Category Archives: God

Dad’s Message from The Other Side

Yes, this blog’s main topic is recovery from alcoholism — BUT it’s based in my own recovery, which has a lot to do with my 1982 Near Death Experience and the many paranormal aftereffects it brought on.  My spirituality is all about these ongoing encounters with the spirit world. I’m currently writing a book about them titled Die-Hard Atheist (as opposed to my addiction memoir, which is 90% alcoholism/love addiction and 10% NDE-related).

Describing paranormal experiences that contradict the mainstays of mainstream science is hard. You become vulnerable. Most people who haven’t had such experiences assume you’re either a) making stuff up for attention or b) so dumb you mistake normal variations of mind for metaphysical stuff. But here goes.

In November 2019 I communicated with my father, who died in 2008.

Since my NDE, I’ve accidentally read people’s minds on many occasions, in addition to foreknowing events and hearing from my guardian angel on the regular. In the fall of 2019, I attended a conference of the International Association of Near Death Studies (IANDS), where I described these experiences to a fellow NDEr with powers of mediumship. I’ll never forget the moment she smiled at me and said, “You’re a medium, honey! You just haven’t developed it.”

The communication with my father took place at our family summer cabin — a place he dearly loved. The cabin is rustic and constantly trying to go back to the earth, so my dad used to always keep busy with maintenance and fixes, saving money with DIY repairs. That’s exactly what I was doing — replacing the mossy, rotted shingle roof on the toolshed after a falling tree branch had crushed a corner of it.

All day Saturday I worked up there in the pouring rain, shielding with tarps whatever needed to stay dry. I kept feeling my father’s presence in a way I often do when I’m fixing stuff around there. He seems to be witnessing my work, approving. Over the course of the day, I was steeped in this feeling of his presence, which I loved and missed. Nothing paranormal about it — just a sense we all get at times.

My dad had died 13 years after I got sober in AA. For me, watching his alcoholism progress was especially painful because he did not want what I had. Instead, he continued to believe the same lie he’d told himself for decades, that though he needed to drink less, alcohol was still his best friend. After he was forced to retire at 70, his “start time” for drinking gradually crept into the morning hours — he’d pour wine into his tea cup. His liver and heart enlarged, and his brain shrank, but he dismissed these medical warnings as absurd until he succumbed to alcoholic cardiomyopathy at age 85. That’s not young, I know, but just 15 years prior, he’d  been beating his law students in games of squash.

Early Sunday morning at the cabin, I decided to try to reach his spirit. I was alone but for one friend in the second cabin who would, I knew, sleep in late. So I made up my mind: I would seek Dad. I was sitting in what used to be his place at the table, facing the row of windows that fronts the cabin and looks out at Puget Sound.

I closed my eyes to meditate, focused on the crackle of the fire and my own breathing. I had no more clue than you do how mediums work, so I just tried to call up that feeling of closeness I’d had with Dad the day before. Then I began to inwardly address him. “Dad, please say something to me. I want to hear from you. Please come to me. Please speak to me. I am ready.  I am listening.  Please.”

Nothing happened.  I kept trying.  More nothing.

This lack of response seemed to drag on for ages, but in reality it was probably about five minutes. I never lost faith that Dad could hear me. I knew there was some veil separating us, keeping me deaf to him. Then, among the many invitations I’d tried, I framed this particular question: “Is there anything you’d like to tell me?”

WHOOSH!!!

You know when a powerful gust of wind hits you full in the face? That was the experience I had, but energetically. My dad’s presence, his personality, his unique energy as a living man — not just as my father but the whole man he’d been — swept over me.  This wasn’t the guy I’d been seeking, the weary, discouraged, beaten-down father I’d known for his last fifteen years. He was young!  I didn’t see him, but he filled my awareness with the powerful charisma he’d had during the years I’d loved him most intensely, when I was about five and we read books together and I learned from him to ride a bike and tagged along through all his yard work and snuggled with him on the chaise lounge in the sunshine. This was he! But I also felt his ambition to be, to do, to love!  He was powerful.

Next, I became aware he was showing me an image: something white with squares of fine wire mesh. It was the old crib! My parents had used a really weird crib for all four of us kids; instead of bars it had rectangles of bug screen, along with a foldable top that would keep out bugs entirely — though we lived in Seattle with very few bugs. I saw it again at closer range, and then closer still. I realized I was seeing his view of approaching it; I was inside his memory and he knew that his baby — I — was in the crib, though he stopped short of where I might actually see myself. Huge amounts of love radiated from him for that infant, HUGE love, along with tremendous joy and excitement and gratitude that I had entered this world via him. It was a sacred honor to him — then and now — that I had come into my lifetime through his.

Blown away as I was by all this, it took me a few seconds to sense his actual response to my question, the thing he’d broken through the veil to tell me. It was this: “All of you was there then, all of you in that tiny baby — and when I lived, I loved THAT!”

My mind still faltered to understand his meaning, so he added, “You didn’t have to do anything.”

Now I understood. He was right: all my life, he’d pushed me to excel. If I got an A- on anything, he’d pretend to get very grave about it — a joke, but not really a joke. When I decided not to pursue a PhD, when I came out as (temporarily) gay, when I left a tenured teaching post — always I’d encountered his will, however subtle, that I be something more. What needed amendment, what he’d crossed the veil to give me, was the knowledge that always, in his heart, he had loved me without condition and with tremendous rejoicing.

I understood.  I sent him my deepest love and told him how grateful I was to be his daughter.  But then my skeptical mind butted in: What kind of craziness was this — communicating with my dead dad?!  So I asked him directly, “Dad, how do I know this is really you?”

Again, he showed me an image — something I’d never seen in my own life. In the corner of that crib sat a bright pink, brand new Teddy bear. It was downright garish. But a moment later, I recognized it as the old, one-eyed, much-loved, squashed, and faded Teddy bear I’d known in my childhood. “This was the first stuffed animal we got you,” Dad told me, “…and you named him ‘Áha.'”

With that, he was gone.

Amazement filled me. Yes, yes, the name of that Teddy bear was Áha!  I’d not thought of it in 45 or years or so, but I remembered! Áha held special meaning for Dad because one of his morning routines for many years was to make my sister’s and my beds, on which he would set up little pageants featuring our carefully posed and balanced stuffed animals with various toys or props.  Áha might have on a Halloween mask and be scaring all the other stuffed animals; he might have a little book and be reading to them; he sat with the others at a little table with toy foods. Every day, Dad poured his love for us into these little games. Though I’d much preferred other stuffed toys myself, he’d always given leading roles to Áha. Now I knew why: Áha had been the first.

