Tag Archives: addiction

The Work of Happy Sobriety

For the first three and a half decades of my life, I tried super hard to find happiness outside myself. If I could just get with the right people, afford the right stuff, and be seen in the right places, with just the right amount of a buzz or high, I’d clinch it! But all I did was fuck up my life — and others’.

I was smart as measured by standardized tests, landing jobs, or publishing stories, and good-looking enough for a mostly-successful seduction record, but dumb as a stump in terms of emotional wisdom — so I just wanted to die. Life hurt so badly! (See my lengthy addiction memoir for details galore.)

Attaining happiness is never an easy quest; every day we have to bushwhack through pretty much the same undergrowth of FOMO, discontent, victimhood, and boredom as well as self-inflicted criticism, shame, and pity to arrive beneath the open sky of awareness. During a pandemic, such as is in full swing as I write this, the way gets even thicker and swampier — doesn’t it?  Surely, we think, we’re missing out on some better life we ought to be living!

Growth
Now, I may be getting on in years, but I have recently met, both in person and virtually, some folks my age who are still every bit as lost as teenagers. For decades they’ve repeated over and over the same cycles of addiction — one with booze, the other with codependent romance. They have yet to step off the merry-go-round of “I know best,” so they keep finding themselves back at square one.

In early addiction, all of us believe our heads. Our thinking tells us it’s a fine idea to _____ (shop, starve, drink, “fall in love,” etc.), and we trust that thinking. Little do we suspect that our brains have been hijacked; we’re caught in a loop of stimuli and the reward centers they trigger.

Later, once we become aware of our addictions, we try to temper them with resolve and decisiveness — say, by swearing off drugs or getting married or moving. We’ve noticed the pattern and, darn it, we’re not gonna do that shit anymore!  I see this so tragically among pregnant addicts at a rehab center near my home. These women will hug their distended bellies and say, “I’ve lost three kids to the foster care system, but I’m not losing this one! I am SO DONE with drugs and alcohol! And I’m gonna get all my babies back, and we’re gonna be a family…”

By this point, they’re usually too overwhelmed with emotion to go on. No one could be more sincere.  No one could want and yearn and hope more fervently for what they’re saying to be true. And yet I know, sitting in that circle, that chances are they will use again, and they will lose this baby, along with all the others because addiction always wins — short of a miracle.

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Half that miracle is god — a power greater than ourselves that empowers us to accomplish what no human will can bring about. The other half is the inward miracle of letting go — ceasing to believe what our brains tell us, trusting instead what others have to teach us, and learning to listen for direction from our deepest hearts, from the goodness in our core that’s connected to all life.

The rest of recovery — including that daily schlepp toward happiness — comes down to 1) expanding the range of this miracle,  2) mapping our thought paths, 3) revering our consciousness/spirit, and 4) odd as it may seem, making friends with all those misguided inner voices.

  1. Once we let go of the precept that our own thinking is superior, we can try what’s worked for others despite doubts it can work for us. We work the 12 steps in depth with a sponsor.  When others tell us they initially choked on the word “God,” didn’t want to do service work, and dreaded sponsoring people, but now these things are the mainstays of their happiness, we try doing what they did to see if we’ll get what they got.

2) We begin to realize we are not our thoughts — we entertain them.  Or maybe it’s better to say they entertain us! That is, they enter stage-left, tap-dance a while before our awareness with urgent banners and songs and imperatives, and eventually exit stage right.  We learn to watch them without getting snagged, knowing they’re impermanent reactions to stimuli more often than realistic assessments of what is.  Practicing meditation hones this skill.

3) We begin to realize that we’re not our brains or bodies — we inhabit them. We’re all spirits that, for whatever reason, have chosen to incarnate and play a role in the unfolding of the physical world. Ultimately, our mission is to help each other by taking actions rooted in love and compassion. As one Near Death Experiencer was told, what matters is not what you do each day but what wake you leave behind, whether each person you meet is left a tiny bit happier by the encounter — because every other being is a part of you.

4) The same love and compassion we extend outward, we learn to offer ourselves, generously steeped in humor. Humor is the taproot of true humility, which is indispensable to a happy life. Did I wake up this morning anxious, dismayed by the state of the world, worried about the same dumb shit I always worry about? Yup!  That’s me — failing to be grateful that I’m not trapped in some war-torn, starvation-ravaged country or suffering some vast pain or grief. Yup, it’s just me and my buddies insecurity, envy, fear, and vanity, hangin’ out and doin’ what we do!  Come on, gang — let’s toddle into our cozy kitchen and get some luscious tea!

I often don’t see how I deserved to be guided to my first AA meeting, but I’m the one who said, “I can’t do life. I give up. Teach me.” And the rest has unfolded like a wildflower in the mountains.

Where I was yesterday…

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Filed under Happiness, happy, joyous, & free, living sober, Recovery, Spirituality

On Living Sober, Sane, and Single

Fifteen years have passed since I learned my partner of 9 years, with whom I shared a home, two dogs, and a toddler, was seeing another woman.  I was devastated.

Four years have passed since I learned my mountain climbing boyfriend of 8 years, who had resumed drinking, was seeing a girl 5 years older than his daughter who loved to drink and play 50 Shades games.  I was deeply shaken.

Four weeks have passed since the guy I met on Tinder, whom I’d dated 14 months, ended our relationship via text message. I am so happy!

I’m happy not just because I have oodles more free time, or am relieved of compromising to make the relationship work and pretending the pheromones weren’t a mismatch. I’m happy because I don’t want another relationship!

Those of you who’ve read my mammoth addiction memoir, for which this blog is named, know I chased a twofold addiction for nearly 20 years before finding AA: alcohol gave me relaxation and well-being; infatuation gave me excitement and, when reciprocated, self-worth. Really, I should say in both cases facsimiles of those things, because well-being bought through impaired brain function is not really well-being, and self-worth leased through someone’s approval is not really self-worth.

But anyway.  You guys know the deal with that.

What I am realizing today is that, prior to dating this fellow, I STILL HAD a relationship addiction — which is finally, finally GONE.  God has lifted it.  I’m excited about my life exactly as it is.

What does relationship addiction look like?  Like all addictions, at its deepest foundation lies fear.  Fear of missing out on the playful bantering and sizzling sex married folks enjoy for decades (right?).  Fear of not being enough. Of getting old alone. Of being discounted somehow as a failure because you never “found somebody.”

