turn over.’ There’s no area of my life that’s inappropriate for me to turn over to God, including racism. I get to have a conversation with my Higher Power on my terms, I get to check that against the prevailing wisdom of a rich faith community, I get to flesh that out among the unbelievably robust and wise emotional support network and fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous, and in that fleshing-out I get to get honest with other alcoholics to keep the sickness in me from metastasizing. I am sick, and I am recovering; 'I’m still breathing,’ as I used to say to people who I didn’t want to say ‘I’m a miserably depressed drug addict who hopes to die soon” but I also didn’t want to lie. And so, on the subject of still-breathing, I want to do one more definition before closing.

Suffocate (v.) - die or cause to die from lack of air or inability to breathe; to feel or cause to feel trapped and oppressed.

5/30/2020

Today’s word of the day is limn (v.) - depict or describe in painting or words; suffuse or highlight something with a bright color or light. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘luminare’ which means ‘make light.’ The word was originally used to described the process of illuminating manuscripts with ornate colored inks and metal foil to set off the text. The ‘mn’ words appeal to me for their mouthfeel — solemn, hymn, column, autumn (British spelling) — for me they’re poetic, heavy, solid words, ancient somehow. Limn is a less common one I learned recently looking at old books from the middle ages, whose ornate decoration spoke to the great weight and import afforded to the text, both for its meaning but also for its shape, its morphology, its beauty. I sometimes see AA members whose eyes light up when they recall a favorite quote from the Big Book, who limn the original text, and sometimes even amend it, during a share in a meeting. At the end of the day, my goal here isn’t too terribly different: there’s a small, rich set of values at the heart of AA, and I’m trying to shine my own light on them in a way that hopefully makes them objects of beauty and fascination to you and re-ignites their wonder in me. I’m grateful to be moved to pore over text like this, my own little peculiar take on Step 12. We all get to choose how to work with others, we know best practices and we are also encouraged to be ourselves and to find creativity and joy in our recovery — as we are reminded in the book, we are not a glum lot. Thanks for helping defend against the gloom in my life and casting uncanny light in my life.

5/29/2020

Today, rather than a single word of the day, I want to do a group of similar words I often get mixed up: Guile, Guileless, and Beguile. ‘Guile' is a noun meaning ‘sly or cunning intelligence.’ ‘Beguile’ is a verb meaning ‘charm or enchant someone, sometimes in a deceptive way; delude by artifice. ‘Guileless’ is an adjective meaning ‘honest but naive; free from guile.’ The common root of these words is the Old Frankish ‘wigila’ which means ‘trick or ruse’ a common ancestor to the Old Frisian ‘wigila’ which means ‘sorcery, witchcraft.’ As an alcoholic I believe I possess a fair bit of guile — I’m sly and clever at getting my way, getting what I want. It might get coded as ‘effective’ in an office setting, ‘manipulative’ in a relationship setting, ‘wry’ in a poetic setting, or ‘shrewd’ in a business setting. Like many character defects, guile is not one-dimensional, and has its purpose; unfortunately I’m extra prone to using guile to exploit others than to help them. As for ‘beguile,’ I recall the phrase in How It Works: ‘remember we deal with alcohol — cunning, baffling, powerful.’ We could just as easily say ‘alcohol — beguiling’ and achieve similar effect. In the common rhetoric of the rooms, I hear the dominion of alcohol over our otherwise decent minds and spirits described as otherworldly, uncanny, like an enchantment or sorcery, a spell under which we are bound (otherwise known as ‘the mental obsession’). I think it’s interesting to look at how interchangeable some words can be from ‘hard’ sciences like medicine and psychology, versus those considered soft and subjective like mysticism or superstition. At the end of the day, whether you describe it clinically as an ‘obsession' or in woo-woo parlance as ‘spellbound,’ the truth of the matter doesn’t change: an alcoholic like me is powerless over alcohol. And so to that point, I am guileless when I believe I can safely drink or use again — I am naive, and suffering that delusion we recognize from the Big Book as one that must be smashed, every time we can identify it. AA is not a magical forcefield, but its members are often enchanting personalities, whose words sometimes hang about my head and lighten my heart like they were an incantation. Or maybe they activate a specific combination of neurotransmitters that de-activates the pleasure centers in my brain long enough for a craving to pass. Whatever it is, I’m happy to have it, and grateful for you for keeping it alive.

5/28/2020

Today’s word of the day is ken (n.) - one’s range of knowledge or sight, as in the phrase ‘beyond my ken,’ which means ‘outside my field of knowledge’ more or less. The word is also a verb: ‘to know, understand, or take cognizance of,’ as in ‘I ken him' which means ‘I recognize him.’ The word comes to us from the Middle English ‘kennen’ which means ‘make known; give instruction to; be aware; know; recognize by sight; catch sight of,’ and has roots in a more ancient Germanic tongue. I love encountering small words with unexpected meanings, and ken is a perfect example. It mainly survives today in Scottish dialects, but found its way into an article I was reading, and I think the phrase ‘beyond my ken’ is a pretty one. It also strikes me as a practical one: one of the cardinal categories of lies I’m liable to tell as a man are lies in which I purport to have more knowledge or expertise on something than I actually do. While it’s not a gender-specific lie, I think gender roles in our society do simultaneously pressure and reward men to act like they know more than they do, in a way that is harmful and disadvantageous to all involved. I can think of a handful of times AFTER I got sober where I had to go back and make amends for just straight up lying to somebody about something to seem like I knew what I was talking about. These amends have been on the smaller scale, mercifully — often it looks like me calling a customer back at work and letting them know I overlooked or left something out, or (shudder) telling them THEY were right about something that I had told them they were wrong about. Now I hate this about as much as anything, at least while the phone is ringing. But afterward, I’m usually rewarded with a wash of mental freshness and clarity, the kind that comes only in the wake of a deflated ego. And nowadays, if I want to avoid that whole rigamarole (a long and complicated and confusing procedure), I can use the handy phrase ‘sorry, that’s beyond my ken,’ and try to find someone who can answer the question better than I. To me this fits nicely with the idea of AA as a ‘spiritual toolkit’ laid at the feet of those of us in recovery. I can pick up this tool and use it, save myself some grief, and put it back where it belongs. Thanks for helping me stock my spiritual toolshed!

5/27/2020

Today’s word of the day is ersatz (adj.) - made or used as a substitute, (typically an inferior one) for something else. This word comes to us from the Old High German ‘irsezzen’ which means ‘to replace;’ the word was originally used as a german term for ‘units of the army reserve.’ You may remember ersatz from a previous word of the day where its definition was mentioned in passing, but I like the word enough that I thought it was worth a deeper dive. One of the things I struggled with the most early on in sobriety was the notion of ‘identity.’ AA was changing my life materially in ways that ran completely counter to the identity I had been cultivating my whole life. I could no longer get by without working (made possible by constantly stealing); this confounded my sense of self as a cool, slick reprobate (an unprincipled person; one predestined to damnation) who operated outside the law, on the fringes of society. I could no longer rely on the benign atmosphere of not getting called on my bullshit. The result was: what I thought of myself did not match how I really was in the world. I was more lazy and parasitic than anything; perhaps slick in the sense of a slug or a leech. My ego made attempts at a violent psychic rejection of any new identity; eventually I despaired about how little what I thought of myself mattered and how far from the truth my imaginary identity was. In the cool smooth space of that psychic basement, I found something durable beneath all the detritus (waste or debris). My ego and identity were not assets, they were props, scaffolding to hold up a flimsy, petty, vampiric life. Feeling them crash down around me stung, but I finally had a chance to clear away some of that wreckage. Clearing it away looked like getting to see parts of myself long forgotten — over time slowly I have regained large chunks of the gentleness and slowness and sensitivity and restraint and conscience and memory that I thought would never return to me. I have a practical plan for living now, thanks to AA, and my behaviors speak on my behalf much better than an imagined internal identity ever could have. I have the fellowship of AA, you people, to thank, for discarding the ersatz self I once clung to, in favor of an unmasked self to be taken on its own terms, accepted, and loved.

5/26/2020

Today’s word of the day is putative (adj.) - generally considered or reputed to be; supposed. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘putare’ which means ‘to judge, supposed, believe, suspect;’ you may recognize this root in the word ‘computer.’ The word’s etymology is actually even more ancient, coming from the Proto Indo European root ‘pau’ which means ‘to cut out, purify’ and later 'clean, trim, prune.’ Linguists have suggested the evolution of the word from purify—>clean—>trim—>simplify—>account—>opine (form an opinion). I find this word’s historical development interesting because in some ways it parallels the development of my body & mind in the fellowship of AA. First I cut out the alcohol, and while it did not make me spiritually pure by any means, it did mark the cessation of my habit of ingesting a poison, and in that sense I began to purify my body, or at least my liver. Next I had the opportunity to trim away the parts of myself that had begun to moulder, mildew, and rot on the vine—this was the cessation of telling huge lies and stealing from people. These changes in activity preceded my actively working the steps, and that in turn made my life simpler. Now that I was not actively complicating my life with excessively risky and harmful actions, I for the first time had cleared enough space to do some accounting, in the form of the 4th step inventory. Now with a clearer sense of what I have inside, good and bad, I have the opportunity to form some opinions. The important ones are: what is my opinion of God, what is my opinion about service, and what is my opinion of myself. I don’t have to be right about any of these, just sincere, and together I form Nebraska, the putative recovering alcoholic. Because at the end of the day, all of us are putatively sober — we go by our word, we keep our own count, and we know if we lie about it, we only cheat ourselves. And when I find the wherewithal to remember the old saw that “what other people think of me is none of my business,” I have the opportunity to look for ways to put my faith into action, and remember that whatever putative qualities I may imagine for myself, I have direct material evidence of my worth every day I don’t take a drink, and every day I show up when another alcoholic reaches out. Thanks for being a part of that evidence for me!

5/25/2020

Today’s word of the day is solicitude (n.) - 1. anxiety, uneasiness of mind; 2. attentive care and protectiveness; an attitude of earnest concern or attention. It comes to us from the Latin ‘solicitare’ which means ‘to disturb, trouble,’ and is connected to the modern usage of ‘solicit’ to mean ‘petition; harass.’ I usually look at a few different web sites for definitions to compare and contrast, trying to give a full sense of the word. Today I was surprised because one web site listed only definition #1 above, and the other listed only #2. At first I thought the two contradicted each other, but further thought suggests otherwise. I had a therapist who used to say 'there are no good or bad emotions; all emotions are inherently neutral, and all serve a valid purpose.' So even though some like depression were unpleasant, my sorrow could signal to others that I need help, and so in that way depression served its purpose. Similarly, for solicitude, anxiety can prepare us to focus and attend to important matters, to be responsive and careful. A bridge between definitions #1 and #2. These notions have a curious interaction with the old AA adage ‘if you’re disturbed, it means you’re disturbable.’ The implication of which is that I suffer from the misery of a resentment only so long as I refuse to accept the world the way as it is. Now, on the one hand, this saying actually comports with the mode of therapy that discourages the word ‘should’ and urges the client to make peace with the world on the world’s terms, as opposed to the world as it compares to the imagined experiences of others, or to the expectations we bring to it. On the other hand, to me, the saying always seemed to kind of imply that being ‘disturbable’ is a kind of shortcoming that is a consequence of a weak AA program. So I’ll offer a gentle reframing: we AAs are very (not over-) sensitive people, and are often highly attuned to the complex emotional realities of life. To be disturbed is not a weakness or shortcoming, it is a small proof of our vivid capacity to feel. This for me was an unwelcome return, I had gotten used to being numb and quite liked it. But I think with time, the more we encounter feelings, the less disturbing they become, or else we learn better ways to ask for help and sit with them, let them wash in, rather than trying to ‘solve’ feelings, which for me anyways was always priority number one. A long and meandering stream of AA-thought for you on this holiday Monday, my friends. Thanks for sitting on the bank of the stream with me and shooting the breeze.

5/24/2020

Today’s word of the day is paean (n.) - a song of praise or triumph; a thing that expresses enthusiastic praise. The word comes to us from the Greek ‘paian’ which means ‘hymn of thanksgiving to Apollo (a Greek/Roman god of oracles, diseases, healing, light, music, herds and flocks, and protection). Today’s word makes me reflect on how I present myself using words. The collective wisdom of AA suggests to me that if I think I’ve got it all figured out and I’m ready to sing my own praises, I might do well to take a beat, consider my falibility and try to find some humility. On the other hand, after sharing at meetings over the years I’ve been reminded by more than one person in the program that I can be very hard on myself, to the point of self-deprecation. One guy got through to me when he asked: “when you shit on yourself the whole time? who are you helping?” It’s been said that shame is just pride in reverse; I know personally I have a tendency to sing an inverse paean, or perhaps a paean in a spooky minor key, to my own woebegone past. One of my hardest daily struggles today is letting go of the big mistakes I made in the past, mistakes where I hurt people I love and permanently damaged or severed our relationships. I try to give that to God. But I am in turns impish, impious, imperfect, and imperious (arrogant and domineering). So my turnover rate isn’t always as high as I’d like it to be. Nevertheless, an honest inventory accounts for the good and the bad, and being reminded of that helps me balance the scales, and sing some praises of myself once in awhile. I learned that from you all, and I’m so grateful to have the ability to do it!

