The Defect of Perfectionism

Originally published November 10, 2011

I will sometimes, maybe even often, not do something because the idea that I will do it less than perfectly paralyzes me.  I’m way better now at allowing myself to make mistakes than I ever have been before.  Really, you don’t make the kind of catastrophic mistakes that we serious tweakers make, and not come to terms with them if you want to stay sober.  My mistakes are visible from space.  I’m thinking about having UNESCO declare them a World Heritage Site.  Outfit them with some kind of perceived value that the “normal” world can understand as useful or meaningful or positive.

Seems that my willingness to accept imperfection has its limits, though.  Imperfect at self-examination, but “willing to grow along spiritual lines” is great.  Just don’t let me get a B in a class.  Getting a B can only mean one thing.  The teacher sucks.  I mean I have a perfect score in a much more difficult class.  How could I be getting a B in a survey class?  How could I be getting a B in a survey of Theatre class?  ME!  Mr. Showtune Encyclopedia (abridged)?

It’s true though.  I’m getting a B in Introduction to Theatre.  Actually I’m getting a solid A because Prof. allows a generous number of extra credit points for seeing plays.  (Saturday I’m seeing Spamalot with my sponsor. – I think that 10 points actually brings me up to an A+.)  The score I’m earning, however, is a B.   If I’m objective and honest, if I set aside my emotionally reactionary addict self, it is easy enough for me to see that B is the score I am earning.

So rationally I know that I am earning a B, but my first impulses are to berate myself for not being perfect – and then to assign the blame for this catastrophe elsewhere.  If I’m not an A+ student it is because the teacher sucks.  It couldn’t possibly be my fault.   Even worse, I don’t just admit that I’m not that willing to work very hard in the class because I don’t feel like it.  I don’t want to read Tartuffe and Hamlet and The Cherry Orchard.  I would rather see them.  So I skim the material and I attend theater as my preferred method of keeping my score high enough.  It is a conscious strategy.  I’m doing it this way on purpose.

And still, when I see a test score that is one point from being an A I want to scream.

I can hear you thinking, “Take it easy, Tex.  Get off the ass-kicking machine.”

Part of my addiction was driven by the idea that if I couldn’t be perfect, I’d be horrible.  If I couldn’t manifest the ideal life automatically, I’d blot reality from my consciousness.  That was a deliberate decision as well.  Not a good one, but I was aware of making it every time I put using ahead of something real.

I’m grateful that today I don’t have to abdicate reality in order to be happy, and that when I recognize that what I’m doing is harmful to me, to the degree that I am willing, I can change.

West of Yesterday, East of Eden

Reprinted from December 13, 2007

“It’s hard to find a lot of “What about me?” in Julie Harris. You can pay her a compliment and she’ll accept it graciously. She just doesn’t seem very interested in [discussing her accomplishments] it. It was the doing that mattered, the striving, the stretching. And the friendships.” – Chip Crews

Early in my adulthood when I had the pleasure of sharing a little space and time with Julie Harris I had never seen a play. Not a real one anyway. I hadn’t caught the fire that has burned in me since the year I saw The Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, Angels in America (both Millennium Approaches and Perestroika), Falsettos and Evita, all of them major productions, not local or regional theater, as well as at least a dozen other regionally produced plays in greater LA. I was blessedly unaware of who she is. If I had known who Julie is I wouldn’t have been able to see her. I wouldn’t have been able to speak. I probably would have fainted.

What I remember of her is how engaged she was in the world around her, her fascination with whimsy, her kindness, her warmth. Julie was down to earth and humble. Something in her brought out the best in everyone who came into contact with her. Julie was generous. She sent Christmas gifts to every member of the crew on our show. She remembered peoples names. She always found time for people, even those of us with menial, technical jobs. One evening a friend and I had tickets to see Charles Pierce performing at a theater in Santa Monica and on a whim invited Julie to join us. I was sort of surprised when she accepted the offer. At the end of the performance that evening, she turned to us and asked, “Would you like to meet him?” She led us backstage and into Mr. Pierce’s dressing room where the two old friends (who could have imagined?) embraced and caught up with one another.

