Category Archives: prayer

Healing on God’s Time

God is super weird.  Have I mentioned that?  Or maybe more significant to this post, god is always with us when we actively seek, always working toward our growth and healing.  Relief from addiction is only a beginning; there’s also freedom from our past.  Just as god’s biology miraculously heals our physical wounds (if we let them alone), so god will find avenues to heal our emotional wounds if we ask sincerely and give up self-wounding behavior.  Healing happens, not on our time, but on god’s — when we least expect it.

Some of you know that, back in 2012, I reunited with my alcoholic ex-boyfriend despite the knowledge he was actively drinking as well as traveling for work.  He never treated me well.  Then in 2015, I had reason to “borrow” his old cell phone, which revealed an ongoing second relationship with an alcoholic girl  from his work: eight weeks’ romancing in Santiago, Chile, for instance.  By the end, they were coordinating her visits to his home around mine.  I mailed the phone back with a sticky note: “Please do not contact me.”  End of 5 + 3 year relationship.

In the two intervening years, I’ve asked over and over, “God, why did I lay the groundwork for this?  Why did I block out all the signs?  And how can I not do this again in my next relationship?”  Naturally, I got no answers.  I don’t know what I expected — friggin’ cloud writing or something!  Anywho, a month ago I wanted healing badly enough that I wrote these words on a 3 x 5 card and put it next to my bed: Why did I lack the self-respect to face the truth and reject a man who was incapable of loving me? 

Every night before bed, I’d read the words and pray, please show me.

Well, last week in the middle of the night, the time came.  I’d gotten up for ibuprofen for my sciatica, switching on the bathroom light.  Blinded temporarily as I headed back to bed in the dark, I remembered the trick I always used at my ex-boyfriend’s house, closing one eye to retain sight so I wouldn’t awaken and anger him by stumbling.  Here’s when something weird happened.  I remembered so clearly that tip-toeing dread of disturbing him.  Everything about his home and those moments came back to me, along with my anxious need to please him.  I re-lived it.

In the morning, I marveled at both the vividness of this memory and the insanity of my people-pleasing behavior.  I read over some stuff from the Adult Children of Alcoholics Red Book, prayed, meditated.  Then something even weirder happened.  It was as if god said to me, “Little one, you’re ready.  Let’s look at the tiny splinter behind this lingering pain of yours.”

BOOM!!  Here came a second flashback, as immediate as life:  I’m four years old.  I’ve had a bad nightmare so I’ve braved the dark safari downstairs to my parents’ room.  Dad snores loudly and that strange smell fills the air.  I know I can’t go to Mom.  If I do, she’ll be furious.  So I need to wake Dad, even though it’s really hard to, and do it silently, so Mom won’t find out.

The intensity of this flashback was overwhelming.  I relived every shade of emotion from that scene as if it were happening.  I can’t even begin, as I write this, to summon the intense feelings that flooded me.  But right alongside them were  my recovery insights into what Louisa was learning about the world back then, and the obvious connection between the two flashbacks.

Sure, different children process the same experience differently.  Another kid might’ve shrugged, “Mom sure is grouchy!”  But I — for whatever reasons — soaked up Mom’s anger and concluded the problem was me.  She was furious, not because Dad’s pores were practically gassing the room with booze, not because she was deeply (and sexually, she told me when I was 13) frustrated with a codependent dilemma she could not solve, but because I was so bad.

To some extent, I think we’re all Sybil, meaning our psyches are sectioned into different personalities.  The difference between a “normal” person and one with multiple personality disorder is merely that, in a healthy mind, these personalities are integrated.  So this concept of an “inner child,” so important to ACA literature, makes sense.  What happened for me that morning is that, with god’s nudge, my inner child came to the fore.

It was she who answered my longstanding question.

me at four

She hurt.  She ached.  And she was still so afraid of being found unlovable!  I prayed and sobbed and held her in my heart for over an hour.  Even later that day, when I thought I’d got my shit together, a little four-year-old girl popped out of a shop in front of me and, hurrying after her mother, glanced up at me – and the tears started again.

Why did I lack the self-respect to face the truth and reject a man who was incapable of loving me?  Because I’m an adult child of alcoholics. Because living in that home where no one spoke candidly and the emotional climate shifted radically from morning to night and week to week, I developed a distorted sense that I must make people love me — or I’d be abandoned.

Adult children of alcoholics enact the emotional equivalent of dung beetle’s life, toting around with them a friggin’ laundry list of dysfunctional traits.  In fact, it’s called “The Laundry List” in ACA literature.  Among them are the tendency to fear authority figures, to seek approval by people-pleasing, to be frightened by angry people, to live as victims, to try to “rescue” sick people, and more — all of which match my relationship with my ex.

dung beetle at work

How do I not roll the ACA dungball into my next relationship?  By loving that child!  She’s retreated again.  I can’t find her.  The memories, when I recall them, bring little emotion.  But I know she’s back there, and she needs my love and protection.  We’ll never bargain for love again.

The world of spirit continues to amaze me.  Though god does not prevent pain or tragedies, it does help us heal from them — if we ask.  God is no Santa.  Rather, god is the love that powers life, and the truth no denial can change.

But, wow, can it show up with bells on!

