Tag Archives: recovery

On Living Sober, Sane, and Single

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

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

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

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

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

But anyway.  You guys know the deal with that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pride vs. Mysticism

We are not saints. The point is, that we are willing to grow along spiritual lines.

Alcoholics Anonymous

Saints are supposedly perfect people, whereas mystics are visibly imperfect people who have been convicted by moments of very real divine union.

Richard Rohr

Put even more briefly, saints embody goodness while mystics embody love.

  — Carl McColman 

Alcoholics who merely stop drinking without drastically changing their approach to life remain ill and, consciously or unconsciously, suffer.  All the emotional dysfunction that spurred them to seek relief through alcohol persists; only their fix is gone. They live “dry” rather than sober, inflicting pain on those around them as they vent pent-up frustration, some a little at a time and some in binges, just as they drank.

Pride blocks the dry alcoholic from true recovery.

A truly recovering alcoholic experiences a “psychic change.” As Carl Jung described the shift, “Ideas, emotions and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them.” Dude was right!  Ideas, emotions, and attitudes — completely switched.

The 12 steps, worked with a good sponsor, transform all three. During steps 1-6, we let go self-centered ideas about our place in the world and how it ought to work; emotions of anger, shame, and envy; attitudes of victimhood and arrogance.  In steps 7-12, a new set of conceptions begin to develop — because our vision has cleared!  Somewhere in the mix will be new ideas of what god-reliance means, new emotions of gratitude and unconditional love, and new attitudes usefulness and even — on our best days — humility!

In my own sobriety, I go through dry periods when I “forget” the way of life AA has taught me.  I start to imagine I have some power and the right to feel a bit prideful until, without realizing it, I’m navigating based on projections about how others perceive me.  My pride is effectively running the show.

Here’s the cool thing about psychic change, though: it’s not kick or phase. It comes with its own safety-catch, because shit always hits the fan. And thank goodness it does, because when a big chunk smacks me, I don’t puff up my pride to chest-bump against reality. Rather, I fold — and fast! I surrender with a prayer like this: “I don’t know what’s going on, but I trust you. I thought I knew stuff, but it looks like I was wrong. Please guide me.”

Just one prayer lets me see that my whole arsenal of I-know-best weapons was made of sand. All slips away and I remember that I have no power in this life but to love.  None.

Mysticism sounds like a remote, woo-woo concept.  It ain’t. According to Merriam Webster, all it refers to is a “direct knowledge of God, spiritual truth, or ultimate reality [that] can be attained through subjective experience (such as intuition or insight).”

Historically, mysticism has acquired a shitty name from various religions. It’s easy to see why. Direct knowledge of god cuts out the middleman — the church, temple, or mosque — so many religious authorities have safeguarded their bread and butter by denouncing it as a dark, occult practice.  “What?!  Seek God yourself, from your own heart on your own individual path? What if it’s Satan yer talking to?”

Today, widespread mysticism is, I feel, the only thing that can save humanity — not from damnation, but from irretrievably defiling our planet. Religion has posed a stumbling block for scientifically educated people in recent centuries: distaste for religious dogma translates to distaste for god.  Today, ego (god’s antithesis) rules at the societal, economic, and political levels. Results include climate change, oceans choking in plastic, and an entire countryside soaked in cancer-causing glyphosate, to name just a few.  If this isn’t an apocalypse, I don’t know what is.

God itself is about only love — simple, direct, and freeing.  NDErs from all walks of life encounter the same force on the other side: overwhelming love, a love so omnipresent that, like the brilliance of the divine Light, it erases petty differences, competition, all the conflicts and cross-purposes of ego.  God envelops us because we ARE god.  God rejoices when we are loving and is pained whenever, in even the smallest ways, we harm self or others.

Religion, by contrast, if chock full of human pride and ego.  A jealous or vengeful God? A God who plays favorites? Rewards an “elect” of saved cool cats?  Gross!  And yet, these depictions taint the idea of god for billions of people.

Joel Osteen’s megachurch

A dry alcoholic friend of mine who swears by evangelist Joel Osteen had me listen to some YouTube sermons that, for me, epitomized religious pride and ego. From a huge stage in his Houston megachurch, Osteen tells many thousands of followers, “What God has in store for you is going to amaze you! The people He’s going to bring across your path, the influence He’s going to give you!…  You are not working to get victory, you are working from victory.  When you know that you’ve already won, there’s a rest. You know the outcome…God said, he always causes you to triumph….”

