“I’ve got news for you pal, you ain’t leading but two things right now: Jack and shit… and Jack just left town”. – From Army of Darkness.
While not exactly the most elegant quote, someone in a meeting used a variation of that one the other night – that there were only two things he knew out there while drinking and that was those two things. This same man, always done up with cowboy boots, cowboy hat, macho scraggly beard and stilted gait borne of age and drunken trauma, sat next to me at the meeting. At this particular group, we are asked to go around the table and give our name and length of sobriety. I mentioned 27 months, and then when it came to Roy Rogers, he blurted out “28 years”. Yikes. Listen, I am surrounded my long and old timers a lot, and their numbers, although staggering to me at times, don’t often shock me. But for some reason, this Buffalo Bill caught me off guard…like my six shooter got snagged in the holster or something right there during showdown. I think that this had to do with where my head space has been lately (a frightening place at the keenest of times).
In the first year of sobriety, it was all about getting and staying sober. I wasn’t too concerned with new developments in the Pythagorean theorem or creating new slipknots for tie making contests. I just didn’t want to die. A noble cause in some circles, yes? I found that I enjoyed living, so I made that my focus. I took the steps (aren’t I clever, Mr. G?) required for me to reach a place where death and boozin’ weren’t on the radar any more and actually started to turn things around. That was year one. Year two was a process of looking up from the top of the dung pile I had conquered, eight inches off the gutter flooring, and asking “Now what?”. And so began the unfolding of looking at life in a different way, of unwrapping what was in front of me and pulling apart the leaves and uncovering, discovering and discarding what didn’t serve me. I started to get a stronger understanding of the forces that surrounded me and my role in the Greater Scheme Of Things. Play right sized, play fair, play nice, the play’s the thing. Seek and be sought out by others. Eat enough fiber. Sleep well. Don’t take candy from babies. The sort of things I learned in kindergarten type stuff. New to me, really. I also started to mentor and sponsor other men – showed them that they too could get a swank view from the top of the poop heap.
I had a friend of mine from treatment text me not too long ago, to the effect that he felt that he was taking his sobriety for granted, that he was feeling almost entitled to his recovery, and wasn’t doing all the things he normally did – prayer, meditation, hitting meetings, etc. And I think that is the best way I can describe how this third year has been for me so far, at times. I have been shaving a bit of time off some of the things that have been working for me thus far. I have been allowing distractions to, well…distract me. I have been getting the feeling that I am not quite as connected as I should be. At the same time, I have been enjoying a certain sense of living life a little more fully and presently. Living with a sense of being grounded rather than feeling that I will be lifted off the ground at any time by a sudden gust of wind. Being more ensconced in the daily rather than being flimsy in the Holy. And the low level rumbling of being bit more balanced in an overall scheme of things. But, there is still this fly in the ointment that beckons me to examine if I truly am starting to feel entitled to this miracle that has been bestowed onto me – recovery.
And how did this recovery, this sobriety, come to me? With a full and utter demoralization of myself, a smashing of what little pride and ego I had left in me, an all-on Dieppe-like raid on my already wounded self and spirit. And with that came the choice between dying an alcoholic death or seek a spiritual path. Easy pickin’s, right? Well, to many of us alcoholics, when given that choice, there is a voice inside of us that asks “So…how does an alcoholic death look like? Is it something I can get on Google Images? Is it painful? And if so, how painful?”. But I was given the Grace to follow through on a spiritual Ghoster Coaster kind of thrill ride that has brought me to the place of submission, surrender and acceptance. And freedom. So, then what? I move forward through life, try to navigate it, skip over the landmines, tend to the wounded, call for medics, brew coffee, eat my rations and avoid trench foot. But where is this all leading to? To extend this tired metaphor, why is it that I get to a point where I feel that perhaps I don’t need my helmet at all times? That I don’t need to carry my rifle or put balm on the hurty-burty bits or keep Charlie in check? Why is this idea of entitlement creep in, as if Eden were being interrupted by a mariachi band?
