Category Archives: Al-Anon

Anxiety vs. Prayer

I’m often scared.  A lot has changed for me in 21 years of sobriety, but serenity still comes and goes.  Recently, it went.  I don’t know if it’s because something pretty traumatic happened to me about a year ago or because some part of my brain just kicks in now and then to broadcast a low-level, relentless alarm: We’re in trouble.  We’ve screwed up.  Shit is NOT okay.Anxiety

Hello, anxiety!

By definition, anxiety’s empty and formless, like someone invisible. Since our brains can’t get a handle on that ambiguous “arggghhh,” we tend to clothe it in various worries.  Anxiety almost never appears in the nude.

For me, it’s most often dressed as finances: I don’t make enough money, so X will happen.  But it can sport all kinds of other great outfits: I’m missing out, getting old, doing it wrong, gonna be alone, or have cancer again.  Maybe ISIS will seize a nuke, the “biggie” earthquake will flatten Seattle, or global warming and ocean acids will collapse our ecosystem.  What if a massive asteroid collides with Earth, wiping out life on our planet?  Did I remember to turn off the stove?

This is not to say none of these issues merit concern.  That’s why they lookcyrus-money-dress so damn foxy on anxiety!  But concern about a particular issue is not the same as a distrust of life itself.  My ego is trying to save me.  It’s remembering past pains and rejections and anticipating more, trying to prep me to outsmart them so I can lessen the blow of impending disaster.

Except – there’s nothing wrong.

A major difference between addiction and sobriety lies in awareness.  When I was drinking, I assumed all my thoughts held validity, so I needed a big gun like booze to blow them out of the water, never mind what else I destroyed.  The greatest gift from the 12 Steps has been the detachment to recognize my thoughts and feelings – even intense ones – as brain activity (see Eckhart Tolle and Gabor Mate) and turn to god for help with them.

For instance, the other morning I recognized a feeling of alarm churning around in my guts like some satellite view of a hurricane, radiating dread.  It was so intense that while my son was getting ready for school, I went back upstairs and prayed.

I prayed in frantic whispers: “You guys, you guys!” (how I address god and whoever else is out there) “I’m so scared!  I can’t do it!  I just can’t do it!  It’s so hard!”  I meant the job of being human, showing up for another day, earning a living – you name it.  “I need you!  I need to know you’re there!”  I was bawling.  Tears spilled down my cheeks, and in the instant of that sensation, a big packet of meaning downloaded.  It said:

1)  You get to be a spirit within a body, energy invested in matter.  No, it’s not easy – we never said it was.  Bodies are laden with weighty emotion.  But that soul-incarnate splice is incredibly precious.  What you’re feeling right now is a gift larger than you can realize.

2)  You know we’re here!  Don’t pretend you don’t!

3)  You’ve been provided everything you need to stay close to us.  We gave you a kit.  It’s called Loving- but you have to assemble it!  Love your life, love all there is – and we will pour through you into the world and you will know joy.

That “kit” idea brought up the image of someone shivering in the cold while beside them lay a disregarded supply of kindling, fuel, and matches.  I have to COMBUST my love for life.  That’s my job, and mine alone.  So I started, right there in the chair.  My flame felt tiny at first: I loved my son, my dog, our home.  But throughout the day the feeling kindled and spread to include people who crossed my path, the sky, the trees.  Pretty soon, I could feel love and gratitude for everything in my life.  Anxiety shrank.

Sister meI began to envision a sister-me in a 3rd world country whose anxiety was far less because she had real needs to fill, basic essentials on Maslow’s Triangle.  She knew she was okay because the values of her culture were steady: she was close to family, she had a role to play, and a spiritual tradition to follow.  And she had a natural humility – no sense that she had to compete to prove her specialness.

I’ve always felt guilty for enjoying the luxuries of life in a 1st world country, but her image showed me that, really, life in the US amounts to unrelenting combat in a spiritual Colosseum.  We’re constantly goaded and attacked by marketing ploys conveying the insidious message: YOU LACK something crucial~!  Every day some highly acclaimed specialist informs us of a critical breakthrough in how to wipe our frickin’ noses.  We’re never done.  We’re never okay.

