Posted by: innerpilgrimage | March 11, 2013

Carry On, Wayward Addict

      Oh, I have so much which is currently whirling about in my head, a group of spiritually-enthralled dervishes which each are unique yet only together make the whole of the experience. So, slow travel through this, and I hope maybe I can build a little understanding as I examine each then have the whole, together, here.

      Okay, to begin at the beginning . . .
      A physical relocation has been the center of my existence for the past few weeks. The change of location has brought challenges, mostly weather. I attended a couple of 12-step meetings–one which I chose to leave behind because it was not conducive to CoDA recovery (I judged it critically as “not being conducive to anyone’s CoDA recovery” as opposed to surrendering to the evolution of the meeting) and another which I have only attended once because of my discomfort with traveling in inclement weather. I am uncomfortable with attending telephone or online meetings because I have trouble maintaining privacy at times in this new very, very small residence. This is a challenge which is good: I need to work on my interdependence with others, and this is one of those challenges which creates opportunities to see my codependence in action and to meditate on alternatives to choosing self-exhausting codependent behaviors. So, this is one of those, “Thank HP for the seemingly bad,” situations, and I don’t consider it bad. It is challenging, and to be challenged is to be alive. In my own recovery, to accept challenges is to choose reality over illusion. I can practice observation, letting emotions run fluidly through me naturally. I dam that emotional flow by choice; the emotions sit, ignored, behind a wall until the threat of that wall breaking means I let the flow out through a spillway. That spillway flow seems only ever to be switched on right at the point I sense a failure of that wall. The emotions which pour through the spillway are secondary, not the primary emotions of a free-flowing river. The spillway emotions are rage, panic, and terror. Considering that wall between me and expressing my emotional life (damming them instead of letting them flow in a natural and healthy manner) is about to break so much of the time, and considering I am terrified that I will mentally break due to free-flowing emotions? The damming of my emotions is a failure. Building that mental wall is the problem; without the mental wall (the judgment that I am hypersensitive without that dam and the attitude that emotions are both foolish and signs of weakness), I won’t keep holding a reservoir of unprocessed emotions–especially grief. Do I believe I can process that water (the unresolved emotions) until I can deconstruct the wall? Yes. I have options. Diverting the emotional reservoir around the wall and just letting the wall fall on its own. Processing what’s behind the wall until the emotional reservoir is low enough to handle that diversion of emotional flow around the side of the wall as I actively deconstruct that wall. Lots of options. The primary thing, however, is to trust that the dam-and-reservoir control of my emotions using addict-mind rules is not working. It’s not. I have to accept the failure of that system, and I haven’t quite gotten there.
      However, awareness that it doesn’t work is good. Three years ago, even in a 12-step program, I couldn’t even see the dam. I had an inkling I was doing it, and I trusted it was safe and would not fail. Well, I’ve examined it; this mental wall is causing imminent failure and I do harm when I live in a constant emergency-mode instead of accepting that emotions are not meant to be controlled like that.
      So, physical relocation to a place with new environmental challenges, in this case : real winter weather. I spent a few days watching a couple of seasons of Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew to get myself back into recovery headspace. I feel shame for admitting I watched them, even as I acknowledge that I needed to see it to remember how devastating addiction is. I was less interested in who was there than reminding myself that addiction is not a minor ailment. This is a life-changing dis-ease because I habitually cut out everything except my mental processes in recovery. In observation over time, I have seen two types of unsuccessful approaches to recovery from addiction–fully mental or fully emotional. One is about controlling everything through self-will and the longing to set up a perfect life. As the unsuccessful mental-only addict-in-recovery, I can admit I acted in a manner I want to change, but I try to logic-path my way out. I don’t feel it, however, despite knowing to the core of me that I gotta feel it to heal it. I, in the past, was unsuccessful emotional-only addict-in-therapy. My emotions swept me along a raging river, and I blamed everything (even me) for the state of being overwhelmed. My parents did this in my childhood; people in authority did that; friends were imperfect toward my imperfections. I was in one-on-one therapy at the time, spiraling the same emotions every week. The emotional stories were the same, and I had zero traction and was angry that the therapists couldn’t help me. They could, to be sure, but I wasn’t looking for help. I was looking for pain relief, and I wanted rescue.
