Broken Brains; Divine Rescue

Yes, the brains of alcoholics and addicts are indeed broken. We can resolve not to do the thing, we can mean it with every fiber of our being, and then — BOOM! — we’re doing it: we’re getting drunk, popping pills, acting out, smoking whatever we meant not to. “Did I do it AGAIN? Dammit! Well, just this one last time…”

Of the 14 years I drank to excess, I spent the first 2 college years content with my frequent bouts. For the last 12, however, I was caught in this cycle:

Step A: WAKE feeling like absolute shit.

Step B: RESOLVE to not drink (or whatever you do) for X amount of time.

Step C: DETOXIFY just a little, feel less shame/guilt

Step D: Imagine as a FINE IDEA yourself enjoying a lovely cocktail or single cold beer (or whatever) 

Step E: PICK UP a drink (or whatever)… and soon decide to have more, and more, and more…

Revisit Step A with just a skosh more shame, remorse, and self-disgust.

hamster-wheel

I rehashed this cycle literally thousands of times. THOUSANDS. And every time I reached Step D, I convinced myself this time I’d manage better.  To grasp that it’s not our true selves but our addiction itself compelling this “choice” seems pretty extreme, almost like a split personality. Aren’t we the masters of our own behavior? 

In fact, we are NOT.  Addiction overrides even the most heartfelt resolve.

Last November, I woke in the night to find my house full of smoke. I dashed down from the attic, where I sleep, to the basement, which I rent out, and pounded on the door. My new tenant, the 29-year-old half-brother of a friend, opened it.  Winnie — his nickname — was calmly cooking, the whole apartment opaque with smoke.

“What happened?!” I said.

“Oh, there was something on the burner.” He gazed at me with beautiful, innocent eyes.

When I objected that my home was full of smoke, he corrected himself: There’d been some spilled food in the drip pan.  He just hadn’t seen it.  He was so sorry.  It took about a month for me to arrange a mini-intervention with Winnie’s mom, who lives in Florida, via video on my phone, much to Winnie’s shock and horror. “Sweetheart, do you want to live or die?” she asked him point blank. To my astonishment, Winnie wept. He nodded, wiping tears and struggling to contain his sobs. “I want to live,” he managed. 

He brought from his room a bottle of benzos. Since abrupt withdrawal from such drugs can be fatal, Winnie agreed to inpatient treatment, and I began the process of finding him a bed. About a week later, in the midst of cooking French toast, he suffered a seizure. With the basement door open, my son somehow heard his head hit the concrete floor. I burst in, found him convulsing without breath, and dialed 911. By following the dispatcher’s instructions to prevent his suffocation, my son and I both got potentially exposed to COVID-19 before the paramedics arrived. My son said the first thing Winnie did when he recognized his surroundings was sit up and switch off the French toast.Winnie

I rented him a storage unit, and on a Saturday while he stayed in a hotel that his mother paid for, Winnie’s half-brother, my son, and I transported all his belongings. Only months later, when he’d finished treatment and came by  to pick up the storage unit key, did I understand that Winnie was going to die — and soon. He was surly, even as he uttered polite thank you’s. 

Last week I got the news: Winnie’s father found him dead in the bathroom with a syringe still in hand.  He’d just turned 30.

DIVINE RESCUE is a partnership.

How did I know Winnie would die?  It was his energy. He gave off a vibe of “I’ve done what everyone wanted; now I’ve got this.” He did not look at me, really.  He had no interest in seeing me, in seeing anyone. Spiritually, he was still at a Cartmanesque ground zero: “I do what I want!” 

He had not absorbed in treatment what I somehow began to pick up in my first AA meetings, what working the 12 steps in conjunction with life pulling me through pain, loss, and joy has taught me: of myself, I am nothing.

God can help us only when we pry open our armor, cast off our god-repulsing sheath of self-sufficiency. We open in two ways: 1) by asking for god’s loving, compassionate help and 2) by regarding other living things with that same loving compassion. Once we begin to intuit that god is within us, animating our cells and fueling our very consciousness, we begin to realize that we are no more separate from god than a plant is from the Earth.

Addiction is the almost inevitable outcome of attempting to live as a picked flower. Without connection to god, we languish and grasp for quick fixes, even knowing they’re poison. In truth we are designed to absorb love from god and radiate it to others; once we make practicing this way of life paramount, addiction loses its luring power.  We become immune.

Remember: “What we really have a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition. Every day is a day when we must carry the vision of God’s will into all of our activities” (85).

For me, carrying that vision led me last week to hike over 100 miles in the mountains of Northern California (despite the threat of fires), where I connected not only with glorious nature but with countless wholehearted PCT hikers coming the other way. It led me to return to my AA home group in person this past Friday and take joy in seeing my fellows again after a year and a half.  

I remember trying to articulate this way of life to Winnie just before he left for treatment. Our RING camera actually recorded my urging voice and his impatient acknowledgements. The enormous gift I cannot give to others is my unshakeable understanding that meeting weekly with those neighborhood ex-drunks to contemplate yet again the themes from our hokey 1939 book is indeed what channels me the god-power to love others and savor life’s far-reaching beauties. 

Pacific Crest Trail, Section P
Delicious water in the heat
Mount Shasta
Much-needed dip in a cold mountain lake.

Video of our hike: https://youtu.be/m-d-LWGA21Y

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Filed under Addiction, Alcoholics Anonymous, Alcoholism, happy, joyous, & free, Recovery

To Share or Not to Share

Recently I learned to my surprise that one of my friends has never told her daughter, who is twelve, that she, my friend, was once a drug addict. 

“I mean, she knows I drank; she knows I smoked pot. But I can’t tell her, ‘Yeah, Mom used to smoke crack.’ What if she looks at me now and thinks, ‘You came out fine! Why don’t I try it?'”  

My friend also fears that word might get back to people who could somehow use her past against her.

I’m not objecting to my friend’s stance. She’s certainly not alone as a parent hoping to model wise choices and a professional preferring a consistently successful image. But our conversation got me thinking about how I raised my son in the opposite way and the gradual transformation that has led to my publishing all my formerly shameful experiences in my addiction memoir and this blog.

In early sobriety, I, too, was highly secretive.

Studio Zaki

  [by Studio Zaki]

When I first called the AA hotline, I asked for a meeting “far from town” where no one would recognize me. Alcoholics are like that: I was pretty okay with suicide, but certainly not with social awkwardness! Then, when I first returned to teaching literature at a local college, among my students was a barista coworker who’d seen me shitfaced and flinging myself at him on multiple occasions because I’d been obsessed with him for over a year. More than anything I feared he’d tell the other students and destroy my reputation, but he soon dropped the class.