Journal 1 copyI found myself yearning for the self I become on solo long-distance hikes.  After a few days and nights alone in the mountains I can recall that I’m just a critter, that I need only to live – and not in some hip, smarty-pants way.  On the trail my defunct cell phone is unmasked as a ridiculously self-important slab of circuits; I want to chuck it in a lake.  I make resolutions never to brain-lock with my computer  – email, Facebook, videos, “we know best” articles – ever a-fucking-gain!

Then I come home, and urban culture subsumes all my resolve in its anxiety-inducing gridlock of doom and demand.

I’m realizing that I can’t uproot anxiety, but I can choose to detach and invest my attention elsewhere – into praying earnestly, loving actively, and living simply.  Today, I don’t need a drink that will tweak my brain chemistry.  I just need to remember that, powered by god, I’m far more, far greater than my poor, scared little thoughts.

scroll

Post to Facebook

8 Comments

Filed under Al-Anon, Alcoholism, Faith, prayer, Recovery, Sobriety, Spirituality

Insides to Outsides: Envy vs. Compassion

I get envious.  I hate to admit it.  Envy’s such a low-down, ego-driven emotion, but sometimes the best I can do is admit I’m feeling it and maybe ask god to help me stop.  Lately, god’s been doing just that – showing me how little I know.

Envy can happen only when we compare our insides to other people’s outsides. And what a beautiful (AA) phrase that is, too!  We get lonely, assuming others are capering about with friends.  We scroll bored and depressed through Facecrack, convinced everyone else is reveling in a kick-ass life.  Always, we imagine other people have it easier.

In my drunken 20s and 30s, even after my Near Death Experience showed me otherwise, I clung to an objectivist, mechanical view of the universe that kept things pretty straightforward. But as the years brought on a series of paranormal experiences – knowing stuff I shouldn’t know, seeing stuff I shouldn’t see – I had to expand my realm of possibility.  Quantum physics increasingly shows researchers what an elusive, pliable, witness-influenced phenomenon “reality” can be.  And the spirit world is constantly showing me the same.

Angels & Demons

For me, it’s no longer beyond the bounds of possibility that when I pray for help with a specific character defect, god will provide the grist for just that – if I’m willing to perceive it.

So, anyway – I asked god to remove my envy.  It had been plaguing me particularly since I brought home my alcoholic ex-boyfriend’s cell phone and discovered his extreme, prolonged deception around his sex addiction.  I felt like an idiot for having banked all my love in a rotten vessel.  And all around me, it seemed, were couples savoring romantic bliss.

Left outFor reasons I can’t explain, my comparisons swarmed around a particular friend.  She and I had known each other only faintly from ballet class on the day when, less than a month after my horrific break up, I sat in the Department of Motor Vehicles, skinny from insomnia/inability to eat and still subtly shaking, waiting to renew my driver’s license.  In walked gorgeous Jane with her two beautiful children, so I waved her over.  Ten minutes later I knew that Jane, just like me, was a sober alcoholic who’d had her kids late in life.  She’d been married 10 years to a wonderful non-alcoholic man.

I trusted her.  By the time I left with my license, I’d confided the entire gruesome betrayal story, exposing all my wounds down to details I’d told no one else.  For some of the lewder texts and fetishes I’d seen on my boyfriend’s phone, I even spelled out words while her wholesome preschoolers played nearby.  Jane’s stricken face showed genuine empathy.  Even so, I berated myself afterwards for sharing TMI: “Why did you do that?!  You’re such a freak!”

Days, weeks, and months later, Jane’s husband would stop by our class lovers runningto pick up their kids, the two of them exchanging a brief kiss.  Mind you, I have plenty of friends in happy relationships, but for some reason that image, or even the thought of it, would spur me to beat myself up mercilessly:  I’d fucked up my whole life by choosing the wrong man.  If only I’d chosen more wisely, held out for a normie, found a good, church-going father like that, I’d have the happy intimacy Jane enjoyed!  Instead, I had nothing.

~

We never have a clue what’s coming.  Last week as I arrived at class, Jane rushed up to me in tears. “Thank god you’re here!” she said.  “My husband’s been cheating on me for years and years!  He’s a sex addict!”

