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The ISMs

I spent years fretting about my weight. Decades even. I am underweight by America's standards but as a fashionista and recovering bulimic I wanted to be more underweight, more emaciated, more invisible. Also I work in the fashion industry where if people are able to starve themselves into looking like the grim reaper it is rewarded. I was so skinny at one point that my friends and family were getting worried…yet at work my colleagues were telling me that I had never looked better. A confusing state of affairs.

Years ago my husband bought us a new bathroom scale. A slick, state-of-the-art, digital, pounds, ounces and grams piece of modern technology. But when I first stepped on it, much to my horror, it registered a full 3 pounds heavier than my trusty old analog. Had I gained three pounds overnight? Either way, it confirmed that I was a "gross loser with no self control and maybe I should just waddle over to the nearest highway and throw myself in front of the next 18-wheeler coming my way." Sorry to say that's how my mind speaks to me sometimes. Also sorry to say, this all happened in sobriety.

So what did I do? I kept the old one and for a few years I had 2 scales in my bathroom. They even had names: Happy Scale and Sad Scale. In the mornings I would head to the bathroom and decide which scale I was going to stand on that day. (I would never weigh myself after the shower as God forbid the .003 ounces of water left in my hair would register on the scale.) So I would stare at the scales and ruminate, knowing that the entire tone of my day (and night) would be set depending on which scale I stepped on. I always planned to step on Happy Scale (why else would I have kept it?) but I usually ended up on Sad Scale which would inevitably ruin my day before it had even begun.

So even though we’ve put the alcohol down, the ISMs of alcohol-ISM can remain active well into sobriety. I was not drinking when Happy Scale and Sad Scale came on the scene but I was still suffering from the ISMs. I have heard that it’s the ISMs that will kill us, not the alcohol. A lot of my ISMs are of the common self-loathing variety. In meetings you will hear all sorts of acronyms for the ISMs that are left over once we take the alcohol away. For some the ISM can stand for Incredibly Short Memory. As in “last weekend I got drunk and arrested but I'll forget that tonight as I head to the bar”. I Sabotage Myself is another that I like. Internal Spiritual Malady. The list goes on. My acronym for the ISMs is Intense Self-induced Misery. This is probably the one I do battle with most these days.

Early on in recovery I was told that the ISM Internal Spiritual Malady that addicts suffer from is caused by a hole in my heart. Gee thanks. Glad I came. I can never drink again and now I have an inoperable hole in my heart. Pretty damn depressing. Eventually I was informed that this hole in my heart is a perfectly shaped God-sized hole and therefore can be filled with nothing but God. In early sobriety that seemed too weird to even consider. I had no idea what that meant. But many years and thousands of meetings later, I know that that is the truth. No externals of any kind will fill that hole. Like we did with drugs and alcohol, we can try to fill that hole with material gains, things of this world, but that will never work. There will always be a gap, a breach, a chink that will leave the hole unfilled. Like filling a punctured tire with air, or shoveling snow during a blizzard, filling that hole with anything other than God will be an unrewarding, Sisyphean task.

But in A.A. we are guaranteed that that hole can be filled if we let it. I have seen miracles in A.A. so I know this is true. Miracles do happen. I know fundamentalist atheists who fill that hole with their own conception of God but remain atheists. People like me who tried to fill that hole with a career only to later realize that it is in relaxing and releasing that God can come into our hearts. I have heard people speak who have had a white light spiritual experience which fills that hole to overflowing for the rest of their lives! In the blink of an eye. There are as many spiritual experiences in A.A. as there are addicts on this planet. And that's a lot.

Another remarkable thing about A.A. is that we are not asked to worship at the feet of some punishing vengeful Grand Poobah of a God. We are asked to try to find a God of our understanding, a higher power, the force inside of us that chooses life and joy over misery and death. That's who my God is. The force inside of me that wants me to live and thrive as opposed to the force (also inside of me) that wants me to stay stuck, chronically wallowing in suffering. That force is what fills the God-sized hole in my heart. Also, the A.A. meetings, the service and the fellowship. They fill my heart like nothing else.

Bill Wilson wrote in 1965:

We have atheists and agnostics. We have people of nearly every race, culture, and religion. In A.A. we are bound together in the kinship of a common suffering. Consequently the full individual liberty to practice any creed or principle or therapy whatever should be a first consideration for us all. Let us not, therefore, pressure anyone with our individual or even our collective views. Let us instead accord each other the respect and love that is due to every human being as he tries to make his way toward the light. Let us always try to be inclusive rather than exclusive. Let us remember that each alcoholic among us is a member of A.A. so long as he or she declares.

I’m happy to report that Happy Scale and Sad Scale have been chucked. (Actually my husband still has the fancy digital one but it’s in his closet, not in the bathroom.) I no longer weigh myself. I have a pair of pants that is my scale. If I can’t button them maybe it’s time to cut down on the pasta and if they’re too loose maybe it’s time to have some pasta. And I’m realizing just now that I have no idea where they are, which is a good thing. While I’m still amazed that I put the alcohol down, naturally I still have some of the ISMs. But they are getting less and less destructive. So instead of killing my day every morning by stepping on Sad Scale (caused by my Intense Self-induced Misery ISM) I have chucked the scales and the attached misery. Instead I stay connected to A.A. and my higher power, enjoying the more and more frequently occurring ISM in my life today, Incredible Sober Moments.


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