Episode 171: Carmen X. at the KC Secular AA Speaker Meeting

This episode is a recording from a talk given by Carmen X. in Kansas City, Missouri in February 2019. Carmen begins by noting that she believes she was born with two genetic variations. One that made her a trans woman and the other that made her an alcoholic. She briefly shared her story of recovery, and then the microphone was passed around the room for comments from others who attended the meeting. 

The KC Secular Speaker Meeting no longer meets, but we have over twenty recordings of the wonderful talks from that period of time that have been posting here. 


00:29 Simon: Welcome to the Secular Speaker Meeting. I’m Simon, I’m an alcoholic.

00:34 Group: Hello, Simon.

00:35 Simon: I’m gonna read the preamble tonight because it’s on my phone and I forgot the paper. AA is a fellowship of people who share their experience, strength and hope with each other. They may have solved their common problem and to help others to recover. We have no dues… Oh, yeah. We have no dues or fees for membership, we are self-supporting through our own contributions. AA is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution, does not wish to engage in any controversy, neither endorses nor opposes any causes. Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help others to achieve sobriety.

01:14 Simon: Our secular group attempts to maintain a tradition of free expression and to conduct a meeting where all may feel free to express any doubts or disbeliefs that they may have and to share their own personal form of spiritual experience, their search for it, or their rejection of it. In keeping with AA tradition, we do not endorse nor oppose any form of religion or atheism. Our only wish is to help those who want recovery without having to accept anyone else’s beliefs or having to deny their own. During the meeting, I’ll pass around the hat to all of you. Nobody’s visiting today. Is anybody recognizing an extended period of sobriety? Okay. You guys know the drill, as far as how things work, go over that. Yeah, that’s really all the business. I was hoping Doug would sneak back in here real quick but our speaker tonight is Carmen. And after she enlightens us, we’ll pass around the mic and do our thing. So whenever you’re ready, Carmen.

02:16 Carmen: Thanks, Simon. I’m Carmen and I am an alcoholic. Good evening to everyone. I think that you used the word, drill. I think the usual presentation in the speaker meetings is experience, strength and hope. And I just want to give you the CliffNotes of experience, because whatever I did, or whatever I… Kind of trouble that I got into, someone, everyone probably in this room could relate in one way or the other, so my experience is common. My strength is unique to my own program and my hope is eternal. And so there, I will start in the very beginning. Carmen starts in gestation and I rely on science a tremendous amount, in order to establish this phase of my sobriety. What I believe is that I was born with a couple of genetic variations. One was the first trimester in my mother’s womb, where all of the cells in the embryo we’re getting together to decide my sex. And then the second trimester, there was a disconnect between that event and the complement or working together with the neurological and brain function is what I have. So hence, I am a transwoman.

03:49 Carmen: And so that’s genetic variation, and notice that I did not use the word defect, it’s variation. The second variation that I have, or had in utero and the reason that I’m here this evening, is that I believe in the formation of my organ or one cell to many cells dividing into different organ systems, in the very depths of my brain, there was a variation into which I, with the help of the hypothalamus in the brain, I have a propensity more than others to be addicted to dopamine, plain and simple. I think John, the other night, described his addiction in much the same way and I subscribe to the same idea. While normal people can get along with the normal levels of dopamine, I seem to be unable, mentally and physically, to be that way. So there you have Carmen, a couple of genetic variations. Again, my being common to everyone in this room, the description is I drank at a young age, and then I drank a lot, and then I drank too much and then I drank because I needed to live. And that’s what brought me in because I did, in fact, want to live.

05:16 Carmen: I had wonderful parents, I’m my mother’s only child, I was brought up Catholic and we’ll explain why that is very important in terms of my motivation to Secular AA. I was born in the so-called Barrio here in Kansas City, Missouri on the west side of town. And then military service and different random occurrences of good fortune, education, marriage, children, career, political service, and then finally, retirement. And I’m 70 years of age, and I am in my fifth year of retirement. So the story is from the beginning and to now what happened in between all of that. At first glance, everything that I’ve just given you, the bullets of my life, one would say, “My gosh, what a model of success.” I attained the American dream with the house and the two children. There was a time where I had five cars in our parking, on our driveway. I was in political office, was held in high esteem in the community, but what was happening at the very same time was I was beginning to develop into a narcissist. I became dishonest, I became an infidel, I became sexually loose and provocative. And because of my religious upbringing, my motivation for living was based on guilt, that was my primary motivation. That coupled with self-centeredness and narcissism led to a lot of discomfort in my life.

