Each year as my AA birthday approaches, I like to take a look back to see how far I’ve come. I’ll be turning 24 years sober this January, and I would not trade my beautiful life for anything.
Twenty-four years ago, I believed life without drinking would be horrifically boring, like eating only brussel sprouts forever. Relaxation would be gone, so I’d feel anxious and stressed out nonstop. Socializing sober would be such an ordeal, I’d probably just isolate. How could I play without ease and comfort?
I secretly longed to drink like other people — people who bantered in fashionable hangouts, hogging all the fun and glamour. I felt I had a disability, this inability to stop drinking once I got started.
In those days, I was literally incapable of imagining how it now feels to be me. Today the space in my mind and heart is soooo cozy, I feel like at any point in my day, I could pull into it like a tortoise and maybe take a nap — just me and that warm inner sunlight of my god. I almost feel tempted sometimes when I’m riding my bike to work and waiting for a traffic light to change. There’s my outer body dressed in rain gear, there’s the incredibly complicated world going on around me, and then there’s this flawlessly inviting inner sunporch to recline in, just closing my eyes and saying, “Yo, god. Thanks for everything. I can’t tell you how much I love you.”
I don’t cause I’d get run over. I also don’t want to piss off people around me, not cause I fear them but because I want to radiate kindness in all things I do. I love strangers — even the rude ones. Life is a gorgeous jigsaw puzzle we’re all piecing together with earnest effort, frustrated at times, all wishing we had the dang puzzle box illustration to help us know what goes where.
The space for my inner sunporch was originally cleared by working AA’s 12 steps. Before that it was packed with garbage — false mental and emotional beliefs I clung to like some kind of packrat. Psychotic hoarders can’t throw away a used Kleenex; I couldn’t throw away my resentments, the countless personality variations I’d hoped would make you like me, or the dusty gilt trophies — academic, professional, and romantic — I’d won over the years that I thought comprised my worth.
“Cleaning house” by working steps with a sponsor is the closest thing I know to hiring a spiritual declutter expert: “God, what should I keep? What should I throw out?” If you have an insightful sponsor and an open heart, you’ll end up with only a few key insights.
It’s true, for instance, that most people don’t base their decisions on what would be best for you. And that is okay. What?! It is?! This was earth-shattering news when my sponsor first put it to me.
It is also true that people we’ve held in resentment were doing the best they could with the level of insight they had. If they could have shown up as a good parent, partner, or companion — that is, if they’d understood that love matters most — they would have. We can’t expect them to live by wisdom they just don’t have, just as we can’t shop at the hardware store for bread.
Space opens up when you LET OTHER PEOPLE GO: “Not my circus, not my monkeys.” That whole tangle of shoulds and owes me and needs to learn gets carted off to Goodwill.
Now you can shift the focus to YOU, not as a successful manipulator or foiled victim of others, but as the only person on this planet responsible for making a beautiful thing of your life.
Not what your parents thought would be beautiful. Not what media and marketing pretend is beautiful. Beautiful to you.
Lucky you — you’ve already been assigned an amazing, ingenious collaborator, one who works for nothing, who believes in you with a love beyond anything you can imagine, and who has the power to fuel whatever you’re courageous enough to pursue: god.
Dass right! That same energy in the growing grass, the pounding waves, and the mating chipmunks. That force behind your heart going live, live, live and the busyness in your every cell to make it happen. God is living you; god is wanting you to generate more you-ness, more love, more good. Your smile is beautiful. Your sincerity is a jewel. Your kindness is a spark of the divine.
Sober, I feel my feelings instead of numbing them. I remember the last time (of many) when life pulled the rug out from under me so I fell flat on my face. Three and a half years ago, my heart was broken by an intimate betrayal — a betrayal so outrageous I felt like an idiot for having been suckered. Hurt and ashamed, I felt too stupid to ever trust my heart again. About halfway through a 70-mile hike in the mountains, somehow the full pain of it hit me; I set up my tent at noon, lay down in it, and just cried for three hours. Three more hours I alternated between semi-comatosely watching the foiled skeeters on my tent’s netting and spurts of crying. Then I wrote in my journal.
By the next morning, I’d founded a new enterprise with god. We called it “Louisa’s Little Life” because alliteration rocks. We — that is, god and I — had the basics nailed down. We’d go for nothing grandiose. The plan was to notice and love; notice and love — just that and put one foot in front of the other. I promised to listen, and god promised to lead. I promised to trust and try, and god promised to help me grow. In fact, god promised me peace and joy and a deeper knowledge of who I am — all the flowers that now brighten my inviting secret sunporch, because god and I grew them.
If any of these ideas help you, by all means steal them, but remember: thinking about the steps is not the same thing as working them! It’s an inside job, but we can’t do it alone.