Category Archives: recovery

held in the Light

Today I touched mind space with no thoughts. Nirvana, god, the Light. Pure peace. I know I was there because swimming floating breathing through thoughts (awareness) into the freedom and back to awareness (thoughts) was effortless. It was a brief but pure connection in the Ultimate.

It was at Meeting for Worship at my spiritual community, my Sangha, Portland Friends Meeting, that I touched this fresh and clear essence; a spaceless space without thoughts. During the same hour, I also felt sadness and loneliness. I knew those feelings have been trying to be heard, but I have been running away. They have felt like too much. I sat, breathing in and breathing out. Practicing being fully present in that moment.

Sometimes at Meeting, I feel moved to speak out loud. Not frequently, which is notable for me (I’m a talker). Today, I knew I wanted the community to carry me, to comfort me, to help me be present with my sadness and my loneliness. I don’t want to run anymore. My eyes filled with tears a few times. I felt scared the sadness, now that I was mindfully present with it, would consume me. I considered speaking. I thought of mentioning I would like to be held in the Light when it came time during Meeting to make such requests.

Then I thought about why I don’t often tell people I’m hurting; the people I know are loving and caring and generous and they would want me to know they care — what a wonderful “problem!” So much love! But, when I feel this tender I need to be mostly alone. I knew Meeting was the perfect place for me just then. I needed the Meeting to carry me while I felt this sadness and loneliness. I knew I didn’t need to ask for anything. We were all there together sharing that spiritual space.

When people did speak, there were powerful messages. I was able to be fully present in myself while witnessing the Light in others.

At some points my mind did wander, of course. I thought about the feeling that the meeting was carrying me and marveled at how different my life is these days. I thought of a post I shared on here some years ago about being carried by a crowd at a concert. A very different kind of carrying. A very different kind of trust — mostly misplaced trust in the case of the music event. My idea of a good time now compared to then couldn’t be anymore different.

Tonight I’m going to get together with a bunch of alcoholics who are in recovery. Similar to Friends Meeting, tonight we will spend time as a group together in meditation. It is another community where if I wanted to say “I am hurting” I could do it and I would receive comfort from people who truly care. Again, comfort in such a direct way isn’t what I need. Meditation with my spiritual communities, listening to what other people say (“getting out of myself” as we in the 12-step communities like to say), and staying connected to the present moment is how I will walk through this sadness. The sadness, the loneliness, and the despair will all grow smaller as I care for them and tend to other aspects of my life that bring me gratitude and comfort and peace.

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the last time I drank alcohol

Seventeen years ago yesterday, I spent my first 24 hours as someone who didn’t drink or get high. I was very lucky. I happened to be in the right place at the right time. In an AOL chat room in 1996, someone suggested I go to a gathering of other alcoholics who had found a way to live life without alcohol. I fell into a community of people who helped me believe that knowing peace was possible.

These days, I find it uncomfortable talking about how long I have been sober. I’m working to get over that, but, I have become one of those people who no longer believes that the length of time I’ve been sober has much to do with the quality of my sobriety or my life. Again, I got lucky. The foundation I landed on as I learned to live life without alcohol was strong. People guided me and shared with me resources that turned into my guidelines for living. I found a spiritual connection to what I call “god,” though it aligns more closely with my atheist friends’ concepts of life than it does with my religious friends. The connection is there, and for me, that’s what matters. These days, I recognize that many years of not drinking does not equal superior wisdom.

I frequently learn more today from people who are just beginning their journey into recovery than I do from “old timers.” The long-term sobriety people have important messages, too. But, at this point, it helps me so much to remember how frightening life was before I recovered. Through all of my life’s challenges in the last five years or so, I haven’t fallen into the world of fear that was my familiar life before I recovered. When “newcomers” remind me how mixed up life felt at the start, I am deeply grateful for my life and I am excited and hopeful for them. If they get to have even a fraction of the goodness I’ve felt learning how to live life as a recovered alcoholic, they will feel–as publications about recovery describe–”happy, joyous, and free.”

For a long time, I have known intuitively that difficult and dark times always get better. There was a brief period a few years ago, when I faced despair and lost my way. That happened not because I forgot the lessons of recovery, but because my brain chemistry changed and I needed medical assistance. Because of my experience living in the solution from alcoholism, I recognized my darkness was not something I should–or could–live inside. So, I got help.

I am allergic to alcohol. My body doesn’t respond normally to it. Rather than acting as a depressant, it acts as a stimulant. A feeling of craving sets in as soon as it hits my bloodstream (or, perhaps, as soon as I taste it). Not only am I allergic to it, but, before I recovered, I was constantly battling a spiritual confusion. My mind returned to the idea that I could drink without that allergic reaction. Imagine if I was allergic to shellfish, but I kept “forgetting” and ate it anyway. That’s the “insanity” of alcoholism. The only solution that worked for me, to relieve this mental obsession, was to reach out to what I call “god.” A spiritual solution.

