We, who have been trapped in the sheer unshirted hell of addiction, know unequivocally that we were slaves to our appetites. We might not have known it at the time, because our master was clever. Its like the saying “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he doesn’t exist.” Its hard to see the Devil when you are in hell, and the Devil seems like the only thing that will give you relief. That, in itself, makes the Devil your Savior, and now the truly twisted, Hieronymus Bosch -like reality of a person’s private torment comes to light. How terrifying to consider leaving one’s so called Savior. One believes that is the only source of relief, when it is, very simply, the source of all hell. Like Bosch’s painting The Garden of Earthly Delights. It is a depiction of hell, terrifying and awful. Temptations take us there. Addiction leaves us there, in that not so delightful garden.
This Devil (which, for the purpose of this blog, is our disease, our addiction) is also a shape shifting bastard. Not only can he convince the afflicted that he doesn’t exist, he can change to suit a person’s temperament. A person’s weakness is the Devil’s camouflage. Spiritually speaking, this is the most profound battle of all. It is why it is said that desperation is the greatest gift one can enter into recovery with. Anything short of that is still very susceptible to dark motives. A lot happens in the shadows where you can’t really see it happening. Recovery is all about light. We don’t always want to see whats lurking in the dark corners, but its imperative that we do, in order to overcome whats there.
I have friends who are still using. I can think of three right now who, I suspect, are using in private, and putting up a great front in public. They are still very functioning; they either own, or run, businesses, and are regarded as successful individuals in their community. However, there is something going on that is preventing them from fully inhabiting their own skin. Some part of them isn’t there. I remember, when I was in this same situation, a part of me was always not there- it was busy thinking about the time when I could check out, later, when I was alone. I’d have my wine, and my downers, and I’d numb out after work, and still get up the next day and go to work, running a fashion company. Until the time came that I numbed out at work, too. No one really knew. But I was unhappy, I was lonely, I was bereft, I felt like a leftover, unwanted in the fridge. I could say- I own my car, I own my home, I run a company- but what does that really mean when you are a slave? When part of you is always listening for your master’s voice, like the little dog sitting in front of the speaker, head cocked to one side? You can’t really pay attention to the life you try so hard to hide behind.
To me, its very dangerous how cunning the Disease is. Not the obvious dangers of the substances, and how many lives are lost to them, that is clear to everyone, and never stops an addict from using. Its frightening how it can tell you that its only xanax and wine, no big deal, its not like you are shooting up in an alley or anything. Or it says, ‘its just pot, and you need it, its the one little thing you need to quell the anxiety, its the only thing that works.’ Why would anyone fight that? Its comfortable enough. And its just enough to keep you asleep, sleepwalking through life, enslaved in velvet manacles. People who know they are doing dangerous drugs in dangerous amounts already know they are gambling with their lives. The ones who think they are managing it are in denial, and that can kill them. Just ask several of my friends- but you’d have to do it by ouija board now- wine and pills can and do kill. Pot- maybe not, but it still keeps you imprisoned. Life will never be what it could be, which isn’t death, just sleepwalking- not really living. Not really.
I think the people who truly run the last wheel off are lucky. They know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they must stop using. They come to understand that the Devil is not the Savior they thought he was- the comfort that the Devil offers is the source of all their suffering. They understand that the hell they are in is created by the Master of their appetites. A life where appetites do not dictate one’s every move is required. A life of recovery. All else, for us, is death.
I love to look around at the recovery community, whether at the ONE80CENTER July 4th party (over 1000 sober people) or at the big sunday meeting in LA last night, and know that I am surrounded by people who are FREE. Free people, who have liberated themselves from the slave master of addiction. Its a powerful thing, and it always always touches my soul. I am honored to be a part of it.
1024. Remember that number.
If you were there, you may have been number 2. Or 36. or 473. or 908. Just know that you were counted. That’s how many of you turned out for the ONE80CENTER July 4th party at the Houdini Mansion last week.Let me say this again: ONE THOUSAND TWENTY FOUR…that’s a thousand twenty-four smiling faces. A thousand twenty four ice cream sandwiches, grass-fed beef sliders and gourmet mac-and-cheese hors-d-oeuvres. A thousand twenty four hands in the air (okay, two thousand forty eight, technically, but bear with us) and a thousand twenty four screaming cheers for searing hot live music on a warm summer evening. That’s a thousand twenty four new friends, a thousand twenty four old ones, and one very vital community of people committed to recovery and having a rocking good time at it.
We jammed traffic on Laurel Canyon all the way back to Sunset. We ran out of places to park cars hours before the party was over. We packed the lawns, driveways and garden terraces of ONE80CENTER’s beautiful new facility until we were shoulder-to-shoulder and still we continued to rock the house, thanks in no small part to the reunited China Club All-Star band. Picture this: MC5′s Wayne Kramer, Doobie Brother and Steely Dan alum Skunk Baxter, Kat Dyson from the New Power Generation…Malik Pointer and rock legend Michael Des Barres…all on the same stage at the same time?! Are you serious?! When I asked a co-worker this morning about her favorite moment of the night, she replied, “I don’t even remember the party!”