07:04 Carmen: And lo and behold, enter stage left, dopamine or alcohol and it made me feel better. It relieved that angst, that constant, constant angst. Some people describe it as a hole in their soul, but I was always in a condition of fear, terror, at times, and yet, I needed my dopamine. I woke up with all of this at my disposal, all of the good things that had occurred to me or that had happened to me in my life, and I would wake up in urine and sometimes not my own. I came to, naked running in a park, wondering, “Where am I and why am I in this condition?” For 40-plus years, my drinking career, my mornings were nightmarish, my days were physically and mentally revolting and my nights were in a purple haze, to borrow a piece of music that I still like ’til today.

08:16 Carmen: But enough of all of that, we all can… In our own way, in our own events, it didn’t have to be running naked through a park for maybe many of us. Maybe it was just a slight occurrence, something a little bit more benign or something even more horrific, that some of us wake up in jail having killed someone and not remembering it. It could be from the sublime to the horrific, but something clicks that makes us raise our hand and say, “I need help, I don’t want to die this way.” Why that happens? I continue to search for the reason. And I search for that because I see the struggles within myself and within others. So let’s spend some time talking about the now, which is probably the most important element that I bring to everyone this evening. There is a word that we come across both in traditional and in Secular AA and quite frankly, in several pieces of our life, and the word is responsibility. The 12 Steps in traditional AA, I have a lot of respect for, because quite frankly, they make a whole lot of sense and they give utility and they work for me. And I did raise my hand, “I need help.” And then I was told that I would be restored to sanity and within that statement implies that I would be given responsibility or the ability to respond, and that is the grand gift for me on a daily basis.

10:03 Carmen: I have the ability to respond. So therefore, I am responsible. My higher power, which I rely on, is my higher self, and I rely on that spirit or higher being within me to take over my psyche and my way of thinking on a daily basis. And so with this responsibility, I still continue to adhere to the idea, a brilliant idea, actually, of asking for help, looking for something larger than yourself, cleaning house. I mean, it’s good business. How on earth am I expected to change unless I know what my inventory is and what I have available within me to work with in order to gain additional inventory? And then recognizing my humanity, which is described in five, six, seven where I have shortcomings as a human being. So therefore, I have the responsibility of recognizing my own humanity, and what better thing to do but go around to those that you have harmed and say, “I’m sorry for what I did to you”? And the apology is empty without a change of behavior. So therein lies the additional part of those two steps, eight and nine.

11:41 Carmen: But then the idea of not only apologizing, not only changing my behavior to prove my sincerity to both of them and myself, but along the way with my humanity, there’s a saying that, “No matter what a good person you may be, you are evil in someone else’s life.” And that keeps me humble and that makes me aware that along the way, no matter how good I think I’m doing or what a good person I think I am, I may hurt someone intentionally or without malice, not even knowing that I did. So therefore, I have given myself the responsibility to apologize as I continue to live my human, defective life. The freedom. What does that mean that I’ve been granted without drink? Oh, yeah, we can all talk about how either good or bad it is to wake up and remember what you did the day before and by God, occasionally in spite of my age, I occasionally [chuckle] remember what I did the last Wednesday or a week or two ago. But it’s cheaper. You’re not drinking or using, spending money, you don’t have the whiskey dings on your car, you’re not waking up in strange places with strange people and things. And so these are all the platitudes that we give in terms of the benefits of sobriety. However, for me, the freedom lies on a daily basis in my morning decision to call upon my higher self and make a decision, one more time, I’m going to try, because I love dopamine and I can’t go there anymore, I don’t want to go there anymore.

