Surrender and the Big Picture

As I write this, the world is in a bit of a panic about COVID-19 — and understandably so.  Much is unknown.  Many will die.

Fear is huge right now because much of the world is a stranger to this degree of powerlessness. Nobody likes sudden, involuntary changes: being told to work or school their kids from home, to avoid contact with others. It’s tough. Disruptive. Confusing. 

In times like these, it really sucks to have no higher power or faith in an afterlife.  If we lack faith, we fight out of an amorphous, unrelenting fear.  If we possess a working faith, we attend with care to each precaution, surrender what’s beyond our control, and trust that, though perhaps in ways beyond our understanding, all will be well.

For that matter, all may be better.  Considered from a broad enough perspective, COVID-19 can be seen as a gift.  This pandemic is teaching humanity, more vividly than anything heretofore, the crucial, overdue, and catastrophically-denied lesson that all of us share one planet.  Humanity is, in fact, one big global community.  National boundaries mean no more to this virus than they do to impacts of climate change.  Both are everyone’s problem.

Surrender is simply saying, “What is, is.  I have no power to change X, but I do have power to perform Y.” For instance, in the case of alcoholism, X is that we have it — a fact that won’t ever change. Y is our program of action: going to AA meetings, doing stepwork, and being of service to others.

A continuing counter-intuitive surrender for me is the fact that I’m a spiritually leaky bucket: No matter how many meetings I’ve gone to, how deeply I know the steps, or how much service I’ve offered in the past, my spiritual bucket gets empty again if I don’t continue filling it.  My mind tells me, “Oh, I’m so smart now!  See how my Big Book is read to tatters? I can stay sober on my own!” I certainly want to believe that. I certainly don’t want it to be my ticket to misery and an early death. But it would be. I need to believe what I want not to believe.

Surrender to the afterlife and spirit world has, weirdly enough, posed an even harder, more counter-intuitive challenge.  I’ve had to say, “What is, is.” In this case, I mean both the reality of the spirit world and society’s disdain for it. I’ve experienced so many paranormal phenomena that I can no longer subscribe to the culturally dominant model of reality as exclusively material.  That model stands in blatant contradiction to my Weird Things — direct experiences of seeing a ghost, prescience, clairvoyance, and communications/interventions from the dead and from my guardian angel.  

I never wanted a Near Death Experience (NDE) any more than I wanted alcoholism. Following my NDE, I denied it as doggedly as I did alcoholism, clinging to my familiar materialism as much as I did to familiar drinking.  I kept right on refusing to change when I saw a ghost, knew my nephew would die, and began to hear a voice that advised the opposite of what I, myself, had decided.  Materialist science would lump all these together as delusions — my mind playing tricks on me.  For decades, I simply shut away whatever materialism could not explain.

But there came a point when I could no longer hold out. I had to say, “What is, is!  I have no power to change X — that I know the spirit world firsthand and that society dubs me a moron for saying so.  I do, however, have power to perform Y — find others who share my truth.”  Finding the sanctuary of IANDS, where everyone’s materialist schema has been pried from their equally reluctant intellectual grasp, has solidified my outlook.

What does all this have to do with COVID-19?  Today, I volunteer for Seattle IANDS by interviewing NDErs and writing up their stories for our bi-monthly newsletter (print only, at this point).  During the time they were dead, several interview subjects were shown, each through their own visual metaphor, that the spirit world is constantly working to guide humanity forward toward the light of universal love. Here are two interview excerpts:

 

“The largest light table was behind those two, a huge one with many saints around it. I couldn’t hear, but I knew they were talking about the planet – how to help it. More than any of the others, these saints had to allow. They were so serious because of all they were letting unfold.”

 

“I saw a city of diamond brightness. I knew the city contained highly advanced beings – angels and great souls [who] were building the future of humanity. I was given the revelation that… sometimes the intended purpose doesn’t unfold.”

 

Each seeks words to describe a hybrid of guidance and letting be.  Both chose the word “unfold.” I’m reminded of the way we teach small children: we present them with a toy or a problem to solve that we think offers them an opportunity to learn; then we let them have at it. 

God, according to countless NDErs, wants us to learn.  Many were offered a choice to return and complete their learning in this life, or proceed unfinished to the next — but lose all they’d learned. “I viewed it much the same as having to repeat a grade in school,” says one who drowned river rafting.