When I first came to AA at 34, I felt incapable of living sober, while the beautiful 28-year-old blonde infatuated with me had over 3 years clean, so I signed up, in a way, for both. That relationship was my sobriety safe space. I needed it. When her infatuation wore off, she did what I’d done in three previous relationships — looked for a new “magic” person who could inspire dopamine spikes. When she left, all my sense of security went with her.

I dated AA men for two years, becoming infatuated twice with non-reciprocating targets, before I met the mountain climber in OSAT, my sober climbing group. Together we summited volcanoes, hiked nearly 1,000 miles in remote wilderness, and bicycled another 1,000 along the Pacific Coastal Highway. He was gorgeous to look at, left-brain brilliant, and right-brain dumb as a stump — meaning he could complete a Saturday New York Times crossword puzzle in pen but not interpret emotions in others or himself beyond glad, sad, or mad.

I made that my job — interpreting for both of us. Sadly, attending AA soon became my job for both of us as well, and in 2010, he began to drink in secret. Traveling for work, he discovered, first, the sexual allure of hotel bar rooms and, later, the young protégé at work who worshipped him.

I discounted clues right and left because I needed him. He represented not security, but adventure. My glossed-over idea of him differed from the actual man, just as our glossed-over version of our alcoholic drinking differed from our actual consumption.  In both cases, we protect what we think we need by casting it in a delusional light. My imagined boyfriend possessed a simple but ironclad distinction of right vs.wrong to complement his glad, sad, or mad insights.

But the real one did not — because active alcoholics cannot distinguish the true from the false. Out the window, for most, goes accountability. As a relationship addict, I wasn’t exactly distinguishing true from false, either, so his deceit lasted two years before I surreptitiously “borrowed” his old iPhone, which I somehow miraculously unlocked. There I discovered his other life.

This time, though, I understood nothing in me had caused his behavior.  I soon discovered I could summit volcanoes with sober friends and hike hundreds of wilderness miles alone when I wasn’t dancing ballet, enjoying friendships, interviewing fellow NDErs, throwing parties, blogging, or loving my home and son. Yet I still longed for a cohort. Emptiness tugged at me relentlessly in every waking moment. Prayer didn’t help. Neither did the therapy. Like a Robin without a Batman, I yearned to be half a dynamic duo.

I tried all the apps — Tinder, Bumble, Fit Singles — and went on 64 dates over two years. Each time I was hopeful via text, then disappointed in person. Finally, I found a prospect — an ultra-marathoner who claimed to love all the same things I do. His rush toward ‘the three words’ smacked of infatuation, but he assured me he’d evolved beyond that. His lack of friends, mood swings, and erratic decisions signaled alcoholic dryness (he’d quit on his own). Gradually, as his infatuation faded, so did all those things he’d claimed to love. When he bonked on a steep hike, he cried petulantly, “This is the dumbest hike I’ve ever been on!” and soon announced he’d hike no more. Meticulous body shaving and moisturizing regimes made him unwilling to camp. He even disliked walks or bike rides not on his Excel training schedule. Soon we had nothing in common — hence his text.

But like the previous two, this guy gave me a lasting gift — or rather, god did. I’ve finally realized I need no Batman. I’m driving the goddamn Batmobile myself — and it’s AMAZING what I can do with it!! From wheelies to road trips — who needs a partner?  At least, who needs one STAT?  I do not.  I’ll never swipe again.

What if — and this is rocket science, I know — I turn this matter over to the care of my higher power, as part of my will and my life?  What if I trust that, if I pursue the life I love, a mainstay of which is service to others, god will take care of the rest?  Being me is enough. No words can convey how grateful I am to truly feel this way at last.  Sobriety just keeps getting better.

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Filed under Codependency, Recovery, Relationship addiction, Self-worth

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

Top 10 Lies Alcoholism Tells the Alcoholic

Dying was particularly difficult for my dad. He’d lived a wonderful outward life — excelling in his career, mentoring others, and serving his family — yet he was tortured by one huge regret: He’d never been deep-down honest with himself.  For over 50 years, he’d believed his own lies around how much he drank — although, strictly speaking, they weren’t his lies.  They were the lies alcoholism tells every alcoholic.

I’m an Near Death Experiencer, and as an aftereffect, I occasionally read minds without trying. For two days and one night while my father lay dying, I “heard” his thoughts and dreamed his struggles. He couldn’t speak, but, sensing he was on his deathbed, he saw the truth: “Deep down I knew! Every day I thought, tomorrow I’ll drink less, but every tomorrow I drank away again. Life was so vivid and precious, but I muffled mine under a shroud of alcohol.  And now it’s over!”

Before we list alcoholism’s lies, let’s consider a definition of the disease itself* according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine and Journal of American Medicine:

Alcoholism is a primary, chronic disease [that]… is often progressive and fatal. It is characterized by continuous or periodic impaired control over drinking, preoccupation with the drug alcohol, use of alcohol despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking, most notably denial.

Note that this definition says nothing about joblessness or homelessness, the form of alcohol used (Cabernet, Colt 45, everclear), or being a white male.  Alcoholics are everywhere.  Note also that the definition calls out the most important of many distortions in thinking: denial.

Why? Because denial is the superpower that lets alcoholism kick our asses!  If it lacked this power, no one would need a spiritual solution to overcome it.  We’d just say, “Shit!  I’ve got alcoholism!” and go seek treatment as for any other illness.  But addiction in many ways resembles a parasite concealing itself from the host; it makes us say: “I’m not an alcoholic; I just [fill in the blank].”

I said it.  You’ve said it.  We all say it.

Liver dies from removing this poison.

Below are some of alcoholism’s favorite variations on “not an alcoholic!”  BTW, I thought about making nice in my responses, but I’m writing this to save some lives, not to make friends.

1.  I drink a lot because I’m daring

Bullshit.  We drink because we’re scared.  Life in its full intensity overwhelms the shit out of us, so we impair our brains to dilute it. That’s daring?  Swallowing is bold?  The truth is that deep down we have no clue how to live or what the hell we’re doing, but we pretend to have it all down until we just can’t stand the façade any more.  Getting fucked up is way less scary than looking inward.

2.  Drinking helps me live life to the fullest

Good times.

Totally!  No way do we do the same 3 predictable things every frickin’ time we’re bombed: Talk sloppier, emote with a toddler’s self-insight, and decide stupid shit is a great idea. This is crap any dipshit can do.  Living life to the fullest takes love — enough love to dedicate ourselves to something bigger than self.

3.  I’m more fun when I drink

Those with good humor and a zest for life are fun clear-headed.  Those who lack both imagine they’re fun drunk. Fun for others?  Ask ’em.  The sad thing is, if we’ve got to grease our brains with dopamine to lower our inhibitions, chances are we’re battling an inner voice that constantly announces we suck. Until we find the courage to get vulnerable, to risk exposing our fears and weaknesses to trusted others, we’ll never know what it’s like to feel loved for our true nature.