In any case, today I am deeply grateful for all of the alcoholics who have gone before me and for those who are just finding out what life without alcohol can be for us alcoholics.

Each of these annual milestones bring up surprising reflections. The past changes as the future moves on. Today, I am returning to my roots of living life as a recovered alcoholic and spending more time with other recovered and recovering drunks. It is right and true. I feel all the feelings life brings. But, mostly, I am happy, joyous, and free.

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it’s all about me/it’s all about we

Hot summer, sitting with a dear friend at a street-side table of a hoppin’ restaurant in Uptown Minneapolis. It’s 1997 and I’ve just found out it’s possible to be cool and do cool things while not drinking alcohol. My cool friend and I are talking about our cool dreams and cool ideal futures, especially about our super-cool dream jobs. I’ve begun calling myself “a writer” and have been posting “web essays” (aka, these days, blog posts) every week.

Back then, I took my web essays so seriously I would stay up all night to be sure something worthwhile was published by Thursday morning each week. My topics varied from “What’s happening in Rwanda?” to “How I survived the beach in my bikini” and “All Whites are Racist.” Mostly, though, I wrote about me, myself, and I. As my friend and I laughed about ourselves while basking in our wonderfulness, we came up with the name for my web essays. I began calling my website, “It’s all about me! (the column).” The name was meant to be self-deprecating; poking some loving fun at my self-centeredness.

In the 90s, the most fascinating thing in my life was me. I was newly recovered from alcoholism. I was in my late 20s (becoming an adult). And I had left a relatively long-term relationship just a year or so before. “Who am I” was everything to me at that time. So, my friend Lisa and I were laughing about how self-centered we were. We knew even then, however, our self-centeredness and deep interest in “navel-gazing” wasn’t really about ourselves. We wanted to understand how we related to the world around us.

Who am I in relation to the world? What do I think of… racism, sexism, politics, art, relationships, social justice, sex, or anything that happened to cross my mind at the moment. What were my opinions? What role did I have in everything? And, most relevant to today’s “Blog Action Day,” what are my responsibilities to, for, and with the world outside of me?

During my earliest days of posting web essays, a fellow writer in the newsgroup where I hung out online, really let me have it about how vapid my perspective on life was. She counted the number of times I used the word “I” (14 times) in one of my essays. She railed against the uninteresting content of essays that were about me and only me, as she saw it.

It’s true there have been periods of my life where what I share online has been so much about my intimate self-discovery I’ve found it surprising other people have had any interest. But, many still seemed to enjoy my writing.

I no longer spend much time publicizing my now-it’s-called-a-blog. I also don’t write as regularly. I don’t spend hours researching so I can put together informative and in-depth essays about current events or important social issues. I write about thoughts I have that interest me. I write about experiences I have or about things that I’ve read. I write about me, myself, and I in relation to the greater world whether directly or indirectly.

Some people find their energy being with people. Their “power of we” comes from physically being with other human beings doing something social, political, creative, or otherwise. My “power of we” comes from within my own mind and from the connections I make with individuals, almost always one person at a time. My connection with other human beings, my true “power of we,” tends to be infrequent and almost always quite intimate and even intense.

It’s only through a fuller understanding of myself that I am able to engage in relationships with others. I still find me fascinating. I understand, now, that counting the number of times I write “I” doesn’t mean I think I am the only interesting topic. It doesn’t mean I think I am the only thing that matters. In fact, the reason I want to continue discovering myself is so I am better able to be in the world. Being alive in the present moment, fully connecting with myself and who I am, allows me the freedom to care for others close to me. It also creates in me a desire to make the world a better, more loving and just place for all of us.

My self-centered and self-discovery focused expositions are in a sense about me. But, ultimately, they are about the intersection of individuals with each other and in relation to each other. The mindfulness I practice helps me be fully alive and most able to be present, to care for and love others.

My blog’s name is no longer “It’s all about me! (the column).” Since around 2005 or 2006, this blog has been called, “It’s all about we!”

It’s through me, myself, and I that I uncover the “power of we.”

For these are my own particular opinions and fancies, and I deliver them as only what I myself believe, and not for what is to be believed by others. I have no other end in this writing, but only to discover myself, who, also shall, peradventure, be another thing to-morrow, if I chance to meet any new instruction to change me. — The Complete Essays of Michel de Montaigne, Volume 1, page 187

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what it was like, what happened, and what it’s like now

Sixteen years ago today I was at a St. Paul Saints game with a man I met in an AOL chat room. He was a nice guy, though I don’t remember his name and I’m pretty sure I never saw him again. What is memorable about that day wasn’t the game, or the guy, or being stoned out of my mind. What’s memorable is that on this day sixteen years ago I was drunk, and on every day since then, I haven’t been.