Well believe it because it happened. We know because you blogged about it (HERE) and (HERE), Instagrammed it (HERE) and Facebooked and Tweeted about it more times than we could count. And whether you called it a festival, a madhouse or a mini Coachella, what really happened was a show of support, friendship and love that can’t be measured in numbers or social media clicks.
To us, this was much bigger than celebrating the two years since ONE80CENTER opened its doors. It was even bigger than our being able to give a little back to you, who’ve supported us in that time. To us, this was about laying claim to our freedom and declaring our independence from addiction, a disease which has taken so much from so many of us, and from so many people we love. This sentiment was echoed by ONE80CENTER’s clinical director and founder, Berni Fried, who made a point to pay a very emotional tribute to those we’ve lost as well as those of us who’ve had the courage and grace to survive. We heard as much from a lot of different people in a lot of different ways, but to quote an anonymous guest waiting patiently for a Cool Haus ice cream sandwich:
“What I saw that night was community, laughter, energy, and smiles all around. I went looking for sweets but what I found was much sweeter. In a town where so many people pass one another like ships in the night it’s nice to see people throw out the anchor once in a while and get to know each other.”
Suffice it to say that we weren’t expecting the turnout we got…not in our wildest dreams. But for showing up, we say THANK YOU from the bottom of our hearts. If you’re reading this, you’re part of the spirit that we captured that night, like lightning in a bottle. You helped raise money to support the 12 Angels, a non-profit organization that provides capital, education and mentorship to support sustainable businesses that hire recovering addicts. You showed newcomers in sobriety that being sober is incredibly fun, cool, hip, sexy, playful and awesome. Most of all, you showed 1023 other people that we don’t do any of this alone.
So remember July 4th, 2012 and consider yourself invited for July 4th, 2013. We promise to out-do ourselves next year (and yes…you can count on at least 1024 more Porta-Potties).
There are times when I stop and really reflect on my recovery. These times are sometimes brought on by seeing how often relapse happens in my community, or, as was recently the case, losing a friend to this disease. I can’t help but wonder how I have, thus far, been able to hitch myself to this wagon and stay hitched to it. Why me, and not them? I don’t run a perfect program, as they say. Far from it, if the guidelines of an AA program are truly the measuring stick of what recovery should look like. There is an ebb and flow, for me, in my relationship with AA, and I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t the case. I would always be the first person to tell someone to do all the things that it is suggested we do in AA; because we have seen it can work where little else can, to say anything else would be dangerous. But at the tend of the day, we do what we do, and it works, or it doesn’t- and the mitigating factor is something internal, having to do with surrender and no percentage less than 100.
At this point in my recovery, I can’t really remember what it was like to want to drink or use. I don’t remember the feeling of craving. This may be due to the fullness of my life now, and how inspired I am on a daily basis to do the right thing. As a single mom of two teenage girls, there is little time to indulge in any sort of self pity. Often, when people ask me how I am doing, I have to stop and check in, as I am, I really am, what I am doing- not how I am feeling. Feelings are secondary. I have a lot to do, and I don’t do it grudgingly. I have a gold thread of joy that ties it all together, whether its a day of work and feeding kids and driving to appointments and doing laundry, or a blessedly relaxed and rare day by the pool. I am not discontent. My life has purpose, and that fills the hole that was once a gaping maw of want and need.
There is one aspect of my recovery, however, that is without a doubt one of the biggest and least talked about. I am, for the sake of this dialogue, skipping over principles, and my Higher Power, and working with others, as I have spoken at length about all of the above in previous blogs. The aspect I am referring to is the element of PLAY.
Play, and a playful attitude, are pivotal to my very existence. It is something that, if you removed it from me, would render me lifeless, a zombie, a robot, which is what I was when I was using. Serving only my appetites reduced me to being a slave to them. But as I got sober, I realized how profound the playful aspect was for me. I need to do things like go to the beach to build sandcastles and hunt for starfish and run with dogs. I have to sing as loud as I can in my car, louder than my head and its incessant thinking. I need to end my day with a plate full of warm cookies. I need to go play paintball, and run around and get dirty and get paint all in my hair and hoot and holler. I need to dance in the aisles of the grocery store, to embarrass my kids. I need to interact playfully with the guy at 7-11 or the gas station or the woman at the check out counter at Trader Joe’s. I need to hula hoop, even though I suck at it, and go to Disneyland or to ride rollercoasters. I need to BOUNCE through my day, no matter what I am doing.
I don’t know about you, but for me, its THE gold thread that holds my life in sobriety together- its is the playful loving golden thread of God. It invites the spirit of play into all my affairs, and I find that the universe plays with me in kind. There is love in playfulness, and the universe is always and ever loving. The only time it isn’t is NEVER- but we often are not open to it, and at those times it will seem like the universe is conspiring against us. So often we are so focused on ourselves that we do not see how the world has opened its arms to us, urging us forward into new personal adventures while we cling to our old ideas with a white knuckled death grip, insisting on taking it all personally.