Simply put, I feel that the more I am learning about myself, this illness, this thing we call sobriety / recovery, my connection with the Creator and life in general, the less I seem to know. Perhaps I feel that shifting things around will shift things around. Addition by subtraction. More questions than answers. And for a while there I thought I had a lot of answers. Deep, powerful, insightful answers, and really, in the final analysis, what I had was just a lot of Things That I Think I Know At The Moment – more like Coupon-of-the-Week rather than Book-of-the-Year type answers. Where I sought the resolute, I found the inconclusive or the good for now. And that is something that I am finding on this journey – there is no peak, there is no tome of Absolute Answers – there is only what works for me, my truth…THE truth. The more I seek, the less I find, and yet, the more I am gaining through the seeking, if that makes any sense. It’s the driving of the Jeep through the jungle and wrestling with the tigers and snakes that makes me an adventurer, not the heads mounted on the wall. So my ignorance actually serves me, as it drives me to seek further and to widen my asking circle. And with that, my sobriety strengthens, or at the very least, doesn’t roll back on me.
So this entitlement that I have felt or at least feared, is for me, a new place for growth. It’s a place where I am grateful for what I have – a sober life, free from the shackles of self-loathing and wanting to drown in my own vomit and filth – and where I know that any sort of letting down my program is my own self getting in the way of things. And the great joy is that I get to learn to get myself out of the way! Get out, ya punk! Move off the road, grandpa! The Great Imperial Pop-A-Wheelie is driving this Mack Daddy, and He doesn’t need pant wetters taking the wheel. I have taken that wheel before and just ran myself over and over and hating the driver. And of course I have to keep on eye on this sense of entitlement. I am not better nor worse than anyone out there. I ain’t nuttin’ special, y’all. I am a drunk who was shown the solution and has been blessed by having been given that. And I need to keep at it. That’s all. I make it so much more complicated than it is, and I get caught up in the web of self-scrutiny and piousness and smugness and ego and scrupulousness and self-pity. No thanks – wore those coats for far too long and they chaffed me way too much. Got the Polysporin scabs to prove it.
So when I hear Hopalong Cassidy say he’s got 28 years – almost one year per one of my months – it gave me pause to wonder… just how much do I really know? I feel that I have gone so far, and yet, how much further is there? What are the limits? Will I have the wherewithal and spiritual fortitude to keep on this journey? I mean, I know a good part of me will, and part of me will resist at times, like one of my sons when I am trying to pry them off of a checkout stand impulse buy chocolate bar. But I don’t have a crystal ball, and frankly, I need to just focus on where I am today and in the present. But this ever opening loop of unknown-ness spills about me like a ripple and behooves me to watch the wavering water cascade out into the once still pond of my spirit and mind…what’s out there? What will it affect?
I don’t have to have the answers right now. Or perhaps ever, really. This all dovetails into the Bigger Inquiries of life – what’s my purpose, why am I here, etc. and I am not going to even tackle the Senior stuff when I am still stuck at Fisher Price (TM) My First Questions Kit. This whole things is a gas, in the end. Where I was once obsessed about picking up a bottle of vodka or heavy wine or ale, I now get to ponder the things that bring me joy and relief and freedom. I get to walk several paths, some of which may continue to confound me, but will entice me to dig further, get to the swollen roots.
As I write this, I watch my son playing with his Lego set. The pieces are all there – different shapes, colours, sizes. There are no wrong pieces – just pieces that don’t fit into what’s being made. He also finds that what he started to make has grown into something grander and more wonderful than he originally started out with. Sometimes he gets frustrated and smashes it all down to it’s components and starts again. Or just walks away to return to it later, with a new outlook or different take on it. It’s like what I do, but on a different level – all that I need is around me, within me, in reach of me. There is no wrong or right – just how I decide to look at things. What doesn’t work for me gets broken down and I try something else, a new path, a new construct. It’s all been there for me all along. I was just too drunk and holed up in myself to see the bits there before my eyes.
I am not here to know everything. Just enough to move my way through a way of life where I find joy, peace and serenity. Just enough to pass onto others who are new on their journey. Just enough to see through my own BS. Just enough to know when I need someone else’s help. Just enough to keep me from falling too far away from where I need to be. Just enough to know that I don’t know Jack and I don’t know shit.
Ride ’em, cowboy!