The Droning Search for Meaning

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Much of my life has been spent searching for meaning.  More specifically, my purpose for being here.  I have never bought into an idea that there is no purpose for my life and that death is the end all for me.  If this were the case, I would have never stopped drinking.

My curiosity and questioning has dominated any savage religious doctrine that I was predestined to buy into, or some lackluster philosophy that this human experience is strictly non-dimensional and linear.  I do not believe that this is an assembly line we were born into with random moments of bliss.  If this were the case, why do we have endless desire, multiple talents and brilliant minds?  Why are there varying degrees of personalities, stars which bring us to awe and an instinctual yearning for exploration?  Why is there unfathomable beauty, immeasurable contrast and limitless color?  How do we explain harmony, expansion, octaves, vibrations, music and the depths of love, if creation is simply an accidental calamity?  Why the full spectrum of emotions we experience as opposed to robotic responses?  What’s with laughter and humor?  Why do we dream and why do we have an endless myriad of choices?  Why do humans both differ so immensely and correlate so intimately?  Doesn’t everything we experience from birth to death point to a bigger picture?  I conclude, it certainly does.

If we were here to merely exist and then to die, what’s with the magic in between?  I mean really, why fuss with teasers of unexplainable phenomenon if there isn’t something greater happening?  What on earth, exactly, would be the point?

When life began feeling like an assembly line, somewhere in my mid-teen years, I had a vivid image of being a meaningless ant in a droning line of other ants, hauling salvaged crumbs around as a desperate method of survival.  I grew restless, irritable and discontent, constantly staring at metaphoric ant butts while carrying the lead weight of life upon my shoulders.  Unable to bare the tedium of my existence for long stretches of time, I created ways to make things more exciting for myself which included excessive drug use, drinking and spontaneous decision making.

This eighteen year stretch of insanity led to me finally admitting that I am completely powerless over alcohol and drugs, and that my life had become completely unmanageable (Step 1 of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous).  I made this assessment several times throughout my drug and alcoholic years, but the final declaration was on April 21, 2011.  This is my sobriety date.

When I finally decided to quit the delusional race of running away from myself, the first steps of an incredible journey began.  It has been over two years of continuous sobriety; something I never believed was possible.  What has also occurred on this journey of mine, is that I am fully discovering a beautiful and complete person who I left behind in the wake of my running.  It is as if I have returned to the innocent child I once abandoned, and we are reconnecting on a very deep level…

(Except from ‘The Devil’s Altar’ now on Kindle – coming soon in paperback).

My Moment of Clarity in Recovery

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During my two weeks in Detox, I carefully looked over the list of local rehabilitation centers, spoke to the counselors about each place, and chose one that felt right.  It was a Behavior Modification program and therapeutic community located in the Berkeley Hills.  I have been on a lovely path of reconnecting to my intuition ever since.  Six months of my life was spent in this sacred space of getting to know myself.  It was rigorous, raw, challenging and refining.  I was brought face to face with myself on a daily basis.  There were many tears, much laughter, frustration galore, moments of gratitude, and days of monotony.  Time went by very slowly and time went by fairly fast.  I was surrounded by many people just like me.  I related with them and I segregated myself, until I realized that I am no better than anyone.  I am exactly equal to every human being on this planet, no matter how rich, how poor, how smart or challenged; we are all equal, and this was an important lesson for me to learn, because I was under the belief that I was something special.  We are all incredibly special.  We are all gifted and universally valued.  We are all unique, and we all have the ability to overcome our obstacles.

I believed because I had an eighteen year career, naturally red hair, a published poetry book and a manuscript written, that I was somehow above most of my recovery peers.  I even thought that I had all of the answers at times.  I believed that I was incredibly unique compared to everyone else.  The truth was very clear, however.  When it came down to it, I was an addict and an alcoholic.  I was self-destructive and I was a liar.  None of my features, accomplishments or experiences made me anything more than an addict and an alcoholic.  

