Tag Archives: Alcoholism

AA Stigma Misses the Point

Stigma

a archaic: a scar left by a hot iron : brand
b: a mark of shame or discredit : stain  ex: bore the stigma of cowardice
c: an identifying mark or characteristic; specifically : a diagnostic sign of a disease

 

I remember the fear in my throat when I first spoke the words, “I’m Louisa, and I’m an alcoholic.”  Sitting in my third AA meeting, I felt like I’d been fleeing those words all my life, and now they rang out in the room like the gates of hell clanging shut behind me.

Twenty-three years later, I’m happy to tell the world, “Yeh-yah, baybee! I’m a full-on alcoholic — and thank god!  Cause otherwise, I’d have missed out on the whole point of life!”

Do I sound looney?  Maybe a tad.  But I’m joyfully looney, and that’s a mighty bright candle to try and shit on.

My sober life is rich with AA friends who have each, through touching life’s deepest and loneliest pain, struck the bedrock of their own will to live, so that we can now meet each other’s gaze without pretense.

Mind you, I foresaw none of this when I first spoke those dreaded words. Nobody wants to join AA. Nobody identifies with that bunch of self-blaming, drink-obsessed sots who fart around in church basements. Obviously, AA as Hollywood and society at large envision it is about as cheery as a medieval dungeon.

But that’s far from the truth of AA as I’ve come to know and love it.  Below are a few photos from some of the AA meetings/gatherings I’ve been part of in the past three years.

 

In a sense, all of these images are sacred to me, because I remember how we were all sober together at these meetings despite a disease that wants to kill us — or at least ruin our lives. At times we share tears. Most often, they’re tears of gratitude for having been blessed in ways we can’t believe we deserve.  We still lag on our fourth steps or slip into familiar character defects, but each in her or his own way is pursuing is an ever-stronger connection to the Good.

Yep.  Higher power, flow of the universe, life, love, god:the word doesn’t matter. What matters is that we’ve all nearly killed ourselves solo, and now we’re all intent on seeking help from [god] and each other to experience real life to the fullest.

Nevertheless, AA stigma persists. Despite the millions of lives transformed through AA, many people still dismiss it as contemptible. For instance, I recently came across a video from a lifecoach offering a program for “people who just want to stop overdrinking.” These are “good people,” as opposed to those who “claim that they have a disease or that they’re an alcoholic or that they want to go to meetings.”  Having lost her father and brother to addiction despite the fact that each attended meetings, this coach seems to loathe AA. She recalls her “overdrinking… waking me up in the middle of the night [and] affecting how foggy I was feeling during the day and… creating a lot of cravings… to drink earlier and earlier in the day.”  Yet, she affirms, “I had no interest in becoming an alcoholic or calling myself an alcoholic.  I had no interest in recovery…. I did not see that as the solution to my very mild struggle.”

“Very mild struggle”~!

I’m sorry, but that’s friggin’ hilarious!  What a coincidence!  I, too, had a “very mild struggle” — for about 14 years!

Ego’s Game: the Stigma of Recovery
There’s a good reason why this lifecoach, Hollywood, and most people indoctrinated with popular culture regard AA with such distaste.

When Bill and Bob, AA’s founders, first met in 1935 and, talking for hours and days, hammered out the fundamentals of the 12 steps, they hit upon two little ideas that engendered the defeat of this previously invincible disease.

1) A god-connection blocks alcoholism.

2) Ego blocks god-connection.

That’s all there is to AA, really.

Here’s the whole damn program.  SEEK GOD; DEFLATE EGO; SEEK GOD some more; DEFLATE EGO some more

ego-

DO try this experiment at home…

 

We need these processes broken down into 12 Steps and shared in a community because A) connection to god can be so elusive at the start, and B) ego is a wily, cunning, and stealthy tyrant that does not want to be deflated.

Of course it doesn’t!  It’s fucking EGO.

