Sober spirituality

When my brother decided to get professional help last November it felt like he really wanted it. I base this mostly on the fact that he was so bloody afraid. Booze had become his friend and his enemy. His crutch and his agony. His relief and his disease. If you’ve lived with a habit for so long it’s hard to remember who you are without it. Or so I imagine.

To get some insights into the process he would be going through, I started reading up on the Alcoholics Anonymous’ twelve steps. For some stupidly naive reason I thought that for me, as a non-addict, it would be easy to relate to the steps. After all, me being so sane, sober and smart, the steps shouldn’t need to be much more than a summary of what I am already doing. Right?

I guess I’m not so smart after all.

So, fellow ‘sane person’, how about we walk through the first couple of steps together?

Step 1: We admit we are powerless over alcohol—that our lives have become unmanageable.

Admitting you have a problem is obviously imperative if you ever mean to find a solution for it. Makes total sense. So I got through this first one just fine. How about you?

In regards to my brother I guess you could say he lives in this step. Booze is something he runs to to escape a feeling of despair, only to wake up the next morning with even bigger problems than he already had. He calls alcohol his ‘mistress’ ; one that keeps coming back (or rather, that he keeps going back to) and always leaves him behind with a feeling of regret and an even bigger hole in his soul.

Step 2: We believe that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity.

With this second step the spiritual element enters the scene, in somewhat vague terms.

My brother has a complicated relationship with the spiritual realm. I mean, he has complicated relationships with just about anything in life. But I guess I could sum up his stance towards all things godly by explaining that he rebelled against the teachings of his parents on the one side and his school’s on the other. I don’t think that he ever really constructed a world view of his own to replace the one he rejected. He is AGAINST a lot of things, but I’m not quite sure if he knows what he is FOR.

With a bit of effort I can conceive how accepting a higher power could be wholesome for him. For people in general. The feeling that we are a part of something greater than us, can help put things into perspective. The idea that there is more to life than our suffering. There is a whole realm of possibilities that we can tap into. Something like that?

In my opinion that ‘power’ can be nature or the cosmos as much as a deity. Having faith in a traditional god may be easier though, because it might help you believe that there is some point to all of this. Realizing you are but a speck in the immensity of the universe can be unsettling. It takes more effort to be OK with the apparent pointlessness of it all.

Personally, I find it very relaxing to accept that the world is nothing more than what my senses tell me it is. But then again, I realize that is also my privilege talking.

Step 3: We make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand Him.

As we stroll into this third step my mental machinery is starting to screech and grind with objection. I usually make a point of not spelling this word with a capital G, as I don’t consider it to be a given name. Just a noun. In that same spirit I would also really want it to say “a god”.

But OK… I really want to give it an honest try here.

So, let’s just pretend for a minute that I do accept there is an Almighty Father, and that his name is God with a capital G. If I were to turn my will and my life over to his loving care, what would that look like? How would that change my decision making?

… dot dot dot … I pretty much just stared at my screen for ten minutes straight.

As my boyfriend walked by I asked him to close his eyes and pretend he believed in God for a minute. I asked him what he would do if he “turned his will and life over to His care”. Luckily, my boyfriend is used to me asking him weird hypothetical questions out of the blue, so he got into his role right away.

What he said is that he could imagine it would give him a sense of confidence in the face of life’s challenges. When I told him it was one of the steps of Alcoholics Anonymous he added that it might also make it less scary to stop seeking out ways to numb life’s pain. If you know there is a benevolent force there to catch you, you may be more likely to take that leap (of faith).

The AA website explains their take on step 3 quite well, so I recommend people struggling with this one to browse through that one.

All though I realize a lot depends on the councilor, coach or therapist guiding you through the steps, I must say I’m not entirely sure I would have made it through this one. And I’m not even really that much of a rebel. So how was my dear obstinate brother ever going to work his way through these?

Conclusion: He didn’t

All though I haven’t gotten around to asking him to which step he actually got during his 2 months in rehab, it is clear that he didn’t manage to stay sober for very long after his release. One of the first things he said was “it felt like a convent”.

I guess there is always next time.

Faith

The next letter in the alphabet is G, but I can’t come up with a word starting with a G yet that inspires me enough to write a blog about it. Hoewever, I did hear another F word yesterday that triggered me:

Faith.

In all truth, it is a word that gives me the shivers.

Faith is an optimistic word though. It’s just been taken hostage by people that have worn out its meaning and rendered it useless for the rest of us.

Also, what makes me feel even more pity for the word, is the fact that it is often used in combination with an obligation: You have to have faith.

I realized this when I saw the documentary “Down to Earth” (It can be viewed in full on YouTube). In it medicine men and women, shamans and spiritual leaders from all over the world are given a stage to share their wisdom. The film was constructed in a smart way, slowly massaging in the message of spirituality in between scenes of friendships being formed, nature being admired and meals being shared. It managed to hold my attention until the end, hardly bothered by the heavy Dutch accents of the makers.

