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Yard Sale Sensibility

Natalia J. Garland

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When you work in the helping professions, it is possible to have had meaningful contact with thousands of people. The work becomes a great part of your identity even if you have a healthy personal life outside the office. Whether you live in a sprawling suburb, a small town (there are still a few), or in a rural area, you lose some of your privacy. Somebody, somewhere, sometime is always going to recognize you as the one who helped them.

You may also find yourself unwittingly or conscientiously using your free time to reinforce your knowledge and skills: reading professional literature, attending seminars, browsing the bookstores, thinking about a difficult case, and reflecting on your career.

One thing that attracted me to social work was that it gave me a way to look at life. It provides explanations for human behavior and events. I have a mind that likes to dig down to the roots of things, and social work gave me a sturdy pail and shovel. It relieved me of the burden of punishing the guilty: I can leave that up to the justice system. It spared me the holiness of saving souls: I can leave that up to the religious denominations. Social work seemed totally fascinating, evolving, and liberating. Or, so I thought.

I never expected social work to follow me around so much, and even to ambush me. Sometimes I feel like the profession has claimed too much of my life. Here's an example. A couple of weekends ago I went to a yard sale. Of course, I headed for the table with the books. If I can find a good book for 50 cents or a dollar, I feel like I have found a hidden treasure. As I searched through stacks of books, there it was, an old copy of Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. This copy had been published in January, 1990 (or the 43rd printing). The most recent copy of this book was published in April, 2001 (or the 62nd printing).

For those of you not familiar with Alcoholics Anonymous, this book contains the standards of self-help and recovery. "A.A.'s Twelve Steps are a group of principles, spiritual in their nature, which, if practiced as a way of life, can expel the obsession to drink and enable the sufferer to become happily and usefully whole." That is a powerful statement which I accept because I have seen it work for many of my patients. I am a firm believer in the Twelve Steps. (I also support other approaches so long as sobriety is the result.)

The lady conducting the yard sale told me there had been a few other Alcoholics Anonymous publications in the stack. Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions was the last one left. The social worker in me wondered about the wellbeing of the people who donated the books to the sale, as well as the people who bought the other books. What did it mean? Did someone give up on their recovery? Did a family member find the books lying around collecting dust? Were the books bought by someone needing to hear the A.A. message of hope, strength and experience?

I could not resist buying it. The lady was selling books at three for a dollar. So, I bought Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, and two novels. Although it has some coffee stains on the cover, the book is perfect inside. It does not really appear ever to have been read. I know that I will find a good use for it. The book will continue its journey until it finds itself in the hands of a serious reader.

I had gone to the yard sale to relax and look around, which I did. But I also ended up with a responsibility to, in my own way, carry the message of recovery to others. Step Twelve reads, "Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs." This is a lofty statement and the culmination of the Twelve Step process. Perhaps the person who donated the book was doing his Twelfth Step work by trying to plant the seeds of sobriety in someone's life.

Of course, I could have left Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions where it was and bought three novels instead. Perhaps I have some tendency toward concepts of fate or destiny. Perhaps I accept that the book, all of the books, were there waiting for each buyer to become a link in the human chain of helpfulness.

Life would be less complicated if I did not feel drawn to involve myself as a link in the world's drama, but also less adventurous and whole. I had to buy the book. Three books for a dollar: two for me and one to help restore someone's life. Reading the two novels will be all the more satisfying. (Written 12/02/02)

Until we meet again..............stay sane.

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Copyright 2002 Natalia J. Garland