I hugged her.  My heart flared with empathy as I understood this bomb had blasted not only her heart, as in my case, but her entire hearth, home, and family beyond anything I could imagine.  Still, the knife of betrayal – that I did know.  I looked into her eyes and spoke the words that had saved my sanity: “His sickness has nothing to do with you.”  We went to a coffee shop where I sat and listened while ‘crazy’ words spilled from her mouth — words of rage and agony and violence!  I nodded with recognition at even the harshest threats of retaliation.  I remembered that white rage.  Because when everything falls apart, there are no rules – except to stay sober.

To help Jane do that, I made up my mind to offer everything I could.

Love is the ultimate risk.  There’s no protecting yourself.  You open your heart and let someone live in there.  The more you love them, the deeper into your core their roots grasp.  So if a day comes that those roots are suddenly torn out, chunks of your soul get ripped out with them.  You die a little bit.  This is true for all of us.

backside embroideryWhat I’ve learned in AA is that nothing I’ve felt, thought, or done is unique to me.  Nothing!  In meetings we reveal our knotty, crisscrossed under-stitching instead of the smooth embroidery we show the outside world.  That’s how we learn to trust each other.  God reminds me over and over: in spite of whatever differing externals ego and envy harp on, our pains and our joys are the same. Helping one another through them, whether in ways big or small, is indeed the ultimate purpose of being alive.  Nothing matters more.

Jane is a strong woman.  She’ll walk through this hell, and she’ll do it without a drink.  And I’ll walk with her as much as I can.  I remember all the little kindnesses friends offered that helped me through my darkest days – frequent texts, maybe a positive CD, a bouquet, and most of all, listening.  Today, those are things I can do for Jane.

Why did I decide on that particular day, that particular hour, to head for that particular DMV to renew my license?  Why did Jane?  Was it merely by chance we shared the hour that bonded us?   You can think what you like, but I believe god sows at our feet the seeds of all we need to heal each other.

Everything is in divine order.

 

scroll

Post to Facebook

5 Comments

Filed under AA, Al-Anon, Faith, God, Recovery, Sobriety, Spirituality

What Alcohol Did; What god Does

Pain happens, starting when we’re young. In our efforts to evade it, we suppress a whole array of feelings, turning away and denying them. But like an ignored roommate sharing the small apartment of our psyches, the pain lives on. It doesn’t grow up. It stays the age we were when the trauma happened. Countless negative beliefs systems sprout to position it – that we’re not good enough, that others will reject our true selves, so we need to strategize to please them.  We try.  Again we miss the mark and endure more pain, the rabble of negativity within us creating a ceaseless inner shitstorm.

It sucks – the shitstorm does.  Our psyches can become a hellhole.  In AA, we speak of the shitty committee.

Shitty Committee

click to enlarge

What Alcohol Did for Me
The first time I got wasted, alcohol shrank that entire tornado of pain and fear so small it could fit inside a harmless little bubble and float off somewhere in my mind’s periphery – totally irrelevant.  Hey!  I was fine, you were fine, and if someone didn’t like us, fuck ‘em. My psyche’s protective walls fell away so the world opened up as a land of plenty, beautiful and safe. Life was so damn easy!  Cocaine tripled that effect*, adding an intense interest and delight in all things.

I wanted that feeling again.  And again.  Addiction promises a shortcut, an escape from ourselves. It’s that hope, that sweet anticipation of GOOD STUFF that lures us every time to jump on it again. Something as simple as a red notification number on Facebook can trigger a spurt of anticipatory endorphins in our minds – this is gonna be good! This cheesecake, this big sale, this cocaine porn winning horse remodel facelift romance booze is gonna lift me right out of the bad stuff, set me on top, make being me so smooth!  Dopamine levels surge, causing us to “forget” all the pain in our lives.

“Thus addiction… arises in a brain system that governs the most powerful emotional dynamic in human existence: the attachment instinct.  Love.”  Gabor Maté is writing here of opiates, but the same principle applies to all drugs that impact our dopamine levels – including alcohol.

sunshine1That first perfect, blissful high is, in my opinion, reminiscent of heaven.  Literally.  Hear the story of anyone who’s had a Near Death Experience (NDE) in which they went to the Light, and they’ll tell you they were permeated by an ovewhelming Love, a brilliance so powerful it left no room for anything bad. The Light is the unfiltered energy of Love that is not incarnate, not trapped in a limiting body; it is whence we originate, what powers us here, and what we’ll return to. And it’s a memory of bliss for which we hunger desperately as we trudge through the difficulties of being human.