The thing that gets my goat is that you can’t ever really tell anyone that they are holding onto old ideas, that life is amazing and that the seemingly unfortunate event they are currently in is a great blessing, that the universe is inviting them to play while they are busy indulging in outdated belief systems. This will only piss a person off. They don’t want to hear it. Usually they want you to recognize their suffering, to co-sign it, and that is no help, either. The only person who I can tell this to is me. When I get confronted by scenarios that I don’t have any answers for, that I become fearful or worried about, I am the only one who can say- “Hey, this is a gift. You aren’t seeing it right because you are making yourself the focus. Snap out of it, homegirl. This doesn’t work, plus its no fun!” All challenges are invitations to grow. Many of them I created by my own myopia, and I get to learn not to repeat that mistake. Sometimes they are a cleansing- things are removed from my life that have outlived their usefulness, and I need to make room for new experiences. And because I have a highly developed sense of play, which has a bounce to it, a built in spring, if you will- I can easily bounce back from most things that I almost let tackle me. Even if I start to buy the ticket to the pity parade, that spring won’t let me do it. Why? Because the pity parade is BORING, and the bounce wants to bounce, and the play wants to play. Life is fun if you say it is, if you take a stand to adopt the spirit of play and inject it into everything.
There will be some who may think that there is no levity in their situation, and to them I want to say, they may be right. I haven’t walked in anyone else’s shoes, and there may be some situations that are so dark that light can’t get in there. Or maybe a little can, but not enough to smile about yet. For them I will say there is always hope, and there is always something to marvel at, and it could always be worse. It could always be worse. The only people for whom that isn’t true are not here to say it to anymore. If you are on this planet, if you woke up today, then it could be worse.
MY NAME IS LEGION (or, how does free will fit into recovery?)
What is free will?
This is an age old question, and one I am not equipped to answer. But I am prepared to establish a good inquiry, because I think about it a lot. And I have some ideas, but they are by no means conclusions. Its more of an ongoing dialogue, and one that interests me quite a bit.
In AA there is a lot of talk about God’s Will. My understanding has always sort of been that God’s Will was the basic unfolding of life, without me trying to force my schemes and plans and such onto it. This seems pretty clear, right? But what if I exercised none of my own will, and operated only by God’s Will. Would God’s Will get me out of bed? Would God’s Will get my kids to school? Please understand me here, I am not IN ANY WAY questioning the beauty and grace of God’s Will. I am just wondering how it works with Free Will, with my Will. How they work together, and how they don’t.
When I really give it some thought, it takes MY free will to do God’s Will. I have to freely succumb to the way life is unfolding, and it is my will that gives me the commitment to take on the next indicated action, my will that allows me to choose to pause when agitated, to recognize when my personality is trying to trump my principles. I read recently that, in steps 6 and 7, becoming entirely ready to have God remove our defects of character and to humbly remove our shortcomings, the point is that we have to ask. We become ready to have them removed because we finally understand, after a thorough inventory, what slaves we have been to the damn things. It has to be our free will that willingly asks for them to be removed. We have to want it. It was suggested that God can only work with our free will in that department- for our shortcomings to be lifted without our first asking would be sort of like a cosmic cheat. We have to be willing to let them go. WILLING. Without our willingness, none of it can happen. And WILLingness is our own Free Will in action, choosing the light over the darkness.
And at times our free will doesn’t choose the light. We all know this, it’s the basis of all religions and spiritual journeys. It’s the fundamental sticking point. It is what makes choosing the light such an diabolical challenge, and also the single most relevant victory- because the dark can be so incredibly seductive and compelling. It knows our weak spots, maybe better than we do. My character defects are tools for the darkness- I get a feeling that my fears, my insecurities, my judgementalness or desire to be liked, my hanging on to old hurts and behaving from that wounded, entitled, place of long suffering victimhood will ultimately be my undoing, if left unchecked. Its all Ego, or Disease, or however you like to call it. And it only wants one thing- to dismantle me until I am a walking black hole, or six feet under-whichever comes first.
I don’t know with any certainty about any of it, I only know that I wonder about it. I can’t possibly know the mind of God. And I can only try to know my own mind, and to try to overcome my own errant and self serving belief systems enough to see the truth. Its not a pretty thing, to do the work of getting to know how our minds operate. In my experience of step 7, asking God to humbly remove my shortcomings was not an instantaneous thing- I didn’t just ask, and then they were plucked out of my being like stray hairs. For me, I am constantly given situations that bring my character defects into the light, and if I do not examine them right then and there as they present themselves, then more of those situations will come until I understand the lesson, observe myself acting in the grip of said character defect, recognize it, and do something different. You have to be able to identify the broken part, to look at the damage, (Step 4 and 5) and then, at least for me, I have to see how they ‘work’ (or don’t) for me in my life- broken parts create broken results.
