Throughout my 20s and early 30s I drank almost daily and blacked out at least weekly because alcohol made all my lies come true. Not my dreams – my lies: I wanted to be right in everything that I got, and wronged in everything that I didn’t. Alcohol made that possible.
Until it didn’t. I was loath to admit the light was growing dimmer, that more and more shit was seeping in through the seams, but the day(s) came when life felt unbearable – with or without alcohol. Suicide and AA being a toss-up, I tried them out in the only order possible. I went to an AA meeting January 29, 1995, and I’ve not had a drink since.
But when I heard you guys quoting the line from the Big Book, “we are sure God wants us to be happy, joyous, and free,” it sounded like a crock. Me – happy?
First off, by “God” you had to mean some kind of authority figure, some “He,” some tyrant of righteousness – which I mentally flipped off.
Secondly, only stupid people were happy. You guys lacked the guts to acknowledge life’s futility, the grim jest of being born into this harsh world only to suffer endless loneliness and disappointment. You preferred buying into Barney-the-Dinosaur style clichés and niceties.
Anyway, you AA people were never going to brainwash me with your spiritual drivel.
But you did. Turns out I needed brainwashing pretty badly – given that my every thought was thoroughly toxic.
Hiking 100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail is how I spent last week – Section i of Washington, southbound. I went with a sober friend 22 years my junior, and we had the time of our lives. After making only 8 miles the first day, given our 40-lb packs laden with a week of food, we stepped up our pace to climb and descend 15- 17 wilderness miles daily, passing perhaps 4 to 6 fellow hikers per day. Almost every night at camp, we held a two-person AA meeting. The first nights we futzed around with reciting “How it Works,” but we soon said screw it and just used the Serenity Prayer.
We shared formally, no one else around for miles:
ME: “I’m Louisa and I’m and alcoholic.”
KACIE: “Hi, Louisa!”
Our shares let us remind each other that all the happiness, joy, and freedom we were reveling in were contingent on our sobriety, and thus on god. I cried more than once: the emotions of loving the beauty of this world and awareness of mortality were so strong I could hardly stand them. For instance, I met a highly enlightened spiritual guide on the trail.
What happened was that, high on a ridge in strong wind, I rounded a rock outcropping to see a huge black bear beside the trail. The size of a dark refrigerator, he was sitting on his rump in an alpine meadow of wildflowers about 30 feet distant, contentedly chewing some vegetation with the wind at his back. Thoughtfully he lifted his great head as if to say, “What a wonderful day to be a bear!” I felt no fear – only a strong sense that my choices were important. I turned to Kacie: “There’s a bear.” We walked behind the rock where we held a bellowed conversation about our hopes the bear would move. When we came back around the rock two minutes later, he had vanished.
As a self-conscious human, I’ll never be as at ease in the world as that wild creature. But letting god into my life has brought me a tiny bit closer every day. I want to know that I am meant to live, as that bear knew: that I belong to the earth, to nature. I want to know I’ll be provided all I need. I want to understand that, even when I have the power to trump others – in the bear’s case to kill effortlessly – choosing peace and simplicity is almost always the wiser course. The faith and confidence to be fully and unapologetically Louisa while harming no one – that’s the goal of my sober life.
If I could go back and tell that AA-scoffing Louisa of 1995 what I understand today, I might say this:
- “You think “God” means someone outside you, some entity confronting you. You’re wrong. The very ember inside you that wants to live, that loves life and goodness and others – your “you-ness” itself is god!! You are a drop of god transforming matter to life in every cell of your body. To know god is to delve deeper in your life-force and discover it’s the same power that interconnects all life. To trust god is to understand that all who’ve lived and died are nano-parts of a tremendous, intricate unfurling.
Along the way, Kacie got slowed down by a terrible blister, so at a spur trail to a water source she sat down on a log to change to sandals while I went off to filter. By the time I returned she was chatting with a through-hiker who’d started off in Mexico. He’d already said goodbye and was 20 feet down the trail when something moved me to call out: “Can we give you some food?” He halted in his tracks. We filled a Ziplock with all kinds of yummy stuff that thrilled him. THAT’s when we learned he, too, was an alcoholic. Kacie had even visited his homegroup thousands of miles away in Key West! Blown away by that “coincidence,” he shared with us how he’d relapsed at the last outpost of civilization and was nervous about the next. We listened. We said we’d pray for him. And we did.
I would tell 1995 Louisa:
- You think happiness comes from getting what you want, impressing people, winning stuff. But true joy comes from giving, from reaching out and helping others. It’s only selfish fear that blocks you from channeling god to others. The more you trust, the more god frees you from the mire of self-centeredness, so loneliness can be replaced by an endless flow of love – for the world.
Life is so damn good today, you guys!
How do I find the courage to step out on a wilderness trail, armed with only a stack of printed maps, and head for someplace I’ve never even seen 100 miles away? Easy. All I have to do is take one step. Then another. Same as staying sober. And whether I meet up with a bear or a fellow drunk, I’ll ask god to guide my course.
VIDEO VERSION OF OUR HIKE: https://youtu.be/5vio7oDjhsQ