13:42 Carmen: So the freedom, the addiction for me, the Big Book describes it as a gift of neutrality. Yes, alcohol, in all of its packaging and beautiful colors, colored bottles and what have you, I am neutral. In fact, come Christmas season, I sometimes wander up and down the halls of the liquor aisle, just being amazed at the engineering and the color and the artistry of those bottles. But more importantly, I have made room for my addiction. In my mind, I know that it’s there and I believe that that is described as, we will not regret the past. I’m not saying I have fallen in love with my addiction, but I certainly am no longer afraid of it, overcome by it, controlled by it. But Carmen is an addict. Just like a diabetic who is unable to utilize the insulin molecule, I am unable to utilize properly the dopamine molecule, back to science. Another benefit for myself, particularly in Secular AA, is I described some of the things that I turned into during my drinking days as sexually loose and provocative.

15:14 Carmen: During those days, I had no idea what love for another human being was, save my daughters. It was manipulation, it was a matter of conquering someone. There’s nothing wrong with the bliss of sexuality, don’t get me wrong. What I’m saying is this gives me an opportunity, as I continue loving myself and learning what that means, that I become lovable. So therefore, I have an opportunity to reach out to all of those around me and allow the concept of love or friendship or acquaintance to blossom the way it’s supposed to be with humanity. In my drunkenness, however, I was not lovable at all. I came to that realization when one day it was so simple, I sat down and I said, “Would I date myself?”

16:13 Carmen: [chuckle] No, I don’t think so. No chance. So again, there is sexuality for pleasure and I salute that. It is fun, but what I’m trying to convey to you is another gift that I’ve been given is an awareness of my sexuality in all of its beautiful forms and variances throughout humanity, and that means gender and orientation. With that also brings another choice and responsibility that I have, I need to choose to be lovable, I need to choose to be a part of instead of away from. I choose to be a part of instead of being forced into assimilation. What do I mean by that? Having been born and raised in a barrio with a unique culture, with its own language and that kind of thing, the dominant culture, in order for me to succeed, require that I changed somewhat in terms of cultural values, how we hold ourselves in esteem with material things, the color of my skin, my gender, my politics, even my height.

17:35 Carmen: So as you see me here this evening, my idea of success was based on a model that was not made by me. So therefore, when I was drinking, I was six foot tall, I was blond, and I was blue-eyed and I could dunk a basketball. [chuckle] And since I couldn’t do any of those things, obviously, academics was my way of bowling my way through classes and just different groups throughout my life, but. At any rate, that’s another story. So I try to be lovable. Another responsibility that I have is to become aware and take responsibility for my ongoing shortcomings. This is where, perhaps, I might split myself off, just a little bit, from traditional AA. The step, in my mind, perhaps in first or… Suggests that if you take certain steps, recognition of shortcomings and defects, that once that’s done, it all disappears. And I’m here to tell you, for this alcoholic, that is not the case.

18:48 Carmen: And the way I’ve gotten through that and become neutral with it is, I am very aware that I’m still capable of being a narcissist, dishonest, infidel, a thief. You name it and I am capable of it. And what a wonderful freedom it is to be able to say, “No, I choose not to do that today. Check me out tomorrow, I may change my mind.” But you tell me within these rooms that if I continue saying yes to certain elements of my humanity that I will go to dopamine, yet again, to soothe and quench the pain and suffering and guilt that comes along with that. The other thing we… Before the meeting started, Simon and I were talking about death. And not to be melodramatic or dark and gloomy, not at all. During my college career, I was taught by the Jesuits, a religious order, and the movie with Robin Williams was big in the day, carpe diem. I can’t remember the name of the movie but we were schooled to daily recognize our mortality. And at this stage of my life, that has become part of my ritual. It’s one, I’m an alcoholic. Two, I need to go to the bathroom. Three, when I come back today, I may die.

20:32 Carmen: And what that does it adds a beautiful, majestic urgency to the day. The colors are brighter, it seems like the days are what I was always chasing with dopamine or alcohol. Now, that said, there’s more good news. Daily living sometimes sucks, it is sometimes, “Can we start over? Can I get out of the other side of the bed? I wrecked my car, I got a bill collector on me. How am I gonna make rent? My health isn’t what it should be. I’m afraid, I’m old. Am I gonna have enough money?”