4.  I choose to drink — it’s not a compulsion

Of course we do!  Just, uh… kind of always and, um… soon after deciding NOT to.  But, shit, we just changed our minds — right?  Wank on, my friend.  As Gabor Maté has explained, addiction bypasses the decision-making part of the brain (frontal lobe) by exploiting the “pre-approved idea” feature that governs reflexes.  As sure as we’ll put up our hands to deflect a ball, we’ll “decide” a drink is — hey, y’know what? — a great idea!  The brain is alcoholism’s bitch!

5.  Drinking doesn’t fuck up my brain/body

Bad news!  Alcohol is a neurotoxin, poison to every system in the body, and causes cancer of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, colon, and pooper.  Anything it touches, baby, directly or through our blood!  Please see How Alcoholism Fucks Up Your Brain and How Alcohol Fucks Up Your Body for specifics.

6.  Most people drink a few times a week

Sorry, Boo.  Turns out 30% of Americans have zero drinks ever. The next 30% have fewer than one per week. The next 30% cap off “healthy drinking” at 1-15 per week. We drunks relate more to that 10% of Americans who guzzle 73.85 drinks per week — in other words, to the 1 in 10 of us addicted to alcohol who will likely die sooner because of it.

7.  My drinking harms no one

If we’re connected to anyone in any way, our drinking hurts them.  Driving, we risk others’ lives and the happiness of all their loved ones; hungover at work, we’re less effective and/or risk our coworkers’ safety; to anyone who loves us, we’re emotionally dulled; and to our maker, we say, “This amazing brain and body that let me be conscious in the physical world –?  I’m gonna shit all over ’em — again! ”

8.  I’m not an alcoholic because I haven’t lost ____

Just keep drinking and watch.  And meanwhile, does it not matter that you’re losing your self respect, the respect of others, and the chance to be fully awake in your own life?  (Parallels “I’m not as bad as [name].”)

9.  People who don’t drink are uptight

Sober summit goofs

I don’t know about lifelong teetotalers, but I do know recovering alcoholic/addicts who really work their program are the most genuine, honest, funny, beautiful human beings I’ve ever had the privilege to call my posse.  We’ve all been to hell and back. We came to AA because we realized we wanted to love life, not trash it; the 12 steps — a design for living — taught us how.

10.  Anyway, in my deepest heart of hearts, I carry no lurking suspicion that I am totally full of shit

Great!  I’m sure nobody else does, either!  I mean, nobody has noticed the pattern of you  poisoning yourself regularly, whether sullenly in front of the TV or “partying” as if you were 17.  And if they have, fuck them, right?  It’s your life to waste wasted.

A sadness beyond human aid.

Addiction kills us by getting us to live from our ego rather than our spirit, or higher self.  Ego is about getting what we think we want as soon as possible, even if it means violating every life lesson that pain has ever tried to teach us and trampling dogshit on the hearts of our loved ones.

For years I believed I’d rather die than go to AA.  Turns out I was already dying. Working the 12 steps from Alcoholics Anonymous with an inspiring sponsor taught me how to live — authentically and with a joy that endures.  Today, I know my  dad’s spirit is proud of me.  His love helped me go where he couldn’t.

And if I could do it, you can, too.

* “Alcohol Use Disorder” is the term appearing in the DSM-V.

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Filed under Addiction, Alcoholism, Denial, Drinking, Recovery, Sobriety

How Alcohol Fucks Up Your Body

a companion piece to How Alcoholism Fucks Up Your Brain

.

For all those years that I guzzled alcoholically, and even before that when I was a kid, I wholeheartedly believed that alcohol was good for you.  My dad, a tense professor by day and, before alcoholism overshadowed his life, happy winemaker by evening, taught us kids that booze made life sweet: “It’s good for what ails ya!”

After all, what did old-time doctors dose out to patients?  Whiskey!  What did St. Bernards carry in those little casks to people stranded in the snow?  Brandy!  So, liquor must be almost medicine, right?

Actually… uh, no.  The opposite is true.  That shit is poison — literally.

In many parts of the world, alcohol abuse now ranks as the #1 cause of death among people aged 15 to 49.*  Did you just absorb that, my friend? Would you please check out my reference below – World Health Org, 2014.  Sure, there’s a lot of bullshit circulating the internet, but doesn’t WHO sound kind of credible?  Here’s one of many graphs expanding on that fact:

So much for the ole “Drinking’s no problem in Europe” line! (WHO 2014)  Click to enlarge.         EUR = Europe; EMR = Middle East; SEAR = Southeast Asia; WPR = Western Pacific

In recent news, we’ve all heard of studies — most of them funded by the alcohol industry — claiming alcohol is the bee’s knees for some aspect of health.  Rarely is it the actual alcohol — the ethanol in these drinks — behind these supposed benefits.  In red wine, it’s the grape skins’ resveratrol, in beer it’s B vitamins from grains, etc.  True, ethanol dilates blood vessels, which may seem to alleviate symptoms of cold and flu, but even researchers behind such studies admit ethanol “would not have an effect on the virus itself.”**

All of these pro-booze studies stress the condition of small doses, usually about 1-6 drinks per week — a mere thimbleful for heavy drinkers.  In such small quantities, alcohol can’t poison you because your liver nabs it by the short ones and boots it the hell outta your bloodstream.  But suck up enough booze and the stuff overwhelms your liver, wreaking havoc throughout your entire body.

Ethanol is one of the few nutrients that is profoundly toxic, …caus[ing] both whole-body and tissue-specific changes in protein metabolism. Chronic ethanol misuse increases nitrogen excretion with concomitant loss of lean tissue mass. …A variety of diseases and tissue abnormalities… are entirely due to ethanol-induced changes in…  tissue proteins; for example, cirrhosis, cardiomyopathy, and osteoporosis. Ethanol induces changes in protein metabolism in probably all organ or tissue systems.†

Let’s look at them there tissue systems one by one, why don’t we?

Alcohol  fucks up your liver.  In stages.
1.  Fatty liver (steatosis) – doctors call this “enlarged”
2.  Inflammation of liver tissue (hepatitis)
3.  Scar tissue formation (fibrosis)
4.  Fucked to hell liver architecture (cirrhosis)
Gross clickable pictures  

During these disease stages, some of the blood entering the liver through the portal vein cannot penetrate [it] and is diverted directly into the general circulation… not detoxified, [so] blood levels of toxic substances increase.  …Thus, liver dysfunction can… contribute to brain damage.Ω

You know how, when a rainstorm overwhelms a sewage system, raw sewage spills straight into a bay or river or whatever?  Same thing here: that shit-filled blood goes everywhere in your body and brain.