Working on a show like Knots Landing I got to see fame do terrible things to people and I got to see terrible people become famous. The single exception who I have treasured since that experience is Julie. Oddly, of all the actors on that show, she is the only one to have a career important enough to merit the kind of aloofness and arrogance that so many of her inferiors displayed.  (Since the original date this post was written, Mr. Alec Baldwin, who I also worked with, has also become rediculously famous.  When he was a nobody, changing his own motor oil and living in a crappy 1 bedroom on the Venice boardwalk, Alec was fun, and funny, and kind.  I don’t know him now, but I love his work.)  Julie was not a diva or a prima donna. Julie was a worker among workers. I adored her. Many years later, when I figured out who the hell she is I must say I was astonished and I have since had the most profound respect and affection for her. I am absolutely sure that she has no idea who I am or that her example of how to ‘be’ affected me so profoundly or how grateful I am that she passed through my life.

As you know, I’ve been, say, ‘a little stressed out’ lately. Actually I’ve been calmer than I would have expected but even so, I’ve noticed it’s been hard to pray and ‘connect’ in the morning. I’m prone to pace and fidget a bit more than normal. I’ve had a headache on and off for a couple of days. Well, Julie Harris passed through my dreams last night; not something that has happened more than two or three times in my life. When I woke up this morning I knew, in my heart of hearts, that everything is going to be OK. It just is. Whatever happens, it is going to be OK. And I really didn’t understand how I came to associate dreaming about Julie with faith or acceptance of the will of my Creator, but I did. I hadn’t actually thought about Julie in over a year. I googled her to see what she’s up to and see the face I love so much and I stumble on an article in the Washington Post, written right before she received an honor from the Kennedy Center two years ago and in the article I found this quote:

“What is thrilling about the theater is that it’s a form where people come and, for those two or three hours, belong to something — to ideas, to a feeling of being a member of the human race. Sharing something. It’s very important in life to share our stories, our backgrounds, our hopes, the things that make us afraid. I found God in the theater. It’s God.”

Suddenly it made sense to me. Suddenly I understood the attraction I had to her and her gentleness and humility. Suddenly I realized why she passed through my dream and why my affection for her has never subsided over the past (nearly) two decades since I saw her last.

I found God in Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s God. For that hour a day I spend in a meeting or the time I spend with other alcoholics taking steps and learning to live by a set of spiritual principles, sharing our lives and our stories, our hopes and the things that make us afraid, makes me feel that I belong to something, that I belong to the human race and that there is a plan, a design and a destiny for me to grow day by day in the image of my creator.

I may never know who’s lives I touch or who’s paths I help to illuminate, just as Julie has no idea how she touched mine, but I know that if I continue to seek to grow spiritually that God will work through me in ways that are wonderful. I can ‘be’ the message better than I can ever carry it. I think that is the point.

(Harris died on August 24, 2013, of congestive heart failure at her home in West Chatham, Massachusetts.  Ben Brantley, theater critic for The New York Times, considered her “the actress who towered most luminously … rather like a Statue of Liberty for Broadway.” Alec Baldwin, with whom she appeared in Knots Landing, praised her in a tribute in the Huffington Post: “Her voice was like rainfall. Her eyes connected directly to and channeled the depths of her powerful and tender heart. Her talent, a gift from God.”  Harris was cremated after her death.  -Wikipedia)

With All Our Might

Our human resources, as marshalled by the will, were not sufficient; they failed utterly.
-Alcoholics Anonymous, page 45

For the last 7 months, I have been employed as the Director (of operations – an important distinction) of a recovery community center.  When I came to the center it was on life support, though other people might say otherwise.  Its position in the community was questionable.  People tended to know that the center existed, but few people understood what it was supposed to be and what was supposed to happen there.   I have tried with all my might to bring vision to the role, to expand our services and our partnerships with other organizations, to embed into the recovery community at large to become a vital part of the community fabric.