Before I began recovering from alcoholism, my life was ruled by fear. All of my earliest memories of drinking center around making me feel better inside. (Side note: Who remembers their first ice cream cone? Who remembers their first fresh picked strawberry? Not me. I clearly remember my first drinks.) There was the time I lifted the massive snifter filled with creme de menthe that had covered my ice cream sundae and as the sweet syrup warmed my throat and tummy I suddenly didn’t care that there was some sort of dramatic screaming festival happening over a credit card that was being denied. Or, the time I was lounging on the floor of the fort these guys made in the woods behind their house and I held up the bottle of tequila by the neck and announced, “The faster you drink it, the less you feel it!”

That was the key for me. Feeling less. I needed to find a way to feel less. Because I am an alcoholic, I believed alcohol provided a solution.

What it was like (before I began recovering from alcoholism) was a disconnected, terrified, determined-to-seem-“cool,” and disjointed life. I clung to solution after solution. After I moved here, things would be better. If my boyfriend would only want to get married and have a Martha Stewart (pre-prison) life with me, things would be better. If I did x, y, or z then things would be better. Live off the land? Tried it (lasted 3 days). Move across the country? (Did it, a couple times.) I was looking for the rules for living it felt like everyone else had that I never got.

In a pet-fur coated sweaty heat wave in St. Paul, Minnesota, I found myself instant messaging with a stranger from an AOL chatroom called “Friends of Bill W.” This person suggested it would be helpful if I talked to alcoholics who had found a way to live without alcohol that, he said (the person said he was a “he”), was “happy, joyous, and free.” At that point in my life, I believed “happy” meant “full of shit lying loser.” But, I was also pretty desperate. I didn’t drink for 24 hours (thus, July 3 is my “sobriety date”) and I called someone who had learned how to recover from alcoholism.

The first conversations I had with recovering alcoholics centered around the idea that the desire to stop drinking was all I needed to have. Because I was pretty obsessed with not calling myself alcoholic if I wasn’t one (I was really worried other alcoholics would get mad at me if I did that…??!?!) having this first conversation center around such a simple idea was a beautiful thing.

It turns out I’m actually allergic to alcohol (that’s what alcoholism is, in great part). When I drink my body goes almost immediately into a fireworks finale of MORE MORE MORE GIVE ME MORE. I always wanted oblivion. There were certainly times when I sipped a glass of wine, or nursed a beer for hours (I never did like beer, though I drank plenty). Mostly, though, that burning warmth going into my mouth and down my throat and in through my belly and through my blood stream and oh wow, yes, whoa I want more of this now. Instead of acting as a depressant as it would in a “normie” (non-alcoholic), it acted as an upper and a number and it was just what I needed. (I thought.) Instead of a rash or anaphylactic shock my body responded to alcohol (a poison for any of us if not taken in moderation) with an overwhelming desire for more.

Combine this allergy in my body with the spiritual sickness that causes my mind to always find a way to believe that I’ll be able to drink normally (somehow, some way, some day) and you’ve got my alcoholism. My mind, despite the fact that I consider myself recovered (not “recovering”), will always turn to the idea that I might drink safely again. The difference these days is I know that and I’m able to use the tools I learned to say, “Huh, must be I’m an alcoholic” and the thoughts just flit on out of my mind as quickly as they flit on in.

When I first began living in recovery, I was surrounded by amazing people. I took life one day at a time, sometimes one hour at a time, and sometimes a few minutes at a time. I practiced and practiced and practiced living. I kept myself wrapped well up in communities that would support my new alcohol (and drug) free life. It became so much a part of my daily living that when I encountered someone who got a little weird when I said I was an alcoholic, I was surprised. I forgot, back then, how loaded (ha) the issues are for so many people.

As for what it’s like now… I wouldn’t change a single thing even if I could without causing negative consequences. There isn’t anything in my life about which I feel regret in the way that makes me wish it hadn’t happened. It all brought me here and made me who I am and I like that.

What it’s like now is that I live. I live. I live my life and when I catch fear trying to get in here and take over, I have ways of working through it all. I passionately embrace my every moment’s imperfections. My mistakes make me who I am as much as my “successes.”

With the help of other alcoholics who learned how to live before I did, I picked up some great tools to help me function in day to day living. Early on in my recovery, the desire to drink (that mental obsession or spiritual sickness I mentioned) was “lifted.” It just went away. I also found a concept of “god” that became a part of my life in the same way that eating or writing or breathing is. I’m able to rely on this wordless strength-giver to get through things that feel un-get-throughable.

I will always be an alcoholic. No matter how “spiritually fit” I am, my mind will always try to convince me I could drink safely again. But, because I have recovered from alcoholism, I have tapped into a strength that is greater than my mind that allows me to live beyond this wrong obsession. With outrageous and enthusiastic imperfection, I am present in my life. I feel joy and pain and sadness and delight—and all sorts of shades and intensities of feelings—and for all of it, I am grateful.

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