21:16 Carmen: And you may not be getting along with your neighbor, your employer, on and on and on, the possibilities of making the day less than desirable. But I’m here to tell you that no matter how dark my days get, it by no means even gets close to the days of my drinking. I have to remember the nightmare and the horror because I had no choice. But now, those dark days, I still have an opportunity, “Hey, Carmen, there’s dopamine over here on this side of the table. There’s Kevin, I can call, on this side of the table. There is a book over here, I can read on this side of the table. There’s the gym I can go to on this side of the table. Maybe I’m hungry, maybe I’m lonely. Hey, Kevin, let’s go out to the movies.” And in the same process, I’ve got this horrific need to escape, “Help me, so escape with me. Listen to me, give me advice and counsel.” And there’s so many other choices that we have at our disposal in sobriety, including alcohol or drugs, food, or sex, or money, or power, prestige. [chuckle] I just love living my life now with all of these things going on.

22:41 Carmen: And I give… And I am sincerely saying this from my heart, it now is a privilege to experience the pain and suffering that comes along with daily living, because it is not from my own hand, it is just living, that’s all it is. And that is such a privilege, such an honor. And while I’m in that cauldron of despair and disarray, disruption, I have the hope and the knowledge and even the faith that the clouds will clear and the sun eventually will come out. But in the meantime, while I’m in the depths of that darkness, there’s an easy fix. I think it’s called easier or softer way or there is the majestic struggle of living your life responsibly. And I believe that, in traditional AA, is called trudging through life into our destiny. Back to the apologies, I think that’s extremely important in my daily living. But also, and it’s difficult at times, but also I recognize people that may be disagreeable to me or disagree with me, that I have now given them permission to be wrong. I no longer have to be right, that’s another gift of sobriety.

24:16 Carmen: And finally, I’ve used the words, “I find my redemption… ” I’m trying to take back all of these words that have been hijacked by religion and other elements in our society that make us depend on a spiritual plane. But, “I find my redemption in the service of others.” And again, Wilson and those people were right on. Usually, if I have the willingness, if I make a call, go help someone that’s having trouble, whether it’s they need to be moved, whether they need some food, I mean, that’s front and center right now these days. But usually, getting out of myself, makes me, if anything, forget my troubles. And then usually, after a bad day or two, it maybe even last a week, [chuckle] the day that it passes is filled with joy and elation beyond description. The only, if I can, even though I’m powerless over it, the only regret that I might have is I came to this way of life rather late, in the fall of my life, being in the winter of it now, but we will not regret the past. So that helps.

25:35 Carmen: Decision making, and I’m soon to close here. I have had calls from friends within these halls with problems. And another gift that I’ve been given is the ability to list options that I have, that I did not have when I was drinking. The options that I had when I was drinking, we have all experienced. What did I do? I need to put that fire out. What am I gonna do today? And kind of a, “Oh, my God, the future is still more of this.” But now, take a piece of paper, either for real or in my mind, what are the things that I can do to resolve this challenge? This kind of thinking was absolutely impossible for me when I was drinking.

26:24 Carmen: And we all know that. Our biggest challenge was wondering where the liquor stores were and what time were they open. [chuckle] On a lighter note, Simon, here in Kansas City, as of late, we’ve had some rather nasty weather and I remember discussing with you as to whether or not we were going to have a meeting because of the weather. And after we finished, I just sat and I started giggling because I remembered the day, I don’t care if it snowed two feet, if I needed more beer, I don’t care [laughter] what kind of weather is out there, I’m gonna go. But here we were, we were worried about a little bit of snow and a little bit of ice. Therein, that might have been the responsible thing to do because I don’t wanna die in a wreck. So anyway, Secular AA, what a wonderful thing for me.

