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.

Getting rid of the rooster

According to the Chinese calendar, we are currently wrapping up the year of the rooster.

Chinese zodiac rooster

I think following the Chinese calendar might be just what I need, considering the first few weeks of 2018 have been a little un-fun for me.

The first week was actually pretty OK. 2017 ended on a hopeful note, with my father recovering well from a stroke he had suffered in the late summer and my brother taking back control over his life by deciding to move back to where he grew up, in Ireland.

The idea was that he would re-connect with his younger self and the values he had been instilled with by his mother (we are step-siblings). It sounded like a good idea at the time and I was especially happy he was choosing where he wanted to go himself and going through all the motions (and paperwork) to make the move abroad possible.

Sadly, his addiction got the better of him quite quickly and quite heavily, causing him to be involved in an accident, probably caused by him (all though I’m not sure he sees it that way just yet). Any progress he had made in recent months was destroyed, and more, he has to face all sorts of financial, social and legal consequences. In short: stressful.

My brother called me a week or so after all this happened and confessed most of the story to me. He sounded angry, sad, disappointed and confused. Making excuses and simultaneously admitting and denying the one thing I have been waiting for him to say: I need help.

He asked me to not tell my parents about what had happened, but added “all though they expect me to fuck up anyway…”.

Drowning

Then, after not having heard from him for several days (and me not reaching out) an uncle of his called me and asked me how much I knew about my brother’s situation. After I told him what I knew, he asked when I had last heard from him, which turned out to be about the last time he had been in contact as well.

The additional info I got from his uncle: My brother had bought a crappy old car and told people around him he was heading back to the Netherlands to get professional help. The fact that he had not told anyone here that he was coming and the fact that nobody had heard from him in several days made all the alarms go off.

For the first time in my life I felt my heart quiver out of control, while sitting motionless on a chair. I sent him a message and went through every possible scenario. For about two hours, I thought my brother was probably dead….

brain puzzle

Even when he texted me back, my mind raced on. The reality of his re-existence suddenly felt more complicated than the momentary possibility that he might be gone forever. Needless to say, that realization made me feel horrible…

I felt guilty (which is one of my talents, I must admit).

  1. I felt guilty for feeling that nano-sliver of disappointment when he turned up.
  2. I felt guilty for not being able to run to his aid, but not really wanting to either.
  3. I felt guilty for forcing other (extremely sweet and good hearted) people to deal with him.
  4. I felt guilty for keeping it a secret from my parents.
  5. I felt guilty for telling my mother anyway, forcing her to lie to my dad and adding more things onto her list of things to lie awake over at night.
  6. I felt guilty for not offering up my house to my brother as a landing spot, when he let me know he might be coming back to the Netherlands.
  7. I felt guilty for implicitly asking my boyfriend to carry the load of my family drama.
  8. I felt guilty for hardly having the head space to listen to the answer to my “how was your day?”; especially when the answer was more complicated than “fine”.
  9. I felt guilty for emptying out my brain sewage on the laps of my favorite people in this world; people with so much empathy in their beautiful hearts that it is almost inevitable that my state of mind also affected them negatively.
  10. I felt guilty for losing control and not being able to fake it.

So, forget the Gregorian calendar. Enter Chinese year 4715! And the year of the dog is coming up. I like dogs. Dogs like me. I understand dogs. Dogs are fun. Dogs are goofy and bring out my inner clown (in a non psycho kind of way). This is good!

chinese zodiac dog 1

So, I’m gearing up my backpack for the adventures the year of the dog might throw at me and filling it with:

  • A compass, that points towards what is good for me.
  • My journal,
    • to be filled with small and frequent brain dumps, as to not fill up the brain buffer and empty out the cache.
    • to plan my life better and have (the possibility to create) more order in the chaos.
    • to keep the blog-juices flowing.
  • Scooby snacks, to keep myself and the dog smiling.
  • A lot of room for new experiences and lessons.

mindfuldog

Psychological home run/run home

pondering CH.gifMy daily routine has been pretty routine lately and it’s really been bothering me that this is also reflecting in my blog. I’m afraid I may be following Discovery Channel’s trend, broadcasting more and more uninteresting zombie-fodder and less thought-provoking, self-exploring opinion pieces.

The other day, though, I finally found myself staring into space, probably looking kinda dumb but feeling pretty darn philosophical. How nice it was to have those wheels turning again!