5/23/2020

Today’s word of the day is apodictic (adj.) - clearly demonstrated; clearly established or beyond dispute. The word comes to us from the Greek ‘apodeiknyail’ which means ‘to show off, demonstrate, show by argument, point out, prove’ and literally ‘to point away from.’ One of the reasons I’ve stuck with AA is because it works. It clearly works, there’s proof that it works. I have direct, unmediated access to the proof of AA — I live that proof every day. In a program where spirituality is encouraged, I don’t have to take anything on faith. AA is apodictic because working the steps with a sponsor and attending meetings brought about a manifest change in the material conditions of my life and enabled me to begin mending the psychic and emotional wounds that have festered my whole life. Now as an alcoholic, you know I love proof — 80 proof minimum, and upwards of 151 on the real dark nights of the soul. But I’d like to shift thematically today into a bonus etymology, this time of an idiom (a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words) rather than a word. And I chose an idiom that relates directly to ‘apodictic’ — the idiom is ‘the proof is in the pudding.’ Essentially what this phrase means is: the real worth, success, or effectiveness of something can only be determined by putting it to the test by trying it or using it, appearances and promises aside — just as the best test of a pudding is to eat it. In AA it always struck me how some of the more wizened old timers would say glibly that if you weren’t sure you were an alcoholic, go out and try some more controlled drinking, even occasionally offering to pay for the drink. I thought it was kind of horrible when I first heard it. But now I get it. If you don’t have enough evidence you’re an alcoholic, feel free to go get some more proof, it’s out there if you’re one of us. And if I want proof AA works, all I have to do is be honest, open, and willing, and work the steps with some sincerity and humility. Thank you for being living proof of the value, benefit, and efficacy of this program!

5/22/2020

Today’s word of the day is limnal (adj.) - 1. relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process. 2. occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold. The word comes to us from the Latin 'limen’ which means ‘threshold.’ Now for one thing I’ve benefitted a great deal from transitional housing, and in terms a valuable practical liminal resource the halfway house is par excellence in my book. Now live in a wholeway house and drive a car without a breathalyzer in it. So I’m less furnished with the hardware of my consequences. So I’m often susceptible to subscribing to a binary style of thinking when it comes to my life before and after sobriety, and I think that may leave out some of the important liminal truths that lie between the binary. For example, I lied and stole when I drank, but then after getting sober I stopped lying and stealing. But those physical actions might just be incidental physical manifestations of my character defects that are bounded only by my willingness to take risks and how low my inhibitions are and what my level of self-awareness is. Today those character defects remain in the form of time theft at work, leaving out facts in how I portray myself to a loved one — subtler forms of the same root cause. Obviously I’ve gotten much better, healed a great deal, and that counts, and should be celebrated. But I have to be careful not to let that either/or good/bad before/after black/white thinking to conjure complacency in me. When I investigate the interstices (small spaces in-between; adj. form ‘interstitial’), I’m often offered valuable glimpses at myself that aren’t neatly divided into one or the other, and I’m reminded of the brilliant gray shades of my life. Thanks for being kind to me regardless of which side of the binary I’m on.

5/21/2020

Today’s word of the day is gainsay (v.) - deny or contradict (a fact or a statement); speak against or oppose (someone). The word comes to us from the Old English ‘gegn’ which is the root of ‘against,’ and say, whose meaning we know; the literal etymology would be ‘to say against’ i.e. to dispute. This word resonates with me for a couple of reasons. For one, its literal meanings pretty well characterize the quality and content of much of my speech during active drinking and drug use. If I wasn’t yammering away about how vehemently I was against this or that oppressive hegemonic regime, I was lying about something and contradicting myself. Were I surrounded by indifferent fact-finders, the inconsistencies in my speech would have surfaced quickly; however, I was surrounded by loved ones and friends who gave me the benefit of the doubt, which I typically exploited toward my own ends. And it is in that sense that this word resonates with me for a second reason. In addition to its actual definition, when I read this word I also see a crude compound imaginary braskabrain word that means ‘gain by saying.’ Which to me is an even better term for both my speech and my character in general before sobriety. I sought to gain by saying. I sought to exploit the God-given talent I have for language for selfish reasons, like preserving toxic relationships, avoiding consequences, confounding accusers, eliding accountability, nonplussing those who dared offer me insight or constructive criticism. To the contrary, I experience a new sort of gain in AA; I gain more by listening than I do by saying, I gain insight about myself when I learn my story is not specific to me, I improve my chance of staying stopped when I collect the narratives of those who have done it before me. It’s only with that foundation of gaining by hearing that I have slowly come to trust my own tongue. Thank you for saying what you say to me, and letting me gain by hearing.

5/20/2020

Today’s word of the day is plangent (adj.) - (of a sound) loud, reverberating, and often melancholy; beating with a loud sound. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘plangere’ which means ‘to strike, beat’ Today’s word is inspired by the sound of heavy rain drops on my roof, which I’ve been able to enjoy two days in a row now. I had more time to focus on this sound today after my power went out due to a tree that fell on a power line. Being an easy-going, nature-attuned bon vivant, I resolved that I would light candles, crack open a book, and edify the palace of my mind in sweatpantsed repose. What happened instead was I watched youtube on my laptop until my battery died, tried to take a nap, couldn’t sleep, felt guilty for wanting to sleep but not being able to, then went to a grocery store two towns over to kill time while charging my phone on the car charger and bought dessert food I didn’t need. As they say in the Big Book — lack of power, that was our dilemma. Indeed my human resources, as marshalled by the will, were not sufficient; they failed utterly. I saw a version of myself that felt weak and ugly, a version of my serenity as screen-dependent and my sanity propped up feebly by the same means. During these past 10 or so weeks of quarantine, I have often indulged in a fantasy that I am a fledgling ascetic, a monastic acolyte, training hard in the high-gravity chamber of spirituality. Today when I had a pristine moment to engage with a spiritual text or to simply sit quietly and pray, I panicked and did quite the opposite. Of course, I’m calmer now, and perhaps braced by the comfort of the plastic clack of laptop keys under the pads of my fingers, and able to take a breath, reflect, relax. But I think the lesson for me was how I am fragile, contingent, dependent, and that all alone I will not survive. My will is a resource in the context of community and interaction, it becomes a plague when solely self-directed. Tonight I’m grateful for all the technology that facilitates the connection I feel to this AA community. Thank you for being on the other side of the screen.

5/19/2020

Today’s word of the day is salvific (adj.) - leading to salvation. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘salvificus’ which means ‘saving,’ which in turn comes from ‘salvus’ which means ‘uninjured, in good health, safe,’ and that originates in the Proto Indo European root ‘sol’ meaning ‘whole, well-kept.’ My relationship with words is often as textural as it is textual — I look to the texture of text, sometimes for insight, sometimes for beauty, sometimes for fun. I like the etymology of this word because it conjures a rhyming, circular, blooming etymology: weal (well-being), well, whole, hale, health, held, heal, have, save, salve, salvation, solution, soul, swell, weal, well…etc. For me, ‘salvation’ has a connotation that it specific to the Christian faith tradition, and so it can be hard to appreciate outside that context. Salvific (a word I heard today on Youtube) does not have that connotation for me, but means essentially the same thing. What brought about salvation for me? What saved me? I can say doubtlessly that being physically separated from alcohol saved me. So I connote detox/psych ward/institutionalization as salvific in that way. But as we all know, separation from the drink does nothing to help us stay stopped. So in a much deeper and conceptual way, the fellowship of AA was salvific for me. Salve early on, when kind men bought me burgers and bummed me cigarettes and listened to me chatter madness. Savior-tinted too, as I trudged wearily in basements beneath vaulted cathedral ceilings bathed in stained-glass light refracting kaleidoscopic among the reverberating parishioners vaunting (praising) that old familiar Christ-savior. Seekers of the spirit with restraint and tolerance invited me away from the Savior and toward the salvation. Now I’m immersed in a substrate which reminds me the importance of developing my relationship with a Higher Power, but not coerced into submission into what that relationship should look like or who/what that HP should be. Thank you for believing I’m worth saving, and saving space in your hearts for me.

5/18/2020

Today’s word of the day is inure (v.) - establish by use, adapt, accustom to something, especially something unpleasant. The word is actually a contraction from the phrase ‘put in ure’ meaning ‘in practice’ from the obsolete noun ‘ure’ meaning ‘work, exercise, use,’ which is derived from the Old French uevre (work), which in turn is derived from the Latin ‘opera’ which also means ‘work.’ The word also has a connotation meaning ‘toughen or harden by experience.’ There’s a lot here for me. Custom, habit, activities fixed into our lives through structure and regularity — for me this has been one of the hallmark core values AA has taught. The word inure reminds me that custom can cut both ways; I can build healthy habits into my life, but I can also become accustomed to things that are unpleasant, unhealthy. When discomfort becomes predictable, is it because I have a higher degree of acceptance, or is it because I’ve given up on a worthwhile fight? Or perhaps even a third thing? For me, it’s a fine line between adaptable, durable, and defeated. Another core value I absorbed in AA is that my difficult experiences have toughened me. Usually ‘toughen’ is said like it’s a synonym for ‘strengthen,’ but I think it’s worth remembering that there is a strength in softness, that a toughness can become a callus, and interrupt my capacity to feel. I’m grateful that I have the support network of AA, because it helps me to determine which unpleasantnesses are worthy of becoming inured to, and which it may behoove me to resist in recovery. Thanks for being a part of that collective determination in struggle.

5/17/2020

Today’s word of the day is nostrum (n.) - a medicine, especially one that is not considered effective, prepared by an unqualified person; quack medicine. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘noster’ which means ‘our,’ used in the sense of ‘something of our own making’ (Spanish-speakers may recognize the ’nosotros’ we/us pronoun/person. Today’s will be short because I forgot about doing a word of the day until just now and want to go to sleep. I sometimes struggle with the idea that I possess something worth transmitting, that can be healing, restorative to ya’ll, as I hope it is. Being a recovering alcoholic for me means being a broken person learning to heal. During the learning I can get excited to give away whatever I find has been useful to me. I can also consecrate my character defects of aloofness, distance, wanting to be seen as smart, respected, talented, savvy. Words can be salve or salvo. I recognize that I’m not required to be a licensed linguo-physician as I concoct these homemade word of the day preparations. I gather that the rhythm and regularity benefits me, that imagining others reading about my thoughts gets me out of my head a little, and that even an imperfect attempt at service is always better than no attempt at all. So I am grateful to have ya’lls ears an eyes for a moment in a day or night and trust you to discern whether or nostrum, nonesuch, nonsense, nonpareil, or nonplussed.

5/16/2020

Today’s word of the day is jejune (adj.) - 1. naive, simplistic, and superficial 2. (of ideas of writings) dry and uninteresting. The word comes to us from the latin ‘ieiunus’ which means ‘empty, dry, barren,” literally “fasting, hungry.” Today’s word reminds me of something I heard from a person talking about a meditation technique that they found useful in their everyday life. The technique is to try to treat something like you’ve never seen it or heard of it before, with ‘beginner’s mind.’ The idea is that becoming curious about something can bring us into the present moment, which can ease anxiety and stress. It also may reveal to us the prejudices we carry without realizing it. I like this word jejune, because it sounds pretty to me. Nevermind that typically ‘naive’ and ‘simple’ are used as pejoratives; we here in AA know the value of the tyro (beginner or novice). Tonight in a meeting I listened to a newcomer with 31 days share where he was at. It was raw, rambling, sincere, jumbled, heartfelt, candid. I noticed in my mind at first that I was criticizing him for not having a more coherent thesis point to his share, for not weaving his experience deftly into the topic, for not closing with a snappy apothegm (concise saying or maxim). Then I realized that his share was valuable precisely because it was not stylized and curated to be something impressive. It was his truth in the moment, a guy scared and full of resolve to get better. I admire him for where he’s at and remember myself at 31 days fondly as a mess but genuinely interested in recovering, a splendid, sometimes blinding horizon of growth emerging where two months before had been only void and abyss. So I’m grateful to be reminded that a bit of the jejune might serve me well, and help guard against clouding the message I intend to carry, and I’m thankful to ya’ll for offering me that reminder.

5/15/2020

Today’s word of the day is plenary (adj.) - 1. unqualified; absolute 2. (of a meeting) to be attended by all participants at a conference or assembly, who otherwise meet in smaller groups. The word comes to us from the Medieval Latin ‘plenarius’ which means ‘entire, complete. The first thing that comes to mind when I see this word is that the members of AA offer me plenary love, tolerance, and acceptance. I felt it the day I went to my first meeting and found it revolting. Anyone who would love me unconditionally must have serious issues. And of course, they did, and I do — alcoholism — and over the course of the hundreds of meetings I have gone to, I slowly started to learn that our alcoholism does not disqualify us from love nor does it make us incapable of offering it sincerely. Rather, as an alcoholic I have to work to recalibrate my own conception of how love operates. Love without attachment to objectives, that’s plenary love. Love for its own sake, love from a common struggle, love because my suffering mirrors yours and I remember how much of an impact it made when a stranger I didn’t know from Adam gave me a bear hug at an AA meeting, bummed me a cigarette, and listened to me for five minutes. It’s not possible for me to pinpoint when I will have such a substantial impact on a newcomer, but it’s a gift to be invited to try to treat people that way all the time just in case I could. I used to think love existed in the ether in a fixed quantity, that offering it to others rather than myself would cause me to wither and desiccate (dry out). In AA, I was confronted with the abundance of plenary love, and could no longer defend that sickly metaphysics of love. I get more love for myself when I try to love other people. I like myself more and don’t have to hoard it up, I get to give it away. The program helps us transmit the practical steps to recover from alcoholism. This pragmatic approach to collective healing is helping me learn to love and be loved in a whole new way. Thank you for being among the nodes in this diffuse network of practical love.