      In program, I’ve been approached as a person who knows my stuff at times. Looked at as recovered. I’ve even had people ask me to sponsor them. Between choosing sponsors who couldn’t commit to being fully present (safe) and choosing ones who realized they needed to self-care first before taking me on? I haven’t had much luck getting to Steps Ten through Twelve. I am in the process of becoming fully present, so I can approach a relationship with a sponsor in a healthier way. Those losses had value: I needed to learn what I needed from a sponsor in order to understand what I needed to bring to the table as a sponsee/sponsoree. A sponsor is not responsible for my recovery–I am. A sponsor helps me learn discipline and authenticity by modeling it and guiding my practice of both; he or she is not supposed to rescue me. I am independently responsible for my personal recovery; I practice healthy interdependence when I reach out to a person who has (hopefully) achieved the promises and does the daily work of recovery maintenance and lives the promises despite ever-growing challenges to their recoveries, themselves, to learn how to trust others and rely on them to support (not rescue!) me. Empathy and compassion–personally understanding the experiences of other addicts, both pleasant and painful–both modeled for and practiced by both sponsor and sponsee/sponsoree in a safe relationship.
      So, back to the watching to the television show. I saw Seasons 3 and 4, both aired in 2010. Of the five deaths of participants since their inpatient stints, three of them were Season 3 alumni. This isn’t a ghoulish celebrity-deathwatch as much as the grim acceptance that I can die because of how my addiction manifests. The compulsivity around food means if I choose to abandon food abstinence? I can end up with obesity-related heart failure and diabetes, or I can end up starving myself into heart and other internal organ failure. The compulsivity around romance can lead me to sexually transmitted diseases which can kill me or can lead me to thinking suicide is a means out of the intense loneliness I inflict on myself as a social anorexic. In CoDA, the lack of self-care means that I could have a life-threatening illness I will ignore, or I could get enmeshed with someone with mental instability which could endanger my life. I may look like I have lightweight addictions, and I may say, “Well, mine’s not so bad,” in order not to really surrender or make the effort, but if I really look at the promises and consider what kind of relief they are promising? Every single symptom of addiction is deadly. From feeling unceasing loneliness to feeling out-of-control and in despair that I am not participating in my own life can lead to reactions which have the potential for a deadly outcome. It could be as simple as not being aware of my surroundings and getting hit by a car. It could be as complex as choosing self-medication by any number of methods in order to escape from suffering–both real and perceived. It could be as complex as choosing not to self-care and having to face off with a terminal medical condition theoretically unrelated to the addiction, THEN choosing not to self-care and accept the challenge of self-caring either to die with strength and hope or to heal and recover with strength and hope. Addiction kills, a truth I do not wish to deny any more. I don’t have “Addiction Light” because I chose food, toxic love/approval, and codependency instead of alcohol and narcotics. My drug-of-choice makes no difference; if I submit to the bondage of any addiction, the daily choice to act on the addiction instead of the recovery puts me in danger of dying of an addiction-related cause. I do not have to die in addiction, even if an addiction-related cause is going to be the reason I die. I can choose the days I have on this earth to live with mindful purpose and let my experience generate strength and hope in myself and in others. And I can choose mindfully to eliminate certain addiction-related deaths–like how I chose to eat abstinently and avoid obesity-related death or anorexia-related death. I mindfully choose not to indulge in sex addiction, so I am at very low risk of getting a life-threatening STD. And, I am working on the social recovery, where I work on safe-and-sane interdependence and hold to the hope of the promises that the loneliness and unceasing longing will subside and that I will feel loved and loving and lovable in time.