In one segment, a Native American medicine man called Nowaten, describes how united he feels to the visions he has. Despite never having met the figures from his dreamtravels in the real world, he is convinced that they are out there somewhere. He described this irrational conviction by saying: “We can create faith on our own, without going to any book. There is nothing that we can not do, with that ability. It’s a natural ability that we all have.”

There was no doubt in his mind that the all-knowing man he had encountered in his vision was real. He didn’t intend to find him, nor would not believing in him make him any less true. It was what it was. He had seen him, just like you see the cashier at the grocery store. And then he moved on.

Towards the ending of the documentary, Nowaten explains how he believes in a form of collective consciousness, a sort of cloud memory where we are all one, regardless of gender, nationality or age. Because of this and because his spiritual experiences have allowed him to glimpse into “the other side” he felt no fear of dying. He even expressed a certain degree of eagerness to explore further what was on the other side of the curtain.

Shortly after that, the spectators come to realize that he has indeed passed away during the making of the film. We hear his partner (?) saying she enjoyed his company on earth but is still comforted by his spiritual presence now that he is gone. She explains that if you believe the spiritual world and the tangible world are connected (as she clearly does), there really is no reason to be sad.

I understand how that idea can be comforting. I can even imagine how a gust of wind or a glimmer in a lake can feel like a form of communication. I say that with no sarcasm or skepticism. I actually truly do feel that. I mean, not in the sense that I feel my dead grandmother is trying to tell me something when there is a rustle in the treetops… But there are definitely moments when I tap into ‘the circle of life’, so to speak, and let go of my personal identity and blend in with a greater whole. This happens mostly when I am in a natural setting, where my senses are not overloaded by urban cacophony and my thoughts get the chance to die down.

What struck me about all of this is that it made me realize I had come to associate the word “faith” with blind and unreasonable trust in something non-existent. A delusion used as a bribe. “You must have faith, otherwise the cure won’t work.”

But Nowaten’s words made me realize that faith is something that can give you peace of mind, but is completely irrelevant in every other sense. If your house is on fire, saying you don’t believe in the fire is not going to stop it from destroying everything you own.

As a species we have developed our vocabularies so far that we can make distinction between things we ‘believe’ and things we ‘know’. But what can we really truly know? Not as much as we claim, that’s for damn sure. We go through life deciding which ideas we are going to put are faith in and then start referring to them as facts. And lately, we have been getting that process aalllll kinds of mixed up…

In that sense, I guess you could say we need more people of faith and less less people of facts.

Now that I come to think of it… I actually published a blogpost about that very thing not so long ago

Man, I love how blogging works! I promise I did not intend to ping back to myself when I started to write this blogpost. But it is kind of cool to see how blogging has once again helped me finish a train of thought that I started months ago.

And now, I am going to put an end to this entry and applaud myself for resisting the temptation to make a George Michael reference…

It’s black and white.

The other day my comet friend from Bangladesh introduced me to the primal zodiac chart and I was totally blown away by how accurate it was.

skunk4
I checked it for every person I could think of and must admit it wasn’t so right for everyone I looked up, but I am over the moon about the description of my own primal zodiac sign, which happens to be a skunk. According to this particular website:

Skunks are witty and tend to have a somewhat dark sense of humor. They find reality far more intriguing than absurdity and can find humor where others can only see tragedy. They are not morose, but observant. They have good instincts and trust their senses, though they don’t pay much attention to anything beyond their momentary point of view. Skunks only look forward, never back. They are not sentimental and don’t dwell on the past. They are far more concerned with what’s around the corner than what they’ve left behind. Some people consider them selfish because of this, but in truth Skunks just want to be left alone to do what they think is best and usually extend others this same courtesy.

Fill in my name wherever it says “Skunk” and you’re right in all senses. And what maybe blew me away the most was the description about the Skunk’s career path:

It is not unusual for members of this sign to aspire to careers in politics in their youths, as they are highly aware of how badly the world needs a straightforward idealist such as themselves. It is unusual, though, for them to stick with this aspiration after becoming disenfranchised by the bickering and inefficiency inherent in any political system. Skunks would rather forge a path through the darkest jungle alone than be forced to play someone else’s game. This is true for corporate life as well, though Skunks are not nearly as likely to be emotionally involved in the success of a company as they are in the direction of their state, country, or the world at large.

shutterstock_127855349Hahahaha, that is literally how my career aspirations shifted as I grew older. Pretty bloody awesome…

I did try to read the description of other signs as well and tried to see if it was all written in such a general fashion that it always applied to anyone. I don’t think this is the case, but I must admit the first one I read was my own and I was pretty much sold from there on.

Skeptic as I may be, astrology always fascinated me. The probability of the alignment of the stars on the day you were born influencing your very being goes against all rationality… and yet I am always compelled to read into these matters. A big part of me says it’s absolute rubbish and yet, it does hit the mark quite often, doesn’t it?

And don’t we all like to believe the universe revolves around us, or is that just the self centered sagittarius in me talking?