27:13 Carmen: I respect, to this day, traditional AA with all of my heart and all of my soul because it provided a foundation for me. I need to give recognition to Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, just two of the many authors that I continue to read, that helps me along the way of secular living, because in our society, or at least with my background in religion, it’s extremely lonely at times to stand strong and say that, “It’s my responsibility to choose whether I drink or not, to choose whether I pay my bills or not, to be a good person, or a lover, or employee.” Or whatever.

28:10 Carmen: These are my choices that are based on other choices that were made before the question even arises, so it just keeps getting better. And I’ll close with saying, thank you from the bottom of my heart, Simon. I am so enamored with you and your ability to put a meeting like this together, you and John and Kevin, and others that are the founding members of something that is really, really unique and important in the confines of addiction treatment and recovery. So everyone out there, I would say, “Take it a day at a time.” And with that…

28:56 Simon: Alright, I guess I’m gonna start, if that’s all right with everybody. Thank you, Carmen. That was… I’ve always enjoyed hearing from you. Sorry, I was making sure the microphone was on. A couple of things that stood out to me, I don’t know, maybe not in the same ways, but I also feel at odds with my… Not my own biology, but I think humans are at odds with their biology we’re given. We’re given something, I guess, our cerebral cortex, that allows us to contemplate abstract ideas and remember things and probably ways other, I doubt that. But it’s caused me tremendous trouble over the years and it doesn’t seem to necessarily fit in with the way my… I feel like my body is tuned to work in this world and maybe the society that we’ve been placed in that all three of these things just don’t really mesh up quite right. I don’t know, we’re given a lot of opportunity to sit and think and I just don’t know if that’s been more productive or I guess problematic for us over the years.

30:28 Simon: I often envy, I guess, like animals that maybe it’s not this way, but I feel like they don’t have these burdens of worry and guilt and shame, everything just comes at them in the moment. They’re blessed with one day at a time, just on their own nature, they don’t have to work for it. And oh, wait. I can’t remember. It was something else… Well, I don’t know, I’m drawing a blank now, but if I do think of something else, I’ll grab the mic here again at the end. Pass it on Kevin here and we’ll go counterclockwise tonight.

31:08 Kevin: Thanks, Simon. Kevin, alcoholic.

31:09 S?: Hi, Kevin.

31:14 Kevin: Hi, thank you so much for coming out tonight, Carmen, and sharing your story with us. I always enjoy speaker meetings pretty much always and especially when they’re about experience, strength and hope, and that’s exactly what you shared with us. You pointed out some of the scientific things with the dopamine and whatnot that I’ve always argued, and it’s always nice to hear people that you agree with. [chuckle] So I’m glad I came tonight, even though the weather is challenging this evening. And thank you again for driving the ways that I know that you drive the distance and speaking to our little group and I always enjoy your shares in meetings and I knew it would be good, so I wanted to make sure and make it. So thank you very much.

32:03 Cana: I’m Cana and I’m an alcoholic.

32:03 S?: Hi, Cana

32:07 Cana: Thank you for coming and speaking, I’m really glad to hear your story and everything you always say is really insightful, and I think it’s clear that you don’t take any of recovery or living without drinking for granted and I appreciate that a lot. And another thing I appreciate is you make it clear that recovery is not a passive existence, and I think that that is very meaningful to me, and I appreciate that a lot. And so thank you again. With that, I’ll pass.

32:36 S?: Thank you, Cana

32:37 Douglas: Hello, I’m Douglas and I am an alcoholic. Do you remember the time that we were in the We Agnostics meeting and I said, “You just look so beautiful today”? Do you remember that time? 

32:48 Carmen: Mm-hmm.

32:48 Douglas: Ever since I’ve ever met you, I thought you were just beautiful. How you carried yourself, then when you talked and your vocabulary, and that just you, you fucking gave it. And I was just like, “Yeah, I think she likes the word fuck a lot.” And I was like, “I like that woman, she’s just… I don’t know.” I just, through this one day, I just… “You look beautiful today.” ‘Cause you really did, you really were wearing something really cool. And I just, I was curious if you remembered that. And that also is what encouraged me to come out this evening, and I was worried because I know you have to travel far and from up North where it’s typically worse, weather-wise, so I’m happy that you were able to make it here safely. And for anyone that is not in a seat in here tonight, tsk tsk, to them, they are fools. There… I don’t think there is a better thing to do with this hour of their time, you are very, very worth hearing and I like hearing you in our other meetings. Will you repeat what you said about apology? Like what gives it worth or substance? Will you repeat that for me? 