CO2over China before & after COVID-19 lockdown

When I put this whole picture together, I see a benevolent god calling some souls home while giving humanity at large a nudge to wake the fuck up.  In the single month since COVID-19 went international, the entire world has radically changed its ways of daily life, ceasing to commute, flying less, and producing less stuff — with the cumulative global effect of slashing our CO output beyond anything ever dreamed possible. 

Learn, god is urging us, that all is one! — humans, animals, plants, Gaia, and god.

 

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What Does 25 Years Sober Feel Like?

When I walked into my first AA meeting — sadly, defeatedly, with all kinds of caveats and conditions — I certainly never imagined that in 25 years I’d be writing a blog like this!  My plan was to “get my drinking under control.”  The idea that alcohol would no longer be a part of my life, any more than eating Gerber baby food or riding a tricycle, seemed impossible.  Life had only few bright spots, and alcohol, back on January 29, 1995, was one of them.

Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with baby food or tricycles.  I enjoyed both immensely at one time.  But I have outgrown them.

There was a time, too, when I had little idea who I was or how to live. Alcohol relaxed the grip of my frightened brain and let me function as if I had ease and comfort, as if I’d attained self-confidence, and as if I loved life with a daring spirit.

Gerber

But just as baby food is pureed for those who cannot chew, and tricycles stable for those who cannot balance, so alcohol was the ticket for a Louisa who could not calm down, could not go inward, could not know god and relinquish fear to simply be herself. In fact, I didn’t believe anyone could do that unmedicated, so I figured sober people must just be uptight and cautious as hell all the fucking time.

I was wrong.

What changed my life? 

Alcoholics Anonymous is where I encountered the conditions I needed to cultivate health, wholeness and — gosh! — maybe even enough wisdom to outgrow drinking.

    • The first thing I noticed in the rooms was love — an atmosphere different from anyplace in the outside world.  I came in a shaking, smoking, posturing young woman, and others saw through my facade with compassion rather than judgment.
    • The 12 Steps I virtually ignored for 3 years, until the depression that followed my sister’s death drove my life into the ground and I asked a young woman with AA chutzpah to sponsor me. From her I learned the foundations of honesty.  She pressed me in every step to scrutinize my implicit assumptions about myself, my fellows, and god.
    • Sponsoring AA newcomers let me see my character defects worn by other women.  To recognize self-defeating thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors is SO much easier when they’re wrecking someone else’s life!  I’ve sponsored somewhere between 35 and 40 women in my 25 years, learning from each  about the pains ego inflicts.
    • My sponsor, AA homegroup, and circle of sober friends continue to provide me with a community of love, honesty, and humility.  When I decided against throwing my usual big January sober party for my 25th birthday, my sponsor and a sober friend of 20 years planned and paid for a bowling party instead. I can’t describe the rush of love I felt when, scanning the bustling, noisy lanes of bowlers, I spotted the familiar faces of my homegroup family.
    • Branching out into a second spiritual community aligned with AA principles — my Near Death Experience community — has added a dimension to my faith and daily relationship with god.

The 12 Steps of AA are only a framework, a scaffolding for the discipline of total honesty with self and god — which is, of course, an ideal we strive for all our lives. At a recent hipster meeting, I urged the god-phobic newcomers to substitute “total fucking honesty” wherever the steps say “God.” I couldn’t help adding, “If you’re in active addiction, you know about as much about total fucking honesty as you do about god.”

Sober time doesn’t vanquish ego. It’s easy to rest on laurels or become a bleeding deacon (AA phrases meaning one claims to know stuff). People phone me for advice, call me an inspiration, a role model, an anchor for their sobriety.  That’s all well and good, but the fact is I’m just spiritually healthy — and only for today. I get to face life’s challenges with the same insight any thoughtful, loving, fully conscious woman would have accrued after 59 years of living.  Here are some of the challenges I face today:

Loneliness/nostalgia: My son left for college 500 miles away.  I miss him, and I miss his childhood.  How can all those years of cardboard books, small shoes, and super-heroes be over? I have no romantic partner, either.  He drank and cheated and that’s that — though I miss our fabulous adventures. I’m learning to enjoy my own company.

