Posted by: innerpilgrimage | December 26, 2011

Manufactured Drama, Organic Gratitude

Holiday Eating Season Countdown: 7 days

      I was trying to figure out what was stopping me from doing my Fourth Step inventory, despite logically knowing that it’s foolish to stop (Addictive Thinking Red Flag!). I find there is a disconnect between knowing and Knowing. One is the mind; the other, the heart and soul.

      I come up with a load of excuses and questions all based on fear. What if I arrive at Step Twelve, and I don’t get that spiritual awakening? What if it doesn’t work for me? What if someone sees what I wrote and reads it? What if people find out my secrets and hate me for it all? Do I really, really want this, or am I just trundling along with a cult mentality? Is the Twelve-Step program a cult? Will my life be dull if I give up the excitement (Addictive Thinking Red Flag)? What if I don’t do a thorough inventory because I forgot a lot of what hurt the most?
      I can manufacture a good lot of drama based on over-thinking the process. Drama, for me, is the stuff that I create in my life that builds tension (non-acceptance of people, places, and situations), and that tension is a drug. That tension can drive me to wander a kitchen or a junk food aisle in a grocery store, longing for the days when I could get high from eating. That tension can drive me to wander malls and consider going out to bars, longing for the days when I could get high from manipulating a person (generally a man) into a toxic interaction. That friction, like a grinding buzz or the white-noise irritating static of a radio station just out of range, is the drug. I am keyed up, worked up, hypersensitive. It’s a fake sense of feeling alive, simply because I feel raw–like scrubbing my mind and body with steel wool until my brain is inundated with destructive emotional messages and my body is raw from the incessant ache. It’s not the same as being honest, vulnerable, and strong; it’s being exhausted, susceptible, and weak. There’s a wide gap between sapping the walls of a fortress castle and opening the door in order to welcome travelers. One is aggressive and demands someone lose; the other, inviting and encourages a mutually beneficial resolution.
      To those questions which stop me, I have answers. I’ve studied the Twelve Steps and have experienced the freedom of spirit when I am honest. Doing the steps a Spring Cleaning of the body, mind, and soul. Living in honesty is vulnerability; living a life which one would not be ashamed to have published on the front page of a celebrity magazine or a major metropolitan newspaper is vulnerability through honesty. If I have nothing to hide, I am both open and strong. To live a life of clarity is to live in the most organic honesty possible. Without carrying the weight of deception and all of the necessary accoutrements to hide said deception, there is no exhaustion because one is traveling like a Jainist monk or nun–with the clothes on one’s back and the bowl for receiving and giving of what is needed to survive and thrive. The journey, not the protection of what one possesses, becomes the focus of life. Instead of worrying about the safety of my person, I can observe then carry and share the experience, strength, and hope which is all around us every day. Clarity is honesty; if I eat honestly, I have the mental clarity to expose then accept reality as it is. I can think in terms of recovery instead of addiction. I end the performance as a character onstage for all to be entertained by and go out into the world as the person beneath the mask. How can there not be a spiritual enlightenment if I drop all of those secrets and lies–the things which wear me down and keep my focus away from experiencing the wide and wonderful world and all of its miracles? Can’t really focus on the awe of a spectacular vista if I am focused on setting up the tent and camping stove and the mini-television, and on cleaning my tech fabric so I look good while traveling, and on whatever distractions I bring with me on my journey. Traveling light is enlightenment; traveling without the deception that I need to protect that which I cannot own (the “can’t take it with you” non-ownership theory, where what you truly own goes with you after you die). To set down the mental constructs I place between me and life as a spiritual being is spiritual enlightenment. If I’m not weighing my spirit down with physical-world stuff or mental-world rules and admonishments and anxieties, my spirit is free to roam as an observer of things farther than just beyond my physical reach. I hope this made sense–that dumping the heavy pack of what I perceive is important (in order to reach my destination in comfort and style) is the act of lightening my load enough to start appreciating the beauty all around me instead of the aches and pains of stressing my mind and body. That begins with honesty; the honesty creates vulnerability and strength and potentially even purpose.
      I do have to trust that the program works if I work it, and sometimes it takes stopping to look at how far I’ve come at this point. I have recovery embedded in me. Does this mean I won’t relapse? Nope, but it does mean I’m aware that I have a choice. There was no relapse before Overeaters Anonymous because there was no recovery. Every solution I had available to me was addiction-based and external. I had diets, anorexia, manic exercise–all things which I knew the rules to even as I knew they could cause damage to me. One size fits all solutions which can get support from those who’ve acted them out and who are still miserable because they’re in a war of powerlessness and misery. Sure, the high may look fantastic when one can only think in addiction, but the pain is the same: I am my body, I tell the world through my action and attitude, and your approval of my body is the only purpose I have.
