Tag Archives: alcoholism

Man with magnifying glass

Sifting The Evidence

A year ago I wrote and published a poem called ‘White Silence Drowns Out Black Voices.’ I just re-read it for the first time in many months.

I can’t read my own work in a vacuum. I must bounce it against The Current Conversation to see if it remains relevant, is now dated, or is in danger of being misapplied.

A poem, like any other piece of art, lives in danger of being appropriated or interpreted in ways the artist does not sanction. But that’s the way of art. Art is nothing but an opinion, after all. Artists create art and launch it into the world. How the art is received is up to the receiver.

How art is received also says more about the receiver than the art itself or the artist.

As an artist, I reflect my own opinion or observation, or lay out memoir-as-verse. All my creations are photograph-like. They are static snapshots, reflecting a moment, a vision, a feeling. They aren’t likely to stand for all time. They aren’t likely to create a movement, only a mood.

I cook the dish and you taste. Then you decide whether you like it or send it back to the kitchen.

Back to the poem, which is about how my choices not to speak against injustice help injustice flourish. In The Current Conversation, it might be easy to read this work as only being about the Black Lives Matter movement (whatever that is any more), or the larger historical struggle for equity and equality.

While the poem does speak to these matters, and indeed was inspired by The Previous Conversations about them, it was written as a much broader expression.

We get so distracted arguing dualities: black versus white, black versus ‘not black enough’; white versus ‘institutional racism’, ‘content of our character’ versus ‘anti-racism’, etc.

All these dualities are, by virtue of our Twitterfied society, merely fields of combat – places where we can line up and yell at one another meaninglessly and stoke division and fan the flames of strife. They don’t address the problem, which is human sinfulness stemming from human pride. The idea that I’m better than you.

None of those dualities touch the meaning of ‘White Silence Drowns Out Black Voices.’ The meaning is a simple acknowledgement of the need for reconciliation. Yes, between different ethnic groups, philosophies and methodologies. But more generally, among all people of disparate views.

Here’s the key stanza:

I’ve been silent far too long,
And my silence kept me from traveling
The hard road to redemption,
That is best walked with a bro
ther.

Read it as a sentence: I’ve been silent far too long, and my silence kept me from traveling the hard road to redemption that is best walked with a brother.

For you, that redemption might be seen as racial reconciliation. For another, it could be the seeming unfairness of captalism toward the poor. For still another, it could be the fact she only earns 65% of what’s given her male colleague. For me, we could consider the wounds inflicted in my childhood from sexual abuse or those that came from my own bad choices around drugs and alcohol.

One person’s reconciliation is another person’s outrage. One person’s weakness is another person’s strength. One person’s faith is another person’s encouragement.

In my own case, I couldn’t have gotten sober alone, and I surely was unable to come to faith alone, even with God’s help. I need brothers and sisters to walk the hard road to redemption with me. I need their faith, and I hope they need mine.

We need discipleship in all things worthwhile. So let’s speak up for one another, especially in the hard things. Otherwise we are just opposing lines, on someone else’s field of play, yelling at one another, to no effect.

Photo by cottonbro via Pexels

Santa's workshop

12 Step Christmas (Pt. 2)

This is an expanded version of material originally prepared for my memoir Masterpiece (A Love Story).

(A four-minute read – catch up with Part I)

In Part I, the burden of grudges, resentments and petty hatreds, the burden of unforgiveness, was likened to a Christmas shopper weighed down and unbalanced by too many bags of purchases. Shoulders, arms and hands, backpack, all pulled to earth by what is owned.

The burden is not light

So burdened, we can’t skip along, or stride purposefully. We aren’t even walking, really. Because of the mass we choose to carry, we’re trudging, perhaps even plodding, or slogging. It’s no easy way to travel. Why choose it as a lifestyle by refusing to forgive?

Is it any wonder we speak of personal baggage when describing this? Baggage is something we carry. It has our “stuff” in it. When we travel on an airliner, the size and weight of what we can carry is limited. Too much, and the plane would burst at the seams, or not be airworthy. An apt metaphor for us as we journey through life with this junk!

So here we are, resolutely and stolidly toting all our baggage, refusing to relinquish it. What’s inside? Remember, in the shopping metaphor, we spent an entire day spending good money as it were to invest in these things. If they were a good investment, they will increase in value. But how can a grudge increase in value?

It can’t. It has no value in the first place. And anything times zero equals zero.

This begs this question: at what point do we cut our losses and divest? Why is divestment beneficial? And what are the risks, if any?

A frightening prospect. Is it worth it?

Here’s the upside: divestiture makes our lives, and our hearts, lighter. Without carrying baggage, we can pay more attention to what’s in front of us. We can enjoy the moment for what it is, instead of being on a fearful hunt for obstacles. When we carry so much weight, the risk of a drop or a stumble is so great, there’s no opportunity to stop being on the defensive.

Our feet become so occupied they are useless for anything but preventing a fall to earth. Our hands are so occupied they are useless for any good work. Our minds and hearts are so occupied by concentrating on the burden, we can perceive nothing else.

