This is a long post, a good one for Thanksgiving week, so if you walk through it, thank you. Today my friend Jenn, who shares her wisdom about yoga and recovery in my book, has seven years sober. On Facebook she posted a beautiful meditation about what her sobriety means. I hope you read it: click here. She unabashedly talks about her soul, about bringing the life of her soul to bear in the world to help bring about peace. About giving to other people.
I’ve spent so much time in these past 7 years thinking about what I need to do to be fulfilled (whether it’s material or psychological) that at times I have forgotten that I am an integral piece to the universe – that my existence matters greatly. I have a lot to give by just being around. Whether it’s showing up to a meeting just to be there for another addict/alcoholic, giving tzedakah, all of which nourish my soul.
People are scared of the word “soul.” Just writing the word “soul” kind of flips my stomach. What does it mean, “soul”? If we don’t know what it means, maybe it’s threatening. Maybe it’s sentimental, anti-intellectual, reductive, essentialist. Maybe it doesn’t really exist. If it doesn’t exist, and I talk about it and act like it’s real, I’ll look like an idiot. No, I’ll BE an idiot.
But Jenn writes about her soul without fear. (So does Leonard Cohen, see below.)
I want this.
The thing is, connections happen that I can’t control. I met Jenn six years ago by chance, at a meeting I’d never been to and to which I’ve never gone since. (“I totally remember that,” Jenn said this morning. “You rode your bike.”) I had a few months, and later I stole a Vicodin and ate it, and Jenn just kept showing up in my life, and there were things about her that were irresistible to me. The beauty of her face, for one. The way something inside her would light up that beauty and shine its brightness into the darkness of—
Yeah, my soul.
It made me want to stop patching up all my cracks with drugs and let the light in.
She talks about that in her post—what lights her fire. It’s sharing with other people. Jenn has a gabillion friends online and In Real Life because people are just drawn to her openness. She LIKES to talk to people. “I’m good at it,” she once told me. She can cold-call anyone, from famous researchers and politicians to people in halfway houses, where she donates time teaching yoga to give “tzedakah,” the Hebrew word for “charity.”
She knows who she is and she’s not afraid of that. For people like us, that’s what seven years sober brings.
Another person that keeps showing up in my life is Sadie. That’s not her real name. Sadie is a self-described pothead who has trouble staying away from weed. A while ago she found my blog and started writing to me. A few months into our on-and-off correspondence, she found the wherewithal to quit her 30-year every-day pot habit for the first time.
She wanted to pay me. She was like, You and your blog helped me quit pot. You should be compensated for this.
I was like, I don’t take money for this blog. This is just me giving back what people who love me gave to me.
A few months after that exchange I found a Facebook message from Sadie with a link to a fancy shoe-shop that I love. For a gift certificate.
I was tempted not to accept it. It activated all the bullshit from my childhood about how I don’t “deserve” generosity, about how “it’s better to give than to receive.” We had money—my dad worked as a research engineer for a Fortune 500 corporation—but my mother held the purse-strings tightly and all of us always felt poor. All three of us kids—we all have trouble accepting other people’s generosity.
Sometimes life isn’t so clear. I went to my sponsor, who hesitated for a moment. Then she said, “Your problem is that you can’t accept goodness in your life. She’s trying to be generous. Why don’t you try accepting this?”
So I wrote Sadie a note of Thanksgiving.
I don’t know what to say, except thank you… And that it’s folks like you, who have the courage to be real and to walk through their fear in order to have honest conversations, who make what I do worthwhile. I guess I’d also like to say that this act of yours is a real challenge to me… I have a way of thinking that what I do isn’t of any real value and that it’s not worthy of material consideration. This is a lesson I need to learn, and I’m glad you’re one of those who are teaching me.
She wrote back that since she’d quit pot she’d gotten two bonuses and a promotion, and had been recruited to the board of a local charity. She wrote,
These are accomplishments a 30+ year pothead never expected.
