Tag Archives: sobriety

Unexpected Teachers

About two months before I got sober, a voice spoke to me — one I now know as my angel’s (I call him Egnacio).  I’d just driven to my log cabin completely hammered, tearing along winding, woodedNarrow Bridge roads as fast as 80mph with the radio blaring, seeing quadruple as I bombed through the narrow railroad overpass where I should have died. Instead I reached home, but as I clung to my car door for steadiness and glanced up at the stars, congratulating myself on my badass driving skills, the voice shot through me like a thunderbolt from Zeus, except it was a bolt of telepathy, of knowing, extremely urgent and somehow stern: “This is the last time I can help you.  And you DO know right from wrong!”

In the nearly 28 years since that night, sober all but those first two months, I’ve come to realize that Egnacio’s two brief communications actually contained a template for living, a standard on which to base all future choices and judgments. 

Screen Shot 2022-08-21 at 9.37.50 AMThe first, “This is the last time I can help you,” meant essentially, “If you really want to bash your brains out on a telephone pole or scar your life with paralysis or the guilt of having killed another driver, have at it.”  What he was conveying was this: I (Louisa) am responsible for my own life — for my choices, my outcomes, and the caliber of my character.  The same is true for everyone, and there comes a point when even a guardian angel has to quit trying to help.

The second, “You DO know right from wrong!” was essentially a call for the 3rd step.  At the time, I was letting all my addictions, whether substance or emotional, run rampant. Egnacio asserted that I knew better, that I had the capacity to search within for god’s take on my every thought, communication, and intended action. I can consult Good Orderly Direction on whether what I’m doing is good and right, based in love and truth.  I can also sense if other people’s behavior strikes me as good and right, based in love and truth. But if I think back to communication #1, I must accept that their ways are THEIR responsibility, not mine.

We all encounter teachers in our lives. The teachers we EXPECT are those we look up to: sponsors, mentors in life or work, wise friends, maybe even (if we’re very lucky) parents or grandparents. We look to these people to demonstrate for us how to navigate life with grace and insight. For example, I love and admire my AA/Al-anon sponsor because she’s constantly telling on herself, sharing in AA meetings and recovery conversations all the petty jealousies, insecurities, habits, and worries that fill her thoughts throughout the day.

In fact, she finds herself hilarious! Why? Because she doesn’t identify with the ego that’s constantly churning out these thoughts and reactions. She doesn’t buy into her own thinking. In light of Communication #2 above, she has access to a gauge of reality beyond her own flux of thoughts — her god.  

Similarly, she has fun describing her flaws because her self-worth comes NOT from how she looks to other people, NOT from whether she’s seen as an AA guru (as she comes up on 38 years’ sobriety), NOT from what I or her coworkers or husband or anyone else thinks about her. She knows god loves her, and that’s all she needs. On good days, I can follow her example.

Then then are the unexpected teachers.  All of us have been betrayed by those we thoroughly trusted. Supposed friends, admired mentors, sponsors, family members, lovers — each of us will have the experience of being hurt by such people, and the stronger our trust in them was, the more profound the pain. 

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Among the most important learnings of sobriety is that these people, likewise, are our teachers.  They showcase how to cause pain with our words, judgements, assumptions, indifference, and carelessness. They demonstrate for us the harm these attitudes and resulting actions inflict, and as we smart from their deeds, we learn firsthand how devastatingly they hurt.

In short, UNEXPECTED teachers model for us how NOT to live. Once we understand that, we can view them as assets. We don’t have to analyze exactly what made them choose to do X.  Many of us waste a tremendous amount of time trying, but such thinking has a name: Resentment. We must instead remember that, in light of Communication #1, they alone are responsible for figuring out the machinations of their egos. All we need to take to heart is their EFFECT.  

Step 3 is a core decision, a choice to always run our thinking past our higher power and seek to do right, not wrong.  Via steps 4-9, we gain insights that can increase the honesty with which we perceive our own motives. We can learn to see the ways we are just like our UNEXPECTED teachers, how easily we  inflict the same harms, maybe more subtly. And we’re resolved to continuously strive to do better.  

On the surface that means damage control in not causing harm impulsively — not saying what anger burns to say, not sending the righteous text, calling someone out, acting on the whims of antagonistic emotions. At a deeper level, it means showing up with honor to do whatever we’ve said we’ll do. But at the deepest level, it means trusting, as my sponsor trusts, that we will in time be able to distinguish “right from wrong.”  We pause, if possible, long enough to differentiate our ideals and responsibilities from simply meddling with others.

Egnacio made such a call when he let me go after saving me one last time: “Live blindly, chasing ego’s chimeras, if that’s what you choose!” That’s what I myself sigh inwardly almost every week to the main unexpected teacher in my life.  I’m so grateful to have found another way to live!

Detach with love

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Filed under Codependence, living sober, Recovery, Spirituality, Step 3

Alcoholism and Rats

Alcoholism is a master of disguise.  That is how it kills.  It shows up on the doorstep of your consciousness dressed as an ordinary thought — a good thought, in fact, a good idea that seems to be coming from your own free will. So you welcome it in.  It says, essentially, “Hey, a drink is a good idea!” 

It’s nicely dressed.  It’s friendly.  It seems perfectly sensible and justified — justified because, dang it,Good idea you do deserve a drink. Chatting with it, you discover you agree on so many points: all this abstinence stuff is an overreaction. Right?  Other people make such a big deal over something so simple as a [beer / glass of wine / cocktail]!  It’s not their business. Can’t you just do what you want?  Of course you can!  This is your life and… You know what?  A drink is a good idea.  

So skilled at disguise is this visitor that the alcoholic never suspects the truth: its aim is death. Youralcohol death death. It wants you to drink, and keep drinking, to kill yourself while screwing over everything you ever did to STOP drinking, including treatment and step work and soul-searching — all you’ve done to get well.  As long as you still have the strength to raise that drink to your lips, Alcoholism has more work to do: “Fuck that,” it chuckles.  “C’mon, my friend. A drink is a good idea.”

