Tag Archives: god

Hope

“It Gets Better”

I tried so hard all the while I was drinking.  I wanted to live a good life, to do well, to impress others.  I tried my damnedest to figure out what that project called for and to make it happen.  The Big Book calls this effort “self-propulsion,” the attempt to arrange people and circumstances so that we’ll get what we want.

I failed.  That beautiful life I yearned for stayed just out of reach.  I got good grades, looked pretty, earned degrees,  attracted partners, clinched jobs and bought stuff — a car, my dream home.  To bring about temporary relief, I drank every kind of booze I could find, smoked weed, took pills, snorted coke — but still wound up longing to die, to give up.

I identified as atheist — even though I’d had a Near Death Experience (NDE) at 22 during which I’d encountered god.  That’s pretty rare — an atheist who’s journeyed to the light.  But as I approached hitting bottom, as I threw life away ever more recklessly during those last months of drinking, god stepped in again and slapped me upside the head.

God shows up in virtually every NDE as a brilliant white light that radiates an intensity of love beyond earthly imagining.  But that doesn’t mean god’s a milquetoast!  There’s a point to our being here — we’ve agreed to do something by signing up for life, for this embodiment in matter.  And in cases where we’re way off course, god will sometimes give us a nudge.

I’d driven home insanely drunk for the umpteenth time and was propping myself up with the open car door to marvel at what a badass drunk driver I was when a bolt of knowing struck me.  It shot from the starry sky, through my bones, straight into the earth.  It “said” several things at once.  Foremost was a warning: This is the last time I can help you.  God, not I, had delivered me home safe that night.

At the same time, it called bullshit on the way I was living, who I was being, what I was chasing.  It said, essentially: You DO know right from wrong.  I’d been living out the dramatic impulses of my mind, whereas god appealed to a quiet knowledge in my heart.  Even deeper, like the resonance of a bass note, came god’s reality check: We both know you can do better.

I got sober two weeks later.

Next, I tried so hard in early sobriety.  I went to meetings trying to look and sound good.  I got a sponsor and worked the steps.  I prayed… a little.  And things definitely did get better.  I began to stumble on moments of serenity — though for the most part, I still hurt.  Being me still entailed a lot of suffering because I still gave credence to all those head-voices claiming I wasn’t good enough.  I still chased the friendship of (sober) cool kids who didn’t include me in stuff.  Alone, I felt worthless and abandoned.  This went on for… let’s say nine years.

Was I still failing?

Not anymore.  Now I had hope.  Every day, every week, every month… I got a little bit better.  “Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly,” my life transformed.  Quickly, I stopped trying to manipulate people (as much) or circumstances (as insistently) and grew more honest.  Quickly, I learned to share my honest thoughts and feelings with a sponsor and close friends.  Quickly, I adopted the rudiments of service work by helping out my home group and sponsoring women.

God, meanwhile, kept getting in my face to say, “Hey — I’m real.”  That’s largely what my addiction memoir is about — god getting in my face repeatedly through paranormal events, refusing to let up until my resistance finally collapsed and I promised, “I’ll never deny you again!”

Slowly, my primary dwelling place shifted from head to heart.  Oh so slowly, I began to sense my own inner knowing.  I found my source, my spiritual wellspring, as an energy that flows outward from me whenever I serve as a conduit for god’s love.  I learned that seeking opportunities to channel this love is not only the purpose of my life but, inseparably, what grants me a degree of strength and joy beyond anything my mind can manufacture.

I’ve found home within myself.  God visits me there.  We’re good.

Life is precious.  People are cute.

Shit in general seems way less complicated than it used to.

Sometimes, though, I still get lonely.  Last night, for instance, I’d anticipated my son staying with me when he wasn’t.  I had no energy.  I “relapsed” into missing my ex.  Melancholy knocked.  So I called a friend who’d been struggling but is doing better now and was happy with him for the good turns his life’s taken.  And when another friend stopped by to pick up a Gopro he’d loaned me, I asked him in so we could visit.