All a hangover means is, your body and brain have been poisoned.  Hey, no big!  But feeling like a sack of dogshit all day doesn’t mean you’ve actually damaged your body, does it?

Alcohol Fucks Up Your Muscles and Bones
It does.  Both skeletal and cardiac muscles are screwed up by alcohol — even from a single binge.

…[T]he most reliable data examining the effects of alcohol on protein metabolism is derived from animal studies, where… the dosing regimen can be strictly controlled. These studies indicate that, both chronically and acutely [i.e. binge], alcohol causes reductions in skeletal muscle protein synthesis, as well as of skin, bone, and the small intestine.

Most full-blown alcoholics treat their bodies like shit in general – doing other drugs, smoking, eating crap – so to isolate alcohol, scientists have to dose it to poor little animals and record how their little muscles, bones, and guts all go to hell.

Speaking of your small intestine, can you guess what alcohol does to it?  Yup – fucks it up royally.  First, alcohol decreases the good bacteria (flora) in the gut and increases harmful bacteria.  Worse, the walls of the intestines, which normally allow only nutrients pass through, get all permeable and schlop those bad bacteria straight into your bloodstream.

Alcohol can induce intestinal inflammation through a cascade of mechanisms that subsequently lead to inflammation and organ dysfunction throughout the body, in particular in the liver and brain. One mechanism is by increasing bacterial loads and the permeability of the intestinal wall (see figure) allowing bacteria to leak through, leading to local and systemic effects.

Paneth cells normally police the gut for bacteria, but alcohol suppresses them, “which can allow additional intestinal bacteria overgrowth and allow their byproducts (i.e., endotoxins) entrance through the intestinal barrier. The bacteria, via endotoxins, trigger an inflammatory response by the intestine’s immune system, causing a release of proinflammatory cytokines” that travel to the liver and fuck it up, too.

How alcohol screws up your pancreas & lungs could drag on for several paragraphs, but I’ll just note that about 45% of pancreatitis cases result from alcohol abuse, which increases chances of pancreatic cancer. (If you think I’m making this shit up, just read the damn article.¤)  As for lungs, in the late 1700s, the first US Surgeon General warned that alcohol use was linked to pneumonia.  The dude was right.  Studies today confirm that “alcohol use disorder (AUD) render[s] people more susceptible to a wide variety of lung infections, including bacterial pneumonias and tuberculosis, and increased morbidity and mortality.”§

Endocrine and Cardiovascular Systems
I guess by this point it won’t exactly shock your pants off to learn that drinking buggers your entire endocrine/hormonal system. Interactions among your hypothalamus, pituitary, pineal, thymus, thyroid, and adrenal glands, and even your gonads, area all screwed up.

Alcohol intoxication induces hormonal disturbances that can disrupt the body’s ability to maintain homeostasis and… result in… cardiovascular diseases, reproductive deficits, immune dysfunction, certain cancers, bone disease, and psychological and behavioral disorders.∋ 

alcoholic cardiomyapathy

😦 alcoholic cardiomyopathy

Heartwise, some studies claim a drink or two a day wards off certain types of heart disease.  “But any positive aspects of drinking must be weighed against serious physiological effects, including mitochondrial dysfunction and changes in circulation, inflammatory response, oxidative stress, and programmed cell death, as well as anatomical damage to the CV system, especially the heart itself.”

Are we gonna make a stink about a little cell death and heart damage?  I guess so.  Sad tuba says, wah-wah!

Wouldn’t it be fun to talk about CANCER a bit?  Let’s do!  In women, even one drink a day elevates risk of breast cancer.º  In men, one per day does the same for prostate cancer. And for everybody who swallows the stuff, drinking has been shown to increase cancer of the mouth, throat, larynx, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, colon, and rectum.Δ

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Pretty much everything that stuff touches, from lips and pooper, takes a giant step or two toward cancer.  Why?  Because “alcohol in your body is converted into a toxic chemical, acetaldehyde, [which] can damage your DNA and stop cells from repairing that damage, which can lead to cancer.”ß

The bottom line is, booze rips through the body like a Warner Brothers Tasmanian Devil.  Sure, some people survive it; my aunt drank scotch every night and lived to 93 — though it made her more puffy than happy. We can all point to such nightcap-taker exceptions, but their livers’ extended kickass performance doesn’t change what alcohol is (poison) and does (destroys healthy cells).

Cultures worldwide frame alcohol, not as a toxic drug, but as a harmless aid to relaxation and conviviality.  Look again at the left side of that WHO graph above — all those people dying in their teens, 20s, and 30s.  For each death, how many survivors’ lives are crippled?  The world’s leading cause of death, illness, injury, and family tragedy is something people choose to consume — until it turns and consumes them.

That, dear readers, is fucked up.

REFERENCES

*http://www.who.int/substance_abuse/publications/global_alcohol_report/msb_gsr_2014_1.pdf?ua=1  See page 57.  

**https://web.archive.org/web/20130211101748/http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/health/2012/12/08/cold-remedy-cocktails-do-they-work/
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0899900799000969

Ω https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh27-3/240-246.htm

https://www.arcr.niaaa.nih.gov/arcr382/article01.htm

¤ https://www.arcr.niaaa.nih.gov/arcr382/article10.htm

§ https://www.arcr.niaaa.nih.gov/arcr382/article04.htm

∋ https://www.arcr.niaaa.nih.gov/arcr382/article05.htm

◊ https://www.arcr.niaaa.nih.gov/arcr382/article03.htm

º https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/187252

https://prostatecancernewstoday.com/2016/11/17/drinking-alcohol-increases-risk-of-prostate-cancer 

Δ https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/diet-physical-activity/alcohol-use-and-cancer.html

ß https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/alcohol-facts/health-effects-of-alcohol/diseases/alcohol-and-cancer/

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Filed under Addiction, alcohol damage, AUD, Health, Recovery

Half Measures Avail Us Relapse

“Half measures availed us nothing.  We stood at the turning point.”       (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 59)

If you’re an alcoholic who can find a way to permanently quit drinking outside AA, that’s awesome. Go for it!  As they say in the Big Book, “If anyone who is showing inability to control his drinking can do the right-about-face and drink like a gentleman, our hats are off to him” (p. 31).