Osteen’s message is clearly that if we kiss god’s ass enough, we’ll win!  We’ll get a leg up over all those other bastards and one day they’ll have to eat our dust in the wake of our victory!  Hey, it’s sure worked for Joel! My poor friend, by contrast, is constantly deciding God must hate him.

Nothing could be further from the god I know. And no venue could be further from the humble approach of mysticism: simply disregarding our thoughts (“be still”) and opening our hearts (“and know”) to god from the privacy of our own homes.  (Yes, the bible has some good lines!)  Meditation and prayer.  Step 11.

Pride builds a wall around us, inside which we languish awaiting our day of “victory.”  Seeking god opens the door to joy right here, right now — the simple freedom to love and be loved.

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PS: In TOTALLY unrelated news (except maybe that it involves humility while livin’ large & sober 😀 ), friends & I attempted 14,410′ Mount Rainier last weekend but had to turn back just 1,200 feet from the summit due to delays and high winds.  Short movie account here: https://youtu.be/g8OSqqjcoJ0

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Filed under Alcoholics Anonymous, God, Recovery, Religious pride, Sobriety, Spirituality

Struck Clean

Everyone had given up on David Morris. At 45, he lived only for cocaine, and nothing was going to change that.  His family once intervened and sent him to a 30-day treatment, all of them so happy and hopeful when he graduated! But then he used again, immediately hopeless as ever. When his brother opened his home to David and gave him a job with his business, David took him up on the offer and managed to stay clean for two months. Family and friends’ hopes were raised: surely this time David was on his feet! But then he used again was back to his old ways.

What ways? Living in his mom’s house and employed in a family business, David’s life had shrunk down to nothing but cocaine. “In those final months, I had to be high all the time. My only concern was to get cocaine, get back to my room, and just be high. I’d stay awake most of the night doing coke, sleep a couple hours, wake up and get high to go to work, and then buy more on my way home — over and over and over.”

This went on until David died — probably from a heart attack brought on by overdose.

“I’d brought home an 8-ball. Every time I got high, I got extremely paranoid.  That evening, after I’d done not quite half, I felt sure the police were hiding in my closet. I could see the walls around my second story windows begin to crack and bulge, the cracks spreading, and I knew they were going to bust in and take my drugs.

“So I did everything I had — another two grams, which was an extreme amount. I didn’t mean to die. I just didn’t want anyone else to get my drugs!  Then I felt myself fading, and I fell onto my bed.”

That should be the end of the story — but it’s not. Today David has 12 years clean and sober, lives a life filled with joy and  relationships, and knows to his core that he will never use or drink again — all thanks to his experience on the other side of death.

“My spirit, my essence, rose up out of my body, and I could see my body lying on the bed. From there I moved very fast downward into a deep, total darkness. I felt shocked, frightened, confused, until I came to a place with an enormous stone slab. And lying on that slab was my lifeless body. I went into a panic; I had no idea what was going on.  I, my essence, could move about, but that body was not going to move.

“I can tell you, if I had stayed there, this story would be very different.  But I made a choice — a choice that I did not want this, that I hadn’t lived as I wished to. And with that, I began to hear distant voices calling to me, trying to guide me. Later on, after the experience, I recognized them as the voices of loved ones who had passed. But at the time, I just knew I wanted to get closer to them.

“They guided me up from the darkness, until away in the distance, I could see the light coming toward me — or me toward it.  The light grew and grew until I was engulfed in its presence. Everything became perfect. The light, as so many have said, is beyond description, beyond words — that totality of bliss.

“In the presence of this cleansing of the light, everything happened in telepathy. And the biggest gift conveyed to me by that presence was the message to just love. That’s it!  The most divine intervention that could possibly have happened – for me and to me. That gift and so many others came to me in the light’s presence.

“But as beautiful and blissful as it was there, I knew I wanted to come back – and I very strongly asked to do so. I didn’t want to leave this life the way I was leaving it. And then I knew the light was going to allow me to come back.

“Meanwhile on this plane, my aunt, who lived downstairs with my mother, heard whatever commotion my body made upstairs – a seizure, I don’t know – and called 911. My first memory is of being put in an ambulance outside the house. I remember a moment or two in the ambulance, then waking up in the hospital.

“The E.R. doctors told my aunt they had no medical explanation for why I’d survived. My heart rate, blood pressure, other complications when I arrived should have killed me. But later that day, I was sent home. My sister, with whom I’d always been close, was visiting that weekend. She told me, ‘I’m done. I’ll pray for you.  Goodbye.’ And she left.

“I’ve never again had the urge to get high. For so many years, I’d struggled, unable to stay clean for even a day. When I first came back, I wasn’t sure what had happened, but I knew — I knew I wasn’t a drug addict anymore.

