I haven’t had a clue what I’m doing lately. Last night I dreamed I had to perform in a play – you know this one – despite recalling none of my lines, my script turning into a camping catalog, and part of the stage collapsing to reveal a cistern of filthy water – almost like sewage treatment – just underneath. A fiasco, a shit show! That’s how everything feels right now.
Why? Loss – in my case, of a long term relationship doomed by alcoholism. But loss can spur growth. Each time something we’ve been clinging to is wrenched away, our hands are freed to reach for god. In a different dream I had a few weeks before discovering my partner’s duplicity, back when I’d first quit mocking and started reading Codependent No More, I met face to face with the deprivation I’d been choosing in order to keep my “love” intact. Here’s my journal description:
4/17/15: I dreamed last night of a woman sealed in a basement of an old, dilapidated house. We raised the trap door and she had cobwebs and dust all over her bowed head. When she lifted her face to the light, it was ugly but not evil. She had a red clown mouth drawn over her real one – leering, but supposed to be a smile. I felt afraid of her until I saw that her eyes were young and confused. We talked to her, me and these friends of mine who had unearthed her. We offered to let her come with us, and her face lit up with hope. Yes! She’d love that! She wanted to come out of her cave and live.
My dream friends, I think, represent the loving AA fellowship I’ve allowed to buoy most parts of my life. But I’ve left behind my inmost part, a soul that craves true intimacy but has always settled for less. This is due to no flaw in AA, but to fear holding me back from full trust in god. God can’t fix what I won’t offer up. Ironically, it’s always my efforts to protect myself that harm me most.
Whether we’re walking our first days sober or well along in our journey, we have to keep extending our trust day by day, ever beyond our comfort zone. In addiction we trusted the power of booze to fix whatever ailed us – so what if it was temporary? We also trusted our stories: we were victims, uniquely flawed, deeply complex and misunderstood. Both these props collapsed.
AA suggested I chuck this entire way of positioning myself in the world. What I was handed instead were spiritual principles, a compass for living with its rose oriented toward love, humility, usefulness, and gratitude. Dammit! To invest my trust in these spiritual principles meant embracing a god of my understanding – the loving energy that animates the world. But how to do that?
In early sobriety a friend of mine – Aaron G. – taught me his letting go meditation. He would lie down with closed eyes and start by giving god control of his room, everything in it – whether it was messy or clean, etc. Whatever, god, it’s yours. Then he’d shift the spotlight to various areas of his life. Work. Housemates. Sex. Money. God, I’m done trying to control what’s going on with these things. They’re yours. Next he’d move to his feelings. Sadness. Anxiety. Greed. Vanity. God please steer me, because I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing. And last of all, he came to his life itself. If I’m supposed to keep living, let me live. If I’m supposed to die, I’m good with that, too. You made me. You run me. I’m yours.
Sound overly dramatic, that last part? It’s not. What do you know of the trillions of intricately orchestrated processes of mitosis, osmosis, and diffusion keeping you alive right now? How is it that you can eat a crappy breakfast scone and turn it into thought and laughter and you running across the street or picking up a toddler? How do you do this stuff?
“Oh, that’s not god!” reason shrugs. “It’s just nature. Shit happens. The earth has life and it evolved into complex organisms and, you know, it’s science!”
I dare your skeptic to really contemplate this description of photosynthesis*, the molecular process by which plants transform SUNLIGHT into SUGAR, providing the bedrock upon which all of earth’s menagerie is built. See how far you get before you sigh and say: “Dude! That’s a shitload of science. I’m just glad it happens!”
Admit it. We know next to nothing. Each of us is a drooling infant riding a 787 across the Pacific Ocean, grasping nothing of how the plane works or was made, aware only that our basic needs are met. We exist by trust alone, despite whatever stories we propagate about how we engineer our lives. Bullshit. Perhaps for a brief moment, we can acknowledge what bullshit it is. We can see that god lives us. But we soon direct our attention elsewhere, sighing, “Well, that’s enough of that!”
Our spiritual practice today can be to continually give up a little more pretense of control, as in Aaron’s meditation, but all day every day. We can allow in a little more the fact that god and life are one.
Loss is damn painful, for you as for me. Pain urges us to retreat into depression, nursing our wounds in solitude while mindlessly munching glazed donut holes. And addiction is right there, cheering for that plan as the grieving we deserve – because, while that track may be fine for normies, for an alcoholic prone to depression, like me, the next stop is relapse.
That’s why I’m doing the opposite. Here’s what my grieving looks like: I’m climbing too many mountains, going on too many dates, showing up to feed the homeless, speaking at meetings, starting new projects, and buying two baby chicks in the bleak darkness of November. Pain gets dragged along for the ride, like it or not. I entreat god continually for the courage to pursue whatever feels like growth – even if it’s scary – and then I simply blunder ahead, sometimes clumsily, maybe knocking over a vase or two along the way.
“Screwing up is part of being human – part of how we steer the course of who we do and don’t want to be.” Who wrote that? Yours truly at the close of “Being Right versus Just Being.” (Sometimes I teach myself!) The point its, we don’t have to do this thing perfectly.
A woman emerging from the darkness of her cave doesn’t know which way to head. Trust is walking anyway. It’s striving to be our best, to love god and others, and to live at peace with knowing nothing.
Beneath all this tumult, god is transforming me into a wiser, stronger woman. In that I trust.