His craving for alcohol was the equivalent, on a low level, of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness, expressed in medieval language: the union with God.
– Carl Jung, in a letter to Bill Wilson, 1961
I am not a religious person.
Doesn’t mean I am anti-religion. I have just never taken to it…or perhaps it hasn’t taken to me. For whatever reason, it’s simply not a part of my life. But, for many, many years, I have been fascinated by it. I took courses in university and college, night classes, watched countless documentaries on world religions and have cracked more books on diverse religious experiences and rituals than I can count. There was just something about religion that intrigued me.
I always felt that being religious was akin to being a Stepford Wife or Rigid Robot or something along the lines of a supplicant entity that regurgitates script and toes a well drawn line. No wiggle room for individuality. No sense of being malleable and instinctive, spontaneous or pleasure seeking. A dogma and pony show for the other suffering zealots.
So why was it in between drinking jags that I descended up religious texts and devoured them like bottles of booze? Why was it that I kept being drawn to something that I clearly had strong opinions on and felt no apparent connection to? Where did the compulsion to sift through different religions and try to find something in there come from…what was the genesis of this?
Many people talk about having an almost religious or spiritual experience when drinking. I can relate to that. There was that feeling of euphoria that came about with drinking, especially at the beginning. Imagine being catapulted to a place where the worries of the world dissolve, where you feel so connected to others, you feel a sense of drilling right to the core of the earth itself and being ensconced in a pleasurable and warm hovel where no hurt can penetrate your soul. When I drank I felt like I was part of the wind, cutting into everyone and everything, wrapped around nature and The Essence as I knew it. It was a place that deep down I sensed I knew already, and had forgotten, but didn’t know how to get there other than through the bottle.
This was all an illusion of course. As good as I felt, it was a spiritual heist. It was a chemical romance. A flimsy fantasia. It was cheating, at a deep level. As soon as the rapture melted, everything crashed down in a Kodachrome calamity. What was once ecstasy was reduced to despair and torment. There was no room for things in between. I chased the high relentlessly, and found the high harder and harder to pin. It was like to magnets with the same polarity – the more I tried to connect them, the more they pushed away from each other.
When I wasn’t drinking, I felt that something was missing. When I drank, I was attempting to fill in that void. And it worked for a short while. But even the alcohol let me down. It wasn’t enough. Some of us try to get that sense of something through other things – gambling, sex, drugs, food, etc. Even in recovery we may still find ourselves trying to fill what we think is a hole by doing or using other things or people. My attempt to stand in the Sunlight of the Spirit was through the spirit – booze. What I was really doing was blocking out any attempt to be in communion with the one thing that could only fill that void – the Creator.
So in my days of scrambling through all those religious books and classes, what I was unconsciously doing was trying to seek God. Instinctively, I knew that my answer was the One. The Universal Mind. The Divine Conscious. Whatever it is that someone might use to name the Power Greater Than Oneself. It was not even on top of mind when I was reading about Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Jainism, etc. I knew deep down that I wasn’t about to join a temple or church per se. I didn’t see myself in the same light as the old Italian women wearing black and holding rosaries all day – which was my stereotypical view of those who held religion so dear to their hearts. But I knew that it was in the digging, not the pile itself, where I would find something. Or at least hoped to, before I drank myself to death.
What it came down to is that I was searching for the One in the wrong place. And the addictive quality of alcohol took over. My perceived happiness, as short lived as it was, was directly tied into the consumption of booze. And that chained-at-the-wrists relationship took a beating over 25 years. The more I sought through the haze of shot glasses and strewn bottles, the further I got away from the very thing I craved. My intense need for that buzz was really my intense need for the Creator to be in my life. My skimming through religious and intellectual principles and ideas was really a surface representation of what I truly sought – a deep and inner craving for the One who brought me here in the first place. I sought a home coming, a soft place to land, an anchor to hold my drifting, wayward life. I was seeking the One.
When I first got sober, it was difficult, as it is for everyone. The physical part subsided after a week or so, but it was the mental and spiritual side that took time. I am still working on those things. But what has taken me away from thinking about drinking and/or entertaining thoughts about the booze is that I have my fill of what I really need – a communion with the Creator. I realize that my constant churning thoughts of booze are really a want for a fulfilment that only a spiritual experience and awakening can give me. It’s not white light type of stuff. It’s taken time. No whirling dervish stuff for me, but gentle weaving through the gossamer strands that knit together my spiritual cocoon.
And to keep this fit spiritual condition, as it is often referred to, I do simple things. I am not sacrificing lambs over open flames (that’s called souvlaki), nor am I spinning prayer wheels over the Himalayas. But I keep connected with simple prayers throughout the day, meditation, being in nature, working with others, reading my spiritual books and talking to other alcoholics. That’s pretty much it. No voodoo, mystic numerology or Wiccan retreats. But that’s my path. I don’t put it on others nor do I dictate how one should approach this. We each find our mule up the mountain.
So in the end, for this booze hound, it’s not so much the religious aspect that I aimed for through seeking, but in the seeking itself. It was that low level thirst that Dr. Jung spoke of in his letter to Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. It was that thirst that manifested in drunken stupors, rather than the cascading and spiritual endeavours that I truly sought. When I drank, my thirst was never quenched. Never sated. It in now standing in the Sunlight of the Spirit that I can drink in all I want, all I can, all I need. And whatever is leftover (and there always is), I look to give away. And the more I give it away, the more I get to drink from.
There was one more thing Dr. Jung mentioned in the letter which I thought was of great importance:
You see, “alcohol” in Latin is “spiritus” and you use the same word for the highest religious experience as well as for the most depraving poison. The helpful formula therefore is: spiritus contra spiritum.
What a wonderful journey we all get to be one. Spirits intact, love woven, eyes open.