Six years later when my son was born, I still kept my recovery confidential. Though I was gay at the time (sorry – can’t explain) and quite out about that, I feared other moms at toddler co-op and what not might double-label me as that weird lesbian AA mom, so I never let any of them know me. Besides, feeling constantly exhausted by new parenthood, I’d all but stopped going to meetings. 

Then everything changed. My partner, after months of infidelity, left me for an older (richer) woman in AA. My world collapsed. With my program all but gone, I hit a new extreme of pain. What hurt most was losing my dream of our happy little family, a loss that seemed to make a cruel joke of all my love, faith, and sacrifices. I just couldn’t drag myself back to the rooms to share that. Fortunately, one key friend persisted in calling and offering to take me to a meeting “with lots of hot lesbians.”  As I’ve told him since, he saved my life.

That’s how my little 4-year-old son learned all about my past addictions. With my emotions such a tangled roadkill, I needed an AA meeting every day — and while a few offered childcare, most did not. At those meetings, he would sit on the floor by my chair, a sweet-tempered boy, and play a little with the toys I brought, though his favorite was the AA literature pamphlets. If I needed to share particularly strong emotions, I’d ask a friend to hang out with him in the church kitchen. But he still heard a lot as the years passed.

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Keno tea set

My boy.

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My son is now 20. He’s tried alcohol and pot, but he dismisses as idiotic any effort to seek relief or oblivion through them. Why?  Well, they’re what Mom and all her friends did trying to feel cool! He’s known since he was about 12 how I once accidentally killed myself snorting what I thought was cocaine. He understands, as some of our friends have died from relapse, that addiction is beyond conscious control.

Writing Center

With my writing center tutors, 2005. (I’m in the gray.)

With my son knowing all, I soon found I could be more useful to my college students if they knew not only that I used to be gay but that I was in addiction recovery. Many came to office hours with problems they tearfully unfolded, trusting me to understand. I also served, I’ve learned decades later, as a role model for authenticity – sharing who I was with a powerful, open-hearted vulnerability that inspired many of them to do likewise. 

So why not go one step further?  If I could help my students by being out, why not help other alcoholic addicts I’d never meet by writing my whole story, even the parts hardest to admit? What would happen if I simply embraced beyond all personal embarrassment the fact that I am human, and therefore whatever weird, warped stuff I once did was simply what a HUMAN afflicted with my emotional problems and addiction would do? 

So I went ahead with it.  I wrote everything.

Some might consider full disclosure a form of exhibitionism: I often think of the One Republic Song “Secrets,” which deals, I believe, with the quandary of songwriters divulging through lyrics their personal struggles.

I need another story
Something to get off my chest
My life gets kinda boring
Need something that I can confess
‘Til all my sleeves are stained red
From all the truth that I’ve said
Come by it honestly I swear…
Tell me what you want to hear
Something that will light those ears
I’m sick of all the insincere…
Don’t need another perfect lie
Don’t care if critics ever jump in line
I’m gonna give all my secrets away…

 

I love these lyrics because they so perfectly frame the two sides of publicly sharing one’s intimate past.  On the one hand, there’s the attention-seeking caricature: Did I “confess” my story just to show off how wild and crazy I once was?  That’s the narcissistic motivation my family assumed and tried to punish. On the other hand, there’s the freedom of simply telling my truth: Can I reject the “insincere… perfect lie” we’re supposed to maintain and share my mistakes as honestly as possible, regardless of whether “critics” like my family understand?

AA hold handsAA itself is built on this oxymoron of confiding anonymously, of being open in a closeted setting. The program needs anonymity not only because every newcomer feels at first the way I did but also to preclude the rise of AA demagogues. Nevertheless, sharing our messiness openly and unsparingly is our lifeblood. The Big Book tells us “that it is only by fully disclosing ourselves and our problems” that we can connect with fellow alcoholics. The 9th step promises that “We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it” as “we will see how our experience can benefit others.”  And The Family Afterward reminds us, “in God’s hands, the dark past is the greatest possession you have — the key to life and happiness for others.”

Each of us should make their own choices about how “out” to be with our recovery, but it can’t hurt to examine our motivation.  In my case, it was primarily my ego that wanted to keep the incomprehensible demoralization of my past private, and now my god-centered self that recognizes it as my greatest gift to share with those who still suffer. The longer I’m sober, the more natural it seems to simply say, “Here’s who I was, and here’s who I am. God and AA made all the difference.”

 

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Unlearning Our Delusions

First hour with me

Three weeks ago I adopted a rescue-pup, Alice, from Texas. She’s adorable, 10 months old, but was severely and heartlessly abused from the get-go. She can’t tell me what she endured, but her terror at the sight of any sort of leash or cord speaks volumes, as does her dissolving at the sound of a raised voice. She shuts down. She turns to jelly. She trembles and piddles and clearly wants to sink away into the Earth, which she tries to do by hunkering as low as possible and looking at nothing.

No place for puppies

At some point, Alice and her siblings were dumped in the desert near the Rio Grande, where they starved so severely that she’s forever stunted and her teeth are tiny. At about four months, she and two siblings were found, too weak to flee. Little Alice was the worst off, so skeletal that the rescue vet doubted she’d pull through. But she did. Never will Alice grow into those great big ears and paws of hers, yet somehow her brain was spared; she’s smart! Her love for play survived as well. She prances in the back yard among imaginary friends.

But humans – they’re all Freddy Krueger. Her original Texan owners did not believe in love. They thought they knew best how to “break” a puppy by showing that tiny creature who was boss and just how much power the boss wielded. When the puppies failed to learn by these methods, they were abandoned to die.

And here’s the connection to this blog: it’s no joke that if little Alice were a human being, she’d be a prime candidate for addiction – a way to escape her fear and trauma, just as she tries now by freezing and going glassy-eyed. In those moments, she’s just like a human who, whether consciously or at the gut level, considers the world untrustworthy, loveless, and scary. Not to be present and vulnerable is all she wants she wants, and she wants it desperately.

Friends remark, “Alice is so lucky to have found her way to you!” But I see it the other way ‘round: I’m so lucky to have found Alice. In her sweet nature, I see every spirit wounded through no fault of their own. It’s up to me to help her unlearn what her most foundational experiences taught her: that the world is full of cruelty, and that she’s helpless against it.

Like Alice, I’m still unlearning my own false beliefs about life – unconscious ones that drove me to nearly drink myself to death, desperate for a way out.

Why do alcoholics drink in the first place? To find relief.