“I didn’t know anything about Near Death Experiences.  I was so eager to understand what had happened to me, I read tons of books, one after another.” The first of these was Lessons from the Light by Kenneth Ring. “These NDErs’ stories were so similar to mine, and the after-effects of ways I was seeing things – all in that book! So that started to bring some clarity.  Roughly two and a half months after my NDE, on a Sunday afternoon, I decided to give my sister call, not to ask forgiveness, but to let her know, however long it took for her to heal was okay. We cried together, and our healing process began. Our bond today is as strong as ever.

“Really, though, for the first five years, it was just me and God. Nothing could touch me, I was flying. I did go to Narcotics Anonymous, not to stay clean myself, because I was done, but to help other addicts. I made a lot of friends I still have today. Since then, I’ve ventured into other areas of spirituality. In my meditations, I’ve extended my own personal adventures with God, in my own ways, just sitting in my chair.”

David eventually Googled Near Death Experiences and found the International Association of Near Death Studies (IANDS), which is how I met him.  The two of us will sit on a panel about NDEs and addiction at the next IANDS conference in Philadelphia.  Our stories differ markedly in that I, at age 22 when I had my NDE, so strongly embraced atheism and was so far from hitting bottom that I chose to deny I’d crossed over. I needed a series of 14 paranormal events in conjunction with AA spirituality to finally open my heart fully to the reality of god, my guardian angel, and the other side.

Key to most NDErs is the distinction between the anthropomorphic God suggested by various religions and the pure, good, overwhelming energy of the light. The light is love, intelligence, and power beyond our capacity to understand — though it knows and loves us perfectly because we are extensions of it — light sparks embodied in matter.  The key to living that the light passed to David — just love — now orients his every thought and has transformed his life into something beautiful.

“Naturally, today I have no fear of death. All the physical and material things most people place so much importance on, finances, wealth – they don’t matter much to me. I really have no needs. I have no wants. I have nothing to achieve. I’ve become as light as a feather!”

David walks this talk every day.  As soon as he learned through a CC on an email to conference officials that I wanted to go to the four-day Philadelphia conference but couldn’t afford it, he called me. Knowing nothing about me, he offered space in the Air B&B he’d reserved for his family and said he’d be happy to drive me to and from the airport. So I’ve coughed up the airfare, and, thanks to David’s kindness, I’ll attend at the end of August.  I also interviewed him for the Seattle IANDS newsletter.

“I’m completely free with myself,” says David. “I’ll share anything other people want to know and I don’t really care what they think of me – good or bad. I love – really LOVE – being me! I share from my heart, and they can do with it what they want. I’ve become so much about the moment – I’m not about the past or future. The most profound learning of my NDE that has stayed strongest with me, the direction that will never leave my heart, is to just love.”

“One of the most beautiful suggestions I can offer someone who is struggling is to sit still. I don’t mean sit still for half an hour a day. I mean to sit still in life. I spent six months after [a romantic] relationship ended just going to work and suffering, because a big piece of my soul was missing – but sitting still in that suffering. It was a beautiful experience, and it gradually eased.” David feels it’s the flight from pain, not pain itself, that drives many to seek relief through alcohol and drugs.

“Those little 12-step clichés: Surrender – a single word that is so profound, so simple, but not easy. Let Go and Let God — if you could see the simplicity of those five words, you’d see how grand life is, and you’d be free to sit and watch life… caring for life.”

Perhaps the greatest takeaway from David’s story is that the god of our understanding will relieve not only our addictions but our pain, sense of helplessness or victimhood, and whatever else ails us if  we seek it earnestly. For those of us who’ve lived locked up in a prison of ego and fear for many years, learning how to just love as a way of consciousness may come slowly.  But if we practice it consciously in meditation and throughout our days, it will come.

I’m going to venture out on a limb here to give you the closest description I can offer of my own experience of living in just love.  When you were a child, maybe 3 to 5, you still carried a basic faith that the world was fundamentally good — which it is.  When I am living in just love, I see again through those eyes. You might think of the children’s book Goodnight Moon; I live in that sort of world, one where I extend a loving relationship even toward trees and inanimate objects.  I experience every person as if they, too, were a tender 3 to 5-year-old underneath their slick, thorny defenses, and I dare to love them for it.

Just love.  The light will flow through you, healing all that ails.