And like a game of Whack a Mole, they keep popping up, as there are a multitude of them, trying to run the show. Like the chapter of St Mark in the bible, when there is a man who is known to be filled with unclean spirits, who no man could tame, no chains could bind, who spent all the time crying and cutting himself with stones- is that not like so many of us, in the depth of our despair? And he came to Christ, and Jesus asked of the man “What is your name?” And he said, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” And so it is like that, we are possessed with so many defects and agendas and belief systems and fears and desires and addictions that when we are able to master the addictions to some extent, there is still the Legion, and only the light of truth is able to bring us back to a whole and holy state.
Here is another challenge, and its extremely tricky- we are very, very attached to the Legion. They have been ingrained in us, and we think they are intrinsic to who we are. What they do is rob us of the precious gift of Free Will. If we are behaving as puppets, reacting to external stimulus without thinking, just being ‘who we are’, then we are not in a state of choice. We are not practicing free will. We are just doing what we are programmed to do, like a microwave or a blender. We love our suffering and our chaos. We can’t live without our loneliness, our boredom, our dissatisfaction. We do things to create more suffering, more dissatisfaction- on autopilot, nonetheless. Autopilot! We don’t even know it. We just call it life. But there is so much more to it.
Steps 6 and 7 begin to really restore our free will to us. We get the opportunity to observe our actions and reactions, see what does not work, and choose something different. In that choosing, we are liberated from the slavery of our personal history, our robotic programming, our autopilot mode, our self sabotage. We have free will, and FREE is not an accidental designation; there IS freedom in it, there IS liberation in it. And that free will is free to choose to align itself with God’s Will. If it looks at all that is being offered, all the entire banquet of life with all its myriad choices, and chooses to act by principles in spite of the comforts the personality demands, then it has placed you squarely outside the prison walls, liberating you from the bondage of self. In that place, you can learn to trust that it is all unfolding just as it should and that there are no mistakes in God’s World. We pray for knowledge of God’s Will for us- that we will be guided and directed on our journey- And the power to carry that out- Our free will, used rightly, is that power. That is the ultimate freedom, more precious than any treasure. When you can walk in that truth is when you remember who you really are- “You are a child of the Universe, no less than the trees and the stars. You have a right to be here.”
You are a miracle. You are a gift. Believe it.
One of the biggest themes of my addiction, towards the end, was profound isolation. Even in a room full of people, I could feel incredibly alone. I read recently that loneliness comes from feeling that you have nothing in common with anyone, so often that feeling is worse in groups, in public. I think that is part of what drove me to isolate- at least I had something in common with myself.
What it was like..
I recall waking up and reaching over for pills- I couldn’t leave the bed without them. The person who provided me with the pills would not put them there if he was angry with me, and on those days I would writhe in agony. He didn’t do that a lot, though, and I would take my pills (vicodin, narco, soma, xanax) and then look at the bleak day ahead of me. The best thing I could think to do was to find a movie on television; sometimes I would bid on stuff on ebay. At some point I had to get to the store for vodka- towards the end I didn’t eat much, and would drink when I felt hungry. Not to mention, I had kids to get to school and when they came home, they would run off and play with friends as I lay comatose on the couch. I had checked out of life completely, and would soon formulate a plan to check out entirely, although I clearly didn’t follow through, and that is another story. I was a zombie in the most literal sense of the word, and I felt like the only zombie in the world, no other fellow zombies to talk to. All the party buddies all end up in a room shaking by themselves. That party doesn’t last forever and never ends well for ones like me.
I recount this because I love to look at how it was, and what its like now.
What Its Like Now
Yesterday, at 15 days shy of my 5 year sober anniversary, I was killing time in South Pasadena while my daughter visited some friends. I had spent about an hour looking at old photographs and old issues of Mad Magazine in a vintage store, and then perusing books in a used bookstore- the kind that you don’t see much of anymore- scanning through volumes of poetry, and psychology books. It was a really peaceful way to spend an afternoon. I decided to buy a volume of Rumi, and a copy of Women Who Run With Wolves, which I always buy when I see it to give it away to friends. At the checkout counter (Which was really an old school desk where a girl hand writes the name of each volume and the price) I overheard an older woman talking about Kabbalah and the 23 volume Zohar, which I have. I saw the books she was reading, all of which were books I either had or wanted. I jumped into the conversation, I had to know this woman. I offered to help her carry the many books to her car and she asked me if I wanted to get tea. So we went to a lovely coffee shop situated by the metro tracks as the sun went down, and I got to hear her incredible story.
Apparently someone had gotten mad at her over a business transaction and had sent a letter about how she had hundreds of old European paintings and that she had bragged about being the grandaughter of a Nazi warlord, and he suspected that her art collection was Nazi loot. This went to trial, almost to the Supreme Court, one of the first landmark cases of internet libel. To clear her name, she went looking into her geneological background, and discovered that she was actually Jewish. Her family had come to the Free World and chose to pretend to be Christian Germans, to avoid prosecution and trouble. She had never known of this, and she continued her search, curious about what else might be revealed. She found that she came from a long line of rabbis, in fact. And going through those rabbis, she even came to discover that one of her ancestors was supposedly there when Moses came down with the Ten Commandments.