33:56 Carmen: What gives you substance is a change in behavior.

34:01 Douglas: What gives an apology substance is a change in behavior. I don’t remember where I heard it but, “Sorries are like dandelions, they’re pretty enough but they lack substance.” And I used to say this to my former partner and I wish I wouldn’t have said it ’cause later on, she wrote me a letter and she started to believe that she lacked substance. And I never meant that she had lacked substance, she just said, “I’m sorry,” all the time. And she would say it again, and again, and again. And how you described an apology, that’s what I wanted, is I wanted it… “Well, if you’re so damn sorry, stop doing it.” And so how you described that, if I could have said that to her, I think that would have came out kind of better for her, that she wouldn’t mistake my words for… Or words, my words into a way to self-harm herself, which she liked to self-harm herself. So that’s just, some of that is out of my control. And also with this person, when we’re talking about when our brains are being formed, she’s been diagnosed with mental disorders and so have I, and there have been an abundance of mental disorders in my family history.

35:25 Douglas: And her and I decided that we never wanted children, based almost solely on the fact that we didn’t wanna give another human being our brains. And we were scared shitless that we would make another creature that would be as bipolar, crazy, anxiety, fucked up as we were. Or me, like how dare devilish that like I… Man, God, if I had a kid that was like me, that’ll do… Oh, oh, I deserve it. But oh, will I be very scared of it. I’ve stepped back on that decision, though, because I was in the height of my addiction when I made that decision and I have plenty, plenty… Well, potentially, plenty of time to choose where I go from there on that. My sisters and I are very close. And what you said about your morning ritual, first, I stay sober. Second, I will use the restroom. Third, I may die today. That does maybe sound morbid but it’s fucking real, it’s real.

36:35 Douglas: I lost my niece two days after her first birthday, and I bring that up in these meetings sometimes, but it’s because it impacted my life very strongly. And even before we lost her, my sisters and I have always hugged, always kissed and always said, “I love you,” before we left one another. We have never not. On the phone, I’ve gotten in such the habit of saying, “I love you,” that I’ve said, “I love you” to telemarketers. So then I’m like, “Oh, that was weird.” But we truly believe that this might be the last time I see you. “I love you so much.” And yeah, I believe that is… I believe that is a good ritual to have in the morning is to commit to your sobriety, to relieve yourself, as one must in the morning. And to… [laughter] And realize that, yes, this might be your final waking steps on this earth and to fucking do something with it.

37:35 Douglas: And that’s what I look forward to in my sobriety now is that I give back, I’ve been given so much. And like you said, one time, you described the pleasure or the… I don’t remember how you worded it just now but that you like that there is pain in living and that is a part of living. There was one day, you described it as like an old TV set and you had to reel in the dials to be able to get the picture clear, that you were okay with feeling all of the feelings we are capable of feeling and whereas that’s why I used is because I was trying to get away from anything. I was trying to get away from any feeling because it felt like it was just too much, because I felt like everything was suffering. And now I’m coming closer, I’ve been trying to be sober for almost two years and I am back at it again, and again, and again. And hopefully, I will keep coming back at it again, and again, and again. But I like your morning ritual, that’s a good morning ritual. I’ll pass.

[background conversation]

38:50 Simon: I did remember what I was going to say, and it was along the lines of the… The reality that all of this is finite. I know that there have been times in my life where things close to me have been taken away, it did cause me to drink, or drinking was part of my program at that point, anyway, but. I’ve gone through difficult times since being sober and the pain is in a situation like that. It’s a reminder that you cared so much and that so many good times happened. It’s a reminder that some… I don’t know. You did a lot of living, I guess, and not comparable to the self-torment I guess I was going through and why it didn’t… But I do appreciate the pain and the bad times was why I drank.