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.nderf.org/index.htm – Near Death Research Foundation

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1642931594 – Tricia Barker’s new NDE book

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCyIstVbBhilo1gdUmazkReQ – Tricia Barker’s Youtube interviews w NDErs

Consciousness Continues – Documentary featuring me (Louisa) sharing a bit of my NDE – rent on Amazon for $1.99

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Filed under Addiction, Afterlife, God, NDE, Near Death Experience, Recovery

How I Learned to Love People

IntrovertIn my twenties, I claimed to be more than an introvert; I was someone who just plain didn’t like people. That worked great for me as a melancholy drunk, because I needed lotsa booze to talk to people — right?  Animals I always loved, since those connections called for neither conversation nor competition.

When I first quit drinking, nothing else about me changed.  I still felt uncomfortable in human company, assigned people coolness levels, and silently criticized everyone, convinced I was being criticized in the same way.  Almost like a counterbalance to this alienation was my over-attraction to certain people I elevated above everyone else, usually with an obsessive crush.

crush

Sober, I understood the dynamic behind my infatuations: I could get high on dopamine and oxytocin, which provided a temporary escape from the work of being me, and my thoughts kept me immersed in a dreamy sense of hope, which also distracted from the work of being me.  Oh, how amazing it felt to be with person Z!

At the same time, I did understand that infatuation was both an illusion and total waste of life.  But that doesn’t mean I could quit!  For us addictive types, self-knowledge can’t even begin to compete with whatever sweet fix gets us off, whether we ingest the chemicals or manufacture them in our own brains.

What?  Stop gambling, over-shopping, using porn, etc. just because it’s a destructive, empty high?  I don’t think so, says our addict; we can feel sooo good for just a little bit!

AA’s Step 6 tells us to become ready to have character defects removed.  I used to pray, Please cure me of this crush thing!  I am so done with it, god, but I can’t stop!

God heard me.  God answered.  I tell this story in my addiction memoir, along with scores of others.

Moonlight magic

In 2004, the man I was obsessed with agreed to get dinner with me after an AA meeting, but only at the restaurant announced for post-meeting fellowship. On our walk to this place, he reached out to a series of people from the meeting. Through my eyes, the first person was way too cool — but said he might join us.  The next, something like Goldilocks’ porridge, was not cool enough, but likewise agreed.  The third was pretty much at our level.

At first, as we took seats alone in a large booth, I zoomed in on charming and seducing my crush. But then, who should interrupt us but a sketchy kid on crutches and his snaggle-toothed girlfriend. The kid explained that his foot was deeply infected with some rare bacteria — probably not flesh eating disease, he added, dipping into our chips — from stepping on broken bottle during a fist fight with his dad.  While I cursed their arrival, my crush listened and empathized.

Next to arrive were the invited people — cool, loser, and mid-range. I knew these folks and soon found myself in conversation with them. More people from the meeting arrived and sat in the booth adjoining ours, twisting around to joke with us.  Food and sodas showed up. Laughter, noise. I relaxed.

Half an hour later, I can’t even remember who was talking to me. All I know is I was laughing so hard I made no sound, rocking in the elation of feeling totally safe with family, when I realized my crush had moved to the other booth. Here’s the kicker: I didn’t care!  The love I was starving for, I saw then, was not his, but god’s love, through people around me with whom I was normally too shy to connect.

Not a night owl, I left earlier than many, walking the dark, empty streets back to my car.  A glow of love filled me with for everyone — even the not-flesh-eating diseased guy and his girlfriend. I could feel that god was pleased, that god was telling me this was how to live: love should be a fountain showering on all, not a nozzle spray pummeling just one.

But I also knew myself: I would forget.  I would revert.

So I pray-whispered as I walked, please guide me toward your way of life.  An idea came (from god), and I pounced on it:  We made a pact. I swore to god that every time I found myself criticizing someone in a meeting, I’d make a beeline for that person as soon as the Serenity Prayer circle broke.  I’d shake their hand, and I’d learn three things about them.  In return, I asked god to cure me of shyness and obsession.  God said “deal.”

What an adventure this became! In retrospect, it was comical. I’d be in a big meeting hearing a share and think: “Man, this dude so imagined himself giving this share! What a phony!” Then I’d think, “Shit!”  Okay, I’d reluctantly note where he went in the closing circle. I’d drag myself over, my shyness screaming, “No!” I’d stick out my hand: “Hi, I’m Louisa. That’s a such a cool tattoo on your arm. What does it say?” After a bit of  an awkward start, I’d learn three things.  To young, pretty women who were stealing all the goddamn sexy, I might say, “I like your earrings. Where’d you get them?”

Anything.  God didn’t care what I said.  God cared that I broke through my shyness.  God saw my desire to grow and loved me for it.