Being a spiritual person, she came to see this situation as incredibly significant. The libel trial caused much strife for all involved- people were fired from jobs, she had to sell her home and move back to the west coast. But what she was given in return was a connection to her ancestors, her family, her blood lineage. She looked at me as a metro train whisked by, as I drank my chai tea, as the sun was setting, and said, “Moreover, I get to make amends for my family, for the fact that they hid their religion and faith to survive, I get to bring the truth to light and release them all. They can not have a portal in me without my knowing they are there, that they existed, that they are part of who I am. And so I learned Hebrew, and I read the 23 volumes of the Zohar in its original form, in their honor.” She said, “The universe is a minimalist. It burns everything but what is essential away.”
ON Friday, ONE80CENTER was honored to present An Evening with Marianne Williamson to the ONE80CENTER family. For those who don’t know, Marianne Williamson is is an internationally acclaimed spiritual author and lecturer. Six of her ten published books have been New York Times Best Sellers. Four of these have been #1 New York Times Best Sellers. A Return to Love is considered a must-read of The New Spirituality.
On a personal level, Marianne Williamson is a hero of mine. I love her message. I have read many of her books. I was introduced to A Course in Miracles through her, as her books and her lectures focus on using A Course In Miracles to its fullest extent. That book has had an intense impact on my life- both my life as a person in recovery (by deepening my conscious contact with my Higher Power) and as a person in the world- a mother, an employee, a sponsor, a friend. My exposure to Marianne has had a profound impact on my own spiritual path, as it has on countless others.
Before I continue, I feel like I should talk about A Course in Miracles. There are many who have heard of it but don’t know much else about it. The name makes many think that its a lecture series or a seminar. People think Marianne wrote it. The truth is that its a book- the first part being text, the second part being a workbook. The workbook consists of 365 days of exercises, one for each day. Here is an example-
Lesson 1 – Nothing I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place] means anything.
Now look slowly around you, and practice applying this idea very specifically to whatever you see:
This table does not mean anything. This chair does not mean anything. This hand does not mean anything.
Then look farther away from your immediate area, and apply the idea to a wider range:
That door does not mean anything. That body does not mean anything. That lamp does not mean anything.
Notice that these statements are not arranged in any order, and make no allowance for differences in the kinds of things to which they are applied. That is the purpose of the exercise. The statement should merely be applied to anything you see. As you practice the idea for the day, use it totally indiscriminately. Do not attempt to apply it to everything you see, for these exercises should not become ritualistic. Only be sure that nothing you see is specifically excluded. One thing is like another as far as the application of the idea is concerned.
The text of CIM was channeled through Helen Shcucman, who was a professor at Columbia University. When you read it, you just know that no human being, with all their limited faculties and, well, humanness, could have authored it. Reading that text has allowed me a much deeper insight into the nature of things, specific to my experience. For instance, CIM says that only love is real. Anything that is not love is not real. There are lots of things that seem like they are not love happening all the time- but these are only hallucinations, essentially, created by perception that is not in alignment with Holy Spirit. This idea has given me a great deal of relief in my life, and has allowed me to relax into a new perception which is infinitely more graceful than being held hostage by the illusions of an ego driven life.
Marianne graced us all of us in attendance at ONE80CENTER with her presence, and with her extraordinary message. It was an amazing evening, and I watched the spiritual pilot light ignite in everyone who was fortunate enough to be there. Its not every day that one gets to be in such an intimate setting with her- she speaks every Monday in Los Angeles, and there are hundreds of people who attend that lecture every week. She spoke of the way A Course in Miracles and the Principles of the 12 Steps align- they both carry the message of Truth with a capital T, and Truth is Truth. She took questions from the audience and was able to shine a light on the dark spots that plague all alcoholics and addicts. I loved how she didn’t sugar coat anything- the ego doesn’t need any mollycoddling- it needs to know we are on to it, it needs to know that we mean business! She speaks from not just knowledge of the truth- we all have that, we know the difference between so called ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ or the seemingly ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Its having a deep experience with truth that dispels the myth of suffering. Experiencing the truth of choice, for example. One can explain how all life is choice, and that at every moment we can choose between being empowered or disempowered, and this comes from inside and is not dictated by external circumstance. But until one has an actual experience of the power of choice on this most fundamental level of perception, its all academic. However, hearing the truth and being exposed to it can and does light the way to that deeper experience and understanding. Another example of how you can lead a horse to water but you can’t, as they say, make him drink- I can’t tell you how many people I have told about Course in Miracles, or who I know have heard of it, or have it but only made it through the first five pages, etc. Here one is given an opportunity to experience life in a different way, to deepen one’s understanding of oneself and to know a peace and joy that is our birthright. And why do people not grab onto the Course with absolute fervor? Oh, a million reasons. But short of having a near death experience that has rendered one incapable of reading, I can’t think of one good reason for anyone who has been exposed to Course in Miracles not to dive into it whole heartedly, with unbridled and unshakable commitment.