I have had some limited successes in these efforts.  We are open more hours and more days now, meaning we are more available to assist people who are reaching out for help.  We offer more groups now.  Heroin Anonymous, for example, is now available in our community every night of the week.  All Recovery, a non-12 step, recovery support meeting is available 5 nights a week.

When I previously posted about shifting from living from desire to living from vision I still believed that this was the place I should be and that this is what I should be doing.  I no longer believe that.  I do believe that I was led here to meet the people that I’ve met and that the vision I have of recovery community can exist, and in fact shall exist at some point with the support of so many wonderful people I’ve met, but it won’t exist for this organization.

Everywhere I turn there is another broken relationship that I cannot fix.  Everywhere I turn another organization tells me they are not interested in supporting or co-sponsoring something we are doing.

Finally, someone had the courage to tell me the truth.  There are rumors about your boss, they said, rumors that whether or not they’re true, prevent everyone else in the community from engaging with you.  If she will not step down from your organization, the only option for you is to start a new one.

At least I know now.

and another one gone, and another one gone . . .

I’m sure I’ve said this before, probably in the first incarnation of this record of my journey in recovery, that if you spend any significant part of your life in the company of people who are trying to recover, you see a lot of people die. Addicts, as a class of people (and I’m really trying to move away from using that word to describe people with a substance use disorder), whether they are trying to get sober or not, die with astonishing regularity. In the county where I live, the local Drug Court has approximately 450 participants at any given time. In the 18 months that I have been a participant, 5 of them have died of overdoses. Another one just died.

He was very young. About 23 years old. He battled a significant mental health issue. He was profoundly in the grips of an opioid use disorder. He begged the court to discharge him from the program so that he could use medication to help him deal with the cravings. The court, in response to the need to have some sanction for some issue (this is how problem-solving courts work), jailed this young man for a week. The night after his release, he was dead.

I do not wish to imply, in any way, that the drug court is responsible for these deaths. It’s just that there are more of them than I . . . well, honestly, I’d like there to be none. But 5 out of 450 in an 18 month period seems like a very high number. And it does seem like someone in my position should be putting some serious effort into finding the gap and addressing it. And I am.

I’m also grieving the loss of a friend. And trying to keep up with all my other work. I’m also thinking about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., today, as I frequently do. Today is the 41st anniversary of his assasination. His final speech was 41 years and one day ago.


Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation. And I want to thank God, once more, for allowing me to be here with you.


https://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkivebeentothemountaintop.htm

Vision and Desire

I started to write this after the new year and never got very far except in my head.  You know how life can be.  And I started to write it because of the very thing that eventually got in the way of my opportunity to spend time writing.  I made a resolution to write every day in the new year and promptly broke that resolution, and soon after forgot about it.  Resolutions are that way.  

But the thing I was thinking about and the opportunity that was in front of me didn’t disappear that way.  It kind of insisted that I address it and this opportunity required a great deal of prayer (such as I do – many church folk would wonder at what I call prayer) and meditation (more recognizable among regular practitioners), consultation with those who love me and whose opinions I value.  One of them advised, “Take the leap of faith.  That’s where the growth happens.”

Let me circle back to the title of the post.  What does it mean to live from desire?  What does it mean to live from vision?  Why might one have to make a choice?

Until this last week, I’ve had a job selling debt settlement services.  I help people find a way to pay back less than what they owe on things that they bought.   To be sure, there are people who end up with more credit card debt than they intended through genuine hardship; terrible things do happen.  The simple fact is that most of the people I sold our services to use credit cards the way some people (like me) use drugs and alcohol.  Credit cards are the magic ticket that gets them the things they want to feel better, and after all the bill is very small.  Rather, it’s very small until it isn’t. 

When only 1% of your payment is going toward the principle and your rate is somewhere between 17 – 28% that $300 pair of shoes you had to have suddenly ends up costing over $400 and takes more than 2 years to pay off.  That feeling you get from the pair of shoes is not going to hold you for 2 years and you end up buying another pair, and then it’s a new season and you need another pair, and another pair and so on and before you were even conscious of what was happening all of your disposable income is going to pay the interest on things you got to feel better, and you have no more money to get the things you think you need to make you feel better. 