These contacts couldn’t alleviate my loneliness, but they let me make friends with it.  Turning in for the night, I told myself: “We’re just tired from that insanely tough climb a few days ago.  And we’re impatient to find a partner.  That’s just life.  It’s okay.”

My message to you, dear reader, is that wherever you find yourself on this journey called sobriety, so long as you keep working your program and seeking god’s guidance in all your choices, you’re growing.  You’re better today than you were last year.  Little by little, you will find your wholeness.

I know it can often look as if life’s easier for others.  It’s not.  Being human is hard work.  We alcoholics just effed it up so royally that god gave us Cliff Notes in the form of the Big Book.  All the secrets of a good life are housed between its covers.

One day at a time, one habit at a time, one kindness at a time, we move out of the darkness and toward the light.  Hold fast to your hope.  Keep going.  You’re loved beyond your wildest dreams.

 

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Filed under AA, Alcoholism, Faith, Happiness, Recovery, Sobriety, Spirituality

Healing on God’s Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was she who answered my longstanding question.

me at four

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

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

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

dung beetle at work

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

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

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

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

 

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

Choose Life; Choose Joy

Paul Johnson was not an alcoholic, but he was extremely unhappy.  One night he drank a bunch of booze and took a bunch of pills then went up to his attic, where he hung himself.  Some time later his wife found him – quite dead.  She struggled to lift his body but failed; she had to go downstairs and get her son, the two of them panicking in their efforts to get the body down.  Though Paul’s face had turned black and he was without pulse or breathing, his wife gave him CPR for five minutes.

Then Paul took a breath.

Paul’s consciousness, far from ceasing to exist, had become exceptionally clear during the time his body was dead.  He found himself in darkness, approached from the right by four shadowy figures who showed him a review of his entire life.  “Thoughts were instantaneous. When you asked a question, you would instantly know the answers.” In a Scrooge-like transformation, Paul returned from the dead absolutely overjoyed to be alive:  “I had this vivid memory, extremely vivid, and it shouldn’t have been vivid at all for a guy that took a couple bottles of meds and drank two bottles of liquor. Yet it was so vivid and so real.  I was so happy to be alive, and to have a second chance to fulfill the things pointed out to me as being important.”

I’m in the process of editing a book of interviews with Near-Death Experiencers* – people (including me) who have died, experienced the other side, and returned with memories. Paul is one of fourteen of us interviewed by filmmaker Heather Dominguez, who has amassed the footage for a television series and is raising the money to produce it.

hooded-figureUnlike the rest of us, however, Paul did not go to the Light.  He went to blackness – a void where he existed without a body.  Far from feeling inundated with infinite love, he sensed that the four figures “wanted to take me to a darker, more horrible place.”  But as he watched the scenes of his life go by, Paul felt overwhelmed with loss.  “My biggest regrets were that I didn’t travel and see the world, and I didn’t do the things that made me happy. …It wasn’t that I missed this wedding or didn’t get this job… [It was] that I didn’t enjoy my life like I really wanted to…  As I realized that, I thought: ‘I wish I wasn’t dead!’  In that exact moment… [the experience] was over for me.”

Today, Paul lives in the Philippines with a new wife and her extended family – all of whom he loves.  He changed everything about himself and is now a man decidedly happy, joyous, and free.

Alcoholics who choose to live experience a shift analogous to Paul’s – if they commit to rigorous spiritual work to effect an internal change.  Paul’s moment of choice strongly reminds me of a favorite Big Book story in the 2nd & 3rd editions of Alcoholics Anonymous, “He Who Loses his Life.”  In it, an honors student and “boy wonder” in business named Bob has drunk his life into the ground despite plenty of intelligence and self-knowledge.  All his city friends alienated, following yet another binge he crashes in the country with a doctor he’s known since boyhood.

We worked in five below zero weather, fixing on an elm tree a wrought iron device which modestly proclaimed that he was indeed a country doctor.  I had no money – well, maybe a dime – and only the clothes I stood in.  “Bob,” he asked quietly, “do you want to live or die?”