I frequently talk about ‘the next level’ in recovery. In fact, I’d go out on a limb and say that its one of the main driving forces in both my writing and my life. I have come to a place in my own ‘next level’ where I am not so much of a seeker anymore. I have become a finder. I am finding deep spiritual truths that resonate with who I am understanding myself to be, and these truths enhance my ability to be available to others, to love without reservation, to trust and flow in the divine choreography that is constantly unfolding, to respect myself and my boundaries, to know that the only limits in the world are the ones I create. Marianne Williamson epitomizes the message that speaks to those of us in recovery who are ready to deepen, to understand, to experience a real atonement, a paradigm shift, and to see things in a new and sacred way.
If you are interested in A Course in Miracles, click here. (Or, should I say, if you are interested in the next level, are you interested in being liberated from the confines of your conditioning, are you interested in seeing life like a new thing full of wonder and delight, which is the playful nature of God, click here!)
…Oh yeah, did I mention I got to go pick her up and also drive her home after the lecture? That was the icing on the cake!
I’ve been writing about the tough spots during the Holidays, partly because I personally find freedom by talking about what I am going through, and partly because I know others are also fragile during the holidays, more so than at other times. I have gotten some feedback about how some people don’t like it when people keep hoolding the Holidays as a hard time for us alcoholic/addicts. Their argument is that we shouldn’t be more careful at the holidays, that we should be that careful at all times. I for one think of the holidays like a potentially icy road- it might not be icy, but best to drive with extra caution in the event that you hit a patch of ice. You wouldn’t need to drive like that on a summer day, but you still have to drive mindfully no matter what. Mostly, though, I speak to the newly sober when I talk about the potential mine field the holidays can be- the first Christmas can be a difficult time.
As much as I relate to the Holidays being a tricky time, I also love the Holidays. My kids and I put up the tree right after Thanksgiving, and Christmas movies are played on rotation until the New Year. I love holiday movies and the theme of redemption best of all. Even if you don’t recognize Christmas, this is a theme that is appealing no matter what you celebrate.
I was thinking the other day of something I heard about years ago. It was a story about how important it is for a baby chick to fight its way out of the egg. It is quite a struggle, and the impulse for any kind hearted person would be to help the little guy out. So someone did that, and the baby chick died shortly thereafter. Apparently, the struggle to emerge activated necessary muscles that the chick would need for survival outside the egg. It needed to strengthen its neck muscles with the pecking and squirming, its little legs with the kicking and scratching.
It is the same for us. We develop muscles and skills in our emerging process in recovery that are critical to our survival in sobriety. That is why they say to carry the message, and not the alcoholic- if we carry the alcoholic, they may not gain the musculature they need for the future. It isn’t always easy to know the dividing line between being of service, and being an enabler for other negative behaviors.
When I was first in recovery, I certainly didn’t know the difference. I found myself running after women who had gone out on a run, banging on doors where they were holed up with their junky boyfriends, running to hotel rooms to drag drunk women into a detox (more than once for the same woman), I’ve been thrown up on by women and once was peed on, I’ve held their hair while they threw up in the toilet, trying to count the number of pills that were undigested. I’ve carried women who weigh more than me up stairs. I could keep going here, but you get the idea.
I will say this- my heart was in the right place. It was. But errantly so; these things did not ultimately help any of these women. I remember calling the sponsor of some of these women who said- “I don’t run after wet ones,” or, “I don’t get involved in the madness.” I couldn’t understand it. My own sponsor, in one of these situations, got really angry with me. She said they were not willing, they were drunk, and when they sobered up and got willing they could give a call. I remember thinking this sounded wrong; weren’t we supposed to do everything in our power to help?
I really don’t know where that line is. But I do understand that no human power can relieve us of our alcoholism, and also I do understand that after many of these scenarios, I am not in a hurry to go running after someone who is out there using. I have seen that it isn’t effective. I have seen how ugly and crazy it is, and that talking to the disease is fruitless. It lies and lies and says what you want to hear. It’ll realize that the only way out is to act sorry and clean up a little and get me off their back so they can go use again.
One friend I used to always go running after would feign an utter lack of being able to do anything. She made herself seem so incompetent, as if left to her own devices she would crumple into a wad of discarded paper, like a small child. I would make calls to get her into treatment, to find people to help her move, donate money to the storage, take care of her dogs, you name it- and every time she would get a couple of months and disappear again. After one run, she picked up the phone and made some calls herself, and got herself from the crack den she was living in to a sober living, all on her own. She was literally the baby chick pecking her own way out of the shell. What I had done was tried to take the shell off for her, robbing her of the struggle that is so vital to her ability to stay sober.