Like Alice, we don’t trust life because, no matter what we do, we can’t control it. Initially, we quell that stress with a drink or two to “take the edge off.” And though early on, alcohol works reeeaally well, whatever we’re not dealing with tends to get worse, and before we know it, addiction itself is calling the shots. Now we drink because drinking is just what we do. We dig ourselves deeper and deeper, until we hit bottom.

Maybe things get horrible enough that we consider going to AA, even though we’re way cooler than that.

If we listen in AA, if we open our minds even a little not just to what’s said in meetings, which are a component, but to the Big Book’s text and 12-step instructions, which we read and follow with a competent sponsor, two ASTOUNDING things may happen.

  • 1) We realize it’s not the world, but our thinking about the world that is AFU.
  • 2) We realize that, try as we might, we can’t change these thought patterns on our own.  We need a spiritual connection to something greater than ourselves to break out of the rut neuropathways have dug for us – the ways we keep trying that keep not working.

Here’s the thing. The less conscious we are of a belief, the more it controls us.

And if assumptions we’re unaware of, those landmarks by which we interpret our experience, other people’s actions, and how best to navigate life, are delusional, the world is going to seem like an asshole.

Learning to SEE and QUESTION our delusional assumptions, that’s what the 12 Steps are all about, particularly 4 – 10.  There we shine a light on the patterns of a self-centeredness we’ve been way too self-centered to see and the failed coping skills that we thought everybody used.

Only once we’ve arrived at enough humility to admit we don’t know how to live can we turn to god and ask for help. Like Alice, we have cynical reflexes that have slammed the door on values like goodwill, honesty, and trust. But as we unlearn the old ways, we recast reality. There’s actually a whole ‘nother way to live, and with it, a new world opens – one that’s not an asshole, one that doesn’t require that we numb out to “take the edge off.” Rather, it’s so beautiful that we actually want to be awake to it.

The first time I tried taking little Alice for a walk, she flattened herself on the pavement and, as a neighbor approached to greet her, spontaneously peed herself, unable to even look at him. My rehabilitation plan is simply to love her, provide stable structure, and treat her to countless fun experiences until she’s able to trust first me, then others, and finally life itself. Surprisingly, a first sign that she was unlearning helplessness came when she decided to bark at strangers approaching the house. With my love at her back, she’d found the pluck to at least pretend she might defend herself (and me?) from future harm.

Finding our sense of basic dignity, Alice has shown me, can be a first stage of healing. I remember finding mine as newly sober woman with the faint love of god and community of AA behind me. I can’t wait to see Alice shine!

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Clockwise from top left: When she’d finally let me hug her; so many smells!; first time she felt safe showing her tummy; what is this huge puddle?; and friends make life sweet (Alice far right).

She has a nervous tic — but she’s getting braver!

UPDATE: What two months of love has done — Alice’s first time off leash near the summit of Mount Teneriffe in May:



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Filed under Addiction, Adult Children of Alcoholics, Recovery, Trauma, Trauma

Kindness as Sustenance

Is there someone in your life who repeatedly treats you unkindly? Do they inflict hurtful judgments, sometimes blatant and other times disguised as helpful criticism?  This person is your spiritual teacher. In the sting you suffer at their words and deeds is the seed of compassion, of understanding the power each wields to hurt or heal, blame or bless. The unkind have shown up in your life for this purpose: to teach you the sanctity of kindness — that, in the larger picture, kindness to one another, to animals, and to the Earth itself is what matters most in life. 

— Me or anyone who gets it

I remember a time when I walked through life with the goal of showing everyone I mattered. I divided people into two classes — those I needed on my side and those who didn’t count.

Those I needed I worked to charm: Do you see how smart I am?  How funny?  How creative and classy and downright likable?  Most times I put on this show without even knowing it.

As for those who didn’t count, I wanted them to know I didn’t give a rat’s ass what they thought of me. To such people I might be rude, judgmental, or just too cool. If they were serving me in some way, I could find fault with their service. If I viewed them as competing, I could talk shit about them.

In both cases, my intent was to prove that I mattered by impressing that fact on others.  This approach led me to my needing to drink and wanting to die. Eventually, I felt I mattered to no one, that my life was in fact a superfluous failure.

But a lot of people succeed far better with this approach than I did.  They may practice it for a lifetime, amassing just enough proof of their superiority to get the satisfaction they need. Still, they’re constantly hungry for more. Each time they judge, they get a little boost of feeling smarter! If they pronounce that judgement, they savor a sense of wielding power, that their words can zing like handy little thunderbolts. Life, for them, is a vast swamp where they have to keep constantly stepping on the backs of less-thans to stay afloat themselves.

These are the unkind.

To live this way doesn’t mean you go around being rude as fuck, because we all know rudeness doesn’t serve us. To live this way means being polite in self-interest: good manners act as a subtle form of manipulation. Acrid, judgmental thoughts may be blurted on occasion but more often sound only in the mind, where they eventually poison the thinker.  The harsher our thoughts about others, the harsher we imagine they must feel toward us.

Lucky drunk that I was, my despair drove me into the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, where people spoke a different language: higher power, being of service, love and tolerance.  I worked the steps. I found my higher power. And though that “flimsy reed” of connection initially seemed to me like gripping a sewing thread I couldn’t even feel, I gradually found that, the more I pulled on it, the more I could feel it and the stronger it grew.

Today, my relationship with god — in my case via my guardian angel — is by far the most important in my life. I love my angel and I know better than anything else that he (not the goddess I ordered) loves me — immensely, and not for anything I’ve done. He loves the goodness of my essence, which he knows better than I do. He steers me toward goodness though I may know nothing about it.

Sorry if I lost you there!  As a Near-Death Experiencer who’s collaborated on that connection for  decades, I can get pretty woo pretty quick. I hope not to alienate anyone hurting as I hurt for so many years, when words like the above would have seemed pure gibberish.

The point is that, loved in this way, I have oodles more good stuff than I need. I have so much that my only object is to give it away.

When my son turned 13, he observed my behavior skeptically and remarked one day, “Mom, everybody doesn’t have to like you!” He was trying to make sense of the banter he saw me exchanging with strangers, the compliments I gave, my idle questions about how someone’s day was going or how long ’til their shift was up. Why chat after every AA meeting? Why throw sober parties? He couldn’t imagine what else I might be after.