At this point, the banks have you where they want you.  You are a slave, and you will spend the next 30 years paying them interest at the highest possible rate for as long as they can make you.  Unless a person is ready to face why they spend the way they do and are willing to change their behavior there is little hope of them ever freeing themselves from the cycle.  

The thing about this job is that while I’m fair at it, always perform solidly in the middle, I’m pretty well compensated for it, well enough that I have enough cash to meet my needs fairly comfortably without paying too much attention.  That’s kind of what I want.  I want to go to a movie when I want to.  I want to eat the food I want.  I want to be able to swipe my card at Costco without triple checking the balance in my account or worrying about whether or not I can afford my car insurance.  But it isn’t rocket surgery.  Any idiot can read a script, follow through with a client, and show up at work on time.  I’m also not adding anything to the value of my community.  I may be helping some people get control of a situation that they have no other reasonable way out of; as I said, sometimes things happen.  But for the most part, I’m enabling people to continue their unconscious behavior in a way that relieves them of accountability.  I have a very low investment in doing that so I put in the hours I need to put in and I can’t wait to get off work so I can live my real life.  I only go to work because I have a desire to have the means to be comfortable as I pursue what interests me, but I have to trade a huge chunk of my time in order to get it, so I have much less time to do what makes me happy.  Kind of like that credit card debt cycle, I’m caught in a trap.

Well, in the process of that small part of my life where I do the things that make me happy — the things that fulfill me emotionally and spiritually, I was offered a job.  This job will consume virtually all of my time and attention and I will be compensated but a fraction of what I made in my job as an enabler.  But when I think about who I am and what I have to bring to the world this job seems custom made for me.  When I consider my particular skill set, my background, my temperament, when I consider what I want to accomplish with my life, the impact I’d like to have on my community, what I want to be remembered for, it is as if my fondest wish materialized.  Add the fact that this job approached me, and being the post-Mormon, magical thinking, Hand of Our Creator kind of guy I certainly can be, I had no choice but to give the opportunity some serious consideration.  

Well, I’ve made the choice.  I want to be a person who lives from my vision for my life.  I resigned from my job enabling money addicts and have taken a job assisting the recovery community.  I am now the Director of the PEER Wellness Center, a Recover Community Center.  I have a very steep learning curve ahead of me and a giant job to do, which I feel only marginally competent to do.  I have incredible support from the person who hired me for the position, however, and that helps me have faith.  She has much more time working in this space and I guess that in spite of the fact that I’m throwing myself into economic insecurity, at least my work will make a difference.  It will matter that I put my time and talent to bear in this organization.  My work will genuinely help people that really want help and it will change lives.  That matters more to me than another pair of new shoes.

The Chrysalis

“What do you think happens inside a chrysalis?”  That’s the question that is at the center of the 3rd story in the “Black Box” (minute 53) episode of Radiolab on my local NPR station today.  It’s gruesome.  If you open up a 3 day old chrysalis you find nothing resembling either a caterpillar or a butterfly.  It’s just goo.  Soup.  You’d swear that what’s inside isn’t even alive.  In fact biologists used to believe that the butterfly emerged from the dead shroud of the caterpillar.  What happens in the chrysalis is “the big, fat, metaphysical, quasi-religious, semi-mystical, philosophical question” that has only recently begun to be fully understood.

From the 16th century people thought of metamorphosis in Biblical terms.  “The old has passed away; Behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)  It’s easy then to see how the caterpillar was seen as a metaphor for our sinful, broken, earth-bound bodies and how a butterfly was often seen as our soul, in its perfect form.  But that kind of transformation presents “the big, fat, metaphysical, quasi-religious, semi-mystical, philosophical question,”  namely, if we are transformed that much is it really us that goes to heaven?