      Well, I’ve considered the addictions as they manifest, and how I have walled up the gateways to what wholeness-therapy advocates call the center (or the soul). I’ve done archetype work, and I’ve studied Campbell’s Hero Journey and several Heroine’s Journeys–responses to Campbell’s inability to understand the feminine journey. I admit, Campbell’s comment to Maureen Murdock was a catalyst because of its perceivable negativity: “In the whole mythological tradition, the woman is there. All she has to do is realize that she’s the place people are trying to get to. When a woman realizes what her wonderful character is, she’s not going to get messed up with the notion of being a pseudo-male.” Maureen Murdock, so angered, used that anger to create the first feminine journey framework. And Campbell was wrong–one needs only look at the vast collection of fairy tales to understand that women undertake quite a large series of life-altering journeys which don’t involve being the prize to be won or the destination for a hero seeking his fulfillment. The Grimm Fairy tale, Mother Hulda, is one of those tales which supports the feminine journey and the pitfalls of not being interdependent. Yes, the first daughter is a caretaker, but she can be seen as empathetic and especially compassionate (empathetic to the suffering and willing to act on it) rather than selfishly goal-motivated and compassionless like the second daughter. The nature of the feminine journey really is one of self-knowledge, the journey into the feminine mysteries which are not part of the “good girl/good woman” attitudes and rules. Can a woman take the hero’s journey and not be pseudo-male as she traverses it? Of course. However, I think that in many cases, the feminine journey is about journeying inward from the outset. The mysterious place is not somewhere to escape from with a treasure but somewhere to experience fully and bring self-evident truths back. This, however, is my initial perspective of the nature of the Heroine’s Journey. It’s not set in stone, but the changes which women face because of our decisions are deeply life-altering. We can fight against them, sure, but we are going against ourselves completely. What a woman is “supposed to be” in modern society really does illuminate the pain of truthiness in Simone Beauvoir’s statement that women are the second sex (which I feel when I can’t find a word that expresses what I am without the root masculine word there like a rock; woman is modified man; female is modified male). The mixed messages I got growing up can be distilled by a few lines in a perfume commercial from the turn-of-the-1980s:

      “I can bring home the bacon
      Fry it up in the pan
      And never, never, never let you forget you’re a man.”
      That . . . it’s an even bigger demand on women. “Exhaust yourself at work like a man,” it tells me, “then come home and try to get all of that housewifery-and-mothering in with less time than if you made that your career. Which you better’d not, because women fought to have the choice, and choosing to stay at home is a weak-willed choice.”
      Is that true? Well, it’s a perception, and I got it from somewhere. That’s not conducive to feeling strong as a woman. That’s attempting to shift gears from being pseudo-male to being female-as-caretaker. Who do I blame? Well, first of all, I’m sick of pointing fingers. That cultural message washed through me at a time when I was learning about what it was to be Jess. An easy label to pick up was motivated by the truth that I was a “girl-going-to-become-woman-some-day”; so, I accepted many harmful (and some empowering) messages. I also rejected quite a few of both kinds in my time. So, it was a combination of many messages being out there and me internalizing only some of them. Everyone–and no-one–is to blame. That said, I don’t HAVE to choose that any longer. I don’t choose it any longer. My journey to authenticity (wholeness, expression of life-as-only-Jess-can-express-it, the acceptance of my callings and passions and self-evident truths which make me a safe person to myself and others) is what I choose. I am not a thing, I am a being connected deeply to the causa-sui mysteries of life and the possibilities that life can offer. That energy manifests through the unique being of me, just as it manifests through the unique being which is every person. We are challenged by having an intellect which bridges the past and the future; this can be manifest as curse or gift. The curse of this intellect is the ability to wallow in yesterday’s harms and failures or to tremble in terror at tomorrow’s possible harms and failures. The gift of this intellect is that we can assess the past and choose how we want to live tomorrow by practicing that new action today.
