Holding a large butcher knife, I staggered to the master bedroom, slammed the door and dramatically announced I was ending it all. At least that is what I was told. I was in a blackout much of my last drinking spree.
I had been trying to stop drinking for fourteen years. When I actually did stop my brain quickstepped into mania and I’d eventually self medicate. It was a vicious cycle that left me exhausted and despairing.
In the end, I felt the lid of a confining box of addiction close on me with a dull thud. There was no light. No sound. And oxygen was fast running out.
Worst of all I was hopeless. I saw no escape.
Attempts at ending it all tend to kick the survival instinct in the pants. I came off that last bender with a piece of me crying out for continued existence. I wanted to live. I just didn’t know how.
Throughout the fourteen years where I was trying to quit I thought I had given Twelve Step recovery a fair shot. Anyone who has spent time in Twelve Step recovery knows that the goal is to be happy, joyous and free. We get to this state by tapping in to a Power greater than ourselves. During my trek in the wilderness–as I call those fourteen year– I was more focused on hastily achieving the happy, joyous and free part than accessing any kind of Higher Power.
In our quick-fix, instant demand society you’d think there would be a pill or a self-help tome that delivered happiness over night. While in the wilderness, I had a number of pills prescribed for me and purchased a sizable library of self-help guides. But, in my experience, there is no shortcut.
Twelve Step recovery focuses on the work—and it is work—that needs to be done to rid ourselves of what blocks our connection with God. I have come to know happiness. But it only came after I did the work instead of chasing quick fixes. I am convinced there are no instant solutions.
Only by applying sound principles and doing the footwork can we find serenity and joy. And it isn’t a one-and-done deal. The work is never completed. It is approached anew on a daily basis.
I’d like to say I found a nicely-packaged, clearly-defined blueprint for building a satisfying spiritual life. Twelve Step recovery does, after all, have twelve steps to follow. And after flirting with the program for fourteen years I finally followed those steps to the best of my ability.
But the steps were just a starting point. My blueprint for living has been revisited many times over the past eight years. I uncovered it slowly, bits and pieces at a time. I did, after all, have the alluded to manic break to end all manic breaks four years into sobriety. And I brought it upon myself. Coming out of jail and a major depression, I had to spend some serious time studying that design for living in the wake of my little detour from reality.
In this blog, as I explain what has worked for me, I am greatly reliant on twenty-twenty hindsight to layout the approach in a coherent, linear fashion. There were missteps and false starts aplenty. There
were periods of doubt and rebellion, steps backwards into depression, and meanderings into philosophical fields of study that lead to frustration.
But as I sit in my home office and write these words, I can tell you I have come to know peace. I have experienced serenity. I have had more than a fleeting acquaintance with joy and happiness.
On these pages I share experiences that once burdened me with unimaginable shame. This is not to wallow in the past, but to illustrate that regardless of what weighs you down there is a way out.
I believe that we all have a soul—an immortal essence. I believe that our souls are begotten of a Power greater than ourselves—a power I choose to call God. I believe that our souls are capable of union with the Divine—a union I strive for most days. All of these assertions I have inherently known since childhood and have fought against most violently at times throughout my life.
I do not attempt to make philosophical arguments to support these assertions of soul and God. In my times of doubt, no argument would have sufficed. Instead I invite you to keep an open mind when considering the proffered suggestions on how to enlarge the soul so the presence of God can be felt. For it is this union with the Divine that produces happiness and joy in good times and in bad.
Although the most Catholic thing I have ever done was to eat fish sticks on Friday I’d like to share a portion of a prayer by St. Augustine of Hippo that captures the essence of the journey I am on:
The house of my soul is narrow;
Enlarge it that you may enter in.
It is ruinous, O repair it!
For the first forty two years of my life I closed off rooms and so cluttered the house of my soul that it left no room for a Power greater than myself. My soul was indeed narrow and ruinous. Even in sobriety, there have been times when, try as I might, I felt nothing when striving to achieve conscious contact with God. I have prayed sincerely only to feel more alone than when I first knelt down.
These feelings of disconnection are exacerbated when contrasted with intense, but false, feelings of spiritual union while in the thralls of mania. I have raced through the streets of Arizona, stereo blasting meaning-filled songs (all songs have meaning when you are manic) as I recorded everything I saw and heard on two hastily purchased smart phones. I envisioned the recordings to be inspirational. My family and the county prosecutor saw it as evidence that I was a danger to society.
Later sane and remorseful, I have cringed when others spoke of contact to God. Are they crazy too?
I flirted at times with pursuing recovery without the God thing. But, for me, happiness and joy weren’t found. I had an innate yearning for spiritual union. That may not be the path for everyone. I have met some in recovery who, though spiritual, are not God-centric. But for me, there was that instinctual belief that I had a soul and it longed for connection to source.
If there is one good thing about twenty one years of drinking alcoholically and several devastating bouts of mania and depression, it gave me the gift of desperation. I was, as is said in the rooms of recovery, sick and tired of being sick and tired. From a place of brokenness I began my search.
Like a drowning man fighting to reach a life preserver, I fought for a new way of living. Desperate, but motivated by that desperation, I strived for a connection with God. I longed for spiritual fulfillment.
As much as I wanted it, there was no burning bush, no thunderbolt, no “aha” moment. Instead, my search gradually morphed from looking for something external to a more satisfying inward looking journey. I’ve come to believe that God has etched a blueprint for living on my soul. If I can only get still and look within I will be guided as to what to do next and find that connection.
Getting quiet was not an easy process. I didn’t just shut off the TV, concentrate on my breath for a few minutes and get plugged in. For me it was a year long process that I will discuss throughout this blog.
Even when I do get quiet, it’s sometimes difficult to make out what the next right steps are. It is then that I ask God to speak to my heart. I believe that most of the time God speaks to me through others.
Having had psychotic breaks where I thought God was communicating me through a variety of channels (television shows, newspaper headlines, and eavesdropped conversations) I am very wary of false messages. I need to guard against hearing what I want to hear as I am prone to rationalizing and justifying all types of behavior.
For divine communication to occur, the channel needs to be clearly tuned. This book delves into the process of clearing that channel. What’s more, the messages I hear when God speaks through others must match up with the design document already inscribed within me. This matching process is what physicist call sympathetic resonance.
Sympathetic resonance is often considered an advanced concept in physics. But ingenious teachers have developed a simple, but effective, means of presenting the concept using two identical tuning forks mounted to identical boxes. When one tuning for is struck and then muted with a hand, the second tuning fork continues to vibrate audibly at the same pitch since the vibrations from the first tuning fork transferred to its identical counterpart.
Similarly, when I am quiet within, I can feel, actually feel, when someone says something that resonates with me. That, I believe, is because it resonates with the truths that God has already etched on my soul.
In this and subsequent sections there will be a small chapter entitled Overheard. Here I will share some life changing bits of wisdom that I heard while in the rooms of recovery. These are examples of God speaking to me through others.
Though we started this blog with a story of peeing in inappropriate places—and we may yet get a little coarse on occasion—this is really the story of how I enlarged my soul so the power of God could enter in and mend the broken, scattered pieces of self. I hope you enjoy the journey.