Well, like with so many of the big, juicy questions, and by juicy I mean the gooey, unidentifiable as a life-form, caterpillar/butterfly question, enlightenment/scientific method/blahblahblah, and now we know that memories stored by a caterpillar make it through the goo and are remembered in the butterfly, the memory carried by some microscopic bit of caterpillar brain floating around in the goo. Even more recently it has been discovered that microscopic bits of butterfly are carried in the caterpillar; the interior wall of the chrysalis is lined with them, microscopic bits of butterfly, carried within the caterpillar body.

“Oh, how interesting and apropos of what exactly?” I hear you thinking.  Well, here’s the thing.  I’m feeling gooey.  I’ve been through a great deal and I think I’m mid-transformation.  I’m frustrated with my living situation and I don’t see a way to navigate it except to move somewhere else.  The men I live with and presumably should be serving irritate me so much that I no longer engage with them unless I am forced to.  I’d rather punch them in the throat most of the time.  Clearly I’ve been here too long and I’ve learned that I am not well suited to training feral cats.  I’ve been doing well at my job, finally.  Money is starting to come in which is good because I owe the State of Idaho like a billion dollars in restitution and I need a decent car.  Mine won’t last the year and is unsafe.  At the same time I’ve been offered a job as a program coordinator for a community recovery center.  It is a grant funded, part-time position with some interesting and desirable benefits and I’d have to figure out how I’m going to survive.  The only way would seem to be to continue managing a recovery residence to keep a roof over my head.

It feels a bit like Providence wants to tip me in a particular direction and ego wants me to stay in the other.  And all that makes me wonder what is to become of me?

So about the caterpillars.  This stuff that we know now about metamorphosis, how caterpillar experience is carried forward into the butterfly and butterfly material is carried back into the caterpillar, makes me wonder what of my experience out in the big bad world will follow me into my new life, and what part of my new life is already with me.

Somewhere in AA literature is suggests that pain is the touchstone of all spiritual growth, so I guess that means I’m growing.  And I guess that’s good.  But right now it’s all unidentifiable and gooey.

Enjoy the Ride

Reprinted from February 29, 2008

“WE MUST LET GO OF THE LIFE WE HAVE PLANNED, SO AS TO ACCEPT THE ONE THAT IS WAITING FOR US.”
-JOSEPH CAMPBELL

I love this picture. I love it on several different levels. It just this second occurred to me, for example, that I’ve never seen any Benedictines on a roller coaster. There isn’t much “ora et labora” in an amusement park. ‘Letting go’ is a concept that Buddhists ‘get’ immediately, viewing attachment as the source of suffering. I love this picture, too, because it reminds me of what my friend Dana says about faith. Dana has had a really, really hard year. She has had loss compounded upon loss for months. She has come into the rooms and cried on dozens of occasions. She has leaned on the group and on the principles and on the people who love her and she has stayed sober. Things are finally looking up in Dana’s world and the other day Dana said that being sober is like being on a roller coaster. “I’m finally getting back to the fun part where you throw your hands in the air and yell ‘weeeeeee’!”

Life really is like that. It is for me anyway. It’s like I’ve been on this really scary roller coaster for years and I’ve been hanging on to the side of the car. Every time the car starts rolling down again I grip tighter and scream all the way down. When I get to the bottom of that hill I loosen my grip a little and congratulate myself on having hung on so well, having navigated the descent so expertly. Then the whole thing started all over again. If the roller coaster would just stop and I could get off then everything would be fine. It isn’t like that, though. As long as I’m breathing I stay on the ride.

Coming to believe that there is a power greater than myself and making a decision to turn my will and life over to it was like realizing that there is a track beneath the car and a safety bar holding me in. I can see the track. I can feel the safety bar. But haven’t I done very well to hang on to the edge of the car? Couldn’t this flimsy thing collapse under me at any moment? I suppose it could. But isn’t acting in faith acting with the belief in something about which doubt is possible? I’ve slowly been able to stop gripping the side of the car. I’ve realized that if there were a real catastrophe that holding on to the car wouldn’t save me anyway.