      This, I realize, brings me to the value of emotions. A situation my intellect may miss can trigger an emotion which will give me the signal to seek insight post haste. Whether the insight leads me to the acceptance I need to clear out unresolved grief over something lost yesterday (in order to have a space for creation) or it leads me to the acceptance that something I refuse to acknowledge at this juncture will lead me into harm’s way tomorrow? Emotions are so important as a means to assess what’s happening beyond the basic five physical senses. Only unresolved emotions linger; they pass through in order to give their message then move on. Hm. Thinking about mediumship and their job of crossing over disincarnate beings who wish to share messages which change the energy in still-incarnate loved ones’ lives. We are all emotional mediums, in a way. The emotion apparates, and it tries to tell us a very important message which can change our lives. If the message is not received or is ignored, the emotion may hang back until something related to the message brings forward that emotion’s unresolved message, too. Emotions are strength, in that they expand (instead of limit) our ability to experience the world fully. I consider how healthy and reasonable fear is a gift of opportunity to practice courage, how anger is a gift of energy which I can use to create instead of destroy, how grief is a gift of cleansing suffering from my life and accepting that life is supposed to challenge us to embrace evolution and change. That when the flood of tears has washed away what was there and I accept it was precious but now it is gone? Something precious can take its place there and I can learn to enjoy this new and beautiful affirmation of life, itself. Emotions are frightening because I was taught they are frightening. Emotions are threatening because I was taught they are threatening. Weak because I was taught that. Manipulation because I was taught that.
      In reality? I observe people who process emotions naturally (as intended) enjoy physical and mental well-being. I observe people who don’t process their emotions (denial or repression) suffer physical and mental dis-ease. So, my survival is at risk. In reality, emotions are a valuable sensory tool–just like my body and mind are. In reality, the respect of my emotions and the processing of them allows me to practice trust. If I don’t trust a gift of being (which emotions are, or we wouldn’t have them and the natural ability to process them–something I have derailed through the learned–and wholly erroneous–judgment that they are a curse of humanity and must be suppressed in order for me to survive), then I can never trust myself or anyone else . . . because we all have emotions. To trust that emotions are meant to flow past naturally (like the water which has been ascribed to them as their symbolic element), that they are necessary to my growth and thrival (as water is for all living things) is to trust in human nature. I intuit that trusting in human nature is the first step in independence and interdependence as a human being. What I currently do? Isolate and call it independence and enmesh and call it interdependence. Denying emotions is the action of not trusting nature and the mysteries. I have emotions for a reason, even if I do not or cannot understand the purpose of pain-as-a-positive. “Thank ‘God’ for the seemingly bad,” becomes deeply profound to me in this moment of acceptance. The friction caused by negative emotions (and the gift of being able to feel joy simply because I am not denying “uncomfortable” feelings) allows me to move forward. However, I am still stuck making permanent decisions based on temporary conditions, but at least I am willing to acknowledge that I am feeling the unmanageability and powerlessness of trying to keep my emotions deep-sixed.
      I had a real-world example of that today. There was ice on my patio, and as I was trying to enter my residence (mindful that there was ice on my patio), the foot I was using to propel me forward slipped on it. The mindfulness that I was more likely to set foot on an icy surface than a iceless surface made me both move slower and leave my weight on the foot which was on a surface which had friction. The propelling foot skated backward with the effort I put into moving forward. I startled, did not lose balance because the forward foot was already supporting me, yet I did not move forward. I considered the metaphor of ice–frozen water. Frozen water equating to frozen emotions. I realized in that moment that although I might have balance, I can’t move forward with frozen emotions. They either need to be fluid (being processed) or evaporated (fully processed). Will they come back? Not those emotions, if they evaporate. New ones will, and it’s possible I will keep dealing with temporarily frozen emotions for the rest of my life when life gets overwhelming. But just like it’s natural for a snowfall to melt and months of snow-and-ice-free living during summer to arrive in time? So is it natural for emotions to come and go, to act like their metaphoric symbol: water. And if I want to move forward? I need to be mindful that external forces make it necessary for me to be more aware of the dangers. I may move slowly forward (as I did off that patio today), but I moved forward. Definitely a great nature-as-metaphor-for-life-in-recovery lesson there for myself. If I pretend the ice isn’t there or close my eyes? I am going to fall and do real harm to myself. Acceptance and surrender then effort really worked in that moment, and the lesson (which has been lost on me many times before as I lamented how nature conspires against my enjoyment of life–when, in truth, it broadens it and deepens it) was one which . . . brings me joy to even have intuited and considered and meditated upon.