Our internal world consists of what we consider, and the things we refuse to forgive can eventually grow into the only things we consider, trudging along in that state.

Over time, without forgiveness, life then becomes a balancing act, full of deliberate steps not toward anything joyful, but away from or around anything which could possibly be harmful or painful. Our lives become filled with lack, not abundance.

The trap is this: until we lay down our burdens, we can’t feel free and easy, not ever, not for one moment. We can pretend they’re not there, but the pretence itself only becomes more mass in the sack. And on it goes.

Caution: divestiture also hurts. Holding something tightly for too long makes it painful to unclench the muscles. The path of least resistance is to leave it alone. It also hurts to emotionally unclench, because it means admitting failure. The ego resists that.

From capture to release

I started my journey toward forgiveness with self-talk like this: “If you only knew what he did to me…” “What happened was unforgivable…” “She has to pay for this…” “I can never forgive.”

The things I tell myself over and over become the elephant in the room. Living with an elephant in the room is messy and smelly and claustrophobic, but I got used to it. Worse – I became blinded to its presence, just as I become so used to the unhealthy ‘weight’ I carried, I couldn’t imagine living without it.

But if the elephant disappears, how do we clean up its mess and use all the space that leaves? The beauty of true forgiveness is that the space immediately becomes empty and clean, the mess being removed by the act itself.

Christmas should be a season of forgiveness, and the miracle of my AA Christmas was that this freedom was very near. It was right on the other side of one simple act. Forgiving myself.

Jesus says if I have a heavy burden, I should go to Him and get rest. I take off the painfully heavy yoke of my unforgiveness and put on His yoke, which He says ‘is easy,’, adding, ‘My burden is light.’ *

Once I realized I could give this weight to God, I could accept that He forgave me. And I could then forgive others. Everything tumbled into place. I am light, and free, and I refuse to go back.

This is an expanded version of material originally prepared for my memoir Masterpiece (A Love Story).

* Matthew 12:29-30

Image: Public Domain, Jenny Nystrom via Wikimedia Commons

Christmas presents

12-Step Christmas

This is an expanded version of material originally prepared for my memoir Masterpiece (A Love Story).

(A four-minute read – read part II here)

Collecting garbage

By my early 40s, the world of weed was just too spooky. Maintaining a respectable image while simultaneously patronizing drug dealers became difficult. The dread of being busted was balanced uncomfortably with the fear of running out of weed. I carried an intense level of denial. Eventually, the pot did run out and booze took over. It was legal, easy, cheaper.

Where marijuana was a spirit guide, alcohol was a balm, a saviour, and finally, my master: the only thing I truly cared about. Even my sense of self-preservation was subservient to the need to drink. I lived to drink, and ultimately, drank to live.

Within ten years, I crashed onto the floor of a seedy motel room and began the return to life. I had to unlearn lies before accepting truths, undo evil consequences before accepting fresh ones and unburden myself of baggage before packing a new kit.

Doing the work presented by the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous was like getting through a busy Christmas shopping season. For many of us Christmas is jolly and joyful, but it can also be full of rush, pressure, expectation, a need to perform, and an undercurrent that something is not quite right somehow, as though Santa is about to drop the other boot.

12-Step Christmas

The softening of my heart was a 12-Step Christmas. It was messy and demanding, even while liberating. It centered on the greatest gift I could have given myself, the gift of forgiveness. The more time I spent drunk, the more the perceived wrongs done to me piled up.

When I got sober, I could finally smell the stink of them. They had to go.

I resisted the idea that I could only get rid of them by getting even. There’s no value in getting even, only in getting free. It’s a simple act; not always easy, but it changed my life.

Forgiveness of others can be a difficult, demanding and painful thing. I know. Some of the grudges and resentments I found myself with I’d borne for years. I needed to unburden myself.

Let’s consider them as a ‘burden’ because that so well illustrates what the unforgiving soul packs around. Unforgiveness itself is literally that: a burden, a drag, a friction. It keeps me weighted to an unhealthy past instead of releasing me for a better future.

An uncomfortable picture

To illustrate, imagine yourself walking along having just finished all your Christmas shopping in one go.

On your left shoulder is a very large bag, the long strap of which is over your head to keep it from slipping away. Your arm hangs out over its bulk in an uncomfortable arc. The hand of that arm grips another shopping bag, this one hanging low and heavy, outboard of your knee.

These stuffed satchels would have you tipping hard left if it weren’t for the oversized weighty sack you desperately clutch with your right hand as a counterbalance. Meanwhile, you’re kept from being hunched over by the giant rucksack resting heavily on your back.

That one appears to keep you above the center of balance, but it’s an illusion. In reality, it weighs you down even more, creating additional pressure.

This is the picture we need to see when we choose to bear a grudge or carry a resentment. Grudges are heavy things, and they get heavier over time; their inertia grows. It’s as though gravity increases where they are present. They are truly weighty matters.

This is an expanded version of material originally prepared for my memoir Masterpiece (A Love Story).

Read part II here