He meant it.  I knew he did… I remembered the years I had thrown away.  I had just turned 46. Maybe it was time to die.  Hope had died, or so I thought.

But I said humbly, “I suppose I want to live.”  I meant it.  From that instant to this, nearly eight years later, I have not had the slightest urge to drink.

Bob threw himself into working the 12 steps in AA, which led him to great happiness.

Such lasting happiness can be found only by learning to love reality as it is.  To do this, we need to bring about major change in ourselves – something we can’t accomplish without help from the steps, from our fellows, and, most of all, from our god.

When I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, drugs had just sprung lucy_in_the_sky_with_diamonds_by_alfredov90-d5tmlejinto mainstream popular culture.  As a kid listening to Beatles songs like “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” or “Tomorrow Never Knows,” I imagined that drugs brought a higher awareness than just plain old consciousness – which was, for me, terribly uncomfortable. As I grew up, I embraced not just alcohol but “recreational drugs” – as if crippling my brain created anything.  I don’t know about you, but I dared to chase that vision, to venture far into the mysteries of the universe – so I sucked chemicals into my mouth and nose and lungs that essentially shoved my head up my ass, and from there I tried to marvel at the view.

It was dark.  It was lonely.  It was pointless.

I had to hit a bottom, to despair almost completely, before I could begin to see that in my search for “something cooler,” I had rejected life.  In my greediness to be loved, I had rejected loving.  And in my obsession with self, I had rejected a humble consciousness of my own soul and spirit – connection to god.

Deep down, every alcoholic knows they are committing a little bit of suicide with every drink.  We know we’re turning our backs on goodness and truth even as we laugh and whoop it up.  We vaguely sense that we’re completely full of shit, but we somehow can’t see a viable alternative.  It’s life.  Honing awareness in sobriety, I have found that plain old reality… is a trip.  It’s huge.  It’s rich.  It’s mind-blowing.

oak-treeTo love what is takes courage.  To love others without a parasitic agenda takes strength.  And to see clearly into ourselves takes humility.  I, of myself, have hardly any of the above.  But I borrow them (and more) from my god day after day, breath after breath.  I choose joy.

 

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*I’ll let you know when it comes out 🙂

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Filed under AA, Addiction, Afterlife, Happiness, Near Death Experience, Recovery, Sobriety, Spirituality

Seasons of Sobriety

Sobriety isn’t a task or a diet – it’s a way of life.  And like life, it excited-fanhas its ups and downs, riches and ruins.  The quality of our sobriety varies with our connectedness to god and our fellows, depending on the rigor with which we cultivate both.  Many of us long to be gung-ho about sobriety all the time – and we can be!  It’s just that what gung-ho looks like is going to change over time, which is why I like the analogy of seasons in sobriety.

Among my AA speaker recordings, I particularly love one by Don C., a Native American from Colorado Springs sober since August 10, 1978.  Don describes the horrific beating his alcoholism inflicted, distrust at his first AA meeting, a sponsor who made him read and annotate each Big Book chapter 25 times, and the freedom he accessed (there’s a silence while he fights back tears) by working the 12 steps.  His entire life and outlook changed.  So why, early in his fourth year sober, did he suddenly find himself miserable?

He says:

“I was about three years and two months sober and everything was going to hell. Meetings got stupid; my sponsor was having stupid attacks; the Big Book sucked…  I thought I was going crazy. So I went up to see Johnny Looking Cloud… He was a Native Elder that was in recovery. …He said, ‘You’re thinking this is a white man’s program – and it’s not.  This is the Indian way, also… The steps are 12 gentle ways to bring you back to the original teachings. And when you’re done, you’ll be in harmony… the way it was for your ancestors.’”