Impulse — that’s what the visitor relies on. Though we vaguely sense that we’re “being none too smart” [36], we pour whiskey in the milk, decide to have a highball, prescribe for what ails us, rebel, say fuck it, or just mechanically take that drink. We are truly defenseless against the first drink.

So are alcoholic rats.

I recently came across this fascinating medical study of alcoholism conducted on rats: https://www.nature.com/articles/npp2017105.

Because it’s rather dry and scientific, here’s a cheat sheet. 

First, the scientists isolated rats like us, that is, “alcohol-preferring rats,” which they call P-rats.  Anrat drinking alcohol alcohol-preferring rat is one that would rather drink booze than water (sensible, right?) until they are quite hammered and, I assume, pass out.  Next, they taught these P-rats to “work for” their booze: when a light went on they had to press an initial lever that would give then access to a second lever which they could press to get booze. All the P-rats learned this. 

Now, here’s the kicker: They started giving the rats painful electric shocks some of the time when they pressed the “seeking” lever — the lever that brings them nothing but an opportunity to press a second to score some booze.  The breakdown was this:

  • 30% of P-Rats greatly decreased use of the “seeking” lever
  • 36% of P-Rats moderately decreased use of the “seeking” lever
  • 34% of P-Rats, the true alcoholic rats, did not or could not give a shit about the shocks. Increasing the frequency of shocks did not deter them. Ten months’ abstinence with no alcohol available did not untrain them. The instant the booze was back, they were back at it, getting fuck zapped out of their little ratty feet, anything just so they could have a drink.

That’s us, guys!  That is us.  I think of the first 30% as normies who love to drink.  I think of the second 36% as hard drinkers who get told by a doctor to decrease their drinking and are able to do so.

But that last 34% of rats  — those the scientists termed “compulsive,” meaning that for them the drive to get alcohol is stronger than any other.  And that is alcoholism in a nutshell.

Were the compulsive P-Rats of a lower moral fiber than the other 66% of booze-loving rats?

Might other rats who loved them have convinced them not to press that seeking lever?

Could they maybe have tried more mental control?

No, no, no.  They were simply alcoholic rats, and they were screwed.

A higher power is our only hope

Back to that master of disguise, alcoholism.  How can we possibly gain the perspective to slam the door in its friendly, affable face?  There are these things called “steps.”

  1. Give up being special. Identify as alcoholic. Know we are no different or “smarter” than anyone else who died of alcoholism.
  2. Open our minds to something greater than us, a power beyond our thinking.
  3. Follow that power. Stop believing our thoughts about anything to do with alcohol and ask instead for help. Make a bone-deep commitment to do what is right and good, no longer what we want. Good Orderly Direction. Group Of Drunks. God as we understand it.  Opening deeply to any of these will let in the light that heals us. 
  4. Complete the next 9 steps with aid of a good sponsor.

Louisa checking in 

I write this today with a heavy heart — crying, actually.  All I write here is what I long to say to one person — one who has never listened.

I love this person very much, though I shouldn’t because he’s an ex who done me wrong.  He is near to dying from alcoholism. Yesterday he checked in to detox and treatment. Ever since one of his relatives texted me that he was “skeletal and shaking,” I’ve stayed mostly in the background, asking sober friends he’s lost touch with to call.  But last night I kept waking and just praying for him to find a higher power. 

It’s unlikely.  His chances of survival are slim not only because he’s one of us 34% compulsive P-Rats but because his right brain is weak. The left brain is the bullhorn of ego and fixing things; the right takes in a bigger picture. People with right brain strokes, relying on their left brain’s assessments, often deny that anything is wrong with them, that limbs are paralyzed, sometimes even that their paralyzed limbs belong to them. I believe the right brain is also the seat of our spiritual connection, without which we cannot get sober.  

Below is a series of photos of George Best, the famous Irish soccer player.

Here he is in 1972 at the height of his fame, enjoying a brewsky.best-in-1972

Here he is in 2003, robust at 57 after a successful liver transplant necessitated by alcoholic cirrhosis.

His liver transplant was so successful and Best felt so great that he welcomed in that friendly visitor, Alcoholism, when it appeared on the doorstep of his mind assuring him a drink was a good idea — “C’mon, George! Just one on a new liver couldn’t hurt!”

Here he is just two years later at 59, a day or two before he died of massive organ failure brought on by alcoholic relapse.

George Best did not mean to commit suicide. His mind was co-opted, and, for whatever reason, he could not reach god to restore him to sanity.

I fear my loved one will follow this same progression. Please pray for him — that he find a way to reach a god of his own understanding that can override the P-Rat compulsion. His name is Gerard.

Thanks, guys. Love is the most powerful force in the universe.

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Filed under Addiction, Alcoholism, Drinking, Heavy drinkers

Compassion’s Spark: a 12th Step Call*

On a dark, rainy winter’s evening about ten years ago, I found myself in a run-down urban trailer park trying to find a particular trailer. I don’t remember how I was supposed to identify it, but I do remember a man stepping in front of me whose face I couldn’t see in the dark.  “I got some stuff.  You want some?”  trailer-park“No, thanks,” I replied, moving on. By the light of trailer windows, I saw more shadowy figures moving about in the downpour, and I remember holding my AA Big Book in front of my heart like a shield, asking god to keep me safe.  I was on a full-fledged 12th-step call, one of only a handful in my life.

Twelfth-step calls are less common today because treatment centers tend to be a first stop for addicts wanting help, but the woman whose trailer I was seeking had just been released from the most labor-camp-like detox/treatment center in Seattle – Sedrunar.  A friend had called me about her. “Lena doesn’t have a car to get to meetings.  She’s got two kids, and she’s gonna lose them if she uses again.”

I called Lena, though I was going to insist she take the bus to my house.  But Lena, like any addict, was persuasive.  She didn’t know anyone in the trailer park she could trust to watch her kids – who were seven and two.  Could I please come just this once?

