Posted by: innerpilgrimage | August 13, 2010

Divine Comedy or Cosmic Joke?

      I am siding with The Divine Comedy on this one, though last year at this time, I would have insisted it was all a cosmic joke.

      In the fourteenth century, an Italian philosopher named Dante Alighieri wrote a poem about traveling through Hell, Purgatory, and then Heaven. Not only was it a wonderful allegory for the spiritual journey we face, it also established the modern Italian language. Not too bad for a guy from Tuscany.
      I have read Inferno, but I haven’t read the others. Dante’s journey through Hell, led by the Greek philosopher Virgil, feels pretty close to the journey out of addiction I am taking right now. As much as I would like to believe I’ve reached Purgatory–the waiting room for Heaven (Paradise)–I believe I am still in addiction. I don’t turn to my Higher Power on a daily basis, something I am finding causes a lot of my inner chaos and struggles with my abstinence in OA and withdrawal in SLAA.
      Traveling a dark night of the soul is no fun, though it’s better than being lost in the woods of addiction, itself. Fear is certainly a motivating factor, and succumbing to it without trying to recognize it is something I still do regularly. I certainly have not been able to turn my fear into motivation, something other people seem to be able to do. This spiritual aversion-therapy which creates greatness is something I aspire to. However, as long as I fear success more than I fear failure, I’m stuck in that rut. And, as once told by a minister in the Heartland, a rut is simply a grave with the ends kicked out. I can’t live if I don’t try to climb out. Well, I am trying to climb out, but I’m not trying as hard as I can.
      If I get through today’s abstinence, I will be rewarded tomorrow with 304 days of consecutive abstinence. I broke 300 days and didn’t even realize it? Wow. Well, that’s something good, in my mind. I remember getting past that first 24 hours was a huge challenge, the first real day of a new life. And it was a challenge, because October 13, 2009 was my first real stab at abstinence. And I failed. However, that failure set up success for the next day because I realized this wasn’t going to be easy. I think about the saying, “It’s a cakewalk” (used to describe something effortless) and find the lovely irony that cake was my downfall 304 days ago. But without that cake, I would not have become starkly aware of the insidious nature of my addiction. It is my kudzu, choking out the healthy life as it replaces it with something not native to my spiritual homeland.
      Anyone from certain parts of Mississippi can tell you it’s virtually impossible to get rid of this plant nuisance. It grows fast–up to a foot a day. Apparently, between herbicides, controlled burning, and cutting off then properly disposing of root crowns, it can be done. It takes years, however, to completely dispose of this aggressive and fast moving vine, and an infestation can pop up even after an area is cleared if one is not careful about keeping kudzu seeds from taking root again.
      Kudzu removal, like recovery, is a daily process which requires intense vigilance and awareness. If the kudzu, like addiction, is ignored, it will spread until one is left feeling hopeless against the onslaught. Kudzu consumes everything in order to grow and leaves nothing but itself. In my addictions, I have found that I have decades of life which were “unlived”, and it frustrates me that I ignored it for so long because I hoped the problem would solve itself. Instead, it grew and killed my hopes and dreams. Well, the hopes are coming back, though the dreams aren’t returning. I am realizing they probably were killed completely, and I have to plant new ones. It’s frightening because I’m not sure what is native to my soul’s soil and I fear the new dreams will get choked out if I forget about the destructive nature of my kudzu-like addiction in my happiness to plant new dreams.
      I guess, right now, however, I should focus on the work I’ve done to push back the affliction while planning to plant a future by doing the footwork today to find out what is supposed to be there.