The problem for most people, including our “very mildly struggling” lifecoach, is a lack of distinction between ego and self-worth.  Ego is mistaken for self-worth by the vast majority of Americans (as epitomized by our arrogant Cheeto in Chief).  In fact, however, the two are diametrically opposed.

Ego separates us from others, relegating them to an onlooker/competitor role at best.  We believe our full experience of consciousness to be unique.  Our thoughts and experiences — whether positive, negative, or just weird — are somehow more intense and complex than those of “ordinary people.”  Ego tells me…

I’m better.

I’m entitled.

I’m doing it right.

and yet I know that in reality I bumble, get confused, hurt, and lost.  Sometimes I fuck up.  So… ego sweeps all that under the rug.  It insists…

If I’m vulnerable, I’m weak.

If I’m humble, I’m less than.

If I’m only human, I’m nobody.

Self-worth, on the other hand, grows from connection and compassion.  I understand that my human experience is little different from yours. I get that we’re in this together. I feel for you, and I trust that you feel for me. Trust emboldens me to tear off my mask and be vulnerable, honest, and fully human — flaws and all.  I’m just me, but maybe I can help you.

Today, everything I love about myself, I hold to be a gift from god — not a feat of my own making. God is generating my mind, my body, my love, my courage, these words — every second I live.  I am god — its flower, its child.

AA stigma is imposed out of fear.  It’s a defense mounted by those fiercely loyal to the tyrant who imprisons their spirit.  Let’s pray for them — for all sentient beings — to be free.

 

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Loneliness

True loneliness as a state of mind entails a lot more than just wanting company. It’s a feeling of emptiness, a soul ache with its roots in lack, in longing.  Loneliness casts a dissatisfied pallor over solitude, punches a gaping hole in tranquility, sucking all subtle beauties and gratitude from the moment because none of it is as it should be. Loneliness makes us victims.

When I gaze directly into my own loneliness, I find it to be a soup of emotions.  As with any soup, the flavor can vary from batch to batch, episode to episode, but the same basic ingredients are almost always present.  [Caution: all these ingredients are downers  😥 ]

  • Self pity — poor me that I am alone
  • Jealousy — unfair that others aren’t alone
  • Rejection —  fun people don’t like me
  • Self-loathing — because I pretty much suck
  • Ambition — I could be/have a ton of fun if I had a chance
  • Frustration — life’s not supposed to be like this
  • Pain — I am unloved
  • Hopelessness — I will never be loved
  • Despair — I’m unworthy

Did I just nail that shit, or what?

The antithesis of loneliness is love and belonging.  When I’m surrounded by friends I love, I see in each person (or animal) a unique spirit in action — the tone or frequency of that person’s way.  I can glimpse their goodness, their core beauty, their irreplaceableness in this world.

And I have faith that they see me to some degree
in that same light, so I don’t hide. I may get a little over-the-top with excitement, sometimes at my homegroup, or when I have people over, or if we’re climbing some insanely tough mountain.  I kinda cop a high on love, on sharing life.  But when I do, I know my friends will love me for being so Louisaish, just as I love them.

That trust — the exchange of love — sparks a joy that’s among the truest gems of being alive.

I drank to vanquish loneliness.  So did you, so do millions.  For me, if I was lonesome, alcohol worked on several levels. One was by buffing up my who-gives-a-shit? tough guy.  Another was by swelling my ego, which I used to consider the ultimate Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card. I could slosh myself into feeling I was hella cool to hang out with and maybe just a tad too cool for anyone else to fully get.

Other people living normal, wholesome lives — fuck ’em!  I was an artist.  I was a writer.  All the cool ones lived tortured lives, right?  Lookit Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf and Ernest Hemingway. Lookit Van Gogh, who shot himself in the stomach but then could’t find the gun in the damn wheat field where he’d been painting.  What did they all have the balls to see?  That life sucks and then you die, bitches! I, too, had the balls to face that and to live… (let me just light up, here) … with a rebel spark.