I recall one of the counsellors looking me at the face one afternoon and saying, “Clearly, intelligence has gotten you nowhere,” leaving me standing there alone in shock.  She was on to me!  But here I was in rehab because I could not keep a liquor bottle out of my mouth.  She was absolutely right. 

During the last month of my rehabilitation, I was moving fast, and feeling incredibly strong.  I was quickly approaching the end of my treatment, and would soon be “crossing over” into the real world.  Every other day I left the facility on my own to go on job search, and everything was going according to my plan. 

In this program, each one of us in treatment were given temporary job functions, which could change from week to week.  Somehow I kept the same job function for three and a half months.  I was a “Greeter.”  I loved being a Greeter because I had a lot of privileges and much more free time than most of my other peers.  As a Greeter, I “supported” the thirty day clients in the rehabilitation facility next door to ours.    All I had to do was be friendly, get people to groups, keep up on the house cleaning, sit through a few extra groups, and set up meals.  There was space for me to do my assignments, along with extra time to read.  Taking care of people filled my maternal void, which alleviated some of my discomfort from being away from my children. 

I followed the rules of the program, and stayed out of trouble, for the most part.  I was on-time to everything and completed my assignments effectively.  I followed the program the way I was supposed to.  None of this was difficult for me to do.  Before my teenaged years, I was one of those annoying kids that colored perfectly within the lines, and showed off to my teachers.  I followed instructions.  My “look good” exterior was impeccable.  I knew how to hold it together.  I was almost an expert at holding it together.  Luckily, my savvy counselors saw right through this, and graciously came to my aid.

At the end of my treatment, I self-sabotaged by going on job search without getting written permission.  We were never allowed to leave the facility without getting a proposal signed by staff, but because I wanted to get a job as soon as possible, I manipulated my way into getting out one day, without a signed proposal.  It was difficult to get away with anything in the program, because eyes were everywhere, and it was each client’s responsibility to inform the staff of any misconduct.  I was caught, and consequences were immediately imposed.

This was supposed to happen.  The whole point of this program, was to identify behaviors which lead us to our drinking and using.  One of my behaviors was getting whatever I wanted by manipulating my way through life.  I shoved through things to get what I wanted.  Because of this, I was removed from my cushy job function, placed on restriction for two weeks, and demoted back to Orientation.  I was not even allowed to socialize with any of my own peers.  Anytime I needed to go anywhere, including to the bathroom, I had to take “support.”   Support was supposed to be a “senior” peer, although in actuality, I was the senior peer.  Needless to say, this was incredibly humiliating, especially after five months of basically floating by and “looking good.”

My false sense of entitlement was radically eliminated.  All of this angered me to no avail.  I was in such a rage, that I could not stop crying.  For about two days solid, I wept.  I identified myself as a Greeter.  I identified myself as a Senior Peer.  I also identified myself as someone who knew what they were doing.  I was completely stripped of all of these things.  It was terrible, but deep down inside, I knew this was essential.  I knew I must go through this process, and in the end, it would benefit my recovery.  I let the rage fume and I allowed the tears to flow.  This was one of the only emotions I fully experienced in rehab, but since then, I have come to know many more.  Anger was the one emotion I could not hide, so it was a great gift when it arose, because I could not pretend to be anything other than angry. 

At the end of two days, I was exhausted from being angry and sat in a chair at the back of a group, quiet and humiliated, yet this is when something wonderful happened.  I became genuinely grateful for the whole experience, and suddenly my anger began moving inside of my gut.  I literally felt my rage transcending into joy.  It was occurring deep inside of me, so completely and wonderfully.  I had never experience this kind of emotional alchemy inside my body before.  A smile filled my face as the anger ceased while joy consumed my being.  It was liberating.  The counsellors constantly told us to “sit with ourselves” and our emotions, but this was difficult to do.  Our first instinct is to react.  They also told us to get out of our heads, and down into our bodies.  I never knew what this meant.  I was used to living inside my head and dropping down into a bottle.  It frustrated me when they told me to get out of my head. 