Dad had was gone — of that I was sure — but the knowings he’d given me continued to resonate. I was amazed at the succinctness, the iconic concentration, the genius of each message! As a mother, I knew the feeling he was describing — that immense love for one’s baby. I can also remember toys my grown son has long since forgotten. How had Dad picked out an image only he (& Mom) could know — bright pink new Áha sitting in the corner of the crib — and connected it to a name I couldn’t have recalled for a million dollars without his prompting, but knew was right?

I’m happy to know my dad has regained all his power on the other side — all his joy and love and vibrancy. Alcoholism burdened him and masked them later in his life, but it’s an illness of the brain, that fatty labyrinth of neurons we use to navigate on Earth.  It can’t touch our spirits, which have love as their sole source.

You’d think that, having discovered I have the capability to connect with the dead, for cryin’ out loud, I would find the time to “develop” my mediumship skills. It seems a pretty huge gift, one worth cultivating, even if you’d have to sacrifice other interests to make space — right? But how many things do YOU want to do that you can’t seem to make time for? Earning a living is quite a grind! Keeping the house from getting totally gross and falling apart is a grind! And I LOVE to climb mountains, so staying in shape physically takes a lot of my time.  I’ve tried a few other times to reach Dad or my sister or AA friends lost to overdose, but always my head is just too full of clutter and unrecognized fears that block communication.

Maybe I’ll try again at the summer cabin this spring.  Until then, here’s a new video of me telling the story of my NDE and some paranormal aftereffects.

[No link?  See “JeffMara Podcast” on YouTube or remove spaces from https: //youtu.be/ RXp2jbLWuD0 ]

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Filed under Afterlife, God, NDE, Recovery

“Will I Ever LOVE Being Sober?”

Now and then a serious drinker, being dry at the moment says, “I don’t miss it at all. Feel better. Work better. Having a better time.” As ex-problem drinkers, we smile at such a sally. We know our friend … would give anything to take half a dozen drinks and get away with them. He will presently try the old game again, for he isn’t happy about his sobriety. He cannot picture life without alcohol. Some day he will be unable to imagine life either with alcohol or without it. Then he will know loneliness such as few do. He will be at the jumping-off place. He will wish for the end.

— Chapter 11, Alcoholics Anonymous

 

I hit bottom on 01/29/95.  On that day, I could no longer imagine life either with or without alcohol, and I truly wished for the end.  The August prior, I’d quit alcohol for 30 days just to show I didn’t have a problem.  I was staying in a friend’s vacant apartment because my partner had banished me from our home, having read my journal and discovered some of the sickness I’d been concealing. But oh, well.

I hung a calendar on my friend’s kitchen wall and drew a big X through each day I passed without a drink.  I felt healthier, had more energy, was cheery at work. But LOVE not drinking?  What are, you, nuts? I could hardly wait for the month to be over so I could drink again, because any life without drinking struck me as beyond dull — it would, I knew, be brash, relentless, barren, and joyless. Alcohol, I felt, was the oil in the engine of my life.

So on September 1st — cheers! — I was back at it. But by 01/29/95, much had changed.  A thick, murky self-disgust filled my consciousness; I saw no hope of ever enjoying life; and alcohol, almost inconceivably, no longer helped. There’s an explanation for what was going on at the brain level, but all I knew was that, no matter how much I drank, I felt no levity. The world had gone devoid of all color and charm; other people seemed self-sufficient judging machines. I just couldn’t deal anymore.

My idea of a fine suicide was guzzling a gallon of vodka — a scheme I knew my stomach would allow. But FIRST, because I couldn’t do it after, I dialed the number a sober friend had scrawled for me on a scrap of paper, and that night I went to my first AA meeting. I no longer gave a shit whether life was brash, relentless, barren, and joyless. All I knew was that nothing I’d tried could render it tolerable, and several people had claimed AA would.

If you’d told me then that in 25 years, sobriety would comprise the gem of my life, that I’d love my AA homegroup as my dear, motley family, and that pretty much all my friends would be in AA or NA, I’d have said, “You must be talking about somebody else.” And you would have been, because the psychic change that comes with thoroughly working the steps through several iterations over the years has transformed who I am.

What Happened?
To realize that we hold a limited perspective, I think, goes against the basic nature of human consciousness.  Our brains tell us that the world is what it is and that we’re perceiving it accurately. If there’s a problem, it must be with the world, not how we process or think about the world. 

Even at that “let’s kill ourselves ’cause it’s a good idea” rock bottom, my perspective felt both certain and precious to me. My pride was rooted in it. My attitudes and values had built up over my 34-year lifetime, crafted through countless efforts to deal with the tricks and pains of living.  I truly believed they were me.  To say they were distorted was to steal all I’d worked for.  And to say that in some outdated white-guy book and in church basements full of strangers, a better perspective could be attained — well, that was just plain shallow.

NO ONE likes to think that other people have answers we lack. If millions of sober people tell us they struggled with the god thing but it eventually became the foundation of their happiness, we feel we’re different, put up a wall, and say, “They must be simpletons.”

I’m special!

My first months without alcohol did indeed prove brash and relentless — a place where many stay stuck. Yet for me, they proved not altogether barren and joyless because I’d begun the long process of growth. Through incremental acknowledgement, over and over, I began to see that my ways kept leading me toward depression and emptiness, whereas each time I tried a little more of their way, life got better. Two years in, I worked the steps whole hog.

Rather than being brainwashed, I found I became more me — little Louisa was still in there, and she was cute and creative and love-filled, and all the things she’d been before she lost the key to life: loving from the source of god and sharing goodwill with others. Children do this without needing a reason. Yet at some point I’d changed to one who wants from others, and it nearly killed me.

I understand now that one drink will inevitably lead me to thousands, and that whenever I’m drinking, I’m cut off from god like a plant inside a box.  To drink, for me, is to wither spiritually, even if my outsides are puffed up with false revelry.

Willingness is the key.  For me, that meant relinquishing my grip on being right, knowing best, and being a smarty-pants in general, because otherwise, I stayed locked in my old perspective. And the relinquishing never ends.

Today, when I say I love my sobriety, what I’m really saying is that I love this life — its fleeting beauties, its inevitable struggles, its poignant fragility. Sobriety is the honesty that lets me behold it.

 

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Filed under God, Happiness, living sober, Recovery, Sobriety, Spirituality

Pain and god

Recent events have reminded me how, for so many years, I lived trapped in relentless self-criticism, how I suffered in hating and pitying myself, and how blindly I sought escape from that tangle of feelings. The emotional health I’ve gradually been graced with is paradise by contrast, but living here causes me to forget how lost I used to be — an amnesia that dulls my compassion.