Me, late 1994

Then I’d swig some more booze and crank up my music, hating on all those healthy, normal, Friends-type people, and think about some depressing story I wanted to write or brilliant painting I was gonna start pretty soon, but do neither, until I blacked out.

Good times.

Other options include eating compulsively, binge-watching TV/movies, fixating on social media, working, cleaning, or wanking obsessively, online shopping/gambling yourself broke, or just sucking the life out of whatever loyal victim you can secure.

So what’s different now that I’m almost 23 years sober?  Everything.  Sober, I’ve lived through just about every feeling to come down the pike.  And in meeting them repeatedly, I’ve come to befriend some and recognize others as grifters.  I’m not so easily taken in  as I once was: “Hey, self-pity!  How you been?  No, I’m sorry, you can’t stay here…”

When loneliness visits today, I move toward humanity instead of away from it.  I remind myself that I’m human, that no experience is mine alone; it’s yours, too.  Deep loneliness is well-known to that nondescript person walking down the sidewalk, and to the people up in that plane crossing the sky.

SH2 Peptide Complex

On a physical level, we’re made the same way, our inner experiences resulting from the same incredibly intricate systems.  Our brains associate stimuli with memories, and the neurotransmitters so activated release showers of peptides that “swim” throughout the entire body, interacting with every cell to produce profound changes in cell structure and behavior.  Feelings flavor our perception, and we all share the same spice rack.

On a spiritual level, we are all one.  This fundamental truth is brought back time and time again by Near Death Experiencers who make contact with divine wisdom.  We are made of life-stuff, an energy that flows through all living things, whose purest form is love, constantly circulating within and among us.  None are unique or separate — neither in our specific feelings nor in our consciousness in general.

For example, take my specific feeling of last night.  As I drove home alone from Mom’s house Christmas Eve, snow swirled in streetlights’ illumination while The Nutcracker played on KING FM, short pieces to which I used to prance about as a little girl excited to become someone.  The familiar flow of those notes, the car’s gliding on fresh snow, the night’s open space swimming with motion — all of these suffused me with intense feeling.

And I thought, we feel this!  That’s why we’ve held onto The Nutcracker all these years, why we love these melodies of Arabia, Russia, and others woven through.  It’s why we make a big deal of fresh snow, why we paint and sing about this stuff — because we love life, and we love it in these trappings!  Every culture is like a huge family that has passed down to its children what it most prizes.  This is mine.

Loneliness is, ironically, our Humanity ID card, because it’s downright difficult to exist as a tiny shard of god sealed off in a physical body, separated from our source, from love’s unity. Loneliness develops when the flow of life/love energy through and among us is stymied, whether by fear, ego, or resentment.

All the world’s ills stem from this illusion of separation — the stuff I used to believe in.  Connecting despite the god-phobic shells individuating each of us can be difficult, but connect we must.

Whatever it is you’re longing for, think of someone to whom you could give it.  Then take steps to make it so.  Loneliness is never about you.  You’re just a leaf losing touch with the tree.  Reconnect.

Remember what this guy said, because he was right on.

…Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort, than to be comforted,
To understand, than to be understood,
To love, than to be loved…

St. Francis Prayer   .   .   .

 

 

 

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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 tears 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 not very happily.  But her liver’s kickass performance doesn’t change what alcohol is and does.

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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Like me, like me (!): Neediness vs. god

Leaving an event recently, in the parking I saw the most charismatic (gay) guy from the group chatting with a woman who wasn’t me, and I became filled with jealousy.  Not romantic jealousy; like-me jealousy.  I thought: “He thinks she’s special! He thinks I’m boring!  Dammit!!  How can I make him like me?!  What if I…”

Then — because for 22 frickin’ years I’ve been working a program — I flagged my own attention, informed myself I was temporarily insane, got in my frickin-ass car and drove off.

Really, ego?!” I thought, driving.  “Will you never stop this shit?  It’s older than high school, older than one of Mary Ann’s banana cream pies in the face–but you keep on!”  I resolved to not care.