Johnny Looking Cloud explains to Don, firstly, that the steps align with the Native teaching of the Four Directions.  Steps 1, 2, and 3 align with the east, direction of the new sun, where we find our relationship with the Creator.  Steps 4, 5, and 6 align with the south, the high sun, where we find our relationship with ourselves.  Steps 7, 8, and 9  align with the west, the setting sun and direction of letting go, where we make amends to heal our relationships with others.  To the north, like the North Star, lie 10, 11, and 12, steps that align with the elders’ teachings to deepen our wisdom.

Secondly, he explains that just as all living things proceed through cycles, so do we in sobriety.  The first year is our spring, when our sap begins to flow and we form buds of potential.  In the summer of our second year, our leaves mature and we bloom – living vigorously in sobriety.  By the autumn of our third year, we’re harvesting sobriety’s fruits – stability, material gain, relationships.  But then along comes that fourth year: winter.  Our leaves wither and drop; the light weakens; sobriety seems barren and empty, as if everything were falling apart – just as Don C. experienced.  But in truth, the slate is only being cleared for a new level of sobriety – a fresh spring.

four-seasons-22

My own seasons haven’t conformed to a four-year pattern, but I’ve definitely experienced that cycle many times in my 21 years’ sobriety.  In my springtimes, I get to see something new, some truth of living or character defect I’d never recognized before, that changes me forever.  My golden summers and autumns extend sometimes for years.

But winter does arrive.  And it sucks.  My sobriety feels ~meh! ~  I can’t recapture my enthusiasm for meetings, stepwork, or service.  Even so, I’ve schlepped through many such winters to reach new springs.  How does that happen… or not happen?

All of us, consciously or not, seek god/goodness/love in our lives.  All of us carry burdens of fear, pain, and loss.  The interrelationship between these two parts, I’ve found, comprises the melody of my life.  The seasons of a heavy and aching soul complement those of lightness and a free spirit.

My feelings really don’t have much to do with god, I don’t think.  Emotions are part of me, rooted in my body and brain – my separateness from god.  Rather, the godly part of me manifests only in my immediate awareness – my ability to see with love in the present instant.

During my summery months, my god-awareness acts like a beam of light, one I can turn on my own emotions – fears and sadness or childish excitement.  I can make friends with whatever nonsensical feelings insist on tagging along with me.  And when I’m good with my own emotions, it’s easy to extend love and compassion to others.

But when sobriety’s winter comes around, the beam wanes so I can’t tell what the hell’s going on.  Emotions victimize me.  I suffer.  I isolate.  I envy.  I doubt life will ever be good again.  gollumIt’s at this point that I’m most vulnerable to the wheedling voice of alcoholism.  It promises me drinking would fix everything.  It points out that other people drink with impunity, claims my life would be more fun if I joined them.  It paints a sweeping mural of a happier me with booze at its center.

For me, thank god (literally), this voice stays puny – I can swat it away like a pesky fly.  But for relapsing friends of mine, it begins to sound credible.  “Take charge of your life!” it urges them.  Humility starts to look like timidity; gratitude like settling; forgiveness like self-debasement.  Before they know it, a grandiose ego has upstaged god and they’re gonna to fix themselves with a drink – and do it right this time!

I wish I could offer a ticket to instant spring.  But there isn’t one.  There’s only acceptance:

doveThis, too, shall pass.  Every alcoholic with long term sobriety has taken refuge in this motto.  When recovery feels like drudgery, we still pursue it as best we can – going to meetings, calling sponsors, being of service.  Maybe we seek out Johnny Looking Cloud, or our own equivalent, and ask for help.  In some ways, those words represent the deepest form of faith.  They capture the willingness to have no idea how things will turn out, yet trust god enough to hang on through the darkness, believing spring will come again.

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PS:  Listen to Don C. here.  This isn’t the same talk I have on my 2011 Bellevue CD, but close.

Post to Facebook.

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Filed under AA, Addiction, Alcoholism, Faith, living sober, Recovery, Sobriety

Full Time God

Holding onto my god-reality gets difficult. Consensus reality refers to what a given culture affirms as real and true. Everyone is socialized to adopt a similar model.  Where I live, in an urban, high-tech setting, most people dismiss the idea that god is an actual presence and power in everyday life.