My son came to me last night and shared that he’s in tremendous emotional pain.  I’d had no idea.  The news came as a shock. I remember when he was 6, he told me one night in his sweet, piping voice, “I feel sorry for anyone who has to be around me — because I’m such a horrible person.” I did what I wished my parents had done for me: took him seriously. I explained that he mustn’t listen to what the “mean voice” said to him, that it would always find fault with him just for existing.  I explained all the ways I cope: identify it, label it, question it. Whenever I checked in with him in the weeks and years that followed, he told me the mean voice had gone away. Last night I learned that’s not the case.  As he’s grown to a 6′ young man, so, too, has his self-loathing swelled to a powerful announcer of worthlessness.

And here I hit up against my own powerlessness to lead him out of his pain, as much as I wish I could. Because the resounding, unavoidable fact of life is that we each must find our own way.  I know I could never have healed without the loving community of recovering alcoholics to which my higher power guided me. But my son, like every person ever born, must find his own path.  Will I send him to counseling?  Of course!  But even an excellent therapist can only clear the ground and help us give names to the various forms of suffering and trauma we carry.  To step out of those to a higher plane — that’s something each must do for themself, collaborating, whether consciously or unconsciously, with god. 

No one can hand you freedom. The whole problem with drugs, alcohol, or any addiction is that they seem to — so we chase them, no matter what anyone tells us.  

In fact, my powerlessness to help my son brings me up against my powerlessness to help anyone; it makes me question the whole premise of this blog. So often I write about the view from this safe, cozy ledge of sanity I’ve settled on, forgetting what it was like to dangle above that dark chasm, clinging to whatever false fix of the day.  I wish so much I could hand over to the world all I’ve been given — but life doesn’t work that way.

Image: Mario Sixtus

I come back to my core belief: that we are all incomplete without god, that we’re each set down on this Earth with a mission to reforge that connection, and that to the extent we succeed, we expand the power of love/god.  “We all live inside of god” — that’s how a Near Death Experiencer I recently interviewed put it.  And yet we bubble ourselves off inside fear, anger, and ego, languishing in isolation. Each time we pierce the bubble by reaching through with love, we express the energy of god.  We are god’s tendrils, its nerve endings, the leaves of its vast tree. But if a leaf seals itself off from sustenance because for some reason it’s denying the tree’s existence, it withers. And withering hurts.

My father, I, and now, I learn, my son were all given minds wired for self-condemnation. Until last night I believed that, because my son doesn’t use drugs or alcohol, we’d somehow broken the chain. Yet today I consider that, although I was 6 years sober when he was born, I remained a confused woman clinging to a dysfunctional, codependent relationship. When that relationship fell apart, my son, who was then only two and a half, lay face down on the carpet and spoke the words, “My family is dead.”  I tried so hard to love him so much that the pain wouldn’t sear his little heart — but for whatever reason, I couldn’t spare him. I don’t know that I could have done anything differently.  All I could do was be honest and love him — and that’s more true than ever today.

Last night I tried to speak to him of god, of the crucial importance of seeking out whatever font of goodness lies within our cores and appealing to it for help. Doing that, I said, saved my life. How lame my words sounded!  How lame they sound here!  Because finding god is an inside job, while words are just outside symbols, and never the twain shall meet.  That’s why religion rings so hollow for most of us.

Yet the same is true here.  Words, words, words! 

My own truth is that god has led me every step of the way through my own messy, twisted, often sick-sick-sick story, though I never knew it in the moment.  That fucking cliché poem about only one set of footprints in the sandThat has been my experience. For instance, without that dysfunctional, codependent relationship, I might not be here today, because that partner was sober in AA when we met, whereas I was a dying drunk. 

Every pain I’ve walked through has been my teacher, a way for god to suggest a deeper truth if I was willing to see it.  Pain — listening to it, not fleeing it — has shown me what works and what doesn’t.  In essence, it’s been like an electric fence bordering my own unique path toward happiness. I’ve had zap myself repeatedly by straying after various  dumb shiny things before I’d become willing to abandon them and proceed along a wiser tack. Slowly, gradually, I’ve learned how to live.

The same, I pray, will be true for my son — and for you.

 

 

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Filed under God, Recovery, Self-worth, Spirituality

NDEs, God, and Recovery

“The god part” is, without question, the biggest hurdle of the AA program for countless sick and dying alcoholics and addicts.  For me it certainly was, because when I read that word “God” coupled with “He” in the 12 steps, I immediately thought of religion, of versions of God as a humanoid king or judge.  And that image made me barf. It seemed extremely inconvenient that the only thing AA could offer to save my life was something so hokey as a higher power.

At the time when I was hitting bottom and, thanks to countless contingencies I now see as guidance, finding myself in my first AA meeting, I was an atheist.  An avid, even rabid one. However, I was also trying to bracket some extremely weird shit that had been happening to me — inexplicable experiences  our culture would label delusional or make-believe.

What sort of weird shit do I mean?

During an early morning rain storm, I saw an old man on an ocean beach in Gloucester, MA, dressed in what appeared to be antique rain gear and walking from the dunes on my left toward the waves on my right, perpendicular to my solo progress.  I made up my mind to ask, as soon as I got close enough to communicate over the strong wind and thundering waves, where he’d found such authentic-looking yellow Mackintosh garb. But as I got closer I saw he was staring toward the horizon as if in some intense emotional pain. I tried to look for what he might be seeing, but the clouds hung so low over the water, there was nothing to see.  So, when he crossed directly in front of me, close enough that I saw the fine wrinkles and red capillaries on his face, I said only “How’s it going?” He did not reply, and when I had walked a ways further, I looked back, angered by his rudeness, only to see — no one.  An empty beach.  I tried to figure out where the old guy could have got to so fast. But when I went back to look for his tracks, I could find none but my own.  This happened five years after my Near-Death Experience.

A few years later, I knew my unborn nephew was destined to die, and that my brother was going to plunge into profound sea of grief at his loss.  Then exactly that happened.

Weeks before I hit bottom, I’d driven home absolutely hammered, speeding along winding woodland roads, threading the needle amid a blur of reflectors on a narrow bridge. When I reached my house and stood congratulating myself, hanging onto the door for support, a voice shot through me like a bolt of knowing: This is the last time I can help you.

A few weeks later when my dog got hit by a truck and foiled my plans to attend a “vodka-slamming party” and just not drink, that same voice addressed me again: Look!  My eyes at the moment were on the blood trickling over the asphalt from under my dog’s body, and the message was that my future would involve something similar if I didn’t cut the shit.

