23 years ago today

Most days I don’t remember exactly what I was doing x number of years ago. But, today, on this evening I remember clearly what I was doing 23 years ago. I was house sitting in St. Paul, MN. I was (sorry to our family friends in whose home I was sitting who might read this post!) very, very stoned (marijuana) and a little drunk. I was in emotional crisis, too. I was suddenly truly terrified that I might be an alcoholic.

Three months before, I had wondered if I was an alcoholic. A few years before, even, I might’ve wondered. Back then, though, I was more interested in diagnosing other people’s problems than I was interested in looking at my own.

So, for three months in the spring of 1996, I didn’t drink any alcohol. (I got high. A lot. But that wasn’t drinking, I reasoned.) After three months, I celebrated being not an alcoholic — it was really easy, I was sure, to not drink! — with vodka lemonades alone in a bar in Minneapolis.

That evening, I befriended another 20 something woman who told me she was a heroin addict in recovery. I didn’t know much about substance use disorders and I don’t think it crossed my mind that it was odd that she was drinking with me. We celebrated our non-alcoholism a lot, without a hint of irony. Somehow I got back to the house where I was staying back over in St. Paul; I’m pretty sure I drove. I contacted (via America Online) the hot guy I’d been messaging with and he came over. He was an alcoholic in recovery. I knew that. And, honestly, it made the idea of not drinking a little bit more interesting to me. He was really cute! We made out for a bit and then he went home. He was conflicted about hooking up with someone who wasn’t sober who was also thinking she might need to be. I’m grateful that he left.

July 3, 1996 was the first 24 hours of my life in recovery from alcoholism. I haven’t had to take a drink (or get high) since that time. My life today is happy, joyous, and free.

Since that time, I’ve learned that I have a disease of the body and mind. To recover, I had to not only stop putting the alcohol in my body—putting any alcohol in my body sets off a phenomenon of craving that makes it impossible for me to control how much alcohol I drink. I also had to get honest with myself and do some internal housecleaning so I could connect with a power greater than myself.

See, the weirdest thing about alcoholism is that if I rely only on my mind, it will tell me it’s safe to drink eventually. No matter how much will power or common sense I have, and no matter how many awful consequences follow getting drunk, without spiritual help I will find myself thinking that taking a drink won’t hurt me. It’s a bizarre disease! But, the spiritual solution (of depending on my higher power to remove the idea that I can drink safely) really, really works.

It works so well that I forget how hard it was for me those days. Living was difficult back then because I didn’t know how to be in the world with all the feelings we humans have. I lived in fear most of the time, but was convinced I was afraid of nothing. These days I’m still human, so I have my ups and downs, but for the most part I find myself in what Thich Nhat Hanh and other Buddhists call “the Middle Way.” My Quaker practice and my other spiritual practices help me stay grounded and present in this day. Life feels like a gift, even on my worst days. (Okay, on my worst days maybe I binge watch something on Netflix and don’t feel much of the giftishness of life, but because I’m living in recovery, I always know things will get better!)

I love living in recovery and I wouldn’t have it any other way. If anyone who is reading this has any questions about it, please don’t hesitate to ask!

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.

be still.

We sit. Quiet. Breathing. How loud loud loud my mind. So full of fast thoughts. So full of fast thoughts. So full of fast fast fast fast fast thoughts. So full and busy and I can’t hear anything because so much is going on in my mind.

People sneeze, cough, shift in their seats. What is it like, at meeting for worship?

meeting room

Portland Friends Meeting

Settling in to a comfortable position. Aware of my posture, my legs, my arms and hands. More aware of my body as the chaos of my mind’s voices chatter away in the background. Noticing new aches and pains, behind my left eye, throughout my jaw, my spine, my lower back. How my jaw clenches tightly over to the side. Becoming aware. Gently reposition my lower jaw so my teeth rest not quite touching, but in line. How awkward the rest of my face feels. How I notice my spine more now. I lift my head lightly as if a string comes from my spine up through the top of my head. Lifting.

New people enter the room, finding seats. Some have loud shoes on the wood floor. So much shuffling and adjusting. The room’s sounds flow in waves. More than the clicks and hums of human sounds, my anxiety comes from thinking of people who might be bothered by those sounds. I notice that about myself. I breathe. I return to my body. Someone’s stomach gurgles. Someone may be snoring. As the sounds mingle I notice. I notice I can find quiet even in the middle of the clutter careful accidental necessary noises of these friends. My mind is slowing. As each of my to-do items flashes in I welcome it and say, not now, and say, goodbye. As a new column or blog post begins forming, I enjoy playing with the words for a while, then notice my distraction away from the moment. Each moment of distraction, when I am not mindfully resting and seeking the space and light I know I will find in the silence, I don’t fight. I don’t fight the distractions, I only notice them.

Inside me, like the quiet sounds of the other humans around me, there are waves of noise and quiet. Again, a flowing.

As more space opens in me I notice I’m feeling sleepy. Oh, how tired I am. I begin worrying this will be one of those meetings where the struggle to fight sleep is so miserable, I consider leaving (I did leave once). Instead, I adjust my legs and my arms. I bend my head to one side and then the other. I imagine my blood flowing from my heart through my body, especially along my spine, and back into my heart. I catch myself in a deep and possibly loud exhale. It’s okay. We are all here to find the light. The space. The peace.

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