Today it’s not crazy to believe every object around us is 99.999% empty space punctuated by vibrating atoms with orbiting electrons whose “wave function is spread out over a cubic Angstrom (10^-4 microns), which means that the electron ‘is’ everywhere in that volume. So [while] the electron has no volume, …it is spread out over a relatively big volume. ”*

Totally! Got it!  Physicists know their shit, right?

But it is crazy to believe the statements of thousands of perfectly sane people who claim to have left their bodies, entered a spiritual realm far more vivid, and there encountered a being of Light who beamed them love, compassion, and insight beyond anything comparable on earth.  (For examples, browse those posted on the NDERF site.)

Those guys are just trippin’!  Sure, they all think they left their bodies, but really it was just X… [insert hypoxia, DMT dump, etc.]

The problem? Religion has claimed authority over god and the afterlife for so long that we as a culture seem unable to divorce the two. Sometime in the mid 1800s, there began a cultural landslide that demoted the church to a social club and the bible to myth – BUT also took out with it the conviction that our spirits are of god and survive physical death.

the_last_judgement  stefan_lochner_-_last_judgement_-_circa_1435
The Last Judgment, a total bummer – versions by Jan Provoost, 1525 (above) and Stefan Lochner, 1435 – click to enlarge

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I’m feeling weird.  At long last I’ve read Life after Life, by Raymond Moody – the pioneering exploration of Near Death Experiences (NDEs) published in 1975.

I say “at long last” because, in spite of having undergone an NDE myself in 1982 (as described in my book – along with my alcoholic wreckage and recovery), I’ve strangely resisted reading Moody’s book for many years. If you’d forced me to read it the day before my NDE, I’d have scoffed at it as total crap. If the day after (though my slight brain damage made reading difficult), it would have blown my mind, upended my universe – to know that so many other people had experienced what I did.

Moody 70s&15

Dr. Raymond Moody, 1975 & 2015

At the time when Moody conducted these interviews with NDE survivors, the terms NDE, being of light, life review, tunnel, etc. had no place – zero, nada, nichts – in our culture. Moody coined them. In fact, the interviewees struggle to come up with the best words they can find for what they individually maintain exceeds the scope of both language and earthly experience. All had kept their stories to themselves to avoid being labeled kooks.

Just as I did – even to myself! And… here’s the reason I’m feeling weird: I realize I’m still doing that.  WTF?!  On a daily basis, I unknow my knowledge of the other side to align with the consensual reality around me.

I recently came across this video on Facebook showing the power of cultural conformity. In it, a woman is conditioned by study “actors” in a waiting room to rise from her seat every time she hears a beeping tone. The shocking part is that she continues the behavior after the planted group is gone; in fact, she “teaches” a new group of five non-study civilians to stand up every time they hear the tone – just because.non-conformity

And I am DOING THAT! Every time I set aside my knowledge that the spirit world really does exist, I’m allowing the beep – the consensus model of materialism – to control my internal behavior.

I know the being of light that beamed me full of love and bliss on the other side, while back here I’d become a corpse, was a piece of god – a god that knows us all because we’re of it.  And I know that same celestial being sent me back here.  It beamed, “You can’t stay; you’re not done.”  To me.  Which enraged me.  I remember that.  And yet MOST of the time, I go around with my god truth stuck away in a little mental compartment.

Reading Moody, when I really think about the fact that I came alive in a body that three minutes before had shut down from snorted lidocaine (sold to me as cocaine), I see that it simply makes no sense. A lethal dose of that drug was still in my system. How could CPR restart my heart?  I came back to my body in a vast puddle of sweat, dazed and child-like but fully functional – when three minutes before, extreme bradycardia had shut down my brain and triggered a grand mal seizure.