5/14/2020

Today’s word of the day is august (adj.) - respected and impressive; inspiring reverence and admiration. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘augustus’ venerable, majestic, magnificent, noble,’ and perhaps originally came from ‘consecrated by the augurs (ancient religious official in Rome who foretold events by observing and interpreting signs and omens). I like this word because its use as an adjective is kind of hiding in plain sight, a common word used rarely. It conjures up the notions of myself that for the longest time I knew I must attain prior to happiness. I was sure that until and unless I was universally respected and impressive, I must suffer, toil, and struggle to become so. Slowly but surely, AA has confounded that logic. For example, I was certain for a long time that unless it was rioting and revolutionary activism, it wasn’t service worth doing. AA helped reframe my beliefs about service, most especially AA invited me to let go of outcomes, and try to just do something decent for its own sake. So I slowly acquainted myself with the ecstatic blandness of doing dishes after a meeting, making my own bed, shaking the hand of a newcomer. Compared to the egotistical fantasy of social upheval I used to carry around like a mask to hide my awful defects, these plain acts were immediate, unmediated, direct, right-sized. Nowadays I lay in bed trying to sleep kicking myself for not going into nursing or being a doctor, because the service I have to offer is not august enough. But when I get back in the rooms of AA, I get gentle nudges to just do the next right thing, so I send a text or make a call or just show up to a meeting. I try to do a good job for my employer, and when I can’t or when I fall short, I try to remember to turn it over to a Higher Power and ask for help. AA taught me that one of the most august acts of service I can do is actually to ask for help. Because I give the gift of service to a member of our fellowship, or even a kind person outside of it, and I know now that being asked to help and feeling like you tried is better than any drink or drug. Thanks for helping me remember how to stay the right size and for showing me how service can look in my life.

5/13/2020

Today’s word of the day is nonplus (v.) - surprise and confuse (someone) so much that they are unsure how to react; puzzle, perplex, confound, flummox. ‘Nonplussed’ is the word's adjective form, and they come to us from the Latin ‘non plus’ which means ‘no more, no further;’ or in other words, 'nothing more can be done or said.’ 'Nonplus' reminds me of our familiar descriptive triptych for alcoholism: cunning, baffling, and powerful (here ‘nonplussing’ could stand in for ‘baffling’). The effects of alcohol on me are astonishing. To witness my actions drunk and seek explanation, no words come, other than perhaps ‘madness’ or ‘disorder.’ I acted like I owned the world, and when I found out I didn’t, I was quite literally dumbfounded — once numb, now dumb, unable to speak on my own behalf to explain myself, still so shocked and horrified by my own capacity for carnage and venom. I struggled to see myself through the eyes of others; I must be so incomprehensible to them to so thoroughly violate my own wellbeing in the path to the next drink. I pursued that path to the jumping-off place, where I found every action, word, and thought before me was equally disgusting and miserable. Nonplussed and hobbled in this way, I had no other option but to accept help. It wounded my pride and interfered with the little rhythms of oblivion I had grown so fond of. It exposed the rotting foundation I’d been secreting beneath my "functional" veneer. It was raw and painful. But pain was the crucible (literally: vessel or melting pot for metals, figuratively: a situation of severe trial, or in which different elements interact, leading to the creation of something new) whereby spiritual change for the first time could take place in me. Appropriate enough, then, that we find the Latin root for ‘crucible’ to be ‘crux’ which means ‘cross,’ common root to the perhaps more familiar ‘crucifixion,’ which for so many is a symbol of religious activation and transformation. Today, I recognize that there is value to be gleaned from a moment where nothing is to be done or said, when I am nonplussed. In those pockets of powerlessness, I have an opportunity to invite my Higher Power into my life, and in those sacred silences I have the opportunity to listen to the voices of those who have earned wisdom in their own crucibles of pain to spare me the trial. I am not earth’s owner. What I do own is a disorder called alcoholism that can make it hard to remember I don’t own the world. It’s germane here to mention a lyric from Armenian nu-metal band System of a Down’s song, Toxicity: ‘You, what do you own the world? How do you own disorder, disorder/Now, somewhere between the sacred silence and sleep…disorder, disorder, disorder.’ Now, even if they weren’t talking about alcohol toxicity and the spiritual malady (disorder) of alcoholism, I think they were on to something. Thank you for being with me somewhere between the sacred silence and sleep, and helping me bring order to a disordered life.

5/12/2020

Today’s word of the day is founder (v.) - (of a ship, literal) fill with water and sink; (of a plan or undertaking, figurative) fail or break down, typically as a result of a particular problem or setback. The word comes to us from the Old French ‘fondrer,’ which means ‘submerge,’ which in turn comes from the Latin ‘fundus’ meaning ‘bottom, foundation.’ Compare the verb founder with its perhaps more familiar noun form — founder (n.) meaning ‘one who establishes,’ which comes to us from the Latin ‘fundare’ which means ‘to lay a foundation. For some reason I am in a nauti mood today so forgive me for trying to have a mari (merry) time. We alcoholics have a drinking problem, and there’s no drink bigger than the Big Drink, the sea, the ocean, where ships sail and fish flail. In Chapter 2 of the Big Book, we are told that ‘we are like the passengers of a great liner the moment after rescue from shipwreck when camaraderie, joyousness and democracy pervade the vessel…’ and indeed the commonness of our plight and solution often levels heretofore impregnable hulls of social status, class and position in ways that refresh and delight this scurvy landlubber. Later, in Chapter 11, the Big Book reminds us that ‘near you, alcoholics are dying helplessly like people in a sinking ship,’ and admonishes us to work with others to save ourselves and make lifelong friends. Presumably the friend ship is a less sinkable vessel in this scenario. Bill and Bob, our venerable founders, overflow with useful insights like this, and we venerate them for it. This year’s 85th Anniversary of Founder’s Day in Akron was cancelled due to covid; it seems the Founder’s celebration foundered. I had a lost cat once but I found her. Apologies: something about this word captures my imagination, makes me want to frolic lexically. I’ll tie it back in to alcoholism. We, like boats, will sink from drink, our sips sink (relation)ships. If we founder, we have words from the founders of AA to live by as we lay on cool, smooth concrete floor of the abased basement of our rock bottom, the foundation from which we endeavor to build a program of recovery, a moment many of us find that we were found by our creator, forge a steely resolve to remember a Higher Power in that foundry. So even though I’m unfunded, I find fun fumbling through words and hope you find them functional, or at least funny. Thanks for indulging this word nerd’s floundering about foundering.

5/11/2020

Today’s word of the day is polyglot (adj.) - knowing or using several languages; polyglot is also a noun meaning a person who knows and is able to use several language. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘poly’ meaning ‘many’ and ‘glot’ meaning ‘tongue.’ This word struck me because I imagined it in a pejorative sense, I saw a monstrous version of myself in active alcoholism, a many-tongued horror who wielded language like a weapon, code-switched to coax a listener into whatever fabulous (of or pertaining to fables) story I had concocted for the sake of extracting power, pleasure, value, or care. The ‘tongue’ here is a metonym (a substitution of the name of an attribute for that of the thing meant) for language, speech; and so it should be remembered that the tongue itself is neutral. I have a God-given talent for language, and it’s only my intent that can transmute that talent into service or warp it into coercion. Like the 12 & 12 reminds us in the chapter on Step 6: “we must recognize now…that we exult in some of our defects. We really love them.” I wonder: did I love language, as I imagine I do now? Or did I love the way it felt to be in control, with my vocabulary a chintzy furnishing? The good news is, AA doesn’t require me to answer this question perfectly. A lot of my experience in AA is re-experiencing myself in new light, learning things I like about myself, learning ways to avoid doing the things I did not like about myself. So for a word glutton polyglot like me, I get a chance to get back to recognize my potential to hurt others with my tongue without it having to be cut out of my head, and that’s a blessing. Thanks for helping me not shoot my mouth off so much.

5/10/2020

Today’s word of the day is heuristic (adj.) - serving to discover or find out; heuristics is a noun meaning the study of heuristic methods. The word comes to us from the Greek ‘heuriskein’ which means ‘to find, discover, devise, invent, get, gain, or procure,’ and is a cognate with the Old Irish ‘fuar’ which means ‘I have found.’ One of the wonderful gifts AA has given me is the license to find out new things about myself. This license was particularly helpful when my other license, my driver’s license, got revoked due to drunk driving. Immobilized, I could no longer labor in my solitary fantasy of self-sufficiency. I had to ask for rides. It’s a humbling experience. And the rides were actually often as potent as the meetings to which they headed. Caring men asked me about my story, I gave a version I knew, and they offered parts of their experience that illuminated things about myself I had missed. Call it alcoholic dialectical heuristics. I found out that the majority of actions I took came from a place of fear. I found out that fear of rejection, the need to control narratives and outcomes, and a sense of inadequacy were chief among my governing ethics. I found out I had made an ersatz (false, a substitute, not real or genuine) identity out of a cleverness that belied the scared kid inside who alcohol kept from growing up. I found out that I can only get disturbed if I’m disturbable. I found out that admitting my part in a harm I did can be unbelievably freeing. I learned that God is always the right one to ask for forgiveness, and that I still deserve to live and be loved even if in some people’s eyes I am unforgiven. I found out that the worst things I’ve done qualify me to support peers who have done similar things. I found out my life wasn’t over., and that it was worth living, is worth living. Thank you for helping me excavate these durable truths about myself, for being on my heuristic team.

5/9/2020

Today’s word of the day is oneiric (adj.) - of or pertaining to dreams, dreamy. This word, appropriately enough, is of uncertain pedigree: it comes from the Greek ‘oneiros’ meaning ‘a dream,’ which may have come from the Armenian ‘anurj’ or the Albanian ‘âdërrë,’ words for dream, although its origin is not clear. I think about my dreams more often today, and I think that’s chiefly a result of me living a life lately where I go to sleep rather than pass out. For whatever reason, the content of my dreams often includes scenes of me drinking and using during times of stress and sadness. I wake up guilty and sweaty, horrified that I could have gone back out so thoughtlessly. While this is obviously upsetting, it is usually followed by a kind of raw joy at the realization that I am, in fact, still sober. Waking up today I rarely ever have that feeling of amnesiac regret, that feeling of turbid (cloudy, opaque, obscure, confused) remorse — a feeling worse than a bad dream because its horror is anchored in reality, and I would have to account for it. And I’m so grateful that’s no longer a part of my life, that the waking nightmare of active alcoholism has ceased. The other instance of oneiric thought that comes to mind is the idea of ‘dreams’ as a stand-in for ‘aspirations.’ So much of my dreams have changed since coming to AA. I can say today that my dreams are to treat people well, including myself, and really that covers it. My old dreams included garishly extravagant material, carnal, and status-level gains. The fellowship of AA that has grown around me has helped shape my oneiric horizons, reminded me that if I prioritize cleaning up my side of the street, trusting God, and helping others, the rest will take care of itself. Thanks for being such dreamy friends to this recovering somnambulist!

5/8/2020

Today’s word of the day is factotum (n.) - one who does all kinds of work for another; an employee who does all kinds of work. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘facere' which means ‘do’ (think ‘facilitate’) and ‘totum’ which means ’the whole thing’ (think ’total’). A lot comes up for me thinking about this word. For one thing, I can identify recent work conduct, where I strive to be capable at not only my assigned task, but also willing to take on whatever my employer should assign me, and find excitement in broadening my skills, how productive, capitalist-functional, great. What comes up more, however, is that I believe myself to be somewhat toxically preoccupied with being a social factotum — I want to be everything to everyone. I would prefer it if those of you who value eloquence knew the true depth and splendor of my lexicon. For the feminists, I’d like you to take note of my diligence at attending to preferred pronouns, carefully curating my humor, and demonstrating glittering self-awareness when it comes to my capacity to wield masculinity violently. Musicians, take note of my band pedigree; likewise, visual artists, please see my portfolio. I am not satisfied being merely a decent man who does not abuse people and who is proficient at his job and kind in his relationships and honest with his God. Rather, I need to be a high-powered sensitive productive relaxed enlightened devout principled hilarious quirky eloquent tortured genius with an ideological verve and tenor belied by my uncommon street credibility and canny but casual savoir faire (French - ability to act or speak appropriately in social situations). I want to do all the work for everyone, often, because I cannot source the esteem and regard I require from within. I sometimes cannot source that esteem and regard because I abuse myself, I refuse to forgive myself for mistakes I’ve made in the past, future trip and feel doomed to repeat them. The truth is that I am both less powerful than I worry and more decent than I give myself credit for. An instance of a character defect in me is focusing so relentlessly on my own mistakes that I way overshoot the appropriate range for dutiful consideration and land in a mire of wanton self-obsession. So if I can accept that I cannot be everything to everyone, if I can become right-sized, if I can learn to live with limitations, then it becomes easier to forgive myself and to trust my Higher Power pick up the slack. It’s hard to feel my ego deflate, but if I can let it go and stop trying to control how everyone perceives me, I usually find welcoming hearts like ya’lls to hold and keep me while I process and recalibrate. Thank you for all you are to me and to the fellowship.