This pensive mood emerged after I re-watched an interview with a Belgian writer, Griet op de Beeck, of whom I had never heard but was captivated by from the first moment she started speaking. (Thanks again Zeef, for recommending it (and for the readers who understand Dutch here is the link to the interview in question).)

The interview is from a Dutch show called Zomergasten in which the interviewer and the guest sit at a simple table in a large room, decorated according to the wishes of the guest. Griet chose to emphasize the beauty of decay and set the stage for an evening of pretty deep psychological reflection.

Griet zomergasten.jpg

Besides setting the mood by decorating the stage, the guest also gets to choose about a dozen film fragments that are shown throughout the interview (which lasts for about three hours). The interview can therefore be partially steered by the guest and Griet seemed to have thought this all through very well.

Agrietopdebeeck.jpgll though the interview contained many many moments that blogs should be dedicated to, I decided to  focus on one specific storyline. I only sort of decided up to what extent I actually agree with Griet in the process of writing this though, so forgive me it’s not completely coherent…

You see, one of the videos that Griet had requested, was about a young boy, aged nine, who had been forced to return to Kosovo after his family’s request for asylum was denied. The whole process had taken six years. Six years in which the kid (let’s call him Vasili, I can’t recall what his name really was atm) and his sister had learnt to speak Flemish fluently, in which they had made friends and had built the foundations of who they now were.

Kosovo-565x424.jpgVasili broke into tears when he was asked to explain why he wasn’t enjoying life in Kosovo thus far. Griet felt this boy was scarred for life by the trauma of being ripped away from everything that felt safe and familiar to him. She emphasized the need for professional help and that he may otherwise never overcome this. She expressed her anger towards the deportation policies that Belgium, and pretty much every other European country for that matter (with the exception of Germany perhaps), were executing. She blamed them for ruining the life of this young boy and thousands of others who were being forced to leave.

And all though I feel Griet underestimates the resilience of a child’s mind here, it did bring back some memories of my own…

I was forced to move at the age of twelve myself and was angry and sad and yes, maybe traumatized for quite some time. By “forced” I mean, my parents decided it for me. There were no politics involved (all though people that know my parents and their marriage may beg to defer). There was no government decree hanging over our heads, nor had the country we were heading back to ever formed a threat to our existence. Even more so, the country I was leaving was a struggling development country and the one I was heading to was wealthy, clean and full of opportunities. So yes, the comparison is crooked in many ways, but I do feel I can relate to Vasili’s fate up to some degree…

At some point Vasili says something along the lines of “the kids are kind of crazy here”. A line I probably said in my first months back in Holland as well. All though, in all honesty, I remember being much less polite and using much unfriendlier adjectives to describe my new classmates. I could hardly handle their stupidity (they hadn’t seen a mountain in their LIFE and only spoke ONE language, and I probably even spoke that one better than they did as well…)

flying-dream21.jpgIn the absence of a time machine I made it my mission in life to see the Andes again ASAP and I did so every time I closed my eyes. It was the age in which internet was just barely emerging and even though my dad was quick to bring it into our home most of the people I missed so much did not have access to it yet or I had not been able to find them. I wrote notes to myself to remember the things I was afraid I would forget. I rode my bike around my former hometown in my daydreams and drew mental maps of the area in the process. I forced myself to speak Spanish to myself and grew extremely anxious when I couldn’t remember a certain word.

Even after puberty stopped throwing fuel on my anger it took me many years to be at peace with where I was. It took a while, but I am now not only aware but also willing to admit that this is a good place to be, economically, politically and socially. I am also well aware of the fact that this is an after thought that kids like Vasili won’t always be able to fall back on in their new home countries.

So what would I say to Vasili?

I would tell him he is allowed to feel angry and that venting is good. If this involves screaming and slamming doors at first, that’s fine. Putting his feelings into words at some point is crucial though, even if there is nothing more to say than “This sucks”.

I would also tell him that it will get better.

homerun.jpgSomething I may not tell him right now but that I would want him to know later on in life is that at some point he will have to move on.

And if he manages to shake off that feeling of victimhood, his burden may become a strength. The curveball that was thrown at him as a kid could be smashed out of the stadium later on in life.

A home run, if not in the literal sense than surely figuratively speaking…