But it was hard.  I still felt mad at the woman for “winning,” mad to be denied the fix I wanted — that big fat hit of dopamine from feeling liked and appreciated by someone who “counts” (because, as we all know, that shit is DOPE) — but at the same time, mad at my ego for leading me back into this dumb game of hungering parasitically for worth.

Okay, I’m human, a social primate.  I have instincts around “belonging” deeply linked to survival.  That’s normal.  We all need to have friends, feel loved, etc..

But as a recovering alcoholic/ love addict, I still have needy ego that can wreak havoc with instincts and gratification. When I used to guzzle alcohol and whip up huge love-addiction crushes, I’d  take frickin’ baths in the imagined admiration of whomever I’d idolized.

When the magic one liked me, my brain would release these motherload hits of dopamine and endorphins — which I experienced as a thrilling glow of self-worth and delicious excitement — from what I imagined that magical person thought about me. The “good stuff” seemed to come from that person, though in reality it came from my brain’s model of their favorable impressions of me.  In other words, it was my brain triggering my brain to flood itself with feel-good neurotransmitters — meaning I gave myself permission to get internally high as a kite.

People, that’s not love.  That’s not even admiration.  If we want to be nice, we can call it codependent self-worth; and if we want to be harsh, we can call it projected narcissism.

Either way, this is a totally ass-backward way of living.  It’s
parasitic and delusional.  The trouble is, because I grew up in an alcoholic home, that’s how my brain is wired!  Because the supply of affection waxed and waned depending on whether my parents were drunk or hungover, and because I assumed the variable was, not the presence of absence of a drug, but me, I developed a core, bone-deep belief that I had to perform to win love — which does not serve me now that I’m a sober adult.

Here are the steps not to take:

Step 1: Elevate someone.  Decide they’re “cool.”  Make them larger than life, overflowing with charisma.  Now (sweet!) you have a stash to chase: their “good stuff.”

Step 2: Chase the “good stuff.”  If the attraction is sexual, try like hell to seduce them.  If it’s social, show off how fuckin’ exciting and funny you are.  If it’s business, find ways to impress them with your amazing knack for getting shit done.

Outcome: You’ve whored out your worth.  Even when you seem to win, you’ve lost.  Regardless of whether you’ve come off as hoped, someone else holds the keys to your human value.  Your dignity is in the goddam toilet.

What’s the alternative?  Here I go again!  It’s god.

When I say god, I mean not only a connection to the energy of life, but all the shifts in ways of living and thinking that connection brings about — if it’s real.  The whole purpose of the 12 Steps is to help us achieve a psychic change (p. xxix) that will reverse the direction of our “flow.” We go from being black holes of neediness, trying to suck okayness out of people, places, & things, to becoming more and more a channel or outlet of the warmth and energy loaned to us by our higher power: unconditional love.

The 12 steps to this change are in our Big Book, but here’s a quick-check version:

Step 1: Seek humility.  Give up the fuck up chasing anyone or anything.  Let be.  Hurt if you’re hurting. Mourn if you’re lost.  But acknowledge that you are powerless over people, places, & things.  Only one source can you count on: your higher power’s Love for your simple, confused, inherent goodness.

Step 2: Love with intention.  Forgive.  Practice gratitude (loving your life and nurturing your little inner garden).  Embrace yourself with all your flaws and look for ways this admittedly flawed self can do good, help others, and “pack [more] into the stream of life.”

Outcome: A worthiness built from the ground up.  You and god know your worth.  No one else needs to.  You slowly grow self esteem from doing estimable acts.

I just can’t say enough about the freedom of humility.  Dude.  Whenever I hike in the wilderness for a week or so, the inner gem I polish is humility — to understand I am just a critter.  I need to drink & eat and pee & shit.  I need to stay warm in my little nest for the night.  I get to laugh with my friend and witness god in a wealth of meadows, forests, and towering peaks.  I GET TO live!  That is wisdom.