The seven-year-old opened the trailer door.  She stared at me from eyes circled with dark shadows, silent as a spook.  I heard yelled from inside: “Let her in!”  I tried to greet the child cheerily, though to inhale the stinky, steamy air in there felt like an assault. On the floor was an old TV with a beanbag chair in front of it – that and piles of clothes.  Bare walls.  In came Lena, the toddler on her hip naked besides his diaper, food all over his face.  Lena was a bit shorter than me and chunky, about 25. She shook my hand, apologizing for the mess, and handed the boy off to her daughter, pretty much barking at her to go in the bedroom and shut the door so she could talk to this lady – me.

We sat down at the yellow kitchen table.  On the stove, mac & cheese dribbled from a saucepan stovein a way that reminded me of vomit, and smeared noodles dotted the table.  Lena sat across from me and folded her hands expectantly as though I were about to recite poetry.

All I could say was, “Does that window open?” I gestured toward a dark pane at the the table’s end, the glass dripping with condensation.

Lena looked perplexed.  “I’m trying to save heat.”

“I’d really appreciate it.”

Reluctantly she rose and slid the moldy aluminum frame aside about an inch.  While she was up she grabbed a sponge and wiped away most of the noodles at my place, apologizing that she’d just fed her son.

I’d made up my mind that I would stay 30 minutes only.  I began as I always do, by asking Lena to briefly tell me her story.  Clearly practiced from treatment, she launched right into it – how she’d grown up picking crops in Yakima in a Hispanic community; how she’d gotten into meth as a teen.  She was proud that both kids had the same father, but he was a drug dealer.  She’d lost them twice to CPS – once for leaving them in the car outside a bar.

“I’m clean, now, 60 days.  The judge told me this is an extra chance with my kids.  I shouldn’t even have them now.  I gotta stay clean.  I gotta stay sober.”  Here she changed, muscles in her face and throat working hard.  She looked right at me and spoke distinctly: “I can’t… lose… my kids.”

“Well, you’ll need to find a sponsor,” I breezed, “but, unfortunately, I’m full.”  This was somewhat true – I had a few sponsees.  But, of course, I really said it to push away all this squalor.  I wasn’t even sure whether this woman should have her kids.  All I knew was that only 21 minutes stood between me and escape.

I sketched my own story briefly, Lena nodding attentively at every phrase.  I explained that I couldn’t not drink on my own, but by working the 12 steps I’d accessed a higher power that had removed my craving for alcohol and kept me sober eleven years.

“Eleven years!” Lena marveled.  “That’s what I want!  I wanna know how you did that!”

I was starting to explain how I’d worked with a sponsor when we heard a ruckus and the squalling toddler, chased by the spooky girl, burst out of the bedroom.  Hardly taking her eyes from me, Lena scooped her son into her lap and held him close.  She gave the crown of his head tiny kisses and asked him if he wanted a bottle.

Right then – that’s when the voice started.  Not really a voice, but an urging:  Help her.  Sponsor her.  Love her.

No fucking way! my ego countered.  ticking-clockI was busy.  She was hopeless.  Just eight minutes and I’d be outta this dump, back to the fresh air and my nice, clean life!

Lena nodded toward her son.  “He don’t talk,” she said. “They told me he’s disabled, but it ain’t true.  It’s just all he been through.”  Watching the boy’s eyes, the way they moved from Lena to me and back again, I sensed she was right.  Meanwhile the spooky girl joined us with a coloring book, promising to be quiet and asking where her crayons were.  Lena grabbed them from the same box that had held her Big Book.

“It’s not me,” I heard myself telling her. “God has given me a life better than I ever dreamed of.”  Some of the people who’d helped, giving me time and guidance, flashed through my mind.  “I’m not the same person I was.”  Lena nodded intently.  She was not begging.  She was not pleading.  But every cell in her body was straining to hear me.

Just help her.  Just love her.

But I was helping, dammit!  I was steering her toward the program, right?  Just not toward me.  Anyone but me.  But, with just three minutes to go, I made a big mistake.  I looked into Lena’s eyes.  Really looked.  I saw there desperation and terror, but even more, a fierce love for her children.  My own son was five.  How were we any different?

The wall crumbled, compassion washing over me.  “Okay, I’ll sponsor you,” I heard myself saying.  Lena’s face lit up.  “But not here!  You’re gonna have to come meet me at a coffee shop!”

The rest of the story is like a fairy tale.  Lena and I met every Friday tobig-book read the Big Book at a Starbucks while a sober neighbor watched her kids, after which I’d drive us to a meeting.  She had a job riding in a municipal truck, collecting garbage, and within a couple of months she qualified to drive that truck.  She moved into a shitty apartment not far from the trailer park, where I met with her for a while until she found childcare.  She bought a crappy car and started driving herself to meetings.  Whenever I showed up at her homegroup, her kids would ambush me either in the parking lot or when I came in – the little girl now beautiful and clear-eyed, the little boy talking up a storm.  Their laughter still seemed incredible to me – a miracle.

In a little more than a year, we’d progressed to Step 9 when Lena, who was apprenticing as municipal gardener, leased a nice apartment too far north for us to keep meeting.  I drove up and visited her there once.  It was near Christmas.  I remember white carpets, a new sofa, pictures on the walls.  I remember the children bringing me a gift from under the Christmas tree and grinning while I opened it, and my own embarrassment that I had nothing for them.  But I had given them something – and we all knew it.

Last night after eight years I went again to that meeting – Lena’s old home group. But she wasn’t there.  Where she’s gone, what she’s doing, I don’t know.  But I’m hopeful.  I sent them prayers.  Today, I’m so grateful that god opened my heart, and that it’s still opening.

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Postscript:  I had to find out…  🙂

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Republished from 12 /2016

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Filed under Addiction, Alcoholics Anonymous, Alcoholism, Recovery, Sobriety, Sponsorship, Twelve Steps

Holy Crap! I’m 27 years Sober!