How could that happen?  It couldn’t.  Not by any natural means.  God did it.embarrassed1

But it’s SO UNCOMFORTABLE to know this when my culture categorizes such a claim as fantastical.  It’s SO HARD to own it when it sounds arrogant and self-important: “MMmm- god sent me back!”  I’m frickin’ embarrassed to say the same things so many people in Moody’s book were frickin’ embarrassed to say.

But it only seems arrogant because our culture squelches acknowledgment of miracles all around us – every goddamn day! Miracles in the lives of virtually every goddamn person! Why are miracles so hard for us to acknowledge?  GOD IS REAL.  Why, as a culture, do we have to explain the evidence away?  Some of us predict that the internet will change this denial.  For the first time in human history, NDEers can find one another.  We can become a group with a united voice – and power to challenge the consensus that insults us.

For example, I recently read a skeptic’s theory that the light is actually an optical migraine.  Dude – I’ve had optical migraines!  Lots of ’em.  They’re a big swath of shimmering light, sure, but they’re less like the Light than a firefly is to a bolt of lightning.  How stupid do you think I am?

But I’m promising myself, I’m promising my god, and I’m promising those of you who share my experience: I will fight to know what I know.

Continuous prayer is really the only sane state of mind.

 

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* See Quora explanation

Every year hundreds of NDEers and interested fellows fly in from all over the globe to attend the IANDS conference because, according to skeptics, they’re all, like formerly sane Dr. Eben Alexander, a bunch of self-deluded dummies who actually believe this other-worldly shit happened to them.  Related links on my Links and Stuff page.

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Happy, Joyous, and Free

Throughout my 20s and early 30s I drank almost daily and blacked out at least weekly because alcohol made all my lies come true.  Not my dreams – my lies: I wanted to be right in everything that I got, and wronged in everything that I didn’t.  Alcohol made that possible.

loufinger

Me, 1990

Until it didn’t.  I was loath to admit the light was growing dimmer, that more and more shit was seeping in through the seams, but  the day(s) came when life felt unbearable – with or without alcohol.  Suicide and AA being a toss-up, I tried them out in the only order possible.  I went to an AA meeting January 29, 1995, and I’ve not had a drink since.

But when I heard you guys quoting the line from the Big Book, “we are sure God wants us to be happy, joyous, and free,” it sounded like a crock.  Me – happy?

First off, by “God” you had to mean some kind of authority figure, some “He,” some tyrant of righteousness – which I mentally flipped off.

Secondly, only stupid people were happy.  You guys lacked the guts to acknowledge life’s futility, the grim jest of being born into this harsh world only to suffer endless loneliness and disappointment.  You preferred buying into Barney-the-Dinosaur style clichés and niceties.

Anyway, you AA people were never going to brainwash me with your spiritual drivel.

But you did.  Turns out I needed brainwashing pretty badly – given that my every thought was thoroughly toxic.

Hiking 100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail is how I spent last week – Section i of Washington, southbound.  I went with a sober friend 22 years my junior, and we had the time of our lives.  After making only 8 miles the first day, given our 40-lb packs laden with a week of food, we stepped up our pace to climb and descend 15- 17 wilderness miles daily, passing perhaps 4 to 6 fellow hikers per day.  Almost every night at camp, we held a two-person AA meeting.  The first nights we futzed around with reciting “How it Works,”  but we soon said screw it and just used the Serenity Prayer.

We shared formally, no one else around for miles:

ME: “I’m Louisa and I’m and alcoholic.”

KACIE: “Hi, Louisa!”

Our shares let us remind each other that all the happiness, joy, and freedom we were reveling in were contingent on our sobriety, and thus on god.  I cried more than once: the emotions of loving the beauty of this world and awareness of mortality were so strong I could hardly stand them.  For instance, I met a highly enlightened spiritual guide on the trail.

What happened was that, high on a ridge in strong wind, I rounded a rock outcropping to see a huge black bear beside the trail.  The size of a dark refrigerator, he was sitting on his rump in an alpine meadow of wildflowers about 30 feet distant, contentedly chewing some vegetation with the wind at his back.  Thoughtfully he lifted his great head as if to say, “What a wonderful day to be a bear!”  I felt no fear – only a strong sense that my choices were important.  I turned to Kacie: “There’s a bear.”  We walked behind the rock where we held a bellowed conversation about our hopes the bear would move.  When we came back around the rock two minutes later, he had vanished.

