Posted by: innerpilgrimage | April 6, 2011

Hide and Seek, Lost and Found

      After starting Geneen Roth’s new book, Lost and Found, I finally finished it this morning . . . exhausted. I can’t recall being this tired after reading a book since the OA 12&12 for the very first time. For people struggling with the willingness to do a Step Four, this is a tough damned book and a must-read for anyone wanting some spiritual Clue-by-Fours. Or at least a bright light right in the Third Eye.

      Now, I know I am supposed to be all about conference-approved. My Higher Power, however, works inside and outside the rooms to give me what I need. And, since this really isn’t an official meeting but just a share about my personal journey in the 12 Step program of recovery? I’m not turning away my Higher Power’s use of teachers wherever and whenever it sees fit to drop reality into my head when I’m working the HOW (Honesty, Open-mindedness, Willingness) instead of seeking the why of recovery.
      Geneen Roth has had a lot of experiences I relate to so deeply. I’ve been brought to tears by Lost and Found, I’ve been startled into dormant memories of my own, and I’ve had some serious “WTF?!” moments as she’s shared the intimate memories of her life lessons from childhood. Now, it does seem to be rife with “You all think I should have known” guilt about the whole Bernie Madoff thing. But I didn’t consider her responsible for what he did. She made a decision based on what she knew, and she learned a very important lesson about her responsibility to ask questions about what is hers. That she is not a thief in the night of her own things. That old messages we bring ahead sometimes require an epic disaster to be shaken loose enough to rise out of the subconscious inky-black caverns of our minds up to our conscious cave mouths and eventually into the light.
      While yes, she was responsible for not watching her money, she did what many people do. We trust people who sound really savvy when it comes to money. We both want them to save us from the outward appearance of wealth while inwardly we feel glee as the private records and account statements tell us we’re little dragons on an ever-growing hoard of treasure. We think others see us benevolently balancing ourselves with outward asceticism, even though we do display that wealth by amassing impulsive treasures to slide under ourselves and sleep upon–believing we are, indeed, safe from thieves sneaking into our caves at night and stealing our treasure from beneath us. We trust they can’t get in, so we keep sleeping on that ever-growing pile. And we dream of a tomorrow where we are finally sated by having everything we ever imagined we could want.
      In reading Geneen Roth’s book, my two physical eyes and my Third Eye were opened pretty darned wide when the Truth hit me that I do precisely the same thing–give up my power to imperfect human beings and lie to myself that I got it totally under control. I take private glee that these minions of mine–people I am sure I am successfully manipulating into protecting my interests above their own–do my bidding. But, as all creatures with free will are wont to do, they have their own base survival issues. Addicts attract addicts, period. And an addict will lie, cheat, and steal (I know this from personal experience) to compulsively feed that survival instinct.
      So . . . how does that relate to me, then? Well, I hoarded food inside and outside my body and I stole food from my sisters (I recalled eating a good portion of my sister’s chocolate Easter Egg more than once and I once was a Halloween Candy sneak of the First Order). The sister I lived with hoarded, as well, though she seemed more of a denial hoarder. To see it was to have it, I guess. So, when I had eaten myself sick days before, I could hunt down her treasure (actually under her bed), and I could steal it, too. I would feel guilty then rationalize it as her having my mother’s love and approval when I didn’t. Mother was food; mother was comfort; mother belonged to my middle sister, and I wanted to take my sister’s happiness because I felt she had stolen mine.
      The eldest of us three was the victim of borrowing-and-losing. I stole her shoes and wore them, then got complained at. I took her pants, her clothing, her bedroom (once everyone was out of the house). I even found her diary and stole her secrets–traumatizing myself in the process. Her inner life was painful, and the revelation that she didn’t have the perfect life despite the achievements she accomplished was pretty hard to stomach. I would feel guilty then rationalize it as her having my father’s love and approval when I didn’t. Father was money; father was security; father belonged to my oldest sister, and I wanted to take my sister’s happiness because I felt she had stolen mine.