5/7/2020

Today’s word of the day is cavil, which can be a verb meaning 'to make petty or unnecessary objections,' or a noun meaning ‘an objection seen as petty or unnecessary.’ The word comes to us from the Latin ‘cavilla’ which means ‘mockery.’ I have a real hard time determining which objections are necessary and which are petty. Coming into AA I had an identity based largely around being constantly willing to vocalize complaints and objections I had about the way the world worked. I couched my complaints in terms of the political, and tried to position myself as a perceptive, sensitive, worldly empath. While there are strands of truth and sincerity there, it’s mostly a messy knot of self-aggrandizement, self-pity, and evasiveness that brought those complaints about. Of course, the pendulum swings both ways, and there were countless times in my life when an objection would have been completely called for, like if I objected to the suggestion I take an entire pill bottle’s worth of cough medicine to get high, or if I objected to the dealer who told me he was all out of coke but that crack works just as well. So much of how I see alcoholism these days is as imbalance, extremes. Without any spiritual center, my ethics and worldview was warped, always in flux, mutable, contingent. And I marvel at the beauty of AA, at it’s genius in offering the spiritless a practical, durable tool to begin with: the Serenity Prayer. This made intuitive sense to me when I heard it. I liked the prayer because it was simple and it was meant to just kinda sort things out. Its goal seemed like it wanted me to take it easy. So I got started with that prayer, and today I can see it was kind of like a lovely wedge that let me slowly open the door to spirituality. Today I try to make less objections in general, I avoid the cavil, and try to find ways to be grateful, so as to maximize my acceptance. Of course, I also have a safe space to cavil in the rooms with ya’ll, safe in the knowledge that I can leave the pettiness behind and take home the rich, substantial stuff. Thank you for being there to help me sort them out.

5/6/2020

Today’s word of the day is apercu (n.) - a comment or brief reference that makes an illuminating or entertaining point; a quick impression, hasty glance. The word comes to us from French (where it’s stylized aperçu and pronounced aper-soo) ‘apercevoir' which means ‘to percevie.’ AA is a curious thing. I arrive, and I may remain silent and thoughtless, or I may share a bit of the story I prepared and brought with me, or I may recognize a bit of my story I had forgotten about completely that only resurfaced after you sharing your story shared light on it being our common story. I’ve heard it said that there aren’t any actual stories, only storytellers — the idea is that while we may be familiar with the data points of a familiar plot, the spin put on by the story’s teller makes it completely new, and unique, every time. So it is that I may enter a meeting of AA prepared to divulge my darkest sins only to find the first person sharing has beat me to it, and they’re doing it with a casual grin that ruins the gravity of comment and the obloquy (strong public criticism or verbal abuse) I had been preparing for. On the contrary, I may share flippantly about something and suddenly come to recognize it as something horrific under the cold fluorescent bask of a church basement overhead light. One thing I’m not terribly proud of in AA is that I can sometimes approach a meeting like a spectator, waiting to be entertained, ready to check out and audit the misery of my fellows. Witty apercus often suffice to allow me to maintain this aloof distance. However, I may be ungently rocked into the reality of my own powerlessness and frailty when an earnest AA opens up and gets honest during a share. AA has many wonders, one is this quality of evening me out, getting my perspective straight, fixing the horizon. Being present and paying attention to the way I tell my own story has been critical to healing and finding forgiveness. Being wary of the glib apercu is a fine hedge against commiting to a stale story about myself. Thank you for auditing and augmenting my story, and reminding me the telling is worthwhile.

5/5/2020

Today’s word of the day is cachexia (n.) - weakness and wasting of the body due to severe chronic illness; bad general state of health. The word comes to us from the Greek ‘kakhexia’ which means ‘bad habits,’ and for fans of Nebraska’s Word of the Day you may remember the Proto Indo European root ‘kakka’ which means ‘to defecate,’ which was mentioned in the etymology of ‘cacoethes’ which you may remember means ‘an irresistible urge to do something inadvisable.’ During the last months of my drinking career I experienced some significant cachexia — I lost weight but was bloated all the time from not eating and only drinking, I felt awful pangs in my guts, I was gaunt and grimacing at all times. My body had to rebel physically to try to get the message to me that what I was doing was more than just a bad habit. Of course, as alcoholics we are a peculiar mix of extremely sensitive and doggedly stubborn, and I know for me personally once I decided I was willing to endure a pain to sustain a habit there was little my body could do to intervene other than shutting down. It’s only recently, however, that I consider the spiritual cachexia I was experiencing during that time as well. A life lived solely for producing and maintaining my own pleasure allowed my spirit to wither and desiccate (dry out). This helps explain why even during the handful of times I was able to put down the drink and dry out for a week or two and let my body get healthy, I was still defenseless against the next drink. AA provides me with the foundation to attend to my wounded spirit, seek a balm other than poison, and from there I’m able to look to the health of the body and mind, which tend to follow naturally from a healthy spirit in my experience. The ways AA benefits me goes far beyond dealing with a ‘bad habit,’ and I have ya’ll to thank for keeping me immersed in a program so holistically beneficial to me.

5/4/2020

Today’s word of the day is propitiate (v.) - win or regain the favor of (a god, spirit, or person) by doing something that pleases them. The word comes to us from the Latin 'propitiationem’ which means ‘atonement,’ but the word goes back even further, into biblical antiquity, from the Greek word ‘hilasterion,’ which according to some scholars literally meant ‘the lid of The Ark of the Covenant,’ or the ‘mercy seat.’ Propitiate is a word closely related to ‘expiate,’ whose meaning is almost identical: to atone for (guilt or sin). According to some sources, expiation refers to the cleansing of sin and removal of sin’s guilt; propitiation refers to the assuaging of God’s wrath and gaining of His favor. I had a moment yesterday where I was praying to God and asking for forgiveness for a harm I had done to someone I loved years ago. In the moment, I had a peculiar sensation: God’s forgiveness felt imaginary, and, bitterly I wished instead for forgiveness from the person I had harmed. This is not a proud moment of faith, but an honest one. It may come as little surprise to some of you to learn that this is a person to whom my sponsor suggested I not make direct amends, because to do so may injure them. This sheds light on the amends process in general for me: where I typically would prefer to be told ‘it’s ok don’t worry about it’ than to actually make a mend, to fix, to heal, to make right. The alcoholic in me craves control. I cannot control the healing of another person, I can’t force it, and I sure as hell can’t will it into being. This is the threshold of my powerlessness. And while it may not suffice to take away a pang of guilt in this instant, I trust that my Higher Power alone is sufficient for me. I’m still learning to carry the lessons brought about by remorse without becoming so overwhelmed by remorse that I become useless to my fellows. I may propitiate to atone to my Higher Power, I may expiate to seek to cleanse myself of the sin, and relish that act as a component of my deepening relationship to God. But I may not shut the door on the past. Owning my past with clear eyes, from a position of neutrality, is a skillset I am invited to learn and refine over a lifetime, one day at a time, in AA. Thank you for helping me learn this skill.

5/3/2020

Today’s word of the day is elan (n.) - energy, style, and enthusiasm; vivacity. Sometimes written as 'élan,’ which is how it is written in its original French in the verb ‘élancer,’ meaning 'to rush forward,’ which in turn was derived from the Late Latin ‘lanceare,’ which means ‘to throw a lance.’ I chose this word today because I like how it sounds andI think that it’s pretty. This, of course, is also the decision-making process I’ve employed to choose bands to join, cars, whole careers, relationships, etc. Most of my life has been characterized by an enthusiasm which can be double-edged. On the one hand, my excitement can mean I’m convivial, jocular, gregarious. On the other hand, it can often look like impulsivity and bitter fixation. This reminds me of how the 12 & 12 talks about our character defects — my elan for exercise might be an avoidant personality in disguise. My indignant criticism of social systems of oppression might be a way to deflect from my own shortcomings. My love of language might dress up otherwise transparently manipulative tendencies. It can be hard to pick apart. In general, as an alcoholic, I get enthusiastic about something and I often find out it’s time to rein in my enthusiasm long after everyone else. The old ways to solve that was to find other people with the same pathological elan as me so it’s not a problem, or to avoid people entirely to avoid the humiliation of being called out. Now, I have a chance to check in regularly with others who share my enthusiasm problem, who recognize it as a symptom of alcoholism, and I’m encouraged to ask for suggestions and check in to keep me from going too far off the deep end. Thanks for helping me keep the lid on my elan, to get a grip on the reins, and to stay in my lane.

5/2/2020

Today’s word of the day is gestalt (n.) - an organized whole that is perceived as more than the sum of its parts. This word also comes to us from the world of psychology, where Gestalt was founded as a school of thought circa 1912 whose focus, very broadly, was ‘wholeness.’ Gestalt is of German origin, derived from the word ‘Gestaltqualität’ which means something like ‘quality of shape, form or arrangement.’ While I can’t speak on the finer points of the scientific nature of ‘gestalt,’ I can say from folk experience that as an AA member, I am habituated to seeing an organized whole whose capacity far exceeds the sum of its parts. Of course, I mean the fellowship of AA. Curious that a couple dozen people in a basement all riffing on some variation of ‘I’m powerless’ can create a gestalt. When I cede my will to a Higher Power, I get a bit of freedom and relief, there’s no denying that. I might even be able to make it as a monk on those fumes alone (and the solemn solitude of a covid-apartment sanctum certainly evokes the metaphor), but there’s a vivid elaboration of that relief and freedom when I seek and experience in the context of a group. There’s a sturdy fabric of solemnity and a prismatic exuberance that can exist in a meeting of AA seamlessly, without contradiction. Indeed, for me, so much of the power in AA is being reminded that the seemingly contrasting identities I inhabit — sober alcoholic, recovering addict, mentally ill healer, defective seeker of God, broken supporter, etc. — are actually valid, compatible, and, moreover, uniquely useful as I strive to stay healthy and help others do the same. AA is a gestalt because I what I asked for was a fix my drinking problem and what I got was a fix to my thinking problem. AA is a gestalt because every moment I spend trying to help the alcoholic who still suffers is a moment I become more than what I was. And I’m an accountable member of a network that can be a touchstone for anybody in or out of the program looking for help for them or for a friend of a friend. Tell that to 2017 me and I would have laughed in your face and asked to bum a cigarette. I get a lot of good out of working on myself, but it’s by working with others that I truly grow. Thanks for working alongside with me, and helping me become more than the sum of my mistakes.

5/1/2020

Today’s word of the day is perseverate (v.) - the repetition of a particular response or action regardless of the absence of cessation of the stimulus. The word comes to us from doctors who reverse-engineered the word ‘perseverance’ to connote a pathology they observed among patients. Psychologists coined the word to describe a wide range of functionless behaviors that arise from a failure of the brain. Doctors know perseveration can accompany physical brain injury, trauma, or damage. Of course, the alcoholic is familiar with it as a fancy word for our particular brand of insanity — ‘repeating the same activity and expecting different outcomes,’ you know, that old saw (saw in this context means a repeated saying, sometimes trite). Before I got sober, if things were going well, I drank to celebrate. If things were going bad, I drank to give myself a break. I deserved a drink after an accomplishment, I was owed one after a dismal day. The insanity of alcohol for me was that it was the only way I saw to cope with life’s most difficult problems. Today, I know that there’s no problem so bad that alcohol won’t make it worse. One thing about alcoholics is our ability to persevere. When our brains are wet we’ll drink when we’re drowning to death before we reach for the life preserver. When we’re sober we’ll endure hellish situations in the path of healing. We’ll find out ways we can endure pain we previously thought would break us. We catch a glimpse of ourselves in the third person, showing up, helping somebody, reaching out, in a way we thought was impossible because we were too selfish. Being in AA for me creates situations where I get to surprise myself in good ways, for once. I get to know a new version of myself, a version who’s capable of things other than causing harm, sowing corruption, taking away. The perseveration I do today is an adaptable one: I keep going to meetings, even though I’m not in a crisis. I have accumulated the wisdom to know that some simple maintenance on my part can avert it, and the humility to remember that if I wait again for that crisis stimulus, I might not get another chance to correct. Thank you for perseverating along with me my friends, and helping me to persevere!

4/30/2020

Today’s word of the day is tergiversate (v.) - 1. to make conflicting or evasive statements; equivocate 2. change one’s loyalties; be apostate (an ‘apostate' is a person who renounces a religious or political belief or principle; ‘apostasy’ is its verb form). This word comes to us from the Latin ‘tergum’ which means ‘the back’ and ‘versare’ which means ‘to spin, turn;’ the word tergiversate means literally ‘to turn one’s back.’ I can’t count how many times I’ve turned my back on something or someone before I got sober. Sometimes it was a righteous act of indignation, turning my back on someone who had committed an unforgivable sin, and so I tergiversated loudly to indicate and signal my virtue to those around me. Other times it was a bit of petty revisionist chicanery: I would decide, in my head, to turn my back on people who had already turned their backs on me. And I got into the habit of doing this pre-emptively as well; seeking to avoid the pain of seeing a back turned on me by withdrawing first. Active using and drinking was in some ways just one big ugly tergiversation. Of course, now that I’m sober, my ideas about tergiversating are a little different. For one thing, I learned that my loyalty was constantly to my own comfort and convenience. Try as I might to construe myself a heedless, chaotic nihilist, I was actually quite predictable and principled in my values: I valued numbness and pleasure above all else, and changed loyalties among the people in my life accordingly to maintain that value system. Naturally I equivocated constantly in those interpersonal relationships to try to trick people into believing this wasn’t the case, I made conflicting statements constantly ('I’m sober’ was a favorite), and so in that sense I tergiversated as well. But the thing about turning my back is, the act isn’t permanent, and it isn’t all that active. It’s a little like burying my head in the sand. I can turn my back all I want, but it doesn’t change reality. And AA invited me for the first time to look at reality head on, take responsibility for my part in it, clean up the messes I made, and in so doing, feel entitled to participate as an imperfect and lovable citizen of reality. Thank you all for reminding me of this simple fact!