And here came the miracle: At least half of these people became friends — confidants who later helped me get through cancer and a horrible break-up. I grew to love people FOR their flaws, not despite them. Everything that sparks my criticism, I do or have done in some form.  My ego craves attention, hopes to impress, fears being exposed as a fraud, and uses dumb, cheap tricks to chase whatever.  When I accept myself, I can love others as god loves us — just for trying.

In about two years, my pact with god became obsolete — or more aptly, fulfilled.  I’d shed 90% of my criticizing, ranking, and elevating.  I lost shyness.  I no longer need the fix of a drink or a crush. The work of being me today is to breathe the same love for humanity that I once felt only for animals. It’s work, but I can do it!

Even as the greedy among us destroy our planet, I have hope that the goodness in our hearts will some day connect us, so that we move collectively toward a better world.

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Filed under Faith, God, prayer, Recovery, Spirituality

Declutter Your Spiritual House

Each year as my AA birthday approaches, I like to take a look back to see how far I’ve come. I’ll be turning 24 years sober this January, and I would not trade my beautiful life for anything.

Just before I got sober

Twenty-four years ago, I believed life without drinking would be horrifically boring, like eating only brussel sprouts forever. Relaxation would be gone, so I’d feel anxious and stressed out nonstop.  Socializing sober would be such an ordeal, I’d probably just isolate. How could I play without ease and comfort?

I secretly longed to drink like other people — people who bantered in fashionable hangouts, hogging all the fun and glamour. I felt I had a disability, this inability to stop drinking once I got started.

In those days, I was literally incapable of imagining how it now feels to be me.  Today the space in my mind and heart is soooo cozy, I feel like at any point in my day, I could pull into it like a tortoise and maybe take a nap — just me and that warm inner sunlight of my god.  I almost feel tempted sometimes when I’m riding my bike to work and waiting for a traffic light to change. There’s my outer body dressed in rain gear, there’s the incredibly complicated world going on around me, and then there’s this flawlessly inviting inner sunporch to recline in, just closing my eyes and saying, “Yo, god.  Thanks for everything.  I can’t tell you how much I love you.”

24 (sober) years later

I don’t cause I’d get run over.  I also don’t want to piss off people around me, not cause I fear them but because I want to radiate kindness in all things I do.  I love strangers — even the rude ones. Life is a gorgeous jigsaw puzzle we’re all piecing together with earnest effort, frustrated at times, all wishing we had the dang puzzle box illustration to help us know what goes where.

The space for my inner sunporch was originally cleared by working AA’s 12 steps.  Before that it was packed with garbage — false mental and emotional beliefs I clung to like some kind of packrat. Psychotic hoarders can’t throw away a used Kleenex; I couldn’t throw away my resentments, the countless personality variations I’d hoped would  make you like me, or the dusty gilt trophies — academic, professional, and romantic — I’d won over the years that I thought comprised my worth.

“Cleaning house” by working steps with a sponsor is the closest thing I know to hiring a spiritual declutter expert: “God, what should I keep?  What should I throw out?”  If you have an insightful  sponsor and an open heart, you’ll end up with only a few key insights.

It’s true, for instance, that most people don’t base their decisions on what would be best for you. And that is okay.  What?!  It is?!  This was earth-shattering news when my sponsor first put it to me.

It is also true that people we’ve held in resentment were doing the best they could with the level of insight they had.  If they could have shown up as a good parent, partner, or companion — that is, if they’d understood that love matters most — they would have. We can’t expect them to live by wisdom they just don’t have, just as we can’t shop at the hardware store for bread.

Space opens up when you LET OTHER PEOPLE GO: “Not my circus, not my monkeys.”  That whole tangle of shoulds and owes me and needs to learn gets carted off to Goodwill.

Now you can shift the focus to YOU, not as a successful manipulator or foiled victim of others, but as the only person on this planet responsible for making a beautiful thing of your life.

Not what your parents thought would be beautiful.  Not what media and marketing pretend is beautiful.  Beautiful to you.

Lucky you — you’ve already been assigned an amazing, ingenious collaborator, one who works for nothing, who believes in you with a love beyond anything you can imagine, and who has the power to fuel whatever you’re courageous enough to pursue: god.

Dass right!  That same energy in the growing grass, the pounding waves, and the mating chipmunks.  That force behind your heart going live, live, live and the busyness in your every cell to make it happen. God is living you; god is wanting you to generate more you-ness, more love, more good.  Your smile is beautiful.  Your sincerity is a jewel.  Your kindness is a spark of the divine.