It’s actually the polar opposite of what I once was: I want others to know that they matter. I want to help them, however incrementally, to feel good about themselves, to know that they’re likable and smart and appreciated — that someone sees just a bit of their beautiful essence. If their body language shows me what they want most is to be left alone, I honor that by shutting up. (For instance, talking to anyone on the bus only scares the shit out of them…)

Kind thoughts toward others generate a kindly world for us to inhabit. But kindness toward ourselves is harder to master.  That one, I’m still working on.  Whenever someone criticizes me — perhaps the unkind in my life — I reel in the effort to right myself.  Whenever I’m ill, exhausted, lonely, or otherwise down, it’s still a challenge to enfold myself in love. Since my dog died, I’ve developed silly little go-to tricks, like sending love to the birds I see through my window or even, in a pinch, to my house plants!  As soon as I send out love, I sense a replenishing influx of love from god.

Awareness that I’m a bit absurd, some person alone and talking to a chickadee or a ficus tree, only adds to that love. I am human. I am trying.  It is enough.

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Dad’s Message from The Other Side

Yes, this blog’s main topic is recovery from alcoholism — BUT it’s based in my own recovery, which has a lot to do with my 1982 Near Death Experience and the many paranormal aftereffects it brought on.  My spirituality is all about these ongoing encounters with the spirit world. I’m currently writing a book about them titled Die-Hard Atheist (as opposed to my addiction memoir, which is 90% alcoholism/love addiction and 10% NDE-related).

Describing paranormal experiences that contradict the mainstays of mainstream science is hard. You become vulnerable. Most people who haven’t had such experiences assume you’re either a) making stuff up for attention or b) so dumb you mistake normal variations of mind for metaphysical stuff. But here goes.

In November 2019 I communicated with my father, who died in 2008.

Since my NDE, I’ve accidentally read people’s minds on many occasions, in addition to foreknowing events and hearing from my guardian angel on the regular. In the fall of 2019, I attended a conference of the International Association of Near Death Studies (IANDS), where I described these experiences to a fellow NDEr with powers of mediumship. I’ll never forget the moment she smiled at me and said, “You’re a medium, honey! You just haven’t developed it.”

The communication with my father took place at our family summer cabin — a place he dearly loved. The cabin is rustic and constantly trying to go back to the earth, so my dad used to always keep busy with maintenance and fixes, saving money with DIY repairs. That’s exactly what I was doing — replacing the mossy, rotted shingle roof on the toolshed after a falling tree branch had crushed a corner of it.

All day Saturday I worked up there in the pouring rain, shielding with tarps whatever needed to stay dry. I kept feeling my father’s presence in a way I often do when I’m fixing stuff around there. He seems to be witnessing my work, approving. Over the course of the day, I was steeped in this feeling of his presence, which I loved and missed. Nothing paranormal about it — just a sense we all get at times.

My dad had died 13 years after I got sober in AA. For me, watching his alcoholism progress was especially painful because he did not want what I had. Instead, he continued to believe the same lie he’d told himself for decades, that though he needed to drink less, alcohol was still his best friend. After he was forced to retire at 70, his “start time” for drinking gradually crept into the morning hours — he’d pour wine into his tea cup. His liver and heart enlarged, and his brain shrank, but he dismissed these medical warnings as absurd until he succumbed to alcoholic cardiomyopathy at age 85. That’s not young, I know, but just 15 years prior, he’d  been beating his law students in games of squash.

Early Sunday morning at the cabin, I decided to try to reach his spirit. I was alone but for one friend in the second cabin who would, I knew, sleep in late. So I made up my mind: I would seek Dad. I was sitting in what used to be his place at the table, facing the row of windows that fronts the cabin and looks out at Puget Sound.

I closed my eyes to meditate, focused on the crackle of the fire and my own breathing. I had no more clue than you do how mediums work, so I just tried to call up that feeling of closeness I’d had with Dad the day before. Then I began to inwardly address him. “Dad, please say something to me. I want to hear from you. Please come to me. Please speak to me. I am ready.  I am listening.  Please.”

Nothing happened.  I kept trying.  More nothing.

This lack of response seemed to drag on for ages, but in reality it was probably about five minutes. I never lost faith that Dad could hear me. I knew there was some veil separating us, keeping me deaf to him. Then, among the many invitations I’d tried, I framed this particular question: “Is there anything you’d like to tell me?”

WHOOSH!!!

You know when a powerful gust of wind hits you full in the face? That was the experience I had, but energetically. My dad’s presence, his personality, his unique energy as a living man — not just as my father but the whole man he’d been — swept over me.  This wasn’t the guy I’d been seeking, the weary, discouraged, beaten-down father I’d known for his last fifteen years. He was young!  I didn’t see him, but he filled my awareness with the powerful charisma he’d had during the years I’d loved him most intensely, when I was about five and we read books together and I learned from him to ride a bike and tagged along through all his yard work and snuggled with him on the chaise lounge in the sunshine. This was he! But I also felt his ambition to be, to do, to love!  He was powerful.

Next, I became aware he was showing me an image: something white with squares of fine wire mesh. It was the old crib! My parents had used a really weird crib for all four of us kids; instead of bars it had rectangles of bug screen, along with a foldable top that would keep out bugs entirely — though we lived in Seattle with very few bugs. I saw it again at closer range, and then closer still. I realized I was seeing his view of approaching it; I was inside his memory and he knew that his baby — I — was in the crib, though he stopped short of where I might actually see myself. Huge amounts of love radiated from him for that infant, HUGE love, along with tremendous joy and excitement and gratitude that I had entered this world via him. It was a sacred honor to him — then and now — that I had come into my lifetime through his.

Blown away as I was by all this, it took me a few seconds to sense his actual response to my question, the thing he’d broken through the veil to tell me. It was this: “All of you was there then, all of you in that tiny baby — and when I lived, I loved THAT!”

My mind still faltered to understand his meaning, so he added, “You didn’t have to do anything.”

Now I understood. He was right: all my life, he’d pushed me to excel. If I got an A- on anything, he’d pretend to get very grave about it — a joke, but not really a joke. When I decided not to pursue a PhD, when I came out as (temporarily) gay, when I left a tenured teaching post — always I’d encountered his will, however subtle, that I be something more. What needed amendment, what he’d crossed the veil to give me, was the knowledge that always, in his heart, he had loved me without condition and with tremendous rejoicing.

I understood.  I sent him my deepest love and told him how grateful I was to be his daughter.  But then my skeptical mind butted in: What kind of craziness was this — communicating with my dead dad?!  So I asked him directly, “Dad, how do I know this is really you?”

Again, he showed me an image — something I’d never seen in my own life. In the corner of that crib sat a bright pink, brand new Teddy bear. It was downright garish. But a moment later, I recognized it as the old, one-eyed, much-loved, squashed, and faded Teddy bear I’d known in my childhood. “This was the first stuffed animal we got you,” Dad told me, “…and you named him ‘Áha.'”

With that, he was gone.