Now I pause. I breathe. I pray. I tell people how afraid I am. I try to let go. I try to gain faith by acting in faith. I still scream when the car is barreling down the hill. I do. But more and more I’m screaming with my arms in the air. More and more I try to let myself enjoy the ride. Sometimes I even think about getting on a bigger roller coaster.

The Transitory & The Universal

It’s been a long time since I wrote. Even longer since I wrote honestly and meaningfully. In the early days of this online journal I wrote because I was isolated. I wrote because I was lonely. I wrote because when I first started exploring the idea that permanent recovery might be possible there were no examples around me that demonstrated in a way that I was able to understand. Frankly, part of that was because I live in a fairly small city, but part of that was my own “terminal uniqueness” — that isolating idea rooted in fear and driven by the power of profound addiction that my case was somehow so different that I’d never recover.

I had scoured the internet looking for voices that told the truth about recovery from serious crystal meth addiction (not that that is any different from any other substance use disorder) to glean a little hope from their shared experience. I didn’t find exactly the voice I was hoping to find, but I did find a lively community of recovery bloggers and I started writing; bleeding, really, all over these electronic pages.

This was all a very long time ago. Facebook was just getting started. You still needed a .edu email address to become a member. It was like MySpace (which I loathed) for elitists, so naturally I loved it, but it wasn’t really a thing yet. What was a thing was informal communities of long form bloggers. In those communities at that time there was a staggering lack of gay men recovering from methamphetamine use disorder (addiction), and I, being somewhat naive and hungry for attention, happily and providentially occupied that space for a rather long time.

I found writing to be cathartic. I found the practice benefited every area of my life. Slowing down and translating the raw emotion and disjointed thoughts in my head turned out to be an astonishingly useful tool in learning to make sense of my experience. What I couldn’t sort out in my head, I could sort out on a page. What I couldn’t share in a meeting, I could share with strangers. (Like many experiences in the life of a gay man, it was better with strangers.) The fact that I could share in a way that allowed me to mine my experience for what was useful, craft it into something beautiful, share it with an audience far enough from me to make me feel safe but still be able to get instant and honest feedback and support, was, I believe, the lynch pin in my recovery.

The space lost its safety when a family member began trolling me and offering insults. And then Facebook took off. Long form blogging in informal communities migrated to short form Facebook groups. The practice of writing became a chore. Writing honestly became dangerous. I fell away from my practice.

I also fell away from the practice of meeting attendance. Thanks to that charming family member, meetings became unsafe, too. Not too long after that, I relapsed. I managed to ride that relapse longer than one might imagine, given the level of my dysfunction, but eventually I was arrested and while I was in jail my domain expired and 8 years of my experience vanished from the human record.

Maybe all that had to be erased so that I could have a new experience of recovery. Maybe I needed a time out to get a new footing and heal from the trauma of having people I trusted cause me so much harm. Both those things seem to be true.

What hasn’t changed for me is the need to pause and make sense of my experience in a medium that allows me to slow down and be with it until I find that lesson in it that I can take with me into the future. This record will, no doubt, eventually disappear. The act of creating it, however, moves me incrementally toward a deeper understanding of a universal truth; that the solution to all my problems is recovery. Nothing in my life matters as much as insuring that I remain on a path of seeking a closer connection with Divine Will. Nothing I will ever do will matter so much as maintaining my recovery.

I remain convinced that there is some kind of Higher Power – God, if you like, or whatever, and that I’m here, in spite of everything, to have this experience and to grow from it. I also remain convinced that it is necessary for me to write about my experience, to mine my days experience for the parts that are useful, not for you to read it, though I hope some people do and I hope they enjoy it, but because it is the best tool I have for making sense out of it. Let’s hope I can reengage with it in a meaningful way.

New Socks and Underwear

Reprinted from November 30, 2008

Few other things make me feel as secure and contented as new socks and underwear.  Although I’ve had a few new socks and a couple of pair of boxers a couple of times since I got sober, there were none in the 2 years before and no new t-shirts at all.