When I finally dropped down into my body, or into my emotion, rather than resisting it, or reacting, I experienced myself like never before.  It was as if I became one with myself, and finally entered into the comfortable and cavernous place of myself that I was forever running from.  I slept heavily that night, on the bottom of an old wooden bunk bed beneath a woman who gave me incredible support and love.  Our dorm overlooked an enormous sprawling oak tree.  It was so grand that I often meditated upon its greatness, observing squirrels and birds, and imagining what it would be like to be a child again.  If I were a child in my bedroom, instead of an addict in an institution dorm, I would climb out of the window onto the tree and ascend into the limbs as far as I could go.  I would take a fabulous book with me, and spend an afternoon reading upon the sun-soaked branches.  If only I could go back to that time, and begin my life again.

The next morning I awoke, provoked by an unusually bright sun.  All was quiet, luminous and incredibly serene.  What I experienced was beyond anything I have ever felt before in a life filled with heaviness and confusion.  Right now was immaculate stillness and acute awareness.  Everything was vivid and my mind was transcendent and silent.  For the first time in a long time, I woke up without my thoughts galloping like wild horses inside my head.  There I sat up in my bed with the keenness of a hawk and calmness of a gentle summer breeze.

I slowly sat up touching my arms and my face.  There was no electricity running through me.  I was simply there.  I was so naturally and brilliantly alive.  It was me.  I was simply me.  I was completely awake to who I was; to who I am.  I was all that I was, in one blissful arrangement of my entire wholeness.  There were no fragmented parts of me, or questions unanswered.  I was not any different because I was no longer a Greeter, or any less than because I was demoted back to Orientation.  I was not fearful or deep in dread over being pulled out of my job search.  I was not lacking anything.  I was simply myself, and myself was pure, complete, and unidentified.  My self was not caught up in an image; nor was it terrified of being simple, without a persona to sustain.

That eminent morning, I just was.  This was beautiful and wonderful, and so dynamically liberating.  All this time I believed it was the end of me, if I had to let go of my images.  I feared what would happen without my precious identities.  Beyond my images revealed a dynamic awareness of myself.  I understood then that I was richer than all of my quick-changing characters combined.  I was not short of a single thing, because I was everything.

I am me… I AM.

 

(Excerpt from ‘The Devil’s Altar’ – on Amazon)

Surrender

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In recovery, isn’t it curious how our lives begin to fall right into place after so much drudging during our addiction?  Even in our wreckage, we receive clarity.  Endless possibility accompanies our restoration.  What we used to dread dealing with, we become open and willing to manage through now; and what we once deemed impossible, is very much possible today.  Life is not as difficult as we believed it was while we were twisted in our addiction.  Moving into serenity isn’t only plausible, it becomes a natural state of being.

I have pondered this phenomenon often.  It goes without saying that if one is struggling in their addiction, then the obvious solution is for them to get clean and remain sober.  What is so difficult about this course of action?  Why don’t more addicts become and remain sober?  During my addiction, many people suggested that I just stop drinking, or just don’t drink, as if I’m throwing a feather into the wind.  It should be a breeze, right?

The truth is, getting sober is not easy.  In fact, I’ve discovered for myself that remaining sober has been much easier than becoming sober.  I think of an addict getting sober as being equivalent to someone who has been running away from an impending train for quite some time.  The train is always right at their heels, but every time they take a hit or drink or pop a pill, the train seems to back off.  The speed of the train subsides.  The noise of the strain subsides, and the fear of the train hitting also subsides.  The drug or drink keeps that train at bay every time the addict uses.