 
“You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.”
― Thomas Merton

 

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Filed under Adult Children of Alcoholics, Codependency, Faith, God, prayer, Recovery, Sobriety

Long-term Sobriety: Always Seeking

In the long haul of recovery, times come along when life’s day-to-day stressors feel overwhelming. There’s something chafing, some problem we can’t quite name. We’re still functioning okay, wearing all our hats, fulfilling our responsibilities – check!  So frankly we don’t see the need to tell anybody we feel lonely, anxious, and discontent.  Spiritual pride urges us to just wave away whatever’s up without bellyaching — we’ve survived far worse, after all.  But if we slow down enough to look inward sincerely, maybe in Step 11, we can acknowledge a growing pain around our heart, an ache almost like a sore muscle.

Here’s the root of the problem: we’ve forgotten god.  Living as societal pawns, we’ve unconsciously allowed the messages bombarding us — ads, media, faddish friends, and fluctuations of culture — to define what life’s all about.  We’ve inadvertently immersed ourselves in a world of habit and conformity, as if the externals of people, places, and things were the whole story.

Whenever we do that, our reliance on god shrinks.  And the instant god shrinks, our dis-ease takes up the slack.  Alcoholism slinks up from the unconscious, from the brain stem where it’s holed up throughout recovery, and resumes the work of making us sick.

To personify alcoholism in this way makes sense only to those who have lived with a presence in their psyche that relentlessly urges self-destruction.  It’s me, and yet it’s not me.  Its goal is to separate me from life, to poison my perceptions so that I’ll begin to resent life in the old way: as an opponent, a bully.  And what does it propose I brandish in response?

A drink.  Many drinks.  All the fuckin’-who-gives-a-shit drinks I damn well please.  Because that mental twist in my brain, which has weirdly survived 22 years of abstinence, is ever primed to plunge me back into the endless hell of resolving absolutely not to drink today — except, hey! Let’s have a drink! (and another…)

At my home group recently, several people contrasted their strong connection to recovery during early sobriety with their current sense of detachment.  Funny how early sobriety, one of the most excruciating gauntlets ever run, can be glossed over in the rose-colored glow of nostalgia! Nobody misses those early days of chemical and emotional withdrawal — the psychological equivalent of being dragged through an automated car wash naked with an all-over sunburn.  Nope.  What we so fondly recall is the free-falling dependence on god that was — in those difficult times — our sole choice.

Early sobriety is lived one day at a time.  It’s a continuous process of abandoning our own will in favor of a faith that doing so — going to meetings when we don’t want to, calling a sponsor when it feels weird, praying when we don’t know what the fuck we’re praying to — will change us for the better.

And it does!  Living by faith heals us to the point where we feel strong and useful, because people now value our opinions and trust us, so we have a new identity as a person with their shit together.

At this point, we begin to imagine our spiritual state is up to us.  Positive self-will messages surround us, from motivating Facebook memes to the ingrained self-help assumptions of our bootstrap pulling society.  Be happy: Abraham Lincoln once said — well, actually, no, he fucking didn’t!  No record exists of Lincoln ever saying folks are as happy as they make their minds up to be, but our society’s all over the idea anyway because we’d love to believe happiness is just a light switch, an app.  BING~!

In truth, happiness is an art And like all arts, it requires cultivation.  Much of that cultivation transpires in acknowledging and working through pain, discontent, and loneliness.  It entails the Honesty to admit to myself and others that I’m hurting; the Open-mindedness to believe my feelings are not facts; and, most importantly, the Willingness to implore god to help me.

I must turn toward, not away from, the pain concealed beneath my nervous discontent.  I have to wade into it.  But let me caution, there are ways to wade and ways to wallow.

If I take the hand of ego to accompany me, we’re gonna camp out in that shit and throw us a big ole pity party.  You know?  We’re gonna bitch and complain and scratch that itch, because it’s all about me and it hurts soo good to be a victim!

But if I take the hand of god, we’re looking for the path through it – and only god knows the way!  I sure as hell don’t, or I’d have taken it!  Here’s where that early sobriety piece fits in: I have to get it that I am still as helpless in combating my pain as I was at the outset of this journey:  I know only what I know, and it has brought me to this impasse.  My vision of life, not life itself, has trapped me in discontent.

I need a miracle, yes, but a miracle can be simply a new way of seeing.  What I think matters, where I’m heading, who I want to become — all these can be transformed with god’s guidance.  I have found that, when I’m most uncomfortable, it’s often because I’m morphing.

My most kick-ass morph prayers (best preceded by meditation) go something like this:

God — I hurt.  Please help me.

God — I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing.  Please guide me.

God — This being human job is effing hard, I gotta say!  Show me the point!

The change, the guidance, the point usually come down to some version of…

… yet it’s inexpressibly intimate between me and god.  This is a point I wish to smash home on my readers: We loved and trusted booze.  We were stoked to hang out with booze.  Now, to thrive despite alcoholism, we have to become every bit that intimate with god, every day, every moment.  God is love.  Let it in.

Spiritual renewal is god’s work, not ours.  To continue growing, we have to humbly admit defeat and seek god’s help, same as always.  That’s choosing joy.  That keeps us sober.

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Filed under AA, Addiction, Alcoholism, Faith, Happiness, prayer, Recovery

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.

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