Active alcoholics, it seems to me, often crave action, adventure, glamour, and a lot of craziness, usually as ways of getting attention. I know I chased all these things – and loved to mentally flip off anyone who told me to settle down. I see this tendency still in newcomers and chronic relapsers. Hell, yeah, mothahfuckah, I’m a bad ass! I’m wild! Carpe F-in’ Diem is my middle name!
In my addiction memoir, I talk about the god-inspired (and abrupt dog-death inspired) aha moment when I realized the Pied Piper of the ultimate party, a phantom I’d been chasing all my life, was actually a demon who would lead me to my death. Another face of that demon is dissatisfaction. It’s discounting all that you have as not good enough while elevating the lure of something shiny – a party, a romance, a feat, some moment in the spotlight – as the prize that will fulfill you.
I’ve written before about the crisis that washed over me in 2012 with the one-two punch of my siblings venting emailed rage about my memoir (I was a narcissistic, AA-brainwashed liar dishonoring our family) and the news that I had breast cancer, both in the same month. I’ve also written a bit on the way the intensity of that pain/fear acted on me like a forge, recasting me with a changed outlook. Pain, the Big Book tells us, is the touchstone of growth, and all of us have to pass through our own to gain wisdom. But the view from this side is something I can try to describe – something that may be of use.
Back in the day, I was constantly trying to fill the gaping hole in my chest with SOMETHING. Alcohol, drugs, relationships, excitement, drama-analysis, food. I knew my life shouldn’t be what it was. I could read our culture; I could perceive what was rated glamorous or worthy; I understood the goal. Media of all kinds broadcast examples of who and what was interesting and enviable. I internalized all that and judged myself inadequate.
And yet at the same time, I drank to rebel against all that shit. Drinking made whatever the hell was going on now just fine. Sitting home alone or at a dive bar, I was a rugged individual who didn’t give a rat’s ass what anybody thought of me. One of the best magical spells worked by alcohol was its jacking up my ego ipso facto. I didn’t have to do anything but swallow to render my life a poignant drama worthy of attention.
So… I’ll be 20 years sober in two weeks, on the 29th. I’ve walked a long road since those days, calling on god and gradually strengthening that relationship, so that while I used to “check in” with god through prayer, now god and me hang out 24/7 (although I think now more in terms of my guardian angel). In any case, with spirit filling that hole, what life is about becomes a whole lot different.
To love life itself is an active enterprise. Love flows only one way – from your heart outward. But the marvelous thing is that it bounces back as reflection, whether from people, physical things, or even memories. The more you love, the more love fills your life.
At some point, I realized how deeply in love I am with ordinary, boring, day-to-day life. When I take the time to consciously love it, even the most mundane details reflect back their beauty and infinite preciousness. Why infinite? Because life is a chunk of a few decades cast against eternity. Though I believe our spirits live on beyond our bodies, I also think that being in our bodies – spirit made flesh – is an amazing trip, a hybrid 3-D extravaganza of multi-tiered awareness. Consciousness itself is a wild ride.
My cancer was caught early. For a lot of people, like my sister and friends, it wasn’t. I get to be here. What tremendous fun it is to make a pot of tea! Will you look at this cozy I crocheted for the tea pot? It’s yarn of bright colors, blue and yellow, and stained under the spout. A little slice of living; the way things work. The trees out my window are earnestly being trees – those same things we drew as children, the green ball on the brown stick. God, I love them! My rug is worn threadbare from all the life that has tramped through this house – my son and I, friends and sponsees. I have to go to work. I don’t like work. But I love the whole experience – getting to be a person who says, “Shit! I have to go to work now…” A person who drives just like everyone else. Who hopes to be liked and to understand things and yet worries. I buy apples and bring them home. All the tiny chips of this life mosaic grab my attention one by one – but only for this little chunk of years.
I guess words are failing me as I try to describe this shift from taking everything for granted to seeing it, living it, loving it. Mindfulness is the noticing of everything. Gratitude recognizes the good things we have. But to really savor life is to go beyond both: it’s to notice each detail and call it good, delight in the sheer fun of it. It’s to adore the whole kit and kaboodle.
I still like wild fun and adventure. It was an adrenaline rush to zipline through a rainforest canopy on my vacation, to be the first in our group to jump from a 200 foot platform and shoot down the mountainside. I love wilderness hiking, treks that some people would call extreme, either alone or with my boyfriend. (He rode his bicycle alone 1800 miles from the Yukon Territory to his home on an island north of Seattle – that’s a bit much for me.) I love dancing advanced ballet (and well), sweating alongside teens who could be my granddaughters. In all these things, the stream of stimuli comes fast and thick. Sometimes overload still thrills me.
But it’s not what I live for anymore. Today, I live to be alive.