AA is for is the person who can’t, who’s tried and failed, then tried and failed some more… and frickin’ can’t stand herself anymore. Here are a few of the ways I, personally, tried. At various times in my drinking career, with all my power of will, I swore the following:

  •  to simply drink less
  • to not drink on certain days of the week
  • to get more exercise, eat a healthier diet, and quit poisoning myself
  • to meditate my stress away instead of drinking
  • to practice affirmations for confidence instead of drinking
  • to stop drinking alone
  • to drink just wine
  • to drink just beer
  • to have no more than one drink with lunch and three in the evening
  • to prove to some asshole that I’m not an alcoholic, so fuck off
  •  to quit for a week starting tomorrow
  •  to quit two weeks except maybe next weekend
  • to drink slower so I’d get less bombed

None of them worked.  None.  Know why?  Because I’m an alcoholic.  That means my brain is, by definition, BROKEN when it comes to controlling my intake of alcohol — or weed or cocaine or any mind-altering substance.  I default to having just a bit.  Once I start, my mind has only one setting:

And… I cannot fix my broken brain with my broken brain.  If I could, it wouldn’t be broken.  I’d just tone my drinking the frick down and get on with life — right?  I would not be an alcoholic. I would not need AA or the steps or a higher power.

But here’s the thing, guys.  We’re kind of pucked.  We’re trying to mentally control a problem over which we have no control.Half Measures = Half Assed
Some of us go to AA because we get it: we’re pucked, and we’ll do everything we’re told — go to any length — to get our lives back.  We take Step 1, admitting we are powerless over alcohol and cannot manage our lives.

Others of us, however, go to AA as one more item on that fucking worthless shit list above.  We just add

  • go to some AA meetings

to our personal “I’m not gonna drink” management scheme.

Doing so is what we call a half-measure, meaning that I still believe I  wield control.  I’m using AA as an aid or support group, but ultimately, my ego maintains I’m taking control of my desire to drink.  That idea is utterly worthless.  AA meetings will do no more for a half-measure drunk than getting a “Sober Forever” tattoo, because, inevitably, we still have that broken brain.

Just ask anyone who repeatedly relapses.  It may sound harsh, but in my experience, except in rare cases complicated by “grave mental disorders,” a vast majority of those who fall back into drinking have not gone at the program from their inmost heart.  Relapse happens when our egos tell us, “I don’t really need to X anymore [insert go to meetings, write inventory, work with a sponsor, etc.]  I’ve got this.”

Going to Any Length
A few weeks ago I was at an early morning meeting sitting near a newcomer.  The meeting’s chair had used a random Big Book quote picker to cite the passage, “Your job now is to be of maximum helpfulness to others…”

“That bothers me,” the newcomer shared.  “I’ve got six months and I feel like I’m struggling.  I can’t be of maximum helpfulness to anyone!  How’m I supposed to devote my life to  — I mean, I can barely take care of myself right now!”

At the break for 7th Tradition, I scooted over to him and said, “Who defines ‘maximum’?  All it means is, the maximum you can do today to be supportive to someone else.  You’re here.  You shared honestly.  Maybe that’s your max today.  The point is that you’re trying your best.”

Trying Your Hardest = Giving Up Control
This may sound like a contradiction, but it’s only when we really give up control that we become willing to try our hardest at spiritual growth, and vice versa. When, after 14 years of trying my hardest to drink less, I realized I was going to die drunk, and after 34 years of trying to make other people like me, I realized I hated myself, I walked into an AA meeting and finally let go.

It didn’t happen all at once.  The first letting-go was just going to meetings.  The next was actually praying to… something.  Next was getting a kick-butt sponsor, then doing everything she told me whether I felt like it or not.  “You’re going to lead an AA meeting in the women’s prison work-release house,” she told me.  Did I want to do that?  Hell no!!  The women seemed huge and thuggish and scary to me!  When they hugged me, I nearly suffocated!  But I showed up each week regardless.

I’d given up calling the shots.  I wanted to change, to have what I saw in Karen, my sponsor.  So I did exactly what she told me.  I wrote my inventory, acknowledged my defects.  I made my amends.  I sponsored.

Last week, my current sponsor, who has 32 years sober, asked me, who have 22 years sober, if I’d drive out with her to Bellevue and (wo)man an AA booth at the National Tribal Health Conference.  This was a big deal, she explained — the first time the Indian Health Board has ever invited AA to attend, though nearly 12% of Native Americans die of alcholism.

Did I feel like driving out there this afternoon and “working” after work?  Hell no.  Did I do it?  Hell yes.  I don’t ask questions or weigh the pros and cons relative to my sobriety.  I just GO.

The result?  I’m in no way special or virtuous; I’m just happily sober… one more day.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under AA, Addiction, Alcoholism, Recovery, Sobriety

Recovery from Alcoholism: Way More than Not Drinking

I recently read an article in The Guardian, a British publication, that broke my heart.  It was written by an alcoholic woman who quit drinking 15 years ago but who has completely misunderstood AA as an ineffectual “self help” group.

She rightly explains,

Alcoholism is a strange condition. If you survive the drinking stage, and many don’t, it has relatively little to do with alcohol, which is merely the drug with which the alcoholic treats herself. It is, rather, a way of thinking, and continues long after you have stopped drinking. It is a voice in the head: a malevolent voice that wants you to die. 

Much of the article describes with startling honesty the havoc this voice has wreaked in Tanya’s life — causing her to hide for years in workaholism and lie her way to extra morphine in the maternity ward to up her high (which I would call a relapse).  Life, for Tanya, is miserable.

Almost none of the article offers a solution.  She maintains,

[F]or the alcoholic there is nothing as prosaic as “better”. There is only a daily remission, based on how you deal with the voice in your head. (“Hello, monster. Where have you been?”)

…If I am unwary, she can plunge me into the deepest despair, and I have learned to construct an obstacle course to thwart her. It is made only of ordinary human love. Nothing else works.

What a tragedy that this woman has suffered for 15 fricking years with virtually no solution!

I wish I could tell Tanya: The path to freedom is encrypted in those 12 prosaic steps posted in your erroneously termed “self-help” group. Clearly you did not grasp the meaning of the first one: We cannot help ourselves.

You’re living proof of that.  If you were to let quality people from AA into your life, you would learn from them that this “voice” your article discusses at length is a commonplace phenomenon we (not “they”) refer to as self-loathing, less-than, not enoughness, or simply the shadow side of a big, fat ego.  Recovery defeats it.

If you could truly listen with an open mind in meetings and work the 12 steps diligently with a sponsor, you could heal more in a year than you could in decades of therapy or a lifetime of introspection — literally.  Pride is all that blocks you.