Amazement filled me. Yes, yes, the name of that Teddy bear was Áha!  I’d not thought of it in 45 or years or so, but I remembered! Áha held special meaning for Dad because one of his morning routines for many years was to make my sister’s and my beds, on which he would set up little pageants featuring our carefully posed and balanced stuffed animals with various toys or props.  Áha might have on a Halloween mask and be scaring all the other stuffed animals; he might have a little book and be reading to them; he sat with the others at a little table with toy foods. Every day, Dad poured his love for us into these little games. Though I’d much preferred other stuffed toys myself, he’d always given leading roles to Áha. Now I knew why: Áha had been the first.

Dad had was gone — of that I was sure — but the knowings he’d given me continued to resonate. I was amazed at the succinctness, the iconic concentration, the genius of each message! As a mother, I knew the feeling he was describing — that immense love for one’s baby. I can also remember toys my grown son has long since forgotten. How had Dad picked out an image only he (& Mom) could know — bright pink new Áha sitting in the corner of the crib — and connected it to a name I couldn’t have recalled for a million dollars without his prompting, but knew was right?

I’m happy to know my dad has regained all his power on the other side — all his joy and love and vibrancy. Alcoholism burdened him and masked them later in his life, but it’s an illness of the brain, that fatty labyrinth of neurons we use to navigate on Earth.  It can’t touch our spirits, which have love as their sole source.

You’d think that, having discovered I have the capability to connect with the dead, for cryin’ out loud, I would find the time to “develop” my mediumship skills. It seems a pretty huge gift, one worth cultivating, even if you’d have to sacrifice other interests to make space — right? But how many things do YOU want to do that you can’t seem to make time for? Earning a living is quite a grind! Keeping the house from getting totally gross and falling apart is a grind! And I LOVE to climb mountains, so staying in shape physically takes a lot of my time.  I’ve tried a few other times to reach Dad or my sister or AA friends lost to overdose, but always my head is just too full of clutter and unrecognized fears that block communication.

Maybe I’ll try again at the summer cabin this spring.  Until then, here’s a new video of me telling the story of my NDE and some paranormal aftereffects.

[No link?  See “JeffMara Podcast” on YouTube or remove spaces from https: //youtu.be/ RXp2jbLWuD0 ]

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Filed under Afterlife, God, NDE, Recovery

Hard Drinker vs. Real Alcoholic

Moderate drinkers have little trouble in giving up liquor entirely if they have good reason for it. They can take it or leave it alone.

Then we have a certain type of hard drinker. …If a sufficiently strong reason — ill health, falling in love, change of environment, or the warning of a doctor — becomes operative, this man can also stop or moderate, although he may find it difficult and troublesome and may even need medical attention.

But what about the real alcoholic? He may start off as a moderate drinker; he may or may not become a continuous hard drinker; but at some stage of his drinking career he begins to lose all control of his liquor consumption, once he starts to drink.

Chapter 2, “There is a Solution,” Alcoholics Anonymous

Unfortunately, most of the public is clueless about the difference between a hard drinker and an alcoholic. Hard drinking is a habit that can be overcome with willpower. Alcoholism is a condition no amount of will power can cure. As the Big Book says, “If, when you honestly want to, you find you cannot quit entirely, or if when drinking, you have little control over the amount you take, you are probably alcoholic.”

Few perches in life are more uncomfortable than knowing you’re an alcoholic but refusing to accept that fact.  Denial is, however, a primary symptom of the disease.  I myself spent a number of years there before I hit bottom, i.e. the point when all fight for what I wanted was drained from me and I had to square with what was true.

If you’re an alcoholic still clinging to whatever pretext will enable you to drink, I have bad news: Certain things really are true.  Regardless of what props you drum up to disguise it, the truth is still there. And if you’re a real alcoholic clinging to the delusion that you’re only a hard drinker, the fact is that no matter how ironclad your resolutions to stop or control your drinking, only two outcomes are possible:

A) After a short pause, you drink again.

B) A rarity, but it does happen: you manage by sheet obstinacy to remain dry but are permanently restless, irritable, and discontent — i.e. “dry drunk.”

Hard Drinkers
Before they resolve to stop drinking, hard drinkers may appear indistinguishable from alcoholics.

For example, two of my relatives drank hard for over a decade. This couple worked so hard and lived at such a frenetic, globe-trotting pace that they simply could not wind down without cocktails. When staying for a visit, they would put away a gallon of vodka in a matter of days. More than once they announced they were going  “on the wagon,” only to be drinking hard again in a few months.  They were gradually gaining weight, their faces often flushed and bloated. I suspected alcoholism.

But then one day, one of them was informed by his physician that his alcohol intake was harming both his heart and his liver. The doctor warned that, if he wanted to regain his health and live into old age, he would have to stop drinking. The two, who love each other deeply, took this diagnosis seriously.

Here’s the astounding part: They both stopped drinking, slowing the pace of their lives to reduce stress levels. A year later, they’re both slim, healthy, and happy teetotalers. Perhaps COVID-19 has helped out a bit with the easier pace of living, but the fact remains that they simply decided to quit and it has stuck.

Why were they able?  These two were hard drinkers — not alcoholics.

Real Alcoholics
Now let’s look at my dad and me.

Twenty-four years before his death to alcoholic cardiomyopathy, my dad developed gout while touring Europe with my mother. A Spanish doctor diagnosed his condition and advised him to cut out alcohol and fatty foods, so my dad decided the doctor was a fool.

Twelve years before my father died, his doctor warned him that alcohol consumption had enlarged  his liver (see How Alcohol Fucks Up Your Body) and shrunk his brain (see How Alcoholism Fucks Up Your Brain). My father’s reaction? The doctor was exaggerating. As his condition progressed and these warning grew more severe, Dad switched doctors. His new doctor — what a coincidence! — insisted Dad cease drinking for two weeks. During this time Dad consumed many bottles of alcohol-free wine and was so tense, angry, and miserable that Mom couldn’t wait for the two weeks to be up so he could drink again, which he continued until heart failure took his life.

Chip off the ole’ block that I am, I’d begun trying to decrease my drinking by the age of 23. My few friends had cut back on drinking post-college, so I tried to as well — except when I didn’t! Yes, I made resolutions to drink less, not just at New Years but ANY time I was ghastly hungover (i.e. most mornings) — resolutions I was able to stand by for a good 5 hours!  After that, a drink began to sound, for the zillionth time, like a good idea.  So I “changed my mind” and drank.

As the Big Book explains,

We are unable, at certain times, to bring into our consciousness with sufficient force the memory of the suffering and humiliation of even a week or a month ago. We are without defense against the first drink.