4/29/2020

Today’s word of the day is inchoate (adj.) - just begun and so not fully formed or developed; rudimentary. It originates in the Latin word ‘cohum’ which is a ‘strap,’ often fastened to oxen’s yoke. So the word can be taken literally to mean ‘to start work.’ I can say that I tend to start treating people worse when I think I’m fully developed, fully formed. If I believe there is no more work to be done, especially on myself, then I can often fall into a risky zone of smugness, self-satisfaction, and complacency. Of course, it’s a tricky balance. For one thing, we live in a culture whose fixation on ‘productivity’ can create an unhealthy lust for the yoke. For another, I can be an egomaniac in the service of my employer or my education, and the sense of self-satisfaction from a hard day’s work can be intoxicating. A dilemma of being in between two extremes is typical for this alcoholic. But if I can find a way to remember that it’s not all-or-nothing, I tend to benefit. I’m not fully formed, but I have a solid foundation. I’m more receptive to the will of a higher power when I remember I’m still growing. There’s joy and richness in the building, the seeking. Indeed, I sometimes as my Higher Power to build WITH me, and when my frame of reference is one that acknowledges both the necessity of assistance and my own accountability to action, that feels like a moment of harmonizing, one so precious I say the serenity prayer daily just to remember it’s worth striving toward. Thank you for being there for me to lend a hand when the yoke’s too heavy and to remind me to take a break when I go berserk with work!

4/28/2020

Today’s word of the day is convoke (v.) - to call together to a meeting. The word comes to us from a Latin root verb ‘vocare’ which means ‘to call,’ whose noun form ‘vox’ may be familiar as the Latin word for ‘voice.’ We use the word ‘vocation’ to mean job, and some people describe their work as ‘a calling.’ The convocation is a word more typically used for graduation ceremonies, but they don’t own it and it’s a beautiful word that works just as well to describe AA meetings. We call the meeting, and the meeting’s purpose is to call forth the voices of those convoked. You won’t have a hard time finding an AA member who describes their service position or sponsorship or participation in a ‘a true calling.’ We call each other by first name, we call each other on the phone for any reason at all, we call each other on our bullshit, we call into question the precepts of the life of self-reliance we’d become mired in. The meetings are orderly but rarely called to odor — the occasional peppering of good natured jibes, crosstalk, guffaws and cackles belie the sometimes grim and austere faces in the crowd; we’re not a glum lot. I can’t believe the voice I’ve found in AA. I never really spent a lot of time hearing myself tell the truth before I joined. My voice was a stranger, shaky, wounded. But we all know how powerful it can be to hear our own voices. I got used to the idea that I was an alcoholic by hearing myself say it. I got used to the idea I was a garden variety drunk because at half the meetings some asshole spoils my chance to share by telling my exact story, verbatim, in their share. I get language from my sponsor about how to offer to set write a wrong, what words to avoid (I’m sorry) and what words not to use (you should). When I’m at a loss for words, I can just share a passage from the big book. I get reminded that I’m not at AA to be an innovator, and it’s unlikely I’ll have a new idea that will solve alcoholism, and that’s just fine. All I’m asked to do is to receive stories (I do service at a meeting by listening and looking), and to carry the message (whether sharing my stories or practicing principles in my affairs). Getting called to meet with you people is like getting called home from the woods as a kid, and even though social distancing makes physical touch impossible for now, I return to a place of embrace every time I encounter ya’ll at a Zoom meeting. Thanks for calling me in all the different wonderful ways you do!

4/27/2020

Today’s word of the day is jubilance (adj.) - feeling or expressing great happiness and triumph. The word comes to us from an ancient utterance, the Proto-Indo-European ‘iu’ which means ‘a cry of excitement;’ indeed such shouts of rejoicing could be heard during another ancient event: the ‘Jubilee,’ which had a religious connotation from antiquity: every 50th year Hebrew slaves and prisoners would be freed, debts would be forgiven, and the mercies of God would be particularly manifest. Seeing God’s mercy through the fog of a pandemic can be tough. During these times, plain joy has been rare for me. I tend to manufacture and operationalize my joys: the joy of a cup of coffee, a decadent meal, a luxuriant nap, a spooky movie. Most occur in the context of consumption, and they’re rarely followed by an exultant holler, more often a satisfied ‘mmmm.’ As a matter of course and pragmatism, I prepare for joy’s absence, I bow my head to the wind, trudge on. But today I got news that was so unexpectedly joyful, I did let out a WOO, although more Ric Flair in nature perhaps than King Solomon. The particulars of the news aren’t terribly germane; suffice it to say I was offered something I wanted that I thought was impossible for me to have. More importantly, it was a good offered to me that I did not design, that I did not connive for. As cliche as it may be, I had to fully let go of it before I could have it. (Cliche but not paradoxical—we recognize that in order to keep what we have we must give it away). I was surprised, shocked, gleeful. Just as my best thinking got me into the worst moments of my life, my worst thinking couldn’t keep me from experiencing happiness. I received this news feeling that I have even less control than I believed I did. And so much the better; I was prepared to wallow in a self-styled malaise indefinitely. There’s no accounting for grace, and there’s no telling what the future holds. But it’s bracing to be reminded that on this path of recovery, there’s more than just dutiful grimaces and long maudlin vape clouds. Here’s hoping a surprising bit of joy and grace finds its way into ya’lls lives, and although it may not make you say woo, know that your camaraderie brings me joy.

4/26/2020

Today’s word of the day is vicissitude (n.) - a change of circumstances or fortune typically one that is unwelcome or unpleasant; a passing from one state to another. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘vicis’ which means ‘a turn, change.’ The nature of the word is reflected on in this excerpt from the book ‘The Spirituality of Imperfection:’ “…vicissitude conveys a different emphasis and therefore a different attitude toward the spiritual life than do the more common metaphors of ‘progress’ and ‘growth.’ Vicissitude accentuates not the actual movement in the journey, real though it might be, but the agonizing process of falling down and getting up again and the painful reality that even for the pilgrim, identity is found rather than seized.” The vicissitude is the component of a wander that can transform it into a peregrination. I did not stride gracefully into the rooms of AA. I fell flat on my face hard enough and loud enough that an AA heard about it, and I slouched limply into the rooms. Falling down is humiliating for somebody like me who likes to act like I’ve got it all figured out. Experiencing agony is humiliating for somebody like me who made a life’s work out of curating a premium numbness for every moment of my waking life. And that old etymological adage about humiliation and humility still rings true for me. The unwelcome change of fortune still visits me, even in sobriety. Quarantine seems like it’s messing up my chance to make money, have close physical relationships, go out and do the things I want, even go to school. But I can try to keep in mind that vicissitudes in the past brought growth and, eventually, joy that I couldn’t have experienced suspended in that comfortable syrup of complacency I still love so much. Every time I hear someone share their story in the rooms I get a crucial reminder about how the vicissitudes we experience are often a bitter medicine that makes us healthy and even keeps us alive. Thank you for reminding me of this!

4/25/2020

Today’s word of the day is peregrination (n.) - a journey, especially a long or meandering one; roaming or wandering about. This word comes to us from the Old French peregrination which means ‘pilgrimage’ or ‘long absence’ and the Latin ‘peregrine’ which means ‘abroad’ and the familiar suffix ‘-ation’ that denotes processes. I had the good fortune of being reminded yesterday that my sobriety is not a destination, but a journey. I mess up when I think ‘I have arrived.’ I do great when I’m seeking, aware that I am in need of spiritual growth but not so despairing that I believe that growth to be impossible. I feel weary sometimes, like I wandered for about 10 years longer than I needed to to get back to the good path, the broad highway. Treading on that broad highway is a metaphor I like: upon recognizing the intolerability of sitting still, mouldering motionless in the mire of my addiction, I stood, set forth, headed out, not knowing where I would end up, but assured the movement would nourish and heal me. I think the active AA member is a little like the traveler of antiquity. In exchange for telling our stories, we can expect to be cared for in our journey, including food, rides, lodging, cigarettes, hugs. That’s huge to me, who earned bans from places of business and personal homes from my behavior. It’s a special feeling to be welcomed, embraced as my imperfect self, cared for as a pilgrim, treated with regard, all for the low cost of being willing. I have no clue where I’ll end up on this peregrination of recovery, but I’m glad to be treading the trail with good company like ya’ll.

4/24/2020

Today’s word of the day is condign (adj.) - (of punishment or retribution) appropriate to the crime or wrongdoing; fitting and deserved. The word comes to us from the latin ‘con-‘ meaning ‘altogether’ and ‘dingus’ meaning ‘worthy’ (compare to ‘dignity’). When I first entered AA I treated meetings like a punishment. My first go-round, which began on a sobriety date that did not stick, I would go to AA meetings for the sole purpose of getting people off my back. I wanted to appear responsible, and people seemed to leave me alone when I told them I was going to meetings. Eventually I figured out I could just leave the house and drink in the parking lot at the meeting, or just drive around for an hour and drink, then go home, self-satisfied, smug, and in a much better mood. I suffered because of that, I cheated myself. The second major go-round on my merry journey through AA, I was required to go to four meetings a day as a condition of the rehab program I was in. It was hard then to see AA as anything other than a punishment. Although at that time, it did feel condign, appropriate recourse that was certainly preferable to jail or the psych ward. So, feeling I deserved to be punished by hours of grueling, droning AA pontificating, I showed up to meetings, grabbed a stack of cookies, and doodled furiously in a composition book until the meeting ended. I remember not saying prayers at the end and darting out the door as soon as those people let go of my hands, I remember especially hating how they’d squeeze mine after the prayer and say nonsense like ‘it works if you work it.’ And if I wasn’t careful I’d end up getting hugged from some beaming geezer on the way out. It speaks to the depth of my insanity that I considered such unconditional, unearned regard and affection as a punishment. At that time I was so lacquered in guilt I didn’t believe I deserved an ounce of regard or affection. I just wanted to hide in a hole and wait for people to forget about me. But a strange thing happened to me, which was that AA, condign as it may be, stopped feeling like a punishment. I got the sense that a lot of the other newcomers felt exactly like I did, when I bothered to listen, and I found people cared how I was feeling, once I got up the nerve to share. There wasn’t some mass brainwashing conspiracy that I would be subjected to as a punishment for my sins. There was a group of drunks who hurt just like me and wanted to lend an ear and a helping hand. Thanks for helping me out of my hidey hole, helping me tease out the difference between discipline and disciple-ing, between humiliation and humility, between punishment and nourishment.

4/23/2020

Today’s word of the day is ‘palimpsest’ (n.) - 1. (Literal) writing material used one or more times after early writing has been erased; something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form 2. (Figurative) something having usually diverse layers or aspects apparent beneath the surface. The word comes to us from the Greek ‘palimpsests’ which means ‘scraped again.’ I feel like I’ve tried to re-write my story so many times that it’s hard for me to even recognize sometimes. And I wonder what that writes on my face. I remember in active addiction I thought that if I could just start my story, if I could just get people to see me as I see myself (convince everyone I’m a special good-looking genius with endless talent and potential), if I could just arrive, everything would be ok. Only, things kept messing that story up. I’d ruin a relationship, and move to a new town, my way of erasing that ugly past, shutting the door on it, and getting the do-over I deserved. Or I’d change my name, or my profession, or which drugs I would and wouldn’t do, or which crimes I would or wouldn’t do, or which foods I would eat, and on and on. The through line is I’ve spent a lifetime believing the personal choices I make to craft an identity are the most important things in life. This is upsetting to me now. But only because I’ve been shown a different way of life. AA tells me that the way I treat others is the most important thing in life. AA reminds me that when I treat others right, I don’t have to worry, and that I’ll be taken care of. And AA reminds me that the way I treat others is directly correlated to my spiritual condition and my relationship with a Higher Power. It turns out the palimpsest of my life, that tattered old piece of notebook paper with a dozen names and plots written, erased, written over again, marked out, and so on, that palimpsest doesn’t matter. I’ve been obsessing over it, but no one else has. My Higher Power knows my true story, where my heart is, and I’m accountable to that. And people in my life, far more often than I realize, are willing to accept me for who I am, where I’m at, without needing me to be backed up by a lovely, consistent, pristine backstory. As the book reminds us, our darkest moments in the past can become our greatest assets as we set out to work with other alcoholics. So today I set an intention: don’t lament the rocky past, the criminal history, the breakups and rejections, the detours and false starts and gaffes and ugliness. Celebrate all that, because I survived it, we survived it, we continue to survive in it together, and we are just right, just how we’re supposed to be, in our imperfections. Thank you for helping me believe I’m the right size.