When I come back to city life, hanging on to that same humility gets tricky, but I can still try.  I talk & listen and think stuff’s important & screw up.  I can glimpse god in the vulnerable humanness of friends and strangers, all of us trying to feel okay.  I GET TO love!  That is spirituality.

Near Death Experiencers (people revived from death who bring back memories) frequently report having been shown a representation of the spiritual connections uniting all living beings.  They perceived countless “golden threads” or “beams of light” interconnecting our hearts.  The bottom line, they’re told, is that we’re each a unique expression of the same god/life energy, like countless leaves on a huge tree, or countless cells in a single leaf.

No one is higher.  No one is lower.  All depend on each other, on the whole, which is god.  I’ll never forget how my first sponsor wrapped up my first major 4th step 20 years ago.  Alongside my character defects, she drew a No-Stepladder symbol.  As she put it, “Whenever you want to rank people, think of the night sky.  You may gravitate toward one constellation more than another — sure.  But you can’t rank the stars.”

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Thoughts on god (1)

Maybe the most life-saving aspect of AA and all the 12-step programs it has spawned is that we get to pick our own higher power. We don’t have to consider anyone else’s views of an HP — certainly not religion’s — as we generate an idea of the source in which we’ll place our trust.

I like to think of our conceptions of god as a sort of placeholder – something to represent the “you” we turn to – because it can be easier to reach out to “somebody” if we have some sense of who/what that is.

Reaching out to that power is the core of recovery as I know it.  If you’re dying from addiction, slowly or quickly, it is the solution.  The biggest stumbling block for most newcomers is that our culture still associates “God” with organized religion’s construct of a judgmental deity.

Prior to organized religion, human tribes had for many millennia held a sense of god(dess) that was multifaceted and unified with nature.  But in the shadow of the agrarian revolution, as societal power became increasingly stratified, monotheism arose.  In the case of the Judeo-Christian tradition, this “God” — the grouchy, punishing Dude in the Bible — became a political tool for those in power to cow the subjugated masses into compliance.

Modern goddess image

“Overseer’s Rod,” from Queen Mary’s Psalter, 1320

.
Then, between 1600 and 1945, the Scientific Revolution gradually caused religion to crumble and fall — which was actually a good thing.  But, tragically, we have thrown out the baby with the bath water, god with religion, and the result is the spiritual turmoil now raging throughout the world.

We stand at an extremely perilous in-between era of human history, where billions who have turned away from the rubble of religion suffer anxiety and depression, and billions who still cling to its distorted structures justify judgment, exclusion, and cruelty via its tenets.

Humanity needs a new god — one indivisible from Gaia, the complex life system of which we are a part.  It is my belief that the evidence brought back consistently by Near Death Experiencers (NDEers) can offer humanity an evidence-based foundation for such a god.

I’ve decided to risk offering a series of posts on my own ideas of god, based on my NDE, the many NDE narratives I’ve heard at IANDS meetings over the past five years, and NDE narratives I have read.  If any of these ideas resonate with your ideas of god, take them.  If not, leave them.

Have you ever created a personal altar? It’s just a sort of sacred place in your home where photos of loved ones or meaningful objects remind you of what matters. It’s in a similar spirit that we can each assemble our concept of god(dess) – as a collection of ideas that call to us personally.  My aim here is just to offer some little crystals or shells you might add to yours.

Two excellent books on Near Death Experiences are Jeffrey Long’s Evidence of the Afterlife (2010) and God and the Afterlife (2017).  Both are based on thousands of NDEer’s responses to a survey accessible on the Near Death Research Foundation website.  Responses come from all over the world, and the average time elapsed between the NDE event and filling out the survey is 20 years. (Strangely, NDE memories do not fade with time.)

The upshot of Long’s research is that God loves us with a Love more powerful than words can describe.  Here are some excerpts:

“I knew that the being I met was comprised of a substance I can only call ‘love,’ and that substance was a force or power, like electricity.  Love is the only word I have, but it’s not the right word here” (God, p.53).