So what am I saying?  That consciousness from a brain artificially flooded with dopamine resembles consciousness in heaven?  Yep.  ‘Fraid so.  That’s why many addicts sacrifice their lives in pursuit of it.  Un/fortunately, our brains respond to such bombardment by curtailing both production of and receptors for dopamine, so life without using more becomes increasingly hellish – and that change persists for years.

What god Does for Me
…is not as fast or dramatic, but it works: god gives me the self-compassion to heal my own wounds.  The message of the Big Book is love.  In the rooms we’re surrounded with it as we dare to take that First Step, to admit openly, “You guys, I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing!!”  From that humility, we tap an “an inner resource” – god as we understand it – which begins to edge out ego as our guide for living.  The more love we accept from god, the more we have to offer others, and vice versa.  For the first time, we can love imperfect people from the standpoint of our own imperfection.  In other words, as working the steps gradually teaches us compassion for others, we also develop it for ourselves.  We become conduits of the Light.

“You have to feel it to heal it,” my cousin and I like to say.  In scaredgirlmeditation I go in looking for that little 9-year-old Louisa who was so blighted by shame, and I ask her to tell me where it still hurts.  I feel it, too; I grieve with her; I comfort her.  You don’t have to do anything, I tell her. You can just be you, and I’ll love you.  I can promise her this because my god has promised it to me. At the core of Al-Anon, ACA, and SLAA, named either directly or indirectly, is the healing power of self-parenting. That’s the nexus of change.  We can play both roles, loving and healing our past selves.

Today my inner little girl is pretty happy.  She got banged up rather badly in my recent break-up, but she’s convalescing well.  We share an open world infused with goodness – because I perceive god in all I encounter.  At times I do experience bliss – basking in the beauty of the mountains, laughing myself loopy with sober friends, or witnessing the miracle of my sweet son. It’s not a cheap bliss, either: it’s the real McCoy, earned through hard spiritual work – that freedom I once faked temporarily with alcohol and drugs.  And like heaven, it’s all about love.

~

Watch This:
Here’s a simple animation that depicts volumes about addiction in a brief 4.5 minutes.  Strangely, watching it makes me cry.

I’m guessing Andreas Hykade, the film’s German creator, knew addiction well. It’s not by coincidence that our protagonist is a kiwi, a flightless bird.  We all feel like that – denied the soaring others pull off.  Neither is the grating step-by-step sound effect accidental. Real life is one step at a time and arduously incremental compared to the smooth bliss of intoxication. Even the images’ barren simplicity reflects the stark focus of addiction. An animation teacher at Harvard, Hykade chose a simple line drawing over every state-of-the-art visual effect at his disposal.

NUGGETS

Kiwi addict

.

So many of us never escape that final darkness.  If you have, take a moment for gratitude.

.

scroll

* Gabor Maté, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, p.153

Post to Facebook

4 Comments

Filed under Addiction, Afterlife, Al-Anon, Alcoholism, Denial, God, Near Death Experience, Recovery, Sobriety, Spirituality

10 Principles for Living Sober

FoodinBagA few weeks ago, I asked a clerk and bagger if they’d watch the sack of groceries I’d just bought while I ran back for another item.  When I returned, my groceries were gone and they felt terrible – so terrible that the bagger walked the aisles with me trying to help me remember what I’d bought.  But without the receipt we couldn’t recall much.  I’d picked up a number of things on impulse.

“You know,” she said after we’d covered the store with little success, “this deal is on us.  Really, you can just fill a bag with–.”

“Corn flakes!” I remembered.

But I soon drew another blank, so she urged a little harder. “It ends up as a theft write off, so you can just go for it.  Anything you want is fine with us!”

True, I’m a single mom and always short of money, so almost everything I looked at, I wanted.  Fancy jams and teas – mmm.  Maple syrup.  Organic soaps.  Mega-vitamins.

I left with a half-filled bag containing only what I distinctly remembered buying.