4/22/2020

Today’s word of the day is ‘obloquy’ (n.) - 1. A strongly condemnatory utterance; abusive language 2. The condition of one that is discredited; bad repute. The word comes to us from the Late Latin ‘ob-‘ which means ‘against’ and ‘loqui’ which means ‘to speak’ (c.f. loquacious, eloquent, colloquium). I earned my ill repute in active alcoholism. I lied constantly, to myself and others; I stole goods from others and robbed myself of opportunities to mature and heal; I cheated to lower my taxes, qualify for food stamps, and a whole litany of other cheats; I scammed myself out of God and humanity’s good graces. I lived in a state of obloquy, and I punished myself morning noon and night by fantasizing about just how horrible the vituperation (fluid, sustained verbal abuse) was among the people I had wronged, and got myself so badly worked up that I believed I deserved the relief that only could be provided by the next drink. More than anything, the obloquy was most vivid and consistent from within — my internal monologue, the words I used in my head to talk about myself, were (and sometimes still are) caustic, scathing, venomous. I got separated from the substances, I took psych medication under the direction of a professional, and I got taken through the Big Book by somebody with my disease. I thought what I was getting would be a way to get people to stop bothering me, so I could get back to my old life. Instead I got introduced to a program of action and a system of social decency that has ceased the obloquy, and invited me to understand myself as someone capable of healing, worthy of regard, and not permanently damaged. You, my friends, are capable of healing, worthy of regard, and not permanently damaged. Thank you for proving that to me time and again.

4/21/2020

Today’s word of the day is ‘ludibrous’ (adj.) - describing one who is often mocked and ridiculed. Not to be confused with ‘ludicrous’ whose meaning is familiar and which comes to us from the Old French 'ludere’ which means ‘to play.’ Today I had the unpleasant experience of seeing my insecurities pour out of me and onto a message sent to a significant other (who may by the end of this turn out to be not so significant if I continue how I’m going). I recently opened up to this person about my identity as an alcoholic, my history with substance abuse, and my 2018 DWI. As we talked through this, they pointed out something upsetting about a previous way I had communicated something. In between tears at a perceived slight, I responded with an avalanche of pitiful doomsday forecasts, fixated on not being perfect in their eyes, presumed we’d likely need to break up because of my difficulties, implied I wasn’t worth investing in since I’d been so recently so unstable. As you can imagine, this response was not proportionate, nor was it fair. What it was was an ugly old comrade of mine rearing its head, that part of me that becomes a poison-barbed cactus if ever I should feel that I am being criticized. The old defense mechanism is to get indignant, flail, and sprint toward my self-destruct button so I can deny the other party the satisfaction of getting to press it. The truth is I have such a big ego it’s hard to be cast in a light of human faltering, hard to know my fantasy of being universally celebrated and lauded in the eyes of my fellows may not hold, hard to hold my head up when I fear I am the ludibrous one. My behavior indeed becomes ludicrous in such a situation. And I see myself getting away from God. I want to ignore it, I want to fill my head with podcasts or youtube or anything I can to get away from the gory glow of my penetralia (innermost parts or recesses). I’ve got tools at my disposal: write on it, take an inventory, get honest with myself, share with another alcoholic. I’m not wise or in a position of neutrality here. But I suspect I may find that I have the plain garden-variety capacity for messing up that we all do, and that if I can cultivate a way to tolerate my own shortcomings, I might be able to tolerate those of others, and so might have a chance at forming a true bond with another human being. I’ve always been crap at tolerance, I know love and tolerance is our code but I’d prefer a cheat code instead. But I can at least look to my higher power, ask for my shortcomings to be removed, and try not to anchor myself to that old ugly dedication to fear, solitude, and bitter hostility. The real sage members of AA in my experience welcome moments when they are the ludibrous ones, because they remember Rule 62: don’t take yourself too seriously. I’m grateful to have you all in my life and want you to know your stories and experiences help me remember that it’s important to be tolerant and take myself less seriously sometimes.

4/20/2020

Nebraska’s word of the day today is solivagant (adj) - wandering alone; solitary rambling. This comes to us from the Latin ‘soli-‘ which means ‘alone’ and ‘vagus’ which means ‘wandering (the same root that gives us ‘vagabond’ and ‘vagrant’). Lately I’ve worried about how solitary the wander has begun to feel, how the din of my ramble in the echo chamber may be causing a little brain damage. The temptation I feel most often is to degrade technology, to say its approximation of intimacy falls short, to lament my woebegone status as someone unseen in the flesh, my voice’s vibrations mimicked crudely by headphone speakers, my embrace and embraceability obsolete. Of course, when I’m able to remember the commonness of my struggle, it gets easier. I’m supported digitally now in ways far more substantial and robust than the in-person support I could count on in my drinking and using days. I’m in the good graces of many people, and I remain capable of grace, that unearned favor that most of us are familiar with. I don’t have to be perfect, I don’t have to get over being sad and lonely, and I don’t have to believe it will last forever. Cultivating a relationship — however broken inconsistent and imperfect, with a Higher Power — means for me that in the darkest and loneliest moments of the night I am still held and cared for, can trust the morning isn’t too far away, and holds something worthwhile. And whatever that is, it’s worth staying sober for. Whoops, looks like this solivagant writer wandered a little off course. No matter. Thanks for being part of the network that makes me remember to keep at the practice of trying to relate to a Higher Power, even when it’s tough.

4/19/2020

Nebraska’s word of the day today is ‘beleaguer’ (v.) - 1. Lay siege to 2. Beset with difficulties. (Note: the etymology of the word ‘siege,’ used in the first definition, is ‘seat,’ the military sense of the word is attested from the notion of an army ‘sitting down’ before a fortress. Compare this to ‘beset’ used in the second definition.) The word comes to us from the dutch ‘belegeren’ which means ‘to camp all over’ something; the root ‘legh-‘ is from the Proto-Indo-European meaning ‘to lie down, lay.’ These last few days I’ve felt a little beleaguered, beset, besieged. I’ve certainly passed more time sitting & laying than upright. Normally it’s already tempting to withdraw into my own problems completely, to stir bitter elegies up behind my eyes, to become one with screen and blanket. The imposed isolation of COVID makes it all the easier to mistake my selfishness for armor, to presume myself delicate and beset by attack by a cruel and indifferent world, to search for ways to block it all out like a barricade. Unfortunately, my hermit-fortress is critically weak to kindness. And because I’m sober, I’m not too warped and out of touch to remember that I’m eligible for a little kindness, worthy of reassurance, love, and regard. For all the active imperatives in our fellowship, the slack gets picked up when one of us falls into a beleaguered headspace. Our steady thrum of outreach, check-ins, and interaction help us spot the alcoholic who still suffers, and our uncanny ethos means we jump at the chance to do something nice, to be kind, helpful, of service, in any small way we can. Perhaps even more uncanny is how frequently I hear how the person helping me say ‘this is probably doing me more good than it is for you.’ That’s the beauty of this program, the reciprocity and generation of wellbeing through a simple, common acknowledgement of a shared disease and a shared solution. Thank you for reminding me I’m a garden variety drunk, that we do recover, and that things are never so bad that a drink won’t make them worse.

4/18/2020

Nebraska’s word of the day today is ‘shibboleth’ (n.) - a custom, principle, or belief distinguishing a particular class or group of people, especially a long-standing one regarded as outmoded or no longer important. The word comes to us from Hebrew word ‘šibbōleṯ’ which means ‘ear of corn,' used in the book of Judges by the Gileadites as a test of nationality because of the word's difficult pronunciation. I have had bad and good experiences regarding the shibboleths in AA. When I first entered the rooms, I was overwhelmed and confused and upset by the jargon I heard constantly slung around in meetings, especially among old timers: ‘your best thinking got you here,’ ’don’t leave before the miracle happens,’ ‘if you hang out in a barbershop long enough, you just might get a haircut,’ ‘if you don’t drink you won’t get drunk,’ ‘if nothing changes, nothing changes,’ ‘f*ck your feelings’ ‘this program isn’t for people who need it, it’s for people who want it,’ ‘you can’t save your face and your *ss at the same time’ and worst of a all ‘you have to give it away to keep it.’ What all this sounded like was a bunch of empty, meaningless cliches, some offended me, others seemed glib (marked by ease and informality; lacking depth and substance), others just seemed like nonsense. Being a newcomer, I was suspicious of everything, and I assumed all these old people were miserable and just saying stuff to make themselves feel better about their sad, awful lives. Of course, my life was tragic and despicable before I came into AA, but I was dedicated to it, and so any alternative offered me became something I had to dismiss or ignore or attack. But once I ceased fighting, I started finding some serenity. I recognized that being defiant didn’t make me happy and didn’t change anyone else’s mind. I realized that asking for suggestions and complying with advice made me stronger, not weaker. And while some of AA’s shibboleths may be a bit outdated (the chapter ‘To Wives’ comes to mind as an example, for me), the beauty of the program is that at the end of the day, all that is required of us is to find another alcoholic to go through the 12 steps with. The meetings, the sayings we sing in call-and-response choruses, the fellowship and its drama and camaraderie and foibles—all these are supports and conveniences we can choose to avail ourselves of, or we can discount them if they don’t serve our program of spiritual growth. ‘Take what you need, and leave the rest’ is a germane apothegm. Thank you for being among those who stayed by my side as I tread water the first few months when I was drowning in AA shibboleths, not sure what to do. Thank you for offering your insight and helping me stay centered and keep good perspective. Most of all thank you for substantiating a community that prioritizes step work, service, remembering a Higher Power, and faith in action as a way to stay sober.

4/17/2020

Nebraska’s word of the day today is ‘torpor’ (n.) - a state of physical or mental inactivity; lethargy, listlessness; benumbed, without feeling or power. The adjective form of this word is ‘torpid;’ an alternate noun form is ‘torpidity.’ This comes to us from the Latin ‘torpere’ which means ‘to be numb or sluggish.’ For me when circumstances feel difficult my physiological response is often torpor. In seasons of depression in years past and in moments of acute fear, I notice myself move slow and seek the numbnesses available. In years past the preferred anesthesia was alcohol, today it is junk food, screens, and warm blankets, withdrawal into myself. I’m glad to say my coping methods don’t lead to much harm. To keep myself calibrated, the Big Book reminds me: “Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail.” My abilities are circumscribed, but I can still show up to a Zoom meeting tonight, hear and share, check in with others, and reach out with this little text. Consistency counts for me, and I have to remind myself to give me and others credit for all the little ways they survive and persevere during these uncertain times. Thanks for being here and helping me to stay grounded.

4/16/2020

Nebraska’s word of the day today is ‘dysphoria’ (n.) - a state of unease or generalized dissatisfaction with life. This comes to us from the Greek ‘dusphoros,’ which means ‘hard to bear.’ Euphoria (a feeling of intense happiness) is an antonym that may be familiar. Two years ago I got a DWI three days before I was accepted to UNC Law. The waiting period to hear back about law school for me was too hard to bear. Every waking moment was wave after wave of dysphoria. I had very little going for me in my life: I went to work, played Tetris, smoked crack when I could afford it, drank myself to sleep every night, stole as much as possible, built a frail kaleidoscope to look through and pretend things were ok. I was on the heels of leaving Philadelphia after a destructive relapse that ruined the relationship with my significant other and all my friends and chosen family. That was hard to bear. My higher power at that time was my significant other, so I needed a new one. The highest power I could conceive of at the time was to get accepted to a law school, to prove to everyone that I am worthwhile, smart, desirable. Once I did get accepted, it was too late, and my path to sobriety began in that wake of rejection. I hated it and was so so scared. It was dysphoric to change every aspect of my life. Today, two years after my first application, I was notified by UNC Law that my application for this year was rejected. This is hard to bear. But it is not dysphoric. Today I have a sense of purpose, connection, value, regard, service, and worth, and the foundation of all of that was built in the rooms of AA. I’m upset but not devastated, and I have a feeling that I am placed in a position of neutrality, that I will be taken care of, as long as I can do the next right thing. I know now, from experience, that when things don’t go the way I planned, there’s an opportunity for growth, healing, and wellness. It’s scary, and exciting. I’m grateful to all of ya’ll for being among the people who make it so that hard news like this doesn’t feel unbearable. Thank you for helping share the load and inviting me to do the same, allowing me to be useful, when times are hard for you.

4/15/2020

Nebraska’s word of the day today is ‘expiate’ (v.) - to extinguish the guilt incurred by; to make amends for; to atone for (guilt or sin). The word comes to us from the Latin noun ‘expiationem’ which connoted both ‘satisfaction’ and ‘purge by sacrifice, make good;’ its more literal sense would be ‘to propitiate (bring about) piety, piousness.’ The word ‘pious’ itself comes from the Latin ‘purus’ for ‘clean.’ That root is important to bridge the gap to AA, I think — regardless of our spiritual practice or affinity/antipathy to a particular religious tradition, the imperative to ‘clean up our side of the street’ has always rang true to me. Of course, I did more wallowing and felt most comfortable in filth before I was sober; cleanliness in fact put me ill at ease. It took time to even get a taste for the benefits of cleanliness. One of the thing that stands out most to me is being forced to make my bed for 6 months in rehab, then afterward, kind of coming to rely on that act as one thing I could get right, a way to add order to my life, in a small but practical way. I used to think making your bed was some paramilitary bullshit; now I have trouble focusing until mine is made. Similarly with expiation: amends were something I considered wholly impossible before AA, and throughout my first few months. I considered myself such a worthless monster that it would be an act of futility. But over time, I saw people react in ways completely counter to my grim fantasy of what an amends would look like. I got outside myself for long enough to be reminded the world is not a product of my mind. And the more often I offer to expiate, to clean up my side of the street, the more order and serenity I tend to have access to, and the less insane I find myself when the going gets tough. So even if piety and purity are impossible to attain, for me they’re directions worth heading toward, and day to day I can remember that doing the next right thing keeps me healthy, whether it’s admitting I’m wrong or cleaning a dish or offering an amends. Thanks for being among the people in my life who reminded me of how freeing this process of expiation could be!