So that’s some weird shit, right?

Then I walked into an AA meeting (actually, the dog incident happened after my first half-assed prayer when I was 2 weeks sober) and I read “Came to believe in a Power greater than ourselves that could restore us to sanity.”  I made absolutely no connection between those words and the voice that had, so to speak, hacked my consciousness.

Why not?

If you’re an alcoholic or any type of addict in recovery, then you know firsthand the isolating effect of relying on ego to navigate life. Ego tells us we are different. It sometimes tells us we’re special and better than others, but it can also tell us we’re worse than others, and that our various struggles are unique. In fact, living in ego’s lonely “I” rather than the heart’s “we” is what generates the pain we drink to escape.

But of course I did not know that.

I classified all my paranormal experiences as something I should keep to myself just as I did my obsessive infatuations or harshly manipulative thoughts of using mildly cool people to connect with their hella cool friends. The inner workings of my mind were a source of shame, and so these woo-woos, I felt, were shameful.  They might point to a fried brain or neurosis, but certainly not to an active spirit world that could free me from addiction.

My own journey to arrive at working model of god has been long.  Weird woo-woos continued to befall me until I broke down in about 2004 and accepted the spirit world as real.  That acknowledgement eventually led me to seek out fellow NDErs in the Seattle chapter of the International Association of Near-Death Studies (IANDS).

What goes on in an NDE is that the spirit leaves the body; consciousness exits the brain.  I recently heard a fascinating interview with Dr. Bruce Greyson*,a psychologist who’s been researching NDEs for about 40 years.  Greyson theorizes that the brain acts as not only an interpreter of sensory input but also a filter against cosmic and spiritual input.  Its primary function, he reasons, is our physical survival, so anything extraneous to that gets filtered out. We see and hear only those ranges of light and sound that are useful for filling our terrestrial needs. Input from an alternate plane of reality, Greyson theorizes, would distract us from those needs and thus detract from our chances of survival, so we evolved means to exclude it. The brain’s filtering capacity can, however, be suppressed by psychedelic drugs or even damaged by NDEs so that it ceases to work effectively, thus allowing spiritual energies to enter.

Greyson’s theory both differs from and aligns with my own.  I believe that conscious beings are encapsulated in what I call a “god-phobic energetic membrane” analogous to the hydrophobic fatty membranes that encapsulate living cells. In other words, to function individually as a water-based mechanism in a water-based environment, each cell requires a membrane that repels water.  Similarly, as we are bits of god swimming in god-energy, we need a god-repelling membrane in order to function independently.  If we leave the body during an NDE, we somehow rupture the membrane, which closes faultily after our return so that other spirit energies can seep in.  A medium is basically someone with a leaky energetic membrane.

My first IANDS meetings in 2012 felt very much like my first AA meetings. Just as in AA I marveled every time a fellow alcoholic articulated experiences I’d assumed to be mine alone, so at every IANDS meeting, I heard bits of “my story” told by others and came to realize I’m just a garden variety NDEr.  Many, many NDErs had experienced a “voice” like the one I “hear” — which by that time had saved my life on multiple occasions — and referred to it simply as their guardian angel.  One NDEr, upon reviving from death, had been able for a short while to see beings behind the people helping him —  beings who were “helping them help me.” For lack of a better word, he said, he calls them angels.

Once I started to think of the voice randomly hacking my thoughts as my guardian angel rather than god itself, a lot of stuff began to make sense.  I began to see that my angel greeted me on the other side, sent me back to Earth to accomplish something, and stays with me constantly. Sometimes my mind seems to hit the right “frequency” to pick up messages my angel conveys — often a variant of  c’mon, you can be more honest! Rarely does my angel bust through apropos of no request, unless I’m in mortal danger or he has a life lesson to tell me in the moment.

I wish I could pass on to fellow alcoholics and others my certainty that the spirit world is real — but I can’t.  Each life must ask directly, I’ve been told.  Seek a god of your understanding. What weird things have happened to you?  What synchronicities, what surprisingly accurate intuitions?  Do not let the cultural construct of religion “deter you from honestly asking yourself what [spiritual terms] mean to you.” [p. 47]. You wouldn’t have read this far if you did not sense, at some level, leaks in your own filter or membrane allowing in wisps of the spirit world.

 

 

*Dr. Bruce Greyson starts at 23:10 in THIS VIDEO

Resources:  NDE video channels:

Tricia Barker’s Healed by the Light: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCyIstVbBhilo1gdUmazkReQ/videos

Peter Panagore’s Facebook NDE video page:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/NearDeathExperienceVideo/

 

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Filed under Faith, God, NDE, Near Death Experience, Recovery, Spirituality

Pride vs. Mysticism

We are not saints. The point is, that we are willing to grow along spiritual lines.

Alcoholics Anonymous

Saints are supposedly perfect people, whereas mystics are visibly imperfect people who have been convicted by moments of very real divine union.

Richard Rohr

Put even more briefly, saints embody goodness while mystics embody love.

  — Carl McColman 

Alcoholics who merely stop drinking without drastically changing their approach to life remain ill and, consciously or unconsciously, suffer.  All the emotional dysfunction that spurred them to seek relief through alcohol persists; only their fix is gone. They live “dry” rather than sober, inflicting pain on those around them as they vent pent-up frustration, some a little at a time and some in binges, just as they drank.

Pride blocks the dry alcoholic from true recovery.

A truly recovering alcoholic experiences a “psychic change.” As Carl Jung described the shift, “Ideas, emotions and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them.” Dude was right!  Ideas, emotions, and attitudes — completely switched.

The 12 steps, worked with a good sponsor, transform all three. During steps 1-6, we let go self-centered ideas about our place in the world and how it ought to work; emotions of anger, shame, and envy; attitudes of victimhood and arrogance.  In steps 7-12, a new set of conceptions begin to develop — because our vision has cleared!  Somewhere in the mix will be new ideas of what god-reliance means, new emotions of gratitude and unconditional love, and new attitudes usefulness and even — on our best days — humility!

In my own sobriety, I go through dry periods when I “forget” the way of life AA has taught me.  I start to imagine I have some power and the right to feel a bit prideful until, without realizing it, I’m navigating based on projections about how others perceive me.  My pride is effectively running the show.

Here’s the cool thing about psychic change, though: it’s not kick or phase. It comes with its own safety-catch, because shit always hits the fan. And thank goodness it does, because when a big chunk smacks me, I don’t puff up my pride to chest-bump against reality. Rather, I fold — and fast! I surrender with a prayer like this: “I don’t know what’s going on, but I trust you. I thought I knew stuff, but it looks like I was wrong. Please guide me.”