I was much like Tanya when I first came to AA 22 years ago.  I abhorred groupthink and its cousin oversimplification, and to me the 12 Steps, with their repeated references to “God” as a “He,” smacked of both.  Their God, I assumed, had to be the same God as in the Bible, Torah, Quran or whatever.  The words “as we understood Him” did little to mitigate that.

I was lucky, though.  In early sobriety, I became so miserable without alcohol that living sober became utter torture: I hated being Louisa.

In those days, when I wasn’t working my meaningless data entry job, I found it impossible to get out of bed, at worst, or out of my sweatpants, at best.  So annoyed was I by my happy alcoholic housemate’s assertion that my heart was suffering from a “god-shaped hole” that I went back to AA meetings and got a kick-butt sponsor just to spite him.

That sponsor impressed on me the crucial importance of seeking god, and seeking god changed everything.  In my case (which, as my addiction memoir attests, was a weird one), god kept popping into my life via a series of paranormal experiences until I finally surrendered to the truth I live by today: god is real, everywhere, always.

My god is the god of nature and biology; the god of life energy; the god of love.  It’s a goodness beyond our wildest imaginings, one that can upstage our ego’s grandiosity as well as self-hate.  God can empower us to love others and life itself so intensely that just being is an overwhelming privilege. As my sponsor Nora says, “I feel more joy today just walking half a block to drop a letter in the mailbox than I did before in all my fanciest vacations put together.”

For me, this love of life’s poignant richness that drowns out my inner demon’s insults can be accessed only through god-aware eyes.  To maintain that vision, I have be up front with god constantly: I need to live by the highest ethics I can muster, eschew lying, and follow the Golden Rule.

In good times, I must offer goodwill as if I had an infinite basket of it (cause I do).  In hard times, I must never succumb to the illusion that my struggles are unique.  AA meetings make both possible.

Mount Adams & wildflowers – last week

I’m just back from hiking 115 stunningly gorgeous miles along the Pacific Crest Trail with my sober friend, Sally.  A little YouTube video I made of our trip is linked below.

God made this experience possible.  First of all, without god buoying my heart, I’d never have found the gumption to take off into Washington’s very wild backcountry with my friend.  Twice, on the trail, I had to draw on courage to accomplish more than I believed I could — once to cross a raging creek on a bunch of flimsy logs and once to get out of my tent during a midnight lightning storm at 6,5oo’ amid ruthless wind and sleet because my tent’s rainfly was getting torn off and all my stuff soaked.

In both cases, I witnessed my fright being eclipsed by a “you can do this” beam of certainty that is the antithesis of alcoholic self-loathing.  It’s not ego, either.  It doesn’t come from me.  It’s about stepping out of the way to become a channel — letting faith power my steps and efforts.

Tanya, I wish I could gift that to you — what god, through my fellow alcoholics, has gifted me.  There’s incremental suicide; then survival; then relief; and finally rejoicing — meaning you figure out what you love doing, and you freaking do it.

But the journey from one to the next is an inside job — and only for those who actively seek.

 

Music by http://www.bensound.com/royalty-free-music

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21 Comments

August 22, 2017 · 6:00 am

What’s Normal Drinking?

Suppose I give you an algorithm to figure out whether or not you’re a normal drinker.  I tell you to take the number of drinks you’d consume on an average Tuesday, multiply it by a rough estimate of times you’ve “had too much” and divide that by the number of drinks that would qualify as a “binge” for you; next add the number of times you’ve felt utterly disgusted with yourself the morning after.  If the square route of this number is less than 3, you’re fine – go ahead and drink!  If it’s over 3 – sorry!  You’ve got a problem.

Here’s the real test:  Did you read that whole paragraph, dude?  Did you even consider trying to estimate some of those crazy numbers?  Then, guess what?  You are sooo not normal!  Not only do normies — people with a normal relationship to alcohol — not even have numbers for most of those inputs, they don’t give a rat’s ass about how much they drink or whether they get to.

Try the whole thing again substituting “strawberries” or “croissants” for drinks and you’ll see through a normie’s eyes:  “Take the number of strawberries you’d consume on an average Tuesday…”  Who cares?  Eat ’em or don’t – it doesn’t matter!

Alcoholics love to marvel at normie behaviors like not finishing a drink or leaving half a bottle of wine in the fridge for weeks, behaviors that strike us as incomprehensible.  But getting a handle on how weird our thinking is – why we see normal as strange – is not so easy.

“The idea that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great illusion of every abnormal drinker.  The persistence of this illusion is astonishing.  Many pursue it to the gates of insanity or death.”  (Big Book p. 30)

Before lasting sobriety, we keep trying and trying to find a way to drink normally.  But the effort itself precludes normalcy.  For instance, here’s a story from my Big Book study group, just after we read the above passage.  Dana – a repeat relapser who works from home – claimed to be able to control her drinking:

“The trouble is, I can control and enjoy my drinking for a long time. I’m really careful.  I’ll drive in the morning to the gas station near my house and buy just one of those little airplane bottles of Jack [Daniels].  I’ll drink it in the car and fucking enjoy the hell out of it.  Then I go home and get the kids off to school; I’m nice and not grouchy.  I’ll get set up for work, go have another little bottle, work for hours, chat with clients – I’m great. Before the kids get home, I’ll zip out and have another.  Maybe one before dinner and bed.  NEVER do I have two!  I’m just calm, smooth, efficient – doin’ my thing for weeks and weeks!  But then one day, I’ll get bombed and mess everything up.  Then I come back to AA.”

About ten of us made up the circle that day, but the room fell silent.  We all looked confused and befuddled, each lost in their own thinking. She did seem to be managing her drinking extraordinarily well!  To me it was like someone able to walk on a super-slick surface, keeping her balance and never slipping.  Dana was drinking and living a normal life as a functional working mom!  Wasn’t that what we all wished we could pull off?

A few of us asked about logistics.  Dana answered confidently.  I recall feeling a subtle mix of jealousy — Dana was able to drink! — and fear that I might decide to try something like that.  But most of all, I recall a fuzzy, confused inability to think clearly, to see something that was right on the tip of my brain’s tongue, so to speak.  I felt as though my mind were stuffed with wool.

Nora, another group leader, inquired tentatively, “How far is the gas station?”

“Five minutes,” replied Dana.

Nora’s forehead knitted. “And you make five trips a day?”

“About an hour out of my day, yeah.”

Nora spoke haltingly: “So isn’t… the alcohol controlling you, rather than… you controlling alcohol — ?”

