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.”