What’s “normal” wisdom?  I’ll never know, so I can’t guess how much I’ve gained from practicing the PROGRAM versus just getting OLDER. What I do know is that I’ve been applying the 12 Steps pretty much every day for these 9,861 since my last drink, and that the lessons keep coming, some of them quite painful; the learning curve keeps me climbing and will do so (I hope) for as long as I live.

While I was drinking, I learned NAHH-THING — about what matters, about who I was, about how to navigate in the world.  If I’d never gotten sober in AA, I’d still be trying to piece together an ego-based design for living, one based in the maxims my parents passed onto me (mainly “be better than everyone else”), never suspecting they’d been shaped by generations of family dysfunction.

In fact, even after I stopped drinking, I kept trying to live by my old standards until I hit an emotional bottom at 2.5 years dry and finally asked a no-nonsense woman to take me through the 12 Steps.

The first changes were revolutionary.  Here’s Karen’s takeaway from my first real fifth step in 1999, all the damaged and unsaleable goods she highlighted after hearing my 263-resentment-inventory:

By “playing god” she meant that I viewed the world as if I knew what was best — for both myself and others. I decided what you ought to do to make things work my way; when you didn’t, I got scared I wouldn’t be okay and resentful at you for having done what you wanted. Embarrassingly, a lot of this had to do with popularity and inclusion. I wanted people to like me, damn it, to include me in things!

Whenever I got my wish, I’d trot out, not my real self, but what Karen called “the Louisa Show” — my people-pleasing act geared toward getting more of what I wanted, i.e. approval, admiration, popularity.  I was always jockeying in a horse race, comparing and judging who — just to keep this brief — was cooler. Either I was cooler (dominant) and you should admire me, or you were, and I (dependently) would keep knocking myself out to impress you.  As the 12 & 12 so insightfully summarizes, “The primary fact that we fail to recognize is our total inability to form a true partnership with another human being.” [p.53]

In short, I kept trying to wrest satisfaction out of people, places, and things, always assuming they held the key to something I needed to be okay.  But they didn’t.  When I felt most crushed and abandoned, when I was forced to turn inward as a last resort, I’d find way deep down, ignored and discounted, the most profound love of the universe.  Today I know my deepest needs can be met only by plugging into that love, which I call god, never by jumping for various gold stars in society.

When my main source of okayness comes from god, life’s a whole different ball game. I can focus on what I have to give: love, listening, recognition. Gradually, giving these things — the feeling of it – has become important to me. I’m not scrambling to prove my own worth, goodness, talent, etc; I want to help others glimpse theirs.

My basic template for living has changed in these two basic ways, with these priorities:Gauge

OUT IN THE WORLD

  1. Develop a good slime-o-meter and pay attention to it.  My putting this first may seem odd, but boundaries are actually a precursor to open-heartedness. A slime-o-meter is like a spiritual Geiger counter. It starts clicking when you sense those energetically corrupt — sexual predators, liars, thieves, or just energy vampires — whether in the rooms of AA or out in the world. When I sense  slime, I’m still cordial, but I decide carefully how much connection I want. Early in recovery I was ripped off for $7K, tricked into disguised dates, and defamed via gossip by people I’d trusted. Each time I’d had a feeling… that I ignored.
  2. So equipped, it’s open season on love and goodwill. Try to imagine each stranger as they might have looked at 3 years old. That same vulnerable, curious, trying-to-figure it out child is lodged inside an adult body layered over with lots of safeguards against the cruel blasts of life, but you need to see through to the spark of goodness. Everyone child within loves to be appreciated, to share humor, and to be startled by kindness. As you progress through your day, leave a wake of incrementally happier people.
  3. Value and make time for chosen family.  During the pandemic, it seems especially hard to do stuff, but it’s more than worth it.
  4. Value and make time for fitness, health, and connection with nature.  Same as #3.

WITHIN MYSELF:                    

  1. Watch for bullshit. Parallel to the slime-o-meter is my inner scan for hidden motivations, most of which I deny for YEARS or DECADES. Every surge of dopamine candy, once I really SEE it as  ego’s fodder, transforms to lukewarm canned peas, so I don’t want it anymore.  Most recently transformed to canned peas for me is any kind of flirty texting. Three years ago, every ping of a date app lit me up. “He likes me!”  Now all that is blechy.
  2. Acknowledge pain, but don’t retaliate.  As the 12 & 12 puts it, “We learned that, if we were seriously disturbed, our first need was to quiet that disturbance, regardless of who or what we thought caused it” [p.47].  For instance, my 95-year-old mother keeps purposefully insulting me. I’m the daughter who lives nearby and does the most for her, which makes me, apparently, the chopped liver child.  It ain’t fair.  It sucks.  And it hurts. I can pray about it, sing about it, lion’s breath about it, but to others — not to a 95-year-old woman set in her ways.
  3. Listen for divine guidance.  It’s always there, sometimes loud, sometimes faint. EarI can feel my angel urging me toward self-honesty and love, and I don’t need for anyone else to believe that he communicates with me.
  4. Love myself, flaws and all.  I was raised with conditional love and lots of shaming, so those critical voices are ingrained in my psyche.  As Tara Brach likes to point out, the “second arrow” wounds me when I shame myself for shaming myself.  Sometimes I actually need to list some objective facts that indicate I’m doing okay, that I have some honor, that I deserve self-respect.

Chairing at my home group tonight among all the January birthdays, I began, “I’m so grateful –” and then I choked up.  The feeling is always right there, that sense I don’t deserve all this.  Twenty-seven years ago, I was given a chance at a new way of life — one that continues to amaze me.