Bear

NOT my photo!  A camera is not what comes to mind…

As a self-conscious human, I’ll never be as at ease in the world as that wild creature.  But letting god into my life has brought me a tiny bit closer every day.  I want to know that I am meant to live, as that bear knew: that I belong to the earth, to nature.  I want to know I’ll be provided  all I need.  I want to understand that, even when I have the power to trump others – in the bear’s case to kill effortlessly – choosing peace and simplicity is almost always the wiser course.  The faith and confidence to be fully and unapologetically Louisa while harming no one – that’s the goal of my sober life.

If I could go back and tell that AA-scoffing Louisa of 1995 what I understand today, I might say this:

  • “You think “God” means someone outside you, some entity confronting you.  You’re wrong.  The very ember inside you that wants to live, that loves life and goodness and others – your “you-ness” itself is god!!  You are a drop of god transforming matter to life in every cell of your body.  To know god is to delve deeper in your life-force and discover it’s the same power that interconnects all life.  To trust god is to understand that all who’ve lived and died are nano-parts of a tremendous, intricate unfurling.

Anonymous friend

Along the way, Kacie got slowed down by a terrible blister, so at a spur trail to a water source she sat down on a log to change to sandals while I went off to filter.  By the time I returned she was chatting with a through-hiker who’d started off in Mexico.  He’d already said goodbye and was 20 feet down the trail when something moved me to call out: “Can we give you some food?”  He halted in his tracks.  We filled a Ziplock with all kinds of yummy stuff that thrilled him.  THAT’s when we learned he, too, was an alcoholic.  Kacie had even visited his homegroup thousands of miles away in Key West!  Blown away by that “coincidence,” he shared with us how he’d relapsed at the last outpost of civilization and was nervous about the next.  We listened.  We said we’d pray for him.  And we did.

I would tell 1995 Louisa:

  • You think happiness comes from getting what you want, impressing people, winning stuff.  But true joy comes from giving, from reaching out and helping others.  It’s only selfish fear that blocks you from channeling god to others.  The more you trust, the more god frees you from the mire of self-centeredness, so loneliness can  be replaced by an endless flow of love – for the world.

Life is so damn good today, you guys!

How do I find the courage to step out on a wilderness trail, armed with only a stack of printed maps, and head for someplace I’ve never even seen 100 miles away?  Easy.  All I have to do is take one step.  Then another.  Same as staying sober.  And whether I meet up with a bear or a fellow drunk, I’ll ask god to guide my course.

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VIDEO VERSION OF OUR HIKE: https://youtu.be/5vio7oDjhsQ

 

 

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The Ultimate False God: Coolness

What is “coolness”?

Words are tricky.  This philosopher guy, Derrida, once pointed out that words and ideas are all attached to one another like a big web or network, but the web itself is attached to nothing.  The word/idea “rock” has nothing do with an actual lump of minerals, except in our collective memory.  The whole mass of meaning floats.  There’s no anchor.

So when I say “coolness,” we’ll have to at least take a second to figure out what I might mean.

No culture worships this quality more ardently than ours in the US.  The vast majority of our cultural icons embody it – figures emblematic of wild West lore, gangster lore, entertainment industry lore, and so on.  John Wayne.  Al Capone.  Drake?  We foist coolness on famous figures who eschewed it in real life, like Einstein or Lincoln, and even on certain animals like panthers or falcons.

Coolness is an aura of infallibility that rebuffs any weakness – including fu insecurity, confusion, or dependence that makes one vulnerable.  Coolness implies the individual is a source, a sun of personal charisma.  Even alienated characters, if they’re cool, attract the audience who “gets” them, just as each peer group defines its own style of cool.  Across the board, though, cool figures exude confidence – an immunity to bungling, embarrassment, and indecision that elevates them in the eyes of others.