There are no hard and fast rules to it; we are here to help another alcoholic achieve sobriety. Some people put newcomers up in their homes, some give rides to them, some take their phone calls or escort them to court to offer support. Keeping the metaphor of the baby chick in mind, we can listen to the newcomer and try to discern where we can really offer support, without doing the work for them. I knew a woman once who I met at a 9 am meeting. She was a little wobbly, and she was stressing about the time in between meetings at that location. There were meetings all day, but about 1 or 2 hours in between. She wanted someone to take her home and bring her back to the meetings instead of sitting there in between and waiting, if need be. I did that; that same meeting, I just sat there in between and talked to whoever was also hanging around. It was awful for me as a newcomer, I felt lame and like everyone had somewhere important to go to except me. I was the one loser hanging around the church waiting for the next meeting. But for me, it was incredibly humbling exactly because it was so uncomfortable. I conveyed this to her, and she ended up doing the same. I saw her over this past weekend at a brunch spot and she came up to hug me, and thanked me for suggesting she hang around in between meetings, that she had met some of her strongest support team members in the lull.
Recently I had a dream about someone I know. In my dream, I was in a store, and I was suddenly aware of someone next to me that I could tell, without looking, was a homeless person. I immediately felt compassion for this person standing beside me, who smelled like desperation and having gone too long without creature comforts, like a bed and a shower. I looked up to give him a warm smile when I saw it was not a nameless person but a significant person in my life who I have had a great deal of difficulty with- I’d even go out on a limb and say he has been THE single most disruptive person in the span of my life. Suddenly, the smile I was about to offer was gone, and so was the compassion that fueled it. I watched him go score 3 bags of heroin, and my loathing grew. My usual state of caring for addicts did not apply to him, simply because he is who he is. Holding them in contempt never works.
When I woke up, I realized something critical. I had not been offering the same to him, in my mind and heart, as I do for complete strangers. This is someone with whom I have a lot of history, significant family connections, and who I will always be connected to as a result of family, and yet I haven’t been able to see through our turbulent history to the human being that he is. Mind you, I thought I had been holding him in that place, but really it was only intellectually, the shift had not taken place in my heart, where true perception lives.
So, I made the shift. It did not require a lot of work, or fanfare, or talking, or soul searching. It was as simple as calling a spade a spade (me, I’m the spade, I’m the and owning my part. What happened was this- he started to show up differently in his actions. He went from hostility and aggression to calm interactions. He started doing things differently in regards to our mutual family members, when previously I had held him in contempt and incapable of showing up for said family. And his wife, with whom I have also had many unpleasant interactions has also shown up in a different way. We, who have not spoken in over two years, are now communicating daily about important matters that need to be discussed.
In my first couple of years of sobriety, it was important for me to not expect people to be other than what they are. If their behavior is consistently hurtful, then to expect anything different would be silly and cause more pain for me. I can’t tell you how many times I would continue to try different angles or to people please to try to appease negative people, or limp away, again, because they reacted the way they usually do and for some reason I was surprised. Its like the story of the frog and the scorpion- A scorpion needed a ride across a river. He asked a frog if he could go across on his back. The frog said, “What? No way, you’re a scorpion, you’ll sting me to death.” The scorpion assured him he wouldn’t, pointing out that if he did, he would die too. So the frog consented, and halfway across, the scorpion stings him. As he starts to drown, the frog cries, “Why? Why?” And the scorpion, also drowning, replies, “What did you expect? I’m a scorpion. Its my nature.” This story helped me understand, people just are as they are. We get in trouble if we don’t recognize this and accept them for it and act accordingly. I was able to accept this person in my life for being who and what he was; I stopped being surprised by his behavior, I stopped expecting anything different, and I stopped taking it all personally. That was a big step, and it helped immensely. It was a thorough acceptance of him as who he is, but I hadn’t gotten to the deeper work of understanding what my part in it truly is in all of it.
Now, coming up on my 5th sober birthday, the new lesson is going beyond mere acceptance to a heart shift into a pure place. In this space, the person goes from being held in contempt by me-in the place where I held this particular individual, he would never do the right thing and if there was a terrible thing to say or do, he would say it, or do it. In my perception I held him captive there, and he complied to this view of him. Once I had this dream, and experienced a shift, he was no longer held into place by my negative view of him, by the labels I placed on him as a tormentor and controller. That view also kept me in my place, which is on the receiving end of it all. By releasing him, I released myself, and the playing field is cleared of all the debris that made it impossible for any smooth or civil interaction. This was one of the most significant lessons in my life, and it was so subtle, it just unfolded right into my lap and I was thankfully aware and awake enough to see the opportunity present itself.
There was someone I needed to make amends to that I had hurt ,and hurt badly. I had been abusive, intolerant, judgmental, condescending, manipulative and insensitive. I pretty much tried to kill this person for years. I hadn’t really even given her much thought when I was making amends; I committed these abuses against this person without giving it that much thought, either. That person is me.