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Filed under Alcoholism, living sober, Recovery

Build a New Passion

Me and the BF in 1980

Yes, alcoholism is a horrible disease that slowly destroyed everything good in my life. Even so, if you’re a sober alcoholic, you’ll understand when I say, man, I didn’t just drink — I mean, I DRANK! I was damn good at it.  I remember a time in college when my boyfriend bet a big guy $20 that I, at 5’4″ and ballet dancer thin, could drink his ass under the table. Faintly I can still recall the look of disbelief on the guy’s face across the table when, in front of a crowd of onlookers, I asked for another pint — maybe my fourth? — before he could finish his.  Hungover as I was the next morning, when I learned I’d won, I felt huge pride. I’d kicked some ass.

Fourteen alcoholic years later, after I’d lost the ability to write well, read or think deeply, marvel at beauty, or love anyone or anything in the world besides my next drink (or hit), some of that pride still bolstered my identity. So when I got sober, alcohol’s absence left a huge void in my psyche, not only in terms of how to cope with life or what to do with all the time I once spent “partying” — it also ran deeper, a confusion about who Louisa was and what drove her.

I had to learn to live for something other than alcohol.  I had to discover who I could be.

Yesterday, I returned home from a ten-day adventure with five friends in Colorado and Utah. We rode our mountain bikes 220 miles from Telluride, CO, through the San Juan and La Sal ranges of the Rocky Mountains, to Moab, UT. The trip was intense, to say the least. We climbed and lost an average of 2,500 feet per day over 30-mile stretches, exerting our muscles with little oxygen at elevations of 8 – 10 thousand feet, and not on pavement, but often on rutted, rain-eroded rocky roads and sometimes single track trails in the backcountry. We each carried around 30 lbs of gear.

The aspens were just turning color.  The weather was ideal.  We progressed along a route among well-stocked huts where we cooked great meals and slept in bunk beds. I’d trained for the trip by climbing lots of steep hills in Seattle. But climbing at sea level is nothing to climbing at altitude.

Breathing as hard as I could, countless times I rounded a corner or crested a rise only to see a huge, steep, relentless hill in front of me. Each time I’d feel an irrational surge of anger at the nerve of this route, to demand I find even more strength. A few times, I and the others had to dismount and push our bikes, but more often than not I’d drop to low gear, breathe my hardest, and inch my way up that frickin’ hill until there was no more to climb. At last I could could crest, pedal a few more times, and then sit back and fly down the other side, wind roaring in my ears and cooling my sweat, gorgeous walls of yellow aspens flying past on either side at some parts, and at others open vistas of steely mountains or red mesas rolling under the brilliant blue sky.

Bumpy video from my phone holder here.

Five other sober alcoholics made this trip with me, the youngest 49 and the oldest, me, at 61. This was my first mountain biking experience, but the others had skills and often tackled single-track routes filled with mad turns and rocks and roots and streams to cross. 

Some, like my mom, might call us thrill seekers.  But what we’re actually seeking is the experience of living fully, connected not only to nature’s splendor but to our physical bodies and the determination at our cores. We want to thrive, to challenge ourselves, to carpe the damn diem. For whatever reasons, we are HUNGRY for life in a way no day-to-day humdrum walk in the park can satisfy.  We chase our passions.

It’s my belief that, once we get sober, each of us must find and cultivate some passion that can fill the void left by chasing the buzz, chasing the high, chasing the illusion of cool. We have to embrace something that we love as much as we loved getting wasted, or actually more so, because it’s an activity that feeds us rather than poisoning us. I’m lucky to live in Seattle, where we have a sober outdoor activities group called OSAT — One Step At a Time. We alcoholics hike, mountain climb, rock climb, kayak, and bike together, all of us sober.  OSAT is where I met my biking friends — all except one, who got sober on her own.

OSAT Glacier Climbing Class of ’19

But you, too, can create something like OSAT in your town, something centered on whatever activity you love. You and your sober fellows can do far more together than gather for AA meetings or fellowship.  You can meet to sculpt and paint, to write and critique, to play or go see sports — an all-sober club. You can create a fellowship around whatever passion illuminates your life.  All you have to do is reach out and organize.

Remember in “A Vision For You” where the text reads, 

Little clusters of twos and threes and fives of us have sprung up in other communities… Thus we grow.  And so can you, though you be but one [person] with this book in your hand. We know what you are thinking. You are saying to yourself, “I’m jittery and alone. I couldn’t do that.” But you can. You forget that you have just now tapped a source of power much greater than yourself. To duplicate, with this backing, what we have accomplished is only a matter of willingness, patience, and labor. [p. 162-3]

The same goes for starting any AA-based group that does whatever you love to do — sober peeps to cheer you on as you work at whatever you love; sober people to skate with you, weld with you, check out art with you.  Remember, the main cause and symptom of addiction is not substance abuse; it’s isolation — being cut off from the whole, from community, from the the oneness of which we are a spiritually interconnected part.

Joy rarely blooms in lonely solitude. And the joy I found with my friends in the gorgeous Rocky Mountains didn’t just happen! It evolved slowly, all of us building friendships in sobriety with people who love the same things, daring to propose an outrageous adventure, and planning for it step by step.  

There’s nothing to stop you from doing the same!

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“Will I Ever LOVE Being Sober?”

Now and then a serious drinker, being dry at the moment says, “I don’t miss it at all. Feel better. Work better. Having a better time.” As ex-problem drinkers, we smile at such a sally. We know our friend … would give anything to take half a dozen drinks and get away with them. He will presently try the old game again, for he isn’t happy about his sobriety. He cannot picture life without alcohol. Some day he will be unable to imagine life either with alcohol or without it. Then he will know loneliness such as few do. He will be at the jumping-off place. He will wish for the end.

— Chapter 11, Alcoholics Anonymous

 

I hit bottom on 01/29/95.  On that day, I could no longer imagine life either with or without alcohol, and I truly wished for the end.  The August prior, I’d quit alcohol for 30 days just to show I didn’t have a problem.  I was staying in a friend’s vacant apartment because my partner had banished me from our home, having read my journal and discovered some of the sickness I’d been concealing. But oh, well.