As my ability to cope with life deteriorated (see Addiction Memoir), various therapists diagnosed me with alcoholism. I dismissed them as fuddy-duddies. In retrospect, I’m fortunate that I was less able than my father to maintain a stable work and home life, as the pain of my dysfunction eventually led me, at age 34, to seek sobriety in AA.

Free at Last
I adore and respect the memory of my father, who lived with honor despite his suffering. When Dad’s spirit came to me about a year ago (as I’ll describe in an upcoming post), I was seeking to make contact with the man I’d lost twelve years before.  To my amazement, my father’s energy burst upon me with the vitality he’d radiated in my childhood: he was powerful, confident, and — I’ll just say it — charismatic as he delivered to me his message of unconditional love. On the other side, no longer buried under the poison, lies, and pain of our shared disease, his spirit was proud of me, his look-alike daughter, for my now (in 3 weeks!) 26 years sober.

We two in 1978

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“Will I Ever LOVE Being Sober?”

Now and then a serious drinker, being dry at the moment says, “I don’t miss it at all. Feel better. Work better. Having a better time.” As ex-problem drinkers, we smile at such a sally. We know our friend … would give anything to take half a dozen drinks and get away with them. He will presently try the old game again, for he isn’t happy about his sobriety. He cannot picture life without alcohol. Some day he will be unable to imagine life either with alcohol or without it. Then he will know loneliness such as few do. He will be at the jumping-off place. He will wish for the end.

— Chapter 11, Alcoholics Anonymous

 

I hit bottom on 01/29/95.  On that day, I could no longer imagine life either with or without alcohol, and I truly wished for the end.  The August prior, I’d quit alcohol for 30 days just to show I didn’t have a problem.  I was staying in a friend’s vacant apartment because my partner had banished me from our home, having read my journal and discovered some of the sickness I’d been concealing. But oh, well.

I hung a calendar on my friend’s kitchen wall and drew a big X through each day I passed without a drink.  I felt healthier, had more energy, was cheery at work. But LOVE not drinking?  What are, you, nuts? I could hardly wait for the month to be over so I could drink again, because any life without drinking struck me as beyond dull — it would, I knew, be brash, relentless, barren, and joyless. Alcohol, I felt, was the oil in the engine of my life.

So on September 1st — cheers! — I was back at it. But by 01/29/95, much had changed.  A thick, murky self-disgust filled my consciousness; I saw no hope of ever enjoying life; and alcohol, almost inconceivably, no longer helped. There’s an explanation for what was going on at the brain level, but all I knew was that, no matter how much I drank, I felt no levity. The world had gone devoid of all color and charm; other people seemed self-sufficient judging machines. I just couldn’t deal anymore.

My idea of a fine suicide was guzzling a gallon of vodka — a scheme I knew my stomach would allow. But FIRST, because I couldn’t do it after, I dialed the number a sober friend had scrawled for me on a scrap of paper, and that night I went to my first AA meeting. I no longer gave a shit whether life was brash, relentless, barren, and joyless. All I knew was that nothing I’d tried could render it tolerable, and several people had claimed AA would.

If you’d told me then that in 25 years, sobriety would comprise the gem of my life, that I’d love my AA homegroup as my dear, motley family, and that pretty much all my friends would be in AA or NA, I’d have said, “You must be talking about somebody else.” And you would have been, because the psychic change that comes with thoroughly working the steps through several iterations over the years has transformed who I am.

What Happened?
To realize that we hold a limited perspective, I think, goes against the basic nature of human consciousness.  Our brains tell us that the world is what it is and that we’re perceiving it accurately. If there’s a problem, it must be with the world, not how we process or think about the world. 

Even at that “let’s kill ourselves ’cause it’s a good idea” rock bottom, my perspective felt both certain and precious to me. My pride was rooted in it. My attitudes and values had built up over my 34-year lifetime, crafted through countless efforts to deal with the tricks and pains of living.  I truly believed they were me.  To say they were distorted was to steal all I’d worked for.  And to say that in some outdated white-guy book and in church basements full of strangers, a better perspective could be attained — well, that was just plain shallow.

NO ONE likes to think that other people have answers we lack. If millions of sober people tell us they struggled with the god thing but it eventually became the foundation of their happiness, we feel we’re different, put up a wall, and say, “They must be simpletons.”

I’m special!

My first months without alcohol did indeed prove brash and relentless — a place where many stay stuck. Yet for me, they proved not altogether barren and joyless because I’d begun the long process of growth. Through incremental acknowledgement, over and over, I began to see that my ways kept leading me toward depression and emptiness, whereas each time I tried a little more of their way, life got better. Two years in, I worked the steps whole hog.

Rather than being brainwashed, I found I became more me — little Louisa was still in there, and she was cute and creative and love-filled, and all the things she’d been before she lost the key to life: loving from the source of god and sharing goodwill with others. Children do this without needing a reason. Yet at some point I’d changed to one who wants from others, and it nearly killed me.

I understand now that one drink will inevitably lead me to thousands, and that whenever I’m drinking, I’m cut off from god like a plant inside a box.  To drink, for me, is to wither spiritually, even if my outsides are puffed up with false revelry.

Willingness is the key.  For me, that meant relinquishing my grip on being right, knowing best, and being a smarty-pants in general, because otherwise, I stayed locked in my old perspective. And the relinquishing never ends.

Today, when I say I love my sobriety, what I’m really saying is that I love this life — its fleeting beauties, its inevitable struggles, its poignant fragility. Sobriety is the honesty that lets me behold it.

 

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Alone is a Dangerous Neighborhood

These are some crazy days, right?

My mom, who was born in 1926, says these times are way more stressful than those of WWII. Yeah, it sucked reading in headlines every morning of Hitler’s victories and advances, London and Paris getting the shit bombed out of them, and Japanese war planes sinking ship after American ship, but it felt soooo different, she explains, because the country was united. “When you’ve got patriotism,” she says, “you’ve got a lot. Everything was about sacrificing this and that for the war effort. We had no butter. If you bought shoes, they fell apart. Even rubber bands weren’t made of rubber because it was needed in the war effort. But you felt the whole country was on the same page, and everyone was doing their part.”

Today, in the midst of a pandemic, about half of Americans are on one page, and half on a completely opposite one, with a few Flat-Earthers and QAnoners mixed in. Why this insane division? Watch The Social Dilemma to find out.

Meanwhile, though, let’s talk about alcoholism/addiction during the pandemic. Drinking in the US is up by 14%, according to this study by the American Medical Association. Overdose deaths, already surging to tragically high numbers, have spiked an additional 18% beyond this time last year. People in general are overwhelmed with fears because they can’t pay their rent/mortgage or because there’s nowhere to escape the turmoil of either family life or the endless solitude of living alone, so they slide into depression.

