Saturday, October 9, 2010

Rediscovering My Spirituality

400 days sober today.

Chelle’s off work, so we’re going to walk downtown to the Arts & Wine Faire for a while. Lots of local bands, artisans, gourmet food, and, of course, beer and wine flowing. I skipped this annual event last year because I was just too recently out of rehab and didn’t want the temptation. Now I don’t even blink at the thought of all that booze. I’ve been in bars, at the racetrack, at the OTB, at family gatherings, out to dinner with drinking friends, all of it, with no problem. Heck, New Orleans was really not a problem. Sunsets in Hawaii without a mai tai in my hand were no problem.

I suppose Las Vegas will be the final frontier. Ha!

But what a blessing sobriety has turned out to be.

Aside from the many positive changes in my life I’ve blogged about lately, one that I really don’t bring up nearly enough is rediscovering my spirituality. It’s funny. One thing that a lot of people don’t know about me is that I majored in college not only in English, but also in religious studies. During my senior year, I actually struggled for a while with the idea of going to divinity school and becoming a minister. Even then, having been raised for the better part of my childhood by an atheist and an agnostic (my father had been a deacon in the Southern Baptist church, then lost his faith, which he regained about two years prior to his death), I was drawn to the idea that there is simply a purpose for our being here, something bigger than all of us.

It is not an intellectual thing for me at all; it is entirely a sense, a feeling.

I chose to teach instead, because there were, for me, too many problems with organized religion and the Church, and as an out lesbian feminist, some of my reasons are probably pretty obvious. But even the choice to teach is much the same as my impulse to minister: it’s all about serving others. In my role as teacher, I really don’t see myself as a proselytizer. In teaching basic English skills and critical thinking, or in teaching literature, I see myself as a giver of tools and ideas. I mean to empower my students. The work I do carries meaning.

Yet somewhere along the line, life caught up with me. Though I’d never been a normal drinker—I was always a binge drinker, from the very beginning, but never a daily drinker—my social drinking somehow turned into a method of coping. Actually, the more I think about it, the more I think I drank because I couldn’t stand my own feelings. I think as a child—losing my mother to suicide, then basically being abandoned by my father via emotional neglect, then being sexually molested by my best friend’s father, then going into foster care and being shuffled around from home to home—at some point in my life I started shutting down. I lost one person too many too quickly. I still was emotional; it’s just that, whenever things got too intense, I drank to lessen the intensity. Or sometimes I drank to get the opposite effect: I’d been numbed out so much that I drank so I could feel my feelings.

People will say that sometimes the things intoxicated folks say when they’re under the influence is how they really feel, because they’ve dropped their guard, their social censor. I think that may be true some of the time--for non-alcoholics.

But once someone is drinking alcoholically, and drinking alcoholically on a regular basis, what comes out of their mouth—honestly?--is usually bullshit. This is true even when we’re sober. It’s because we change the chemistry of our own brains. It’s because we become delusional. Because we’re so used to feeling nothing that’s actually real (because we’re numbed out all the time), if we feel even some little glimmer of something that might be genuine, we then blow it all out of proportion.

It’s difficult to explain to someone who doesn’t know an alcoholic. All I can say is that if, say, we like a kitten in the window, we LOVE THAT KITTEN! OH MY GOD! THAT KITTEN IS THE GREATEST KITTEN EVER! Or if we are bummed out the Giants lose a single game, OH MY GOD! THE GIANTS SUCK! THEY’VE BLOWN IT, AND WE WILL NEVER WIN THE PLAYOFFS NOW! We amplify everything so that anything we feel isn’t how we really feel at all, if we were only sober and in our right minds.

That’s the irony of alcoholism, or maybe of any addiction. The substance that seemed to serve us at first by lessening our pain winds up turning on us and amplifying it, or some of the time, even creating it.

With all this going on with me, I naturally forgot about any spirituality I might have had. I certainly wasn’t capable of feeling God operating in my life. So God was not operating in my life.

But God always lurks somewhere near; my angels, my guides, however you may label them, were there to run interference when it became an utter necessity.

They say in AA and NA that addiction is really a spiritual disease. Carl Jung even talked about this—he said something to the effect of there seeming to be no effective treatment for alcoholism, unless the sufferer were to find a spiritual replacement.

The fact is, a Higher Power is the only thing that genuinely removes the desire to use. First I had to simply get sober and, sometimes, white knuckle it—that was what rehab mostly accomplished. Once out, and once I let myself start feeling my own feelings again, real feelings, my heart opened, blossomed. Contentment, joy, a sense of well-being, all returned to me and one day it dawned on me that God was back. (Or maybe God was always there and I just didn’t notice.) Then the small synchronicities began… things would start happening just when I needed them to. For instance, a book would be recommended that wound up being just the thing I needed to read at that time. A person I’ve known for something like twelve years out of the blue reconnected with me in a major way—for no reason either of us at the time can actually remember; it was such a random thing—but has now become a significant person in my life. If something is troubling me, someone will say something to me that totally relates to whatever issue and sheds the clarifying light I need on it. With all these things come faith—faith that, even if I don’t know the answer about something at the moment, it will surely come, because God is taking care of me.

It’s just a basic trust in the Universe, in the idea that there’s an ebb, a flow, and a purpose, that things happen for a reason, so get outside yourself, outside of your own head and ego-driven self, and be led by a power that is greater than you.

When all this is happening, the idea of alcohol seems … well, silly.

(Actually, when I really think about it, the idea of something like social security numbers seems really silly, absurdly funny.)

I don’t know how to explain the joy any better. But it is excellent to be fully engaged in living in this world and to not be sweating the small stuff anymore, to look forward to each day for the miracle it will bring.


Tedi Trindle said...

Exactly! It happened for me exactly that way. Amazing stuff, and very hard to explain to someone who hasn't gone through it.

I've been re-reading "A New Earth" by Eckardt Tolle (third time reading it, first time sober). If you haven't read it, I *highly* recommend it. It's takes what I learned in program and really expands on the spiritual principles.

Tedi Trindle said...


Joyce said...

Yay, Tedi!

I've never heard of that book, so I'll have to get it. Actually a dear friend told me today about one that Emily Saliers (Indigo Girls) wrote with her father (a theology professor) called "A Song to Sing, A Life to Live: Reflections on Music as Spiritual Practice." I just ordered it, so I'll let you know how it is.
Yeah, it's funny how AA really does work so very well. Basically, at first, "Fake it 'til you make it." Just DO the work and keep an open mind and wait and see what happens. The next thing you know, it all starts happening.
I'm glad it made sense to really is a tough thing to explain without sounding like a nutbag. LOL