I hung a calendar on my friend’s kitchen wall and drew a big X through each day I passed without a drink.  I felt healthier, had more energy, was cheery at work. But LOVE not drinking?  What are, you, nuts? I could hardly wait for the month to be over so I could drink again, because any life without drinking struck me as beyond dull — it would, I knew, be brash, relentless, barren, and joyless. Alcohol, I felt, was the oil in the engine of my life.

So on September 1st — cheers! — I was back at it. But by 01/29/95, much had changed.  A thick, murky self-disgust filled my consciousness; I saw no hope of ever enjoying life; and alcohol, almost inconceivably, no longer helped. There’s an explanation for what was going on at the brain level, but all I knew was that, no matter how much I drank, I felt no levity. The world had gone devoid of all color and charm; other people seemed self-sufficient judging machines. I just couldn’t deal anymore.

My idea of a fine suicide was guzzling a gallon of vodka — a scheme I knew my stomach would allow. But FIRST, because I couldn’t do it after, I dialed the number a sober friend had scrawled for me on a scrap of paper, and that night I went to my first AA meeting. I no longer gave a shit whether life was brash, relentless, barren, and joyless. All I knew was that nothing I’d tried could render it tolerable, and several people had claimed AA would.

If you’d told me then that in 25 years, sobriety would comprise the gem of my life, that I’d love my AA homegroup as my dear, motley family, and that pretty much all my friends would be in AA or NA, I’d have said, “You must be talking about somebody else.” And you would have been, because the psychic change that comes with thoroughly working the steps through several iterations over the years has transformed who I am.

What Happened?
To realize that we hold a limited perspective, I think, goes against the basic nature of human consciousness.  Our brains tell us that the world is what it is and that we’re perceiving it accurately. If there’s a problem, it must be with the world, not how we process or think about the world. 

Even at that “let’s kill ourselves ’cause it’s a good idea” rock bottom, my perspective felt both certain and precious to me. My pride was rooted in it. My attitudes and values had built up over my 34-year lifetime, crafted through countless efforts to deal with the tricks and pains of living.  I truly believed they were me.  To say they were distorted was to steal all I’d worked for.  And to say that in some outdated white-guy book and in church basements full of strangers, a better perspective could be attained — well, that was just plain shallow.

NO ONE likes to think that other people have answers we lack. If millions of sober people tell us they struggled with the god thing but it eventually became the foundation of their happiness, we feel we’re different, put up a wall, and say, “They must be simpletons.”

I’m special!

My first months without alcohol did indeed prove brash and relentless — a place where many stay stuck. Yet for me, they proved not altogether barren and joyless because I’d begun the long process of growth. Through incremental acknowledgement, over and over, I began to see that my ways kept leading me toward depression and emptiness, whereas each time I tried a little more of their way, life got better. Two years in, I worked the steps whole hog.

Rather than being brainwashed, I found I became more me — little Louisa was still in there, and she was cute and creative and love-filled, and all the things she’d been before she lost the key to life: loving from the source of god and sharing goodwill with others. Children do this without needing a reason. Yet at some point I’d changed to one who wants from others, and it nearly killed me.

I understand now that one drink will inevitably lead me to thousands, and that whenever I’m drinking, I’m cut off from god like a plant inside a box.  To drink, for me, is to wither spiritually, even if my outsides are puffed up with false revelry.

Willingness is the key.  For me, that meant relinquishing my grip on being right, knowing best, and being a smarty-pants in general, because otherwise, I stayed locked in my old perspective. And the relinquishing never ends.

Today, when I say I love my sobriety, what I’m really saying is that I love this life — its fleeting beauties, its inevitable struggles, its poignant fragility. Sobriety is the honesty that lets me behold it.

 

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The 12 Steps Backward

Lost in a spiritually empty world, we alcoholics relied for many years on a 12-Step program of our own making.  We just didn’t know it! Our 12 Steps Backward, a cycle still ‘guiding’ the lives of countless alcoholics, went about like this:

These can stand alone just fine, but I’ll go ahead and comment briefly on my own experience with them.

Steps 1-3
I took Step 1 at some point in high school.  I’d been uncomfortable in my skin since the age of 7 or 8, but the pain spiked unbearably in my late teens.  I hated being Louisa.  The first time I got shitfaced, I found instant relief and happily took Step 2, amazed that something as simple as booze could set everything right in my world. Now that I had a new way to live and feel good, I drifted into Step 3, believing superficially that alcohol and drugs were fun, and at a deeper level that I needed them to feel okay.

Steps 4-9
Alcohol/drugs inflated my ego with a sense of power that led me to harm others, whether by intentionally abusing their trust or by thoughtlessly overlooking their feelings.  During college, I tried to minimize the guilt that began to accumulate in the back of my mind — Step 4 — a policy I kept up for as long as I drank. Any lurking notion that my approach to living was faulty I dismissed by imagining pretty much everyone did the same — Step 5.

pay attentionMy sense of dramatic unfairness swelled alongside my unhappiness: life was not rewarding me as it should — Step 6.  Other people (cool peers? fickle authorities?) had to be at fault — Step 7.  Didn’t my problems really start with that kindergarten teacher who embarrassed me so badly and continue right up through current family and coworkers? — Step 8.  I wished I could set those people straight! — Step 9.

Steps 10-12
Living by Step 10, I never grew up emotionally because I never absorbed the lessons pain had to teach me.  I simply doused pain with booze, stirred it into a soupy ‘woe is me!’ drama, and learned nothing.  Step 11 flourished as a result — mind-movies rehashing the past or dreaming up glorious futures. By age 34 my life still looked okay on the outside, but I felt more depressed, abhorrent, and hopeless than I could stand, drinking in solitude, lowering my bar for company, and toying with suicidal ideation — Step 12.

At my first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, I read the real 12 Steps off the wall in less than a minute and dismissed them as worthless platitudes — seeing as I had all the emotional depth of a 15-year-old.  That stayed true for almost 3 years, until I hit a sober bottom grieving my sister’s death and found a rigorous sponsor who helped me apply them. The reversal of my life’s trajectory, from plowing ever deeper into misery to climbing ever higher toward gratitude and joy, came about through thoughtfully, truthfully, and thoroughly working these simple steps.