I bought a couple pairs of shoes and sent Sadie photos and more thank-you notes. Every time I put the shoes on, I thought of her. A few months went by. Then about a month ago she wrote again:
i’ve resumed my shitty habits and am not feeling too bright or proud. I suck at letting anyone help me. Really bad. But I don’t regret trying to crack this open. And I don’t think I’ve given up entirely.
“Crack this open.” Letting the light in.
I wrote back and told her about the people I met online who walked with me, who wrote to me every day, multiple times a day, some of whom I’ve never met in person. Danielle. Tom. Janice. And I told her it has been important for me to heal from trauma in order to stay in recovery.
I knew when I was writing that sentence—heal from trauma—that it was going to grab her. Because this is a woman with a lot of hurt in her history. It makes her feel Permanently Fucked-Up, Defective, Useless.
She wrote back—first when she was stoned; then, after she’d come down, she wrote that she has been smoking weed to build a wall around her permanently fucked-up self.
Sadie has cracks all over the place. She’s working overtime with the pot to patch it all up. It’s exhausting work, and there’s not enough pot in the world to finish it.
Jenn wrote this morning:
Before sobriety, I did not believe that I was able to be loved, that I was worth loving. It has only been in sobriety that I’ve been able to tap into these with such a depth of understanding. And the beauty is…we’re still on this journey. Every day is a new day.
Sometimes she loses sight of her commitment to eat nourishing food, to stay physically and mentally fit, to bring up “noble children” to foster the welfare of all life on earth. To lead “a life of understanding, loyalty, unity and companionship not only for ourselves but also for the peace of the universe.”
Fucking HUGE ideas there. Jenn thinks big and I think she knows it. Part of recovery is accepting that these big commitments are good to work toward and also unattainable 24/7. We do our best. And the thing that allows us to accept our limitations is learning we’re lovable.
Let me just reiterate—Jenn wrote this morning:
Before sobriety, I did not believe I was worth loving.
Sadie wrote this morning:
You continue not to write me off no matter how much I deserve it.
Sadie doesn’t believe she deserves anyone’s care, including her own. Yeah—I was in this place when I met Jenn six years ago, and the love and just pure willingness to connect shone out of her face, and it was irresistible and I began to look for it in other people. And I found it.
I want to tell Sadie that there are people—if she looks for them—who will love her unconditionally, who will look her in the eyes and turn that bright klieg light of love on her face, but I can’t tell her that because she won’t believe me. Hell, I wouldn’t have believed that when I was still using. I was patching up the cracks with drugs, it was very dark inside, I wanted it that way. I Would Not Let The Light In.
Instead I try to put the klieg light into words. I try to shine some of the light Jenn and so many other people have shone into me.
I wrote Sadie this morning:
i mean quitting pot is your decision. i don’t care whether you continue to use pot or not. i have no investment in it. but i do care about whether you’re suffering, and it seems that you continue to suffer, and that pot is a somewhat useful but impermanent and incomplete system of managing that suffering. not that spiritual and physical fitness are permanent. they aren’t—i have to keep working at both of them. but they are complete, or much more far-ranging than drugs (for me), and they never run out. they also let me connect to my fellow human beings, which, as you see from your last two messages, drugs prevent us from doing. addiction isolates me and i’m sick of isolating myself. it’s a kind of self-punishment and i’ve experienced enough real love that i want more of that rather than more drugs.
I can’t be Jenn for Sadie because I can’t see her. I can’t hold her hand. Holding hands is such a powerful act of connection and healing. Do you know how many nerve endings are in our hands?—2,500 nerve receptors per square centimeter. Hands contain some of the body’s densest areas of sensation. When we touch each other’s hands it sets off an electrical and chemical storm of affection, care, protection, safety. Love.
I can’t hold Sadie’s hand. But I can give her what Janice, Danielle, Tom gave me. If I keep writing, she might find someone’s hands In Real Life.