Yesterday I threw them all out.  Every sock, every brief, every boxer, every t, and drove myself to Macy’s, coupons in hand, and replaced them all.

Pulling on new socks and a new t-shirt reminds me in a powerful way how much I love my life today, how much better it is than it was 2 years ago surfing on the sofas of people I hated.  I am really grateful to be in a position today that I can buy my own new socks and underwear.  It sounds silly, I suppose, but there it is.

The day after Thanksgiving my dad and I went to pay off the car.  As we drove to the dealership he paid me one of the greatest compliments I’ve ever had.  He said that it was the right car, at the right time, and that I had approached making that choice in exactly the way that he would have.

We talked about how much the scooter had helped me come to be in a position where a car became possible and necessary.  Then he gave me a direction.  I wasn’t sure I had heard him correctly so I spoke with him about it again later that evening.

I am to give the scooter away.  Not right away and not to just anyone, but I am to pay the scooter forward.  “The question isn’t whether to give, but when and how.”

“When you find someone who is working as hard at recovery as you were, and who needs it as badly as you did, I want you to give it to them,” he said.

That is a very special “when and how.”  I don’t know that I’ve seen it in the rooms yet. Maybe I just haven’t had my eyes open.

I seriously think my dad is one of the most spiritually awake people I have ever known.  After all the months of walking and the months of riding my bike, the scooter changed my life.  I have not attachment to the scooter; no feeling like I should sell it or keep it.  I have no feeling like it’s “mine.”  I just am really grateful to be in the position where I can help someone else the way I have been helped, and really grateful that I can do that in new socks and underwear.

The Return of Light

There is a kind of darkness that can descend in the throes of active addiction, inky and thick, that obscures the hope of recovery. I could see it closing in on me. I really should have been pointing myself to inpatient treatment; I was that far gone. I had made some pitiable efforts to reengage with my core supports but couldn’t make it stick again. I’d pull together 5 days sober and the voices in my head would start to get louder–not actual voices, just the one that says “you’re never going to be happy, you’re never going to amount to anything, no one is ever going to love you, just use.” And I would.

A few months into that and I had sold my house. I had over $100,000 in my checking account and connections. And I remember this moment when I caught my reflection in the bathroom mirror and said, out loud, “Oh my God. You’re going to ride this all the way down, aren’t you.”

I shrugged. I wept briefly. And I returned to my room to inject another half a gram of methamphetamine unskillfully into my arm.

If you are as seriously alcoholic as we were, we believe there is no middle-of-the-road solution. We were in a position where life was becoming impossible, and if we had passed into the region from which there is no return through human aid, we had but two alternatives: One was to go on to the bitter end, blotting out the consciousness of our intolerable situation as best we could; and the other, to accept spiritual help.

I was already so solidly into the blotting out cycle that I couldn’t have asked for spiritual help, even though I wanted to. And I didn’t know where to turn at that point. My beloved sponsor Joe K. was dead. I didn’t trust the people I knew in the rooms, so many had turned away when I first started reaching out for help.

Five hundred and two days clean now, I feel solidly back in my right mind. It isn’t always easy to stay there but at the moment it is always possible. I am employed and I’ve never missed a day of work unless I was hospitalized. I have a home group (the same one as before) and a service commitment (the same as the one before). In my spare time I do things like train the staff of recovery residences in how to recognize and respond to overdose.

I am not particularly Christian except by the tradition of my childhood faith, but I often return to it as a framework for understanding my experience. The birth of Jesus Christ is sometimes called the Birth of Hope. In the spirit of that hope I just want to take a brief moment to acknowledge the people (the Angels of the Lord) who, in my darkest night, announced hope to me and those around me (Magi) who surround me and celebrate its rebirth.

May all our lives have meaning, all our bodies have health, and our spirits be gracious. May we ask for and receive spiritual help. May this day and every day be a day we carry the vision of Divine Will into the world, as it is in Heaven, for me, and for you and for all mankind.