Just one prayer lets me see that my whole arsenal of I-know-best weapons was made of sand. All slips away and I remember that I have no power in this life but to love.  None.

Mysticism sounds like a remote, woo-woo concept.  It ain’t. According to Merriam Webster, all it refers to is a “direct knowledge of God, spiritual truth, or ultimate reality [that] can be attained through subjective experience (such as intuition or insight).”

Historically, mysticism has acquired a shitty name from various religions. It’s easy to see why. Direct knowledge of god cuts out the middleman — the church, temple, or mosque — so many religious authorities have safeguarded their bread and butter by denouncing it as a dark, occult practice.  “What?!  Seek God yourself, from your own heart on your own individual path? What if it’s Satan yer talking to?”

Today, widespread mysticism is, I feel, the only thing that can save humanity — not from damnation, but from irretrievably defiling our planet. Religion has posed a stumbling block for scientifically educated people in recent centuries: distaste for religious dogma translates to distaste for god.  Today, ego (god’s antithesis) rules at the societal, economic, and political levels. Results include climate change, oceans choking in plastic, and an entire countryside soaked in cancer-causing glyphosate, to name just a few.  If this isn’t an apocalypse, I don’t know what is.

God itself is about only love — simple, direct, and freeing.  NDErs from all walks of life encounter the same force on the other side: overwhelming love, a love so omnipresent that, like the brilliance of the divine Light, it erases petty differences, competition, all the conflicts and cross-purposes of ego.  God envelops us because we ARE god.  God rejoices when we are loving and is pained whenever, in even the smallest ways, we harm self or others.

Religion, by contrast, if chock full of human pride and ego.  A jealous or vengeful God? A God who plays favorites? Rewards an “elect” of saved cool cats?  Gross!  And yet, these depictions taint the idea of god for billions of people.

Joel Osteen’s megachurch

A dry alcoholic friend of mine who swears by evangelist Joel Osteen had me listen to some YouTube sermons that, for me, epitomized religious pride and ego. From a huge stage in his Houston megachurch, Osteen tells many thousands of followers, “What God has in store for you is going to amaze you! The people He’s going to bring across your path, the influence He’s going to give you!…  You are not working to get victory, you are working from victory.  When you know that you’ve already won, there’s a rest. You know the outcome…God said, he always causes you to triumph….”

Osteen’s message is clearly that if we kiss god’s ass enough, we’ll win!  We’ll get a leg up over all those other bastards and one day they’ll have to eat our dust in the wake of our victory!  Hey, it’s sure worked for Joel! My poor friend, by contrast, is constantly deciding God must hate him.

Nothing could be further from the god I know. And no venue could be further from the humble approach of mysticism: simply disregarding our thoughts (“be still”) and opening our hearts (“and know”) to god from the privacy of our own homes.  (Yes, the bible has some good lines!)  Meditation and prayer.  Step 11.

Pride builds a wall around us, inside which we languish awaiting our day of “victory.”  Seeking god opens the door to joy right here, right now — the simple freedom to love and be loved.

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PS: In TOTALLY unrelated news (except maybe that it involves humility while livin’ large & sober 😀 ), friends & I attempted 14,410′ Mount Rainier last weekend but had to turn back just 1,200 feet from the summit due to delays and high winds.  Short movie account here: https://youtu.be/g8OSqqjcoJ0

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Filed under Alcoholics Anonymous, God, Recovery, Religious pride, Sobriety, Spirituality

Struck Clean

Everyone had given up on David Morris. At 45, he lived only for cocaine, and nothing was going to change that.  His family once intervened and sent him to a 30-day treatment, all of them so happy and hopeful when he graduated! But then he used again, immediately hopeless as ever. When his brother opened his home to David and gave him a job with his business, David took him up on the offer and managed to stay clean for two months. Family and friends’ hopes were raised: surely this time David was on his feet! But then he used again was back to his old ways.

What ways? Living in his mom’s house and employed in a family business, David’s life had shrunk down to nothing but cocaine. “In those final months, I had to be high all the time. My only concern was to get cocaine, get back to my room, and just be high. I’d stay awake most of the night doing coke, sleep a couple hours, wake up and get high to go to work, and then buy more on my way home — over and over and over.”

This went on until David died — probably from a heart attack brought on by overdose.

“I’d brought home an 8-ball. Every time I got high, I got extremely paranoid.  That evening, after I’d done not quite half, I felt sure the police were hiding in my closet. I could see the walls around my second story windows begin to crack and bulge, the cracks spreading, and I knew they were going to bust in and take my drugs.

“So I did everything I had — another two grams, which was an extreme amount. I didn’t mean to die. I just didn’t want anyone else to get my drugs!  Then I felt myself fading, and I fell onto my bed.”

That should be the end of the story — but it’s not. Today David has 12 years clean and sober, lives a life filled with joy and  relationships, and knows to his core that he will never use or drink again — all thanks to his experience on the other side of death.

“My spirit, my essence, rose up out of my body, and I could see my body lying on the bed. From there I moved very fast downward into a deep, total darkness. I felt shocked, frightened, confused, until I came to a place with an enormous stone slab. And lying on that slab was my lifeless body. I went into a panic; I had no idea what was going on.  I, my essence, could move about, but that body was not going to move.

“I can tell you, if I had stayed there, this story would be very different.  But I made a choice — a choice that I did not want this, that I hadn’t lived as I wished to. And with that, I began to hear distant voices calling to me, trying to guide me. Later on, after the experience, I recognized them as the voices of loved ones who had passed. But at the time, I just knew I wanted to get closer to them.

“They guided me up from the darkness, until away in the distance, I could see the light coming toward me — or me toward it.  The light grew and grew until I was engulfed in its presence. Everything became perfect. The light, as so many have said, is beyond description, beyond words — that totality of bliss.

“In the presence of this cleansing of the light, everything happened in telepathy. And the biggest gift conveyed to me by that presence was the message to just love. That’s it!  The most divine intervention that could possibly have happened – for me and to me. That gift and so many others came to me in the light’s presence.

“But as beautiful and blissful as it was there, I knew I wanted to come back – and I very strongly asked to do so. I didn’t want to leave this life the way I was leaving it. And then I knew the light was going to allow me to come back.

“Meanwhile on this plane, my aunt, who lived downstairs with my mother, heard whatever commotion my body made upstairs – a seizure, I don’t know – and called 911. My first memory is of being put in an ambulance outside the house. I remember a moment or two in the ambulance, then waking up in the hospital.