4/14/2020

Nebraska's word of the day today is unctuous (adj.) - (of a person) excessively or ingratiatingly flattering; (of a substance) having a greasy or soapy feel, oily. The word comes to us from the Latin ‘unguere’ which means to anoint (‘anoint’ is a verb that means to smear or rub with oil, typically as part of a religious ceremony). Those of you familiar with the program Trailer Park Boys may be familiar with the term ‘greasy’ (colloquial, Canadian, fictional), an adjective that can be taken to mean sketchy, abased, despicable, untoward — these three words constitute a triangle of statuses very familiar to this alcoholic. I tended to behave unctuously toward others while actively drinking and using; typically I wanted to slather you with so much praise that you were disarmed, and thus more easily malleable, controllable, manipulable. I rationalized a lot of my inconsiderate and harmful behavior through an understanding of myself as metaphysically somehow anointed: a vaguely ‘chosen’ and tragically talented individual whose genius would naturally ruffle a few feathers during the course of daily life (this type of thinking is comorbid with terminal uniqueness). And of course the things I did on a day to day basis to sustain my habits were, in a word, greasy. I actually remember my first month sober being kind of distraught specifically about what my personality would be like if stealing and petty crime were taken out of the equation — for a lot of my life I made a home in the identity of a two-bit thief. You might be familiar with the term ‘unguent,’ or its more common synonym ‘ointment,’ and will likely recognize the shared etymological roots here. Whereas excess, insincere, and unclean grease are cause for derision, a bit of salve is medicinal, and a thumb to the forehead with a dab of holy oil or a smudge of henna might be transcendent. I’m still inclined to lay on the praise thick to get my way, but these days I have a support network that reminds me mind-reading, expectations, and a desire to control outcomes are guaranteed resentments in the making. Thanks for being among the people I trust to act as spiritual surfactants, to de-grease this drunk.

4/13/2020

Nebraska’s word of the day today is ‘cacoethes’ (n.) - an irresistible urge to do something inadvisable. The word comes to us from the Greek ‘kakos’ which means ‘bad’ and ‘ethos’ which means ‘disposition.’ (Bonus etymology: the Greek ‘kakos’ comes to us from the ancestral Proto Indo European common language, whose prefix ‘kakka-’ meant ‘to defecate.’ I don’t know about you, but I remember as a little kid coming to an intuitive understanding of this particular etymological origin, calling doodoo ‘caca’ without really knowing why. I digress.) Looking back, most of my adult life could be fairly summed up by the word cacoethes: harebrained drug-dealing schemes, benders lasting months, sustained aggressive graffiti campaigns, indiscriminate substance intake, high-risk sex behavior, wanton property destruction, gratuitous theft of non-essential items, stunts resulting in physical injury, and so forth, with a baroquely woven quilt of meticulous lies frayed and billowing over all of it. I’m not sure what actuated this tendency in me, but from early on I had a sense that if something was advised to me, I should try the opposite. It maybe was a way to cohere a rebel/non-conformist identity, to appear cool, to find proof of my toughness, etc.; I remember especially feeling like the more ‘life experience’ I had, the better a person I would become. Today I cringe at that cacoethic mindset. I, like many people in the rooms, have experienced consequences, but in the cold light of sobriety, I am uncertain why I didn’t end up dead or in jail. I find some comfort attributing my continued existence to a Higher Power, but he jury’s out on that line of thinking; it seems dubious (I have to be very careful to avoid ‘chosen one’ mentality when I try to relate to God). What I feel more sure about is that my Higher Power wants me to take good care of myself now, to listen to advice, to avoid cacoethes, so I can be useful to others. And the Big Book reminds me that my dark past can serve as a great asset — not as a litany of gruesome war stories, but a means of identifying with other troubled souls whose lives have been shot through with bad decision-making like mine, to develop bonds of real trust by admitting to other alcoholics the exact nature of my wrongs, and to carry some humility when I might otherwise look down my nose at someone else’s foolishness. My urge to do inadvisable things has not completely left me, but it is greatly reduced. I attribute this attenuation to nothing short of mercy. And I am grateful now to be among people who I trust as kindred spirits, in large part because we have shared our vile cacoethes, we have shared our sincere commitment to never repeat them, and we check in and hold one another accountable to nip inadvisable decision-making in the bud. Thanks for helping me abandon my defecation imagination, my stinking thinking.

4/12/2020

Nebraska's word of the day today is eldritch (adj.) - weird and sinster or ghostly; hideous, ghastly. The word is of uncertain origin, although it appears to be a variation on the Old Scottish 'elphrish' which means 'of or pertaining to elves' or possibly from the Old English 'el-' which means 'else, otherwise' and 'rice' which means 'realm.' My behavior while in active addiction was totally eldritch. I did all sorts of bizarre things to hide my drinking, I became ghostly and gaunt from my tendency to drink my meals for the day, and was hideous to the people around me. 'Eldritch' was a favorite word of Horror writer H. P. Lovecraft, who once said: "The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown." Alcoholics will be familiar with the unfathomably important role fear plays in our decision-making, values, thoughts and feelings. I'll end with this quote from the Big Book, which to me reads a little like an excerpt of Lovecraft: "The less people tolerated us, the more we withdrew from society, from life itself. As we became subjects of King Alcohol, shivering denizens of his mad realm, the chilling vapor that is loneliness settled down. It thickened, ever becoming blacker. Some of us sought out sordid places, hoping to find understanding companionship and approval. Momentarily we did—then would come oblivion and the awful awakening to face teh hideous Four Horsemen—Terror, Bewilderment, Frustration, Despair. Unhappy drinkers who read this page will understand!" Thank you for being among the unhappy drinkers who understand this unhappy drinker.

4/11/2020

Nebraska’s word of the day today is ‘passim’ (adv.) - to be found at various places throughout the text; in one place and another; here and there. The word comes from the Latin ‘passus’ (scattered, spread). In my copy of Alcoholics Anonymous (the Big Book), there are several seasons of marginalia (marginal notes) scattered passim throughout the text. The first season, from about 3 years ago, appears in heavy-handed, all-caps gel pen. They are skeptical, probing, intense. They say things like “BILL DID LSD” “VICTIM BLAMING??” “DOESNT MATTER IF YOU WANT TO STOP” “HALLUCINATION?” “PUT DOWN THE WEAPON” & “EBBY DIDNT STAY SOBER.” I relapsed about two months after my first encounter with the Big Book and that first season of margin notes. The second season of notation, in the same book, appears in pencil, and is milder, lower-case, more tempered: “unmanageable...” “god can speak through other people” “self knowledge won’t save you” “others affected by my disease” & “literally me.” I made these notes during my time in rehab when I went through the book a second time with my sponsor. I had for the first time begun to identify with the program, to believe I might be in the right place after all. A damaged ego is useful to let ideas like that in. The third season of notes in my Big Book came most recently, after I moved to Chapel Hill and went through the book with my current sponsor. These are light marks in ball-point blue pen, now a bit more reflective and a bit more assured & secure: “Fear of doing is always worse than actually doing” “what if someone gave up on me” & “STAY CONNECTED.” In this most recent season there’s a lot more underlining and a lot less notes. My little blue book with its broken spine and scrawled notes is a little like a time capsule of three distinct times in my AA journey. I can see acceptance in the later notes and resistance in the early ones. Early on I can see a vigorous, fruitless desire to contradict; to have an original idea, to think my way out of this program of action. Later notes demonstrate a little more suggestibility, malleability — character assets this program has developed in me. Spread passim across those pages is a living document of my spiritual progress, a progress made possible by people like you who stayed connected with me and through whom God has worked. Maybe thumbing through your book might bring you some joy reflecting on the progress you’ve made, too. Thank you for encourage me to take my work in AA seriously, and to take note.

4/10/2020

Nebraska’s word of the day today is ‘peripeteia’ (n.) - a reversal of circumstances, or turning point; a sudden reversal of fortune or change in circumstances. This word comes from the Greek ‘peri-‘ which means ‘around’ and ‘piptein’ which means ‘to fall.’ In general, an experience such as this is quite rare. But for alcoholics, the peripeteia is so common that it precedes the description of the 12 steps in How It Works read before most meetings (“we stood at the turning point...). My separation from alcohol was violent, involuntary, sudden, and jarring. But without such a shocking event, I may never have been able to quit. I had, over decades, accumulated and become committed to an understanding of myself as someone who functioned fully only when chemically augmented, and in the last couple years of my drinking and using the fear of the lack of chemicals in me became so great that I kept myself surfeit with them 24/7. Thankfully that nightmare has ended, but I am still vulnerable to the static deceit of comfort and the conceit of complacency. Change approaches, I fixate on fear and affix it to my horizon: no matter how I move, it looms. When I contact other alcoholics and attempt to relate to my Higher Power, I’m reminded I will never be asked to reckon with the horizon. I only need to take care of what’s in front of me, where my feet are, today. Without unpredictable, destabilizing change, I would never have been able to get sober. So I do well to welcome change, to remember the balm of peripeteia, and trust that I will be taken care of. Thank you for being among those whose care and regard has helped me solidify my belief that I will be cared for, that I am durable.

4/9/2020

Nebraska’s word of the day today is ‘abeyance’ (n.) - a state of temporary disuse or suspension; the position of being without, or of waiting for. Abeyance originally meant “state of expectation.” The word comes from the Old French ‘abeer’ (aspire after, gape, open wide). Today’s word is inspired by a topic discussed at a meeting yesterday, an old nemesis of mine: expectation. Some recent inventory and reflection revealed that I have imposed an indefinite state of expectation upon myself, and relied on acceptance to an academic institution as the source of relief the insanity that expectation caused. Without realizing it, I put my reliance on my Higher Power in a state of abeyance, Naturally, I’ve accumulated a great deal of resentments along the way. The fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous is a valuable resource for me because it alerts me when I have allowed my spirituality to fall into a state of temporary disuse or suspension, and offers me a practical means to re-activate the spirit, to be in-spired, to breathe in again, and to accept what I have, celebrate it. After all, the expectations were just mental constructs I made in the first place; I feel spiritually fit when I welcome their demolition (rather than attached to the precious thing I built). Thank you all for constituting the system that alerts me to selfish thinking and reminds me how to combat that tendency!

4/8/2020

Nebraska’s word of the day today is ‘numismatic’ (adj.) - of or relating to the study or collection of coins, tokens, and money. This word comes from the Greek ‘nomisma’ which means coin (which itself comes from ‘nomos,’ the root of yesterday’s word; nomos means custom or law). I think most of us have encountered AA’s peculiar numismatic system of denoting various lengths of sobriety, sometimes it’s called a ‘chip system,’ and the talismans are known also as ‘tokens’ or ‘medallions.’ Nifty key fobs and tags are available in NA and CA as well. I know for the first year of sobriety I was very eager to pick up a chip every month I could, and a tangible marker of progress was something I treasured and coveted. Evidently the chip system in AA got started sometime in the early 1940s, and although accounts conflict as to the true progenitor of the system, it’s evident that Sister Ignatia, the nun who helped Dr. Bob get the hospitalization program started at St. Thomas Hospital in Akron was the first person to give out medallions—drunks who stayed dry for five days were handed a Sacred Heart Medallion, and Sister Ignatia instructed them that the acceptance of the medallion signified a commitment to God, to AA, and to recovery. (The use of these medallions can be traced back to the temperance movements of the 1840s during pioneer times in America.) I picked up a two year chip this week and had a chance to run my thumb over the embossed phrase ‘to thine own self be true.’ I thought this quote came maybe from the Bible, but it turns out it comes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, delivered by Polonius, whose shall we say ‘character defects’ lead to his daughter’s suicide and his own murder. Hearing this lofty idealist phrase from a troubled soul may be a bit of ironic humor from Shakespeare. Moreover, literary scholars suggest the phrase may mean ‘take care of your own needs before attending to others’ rather than ‘tell the truth to yourself.’ Curiously, this 400-year old message made its way onto little secret coins carried in the pockets of garden variety numismatists like you and me. At the end of the day, when I consider the phrase, I want it to mean something like: “I can’t lie to myself about my sobriety, and this coin means nothing if I do.” And while I can’t ever be 100% sure that I am not lying to myself about something or other, I’m confident I can get checked, right-sized, and advised by the group of coin-carrying Shakespeare buffs of Alcoholics Anonymous!