Getting Old: What the fuck is up with my turning 60 in six months? Isn’t there some mistake? I’m the young one, the girl with the huge eyes and acres of time ahead of her to fill with dreams and ambitions! Oh, no — just kidding.  I guess my face is sagging, muscles want to atrophy, and I can expect nothing but gradual decline over the next couple decades — decades that will fly by even faster than the two since my son was born.  WTF?

Too Many Hats: I wear too many damn hats.  I won’t even bore you with a list.  Too much going on; huge to-do lists.  I last watched TV/YouTube about a month and a half ago.

40 hours left to live

Grief and Loss: My friend of 20 years died last week. The same age as me and sober a few years longer, he had just slayed the expert slopes on a ski trip with his wife of 10 years and posted jealousy-inspiring selfies on Sunday.  Monday, he died at work from a heart attack. I can still hear his voice, the wit and playful humor behind so much of what he said. And just like that — he’s gone.

At 25 years sober, I get to feel all these feelings. I surrender to WHAT IS and how I feel about it.  Then I ask myself what good can be done — and I DO it.  I text with my son, exercise like a maniac, chip away at my to-do list, reach out to my friend’s devastated widow  — and I actively love all of it.

My sweet old dog — Cosmo, the messy life monk — is lame and often poops in the house overnight. When I am kind to him, helping him up the steps, touching him often because he’s deaf, and cleaning up accidents first thing in the morning with brisk cheer, I know what it means to live sober and in the light.  As my friend’s death underscores, every little thing is a gift.

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One Resolution Fits All

There’s a sense in which my life is none of my business.

I don’t know so much — what I am, for starters. I mean, I know I’m a consciousness, the “I” choosing these words, but how that font of awareness got married to a few trillion cells such that we all shuffle around together — how that came to be I have no clue.  Why I entered the world in a middle class American family — no idea. What the world is tending toward, the turmoil of someone much like me in Syria, the adorable joey dying painfully by fire in Australia, what will happen tomorrow, how long I will live — I know nothing.

But when I look back on the trail of my life and try to discern the hither to yon of it, if I sift through all I’ve seen and done and said and felt for just one gem, it’s this: I’ve been learning to love. The more love I generate, the more beautiful and meaningful my life.  So that will be my resolution, today and every day: Love More.

Loving myself.  I used to think that was easy enough, but it’s hardest. The reason it’s so hard, the gutter-ball of bowling for self-love that I kept throwing for about 40 years, is ego.  Ego is needed.  It was given us to keep us in our bodies, to train us to look out for ourselves so we can survive. Unfortunately, it usurps awareness and turns life into a contest, parading and concealing to orchestrate what it imagines others think.  Only in the last few years have I truly understood the inseparable nature of self-love and humility, two sides of the same coin.

In the warmth and simplicity of humility — I’m just me — I can drop the contest and see how simple my job actually is.  I try.  If I were to make a pie chart of my activities and responsibilities, there would be many, many slices. But in every area, all I can do is try.  To love myself, I focus on the sincerity of that effort rather than the outcomes it produces, successes or failures, which are ego’s domain.  I see my often bewildered, flawed, self-conscious self trying to live, to do what’s right, and I love myself for it.

Loving those close to me.  The hardest thing about loving family and others I’ve not necessarily chosen to position close to me is to truly see them instead of jumping to my idea of them.  My idea is ego’s shortcut that actually denies their humanity, their ongoing human experience, and sees only how they impact me.  If I can dilate the light of my own humility to cast it on them, I can see them, too, as bewildered, flawed, and self-conscious humans trying to navigate.  I may maintain a long list of flaws they don’t see (so funny!), but I can keep in mind that I fail to see many of my own. (When I made fun of myself the other night for craving attention, my friends laughed just a tad too hard.)  These folks, too, are trying as best they know how.

Loving humans I see.  This one’s an impediment for me because sometimes I can’t stop. Walking through the airport in a strange city, for example, my mind whirls in overdrive creating a whole life for every freaking person I see.  It’s exhausting!  They were born, they toddled and shit their diapers, they had their heart broken and either cried their guts out or stuffed it in deep pain.  Every single person!  So I try to calm down and just send blessings to each.