“I became aware of a presence vast and unimaginable, everywhere and everything, the beginning and the end, and he was Love.  I came to know that Love is a power to rival all powers — real and perceived — in the universe. (God, p. 174).

“All That Is can be perceived simultaneously as a force and as a consciousness that exists within each individual consciousness and yet is separate from each consciousness or being.  It might be called God, but the ideas of gods that we have are a pale and incomplete shadow of the All That Is that I perceived” (God, p. 175)

Further, many NDEers learn that we are here on this earthly adventure as part of the expanding evolution of Love – though sadly we “forget” what we came here to do.  The challenge of life on earth is to balance the self-preservation instincts we need to keep us housed in our bodies (fear/ego) with our mission of furthering Love by overcoming separation from other sentient beings (who only seem to be “other”).

“I was told that the earth is like a big school, a place where you can apply spiritual lessons you have learned and test yourself to see if you can ‘live’ what you already know you should do” (p. 101).

Many survey respondents (but not I 😦 ) were shown life reviews.  These incredibly detailed yet compressed replays of their life’s events are witnessed by about 22% of NDEers (who in turn comprise about 15% of those who die and come back).

Almost exclusively, these replays focus on acts of kindness and cruelty, along with their effects rippling outward throughout the world.  Most watch them together with a loving spirit who urges learning but not self-rebuke.  Here’s an excerpt:

“I was in the eighth grade, and me and my friends were verbally abusing another one of our friends.  It was cruel behavior, and I was drenched in cruelty. … I experienced the humiliation and pain of the girl we were tormenting.  I didn’t just see her, I got to be her as she huddled next to the lockers, crying alone… My mind and heart were crying out, ‘I’m so sorry!  I’m so, so sorry!’ … I felt a presence with me [that]… expressed amusement over my despair and said, with heart and mind, something to the effect of ‘You were just a kid.  How bad could you have been?’  Then I was embraced by layer upon layer of compassion” (p.100).

Even when we fuck up, we are loved.  No one expects us to ace this.

In short, god is the energy of Love that created and sustains all that is. Addiction cuts us off from god as we bombard our brains with meaningless dopamine, sabotaging our mission.  But when we sincerely ask god for help, we open a channel that allows it to enter us, guiding and strengthening our hearts, healing us from the isolation of addiction.

It does so by slowly teaching us to love others as it loves — unconditionally.  That is the not only the purpose of life, but the cure for all that ails us.

More next time.  ❤

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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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Global Fears and the Alcoholic / Al-Anon

I’m a alcoholic who lives in Seattle, surrounded by the beautiful forested mountains that heal me on long hikes — which are currently going up in flames as never before.

Wildfires Increasing 17

What’s the big deal?  The graph to the right shows the nationwide trend of bigger, more numerous forest fires (in spite of more volunteers and better firefighting equipment).  This year, 2017, scores of wildfires consuming record acreage under “extreme” conditions of prolonged drought and heat have caused all northwestern states to declare emergencies, as has British Columbia.

Fire
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These super-fires incinerating our waning wildlife habitats are not part of the natural cycle: rather, they’re symptoms of climate change.  For many people, the loss may seem nothing major.  But for me, it’s personal. These forests are my church.  Wild creatures are my saints.

So when it “snowed” ash in Seattle this past Tuesday, our sickly yellow skies blanketing everything from Seattle to Portland with flakes of what had recently been verdant, living trees, I felt as though the bodies of dead loved ones were raining down as an omen: if we continue on as we’re going, our planet will die.

Witnessing this phenomenon, unprecedented in my 57 years of living here, has ravaged my serenity.  Also on my mind are the two record-breaking hurricanes striking from the south, which the US president, who does not “believe in” climate change, has eloquently described as follows: “It looks like it could be something that will be not good. Believe me, not good.”  More imminently, this incompetent megalomaniac controls the US nuclear arsenal while a godfather-like thug controls Russia’s — and a madman in North Korea has just announced that he, too, has a nuclear bomb.

