As the new year looms in the next week or so, it seems that now more than ever is a wonderful time for reflection. I know it is for me, anyway. However, for me, the past few days and weeks have been about letting go: letting go of trying to fix people, letting go of anger and resentment at other people’s behavior, and letting go of anger around people’s reactions to things I say or things in which I believe. I have always known and understood that the only person I can control is me; the only words I can manipulate are mine; the only beliefs I can hold and mold are mine. However, it is good to remind myself of this every once in awhile.
One of the most challenging things of late that I have had to deal with and work on letting go of are the addicts and alcoholics in my life. I am sure this is something that many folks can relate to, as it is fair to say that likely all or us, or most of us, have an addict or alcoholic in our lives. Am I right? I have a tremendous amount of compassion for those who struggle from addiction, whether it is with drugs, alcohol, food, gambling, sex, shopping, exercise, other people, you name it. I have this compassion because at one time in my life, I struggled with an addiction to alcohol. I began drinking when I was 18 years old, just after high school, and I drank A LOT in college (work hard, play hard was the ol’ motto), and then on and off during grad school. I was what is often called a “dry drunk” in grad and law school. I’ll save THAT for another post. Anyway, I often drank to feel better about myself. I drank because it appeared to me that people liked me better when I drank and got drunk. In college, it was the first time people considered me to be “cool.” Who knew that passing out and going into black outs, vomiting on yourself occasionally, etc. was cool? Hmmm… Anyway, I drank because it took the edge off of life. It made grading papers go by faster and more amusing. For some reason, run-on sentences and sentence fragments did not bother me as much when I had had a few beers or a few glasses of wine! But the drinking took a turn for the worst, as it often does for people who struggle with addiction, and I was drinking more and more frequently and having more and more black outs, and I drove while intoxicated more and more frequently. It is by the grace of God that no one ever got physically hurt while I was out driving drunk. (To this day, I am convinced that I am surrounded by guardian angels. I do not know how I’ve made it thus far without them!).
When I hit bottom in July 2004, I was absolutely miserable. Being an alcoholic is quite a miserable place in which to be. I wouldn’t even say I was living because I wasn’t. I was going through the motions of living, but I was not engaged with life. In fact, at one point, I wanted to die. I visualized staggering to the train tracks near where I once lived in midtown Sacramento, laying down on them, going to sleep and then “waking up” in another place (I am not sure if it was Heaven, as I did not believe at the time that I deserved to go to Heaven). Anyway, my point is that I thought about death quite a bit, as I had done earlier on in my life, in my teenage years. I was depressed for sure, back then, but of course, many dismiss it as ‘teen angst.’ Too bad because it went unaddressed and likely manifested as my addiction to alcohol.
So, how is this all connected to letting go? Well, once I became sober on July 31, 2004, I reengaged with life. It was really my very first awakening; awakening out of the foggy haze of alcoholic depression. I went to AA meetings, I began volunteering at meetings, and I began volunteering with the Sacramento SPCA. My volunteering grew and grew the more sobriety time I had under my belt. I have always been engaged in service at the university (Sac State) where I work, but that was more out of necessity than pure personal desire. If you want to get tenure and be promoted, you have to play the game. *sigh* Another post later on…My volunteering and engagement with life continues to this day. I am engaged mostly with my spiritual center in Placerville as a practitioner (spiritual counselor) which I love. I guess I just hope and often wish that others have the same desire and longing to be of service as I do…
And that is where the ‘letting go’ begins. I have a few folks in my life who are active in their addiction, whether it be to alcohol, prescription drugs, gambling etc. Part of me calls that “sad” and “unfortunate,” while the other part of me does not label it at all. It just is what it is. But as many of us with addicts in our lives know, the behavior is not isolated. It affects us all, sometimes in profound ways. When I was active in my addiction, I was not aware of this. Instead, I thought those who tried to clue me in to my behavior and how it affected them were just being ridiculous and at times, just flat out jerks. ‘What do they know?’ But once I got sober, I slowly realized how selfish I had been for all of those years; thinking that everything revolved around me. I often cringe when I reflect back on my behavior, but I consider it to be a gift. It is a stark reminder to me of my self-centeredness at one time in my life. The alcoholics and addicts in my life today do affect me quite a bit. I try not to let it bother me, but it is sometimes difficult to be still and know someone’s truth when they are harming themselves, spending all of their money, popping excess pills, etc. At times, I have spun myself into an angered frenzy, ranting that I am cutting people out of my life, not participating in family activities, etc. The only person who is affected by that is….. me. That’s it.
So, when I step back from it, I realize that if I am to really know peace–really know it, within my soul and at the core of my being–I need to let go. Let Go, Let God. One of the central tenets and sayings of AA. To know peace is to really see the Divinity in each person–the sober and drunk alike. Challenging? Oh yes it is. But it is a practice. “Progress not perfection” is another AA-ism. I love that. Sure, I know we are Perfect Divine Beings as that is our Truth. But on a human plane, it is all about the progress we make, not about beating ourselves up for not attaining the human definition of perfection.
Since yesterday, I have been engaging in this practice of letting go and letting God flow in. And I have felt more peaceful. I have interacted with one of my qualifiers (an Al-Anon term, which basically means the addict or alcoholic that triggers one’s feelings of anger, resentment, etc.) and felt at peace. In his presence, I inhaled his pain and on the out-breath, I sent out Love and Peace. This is called the Buddhist practice of tonglenand it is something one can do at any time, anywhere. Do it in the moment and feel the peace come over you like a gentle wave.
I will continue this practice, especially in moments where I can feel anger boiling up. And at times, I may just have to let that anger come up and accept that it is there and just be with it, where I am. Learning to love one’s Self is a good starting point. At least for me it is a good place to start. As American Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron has taught in her books and talks, start where you are. Be gentle with yourself. I take these thoughts to heart as I settle in to “letting go” and “letting God” in.
This holiday season, I wish anyone who reads this post the deepest level of Peace. I surround you in Love and Light. It is too difficult and challenging to continue to live in anger and resentment. The time to live in Love and Peace is now. Then, and only then, change will come.