Loving the world I see.  This one is the chit!  It’s the key to happiness, not just for those of us in recovery, but for everyone.  I practice loving what I see.  For me, this means viewing everything as an expression of god — that gum wrapper on the sidewalk.  It grew as a tree, contains sunshine, soil, and magic, and was turned into paper at a factory where many complex souls worked and others exploited them from fear and greed, and it once contained gum similarly made, until a person who was born and toddled in diapers, etc., bought it and decided in a god-given consciousness to chew it, with all those sensations and reactions, and either intentionally or unintentionally let the wrapper fall, via a force of gravity proportionate to the mass of the earth, to have its trajectory interrupted here on the sidewalk. I also love crows and weeds.  I even love many insects. Everything is doing, carrying out a story, dancing with god.

Loving the world I don’t see.  I hold in my mind and heart at all times an awareness of this immense world over which I have no power.  Instead of trusting the pixelated reports of it churned out by media, social and otherwise, that ticker-tape through my devices, I concede that I have no way of knowing reality outside my small circle of experience, except as a general idea, a story that will turn out unpredictably in the years I witness and after I’m dead.  I know many beautiful, innocent humans and animals are everywhere trying to live, enjoying life or suffering. So I send out love, much like that of Buddhist prayers, whenever I can. I pray for good.  I pray for a growing network of compassion among people. I pray for the pod of orcas that used to frequent the waters where I live but are starving today for lack of salmon. I pray for my son.

So, back to my own life not being my business.  I didn’t make it and I control little of it, but I do have faith that god put me here to do something — to do good.  Every choice I make fulfills or betrays that mission.  Love more is the gem, the secret talisman I carry and feel in the pocket of my mind.  It is, I have found, my source of joy.

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The 12 Steps Backward

Struggling in a spiritually barren world, we alcoholics relied for many years on a 12-Step program of our own making.  We just didn’t know it! Our 12 Steps Backward, a cycle still ‘guiding’ the lives of countless alcoholics, went about like this:

These can stand alone just fine, but I’ll go ahead and comment briefly on my own experience with them.

Steps 1-3
I took Step 1 at some point in high school.  I’d been uncomfortable in my skin since the age of 7 or 8, but the pain spiked unbearably in my late teens.  I hated being Louisa.  The first time I got shitfaced, I found instant relief and happily took Step 2, amazed that something as simple as booze could set everything right in my world. Now that I had a new way to live and feel good, I drifted into Step 3, believing superficially that alcohol and drugs were fun, and at a deeper level that I needed them to feel okay.

Steps 4-9
Alcohol/drugs inflated my ego with a sense of power that led me to harm others, whether by intentionally abusing their trust or by thoughtlessly overlooking their feelings.  During college, I tried to minimize the guilt that began to accumulate in the back of my mind — Step 4 — a policy I kept up for as long as I drank. Any lurking notion that my approach to living was faulty I dismissed by imagining pretty much everyone did the same — Step 5.

pay attentionMy sense of dramatic unfairness swelled alongside my unhappiness: life was not rewarding me as it should — Step 6.  Other people (cool peers? fickle authorities?) had to be at fault — Step 7.  Didn’t my problems really start with that kindergarten teacher who embarrassed me so badly and continue right up through current family and coworkers? — Step 8.  I wished I could set those people straight! — Step 9.

Steps 10-12
Living by Step 10, I never grew up emotionally because I never absorbed the lessons pain had to teach me.  I simply doused pain with booze, stirred it into a soupy ‘woe is me!’ drama, and learned nothing.  Step 11 flourished as a result — mind-movies rehashing the past or dreaming up glorious futures. By age 34 my life still looked okay on the outside, but I felt more depressed, abhorrent, and hopeless than I could stand, drinking in solitude, lowering my bar for company, and toying with suicidal ideation — Step 12.

At my first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, I read the real 12 Steps off the wall in less than a minute and dismissed them as worthless platitudes — seeing as I had all the emotional depth of a 15-year-old.  That stayed true for almost 3 years, until I hit a sober bottom grieving my sister’s death and found a rigorous sponsor who helped me apply them. The reversal of my life’s trajectory, from plowing ever deeper into misery to climbing ever higher toward gratitude and joy, came about through thoughtfully, truthfully, and thoroughly working these simple steps.

Initially, the “God” word freaked me out, as it does everyone, even though I’d once died briefly from drug overdose, crossed over to the other side, and journeyed to the Light. (I recently gave an interview about losing my atheistic battle to deny my NDE and its paranormal aftereffects, here: Louisa talks with Tricia Barker.)  Eventually, though, what I call “god” (i.e. the spirit world) showed itself to me so persistently and undeniably that I finally caved, embracing the fact that god — the loving intelligence animating all life — is everywhere in everything always.