“The E.R. doctors told my aunt they had no medical explanation for why I’d survived. My heart rate, blood pressure, other complications when I arrived should have killed me. But later that day, I was sent home. My sister, with whom I’d always been close, was visiting that weekend. She told me, ‘I’m done. I’ll pray for you.  Goodbye.’ And she left.

“I’ve never again had the urge to get high. For so many years, I’d struggled, unable to stay clean for even a day. When I first came back, I wasn’t sure what had happened, but I knew — I knew I wasn’t a drug addict anymore.

“I didn’t know anything about Near Death Experiences.  I was so eager to understand what had happened to me, I read tons of books, one after another.” The first of these was Lessons from the Light by Kenneth Ring. “These NDErs’ stories were so similar to mine, and the after-effects of ways I was seeing things – all in that book! So that started to bring some clarity.  Roughly two and a half months after my NDE, on a Sunday afternoon, I decided to give my sister call, not to ask forgiveness, but to let her know, however long it took for her to heal was okay. We cried together, and our healing process began. Our bond today is as strong as ever.

“Really, though, for the first five years, it was just me and God. Nothing could touch me, I was flying. I did go to Narcotics Anonymous, not to stay clean myself, because I was done, but to help other addicts. I made a lot of friends I still have today. Since then, I’ve ventured into other areas of spirituality. In my meditations, I’ve extended my own personal adventures with God, in my own ways, just sitting in my chair.”

David eventually Googled Near Death Experiences and found the International Association of Near Death Studies (IANDS), which is how I met him.  The two of us will sit on a panel about NDEs and addiction at the next IANDS conference in Philadelphia.  Our stories differ markedly in that I, at age 22 when I had my NDE, so strongly embraced atheism and was so far from hitting bottom that I chose to deny I’d crossed over. I needed a series of 14 paranormal events in conjunction with AA spirituality to finally open my heart fully to the reality of god, my guardian angel, and the other side.

Key to most NDErs is the distinction between the anthropomorphic God suggested by various religions and the pure, good, overwhelming energy of the light. The light is love, intelligence, and power beyond our capacity to understand — though it knows and loves us perfectly because we are extensions of it — light sparks embodied in matter.  The key to living that the light passed to David — just love — now orients his every thought and has transformed his life into something beautiful.

“Naturally, today I have no fear of death. All the physical and material things most people place so much importance on, finances, wealth – they don’t matter much to me. I really have no needs. I have no wants. I have nothing to achieve. I’ve become as light as a feather!”

David walks this talk every day.  As soon as he learned through a CC on an email to conference officials that I wanted to go to the four-day Philadelphia conference but couldn’t afford it, he called me. Knowing nothing about me, he offered space in the Air B&B he’d reserved for his family and said he’d be happy to drive me to and from the airport. So I’ve coughed up the airfare, and, thanks to David’s kindness, I’ll attend at the end of August.  I also interviewed him for the Seattle IANDS newsletter.

“I’m completely free with myself,” says David. “I’ll share anything other people want to know and I don’t really care what they think of me – good or bad. I love – really LOVE – being me! I share from my heart, and they can do with it what they want. I’ve become so much about the moment – I’m not about the past or future. The most profound learning of my NDE that has stayed strongest with me, the direction that will never leave my heart, is to just love.”

“One of the most beautiful suggestions I can offer someone who is struggling is to sit still. I don’t mean sit still for half an hour a day. I mean to sit still in life. I spent six months after [a romantic] relationship ended just going to work and suffering, because a big piece of my soul was missing – but sitting still in that suffering. It was a beautiful experience, and it gradually eased.” David feels it’s the flight from pain, not pain itself, that drives many to seek relief through alcohol and drugs.

“Those little 12-step clichés: Surrender – a single word that is so profound, so simple, but not easy. Let Go and Let God — if you could see the simplicity of those five words, you’d see how grand life is, and you’d be free to sit and watch life… caring for life.”

Perhaps the greatest takeaway from David’s story is that the god of our understanding will relieve not only our addictions but our pain, sense of helplessness or victimhood, and whatever else ails us if  we seek it earnestly. For those of us who’ve lived locked up in a prison of ego and fear for many years, learning how to just love as a way of consciousness may come slowly.  But if we practice it consciously in meditation and throughout our days, it will come.

I’m going to venture out on a limb here to give you the closest description I can offer of my own experience of living in just love.  When you were a child, maybe 3 to 5, you still carried a basic faith that the world was fundamentally good — which it is.  When I am living in just love, I see again through those eyes. You might think of the children’s book Goodnight Moon; I live in that sort of world, one where I extend a loving relationship even toward trees and inanimate objects.  I experience every person as if they, too, were a tender 3 to 5-year-old underneath their slick, thorny defenses, and I dare to love them for it.

Just love.  The light will flow through you, healing all that ails.

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.nderf.org/index.htm – Near Death Research Foundation

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1642931594 – Tricia Barker’s new NDE book

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCyIstVbBhilo1gdUmazkReQ – Tricia Barker’s Youtube interviews w NDErs

Consciousness Continues – Documentary featuring me (Louisa) sharing a bit of my NDE – rent on Amazon for $1.99

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Filed under Addiction, Afterlife, God, NDE, Near Death Experience, Recovery

Sober Joy~!

Going to work the other day, I got what I call a god-burst.  I was riding my bike, coasting down my street on a sunny spring morning. The cherry trees were in bloom, big puffy dusters of sweet color, and the breeze was scattering their blossoms like confetti.  For some reason, I could see god’s love in the way that every distinct petal danced through the air. Each was looping, twirling this way and that in the sunlight, and I got to glide through them.

I felt, Thank you, thank you, thank you! And I sensed a joy answering from god — god’s joy that I was joyful. I felt with god in my love of  living, in my delight at the happening of each instant.

As I rode further, along the treesy waterside bike trail, I looked into the faces of each pedestrian I passed. What did I see?  Scowls.  Sour petulance. Shock that someone had dared smile at them and even greet them with “Good morning!”  But every now and then someone would meet my eyes – their face transforming like a flower blooming. “Hey!” they might say back.

They had love to offer.

Have you ever worked hard to create a celebration for a kid you love? Made them a fancy cake? Set up a treasure hunt? Given a gift you made yourself or at least picked out with care and wrapped up with bows and ribbons? How would you feel if the child responded with scowls? With petulance? What if they unfolded the first clue of their treasure hunt and wailed, “What? I have to go look for something big and red? And then all I get is another stupid clue? I want my TREASURE!!!  NOW!!”

Or what if they opened your gift and wailed, “I want a bigger one!”

That’s pretty much how god must feel, I think.