Sober, I feel my feelings instead of numbing them.  I remember the last time (of many) when life pulled the rug out from under me so I fell flat on my face. Three and a half years ago, my heart was broken by an intimate betrayal — a betrayal so outrageous I felt like an idiot for having been suckered. Hurt and ashamed, I felt too stupid to ever trust my heart again. About halfway through a 70-mile hike in the mountains, somehow the full pain of it hit me; I set up my tent at noon, lay down in it, and just cried for three hours. Three more hours I alternated between semi-comatosely watching the foiled skeeters on my tent’s netting and spurts of crying.  Then I wrote in my journal.

Journal page from that day

By the next morning, I’d founded a new enterprise with god. We called it “Louisa’s Little Life” because alliteration rocks. We — that is, god and I — had the basics nailed down. We’d go for nothing grandiose. The plan was to notice and love; notice and love — just that and put one foot in front of the other. I promised to listen, and god promised to lead.  I promised to trust and try, and god promised to help me grow. In fact, god promised me peace and joy and a deeper knowledge of who I am — all the flowers that now brighten my inviting secret sunporch, because god and I grew them.

If any of these ideas help you, by all means steal them, but remember: thinking about the steps is not the same thing as working them!  It’s an inside job, but we can’t do it alone.

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We Are NEVER Too Well for AA Meetings

I recently had a chance to tell none other than Bill Gates, who went to my high school and was at my 40th reunion, that I had 23 years sober. “Impressive!” he remarked.  He’d just told me that a mutual friend of ours, a venture capitalist and hilarious jokester on the school bus back in the day, had died — overdosed on fentanyl-laced heroin after many years clean.

Yet when I told him I still go to weekly AA meetings, Gates looked baffled: “Really?!” he said, drawing back sharply.  Even as I explained that exactly what had happened to our friend Keith could happen to me at any time with booze, he still looked incredulous.

Here’s one of the deadliest afflictions known to humans, killing 6% of the global population every year (WHO), and this man, who, through the Gates Foundation, has done more to battle diseases worldwide than anyone else on the planet, had no inkling of alcoholism’s lifelong grip.

Sometimes I think ours is the most misunderstood illness in the world, and AA the most misunderstood cure.

Getting Too Well?
Of course, there’s a part of every sober alcoholic that agrees with Gates. A part of me agrees daily, claiming, “Louisa, clearly you’ve got this thing beat!  Look at how accomplished and sensible your life is now!  Waking up in somebody else’s bed with Cheetos orange around your mouth and a hangover from hell–? That is just sooo not gonna happen anymore!”

The result of this voice is that, as I type this, I’ve not been to an AA meeting for nigh on three weeks.  A week ago, I was supposed to chair one and forgot.  And I’ve not posted a new blog here for almost two months.

Why?  Partly for good reasons.  When I got sober in 1995, I couldn’t imagine what I was going to DO now that I couldn’t drink alone while scrawling boy-obsessive drivel in my journal, or drink in bars while bending indifferent ears, playing darts, pool, or pinball.  Take all that away, and what else was there to life?

As sobriety gradually revealed, within me were talents and loves neglected like withered, leafless plants.  Before alcohol took over, I’d danced, hiked, and written.  AA reopened the flow of love my heart was dying for, slowly at first via people in meetings, and then, as I worked the steps, through my own dilating portal to god. The elixir of life — godlove — watered my spirit so those dried up, nearly dead talents sprouted fresh leaves and blossomed again.

Sobriety, as a result, has been anything but dull.  Today, these loves fill up much of my life.

About two weeks ago, I was dancing onstage in a ballet recital — at a week shy of age 58.  Godlove let me bond with my troupe, mainly teenage girls and twenty-something women.  There was a moment in the dressing room when all nine of us gathered around my phone, which was playing the one disjointed moment of our dance.  “We lunge there,” I said, “on the low note.”  I’ll never forget the solemn way their eyes met mine, not because I’m old and bossy, but because we needed unity and they trusted my cue.

We aced it.

Performing (on right)

Warming up before dressed rehearsal (on right)

The weekend before, three sober women friends and had I attempted Mount Adams — a 12K’ volcano four hours’ drive from home.  Thunderstorms forced us to camp at the trailhead rather than base camp and shoot for the summit the next day, when high winds and whiteout above 9K’ turned us back.  Still, we had a blast getting rained on, climbing, and taking turns “losing enthusiasm” as we tried to find shelter from the icy winds.  Here are three of us at 9K’ pulling our “bikini bitches” stunt of pretending it’s not frickin’ FREEZING just long enough for photos.