      I suppose it’s not a surprise that I would get a life lesson out of something I would normally treat like an irritant, a conspiracy against having a perfect life. I have been confronted with the question, “What is TRULY important to me?” since I even started recovery. The answers change, and I regularly say, “My recovery is the most important thing.” Do I act like it is? Well, it depends. I’ve been working with the meaning of authenticity and wholeness. I’ve examined the purpose of flexible (no fluid or fortified) boundaries and learned a process to establish and uphold boundaries which preserve me and respect others. I’ve considered archetypes. I’ve even worked on intuition through multiple means–divination, a weakness-strength test, and the journey into the women’s mysteries in order to integrate the “shadow feminine” (qualities which are not considered ladylike in society). I have moments of intuitive insight, and I have moments of intellectual rebellion. I have been reading 12-Step materials, turning toward the steps and daily recovery readers. I have surrendered at times to tears, and I have observed my trifecta of addictions being triggered by HALT (hunger, anger, loneliness, and tiredness) and especially the emotions which have inundated me during this stressful time. I have called myself on some and let myself indulge in the ego grandiosity or ego inferiority on others. I have trusted my choices, and I have begged people to choose instead of me in order to avoid future conflict. Awareness has been a gift, and although I am still trying to understand through intellectual means what many people learn from mentored guidance (boundaries, wholeness, balance, emotions’ messages and how to process them), I am learning. Progress, not perfection.
      The title of the entry has to do with a song which has dominated my innerspace for weeks. “Carry On Wayward Son” by Kansas, reintroduced into my life by the television series, Supernatural, has been playing in my mind during the most challenging times of self-evolution. Like the Red Hot Chili Peppers’s “Snow (Hey Oh!)”, this song really hits home as I continue on a recovery journey. In OA, I reached a level of clarity which I thought was the big spiritual jolt described in the Big Book. Well, it turned out that was just the first taste of clarity after living for decades in a thick fog of denial and illusion that I could reach a personal utopia. It was clarity and the first taste in years of connection to experience, strength, and hope. I thought I had found the quick answer. Instead, I learned over time that this goes so deep. I acknowledge that what I am processing today would have driven me from program three-and-a-half years ago. I “flew too high”, thinking I had the cure–not the solution. The process is worked daily as things change; I was just so excited that I was seeing results (physical recovery, a little mental recovery, and some spiritual recovery). Then, I was slammed by the reality that the food was a cross-addiction which covered over a sex-and-love addiction. I ate my feelings; when I started abstinence and my body changed (and I faced off with anorexia at the same time I struggled with the surrender to wanting recovery in sex-and-love-addiction), I hemmed and hawed about thinking I might need recovery from the desire to have my sex appeal validated. I hit a rock-bottom which was grim in its humorous undercurrent, and I surrendered to attending SLAA. I had a terrible time trying to set my withdrawal bottom lines. I think I’m still in denial of the worst of it because they are sourced in codependence.
      Days after I decided to invest in a friendship with a group member from SLAA, that person died. I was shaken to my core; I wasn’t ready to lose an age-peer who was intuitive and kind and compassionate and fully present even when I was ranging around the unsuccessful intellectual-recovery map. He helped me deal with the anger I felt when I finally admitted to myself that I was an atheist . . . and that I resented the organized religion of my youth (I still do, and I need to forgive the people and the institutional approach to a spiritual journey). I am frustrated that my mind is unmalleable on this judgmental attitude, mostly because I still blame the church for using dogma to smother the spiritual journey that could have kept me from addiction. Is that true? I’m not sure. I do know it’s a judgmental attitude I carry right now. I haven’t processed the loss, which is important. I haven’t forgiven those people who probably believed they were helping me find hope and, well, salvation from suffering. I chose these challenges, and perhaps the journey to trust my gut in something as important as my spiritual life really had to take this long. To appreciate that the spiritual journey I want to take has nothing to do with being part of a like-minded religious community is a pretty big life lesson. I’m even evolving from a “New Atheist” to an atheist who understands postage stamp-collecting and accepts that postage stamps are a part of my life as a person who sometimes uses the USPS. Spirituality is part of my recovery; religion is not. That doesn’t mean any person who finds a spiritual path in an organized religion deserves my verbal denigration. God exists for them; it’s not my place to decide if what they talk to is an actual deity or an imaginary friend. To a person who believes in God? They talk to a deity, and that’s as much a truth as me not talking to a deity.