We humans are social creatures, and without outlets to get together or at least immerse ourselves in the hubbub of public life, we languish. But even worse for alcoholics and addicts, our regular AA and NA meetings have been shut down.  People are relapsing.

What happens to an alcoholic mind in solitude?  I will take myself as a lab rat to describe some of the symptoms I’ve noticed.

    • FOMO and jealousy: Everyone else is having fun — damn them!  With all my work remote, part of me feels I ought to be able to work from anywhere in the world — especially since I’ve already had COVID-19. But here’s reality: I have a house, four chickens, and a geriatric dog who sometimes can’t get up and poops in the house. In my book, friends don’t euthanize friends just because they poop inopportunely, so I am STUCK AT HOME. When I see Facebook posts by friends on road trips or, worse still, traveling the world on cheap airfares, jealousy eats my lunch.
    •  Mystery Self-Criticism: Our minds are wired to notice and zoom in on potential problems. Tara Brach talks about this from an evolutionary perspective: our early ancestors on the sharp lookout for whatever could go wrong tended to survive better, so our brains evolved something called negativity bias.  We not only dwell on past negative events, but try to anticipate future ones. If this watchfulness surges out of control, we develop anxiety.

Now, I don’t want anxiety, so I quit following the news and hid people on social media whose posts upset me. But I’ve found that, with no one else around to criticize, instead of vanishing, ALL my negativity bias turns inward on myself. As if afflicted with some kind of auto-judgment disorder, my thinking targets ME: You’re doing something wrong. You’re way too ____.  My inner critic can’t even come up with a real fault, but no matter — it just hovers like some persistent yellow jacket above the picnic plate of my mind.

    • Self-Centered Self-Pity: I often catch myself feeling, in some completely irrational way, as if the pandemic were happening to me. I can’t go to real AA meetings; I can’t go to parties; I can’t see a film or performance in a theater. I have to work from home and wear a dumb mask every time I shop. What?! The whole world’s experiencing the same?
    • Loneliness, gloom, and helplessness: Will this thing EVER end? Will I be stuck alone in my house FOREVER?  I’m so BORED of everything! What can we DO?

All the above are forms of discontent: I want life to be different than it is.  And THAT, my friends, is the feeling that led so many of us to drink in the first place.

Just as I can’t control the parts of my brain that generate FOMO, self-criticism, and the rest, many newly sober alcoholics can’t silence the part that tells them a drink would make everything better. In my case, god somehow struck that voice with laryngitis about 24 years ago, so the best it can do is a hoarse whisper: A drink would be nice!  To me, that suggestion sounds about as believable as Arsenic would be nice!  Putting your hand down the sink’s garbage disposal would be nice!  Actually, I don’t have a garbage disposal, but if I did, the prospect of drinking would appeal to me about as much.

As for addressing my discontent, I have the tools of daily meditation, turning it over via Step 3, and offering service to others, whether by listening on the phone or, today, massaging my mom’s gnarly foot to help heal her leg incision. The point is, I get out of myself.

To those of you who struggle, I offer this essential key to all spiritual growth: Don’t believe your thoughts. Don’t hang out alone with them — it’s DANGEROUS! Reach out to trusted others, like your sponsor, sober friends, and sober people who’ve given you their phone number. Call them, meet them for masked walks.

Better still, go to Zoom AA meetings and tell on yourself! You can travel the whole world in AA Zoom.

HERE is a list of Zoom AA meetings from the Seattle Area.

HERE is a list of Zoom AA meetings from Great Britain.

HERE is a list of Zoom AA meetings from Ireland (accents can be a trip!)

HERE is a list of English-language online AA meetings from all over Europe.

HERE is a converter to help you figure out the time difference.

You can download Zoom software free from HERE.

And, of course, know you’re always welcome to drop in on my homegroup, Salmon Bay, which meets Fridays 7:30-9:00 Pacific Time right HERE.

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The Work of Happy Sobriety

For the first three and a half decades of my life, I tried super hard to find happiness outside myself. If I could just get with the right people, afford the right stuff, and be seen in the right places, with just the right amount of a buzz or high, I’d clinch it! But all I did was fuck up my life — and others’.

I was smart as measured by standardized tests, landing jobs, or publishing stories, and good-looking enough for a mostly-successful seduction record, but dumb as a stump in terms of emotional wisdom — so I just wanted to die. Life hurt so badly! (See my lengthy addiction memoir for details galore.)

Attaining happiness is never an easy quest; every day we have to bushwhack through pretty much the same undergrowth of FOMO, discontent, victimhood, and boredom as well as self-inflicted criticism, shame, and pity to arrive beneath the open sky of awareness. During a pandemic, such as is in full swing as I write this, the way gets even thicker and swampier — doesn’t it?  Surely, we think, we’re missing out on some better life we ought to be living!

Growth
Now, I may be getting on in years, but I have recently met, both in person and virtually, some folks my age who are still every bit as lost as teenagers. For decades they’ve repeated over and over the same cycles of addiction — one with booze, the other with codependent romance. They have yet to step off the merry-go-round of “I know best,” so they keep finding themselves back at square one.

In early addiction, all of us believe our heads. Our thinking tells us it’s a fine idea to _____ (shop, starve, drink, “fall in love,” etc.), and we trust that thinking. Little do we suspect that our brains have been hijacked; we’re caught in a loop of stimuli and the reward centers they trigger.

Later, once we become aware of our addictions, we try to temper them with resolve and decisiveness — say, by swearing off drugs or getting married or moving. We’ve noticed the pattern and, darn it, we’re not gonna do that shit anymore!  I see this so tragically among pregnant addicts at a rehab center near my home. These women will hug their distended bellies and say, “I’ve lost three kids to the foster care system, but I’m not losing this one! I am SO DONE with drugs and alcohol! And I’m gonna get all my babies back, and we’re gonna be a family…”

By this point, they’re usually too overwhelmed with emotion to go on. No one could be more sincere.  No one could want and yearn and hope more fervently for what they’re saying to be true. And yet I know, sitting in that circle, that chances are they will use again, and they will lose this baby, along with all the others because addiction always wins — short of a miracle.

.

Half that miracle is god — a power greater than ourselves that empowers us to accomplish what no human will can bring about. The other half is the inward miracle of letting go — ceasing to believe what our brains tell us, trusting instead what others have to teach us, and learning to listen for direction from our deepest hearts, from the goodness in our core that’s connected to all life.