As if awakening from a trance, we all shifted, seeing that Nora on the brink of something.

“That’s true,” said Dana.  “I never thought of it that way.  I guess I’m not really the one calling the shots!”

Suddenly I could see it – Dana’s system was madness!  She was arranging her entire life around her addiction so she could function in the world.  At that moment, everyone, including Dana, saw it. We also saw that some blindness in our relationship to alcohol had kept us from seeing it.

Brantly, our third leader, spoke up animatedly:  “This is not how normal people behave, you guys!  Arranging our whole life to maintain a buzz because we can’t do life as life?!  That is crazy. For normal people, alcohol is not the answer, so getting it’s not a question!  That’s why we need meetings, why we need the steps and god – because our brains make the insane sound totally normal!”

We were all laughing by this time, at ourselves, at ten people’s incredible alcoholic brain fart.  Brantly held up his phone: “I don’t need an app to tell me it’s been 5,057 days since my last strawberry!”

Here’s the bottom line.  If you hope desperately to find a reason you’re not an alcoholic, you’re an alcoholic.  If you point proudly to periods when you’ve drunk normally, you’re not normal.  Normal drinkers may hide from life in other ways, but not through booze, so they simply don’t care. We for whom alcohol has been a lifesaving magic carpet are incapable of not caring.  Hence the fabulously ironic saying, “If I were a normie, I’d drink every day!”

Step one is the realization, an acceptance to the marrow of our bones that no way out of this maze exists on human terms.  Our faulty minds will always, always “choose” drinking — by however contorted a logic.  We can’t not drink.  Our relief must come from a higher power.

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Filed under AA, Alcoholism, Drinking, Recovery, Step 1

Afterlife: Is it Too Weird to Talk About?

Death visits frequently in my Seattle circle of sober fellowship. Two friends with years of sobriety died this past Tuesday from heroin relapse; one I knew faintly, the other well.  Jeremy leaves behind the 11-year-old daughter he so intensely adored along with a partner and countless friends who loved his playful yet self-deprecating energy, sarcastic wit, and unflinching, quirky, inspiring shares.  He’s gone.

Gone where?

As someone who’s undergone a Near Death Experience followed up by many paranormal aftereffects, I can tell you what I believe.  (Meanwhile, you believe whatever you believe 🙂 ).

In the minutes before my sister died, I was trying doze in the dark hospital room when into my mind flashed “the light” I had known on the other side: it was seeping in under a window, floating to my sister’s bed, and “pooling” above her, a million tiny points of light swirling, gearing up to receive her.  When I opened my eyes, there was nothing.  Eyes closed, I knew the lights were our extended family ancestors, who loved my sister immensely and were preparing, like a million loving midwives, to guide her “birth” to the afterlife.

As I recount in my book or this short film, I had not yet accepted this crazy stuff into my “normal” paradigm of reality, so I kept trying to dismiss it.  A thought-voice urged me to tell her (my sister) what I knew of the light to help her cross, because her fear (that cancer was god’s punishment) blocked her crossing. “She’s got two weeks!” I insisted, believing her doctors, but the voice simply would not quit.  Finally, I consented.  I knelt close by my unconscious sister, took her hand, and tried my best to describe the the light – she’d feel the warmth of god’s love all through her, it would feel so wonderful…  When the words were out, I sat back down.  Twenty minutes later, in a sudden, violent hemorrhage, she died.

Far from serene, I tore around the hospital floor with my brother screaming, “Help us!” An impassive doctor listened to my sister’s heart… but assured us it would stop soon.  One minute I truly wanted to rip that doctor’s head off; the next, my sister reached me.  Her energy was unmistakable, hovering in the room, loving and trying to calm me, loving my brother, loving the frickin’ doctor and nurse – the whole world!  Somehow she filled me with the light again, a euphoric flashback of the bliss I’d known while I got to be dead.

That was twenty years ago.

Just before my father’s death, I didn’t sense the light, but I knew when he was about to cross. I told the hospice worker to get my family, who were all chatting around the kitchen table with a visiting social worker.  In the minute I had alone with Dad, I remember telling him in thought, “You’re gonna do fine, Dad.  You’re gonna do great!”  I felt proud of him, excited for him.  That’s not how you’re supposed to feel, but it’s exactly the midwifey anticipation those million angels had for my sister – this time filling to me, too.

That was ten years ago.

Weird Things still pop into my life fairly regularly.  Last week, getting ready to leave for work, I resolved to pick up groceries on the way home.  Trader Joe’s or Safeway?  The thought flashed – Trader Joe’s: you’ll see someone you know.  I dismissed it, because  Safeway was right on the way home, so I’d– Trader Joe’s.  You’ll see Mindy.  Along came a faint flash of Mindy’s smiling face backed by the sauces shelf, though in 10 years’ shopping at TJ’s, I’d never once seen her there. Aware of other times I’d been advised in ways that saved my life, I consented: “Okay, fine!  TJ’s – I’ll go!” (I often use this exasperated tone with my guardian angel.)

Six hours later, I’m on the phone with Mom at TJ’s when Mindy sails by in the produce area.  I wave excitedly but can’t talk – I can’t tell her I knew.  I wrap up with Mom, shop a while, then decide I’m gonna track down Mindy.  I hunt through the store – did she leave?  Finally, I see her.  I greet her and explain.  She laughs – she’s a Wiccan – and admits she was thinking “very loudly” this morning that she had to go to TJ’s.  I love her immensely in a strange way – her classic Mindy-ness.  I love life.  It’s right then that I realize, behind her are… the sauces.

What the fuck is going on with this stuff, you guys?  I don’t know!  But I know something is.  I KNOW there is more to this world than the physical.

I believe many of us are steered by guardian angels, even if we can’t tell their input from our own thoughts.  Many NDE survivors can tell – often because the voice contradicts what we want.  One NDE friend of mine descending a staircase “heard” her angel warn, “If someone calls from above, don’t look around.”  A coworker called her name from the top of the stairs.  She tried at first not to look, but it seemed silly.  Turning her head, she mis-stepped, fell down the stairs, and broke her leg. She laughs telling the story.

I believe we’re collectively steered via billions of microdecisions – toward some purpose none of us can know.  I believe it’s thanks to billions of microdecisions that we have not (yet) eradicated life on Earth with our warheads.

I believe we’re Life/Love doing something.

Among adults, 10-15% who survive death bring back memories from the other side.  In young children, the percentage is far higher – more like 80% – perhaps because they’re relative newcomers here.  These figures hold across cultures.