4/7/2020

Nebraska’s word of the day today is ‘anomie’ (n.) - the condition in which society provides little moral guidance to individuals. The term originates from the greek ‘anomos’ which means ‘lawless;’ ‘nomos’ is the origin of the suffix -onomy (e.g. astronomy, economy, taxonomy). Anomie was popularized by a sociologist who also used the word as a stand-in for ‘derangement’ and ‘an insatiable will’ and described anomie as ‘the malady of the infinite,’ because desire without limit can never be fulfilled, it only becomes more intense. Anomie was among the societal ills this sociologist pointed to as a cause of suicide. I’ve spent most of my life trying to wriggle out of the suffocating grip of society’s rules and norms. I courted and championed lawlessness as an anarchist; I preferred abandoned, unmonitored, directionless nihilism to the fetters of morality and civic duty. At the core of this for me was not a political ideology (I used politics as a guise and an excuse). Rather, my central purpose was anomic in nature: I had an insatiable will and boundless desire to make myself feel good. As a result, I suffered a malady of the infinite, I became deranged. The parallels between anomie and AA are evident: my derangement was the insanity caused by my malady of the infinite, alcoholism. As they say in our sister program, for me one is too many and a thousand is never enough. I like anomie as a concept because it reminds me that addicts and alcoholics don’t have a monopoly on corrosive self-will or suicide, and that we aren’t the only ones who suffer from a lack of structure in our lives. We do, however, have the unique privilege of a free emotional and material support network that offers us a way out of anomie, and a community of former deranged anarchists and the like who we can council with, collect wisdom from, begin take ourselves less seriously, learn to heal, and figure out how we can help others. Whereas ‘heedlessness’ was probably the word that best defined me two years ago, I now have a semblance of regard for order (which no longer feels stifling but instead relieving), a sense of purpose and belonging, and a robust system of moral guidance sourced from people I trust, all of which keeps the anomie at bay. Thank you for contributing to that system my friends!

4/6/2020

Nebraska's word of the day today is 'prolix' (adj.) - (of speech or writing) using or containing too many words; tediously lengthy. The word comes to us from the Old French 'prolixe' which means 'extended' and the Latin 'prolixus' which literally means 'poured out,' from the prefix 'pro-' meaning 'forth' and the root 'liquere' meaning 'to flow.' You may recognize the root from words like 'elixir' or perhaps 'liquor.' This is a word whose sound I love, it evokes something elegant and ancient in my mind when it leaves my tongue. Of course, it applies to me: I am a wordy person, I can often get carried away piling on adjectives and adverbs onto a situation which is a plain noun. I'm also intrigued by it's root, the literal sense of 'pouring out liquid' makes me think of getting sober, putting the plug in the jug. There's a kind of beautiful emptying-out that I experienced early on in sobriety, completely without my liquid safety blanket, bombarded with feelings in memory I could no longer dodge, letting my sponsor hear every last awful thing on my fifth step. All that pouring out made space for me to be a new vessel, a vessel God may use to help others, a vessel to carry the message. I'm happy to have been though the emptying-out period, and to use my prolix tendencies now in this word of the day. Thanks for abiding my words!

4/5/2020

Nebraska’s word of the day today is ‘sententious’ (n.) - 1. given to moralizing in a pompous or affected manner or 2. short and pithy; full of maxims (a short statement expressing a general truth or rule of conduct), proverbs. The word comes from the latin ‘sententia’ which means ‘opinion.’ When I first started going to AA meetings, I found them unbearably, appallingly sententious--how dare this group of drunks offer advice and suggest the right way to live? Back then I still had a white-knuckle deathgrip on the idea that nobody knew more than me, that I was the expert, and that anybody claiming to know how to get better was lying. It took some time of white-knuckling it through meetings, but eventually I started to hear my own story being told to me in between all this prescriptive moralizing, which made me trust what I was hearing a little more, and start to believe there might be some people who have gone through what I have gone through and come out better, and that I might save myself some grief if I could bother to listen. Once I started to let the message in, I got a taste of AA as sententious in the second sense: the short and pithy phrases they repeated would uncannily show up in my life when I got agitated and managed to pause. Do the next right thing, let go and let god, love and tolerance is our code, trust god clean house help others, you spot it you got it, give yourself a break, the list goes on and on--these little phrases I found so cloyingly annoying my first few months were popping up in my life day to day and helping me manage my life, helping me avoid collecting unnecessary resentments, helping me treat myself better and preserve a little sanity which I could parlay into help to others since I wasn’t so awfully twisted up in my own pity and fear. I try to remind myself when I go to a meeting to share honestly if I can, to get into the solution, and to be plain and vulnerable about my shortcomings so that other people know they’re not alone in, that the struggle is as common as the solution. And when I avoid being sententious in the moralizing sense, I feel better, and when I can contextualize and reflect on a valuable piece of pithy wisdom as a part of my experience, I often get a chance to elevate the message into the realm of strength and hope. Here’s hoping you friends get as much strength from my experience as I do from yours!

4/4/2020

Nebraska’s word of the day today is ‘lacuna’ (n.) - an unfilled space or interval; a gap. The word comes from Latin, in which lacuna means ‘pool;’ the same root as ‘lagoon.’ This word brings up a couple things for me. My first thought is of the big gaps in memory that I have today as a result of my drinking and using. I find myself troubled sometimes when I’m unable to recall details about a whole season of my life, other than the detail that I was after oblivion, numbness, and solitude every day during that season. I used to think these gaps in memory would be forever blank, but I realized (sometimes to my horror) that the details can come rushing back in vivid detail as a side effect of a little step work, especially inventory and amends. (Although also the uglier details of my past have a funny way of becoming easy to remember the moment I turn off the lights and try to fall asleep). On a good day, I’m able to remember the promise that ‘we will not regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it,’ and look directly at a bad memory as an act of faith, faith that I can live a life controlled by something other than fear. The other big lacuna in my life is the unfilled space inside me. I used to try to fill it with substances, and when I got sober I was sure it was food, exercise, romance, and hard word that would fill in the gaps, but the lacuna remained; I still carried a cavity in me. Only in the rooms of AA did I hear that the hole might be God-sized and I should try filling it with some prayer and meditation. This was obviously bad news because prayer and meditation don’t feel immediately pleasurable the way a huge meal does. But on my better days when I can get those done first thing in the morning, the rest of my day I feel calmer knowing those old lacuna-filling behaviors won’t be necessary. And of course most frequently the impetus to pray and meditate is instantiated not by God texting me or sliding into my DMs, but through the people in my life who live a program and week regularly to remember their Higher Power, who seek to live a life in the sight of that Power’s memory rather than a life governed solely by the fulfillment of base instincts and lizard-brain desires. I look to ya’ll for that and regularly come away with inspiration and hope. I’m so grateful to count you all among the things in my life that make me feel full, held, hale, and whole.

4/3/2020

Nebraska's word of the day today is 'weird' (adj.) - suggesting something supernatural; uncanny; very strange; bizarre. The word comes from the Old English 'wyrd' which means 'fate, chance, fortune; destiny; the Fates," literally "that which comes," from Proto-Germanic 'wurthiz' and Old High German 'wurt' which means 'fate,' originally from the Proto Indo European 'wert-' which means 'to turn, to wind.' The sense of 'uncanny, supernatural' developed from Middle English use of 'weird sisters' as a name for the 'three fates,' the goddesses who were thought to control human destiny; they were portrayed as odd or frightening in appearance, as in 'Macbeth' and other old media, which led to the adjectival meaning 'odd-looking, uncanny.' This word interests me because I feel my fate has been a weird one. The 'spiritual experience sufficient to produce a personality change' could certainly be described as either fate or chance, fortune or destiny. I sometimes get bogged down wondering why I am deserving of this grace given my bizarre, abusive, manipulative, controlling behavior in the past. The answer I've come to is that grace itself is undeserved, and that I can try to demonstrate gratitude for that grace by carrying it to the still sick and suffering alcoholic. I love getting to hear weird stories, comparing notes on bizarre behaviors of active addiction with fellow drunks who understand, and laugh rather than judge. It's a great source of joy and relief for me; it helps me not take myself too seriously. Thanks for your weirdness my friends, and for abiding mine.

4/2/2020

Nebraska’s word of the day today is ‘aubade’ (n., pronounced ‘oh bod’) - a love song which is sung at dawn; a poem or piece of music appropriate to the dawn or early morning. The word comes from the Spanish ‘alba’ which means dawn, with the ‘-ade’ suffix similar to ‘serenade,’ meaning song or performance. In the rooms of AA, I hear over and over that the best thing to do in the morning is thank my Higher Power for being sober, ask for guidance throughout the day to be of maximum service to others and to do God’s will not mine. So that’s the best first thing, and then I just need to look for the next right thing. On my best days, this act of gratitude to God is accompanied by an early morning improvisational prayer, not unlike a song sung at dawn, because it is, in its way, a poetic expression of my love for being on the Broad Highway, for no longer having to run the show and trusting I will be cared for. Of course, many mornings I rack my brain for any possible distraction to avoid this little act of worship. I’d rather drink coffee, get on Instagram, eat breakfast, morbidly reflect on failed relationships, go back to bed, and so on. But when I manage to sing the aubade to my HP before anything else, my day suddenly seems to hold more possibility, I become curious rather than deflated, and I look for ways I can contribute to the stream of life, however small, flawed, and odd they might be. And so this morning please permit me to sing your praises, to remind you that you matter, that you count, and that I count you among my blessings.

4/1/2020

Nebraska's word of the day today is 'hypothecate' (v.) - to pledge (something) without giving up control of it; pawn; mortgage. This word comes to us from the Medieval Latin 'hypotheca' which means 'a pledge,' from the Greek 'hypotheke' which means 'a deposit, pledge, mortgage' I know I personally feel like I mortgaged my future for drugs and alcohol, and of course I literally pawned my music equiment and other valuables for quick cash to fund the next fix. The insistent madness of King Alcohol made all material possessions seem less important than that familiar numbness I craved. In another sense, in sobriety, I sometimes find myself hypothecating my will power -- I will 'turn my will over' in a perfunctory (carried out with a minimum of effort or reflection) way, without really giving up control of it. Still, even a willingness to make the pledge is sufficient in AA, and I find that the more often I practice it, the better I get. Thank you for helping me slowly reaccumulate the bits of my future I pawned for alcohol.

3/31/2020

Nebraska’s word of the Day today is ‘abulia’ (n.) - an absence of willpower or an inability to act decisively, as a symptom of mental illness. This comes from the greek boulḗ (will) and the prefix a- (lack of). Typically this medical condition is caused by damage to the basal ganglia (a bundle of brain nerves) or by cortical lesions (tissue damage in the brain). Of course, as members of AA, we recognize immediately that ‘an absence of willpower’ is the #1 prescription to cure us of the illness of alcoholism. Except it’s not that simple, as we know. Willpower will exist in my life no matter what. Differentiating my personal will from the will of a Higher Power is nothing I can figure out once and for all, it’s a lifelong path to walk down, requiring contact with other alcoholics and a desire to remember God in order for me to stay on the path. Differentiating my will from God’s is the thing that’s so hard to figure out I say a prayer asking just how to do it before and after just about every AA meeting I go to. While scripture and orthopraxy have their place, my prayer life can suffer in a social vacuum. I go to AA meetings not just to say the Serenity Prayer, but most of all to collect stories that I can carry and reference like scars, stories that contain and reflect me, stories that remind me my problem is common, and we share a common solution. Thanks for being a part of my story my friends. Offering this text as a digital talisman against loneliness; a reminder that we are none of us alone in our recovery.

3/30/2020

Nebraska’s Word of the Day: Formicate (v.) - to crawl around like ants; to swarm with ants or other crawling things. Good evening my friends, formicate is a word so seldom used that my text message spell checker doesn’t recognize it. For this drug addict, I used to get a certain feeling of formication on my skin with the right (or wrong) combination of substances. I kinda lived for it, that dozy electric oblivion that made my neck hair stand up. Nowadays that formication feeling sometimes comes when I read something that dislodges, however briefly, my view of the world. A high percentage of those readings are AA literature and religious/spiritual text. My eyes scan the page, I expect to feel bored, I’m ready for the next distraction, or snack, or nap, and instead something grabs my attention, I recognize a feeling I had forgotten about, or I step into someones shoes for an instant, or I see the horizon open up wide like the tide. Or I let a Twix melt in my Big Book and it was covered in actual ants and the feeling of formication came from the thousands of ants formicating on my tender bite-able skin. So often for me the solution is within arm’s reach, and yet it never ceases to surprise me when I encounter it. Here’s hoping ya’ll find yourself close to the solution, too; I’m grateful to have you be part of my solution. Have a good night my friends.

3/29/2020

Nebraska’s Word of the day: Penury (n.) - extreme poverty; destitution. From the latin penuria, which means need or scarcity. Today I was messing around with some creative writing, on a project I hope to share in the not too distant future. One of my favorite parts about writing is looking up words I don’t know and trying to put them to good use. I found penury today and to learn the definition, I looked it up on Google as usual. When I learned it, the first thing that came to mind for me is that in this moment in time, I am feeling a level of social penury, a poverty of social interaction, feeling a little destitute in terms of relating in-person to humans. Solitary confinement has historically been deployed as a punishment among the already-punished, a severe consequence for people who continue to break laws and cause trouble in prison. Only a few weeks in to the much milder sentence of suggested social distancing, my morbid mind tends to make the worst of things, I get tunnel vision, labor in an echo chamber, forget that what I struggle with is common, forget that I am a garden variety drunk with a broad support network, and that actually I am living in a state of abundance, with an embarrassment of riches in terms of the people I can reach out to and connect with at a moment’s notice, using technology that I have free and unlimited access to. Keeping a good perspective can be hard for me, and so much of what makes AA valuable is the interchange of ideas that helps collectively reframe and recalibrate our view of the world, usually putting a lens of gratitude and tolerance on things. Glad to count ya’ll among my friends and grateful for you! Feeling rich in this moment, and not in a state of penury after all.

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