      Isn’t that depressing? I mean, it kind-of sets one up for a state of longing, to be something more than something that changes and ends and will never have the approval of everyone in the whole world (because aesthetic appreciation is arbitrary). However, there is a seed of hope within that sad message. There is longing for something more. That’s the soul standing up to be counted. It cannot be seen, smelled, tasted, heard, or touched. But it can be felt when it moves. Oh, yeah. It definitely can be felt. I felt my soul enough that I was willing to “just try” Overeaters Anonymous. Nothing more. Sit in one room for one hour out of my already-miserable life. I’d done it week after week over whole semesters in school. Committing one measly hour wasn’t so bad.
      That hour changed my life completely. I still am awed that I have maintained (for over a year!) what five years ago was an impossible dream. I mean, it was so impossible, when I broke 200 lbs. and kept going down, I couldn’t believe it. It kicked on the addict need not to lose that precious thing I thought I owned (and I started half-abstinence, half-dieting), but the recovery I had already gained reminded me that the abstinence is a gift. Every time I get cocky, I remember that the abstinence and weight loss is a gift. I could not do it for decades. OA is not a diet program, because I did and failed a lot of diets (and didn’t even start many, many more)! When I surrendered to wanting to be healthy instead of thin, the miracles and magic began. And I am still awed to disbelief that I carried a hundred more pounds than I do now. That those hundred pounds have been lifted from me for over a year. My body was enlightened, relieved of that force pulling me down hard into submission to the addiction–like an abused pack mule burdened by far more weight than it can carry. Dying faster because I was burning out fast, carrying suffering in the form of physical and mental burdens.
      As for seeing what I wrote, that’s part of Steps Eight and Nine. My resentments generally have retributions, and I was part of the problem. What I wrote will see the light of day in Step Five, as I speak what I wrote to an empathetic soul who’s trodden the path I walked. Admitting it to HP is the prayer of speaking it aloud or in my mind, thinking upon it all and knowing I want change through the fearless honesty. The rest is organizing it into a neat list of amends, and I have a lot to make–even if I have no idea where to find the people I need to make amends to. I have apologized many times over yet did not change my behavior to a recovered one. Well, that’s part of making amends: I commit to recovery completely, day by day, understanding that as long as I am growing as a person and splitting my seconds to choose honesty instead of lies? I am living on the path of recovery. The thoughts and beliefs became action and habit simply by walking those paths in my mind until they were well-worn (as explained by the Mahatma Gandhi quote I put up yesterday) into habits which became my addiction. Recovery is creating new paths of acting on life in honesty rather than reacting to it then trying to cover it up, as the OA Invitation to You tells us, opening me up to a new way of life. A simply honest life, an organic way of living. If I am honest, I have nothing to hide because I refuse to hide anything any more. Without the need to hide secrets on my person (generally in my very active mind), I live a life of clarity simply by default.
      Now, I have to admit that 12-Step programs can become a cult if I turn them into a cult. If I pray to the religion of 12-Stepping and work to impress the people in program, I am following a religion of my own devising with zealotry. Zealotry is filled with judgment, filled with all-or-nothing thinking, filled with guilt and shame and dishonesty and manipulation. I may say it’s honesty, but it’s not. After all, as a cult zealot, it would be my job to force my will on others. That goes against the whole point of program. It’s rejecting Step One outright, saying that I am not powerless (to the point that my way is the only way, and that I have authority because I know the One, True Path). In that self-deluded state, I lie to myself that I can manage my life and others’ lives. That’s not honesty, and there is no spiritual enlightenment to be found. I not only take on the burden of trying to force my will on others (rejecting the potential for serenity), I am certainly not focused on that which I can change–myself. So, while it can become cultish when people act like chained abstinence means something (the longest abstinence is twenty-four hours; we’re all in the same day of abstinence–from the newcomer to the fifty-year program veteran), as long as we hold onto humility and actually live in this twenty-four hours? We can use the fellowship of program to grow as individuals. I am no better and no worse than any person in program, because I am an addict just like every person in program. None of us is ever completely recovered. We are always recovering, which means we are all connected by Tradition Three–in or our of the rooms. Any person wanting to stop compulsive addictive behavior is considered a member. Every group is open to them. Well, every group is supposed to be open, if the group is not exclusive. Yes, there are closed meetings, but I think a strong closed meeting is just one which welcomes those people who are looking for a solution to addiction–as opposed to being open to people who are not addicted. Likewise, putting rules down on lengths of abstinence required for sharing is cultish, because it does put some people into authority over others. We are a fellowship of equals in just-for-today humility. If my experience, strength, and hope has more value than a newcomer’s to a group, I do not belong there. Newcomers keep the reason I am in program at all fresh and green. If I forget why I am in program, relapse is one unsplit second away. Some of the greatest shares of experience, strength, and hope come from the people who have surrendered to an intuitive message from their Higher Powers–even if they have no name for what guided them into the rooms. Can recovery be found outside 12-Step rooms? Yes! 12-Step Recovery is just one of many ways people can recover, not the only way. It’s just what I chose, one of many options, including inpatient therapy, one-on-one therapy, led group therapy, and even one of several recovery programs available which are group-led (including religious ones). Just like we are all individuals, so are our paths to the same end goal: Recovery from the obsession with being soulless bodies and brains.