Many NDEers encounter a love a thousand times more powerful than any we’ve felt on earth.  Some who get less far just feel a powerful sense of well-being.  NOBODY I’ve met in the NDE community wanted to get back inside their body.  Nobody!  But heaven, if you like, is not a “better place.”  It’s just a bodiless place – so not really a place.

Anger, fear, and pain are defense mechanisms built into our bodies.  We need them to stay incarnate.  So in a sense, the Puritans were onto something when they blamed “the flesh” for all our woes – for the “hundred forms of fear” and resentment that fuck up our existence with greed, insecurity, envy, etc.

And while it’s true we slough off all these bummers when we exit the body, the state of embodiment is nonetheless an absolutely amazing feat!  We are spirit invested in flesh, energy inhabiting matter – like photons, we’re both! What a crazy stunt that is.  Our emotions carry shadows that give them richness unique to earthly life.  So savor it  – all of it, the buoyancy of joy and the gravity of sadness.  As one childhood NDEer put it: “Life is for living; the light is for later.”

Life is for living, so from our perspective, it’s immensely tragic when one is cut short by addiction.  We’ll never again see Jeremy, never hear his raspy voice or belly laugh.  We all miss and mourn him deeply.  Yet Jeremy has transcended to pure Jeremy-ness.  His unmistakable, unique energy is now at large in the universe.  That I know.

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Filed under Addiction, Afterlife, Faith, God, NDE, Near Death Experience, Spirituality

Wait! The Traditions Don’t Suck!

For years I was instantly bored by AA’s 12 Traditions. Read at the outset of most meetings right after the 12 Steps, they tended to have a soporific effect, the words droning past by like train cars as I waited to cross tracks to the actual meeting.

Lately, though, I’ve been listening to them and thinking about how their guidance applies to life. Certainly not a new idea – countless people have advised such – but it’s new to me.  I’m always on the lookout for guidance!

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You can look up the traditions in normal and “long form” at the back of your Big Book.  I ain’t gonna list them here because they’d hog up too much of my word count, so I’d have less room to cuss.  😉   Instead, here’s just the gist of what I hear in each.

1. Together we live; alone we die.  I need to stay connected to AA, to join in the unity that sustains “our common welfare.”  Whenever I choose to isolate, deciding my problems are unique or that I don’t need to show up at meetings, I’m dying just a little bit – spiritually if not physically.

2. God’s Guidance is the Shit.  I need to seek god in all things always, to navigate by this North Star of goodness to the best of my ability in all my thoughts and actions.  And when I talk matters over with others who earnestly seek god/good, I should listen for god’s guidance reflected in their words – often unintentionally.

3. Welcome Others as They Are.  That AA’s only requirement for membership is a “desire to stop drinking” is HUGE!  There’s so much more to this tradition than meets the eye! It points to a way of life. For example, in 1960s South Africa, sober alcoholics flouted apartheid laws by holding multi-racial AA meetings and dances; in order to avoid arrest at the latter, Black members disguised themselves as wait staff.  Imagine the secret solidarity of those groups!  AA embraces everyone who desires recovery, regardless of “money or conformity” or how many times they’ve relapsed.  In a similar spirit, I need to recognize and honor the human kinship of every person I encounter.diverse-hands

4. To Thine Own Self Be True.  A spiritually awakened way of life will look different on every individual, so we can live and meet in a wide diversity of styles – provided we’re conscientious about the effects of our actions. In AA meetings we can each think for ourselves, conceive of god as we choose, and talk about sobriety in our own damn vernacular.

5 & 6. Remember Why We’re Here.  Like an AA group, our lives have a primary purpose: “to be of maximum service to God and the people about us” (p. 77).  Helping one another, spreading love and kindness – that’s the frickin’ purpose of life, guys.  Time and time again, I hear from my Near Death Experience (NDE) friends who’ve died and witnessed a life review that they were shown countless instances where they impacted others with kindness or cruelty.  Effects from each act – kind or cruel – rippled outward from person to person into the world.  Accomplishments we consider major did not matter, except in their impact on others’ feelings.  Kindness mattered.  We can’t let a focus on “money, property, and prestige divert us from our primary purpose” of bringing about maximal good.

unconditional-self-love7. Love Ourselves.  How do I get from “fully self-supporting” to self-love?  Because the founders recognized that if AA failed to support itself from within, then favor toward, obligation to, and dependence on those providing the handouts would fuck up everything.  Bill W. initially tried to hit up John D. Rockefeller for money, but Rockefeller, miraculously enough, recognized the risk and refused.  Sure, financial solvency is a fine goal for all adults.  But what really “funds” my day-to-day experience is my emotional well-being.  If I place myself in a position where I’m dependent on others to provide that, I lose all integrity.

I must learn to love and support myself.  I’m progressing toward this goal little by little, slowly and painfully.  (To be honest, I’ve tried to blog on self-love several times and realized I’m just not there yet.)

8 & 9. Be Neither a Role nor Rule Book.  The fact that AA no-bosshas survived over 80 years despite being neither professional nor organized is something many outsiders can’t grasp. We charge nothing, and nobody is in charge.  Rather, our cohesion results from lived experience of our shared plight and solution.  Extending these principles into our lives means that we not identify with the roles or labels we tend to pin on ourselves, that we lighten up and take ourselves less seriously.  Eckhart Tolle writes about the diminished experience we suffer when we identify with a role, class, or even personality.  Living truly awake means seeking to be maximally open to experience right now, not hemmed in by limiting self-definitions.

10. Eschew Conflict When Possible.  Regarding controversial issues, this tradition states that we “oppose no one.”  I do need to know what’s right for me and be faithful to it with boundaries, but I don’t go imposing my will on others.  (Given the current US political climate, though, I think we should extend our personal boundaries to consider the character of our country and who we are collectively – and stand up to those inflicting harm in our name.)

11. Live our Program. This tradition translates pretty directly.  As AA doesn’t self-promote, neither should we.  Rather, we walk our talk.  We work the steps, seek growth and healing through god, and let the results speak for themselves.  I know several people dying of alcoholism.  To each I have mentioned that I’m sober in AA – end of story.  They can seek me out if they want what I have.

12. Stay Humble and Grateful.  Here I do quote the long form: “–And finally, we of Alcoholics Anonymous believe that the principle of anonymity has immense spiritual significance.  It reminds us that we are to place principles before personalities; that we are to actually practice a genuine humility.  This to the end that our great blessings may never spoil us; that we shall forever live in thankful contemplation of [god].”  Can’t improve on that!

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Filed under 12 Traditions, AA, Addiction, Recovery, Sobriety