Inadvertently in late addiction, the train has already hit the addict and caused a lot of wreckage, but the addict continues to run and hide from it.  As a result, the drug or drink no longer has the same effect as before.  The drug or drink no longer drowns out the noise or the speed of the train.  It doesn’t reduce the fear.  In fact, all of these things become amplified.  When we finally acknowledge that the train has wrecked, we have a choice to either face the train or to get buried in the wreckage.  When we face the train, it is called surrendering.  When we choose to get sucked into the wreckage by ignoring it all, it is called denial.

The train represents life.  A significant difference between an addict and a non-addict is that an addict, at some point in their existence, purposely jumps off the train and begins running away from it.  Ironically, the train is always moving and it’s never apart from the addict, who is completely delusional.  The addict truly believes he or she can forever run from himself, from emotion or from pain and sorrow.  All of the troublesome things arising from within the addict, is what the addict wants to hide from, completely.

When it finally occurs to the addict that his or her only alternatives are to surrender, or to die, we must make a choice.  When we choose to surrender, our guard is then eradicated; we become vulnerable and open.  We face the train wreck and then uncover what has always been there.  What has always been there is our emotional responses to our experiences.  What we discover in our moment of surrender, is the capacity to stand before the wreckage and admit that we have absolutely no control. 

You see, we were never the conductor of our life; we were simply a passenger on a journey.  When our experience of that journey became uncomfortable or unbearable, we heedlessly tried to take control.  We got off track and created a disaster, but in the spirit of surrender with minimal resistance, the train is eventually restored and we, the addicts, are restored.  We get back on the train, as wrecked as it may be, but this time we begin to accept everything along the way, in a state of constant surrender.

What exactly, are we surrendering to? 

We are surrendering our self-will and re-connecting to Spirit.  We are re-aligning ourselves with that gentle flow of life that always was and always is.  What happens when we surrender our self-will and decide to face the wreckage of the train, is that our perspective becomes much clearer.  We are raw and facing the truth.  Finally there is potential, because we are no longer running away.  We are no longer heading off track or headed in the wrong direction.  Although the train may seem un-restorable at the time, something within us has shifted because we are at least facing the train wreck.  This is the point where we begin trusting in a process which we know nothing about, and we begin walking along in blind direction.  Somehow we gain the ability to believe in something greater than ourselves, which we cannot clearly see.  Our understanding at this point is that a power greater than ourselves will restore us to sanity, as stated in Step 3 in the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.

This is a difficult concept for many recovering addicts to wrap their minds around, which is okay.  We do not need to wrap our minds around anything.  We simply surrender and admit that our lives have become unmanageable.  This is the first step.  Once this step is courageously taken, we have deliberately re-aligned ourselves on the journey that we began at birth.

There is so much possibility when we surrender, because it is then that we become completely open to living within the wholeness and completeness of our lives.  We begin making space, without illusion or limitation, to be guided through our wreckage, in total clarity of each moment.  When we grasp how simple it is to live a life in sobriety, by taking just one day at a time (or one moment at a time as I like to do), we begin to experience gratitude for even the smallest of details that make up the whole.  The uncommon slowness of our lives becomes a vastness extending into completeness.  Everything we need at any given moment is granted to us without hassle.  We begin to realize that emotions and conflicts that arise are not only manageable; they are efficiently beneficial to our spiritual growth.  We experience harmony more often than not.

If a self-destructive, severe alcoholic like me can make these claims and have this understanding of life, anyone can.  I truly believe that recovery is the most significant gift to a suffering individual, especially when it is done with the intention to dive into life with the same earnestness we had in our addiction. 

Recovery is so simple, yet so opposite of what we know.  It’s very much about being responsible and aware of our experience at any given moment.  It’s about having kindness for ourselves, which extends out to others.  It’s about picking up on our emotional responses, as opposed to picking up a drink or a drug.  These are all things we are not accustomed to doing.  In recovery we are undoing many years of hardwired conditioning.  This takes willingness, awareness, practice, patience, and diligence.