But because words float around, we sometimes conflate coolness with positivity.  In conversation, we use “cool!” as a synonym for laudable, so we might potentially mix it up with goodness.  However, there’s a world of difference.  Take Mother Teresa for instance: what she did in Calcutta was “really cool,” but did she embody any of the “coolness” described above?  Would Kanye West rap about her?  Not exactly.

Alcoholics often drink to feel cool.  At least, as a practicing alcoholic, I did.  And you know what?  I succeeded with flying colors – again, and again, and again – in my own mind.  Of the thousands of drinks I took, the only one that failed to cool-ify me… was my last.

snoopy_joecoolToday, when I try to go back mentally and recreate that sense of “coolness,” what I arrive at is a sense of a force field, a glow of indifference highlighting me as subtly superior.  Louisa with a few drinks in her was undaunted by whatever (imagined) disapproval mainstream dolts cast her way.  Fuck ’em!  Some part of me watched myself and approved, finding ways to make you think I didn’t care what you thought.

Shitfaced, I was even cooler.  I became a rugged individual, a Rambo against social decorum, yet slinky and wily, sorta like Catwoman.  Your cool may differ.  Yet whether boisterous or aloof, we all seek the same sense of impervious, indifferent badassery – a condescending dismissal of the humanity around us.  We’re keen.  We’re cocky.  We know shit.

But all we’ve done, in reality, is swallow some liquid.

Sobriety, on the other hand, demands rigorous honesty.  People who cannot recover are “constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves.”  In my eyes, coolness comes down to a form of inner dishonesty which, for us, can be lethal.  The friends I see struggling most in AA – the ones who keep relapsing, almost dying, or who eventually do die – are the ones I sense still worshipping this false god.

As hard as it may seem, rigorous honesty means giving up the illusion of coolness.  It means ceasing to worship at that altar, unmasking that ideal as empty and pointless.  It means grasping and accepting that everyone – not just us, but everyone – is fallible, vulnerable, incomplete, and often scared.  Sure, some people with emotional defenses close their minds to these flaws, but they still suffer them, and to the degree that they deny them, they will never find peace.

To be human is to not know what the fuck you’re doing at least half the time.  It’s struggling with worry and insecurity, wanting to be liked even when you don’t want to.  It’s meaning well, but having stuff not work out, and looking stupid.  We’re vulnerable, fragile, and frequently lost.  Coolness pretends to banish all this – but it lies.

To be human, fundamentally, is to be incomplete.  We are each of us a tiny bubble of life, little princebroken off from a greater source that is living-ness, the whole of god.  Being isolated is painful.  It’s hard to be sealed off in our yardage of skin, encapsulated in our lonely skulls – because our true essence is we.  God is we – the manifold of all beings.  For this reason, what fuels us most is connection to others – compassion, collaboration, love – not in our glory, but in our humbleness – our simplest human state.

Those who can’t stay sober – many are trying to worship both gods: the god of love and the god of “fuck off, bitches.”   Some are addicted to imagined admiration, but most are simply grasping for a life-ring.  A few still glorify partying as a form of rebellion: “Fuck, yeah, we gonna rip it up tonight!” (meaning they’re going to ingest things).  Others retreat into the cool of morose isolation, of just not giving a shit.

The antithesis of coolness is caring deeply.  That means we do give a shit about what matters, including others’ welfare.  We’re forever working toward something constructive, remaining true even when the going gets tough.  For me, the source that loans me the power to care passionately is god.  I have enough; I can take a risk and reach toward you.  Ironically, the more we renounce coolness, the greater our capacity to generate acts of goodness that could be deemed “cool.”

Only when I acknowledge that I’m not an island, when I admit to god all the weaknesses and wounds my ego denies, do I open myself to a loving power that completes me, rather than the drink that only  seems to.  Love – that energy we can pass on in a thousand forms, not of coolness, but of warmth – is ultimately the power that keeps us sober.

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