      I did, however, take from them something they wanted, and the three of us did our little dance together. I was “the good girl”, and Good Girl, Jess! got my mother’s parents’ approval and love. They taught me gently, rewarded me with affection when I gave them mine, and I was the sharing, generous, artistic one. They lived right next door, an escape hatch from my own parents into a land of flowers and a garden and a land of plenty filled with animals (my grandmother saved feral cats as a devotee of St. Francis of Assisi; her back yard was where all the school-hatched chickens we brought home ended up. She was kindness to all living creatures, save for my sisters and apparently her own daughter. I suppose that’s part of the addiction as it manifested in her life–love is for things you can distance yourself from. Yet, somehow, in the middle of the addiction? She found love for me.
      My grandfather was the Green Man, in a way. Master of his backyard garden and nut orchard, he grew and dried his own pecans for yearly pies. His sunflowers were impossibly huge. His vegetables were big and strong and healthy. His garden reflected his work ethic, and it thrived. Unfortunately, I–like my own mother–have a “Black Thumb” instead of a green thumb. I kill plants. I do this unintentionally, but I do. Now, I did, as an adult the year I divorced my first husband and met my second husband, end up figuring enough out to make my parents’ atrium into a lush mini-tropical forest after listening to a radio show about how to care for plants. And, while they were gone on a trip, I had a few weeks to bring this half-alive plot of potted plants alive. The rich greens of tropical plants draw me into meditative contemplation. The dark and vibrant green of a healthy jungle is definitely my favorite color–moody, rich, and definitely alive. But once my mother–the caretaker of the atrium–was back, I stepped aside. And it returned to its half-life yet again. I tried to maintain it, but the criticism of what and how and why I was doing it just got too much for me. Possibly too much for the plants, too. But in our quiet weeks together, the plants as I thrived in concert. We enjoyed our gentle time together, the care I took expressed love to something that could not hurt me back by telling me I was wrong for this or that or the other thing. Plants don’t give advice. Plants don’t criticize you for marrying the wrong guy then shame you over getting a divorce (and how it affects the family). Plants just are. And seeing as they were shuffling off this mortal coil anyway? Investing love in some tropical plants which were on their way to the big pile of plant matter to be picked up by the trash guys had no real internal goal to it–except to feel love by giving love. And they thrived.
      The lesson was lost on me then. It’s okay. I am finding I had a lot of open doors along my path which I did not walk through. But when I finally did pass through one that mattered–when something greater than myself just-about-carried me into an OA room in September of 2009? I realized even if I wanted to leave, I couldn’t. Just by stepping in, I had awareness that I had a choice not to live in addiction. There was an option. There was a solution. And G-d was there, in the people all around me. In the love of their stories, the empathy they had with me as I refused to look at people, didn’t cry, wanted to say everything and say nothing. I already recognized the source of my inability to stop eating was deeper than the conscious mind. I could not get to it through force of personal will. See, when a person is sitting on a couch with their own mind literally screaming at their hand to stop stuffing candy into a mouth that tracks down to a sweets-queasy and overfull stomach, and when that hand doesn’t stop? There’s a powerlessness that brings the fear of realization firmly down upon them. A realization that a diet wouldn’t do it. A realization that something bigger had to stop my hand for me, just as something bigger was motivating that hand to move like a marionette puppet’s hand on invisible strings. And that thing that drove my hand was trying to kill me through diabetes, heart disease, and any number of obesity-related ailments my brain knew were out there. On the verge of 40, I sat there. It was the bright line in the sand, the point of no return. And even as I said to myself that I had options besides Overeaters Anonymous, I promised myself that this diet which dove deeply into the “Why” of the seemingly otherworldly-enchanted hand deserved all the effort I could muster before I gained enough weight to lose it all again (for a television game show) or before I was rolled into a room to go under a surgeon’s knife.
      Geneen Roth’s book on money, on the lifequake that left everything in reality still standing around her even as she felt the world buckle beneath her spiritual feet and her illusions crumble to the earth, spoke to me on a depth of profundity that–like my Higher Power–is ineffable. It cannot be spoken not because it is taboo, but because it is simply unknowable to the limited human mind. Her expression, however, of “not enough” got me moving–to the point my journaling was so impassioned that where my index finger and pencil met for hours last night is still sore.