Some people are possessed by greed.  I recently talked with a young man who “lived
outside” — as he described his homelessness — about his pity for billionaires like Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk: “It’s never enough. They need more, more, always more — it eats away at them.  You’ve gotta wonder what happened to them in childhood that they have this addiction that drives their whole life. They’re no different from the homeless friends I see wrecking their progress over and over with drug addiction or self-sabotage — just the other extreme of the spectrum.”

This young man, by contrast, seemed more content than most “homed people,” as he called us. In his small, tidy pack he carried a mini-laptop. He explained that he’d found part-time work at a local stadium that paid for his food and clothes — just not enough for rent. He was clean; he knew where to get showers and do laundry. As we talked, he was enjoying a latte at a table neighboring mine. But the main things I noticed about him were his easy laugh and his sincere compassion for those suffering from what he termed “more addiction.”

Greed stalks us all, to an extent.

Have you ever watched the documentary Happy? Guess who’s one of the happiest people interviewed in that film?  A rickshaw driver in Calcutta whose home is mostly tarps. Sure, he doesn’t like it when passengers spit on him as he hauls them through the busy streets, but that rarely happens. Part of his joy undoubtedly stems from the fact that he’s never perused an issue of Vogue or Esquire. He’s filled with gratitude to god that he can provide for his healthy children.

Filled with gratitude.

The sour-faced people I passed on my bike that day appeared starving for gratitude. I can’t know what’s going on in their lives, but I can theorize.

Their god is either absent or an asshole. They don’t even see the countless gifts showered on them in this brief carnival of life. They’re taking for granted all the cake and presents, griping at the effort of the treasure hunt steps. To be happy requires, among other things, that we stop comparing, that we actively set aside the ridiculous and relentless marketing culture that pervades our every societal experience. From TV & movies to magazines & billboards and by practically everything we view online, we are told that we lack.  

Many alcoholics, I think, drink to escape this constant more addiction, with its flip side, Not Enoughness.  Though it’s been 24 years since my last drink, I remember what used to happen when I’d enter a bar.  The more I drank, the more okay everything got. My barstool became a perfectly okay place to be. Wherever I was in life — whatever I’d done or not done — became okay.  I could stop all the striving, comparing, and self-critiquing.  I could just be.

How ironic is it that my higher power now gives me all I once tried to suck from alcohol — but as spiritual food instead of poison?  When I thank god for every funky little detail of my endlessly convoluted circumstances right now, I am living as an extension, an expression of god — and in that sense I am perfect. God has slowly, slowly weaned me from a mindset of constant neediness and taught me to go in whole hog for the delight of little things.

The straight-up joy I experienced riding my bike the other day was ten times anything I ever got from booze or coke or some whoopee party. It germinates from understanding that I GET to be here on earth. Taking shit for granted is both seed and symptom of the atheist’s blindness to god. If you truly thought about the miracle of your body, of your cat’s body, of our cycling oceans or friggin’ photosynthesis, you’d be rejoicing all day long.

God is good.  Good is god.

And if god could say just one thing to you right now, it would be this: Choose joy.

.

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Filed under Faith, God, Happiness, living sober, Recovery, Spirituality

Agnostic? Think: Good Orderly Direction

My addiction memoir tells how I went from a bright, healthy teen (okay, with a teeny hypersexual disorder) to a lonely, depressed, obsessive, codependent, underachieving, and increasingly reckless drunk who disdained Alcoholics Anonymous as a doom just short of suicide. Why so reluctant?  The God thing.  The book’s second half describes my ungraceful but dogged ascent from that pit of misery toward the healthy, friend-filled sober life I get to live today.

Much as I’ve love for everyone to read the book, I can give you a major spoiler here: I didn’t do it.

The words that opened the door to faith in something that might help me were shared by a woman in large pastel stretch pants sitting against the wall at my third or so AA meeting: “If you can’t deal with the word ‘God,’ that’s fine!  Just think ‘Good Orderly Direction.'”

I perked up. Certainly I could not deal with the word, “God.” That religion-based concept seemed to me a preposterous character created by humans to explain what rudimentary science couldn’t. Such a deity was not going to advise me on whether I should stuff the tip jar at work if a customer paid cash or continue stalking the guy I was obsessed with.

But Good Orderly Direction — that was something to be sensed in my inmost heart. That I could look for, because I remembered going against it when I was busy screwing up my life. For me, Step 3 was essentially a resolution to start listening for it and going with it. Who knew the source of G.O.D. would turn out to be my higher power? And who knew that following its guidance would migrate me from the self-generated heartless world that had defeated me toward the sweet experience that’s now my normal?

Goodness as True North
As an active alcoholic, the only compass I ever consulted was ego. I was a popularity materialist — never enough! — as are many in our “individualistic” culture (thanks to marketing).  I longed to be seen as cool (see also Coolness) and liked by designated cool people. I was convinced that the more I could make that happen, the better I’d feel about myself. And even though this model had failed to bring me anything but discontent for 34 years, I kept thinking the problem lay in my performance, not the model itself.

Good Orderly Direction, however, does not hinge on what others think. It’s a compass deep within, with Goodness as its true north.  The first half is sensing it — what is the good and right thing to do here?  The second is acting on it without hesitation.

I remember a conversation I had a few years back with my relapsed alcoholic boyfriend. As a rationale for getting drunk, he asked me, “Don’tcha sometimes just wanna say ‘fuck it’?” As it turned out, he had indeed been saying “fuck it” for some while, carrying on a second relationship behind my back. Sober, he’d been a man with integrity and compassion.

By contrast, my father drank alcoholically while retaining integrity and compassion — toward everyone but himself. Alcoholism wheedled him into deferring day after day the ultimate reckoning: “Why do I drink so much every night?” He resisted looking inward to all the clamors he muted with booze, saying, in his own academic way, “fuck it.”

But Good Orderly Direction is more than the antithesis of fuck it; it’s the antithesis of ego. It is a form of caring, of knowing that your choices matter and seeking those that will feel right in the long run. You may have trouble at first distinguishing Goodness from ego’s “best for me”; you may also mistake it for what other people tell you to do, whether they’re in your family or your AA group. But gradually, as you become more attuned to seeking, the voice gets louder, so you gain a clearer sense of whether you’re tuned into it.

As the choices people make based on the north star of Good Orderly Direction begin to alter the course of their lives, as even cynical or bottomed-out addicts begin to heal and build self-esteem by doing esteemable acts, a lot of us begin to realize — “Hey, this isn’t coming from me!”

