I come from a long line of alcoholics, pioneers and midwives and professors who knew they didn’t want to drink as much as they did, yet were sucked down into the bottle time and time again. I’m cut from the same cloth but haven’t had a drink for twenty-two years. What’s up with that?
When I used to dry out between binges I was an insecure, socially phobic, jealous, frightened, depressed woman who would pretend to be whatever might impress you. Anticipating drinks brought me hope. Starting to drink steadied me. Rolling through drinks, I found courage and gusto and release — sweet release! — in the dopamine flooding my neurons. Some day, I’d pull off great feats!
At first, sobriety robbed me of a desperately needed escape. I’ll never forget a certain unremarkable morning in ’95. I’d been dry about six months without a spiritual program. My partner was driving us along a curving freeway ramp while some implacable panic rose higher and higher in my chest with every breath I took and every random object that struck my brittle brain — building, guard rail, pavement, cars.
I thought-screamed, I CAN’T STAND IT!!!!!
But today, I flourish. My brain is happy, and I’m living a life I love. What’s up with that?
Here’s me day before yesterday:
I’m on the right. This is a photo of a frickin’ miracle. I’ve recently turned 57. I’m standing at 9,800 feet at 5:00 a.m. beside the hissing, venting crater of a live volcano with my best friend wearing frickin’ bikini tops in temperatures close to freezing. We are… the Baker Birthday Bikini Bitches!
I got here through hard work. The work of healing a broken brain and twisted psyche is extensive, yet all compacted down into 12 simple, trite little steps listed in Chapter 5 of AA’s Big Book — steps I dismissed as worthless at my first AA meeting after reading them off the wall in less than a minute.
It takes a good sponsor, one “armed with the facts” about him/herself, to unpack those steps and open up each like one of those expandable sphere toys so that the sponsee is confronted again and again with the challenge of either seeking greater honesty or cycling through their tired lies again.
I’ve worked these steps not once, not twice, but through enough iterations that their perspective has become the lens through which I view everyday life. To express that in detail, I’ve surrendered all illusions that I can drink normally (1); I recognize that alone my thinking is warped (2); I ask god to guide it minute by minute (3); I seek out the selfish distortions in my interpretations of people, places, and things (4); I tell on myself to trusted others, increasingly with humor (5), and pray for the clarity to quit thinking/acting that way (6-7). If I’ve offended, I own it and amend it (8-10), because I want to meet my god without defenses every day (11) so I can be useful to others (12). That is how I effing live.
How does that get me up the mountain?
There is something. You can call it whatever you like. Currents of energy course through and radiate from everything that lives, and their frequency is affected by each loving or fear-based thought that every one of us generates from one moment to the next. And those currents converge in some nexus of intelligence that loves far beyond our brains’ comprehension and yet is not beyond us, because we are of it. We are a shard, a fragment, a ray of that immensity, and when we ask, it resonates within us, filling what was empty, healing what was hurt.
The kicker is that condition: when we ask.
And we can’t ask just once — like for a piece of gum or something: “Hey, god, this deal sucks, can ya help me out?” Nope. We ask in layer upon layer upon layer. We ask every frickin’ day, in everything we do: “Help me. Be with me. Move my heart and mind toward goodness and beauty.”
And if we do this long enough and sincerely enough, do you know what happens?
So many miracles, I don’t know where to begin! Living by the 12 Steps has brought me to a place where I can be my authentic self among worthy others and trust that I am loved.
Daily honesty with god has given me the mindset to become the person I longed to be — to quit smoking, stop over-eating, cease tolerating abuse; to pay the bills and provide for my kid; to really get it that, if something’s going to improve in my life, I have to try for it (a lot easier when you know god’s there to catch you).
Humility has let me accept that if I want to do something immense, like climbing a mountain or writing a memoir or opening a business, I have to start with measly, pathetic little steps… and keep at it.
And beautiful things unfold as a result. Here we are again from a different angle.
Are we in good shape? Sure. But this photo doesn’t show what’s really there: the strength of LOVE. The love between my friend and me lets us speak of anything — anything! — and frees us to laugh about much of it. I know of my friend’s horrific childhood and years of cocaine addiction. She knows the compulsions that warped my past.
There’s also the love of fellow alcoholics who taught us our mountaineering skills, much as sponsors taught us life skills. When we started up at midnight from our base camp, where our third friend stayed behind with her ankle sprained from a creek crossing, we felt small and scared. The hulking glow of Baker’s ancient glaciers loomed a mile above us in the moonlight. It was just we two roped together to arrest falls as we wended our way by headlamps among yawning, deep crevasses, sometimes cussing like sailors.
We did it. We’re sober miracles. And, for each of us who gets there, for every alcoholic who reaches that precious freedom granted by true sobriety, it all began with that first little word of AA’s First Step, the first time it really sank in: We.
A few more images (click to enlarge)…