      My opinion is just that, and I am working to change it, thanks to Gina Ogden and her ISIS program, which is a journey-to-center for women who want to embrace “the shadow”. What is the shadow? The power to be confident as self, the Heroine’s Journey as expressed through the self-truth that sex is part of my natural state. I am not an incubator of homonculi sourced from a man. I am a partner, half of the creative process. To touch the divine through the sex act is to touch creation. It is as sacred or as mundane as we wish to make it, just like our minds, our bodies, our hearts, and our spirits. So, I am integrating ISIS-work as part of my recovery journey, embracing the confidence in my ability to give and receive pleasure to my life partner–my spouse of nearly sixteen years. I never lost my desire to connect to him, and I want to take this journey through the dark night, to finally defeat the dragon of self-objectification and come out of the darkness into the dawn. I want to live in the light as a whole being. I want to look down and see the shadow cast by the light of day; I will not be ashamed of it, for it means I am fully present–not simply a collection of rules and attitudes and judgments which is buffeted around by every breeze from every direction. To be a woman is not shameful. I am not less-than because culture objectifies me as an object to be won or conquered or stolen from another. I am also not more-than, because I have the natural gifts of every human–a body to sense the world near me, a mind to assess the past and predict possibilities, and a “heart” to fill in all of those gaps created when the five senses and logic and reason cannot go. Emotions are necessary to understand the spiritual, to know the difference between physically generated feelings and spiritual experiences. To trust the unsaid messages of emotions is practice to trust the unsaid enlightenment from spiritual experiences. To accept that emotions are meant to flow through instead of be suppressed or held in a reservoir and hopefully forgotten is practice to accept the fleeting nature of a spiritual experience. To know my emotions and understand what each means is to be able to differentiate between human emotions and spiritual experiences that are not fleeting–like love, creation, passion, inspiration, self-evidence, truth, and purpose. Things which become part of a solid foundation of a person who is both safe to be and safe to be around. I have built foundations on emotions which I have frozen, like making snowballs on a wintry day and rushing them to the refrigerator-freezer to stay as they are “permanently”. I have created rules based on past hurts, built attitudes on them, handed down judgments (within me and to people’s faces–or worse, behind their backs) because of my perceptions of them. This is unstable as a foundation; just like water, emotions cannot be held frozen in perpetuity. Even an electric freezer will fail at some time, and the emotional ice will melt. Better to let them melt (process them) and let them evaporate (forgive and let go). And in that, I can forgive yet not forget. I just won’t have a placeholder chunk of ice to stare at and resent for being part of something long gone which I wish I could re-live and change the outcome of.
      Ironically, I can change the outcome, even at this late date. I can recover instead of race toward a death by addiction.
      So, uh, meandering still. Two things left: A couple of inspiring groups of words which have meaning to me, now. Which I see as truths I want to make part of my existence. If they don’t hold the same for others? Well, their truths are sourced from other places, and all together? We have the Absolute–even if, at our relative-view level, we decide one has to be right and another has to be wrong. The big secret? They’re all right, because they are all manifestations of reality and affect how we use our energy and influence in everyday life.
      So, from that iconic band, Kansas:
      “(Carry on) You will always remember
      (Carry on) nothing equals the splendor.
      Now your life’s no longer empty
      Surely heaven waits for you.”
      And a little gift of compassion and inspiration which Gina Ogden, Ph.D., decided to share in The Return of Desire:
      The Druid Vow of Friendship
      I honor your gods.
      I drink from your well.
      I bring an unprotected heart to our meeting place.
      I will not negotiate by withholding.
      I hold no cherished outcome.
      I am not subject to disappointment.
      My name is Jess, and I am an addict working on progress one day at a time.


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