The rest of recovery — including that daily schlepp toward happiness — comes down to 1) expanding the range of this miracle,  2) mapping our thought paths, 3) revering our consciousness/spirit, and 4) odd as it may seem, making friends with all those misguided inner voices.

  1. Once we let go of the precept that our own thinking is superior, we can try what’s worked for others despite doubts it can work for us. We work the 12 steps in depth with a sponsor.  When others tell us they initially choked on the word “God,” didn’t want to do service work, and dreaded sponsoring people, but now these things are the mainstays of their happiness, we try doing what they did to see if we’ll get what they got.

2) We begin to realize we are not our thoughts — we entertain them.  Or maybe it’s better to say they entertain us! That is, they enter stage-left, tap-dance a while before our awareness with urgent banners and songs and imperatives, and eventually exit stage right.  We learn to watch them without getting snagged, knowing they’re impermanent reactions to stimuli more often than realistic assessments of what is.  Practicing meditation hones this skill.

3) We begin to realize that we’re not our brains or bodies — we inhabit them. We’re all spirits that, for whatever reason, have chosen to incarnate and play a role in the unfolding of the physical world. Ultimately, our mission is to help each other by taking actions rooted in love and compassion. As one Near Death Experiencer was told, what matters is not what you do each day but what wake you leave behind, whether each person you meet is left a tiny bit happier by the encounter — because every other being is a part of you.

4) The same love and compassion we extend outward, we learn to offer ourselves, generously steeped in humor. Humor is the taproot of true humility, which is indispensable to a happy life. Did I wake up this morning anxious, dismayed by the state of the world, worried about the same dumb shit I always worry about? Yup!  That’s me — failing to be grateful that I’m not trapped in some war-torn, starvation-ravaged country or suffering some vast pain or grief. Yup, it’s just me and my buddies insecurity, envy, fear, and vanity, hangin’ out and doin’ what we do!  Come on, gang — let’s toddle into our cozy kitchen and get some luscious tea!

I often don’t see how I deserved to be guided to my first AA meeting, but I’m the one who said, “I can’t do life. I give up. Teach me.” And the rest has unfolded like a wildflower in the mountains.

Where I was yesterday…

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Pain and god

Recent events have reminded me how, for so many years, I lived trapped in relentless self-criticism, how I suffered in hating and pitying myself, and how blindly I sought escape from that tangle of feelings. The emotional health I’ve gradually been graced with is paradise by contrast, but living here causes me to forget how lost I used to be — an amnesia that dulls my compassion.

My son came to me last night and shared that he’s in tremendous emotional pain.  I’d had no idea.  The news came as a shock. I remember when he was 6, he told me one night in his sweet, piping voice, “I feel sorry for anyone who has to be around me — because I’m such a horrible person.” I did what I wished my parents had done for me: took him seriously. I explained that he mustn’t listen to what the “mean voice” said to him, that it would always find fault with him just for existing.  I explained all the ways I cope: identify it, label it, question it. Whenever I checked in with him in the weeks and years that followed, he told me the mean voice had gone away. Last night I learned that’s not the case.  As he’s grown to a 6′ young man, so, too, has his self-loathing swelled to a powerful announcer of worthlessness.

And here I hit up against my own powerlessness to lead him out of his pain, as much as I wish I could. Because the resounding, unavoidable fact of life is that we each must find our own way.  I know I could never have healed without the loving community of recovering alcoholics to which my higher power guided me. But my son, like every person ever born, must find his own path.  Will I send him to counseling?  Of course!  But even an excellent therapist can only clear the ground and help us give names to the various forms of suffering and trauma we carry.  To step out of those to a higher plane — that’s something each must do for themself, collaborating, whether consciously or unconsciously, with god. 

No one can hand you freedom. The whole problem with drugs, alcohol, or any addiction is that they seem to — so we chase them, no matter what anyone tells us.  

In fact, my powerlessness to help my son brings me up against my powerlessness to help anyone; it makes me question the whole premise of this blog. So often I write about the view from this safe, cozy ledge of sanity I’ve settled on, forgetting what it was like to dangle above that dark chasm, clinging to whatever false fix of the day.  I wish so much I could hand over to the world all I’ve been given — but life doesn’t work that way.

Image: Mario Sixtus

I come back to my core belief: that we are all incomplete without god, that we’re each set down on this Earth with a mission to reforge that connection, and that to the extent we succeed, we expand the power of love/god.  “We all live inside of god” — that’s how a Near Death Experiencer I recently interviewed put it.  And yet we bubble ourselves off inside fear, anger, and ego, languishing in isolation. Each time we pierce the bubble by reaching through with love, we express the energy of god.  We are god’s tendrils, its nerve endings, the leaves of its vast tree. But if a leaf seals itself off from sustenance because for some reason it’s denying the tree’s existence, it withers. And withering hurts.

My father, I, and now, I learn, my son were all given minds wired for self-condemnation. Until last night I believed that, because my son doesn’t use drugs or alcohol, we’d somehow broken the chain. Yet today I consider that, although I was 6 years sober when he was born, I remained a confused woman clinging to a dysfunctional, codependent relationship. When that relationship fell apart, my son, who was then only two and a half, lay face down on the carpet and spoke the words, “My family is dead.”  I tried so hard to love him so much that the pain wouldn’t sear his little heart — but for whatever reason, I couldn’t spare him. I don’t know that I could have done anything differently.  All I could do was be honest and love him — and that’s more true than ever today.

Last night I tried to speak to him of god, of the crucial importance of seeking out whatever font of goodness lies within our cores and appealing to it for help. Doing that, I said, saved my life. How lame my words sounded!  How lame they sound here!  Because finding god is an inside job, while words are just outside symbols, and never the twain shall meet.  That’s why religion rings so hollow for most of us.

Yet the same is true here.  Words, words, words! 

My own truth is that god has led me every step of the way through my own messy, twisted, often sick-sick-sick story, though I never knew it in the moment.  That fucking cliché poem about only one set of footprints in the sandThat has been my experience. For instance, without that dysfunctional, codependent relationship, I might not be here today, because that partner was sober in AA when we met, whereas I was a dying drunk. 

Every pain I’ve walked through has been my teacher, a way for god to suggest a deeper truth if I was willing to see it.  Pain — listening to it, not fleeing it — has shown me what works and what doesn’t.  In essence, it’s been like an electric fence bordering my own unique path toward happiness. I’ve had zap myself repeatedly by straying after various  dumb shiny things before I’d become willing to abandon them and proceed along a wiser tack. Slowly, gradually, I’ve learned how to live.

The same, I pray, will be true for my son — and for you.

 

 

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