      So, back to Dante. I’ve started reading a book called Dante’s Path, and it is tying everything I’ve done to work a spiritual path in together. It’s fascinating how much footwork I did when I wasn’t realizing I was doing it at the time. It’s like getting to see how my Higher Power led me up to the willingness to enter Overeaters Anonymous. Years and years and years of preparation to take this spiritual journey, and I wasn’t even realizing it I was doing it at the time!
      Now, I will admit most of the work has been done in the last year–from the recognition that something was seriously wrong when I was considering gaining 100 lbs. to apply for a reality television show to considering a surgery with an apparently painful and unpleasantly flatulent recovery. While OA was not the last resort, it was the last real hope for me. I recognized I couldn’t stop eating, and that terrified me. It did take walking in the door to realize that I have a severe eating disorder, but once I was there I realized I needed to at least hear them out. There was no relief as sweet as listening to people whose stories were my own, whose frustrations and fears and difficulties with food were my own. As I read more, it strengthened my resolve that I had finally walked in the right door.
      I consider myself responsible for my food addiction, and being able to do that has allowed me to make the necessary changes in order to live instead of simply exist. While I still exist much of the time, I have lived days of action rather than reaction. I have done footwork I didn’t want to do because it needed to be done. Sometimes I think that doing it today means I won’t have to deal with it more than once–thinking about it all day that first day with deep guilt for putting it off then either doing it the next day or putting it off again. Forgetting is temporary, and I usually remember after the deadline has passed, causing more problems. I guess my desire to have a life free of the anxiety of guilt and frustration drives me. “Might as well do the footwork now,” I’ve said to myself. “That way I won’t have it to do along with tomorrow’s footwork.”
      Wow, I am having a tangential day. The whole point of this was to write about the dark night of the soul I am experiencing. I suppose clearing this kudzu out of the way is good, because it’s helping me. Confusing anyone who reads this, probably, but it’s helping me.
      I haven’t gone far in the book, but I’m not approaching it completely without understanding. Between the 12-Step experience (having a Higher Power, which is mentioned in the book as one of many names for deep inner wisdom that comes from the Universe we are in and a part of), logotherapy (suffering has spiritual meaning), and the study of dark nights of the soul (learning that balance is achieved by embracing the balance of “good” and “bad” that makes up the human being called Jess), I am finding this book is easier to understand than if I had faced it without those introductions.
      In other words, I am entering the portal which says, Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate (Abandon all hope, you who enter here). I think the hope I need to abandon is the one that I will find a full cure for my addiction. I still have it in the recesses of my mind, that maybe some day I can be normal.
      What’s odd is that, after dealing with so many people, I’ve found that I am normal. Not well-adjusted, but I am normal for a modern First Worlder. I have the luxury of having a dysfunction to succumb to. Life is not survival for me, it’s being able to find meaning among the mountains of mara that surround me. I despair among it because I can’t have it all and I can’t give it all up either. In other words, my life is so insulated, I can complain that it’s not happy all of the time or perfect. I can further retreat from my bubble-wrapped existence by taking drugs for depression that end up making me either manic or as apathetic as a Lotus-Eater. I can exist my life away.
      And I feel guilty that I even have that opportunity. I feel completely petty for having so much that I can lament having it all yet feeling empty. That said, it does not change the fact that while I have things, I don’t have character. I don’t have a sense of where I belong because I have had too much freedom to belong anywhere and too much pressure to belong at the top of whatever anywhere I choose. Others have to lose so I can win. The problem is that I don’t want others to have to lose for my personal gain. I suppose that’s the biggest benefit of a spiritual journey–this is not about whether I beat anyone to enlightenment. In fact, I can’t beat anyone to enlightenment because we’re each given our own trails to follow. Plus, I am regularly shown that “being more enlightened” is a fallacy, since I’ve learned many lessons from people I would have considered less spiritually advanced than myself once upon a time. Teachers come from everywhere, and I want to be open to even the sound bites of spiritual understanding. To do that, I have to remove both releasing authority over myself and taking authority over others. Giving one sage power over me is as bad to me as not listening to someone I consider spiritually backwards. I cannot grow as a human being either way. While I consider I may hold to one teaching for an extended time and listen with great intent and interest to one person teaching it, I find that the limiting nature of only hearing one fallible human voice over all others limits my own potential as a human being. Not one of us is so enlightened as to have the answers for everyone else (I got that from the Buddha, when he was trying to explain that there are no hard and fast rules to what he was teaching because there was no singular path to nirvana–sure the Eightfold Path and Middle Road really help most people find the balance necessary to grow spiritually, but it’s a guideline, not the only way to find enlightenment).
      I guess this is where I let my Higher Power take it on over. I can’t really think of much else to say, except that while everything is not illuminated, it’s starting make more sense as the coincidences are beginning to stack up.
      My name is Jess, and I am a food addict and love addict, anorexic. Not feeling too great today, so I’m taking it as a day of rest. It seems that I have more to learn before I dive into Step Eight again, but that’s okay. The whole point is to do it to the best of my ability, not perfectly and not better than anyone else. The more I put into it, the more I get out of it. This is a lull in Stepwork, motivated by the intense gut feeling I am doing it wrong. That said, whatever I am doing is expanding my Step Four work, and I am really happy that I am getting revelations which are as true as my broken self can bring forth. It may not be reality, but I was filtering through an active addict’s mind.
      Somehow, I think I still am, despite the odd luck I’ve had with OA physical recovery.

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