God Ain’t Religion
As people who follow this blog know, I got to cheat. The spirit world operates all around us all the time, but we’re as deaf to it as the barriers we maintain against love are thick. For me, having had a Near Death Experience followed by paranormal after-effects even as I fought to maintain my atheism, the presence that had spoken to me on the other side began interceding in my thoughts as soon as I started seeking Good, until I had no choice but to fold and acknowledge, not religion’s God, but my god.

Religion is a bit like agriculture, while the spirit world is nature itself. Religion quantifies something omnipresent yet inexplicable — the power of the life force — by reducing it to the equivalent of rows and crops and acreage.  To be atheist because we reject religion is like saying because there is no Great Farmer, nothing grows — all the while discounting the fact that we and all living things around us are exquisite expression of nature, of the life force.

No one can give you god-awareness. You have to develop your own, based on your own experiences both inner and external. The most direct route to get there is by seeking Good Orderly Direction. Eventually, seeking will become part of you, as it has for me: No one at Fred Meyer saw me miss self-checking a bag of avocados yesterday, but when I discovered them in my reusable shopping bag, I handed them to the attendant on my way out simply because I had not paid for them — end of story. I know not only that Karma is a real phenomenon, but that guilt is a real feeling, even when we pretend not to feel it. Both carry a price tag that far exceeds four avocados.

Ask for guidance.  Look deeper.  Listen harder.  Within you, something magnificent will sprout.

 

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Filed under Alcoholics Anonymous, Faith, God, living sober, Near Death Experience, Recovery, Spirituality, Step 3

How I Learned to Love People

IntrovertIn my twenties, I claimed to be more than an introvert; I was someone who just plain didn’t like people. That worked great for me as a melancholy drunk, because I needed lotsa booze to talk to people — right?  Animals I always loved, since those connections called for neither conversation nor competition.

When I first quit drinking, nothing else about me changed.  I still felt uncomfortable in human company, assigned people coolness levels, and silently criticized everyone, convinced I was being criticized in the same way.  Almost like a counterbalance to this alienation was my over-attraction to certain people I elevated above everyone else, usually with an obsessive crush.

crush

Sober, I understood the dynamic behind my infatuations: I could get high on dopamine and oxytocin, which provided a temporary escape from the work of being me, and my thoughts kept me immersed in a dreamy sense of hope, which also distracted from the work of being me.  Oh, how amazing it felt to be with person Z!

At the same time, I did understand that infatuation was both an illusion and total waste of life.  But that doesn’t mean I could quit!  For us addictive types, self-knowledge can’t even begin to compete with whatever sweet fix gets us off, whether we ingest the chemicals or manufacture them in our own brains.

What?  Stop gambling, over-shopping, using porn, etc. just because it’s a destructive, empty high?  I don’t think so, says our addict; we can feel sooo good for just a little bit!

AA’s Step 6 tells us to become ready to have character defects removed.  I used to pray, Please cure me of this crush thing!  I am so done with it, god, but I can’t stop!

God heard me.  God answered.  I tell this story in my addiction memoir, along with scores of others.

Moonlight magic

In 2004, the man I was obsessed with agreed to get dinner with me after an AA meeting, but only at the restaurant announced for post-meeting fellowship. On our walk to this place, he reached out to a series of people from the meeting. Through my eyes, the first person was way too cool — but said he might join us.  The next, something like Goldilocks’ porridge, was not cool enough, but likewise agreed.  The third was pretty much at our level.

At first, as we took seats alone in a large booth, I zoomed in on charming and seducing my crush. But then, who should interrupt us but a sketchy kid on crutches and his snaggle-toothed girlfriend. The kid explained that his foot was deeply infected with some rare bacteria — probably not flesh eating disease, he added, dipping into our chips — from stepping on broken bottle during a fist fight with his dad.  While I cursed their arrival, my crush listened and empathized.

Next to arrive were the invited people — cool, loser, and mid-range. I knew these folks and soon found myself in conversation with them. More people from the meeting arrived and sat in the booth adjoining ours, twisting around to joke with us.  Food and sodas showed up. Laughter, noise. I relaxed.

Half an hour later, I can’t even remember who was talking to me. All I know is I was laughing so hard I made no sound, rocking in the elation of feeling totally safe with family, when I realized my crush had moved to the other booth. Here’s the kicker: I didn’t care!  The love I was starving for, I saw then, was not his, but god’s love, through people around me with whom I was normally too shy to connect.

Not a night owl, I left earlier than many, walking the dark, empty streets back to my car.  A glow of love filled me with for everyone — even the not-flesh-eating diseased guy and his girlfriend. I could feel that god was pleased, that god was telling me this was how to live: love should be a fountain showering on all, not a nozzle spray pummeling just one.

But I also knew myself: I would forget.  I would revert.

So I pray-whispered as I walked, please guide me toward your way of life.  An idea came (from god), and I pounced on it:  We made a pact. I swore to god that every time I found myself criticizing someone in a meeting, I’d make a beeline for that person as soon as the Serenity Prayer circle broke.  I’d shake their hand, and I’d learn three things about them.  In return, I asked god to cure me of shyness and obsession.  God said “deal.”

What an adventure this became! In retrospect, it was comical. I’d be in a big meeting hearing a share and think: “Man, this dude so imagined himself giving this share! What a phony!” Then I’d think, “Shit!”  Okay, I’d reluctantly note where he went in the closing circle. I’d drag myself over, my shyness screaming, “No!” I’d stick out my hand: “Hi, I’m Louisa. That’s a such a cool tattoo on your arm. What does it say?” After a bit of  an awkward start, I’d learn three things.  To young, pretty women who were stealing all the goddamn sexy, I might say, “I like your earrings. Where’d you get them?”

Anything.  God didn’t care what I said.  God cared that I broke through my shyness.  God saw my desire to grow and loved me for it.

And here came the miracle: At least half of these people became friends — confidants who later helped me get through cancer and a horrible break-up. I grew to love people FOR their flaws, not despite them. Everything that sparks my criticism, I do or have done in some form.  My ego craves attention, hopes to impress, fears being exposed as a fraud, and uses dumb, cheap tricks to chase whatever.  When I accept myself, I can love others as god loves us — just for trying.

In about two years, my pact with god became obsolete — or more aptly, fulfilled.  I’d shed 90% of my criticizing, ranking, and elevating.  I lost shyness.  I no longer need the fix of a drink or a crush. The work of being me today is to breathe the same love for humanity that I once felt only for animals. It’s work, but I can do it!

Even as the greedy among us destroy our planet, I have hope that the goodness in our hearts will some day connect us, so that we move collectively toward a better world.

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Filed under Faith, God, prayer, Recovery, Spirituality

Declutter Your Spiritual House

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.

Just before I got sober

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.”

24 (sober) years later

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.

Journal page from that day

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.

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