      I suppose I still struggle with Step One a lot of the time, because I try to force logical control of my life and the lives of others (advice-giving, judgmentalism, distraction from working on my own addictions). It doesn’t work for me; recovery in 12-Step programs does. While certain groups and I have dissonance (I put my personality over program principles in those groups), it doesn’t mean the group is wrong. People find recovery where they find it, and I am not the arbiter of right or wrong recovery for anyone but me.
      So, when I think about manufactured drama and organic gratitude, it comes down to manipulation and honesty. The addiction is about trying to manipulate things into place for a life I don’t particularly want in order to feed the thrill of drama; recovery is about accepting things as they are for a life of serenity which I do want in order to find peace and authenticity. So, why am I fighting even getting past Step Zero?
      The addiction. But I keep having moments of serenity, times of understanding that I want the peace instead of the drama. I just get frustrated that I think I want the drama. It’s exciting, thrilling, and it carries with it the promise of “Happily Ever After” instead of a real life. You know, the life that comes in romantic comedies and romance novels? The adversity earning love and an easy life is pretty compelling. However, it isn’t real. Sure, the stories are part of reality, but there’s something missing in those stories. They’re as tempting as a self-service dessert buffet for 500 would be to a sugar junkie. But romance is just romance. It’s the art of self-dosing by using emotions to create the high out of whipping up intensity. Intensity, however, burns hot and goes out fast after consuming everything to ash. To try to re-create that blaze again is hard; to try to maintain it for life is impossible. I mean, we barely survive that intensity every time we jump into the bonfire. Each time we survive, we lie to ourselves that we’re immortal. So, we do it again, ignoring the damage we’re taking on the way. We’re sustaining damage, too, as well as leaving a wake of destruction around us. Why opt for that life?
      Because somewhere, the lie that intensity and extreme living means we’re living life to its fullest. That external recognition that we’re out there living on the edge, daring death to come at us, is a heady drug. We’re playing chicken with inevitability. Despite this raw excitement, we’re not fully alive–and we feel the emptiness within.
      A whole person is one who is alive in the quiet as well as the excitement. Drama does happen in recovery. Life has ups, downs, veers, power-slides, and even leaps of faith. Why ignore the small miracles and only focus on the big payoffs? A microloan can change a life as easily as a government bailout. Why ignore the local acts only for the global ones?
      I think of how a box of love letters, while small and seemingly unimportant, can be more priceless than a billboard or a Times Square marquee. A short shock of enormous magnitude is merely a short shock; an enduring shower of small blessings changes us slowly and with a depth of endurance which is unmatched. A burst of “perfection” is intense, but it isn’t the progress of a life well-lived. A life where, even when it was at its smallest, we didn’t succumb to boredom waiting for the next explosive event. We celebrate with gratitude even the small miracle that we woke up this morning with one more opportunity to grow and evolve.
      The oddest and most frustrating thing is that I am still buying the lie that I won’t like who I am once I’m done changing. Problem One: Recovery is about acceptance; if I’m judging myself as unlikeable, I am still in addiction. Problem Two: Recovery is about honesty; if I have to be dishonest about who I am in order to achieve that perfect and perfectly likable person, I’m in addiction. Problem Three: Recovery is about living an authentic life; if I am not aligning myself to who I really am (which is easy to tell because I will be feeling intense non-acceptance of people, places, and situations), I am in addiction.
      In other words, there is no way in reality I can hate who I become if I am actually recovering. Why? Because I will be working from that source which is honestly me. This, then, comes down to the one nagging question: Will I gain others’ approval if I am authentic?
      And the answer is that it won’t matter. I will be who I am, and it’s not my business to try to force others to approve of me. As long as I live in that peace that I am working from a place of True Self, it won’t matter. I’ll be in serenity, I’ll be grateful, and I’ll be making progress without the explosions and fireworks of a drama-driven and exhausting life of non-acceptance.
      My name is Jess, and I am a food binge-arexic, toxic love addict (ahoy, romantic obsession!), and real love anorectic. Authenticity is wholeness–mind, body, soul. That’s a pretty amazing gift to receive through program, one which makes the promises which are a pipe dream goal a reality. And acceptance of reality–not judging it as good or bad but accepting that it is simply reality–is sanity.


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