NDE or no NDE, almost everyone who works the 12 steps in long-term recovery develops gratitude and comes to see how their god has been with them all along.

loveflow

For me, the 12 steps not only cleared resentments blocking me from god, but also triggered a sort of Copernican Revolution. Where I once strove to pull GOODNESS from other people to serve me as the center of the universe, I came to see that all GOODNESS flows from GOD, the true center of the universe, through me toward others. When I act as god’s conduit for love, my spiritual batteries get charged, and I feel joy.

That’s the mission we’re here to accomplish, folks: Overcome ego’s fears of vulnerability to connect with others in love and kindness — not only with those closest to us, but with all humans, animals, and the Earth as a whole.  Religion still pisses me off a bit because, in humanizing god, it obscures with pomp, cliquishness, and carrot-on-a-stick heavenly rewards what the 12 steps lay out with such humble clarity.

The goal of loving others freely enough to be of service can seem out of reach if we’ve been badly wounded; we need god’s help first to find our wounds, obscured under layers of drinking and denial, and then to heal them. And that’s exactly what the 12 steps are laid out to help us do.

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Note: I’m indebted to Bill L’s 11/8/19 share at our homegroup, Salmon Bay, referencing his “backward 3rd Step.” Thanks also to my friend Dawna H, who replied, “Get your ass over here!” when I texted that I felt too full and lazy to show up at the meeting and, with 22 years sober, helped me tweak the wording of these steps.

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Outrage vs. Action

If we were to live, we had to be free of anger. The grouch and the brainstorm were not for us. They may be the dubious luxury of normal men, but for alcoholics these things are poison.

Alcoholics Anonymous p. 66

I recently listened to an NPR program, Hidden Brain, that looked at moral outrage on social media and what’s going on in our brains when we post (or repost) it.

Dopamine hits!

That’s the the juicy part for all alcoholic/addicts, right? Human brains in general sift the world like Geiger counters seeking out sources of feel-good. We may not realize that’s what’s going on when we find one, but we self-administer hits of it like some poor little lab rat hitting the cocaine bar again and again. The trouble for us alcoholics is that getting caught up in these cycles can lead us back toward a drink.

Outrage is one such addictive cycle. The Hidden Brain host has us imagine an early human tribe in which someone gets caught doing something wrong. How should the group react? Ignore, expel, or punish? If they ignore, the wrong-doer may decide to act again. If they expel, they lose a member. So they punish. Yale psychologist Molly Crockett pops explains:

“Evolution placed a bet on [punishment] being a good idea for the group. When people decide to punish someone who’s behaved unfairly, we see activation in areas of the brain associated with reward, including the striatum and the medial prefrontal cortex… There’s a visceral satisfaction in doling out punishment.”

“Outrage,” the host summarizes, “gives us pleasure.”

He explains that the face-to-face context in which outrage evolved came with a natural set of brakes: you risked getting physically harmed by those you punished, or, if you were out of line, getting punished yourself. Neither consequence applies to social media (or any e-communication). Our brains revel in dopamine scot-free whenever we proclaim righteous, indignant, and often vicious stuff. Plus, every time someone LIKES or reposts our outrage, we get another dopamine boost, because our brains tell us we’re doling out even stronger punishment.

E-distance can destroy compassion even among people who love each other, as I discovered years ago when I first published my addiction memoir. Some family members responded from behind their screens with a rage they’d never have unleashed on me face-to-face. They emailed flamers berating me as a liar, narcissist, and sadist; they posted lengthy Facebook strings of back-and forth mockery; and they published one-star “reviews” on Amazon under pen names, buying copies under multiple accounts to publish more.

Clearly, my ideas about the role alcoholism and codependence had played in my upbringing felt wrong and hurtful to them. So they asked if we could we could all sit down and talk out these uncomfortable issues to arrive at some shared understanding — kidding!! They chose to punish my wrongdoing with no compunction, getting lots of satisfying dopamine surges every time they clicked SEND, POST, or PUBLISH.

At the time, I wept gallons of tears and developed panic attacks from so much as looking at my laptop. Happily, Amazon took down all but one review, and we’ve since healed enough as a family to deal with this as we do all conflict: we pretend it never happened.