      I think the biggest lessons I got out of it were the recognition of the cycle of perceived balance. See, my life is in balance in addiction, but only because I run back-and-forth between extremes. The problem with that is that it isn’t really in balance. On average it could be considered in balance, but when one tips the scale one way then runs to the other side to tip it back, there’s simply a see-sawing of extremes. I am a martyr and a rebel. I am a restrictor and a permitter. I am undeserving and owed. What I am not is here, in the middle, in today, in reality.
      To do that, I need to examine yesterday. I need to look backwards to see what motivates me to run from one extreme to the other in what could be seen as an endless infinity sign as my life goes up and down while I convince myself I am running straight across. I martyr myself to earn love and approval; I rebel and binge impulsively and compulsively because no one else is paying attention; I tear up my self-esteem for not having the willpower to maintain the ascetic Hell of my own life; I repent my ways, having been properly beaten down and humiliated (why I had such trouble with the word, “humble”, because that’s the word I associated with being torn down); I martyr myself again. It is literally a vicious cycle–it requires me to be vicious, unkind, and brutal to my own psyche.
      There is, somewhere deep in my past, a child who was enough. A child who was unbroken by the words of the people who raised her with the only way they understood. Discipline is another word I have trouble with. It is the mask abuse wears as abuse states, “I am merely teaching this person. Back off before you get a lesson, too, UNDERSTAND?” The difficulty is that when one learns about the discipline of Christ to the 12 folks he led around in the books of the New Testament, it confuses discipline. One is kind guidance and teaching; one is pain aversion and trial-and-error experimentation. The definitions innately do not match, and a person who’s told, “Tell the truth or you’ll get disciplined,” gets too many messages about truth and discipline. Truth, in an abusive family, is telling what isn’t as if it is. It’s about being honest about everything except the elephant in the room, the big damned secret that I really think people can see in the way we all lived on the other side of the door. And discipline is both walking toward something and fleeing from something. One requires calmness; one requires terror. One small and theoretically simple concept has a deep meaning, a deeper meaning than a normal person can comprehend. So when a victim of abuse hears “Be honest, be disciplined,” it’s like saying, “Be ready to be beaten, because if the wrong truth escapes, you’re gonna have Hell to pay.”
      My mind broke. How could it survive when the agreed-upon meanings of so many things were so vastly different. Love meant criticism “for my own good”. Humility meant “feeling appropriate shame for existing at all”. Discipline meant “pain”. All three of those are core to program. And all three have definitions given to me by my addiction, and I am deeply averse to them.
      In the same vein, Control meant “holding on to the ledge for dear life so I don’t fall into the abyss.” Powerlessness meant “failure”. Unmanageability meant “I’m a total screw-up because I can’t get my shit in order!” And surrender? Well, death was better than surrender. One should never stop fighting, never stop forcing the world to do what one wants. Surrender means to be made an example of so others remember not to give up.
      Is it any wonder the first time I read the OA 12&12, I was both exhausted from relief and fear?
      So, Geneen Roth points out a really good Anais Nin quote: “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”
      She goes on to explain how this relates to her own ordeals in a very compelling manner. However, to distill it from my own experience? I see the world through my mental filters, and that is MY reality. My reality is a rough place filled with violence and wretched loveless people who want me to martyr myself in order to earn anything. My world is a wasteland which requires me to be in survival mode–because that’s what it was to me when I started out. My only respite is in my own mind, trying to will the past to change or the future to have Shangri La coming up soon on the journey. I vacation in my head–past, future, and honestly in fiction. In fiction and the future? I am G-d. I am enough; I have enough. I am in control, and I am all-powerful. I deserve a happy ending to my story, because if I have to suffer like a freaking Grimm’s fairy tale heroine, I had better’d get the reward of the true love of Prince Charming and his magical castle with the huge wealth in its treasury for the crap I’ve been through!
      Yeah.
      That’s my addiction, right there. I am Cordelia in King Lear. I am Cinderella in Cinderella. I am the martyr sister in Baba Yaga. And if I don’t play my part? I don’t get the cash, prizes, and handsome prince to save me from myself and allow me to be a child for the rest of my existence.
     
      Reality? No such luck. Reality is where I have a mortgage on a home that’s upside-down and credit card debt that sometimes brings me to tears. Reality is also where month-by-month, they are getting paid down. Reality accepts that some day the money may not be there, but until then? Progress is being made.