Two weeks ago when I went to Bali, I only partly understood that it was an amends to myself. I understood it abstractly, intellectually, but it wasn’t until I got there that I truly could grasp the importance of this particular amends. I also couldn’t comprehend Bali itself; it lived for me only in pictures on the internet, and it wasn’t until my third day there that Bali began to be a real and living thing, like a mysterious beating heart dropped in the ocean on the outskirts of the world. It was on the third morning, when I had woken up at 4:30am (which I did every morning, like clockwork), before the roosters, sitting on the balcony watching the day wake up. In the pitch black, I could barely see the bats winging through the sky, making little ‘nit nit’ sounds. Geckos were making their strange call, “Ge-ckoooo, Ge-ckooo’. The river was flowing right below, cascading down a waterfall and into the jungle. As the sun slowly crept into the world, the roosters woke up- layers of them, some of them near, some far, some in between, and the monkeys in the jungle started woo-hooing, singing birds replaced the bats, and the constant hum of crickets and cicadas was like a Hammond organ in the background of it all- a gorgeous, impressive, cacophony. The rice workers in the paddies right across the river got busy with their rice crops, boys came out to fish in the river, and monkeys starting climbing on rooftops. The air was thick with oxygen from the abundant vegetation; I almost felt a buzz just breathing it in, and it was fragrant with frangipani from the trees, and the constant incense of the devoted. Bali came alive for me, and so did I.
I developed almost instantly a profound gratitude for all of this, and for the very fact that I was THERE, nearly an entire world away from home, observing it all. It was gratitude on a cellular level, so deep I was humbled by it, and brought to tears many times as a result. I began to feel myself wake up on levels I hadn’t been aware of.
Nearly a week later, as I floated in the Indian Ocean (warm as a bath) after many days of walking in this world with my heart wide open, and my eyes wide open, and smiling bigger than I can remember smiling, feeling the miracle of every little thing, I felt a new thing happen. I felt my amends to myself happen.
I almost didn’t go on this trip. Why? Well, we humans are sabateurs, and alcoholics and addicts especially so. I had created a life that felt like I was double parked at all times. Everything was urgent, bordering on code red. I was taking things personally when I knew better. Mind you, I was happy before I left, but I was happy in spite of the conditions of the world I’d created for myself. I had a story going about the hardships of being a single mom of two teenagers who works full time and gets no child support. I had really identified with that story, with the idea that if I slipped up, it would all fall apart. Thats a lot of pressure. Without calling it suffering, I embraced suffering and called that happiness. I just thought “thats life. Embrace it.” So I thought I shouldn’t go, I shouldn’t spend money I don’t have, I can’t leave my kids with friends and moreover can’t impose on said friends, if I leave work for two weeks, they will see they can live without me and let me go, or my house might burn down. Its not the right time. I can go later. Who do I think I am to take two weeks and go? And mostly, who am I to deserve this?
Its worth saying here that I haven’t had a vacation in 16 years. And I’ve never left the country. I had painted myself into a corner and then decorated that corner with globes and maps. We do this. We shrink to fit. So it was a compelling conversation that I was running in my head about not going.
I asked for signs, indisputable ones. And I got them. My ticket cost $1600. I was concerned about the money but I kept reminding myself that God always, ALWAYS, takes care of me. And he did- I got a request to write an article for $1000, and my storage discovered a deposit they owed me for $600. Then my landlady gave me $500 off my rent- for no real reason, just because i have been here a long time. And to top it off, when I was told to get a rolling backpack for the trip, I found one in a box of free stuff from a neighbor who had moved. It was all covered, and I couldn’t really argue with that.
So, I am floating in the ocean, realizing the spiritual work it took just to get myself here, the stories and things I had to let go of, the negative voice in my head I had to ignore, and the fears that nearly crippled and immobilized me. I was floating in the Indian Ocean, In Indonesia, as the sun was setting behind holy Mt Agung, with the Muslim prayer being sung over the loudspeaker in town and Hindu incense being carried in the silky ocean breeze- little ol’ me who didn’t think she deserved this. Suddenly I felt all the little fragments and pieces of me that splintered off during the course of my life come back together, like the film of a glass shattering on the floor in reverse. For the first time I felt entirely complete- ONE. Another word for this is Atonement. At-one-ment. I also felt united with all things, with everything, and I experienced the full force of my amends to myself. This moment, now, is for all the abuse, the neglect, the harm I caused. For isolating you and lying to you and for not taking care of you. Atonement. Amends. I never have to live like that again.
When people ask me how my trip to Bali was, I smile, and say, “It was awesome.” There really isn’t any way to convey the spiritual shift that happened there, that the spirit of the land and the people with their smiles and devotion and gratitude broke the remaining guard down and opened my heart entirely to the light of living. I tell them I snorkeled and played with monkeys and went to ancient temples and got massages everyday. But as I say it, I am smiling deeper than I used to, and having more meaningful eye contact than previously, and feeling like I have tentacles in my heart, reaching out to them, trying to give them some of warmth and love that Bali gave to me.