I’ve been priming similar poisonous dopamine surges myself on social media ever since Trump got elected. Fortunately, my entire family is anti-Trump, so we’ve experienced no rift. Rather, after the initial despair of 2016, I began to take aim at no one in particular to make “them” recognize the despicable character and politics of this Russian plant president. I’ve been hitting the awkwardness-free vanquishment bar of social media again and again, posting about Trump’s lies, stupidity, moral depravity, damaging policies, etc..

Only recently have I realized my true motivation: dopamine. I see friends have liked or shared my post: Dopamine! A conservative friend comments disagreement, so I deliver a stinging retort: Dopamine! Have any of my posts done any good for anyone? Of course not. All I’ve accomplished is adding a bit more rage to the global atmosphere.

A normie might indulge in this cycle with only a slight harm to their long-term health. But as an alcoholic with “a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of [my] spiritual condition” (85), I have no business cultivating anger, which blocks me from “the sunlight of the spirit” (66), tipping the playing field to addiction’s advantage. The angry me is my ego, and ego is, as we know, addiction’s minion. The more outrage I feel, the less good I do anyone and the closer I am to a drink.

Goodness takes the form of action. Did Mother Teresa ridicule Calcutta for its bad policy toward the lame and the sick? Was Martin Luther King’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail a rant? Would Mahatma Gandhi have Tweeted out anti-British zingers? Why not? Because inspired people understand that faith without works is dead; they know a single beneficial deed outweighs thousands of punishing words.

Increasingly, I’ve been trying to shift my life in a similar direction. In response to climate change, I started bussing to work in 2017, and when I realized I disliked buses, I switched to bicycling. I buy minimal plastic, donate to animal charities, and pick up litter. When I realized our local 30,000-year-old pod of orcas was starving for want of salmon, I started volunteering to do salmon habitat restoration work and showed up at a hearing on their behalf.

Humility is a big piece as well. How much do my individual actions help? Very little. How much more do they help than posts and tweets? Infinitely more. When I’m volunteering, I can FEEL that it’s the right thing to do, much as I feel the goodness of AA service work, which somehow quiets the ire I feel when I witness what I think is wrong. I don’t need to tell everybody; I need to do more good.

Sobriety is a whole-life deal as we expand and deepen our experience of who we are. Maybe we can outgrow posting zingers the same way we outgrow self-pity, gossip, and all those other short-term fixes. Maybe we can find our power to put love and goodness to work in small but real actions.

Restoring stream habitats

Planting trees

Meeting cool people

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My Big Fat Dead Mosquito

Everywhere I look, I see a big fat dead mosquito. Over the years, this insect has taught me a lot about life.

It’s inside my eyeball. Hiking across Glacier National Park in 2007 (left), at the moment I reached Triple Divide Pass, the spot where waters flow into three different oceans, it happened: a big fat dead mosquito appeared against the bright sky, like bunny ears cast on a movie screen. I could see the head and proboscis on its body, from which dangled several crumpled legs.

Having good insurance in those days, I soon saw an ophthalmologist who referred me to an expensive specialist with a computerized magnification system that let him tour around in my eyeball as if it were a museum. He looked and looked, asking me to move my eyes in various directions. Finally he scooted back from the machine.

“You’re right,” he said. “It looks like a big fat dead mosquito.”

Unfortunately, he explained, nothing could be done.  A clump of cells had sloughed off my hyaloid canal, which connects the lens and optic nerve, but was still attached, drifting about in my ocular fluid and casting this distinctive shadow on my retina. Even if I’d wanted surgery, the risk to my optic nerve would be too great. Perhaps in time the cells would fall off and settle, like most floaters, to the bottom of my eyeball. Until then, he said, I’d just have to live with it.

Twelve years have passed, but my Big Fat Dead Mosquito (BFDM) has not. Often it floats far enough toward the front of my eyeball to become blurry and easily ignored, like bunny ears flashed too close to the projector. But every few months, it moves toward the back so its shape jumps out at me in all its buggy detail.  I look fast to the right, and it continues drifting after my eye stops.  That sort of thing.

Teachings from the BFDM

At first I was, as you can imagine, severely bummed at this permanent visual impairment, as in, “You’re fucking kidding me — I’m gonna look at this thing the rest of my life?!” But as a sober alcoholic, I can’t afford to hang out in victimhood (“poor me, poor me, pour me another drink…”).  So early on I decided to make the BFDM into a symbol of that very fact: I have alcoholism.  I did not ask for it.  Yet when sorted according to the Serenity Prayer’s flawless rubric, both my alcoholism and my BFDM fell into the same category: “things I cannot change.”