      Reality is where my younger son was diagnosed with cancer at 3 1/2 years old. Where I must stand up to people who forget that although they have years and years of school? I was there in the hospital with my son. I was who fed him so he wouldn’t lose too much weight during the month his body was irradiated. And when they say, “We want to do this” without getting any background and I say “You can’t do that procedure because it could completely decimate the quality of life other doctors fought to preserve”, I have to decide if I am Good Girl, Jess! first or if I am Mom first. And like a Mother Bear, I get in the way of harm to my cub. Reality has actually been kind, if I consider my adult life. I got out of a really wretched marriage and found a good, noble, intelligent, and honestly spiritual man whose support and love (despite my social and emotional anorexia even as I ate until I wore 100+ lbs. of fat to cover up that reality) helped me grow enough to see that I needed the OA rooms. He’s been supportive of program–both programs. So have my sons.
      Somehow, despite being “ungrateful”, “selfish”, and even “evil” . . . they decided I was worth giving their gifts of love to. That somewhere in the chaotic unamangeability of my addiction, I showed love (despite not believing I did). I was not a perfect mother by any means, but when I was called on to act? I acted. I protected, I defended, I stood between my children and the world. I also acted in ways I still beat myself up for (being as my personal goal was to be a saintly martyr and I just couldn’t be that all the time).
      Something shone through, despite me not seeing it.
      There’s honesty to be mined from my past, real treasures of pain and joy and that Mother Bear inside me taking care of me with what resources I had. My childhood was about surviving in a wilderness of wealth and physical comforts and educational opportunities. But I was in a spiritual wasteland, wandering the desert wondering if I would be Moses and never see it or I would be Joshua and enter the Promised Land. It turned out that was a choice–to be Moses or to be Joshua. And when I got the choice? I chose to be the one to enter the Promised Land: Reality.
      I know the path to take. I know that I am choosing to stay in the desert longer than I need to. I am being called to take up that which is mightier than the sword, put my full faith in the promise my Higher Power gave me, and start walking toward the Promised Land. I didn’t want to have to go to war (with my own survival-based coping mechanisms of the past) to enter it, but I do. However, I’m not alone.
      The world is filled with people who have empathy for what I have faced. Some have fought and won; some have fought and lost; some have fought, won, then lost and are fighting again; some submitted to their fears and ran back into the desert.
      If I want to see things as they are, I need to become part of things as they are. It doesn’t mean I can’t honor the part of myself which allowed me to survive. It just means that I am not a child any more, and I need to be more than just yesterday’s survivor and tomorrow’s dreamer.
      I need to be real, to be in today. I need to get back into my Fourth Step and do it until it’s done–today, tomorrow, the next day. However long it takes until I’m as lain bare as I am supposed to be this time around. And, in the aftermath, I will have real and lasting treasures–knowledge of what truly matters to me, and awareness of what survival mechanisms I created back then, and respect for the truth that the addiction once saved my life by filling my needs enough when I could not get away from an unlivable situation. I can learn forgiveness through the empathy. I can learn that my empathy is a great strength, not a horrible burden. And I can let go of the world as I am and start seeing it as it is–the indescribable expanse of possibilities for me to experience today . . . in the physical, mental, and spiritual.
     
      My name is Jess, and I am an addict of extremes. I binge and I restrict with food; I martyr myself for then binge on emotional excess for approval. I know my life isn’t in balance. I know I keep saying, “It’s time to do my Fourth Step! Time, time, time!” But, in truth, I am resisting it. And my Higher Power is apparently being very good about putting what I need in my way to slide the resistance away. I am learning the rewards of doing a Fourth Step then moving on to the Fifth through Ninth Steps–which honestly don’t hold that much terror for me anymore (even that once-dreaded Ninth Step!). The rewards real, lasting, and indestructible. They are not a treasure I sleep on and dream about and think I have control over. They are the experiences of the true and honest moment I am living, and they are a gift beyond any I could imagine.
      In other words, I’m not really dying, here. I’m being reincarnated from the child survivor into the recovering adult. All things end, and once they have ended? A new beginning starts in that very moment.

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