Initially, the “God” word freaked me out, as it does everyone, even though I’d once died briefly from drug overdose, crossed over to the other side, and journeyed to the Light. (I recently gave an interview about losing my atheistic battle to deny my NDE and its paranormal aftereffects (see NDE interview playlist)  Eventually, though, what I call “god” (i.e. the spirit world) showed itself to me so persistently and undeniably that I finally caved, embracing the fact that god — the loving intelligence animating all life — is everywhere in everything always.

NDE or no NDE, almost everyone who works the 12 steps in long-term recovery develops gratitude and comes to see how their god has been with them all along.

loveflow

For me, the 12 steps not only cleared resentments blocking me from god, but also triggered a sort of Copernican Revolution. Where I once strove to pull GOODNESS from other people to serve me as the center of the universe, I came to see that all GOODNESS flows from GOD, the true center of the universe, through me toward others. When I act as god’s conduit for love, my spiritual batteries get charged, and I feel joy.

That’s the mission we’re here to accomplish, folks: Overcome ego’s fears of vulnerability to connect with others in love and kindness — not only with those closest to us, but with all humans, animals, and the Earth as a whole.  Religion still pisses me off a bit because, by humanizing god, it distorts with pomp, cliquishness, and carrot-on-a-stick heavenly rewards what the 12 steps lay out with such humble clarity.

The goal of loving others freely enough to be of service can seem out of reach if we’ve been badly wounded; we need god’s help first to find our wounds, obscured under layers of drinking and denial, and then to heal them. And that’s exactly what the 12 steps are designed to help us do.

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Note: I’m indebted to Bill L’s 11/8/19 share at our homegroup, Salmon Bay, referencing his “backward 3rd Step.” Thanks also to my friend Dawna H, who replied, “Get your ass over here!” when I texted that I felt too full and lazy to show up at the meeting and, with 22 years sober, helped me tweak the wording of these steps.

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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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9th Step Promise #1: “We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.”

If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. 1) We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.

2) We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. 3) We will comprehend the word serenity and 4) we will know peace. 5) No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. 6) That feeling of uselessness and self pity will disappear. 7) We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. 8) Self-seeking will slip away. 9) Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. 10) Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. 11) We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. 12) We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.

 

Too often, people take the 9th step promises out of context, calling them the “AA promises” and ignoring the condition that precedes them. The “phase of our development” that requires we be “painstaking” is amends — Steps 8 and 9. As I’ve written elsewhere, sloppy amends are worse than no amends at all.  By sloppy I mean done too soon, before we’ve really had a psychic change, which can lead to all sorts of blunders, including revealing harms unknown to the victim: “I slept with your partner; I never really liked you; I told so-and-so you were a liar.”  No, no, no!  That’s why we go through Step 8 with a sponsor, to figure out what will set things right for the recipient rather than cause new pain.

Anyway, the reason the Big Book authors placed the promises after Steps 8 & 9 is that to seek out the sheer awkwardness, humble pie, and admission of wrong-doing entailed in these two steps is something no ego-driven person would do — especially not hardcore bridge-burners like active and dry alcoholics. “Did I wrong that person? Fuck that, they wronged me!” This was the pre-steps attitude that produced more and more people to avoid and more thoughts to shove to the back in our minds, with drinking needed to mute them.

By contrast, after a psychic change, we’re trying to live by what’s right and good or, in other words, to show up as  god and our own spirits would have us be. I remember several instances of sitting in my car cramming from my 8th step notes before I stepped off what felt like the roof of a skyscraper to meet people I’d wronged.  I did so because I trusted god. And in each case, I walked on air: I calmly spoke the truth, and recipients warmly forgave me.

Many years have passed since I completed my amends, but I continue to live in the frame of mind that supported them. As a result, I get to live IN the 9th step promises!  Freedom and happiness, for starters, characterize my sober life. Sick voices still sound off in my head, but they project poorly, and I’ve learned to roll my eyes at them.  I focus instead on what I want to do with my life — with this one-time amazing journey of living in the world.

For example, I love climbing mountains. In July, friends and I made a bid for the summit of 14,411′ Mount Rainier – the most prominent peak in the contiguous US and 5th highest. We started too late (midnight) and had to wait repeatedly for the teams ahead of us to pass through areas where they’d trigger rockfall on us, then wait again when a ladder laid over a crevasse partially collapsed, so a number of my teammates got hypothermic and we had to turn back.  Even so, it was a huge, gorgeous, thrilling experience — the kind of adventure I used to fantasize about while drinking.

How far we got

Camped at 10,000′

Crossing a crevasse

Despite having lost some of my left lung to radiation for breast cancer, I power-breathed to 13, 200′; and despite acrophobia and balance issues, I walked over boards laid on a ladder across a deep crevasse — not to mention daring this stuff at 59. We will try again next year, having learned from our mistakes.

And yet… and yet… during the exhaustion that overtook me on the long descent to base camp, a voice started up in my head: “No one likes you.  You’re an annoyance to everyone.  Everything you say is trite and boring so everyone wishes you’d just shut the hell up.”  Freedom was the insight that my alcoholism, which survives in my mind, was taking advantage of my fatigue to get some good punches in.  Freedom was replying to that voice, “You’ve been saying that since middle school. Fuck off.” Then I deliberately bellowed some dumb jokes most people couldn’t even hear (because we were still on ropes and too far apart), just to piss off the voice.

Last week, I hiked 82 miles with my friend Sally, retracing only the best parts of the 127-mile hike I soloed last year.  This experience outshone any fantasy joy, because love for god’s beauty in the mountains absolutely saturated my consciousness for days.

