This is one of those “gotta use words” moments.
Today marks a 20 year anniversary of not drinking. It’s a big milestone for me (and I don’t know if I’ll get another quite so significant).
I’ve not been the best member of the group that helped me so much initially (A.A.) , but they’ve never left my consciousness. Every day, there is a chance to use what I heard and learned there.
I was fastidious about going to meetings the first five years. 3 a week, a weekly meeting with my sponsor every Saturday morning for breakfast.
Aside from taking a daily job out of town which all but prohibited attendance (excuses, excuses), I found myself drawn to another path, another life line. That was Tibetan Buddhism.
I was surprised to find out how much A.A. and the basic, beginning, practices of Buddhism had in common.
There was a common surrendering or “taking refuge” decision that had to be made. And maintained.
When I asked my teacher at the Buddhist temple about what to do about a “higher power” (a necessity in A.A. which often takes the form of your version of God, Supreme Being, or just something bigger than yourself), he said “pray to your intuition”.
You have to keep in mind that teachings and guidance from a Buddhist teacher are very specific to the student and for someone else might have been quite different (maybe more concrete!?)
Over the last two decades, many aspects of my life rose and fell, went to hell and came back. I managed to stay off the drink, but found that was no guarantee everything was going to be smooth sailing.
I’m reminded of a documentary I saw about Ron Sexsmith (“Love Shines”) in which Steve Earle says (snipped a bit):
“I think melancholy and despair are both components of the blues. You know, at the opposite, dark, deep end of the blues is despair. And, you know, you can’t stay there. Its just, we’re not constructed to stay there. Melancholy can be befriended and be tamed and can be harnessed. For artists, the advantage that we have is that beauty comes out of our melancholy and even our despair. But you have to be able to bring the rocks back from the moon… or nobody knows that you were there.”
I think that if there was anything big to learn from 20 years of sobriety, it would be a sense of obligation to report honestly on the dark places you can get into – and then let others in the same boat know that there is a coming back. For those lucky enough to never have gone there, one can make an attempt to describe and explain what it’s like. In my experience, this is never completely achievable.
At this point, there’s not much in this world that really gets me going. This world has its laws and rules and mechanisms for “success.” There are only so many combinations of sinking balls on a pool table.
Success can be measured, reasoned out, and measured again. Your life’s report card may be money, status, power, love life, artistic acclaim. To me, they all seem like a distraction or a way to get high.
Which doesn’t mean to imply I that I don’t need a bit of those things to get by. Render unto Caesar and all that.
It’s just that I don’t put a lot of value on them. They’re impermanent and there is no solid ground, really.
I’ve got 20 years worth of moon rocks. Not all are fit for public consumption. It’s been a roller coaster ride. Neither the ups or the downs are to be taken too seriously.
So, I’ve been asked “how do I feel, 20 years on?” The answer: better.
Mostly, so very grateful to those who have always been around to support me. Thank you.
It’s the only game you win by giving up.
1. On the Cool Side by Ben Sidran fr: “On the Cool Side”
2. Cotton by The Mountain Goats fr: “We Shall All Be Healed”
3. Wind by Circus Maximus fr: “Circus Maximus”
4. Ghost Town / Poem for Eva by Bill Frisell fr: “Ghost Town”