February 16, 2012

Stepping into sunshine

Toward the end, one of the biggest themes of my addiction was profound isolation. Even in a room full of people I could feel incredibly alone. I read recently that loneliness comes from the feeling that you have nothing in common with anyone, and often that feeling is worse in groups, in public. I think that is part of what drove me to isolate myself—at least I had something in common with myself.

tearWhat it was like …

I recall waking up and reaching over for pills—I couldn’t leave the bed without them. The person who provided me with the pills would not put them there if he was angry with me, and on those days I would writhe in agony. He didn’t do that a lot, though, and I would take my pills (vicodin, narco, soma, xanax) and then look at the bleak day ahead of me. The best thing I could think to do was to find a movie on television; sometimes I would bid for stuff on ebay. At some point I had to get to the store for vodka—toward the end I didn’t eat much and would drink when I felt hungry.

Not to mention, I had kids to get to school and when they came home, they would run off and play with friends as I lay comatose on the couch. I had checked out of life and would soon formulate a plan to check out entirely, although I clearly didn’t follow through, and that is another story. I was a zombie, and I felt like the only zombie in the world, no other fellow zombies to talk to. All the party buddies all end up in a room shaking by themselves. That party doesn’t last forever and never ends well for those like me. I recount this because I love to look at how it was, and what it’s like now.

What it’s like now …

Last week, 15 days shy of my five-year sober anniversary, I was killing time in South Pasadena as my daughter visited some friends. I had spent about an hour looking at old photographs and old issues of Mad Magazine in a vintage store and then perusing through books in a used bookstore—the kind you don’t see much of anymore—scanning through volumes of poetry and psychology books. It was a really peaceful way to spend an afternoon. I decided to buy a volume of Rumi and a copy of Women Who Run With Wolves, which I always buy when I see it to give it away to friends.

At the checkout counter (an old-school desk where a girl handwrites the name and price of each volume) I overheard an older woman talking about Kabbalah and the 23-volume Zohar, which I have. I saw the books she was reading, all of which were books I either had or wanted. I jumped into the conversation—I had to know this woman. I offered to help her carry the many books to her car and she asked me if I wanted to get some tea. So we went to a lovely coffee shop situated by the metro tracks as the sun went down and I got to hear her incredible story.

Apparently someone had gotten mad at her over a business transaction and had sent a letter about how she had hundreds of old European paintings and that she had bragged about being the granddaughter of a Nazi warlord and he suspected that her art collection was Nazi loot. This went to trial, almost to the Supreme Court, one of the first landmark cases of internet libel. To clear her name, she went looking into her genealogical background, and discovered that she was actually Jewish.

Her family had come to the Free World and chose to pretend to be Christian Germans to avoid persecution and trouble. She had never known of this and continued her search, curious about what else might be revealed. She then found that she came from a long line of rabbis. She even came to discover that one of her ancestors was supposedly there when Moses came down with the Ten Commandments.

Being a spiritual person, she came to see this situation as incredibly significant. The libel trial caused much strife for all involved—people were fired from jobs and she had to sell her home and move back to the West Coast. But what she was given in return was a connection to her ancestors, her family, her blood lineage.

She looked at me as a train whisked by, as I drank my chai tea, as the sun was setting, and said, “Moreover, I get to make amends for my family, for the fact that they hid their religion and faith to survive, I get to bring the truth to light and release them all. They cannot have a portal in me without my knowing they are there, that they existed, that they are part of who I am. And so I learned Hebrew and I read the 23 volumes of the Zohar in its original form, in their honor. The universe is a minimalist. It burns away everything but what is essential.”

This afternoon was obviously a far cry from five years ago when I was hardly able to leave my house, much less make a new friend. To me, this afternoon was a little adventure, full of old photographs from other people’s lives and memories, and wise words from Rumi and the story of my new friend, the sunset, the clanging bells that alert of a train’s coming … all of these affected me in a subtle yet profound way. Five years ago nothing subtle would have penetrated, would have ever registered with me.

Things either had to have a numbing, zombiefying effect or be a wild rollercoaster, rock-and-roll or Hunter S Thompson freak-out. But a gentle afternoon like this one? Never would have happened. Yet, I wouldn’t trade this scenario for 50 nights of drunken debauchery. And I get to walk away from that with such an elegant, eloquent phrase that will stay with me forever.

“The Universe is a minimalist, burning all but what is essential away.”

If it’s here, it’s meant to be here, and if it goes, it was supposed to go.

This phrase was a great gift, yet another gift that my sobriety has allowed me to be blessed with.

Image courtesy of Idea go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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