What do you do?!  How do you live?!  I’ll tell you what not to do: what I’ve been doing.  I’ve been actively willing the world to change.  Haven’t you felt all the mental and emotional effort I’ve been pouring out, day after day, compelling everyone to see what I see and think what I think~?  Hasn’t Trump’s brain been affected by my constant mental criticism?

Nope.  Not a bit.  The only person impacted by my anguish… is me.  I’ve been carrying the world’s woes in my tightened throat, upset stomach, and continuous low-grade headache.  Today I, like so many Al-Anons, am sickening myself with fear and worry much as I once nearly killed myself with drugs and alcohol — believing again and again that I’ll somehow move closer to what I want using something I know does not work.

I fall again and again for the notion that I can control the world around me.  I forget I’m powerless over people, places, and things. But my inner addict never forgets the care-banishing, fukitol power of a drink or a drug.  “There’s an easy way,” it lobbies from the back of my mind, “to quit giving a shit about anything or anyone.”

What else can I do?  You guys have taught me, I always have access to three super-powers: a) meditation & prayer, b) program, and c) action.  I know, I know — they don’t sound real impressive, but they’re transformative, redirecting my path from a destructive to a constructive direction.

a) Meditation and prayer are, strangely enough, the antithesis of worry.  Sitting with eyes closed, I simply quiet my mind as I get to know the inner space of my consciousness.  It’s a lot like entering a dark room and waiting until your eyes adjust.  I can note how urgently or lackadaisically my thoughts enter; I can note my reactions to them, de-escalating from “Holy shit!  I just remembered this ultra-important thing!!” to “Yup… that’s us thinking again…”

At this point, I can begin to sense the inherent foolishness of my normal state of consciousness. I don’t blame myself for being foolish — I am, after all, just a person with squishy stuff in their skull.  I can see that I’m comically focused on my own world of thoughts, my own little “plans and designs.”  Why?  Because I’m scared shitless! I note the many ways I imagine I’m protecting what I love — my worries. For a few moments, I drop them all. I open to god instead and say, “This world is yours, not mine.  But I’m scared shitless.  Help me.”

NOW comes the point at which I can pray unselfishly, asking god to guide me to be useful beyond myself, and even to guide humanity to live on this planet less destructively.  Prayer, like mass meditation, does have an effect.

b) Program means that I go to extra meetings, talk with my sponsor or sponsees, and seek out ways to be useful to others. (Going to my homegroup tonight, I get to do all three!)  I can also write this blog to help you or maybe remind you to help others.

For instance, I was recently perusing this excellent book on not drinking which I’d forgotten I owned.  It’s kick-ass for folks in early sobriety.  I’m just gonna pass along the TOC here so you can recommend to newcomers either exploring one of these tactics (click to expand) or buying the whole damn book.

 

c) Action requires that when I say the Serenity Prayer, I be ready to actually change the things I can. I realized yesterday that, while my work used to require driving all over town to meet clients, now so many of them work at Amazon that on certain days I just drive downtown and back.  Guess what.  I live on a bus line. Rather than heroically taking out a huge loan to buy an electric car, I can simply get my lazy, germaphobic ass on the bus on those days to reduce my goddam carbon footprint.  (I promise to post a photo of me on the fucking bus below.)

9/7/17: Record-breaking hurricanes to the south; record-breaking heat and drought to the west.  This isn’t the Olympics, guys.  This is our planet.

I must do what I can… or I’m a hypocrite.

And yes, I’ve already called my congresswomen to express my views, but I can also plant trees, attend protests, and campaign next time around for wiser a president.

When I took Step 3 all those years ago, I made a decision to live a good life, to seek good/god in all things, and to act on its guidance.  Today that means I don’t get to wallow in worry and panic any more than I do in self-pity and resentment.

There’s always a better way.  Seek and we’ll find it.

 

PS: As promised, a few pictures of me riding the bus to work, which I now do 3 x per week, rain or shine.  A tank of gas lasts me more than twice what it used to.

 

 

 

 

 

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