This strategy worked well.  Whenever I’d be contemplating a puffy white cloud in a lovely blue sky, and across it would glide, like the Goodyear blimp, the looming shape of my BFDM, I would practice acceptance.  Ditto sunsets, snow covered mountains, and, of course any large, white wall.  I had no choice but to share them with this squashed bug, just as I had no choice but to go to AA meetings, do 12 step work with sponsors and sponsees, and, of course, not drink booze for the rest of my life. I would think something like this: “Hey there, mosquito.  I guess you’re with me for good, just like alcoholism.”

Years passed, and while the mosquito remained, my sense of alcoholism as a burden did not. I came to recognize that god had actually done me a huge favor by making me alcoholic, forcing me to choose between paths of self-destruction and spiritual growth. I began to see that even normal drinkers are bullshitting themselves when they drink — denying damage to their brain and body, imagining they’re more fond of others than they truly are, and denying themselves the practice of manually breaking down ego’s barriers to trust and affection. I saw that not only are all paths to wisdom and integrity at best obscured and at worst blocked by alcohol, but that the 12 steps offered a me stairway to happiness I’d never have found without AA.

Gradually, the BFDM morphed as well, becoming a symbol for something else: compassion. When I’d be talking to someone in bright light and they’d remain oblivious to the huge squashed insect bobbing around their face, I’d be reminded of the subjective nature of experience.  That person had no idea I was having to ignore a BFDM to be fully present, and by the same token, I knew nothing of the the various obstructions through which they saw me: scars they carried, fears they battled, emotional distortions they couldn’t help.  I learned to temper my judgements, thinking, “Hey there, mosquito.  Ain’t it true that I’ve never walked a day in this other person’s shoes?”

 

 

Then, about eight years after it first popped into my vision, the BFDM finally lost its legs. Today only the head and body remain — a shape most would describe as blob, and I alone think of as a big fat dead mosquito amputee (BFDMA). During these past few years, compassion has become reflex for me, while frequent contact with the Near-Death Experience community has  homogenized my faith in god — meaning not that my god is a dairy product but that the power of my faith no longer comes and goes.  I know in every moment of consciousness that god is real, god is love, and that a vast spirit realm is rooting for humanity from the sidelines as we try to untangle the childish mess we’ve made of our world.

Today, whenever by my BFDMA meanders close enough to my retina to cast its distinctive shadow, I am overwhelmed with wonder and gratitude to my maker: “Hey there, mosquito. Can you believe I have a fucking movie screen inside my skull? A surface of cells so sensitive to the universe’s energy (borne by little photons that bounce off everything) that it can encode the patterns received and send them into my consciousness??  Who made us, BFDMA?  Who guided the astounding evolution of this gift, and what a spoiled brat am I that the tiny malfunction of you — a few fallen cells — once upset me??”

The soul grows not by addition but by subtraction. So said Meister Eckhart.  Today, the mere fact that I am alive inside a fantastic machine that lets me navigate a beauty-filled world, forging a unique path represented by my quirky shadow friend — this alone is a miracle worthy of constant rejoicing.

 

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Filed under Alcoholism, Faith, Serenity Prayer, Spirituality

On Living Sober, Sane, and Single

Fifteen years have passed since I learned my partner of 9 years, with whom I shared a home, two dogs, and a toddler, was seeing another woman.  I was devastated.

Four years have passed since I learned my mountain climbing boyfriend of 8 years, who had resumed drinking, was seeing a girl 5 years older than his daughter who loved to drink and play 50 Shades games.  I was deeply shaken.

Four weeks have passed since the guy I met on Tinder, whom I’d dated 14 months, ended our relationship via text message. I am so happy!

I’m happy not just because I have oodles more free time, or am relieved of compromising to make the relationship work and pretending the pheromones weren’t a mismatch. I’m happy because I don’t want another relationship!

Those of you who’ve read my mammoth addiction memoir, for which this blog is named, know I chased a twofold addiction for nearly 20 years before finding AA: alcohol gave me relaxation and well-being; infatuation gave me excitement and, when reciprocated, self-worth. Really, I should say in both cases facsimiles of those things, because well-being bought through impaired brain function is not really well-being, and self-worth leased through someone’s approval is not really self-worth.