Question:  Why?  Am I going for sainthood?  Do I get a bang out of feeling superior?  Do I think god keeps score?

Answer: None of the above.  The fact is, I’m a doomed alcoholic who’s graced with sobriety one day at a time.  I’m not mindlessly drinking myself to death right now due solely to the power and guidance of my new employer – god as I understand god.  In each situation, I have just one prime directive: Do the most good I can for all concerned. 

The store was concerned; having my stuff stolen did not mean I could steal from it.

During active alcoholism, I lived by a slightly different prime directive: Do the most good I can for Louisa.  In every situation, I considered what would most benefit me.  What would make me feel good?  What might pay off later by making me feel even better?  If there were negative consequences, what eventual rewards might outweigh them? Certain people’s esteem was worth more than others’ pain or anger.  Gradually, navigating by my own best interest, I ruined my life.

Ruby slippersSo I quit that game.  What I seek now is clarity.  How I find it is by living in alignment with my HP’s prime directive, which I will here attempt to unravel as my own 10 principles for living sober gleaned from the Big Book, my fellows, and my own stepwork. Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Be where you say you’ll be and do what you say you’ll do.  (Choose Integrity)

2. Think of others as you’d have them think of you.  (Choose compassion)

3. Be honest with yourself always, and with others short of reckless harm. (Choose reality)

4. Give as much kindness as you possibly can to every being you encounter. (Choose love) 

5. Avoid gossip – and envy, which fuels internal gossip. (Choose respect)

6. Do not flirt either as or with a committed person. (Choose honor)

7. Let others be in charge of what’s best for them. (Choose detachment)

8. Pay attention to all you do and how it squares with your values. (Choose awareness)

9. Be grateful for everything – everything – everything. (Choose humility)

10.  Know that god loves you the same way you love small, helpless creatures, only a billion times more – whether you’re in your body or out of it – so try loving yourself that way, and love god for loving the world.  (Choose faith)

~

Now that I’ve written them all out, it looks like an awful lot of rules!  But I don’t think of them distinctly – more as Miguel Ruiz’s Fourth Agreement, “Always do your best.”

My agreement with god – my way of acknowledging  sobriety as a gift I’m graced with – is simply to try my best in each situation to do the most good I can for all concerned,  which means applying the above 10 principles.  For example, #3 and #8 mean I don’t eat meat by denying the horrors of factory ‘farms,’ or even shop at Walmart; #4 means being of service.  Sometimes the rules conflict and I have to work out what “most good” means.  For instance, to follow #5 – don’t gossip – I may reply “I don’t know” when I pretty much do.  Or to fulfill #6 – don’t flirt – I may pretend to be indifferent when I’m not.  But those bits of dishonesty fall under the “short of reckless harm” proviso in #3.

Then there’s the Al-Anon piece.  Up until a few years ago, I thought #4 – giving kindness and love – was to be practiced unconditionally.  You could treat me like shit and I’d just keep showing up with love, giving you the benefit of the doubt and killin’ you with kindness.  Al-Anon’s “Don’t be a doormat” applied, I assumed, only to codependent wives and mothers slaving selflessly for those who used them.

It took blatant abuse from those closest to me to drive home the fact that I need to recognize and respond to toxicity in others. People’s behavior tells me what they’re made of.  If I overlook continuous patterns, I’m lying to both myself and them.

Detachment (#7), I’ve learned, applies to letting other people think of me as they choose: I can’t make them understand me.  I can’t make them return goodwill no matter how much I beam their way.  At a certain point, loving myself as god loves me (#10) means I have to set boundaries.  Tortoises carry shells and roses sprout thorns for good reason: we often need protection to hold our own.

tortoise-roseOf course there are plenty of times I screw up – times I choose fear, choose anger, choose self.  Sometimes I wallow in loneliness and self-pity.  Plus I once ordered a cheap tent from Walmart.  But I never give up and say “fuck doing what’s right.”  As soon as clarity returns, I own my mistakes and do my best to clean things up.  It’s actually the easier, softer way, because I get to live in a beautiful, love-bright world with like-minded people.

scroll

Post to Facebook

4 Comments

Filed under Al-Anon, Alcoholism, Faith, living sober, Recovery, Sobriety, Spirituality