Suck in tummy award to me, center 😉

The day after my recital, I climbed Mailbox Peak, a 4K’ gain, with my friend Sally and brand new boyfriend, Tommie.  (That’s right, after years of tortuous dating, I finally met the right guy. ❤   More later.)

Then, just a few days ago, I summited a backcountry wilderness peak, Mount Daniel, with just Sally.  The two of us camped at a frozen lake and navigated this route in partial white-out:

Mount Daniel east peak via SE Ridge .

Our route followed the ridge above Sally’s head!

But it’s not all been ballet, boyfriend, and beauteous mountains!  Life happened, too.  My house’s sewer system went kaput, upsetting my — er — delicate financial balance.  To safeguard that balance, I had, in previous weeks, overtaxed my gift for writing, agreeing to edit super-human quantities of text amid an already full work schedule and to conduct and write up an NDE interview for the Seattle IANDS Newsletter.

Long story short: I’ve been so busy savoring/exploiting the flowers of sobriety that I’ve neglected to water their roots.

I should know better.  Around me, dear friends I never dreamed would die or get hooked on alprazolam (Xanax) are doing just that.  One, a former drug and alcohol counselor, is a ghost of his former self, with hollowed-out eyes and tales of demons.  The other, who landed his dream life — wife, kids, big house in the burbs — became addicted to anti-anxiety meds prescribed for his stress over huge mortgage and daycare payments.

How did these friends change from the happy, joyous, and free sober people I knew fifteen years ago in AA meetings?  Both got “too well” for AA — the same tempting path I’ve wandered down these past weeks.

Ironically, the same drive that energizes me to pursue so many activities and take on added responsibilities can kill me if not balanced with humility before my god.

As an addict, I am permanently geared to chase feel-good.  As a co-dependent, I scent feel-good when I say “yes” to people and things, so I say it more and more: YES — I’ll be in the recital!  Climb mountains!  Edit your humongous text!  So what if I’m losing my mind?!

The trouble is, without the humility that god-awareness brings, I cannot be in feel-good; I can only chase it.  No matter how much I get, I want more.  And there’s another problem with feel-good.  The flip side of genuine satisfaction is the trophy-hunting of ego — addiction to the story of adventures, to LIKES on Facebook or Instagram, to praise for fabulous texts and newsletters.

Hey, whatever primes the dopamine pump — right?  I’ll take any hit I can get!  So let’s think: who could it be spurring  this constant chase, urging me to take on more and more?  It’s my old buddy, addiction — disguised, like a villain behind a fake mustache, as enthusiasm and responsibility. It’s refrain?  “We’re so close to feeling good!”

Ultimately, going to AA meetings is like prayer: both require and reinforce humility — that bane of our ego-oriented culture — by freely admitting, “I lack.”  Only when I embrace the fact that I’m a tiny shard of god who can thrive solely via connection do I remember my true mission on earth: to love.  Overcommitting, I leave no time to dwell in that truth.  I’m too busy chasing brain candy.

Anytime I imagine my addiction to be a thing of the past, I jeopardize everything precious to me, everything alcoholism once took away and wants to take again.  I may not wake up with Cheetos-mouth, but I will wake up guided by the very same ego that led me to it.

Bill Gates has no need to acknowledge the deep power of alcoholism, but I do.  Tomorrow I chair a women’s AA meeting.  The next night, I’ll be at my homegroup after meeting with a sponsee.  These commitments, unlike others, allow me to relinquish my illusions of control and seek serenity though god.  It’s what I do.  It’s what I need.  It’s who I am.

PS: Short video of our Mount Daniel climb, 6/30 – 7/1/18 (sobriety ain’t boring!):

Car ride to Mount Adams with AA girlfriends 6/16/18 😀 (feeling close while stone cold sober):

 

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What’s it all for?

When I drank, my life was always dramatic — at least to me.  Everything was a big deal.  Drinking both fueled and helped defuse that.  If someone was mad at me, if I’d behaved inappropriately, if some asshole had robbed me of a goal or privilege rightly mine, my emotions would rollercoaster up and down huge swells of anger and careen around curves of righteousness before finally winding down to the self-pity platform to which all things led: poor me.

Booze, by Buddy Nicholson

But in those days, I had a best buddy, wine, along an array of other pals — beer, the gin & vodka twins, and all those whiskey relatives. We’d hang out and they’d fix everything.  Actually, they’d fix my brain; everything else stayed exactly as it had been. But by muting my amygdala so the fear subsided and by impairing my frontal lobe so that all thoughts simply led back to me, drunkenness let me feel brokenly triumphant.  Fuck them.  Fuck everything.

