I recently had a chance to tell none other than Bill Gates, who went to my high school and was at my 40th reunion, that I had 23 years sober. “Impressive!” he remarked. He’d just told me that a mutual friend of ours, a venture capitalist and hilarious jokester on the school bus back in the day, had died — overdosed on fentanyl-laced heroin after many years clean.
Yet when I told him I still go to weekly AA meetings, Gates looked baffled: “Really?!” he said, drawing back sharply. Even as I explained that exactly what had happened to our friend Keith could happen to me at any time with booze, he still looked incredulous.
Here’s one of the deadliest afflictions known to humans, killing 6% of the global population every year (WHO), and this man, who, through the Gates Foundation, has done more to battle diseases worldwide than anyone else on the planet, had no inkling of alcoholism’s lifelong grip.
Sometimes I think ours is the most misunderstood illness in the world, and AA the most misunderstood cure.
Getting Too Well?
Of course, there’s a part of every sober alcoholic that agrees with Gates. A part of me agrees daily, claiming, “Louisa, clearly you’ve got this thing beat! Look at how accomplished and sensible your life is now! Waking up in somebody else’s bed with Cheetos orange around your mouth and a hangover from hell–? That is just sooo not gonna happen anymore!”
The result of this voice is that, as I type this, I’ve not been to an AA meeting for nigh on three weeks. A week ago, I was supposed to chair one and forgot. And I’ve not posted a new blog here for almost two months.
Why? Partly for good reasons. When I got sober in 1995, I couldn’t imagine what I was going to DO now that I couldn’t drink alone while scrawling boy-obsessive drivel in my journal, or drink in bars while bending indifferent ears, playing darts, pool, or pinball. Take all that away, and what else was there to life?
As sobriety gradually revealed, within me were talents and loves neglected like withered, leafless plants. Before alcohol took over, I’d danced, hiked, and written. AA reopened the flow of love my heart was dying for, slowly at first via people in meetings, and then, as I worked the steps, through my own dilating portal to god. The elixir of life — godlove — watered my spirit so those dried up, nearly dead talents sprouted fresh leaves and blossomed again.
Sobriety, as a result, has been anything but dull. Today, these loves fill up much of my life.
About two weeks ago, I was dancing onstage in a ballet recital — at a week shy of age 58. Godlove let me bond with my troupe, mainly teenage girls and twenty-something women. There was a moment in the dressing room when all nine of us gathered around my phone, which was playing the one disjointed moment of our dance. “We lunge there,” I said, “on the low note.” I’ll never forget the solemn way their eyes met mine, not because I’m old and bossy, but because we needed unity and they trusted my cue.
We aced it.
The weekend before, three sober women friends and had I attempted Mount Adams — a 12K’ volcano four hours’ drive from home. Thunderstorms forced us to camp at the trailhead rather than base camp and shoot for the summit the next day, when high winds and whiteout above 9K’ turned us back. Still, we had a blast getting rained on, climbing, and taking turns “losing enthusiasm” as we tried to find shelter from the icy winds. Here are three of us at 9K’ pulling our “bikini bitches” stunt of pretending it’s not frickin’ FREEZING just long enough for photos.
The day after my recital, I climbed Mailbox Peak, a 4K’ gain, with my friend Sally and brand new boyfriend, Tommie. (That’s right, after years of tortuous dating, I finally met the right guy. ❤ More later.)
Then, just a few days ago, I summited a backcountry wilderness peak, Mount Daniel, with just Sally. The two of us camped at a frozen lake and navigated this route in partial white-out:
But it’s not all been ballet, boyfriend, and beauteous mountains! Life happened, too. My house’s sewer system went kaput, upsetting my — er — delicate financial balance. To safeguard that balance, I had, in previous weeks, overtaxed my gift for writing, agreeing to edit super-human quantities of text amid an already full work schedule and to conduct and write up an NDE interview for the Seattle IANDS Newsletter.
Long story short: I’ve been so busy savoring/exploiting the flowers of sobriety that I’ve neglected to water their roots.
I should know better. Around me, dear friends I never dreamed would die or get hooked on alprazolam (Xanax) are doing just that. One, a former drug and alcohol counselor, is a ghost of his former self, with hollowed-out eyes and tales of demons. The other, who landed his dream life — wife, kids, big house in the burbs — became addicted to anti-anxiety meds prescribed for his stress over huge mortgage and daycare payments.
How did these friends change from the happy, joyous, and free sober people I knew fifteen years ago in AA meetings? Both got “too well” for AA — the same tempting path I’ve wandered down these past weeks.
Ironically, the same drive that energizes me to pursue so many activities and take on added responsibilities can kill me if not balanced with humility before my god.
As an addict, I am permanently geared to chase feel-good. As a co-dependent, I scent feel-good when I say “yes” to people and things, so I say it more and more: YES — I’ll be in the recital! Climb mountains! Edit your humongous text! So what if I’m losing my mind?!
The trouble is, without the humility that god-awareness brings, I cannot be in feel-good; I can only chase it. No matter how much I get, I want more. And there’s another problem with feel-good. The flip side of genuine satisfaction is the trophy-hunting of ego — addiction to the story of adventures, to LIKES on Facebook or Instagram, to praise for fabulous texts and newsletters.
Hey, whatever primes the dopamine pump — right? I’ll take any hit I can get! So let’s think: who could it be spurring this constant chase, urging me to take on more and more? It’s my old buddy, addiction — disguised, like a villain behind a fake mustache, as enthusiasm and responsibility. It’s refrain? “We’re so close to feeling good!”
Ultimately, going to AA meetings is like prayer: both require and reinforce humility — that bane of our ego-oriented culture — by freely admitting, “I lack.” Only when I embrace the fact that I’m a tiny shard of god who can thrive solely via connection do I remember my true mission on earth: to love. Overcommitting, I leave no time to dwell in that truth. I’m too busy chasing brain candy.
Anytime I imagine my addiction to be a thing of the past, I jeopardize everything precious to me, everything alcoholism once took away and wants to take again. I may not wake up with Cheetos-mouth, but I will wake up guided by the very same ego that led me to it.
Bill Gates has no need to acknowledge the deep power of alcoholism, but I do. Tomorrow I chair a women’s AA meeting. The next night, I’ll be at my homegroup after meeting with a sponsee. These commitments, unlike others, allow me to relinquish my illusions of control and seek serenity though god. It’s what I do. It’s what I need. It’s who I am.
PS: Short video of our Mount Daniel climb, 6/30 – 7/1/18 (sobriety ain’t boring!):
Car ride to Mount Adams with AA girlfriends 6/16/18 😀 (feeling close while stone cold sober):