Sally with Glacier Peak

Sally with Lyman Glacier

Me and TJ moochies, 6,440′

 

And yet… and yet… addiction was with me.  I’d needed a tooth extraction the day before we were to leave for this trip and, at the oral surgeon’s insistence, delayed a day for healing, then brought along antibiotics in case of infection and 12 Vicodin in case the socket clot came out or some other intense pain developed. As it turned out, the socket felt fine, healing gradually.  But my knee did not.  One night I couldn’t sleep for the knee pain, and sharing my tent was the Vicodin.  “Take it!” said my addict.  “You have pain — a perfect justification — so cross Go and collect $200!”  I responded, “That Vicodin is for unendurable nerve pain, not some nagging knee pain that keeps me awake.” “Whatever!” said my addict. “It’s for pain!  It’s right there – no more pain!  Much-needed sleep!  Just take it!”

Midnight, 1:00 a.m., 2:00 a.m. passed by.  I don’t remember praying, but what came to me were the words of my dear friend Rob: “Yah know, if I’d of known what I would become after a few Vicodin, I’d a shoved them up my doctor’s ass!!” Rob, originally a purebred alcoholic, got hooked on opiates as a result of a prescription and died from overdose in 2016.  He seemed to remind me that my own sobriety, despite its 24.5 year length, was equally fragile. With the help of Rob’s memory and several more ibuprofen, I eventually fell asleep. The next night, I asked Sally to keep the pills in her tent.

Really, the principles that free me to live the life I love are the same ones that carried me through my amends: love, humility, and faith.  That’s why realizing the promises is contingent on a “painstaking” completion of those steps.

 

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I made this video of our hike. If this ain’t living happy, joyous, and free, I don’t know what is!

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Sober Joy~!

Going to work the other day, I got what I call a god-burst.  I was riding my bike, coasting down my street on a sunny spring morning. The cherry trees were in bloom, big puffy dusters of sweet color, and the breeze was scattering their blossoms like confetti.  For some reason, I could see god’s love in the way that every distinct petal danced through the air. Each was looping, twirling this way and that in the sunlight, and I got to glide through them.

I felt, Thank you, thank you, thank you! And I sensed a joy answering from god — god’s joy that I was joyful. I felt with god in my love of  living, in my delight at the happening of each instant.

As I rode further, along the treesy waterside bike trail, I looked into the faces of each pedestrian I passed. What did I see?  Scowls.  Sour petulance. Shock that someone had dared smile at them and even greet them with “Good morning!”  But every now and then someone would meet my eyes – their face transforming like a flower blooming. “Hey!” they might say back.

They had love to offer.

Have you ever worked hard to create a celebration for a kid you love? Made them a fancy cake? Set up a treasure hunt? Given a gift you made yourself or at least picked out with care and wrapped up with bows and ribbons? How would you feel if the child responded with scowls? With petulance? What if they unfolded the first clue of their treasure hunt and wailed, “What? I have to go look for something big and red? And then all I get is another stupid clue? I want my TREASURE!!!  NOW!!”

Or what if they opened your gift and wailed, “I want a bigger one!”

That’s pretty much how god must feel, I think.

Some people are possessed by greed.  I recently talked with a young man who “lived
outside” — as he described his homelessness — about his pity for billionaires like Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk: “It’s never enough. They need more, more, always more — it eats away at them.  You’ve gotta wonder what happened to them in childhood that they have this addiction that drives their whole life. They’re no different from the homeless friends I see wrecking their progress over and over with drug addiction or self-sabotage — just the other extreme of the spectrum.”

This young man, by contrast, seemed more content than most “homed people,” as he called us. In his small, tidy pack he carried a mini-laptop. He explained that he’d found part-time work at a local stadium that paid for his food and clothes — just not enough for rent. He was clean; he knew where to get showers and do laundry. As we talked, he was enjoying a latte at a table neighboring mine. But the main things I noticed about him were his easy laugh and his sincere compassion for those suffering from what he termed “more addiction.”

Greed stalks us all, to an extent.

Have you ever watched the documentary Happy? Guess who’s one of the happiest people interviewed in that film?  A rickshaw driver in Calcutta whose home is mostly tarps. Sure, he doesn’t like it when passengers spit on him as he hauls them through the busy streets, but that rarely happens. Part of his joy undoubtedly stems from the fact that he’s never perused an issue of Vogue or Esquire. He’s filled with gratitude to god that he can provide for his healthy children.

Filled with gratitude.

The sour-faced people I passed on my bike that day appeared starving for gratitude. I can’t know what’s going on in their lives, but I can theorize.

Their god is either absent or an asshole. They don’t even see the countless gifts showered on them in this brief carnival of life. They’re taking for granted all the cake and presents, griping at the effort of the treasure hunt steps. To be happy requires, among other things, that we stop comparing, that we actively set aside the ridiculous and relentless marketing culture that pervades our every societal experience. From TV & movies to magazines & billboards and by practically everything we view online, we are told that we lack.  

Many alcoholics, I think, drink to escape this constant more addiction, with its flip side, Not Enoughness.  Though it’s been 24 years since my last drink, I remember what used to happen when I’d enter a bar.  The more I drank, the more okay everything got. My barstool became a perfectly okay place to be. Wherever I was in life — whatever I’d done or not done — became okay.  I could stop all the striving, comparing, and self-critiquing.  I could just be.

How ironic is it that my higher power now gives me all I once tried to suck from alcohol — but as spiritual food instead of poison?  When I thank god for every funky little detail of my endlessly convoluted circumstances right now, I am living as an extension, an expression of god — and in that sense I am perfect. God has slowly, slowly weaned me from a mindset of constant neediness and taught me to go in whole hog for the delight of little things.

The straight-up joy I experienced riding my bike the other day was ten times anything I ever got from booze or coke or some whoopee party. It germinates from understanding that I GET to be here on earth. Taking shit for granted is both seed and symptom of the atheist’s blindness to god. If you truly thought about the miracle of your body, of your cat’s body, of our cycling oceans or friggin’ photosynthesis, you’d be rejoicing all day long.

God is good.  Good is god.

And if god could say just one thing to you right now, it would be this: Choose joy.

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