In those days, everything I had going for me was external — or so I believed.  What mattered was out there, so I was constantly keeping score: first it was grades and teachers, then published stories, then impressing my students, and eventually, as my life spiraled downward and I quit teaching to focus on drinking — I mean, writing! — it became impressing all the “cool” cats at the tiny espresso shop where I worked.

Mind you, everything that went on in that espresso shop was colossally big news!  Who was getting together with whom, new policies about whether you could eat behind the counter, hirings and firings.  In the end my main drama centered on the fact that my life partner had read my journal, caught me cheating emotionally, and promptly left, so now I couldn’t pay the mortgage with my joke of a job, even if my shifts hadn’t been cut for coming in stoned.

Drinking enough to make that no big deal nearly killed me.

When I got sober, my focus gradually shifted to who I was within and whatever linked that spirit to a higher power — to goodness in the world.  At first, of course, I had no idea the 12 steps were effecting that change.  I just went through them with a sponsor and discovered harmful patterns in my thinking and behaviors, asking my higher power to help me outgrow them.  And as I began to lay aside increasingly subtle versions of these once precious “coping skills” — deception, manipulation, knowing best (pride), envy, and my favorite, self-pity — the ride of living smoothed out.  A lot.

Today, I have no crises. I don’t wish I were somebody else.  Sobriety’s granted me huge gifts: I’m performing in two ballet recitals this spring and climbing three glaciated mountains this summer, so my life is full.  My home, health, work, son, and friendships are all good.

But smooth sailing can be frickin’ difficult for an alcoholic!!  Without that clamoring, overflowing bucket of piddly-shit drama to seize my attention day after day, my gaze drifts to the horizon and I wonder, what am I doing?  What’s my life for?

I’m getting older.  I haven’t made any big splash lately.  My son has grown up, my dog is old, I have no partner.  What stands out with increasing clarity is that I will disappear from this planet in a number of years.  How many is unknown, but every day I’m closer.  What will my life have meant?

Here’s where near-death experience comes in.  I am so blessed that the inexplicable paranormal phenomena stacking up in my life finally led me to the Seattle branch of the International Association of Near-Death Studies (IANDS), and that I hold a service position there of interviewing near-death experiencers and writing up their stories for our newsletter (snailmailed only at this point, sorry). Every other month, I get to Skype with someone who has, like me, died and come back with wisdom to share.

On the other side, when they are pure spirit, many know their life’s purpose. There’s a role we’re each here to play, and they’re shown theirs.  Yet when they come back, they remember knowing, but they can’t remember what!  This “forgetting” seems to be the price of embodiment.  Enclosed in bodies, we lose 99% of our conscious connection to the expanding web of creation that is god. With little to go on but our hearts and the gossamer strands of love that link us to other hearts, we’re something of a lost boat, a tiny shard trying to work out its place in a 13.8-billion-year unfolding.

When one NDEr was given the choice to stay in the spirit realm or return to her body, she asked what would become of all her half-done life’s work if she died. “None of that matters,” she was told. “What matters is connections. If your work helps someone to strengthen their relationships with others or even to know themselves better, it has value.  The important thing is the wake you leave behind you in the waters of life.  Do you leave a wake of love… or of indifference?”

That’s our job — to love others and love god by generating gratitude for this spectacular pageant of life on Earth. My life is not about what accolades go up on my mental mantlepiece.  It’s about the people (and other beings) I love and the ripple effect of loving them, which touches countless lives of people I will never meet.

     Olympic games site, then & now

Humility is also key.  In 1995, when I was about 100 days sober, I visited the site of the first Olympic Games — alone.  Wandering from the ruins, which date from 776 BC, I took a nap under a gnarled tree. And when I woke, looking out at the meadow where a sign indicated the Greek athletes’ housing had once stood (6), used centuries later as Roman soldiers’ quarters before god knows what in the Dark Ages, I had a sort of vision. I saw with time-elapse speed hundreds of trees germinating, growing large, and dying; buildings going up and falling to ruin; people slaughtering each other and making love — all in this very same meadow while its grass sprouted green and then dried to yellow over and over, 2,771 times.

The years, I saw, cycled through just like waves on a beach.  So did human lives.  I was no less transient than a blade of grass — but one with a plentitude of choices.

Ultimately, the purpose of my life has to be turned over to god every day as a part of Step Three. In my own version of the famous Merton prayer, I tell god, “I can’t see what I’m doing, but I love you.  Please lead me wherever I can do your will, and lend me the courage and grace to do my best there.”

Life is no more and no less that that.  And that is enough!

 

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Filed under Afterlife, living sober, NDE, Recovery, Twelve Steps