But anyway.  You guys know the deal with that.

What I am realizing today is that, prior to dating this fellow, I STILL HAD a relationship addiction — which is finally, finally GONE.  God has lifted it.  I’m excited about my life exactly as it is.

What does relationship addiction look like?  Like all addictions, at its deepest foundation lies fear.  Fear of missing out on the playful bantering and sizzling sex married folks enjoy for decades (right?).  Fear of not being enough. Of getting old alone. Of being discounted somehow as a failure because you never “found somebody.”

When I first came to AA at 34, I felt incapable of living sober, while the beautiful 28-year-old blonde infatuated with me had over 3 years clean, so I signed up, in a way, for both. That relationship was my sobriety safe space. I needed it. When her infatuation wore off, she did what I’d done in three previous relationships — looked for a new “magic” person who could inspire dopamine spikes. When she left, all my sense of security went with her.

I dated AA men for two years, becoming infatuated twice with non-reciprocating targets, before I met the mountain climber in OSAT, my sober climbing group. Together we summited volcanoes, hiked nearly 1,000 miles in remote wilderness, and bicycled another 1,000 along the Pacific Coastal Highway. He was gorgeous to look at, left-brain brilliant, and right-brain dumb as a stump — meaning he could complete a Saturday New York Times crossword puzzle in pen but not interpret emotions in others or himself beyond glad, sad, or mad.

I made that my job — interpreting for both of us. Sadly, attending AA soon became my job for both of us as well, and in 2010, he began to drink in secret. Traveling for work, he discovered, first, the sexual allure of hotel bar rooms and, later, the young protégé at work who worshipped him.

I discounted clues right and left because I needed him. He represented not security, but adventure. My glossed-over idea of him differed from the actual man, just as our glossed-over version of our alcoholic drinking differed from our actual consumption.  In both cases, we protect what we think we need by casting it in a delusional light. My imagined boyfriend possessed a simple but ironclad distinction of right vs.wrong to complement his glad, sad, or mad insights.

But the real one did not — because active alcoholics cannot distinguish the true from the false. Out the window, for most, goes accountability. As a relationship addict, I wasn’t exactly distinguishing true from false, either, so his deceit lasted two years before I surreptitiously “borrowed” his old iPhone, which I somehow miraculously unlocked. There I discovered his other life.

This time, though, I understood nothing in me had caused his behavior.  I soon discovered I could summit volcanoes with sober friends and hike hundreds of wilderness miles alone when I wasn’t dancing ballet, enjoying friendships, interviewing fellow NDErs, throwing parties, blogging, or loving my home and son. Yet I still longed for a cohort. Emptiness tugged at me relentlessly in every waking moment. Prayer didn’t help. Neither did the therapy. Like a Robin without a Batman, I yearned to be half a dynamic duo.

I tried all the apps — Tinder, Bumble, Fit Singles — and went on 64 dates over two years. Each time I was hopeful via text, then disappointed in person. Finally, I found a prospect — an ultra-marathoner who claimed to love all the same things I do. His rush toward ‘the three words’ smacked of infatuation, but he assured me he’d evolved beyond that. His lack of friends, mood swings, and erratic decisions signaled alcoholic dryness (he’d quit on his own). Gradually, as his infatuation faded, so did all those things he’d claimed to love. When he bonked on a steep hike, he cried petulantly, “This is the dumbest hike I’ve ever been on!” and soon announced he’d hike no more. Meticulous body shaving and moisturizing regimes made him unwilling to camp. He even disliked walks or bike rides not on his Excel training schedule. Soon we had nothing in common — hence his text.

But like the previous two, this guy gave me a lasting gift — or rather, god did. I’ve finally realized I need no Batman. I’m driving the goddamn Batmobile myself — and it’s AMAZING what I can do with it!! From wheelies to road trips — who needs a partner?  At least, who needs one STAT?  I do not.  I’ll never swipe again.

What if — and this is rocket science, I know — I turn this matter over to the care of my higher power, as part of my will and my life?  What if I trust that, if I pursue the life I love, a mainstay of which is service to others, god will take care of the rest?  Being me is enough. No words can convey how grateful I am to truly feel this way at last.  Sobriety just keeps getting better.

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Filed under Codependency, Recovery, Relationship addiction, Self-worth