Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: surrender (page 1 of 4)

Step Carefully Or You Could Be Eaten.

american-alligator

I know a woman who is writing a book about various practices of “self-care.” From time to time, she posts requests on Facebook asking for people to reveal their practices. It makes for some interesting reading. Today she asked people to write about what they “do for spiritual self-care.” “How do you transcend the self, surpass the ego and face existential realities that we are all going to die?” she asked.

Wow.

“Meditation? Hiking? Going to church? Twirling like a Dervish? Analyzing dreams? AA meetings?”

People were writing about angels, crystals, goddesses; meditation and prayer; reading the Bible and listening to music; walking in the woods; watching birds, watching the moon.

They also talked about how they don’t do their chosen disciplines enough. “I need to find myself again,” one person wrote.

I thought about what I do. I don’t hike but I walk the dog. I don’t go to church. I don’t twirl like a dervish or analyze my dreams.

But I go to meetings.

//

“Meetings won’t keep you clean and sober,” I was told when I started going to meetings, by an awesome spiritual seeker of a sponsor who a few weeks later started using drugs again.

I learned a lot from that woman. I think she’s right: meetings don’t keep me off drugs, and when people say “just don’t pick up, and go to meetings,” I cringe because I don’t buy it. If I could “just not pick up,” I wouldn’t even be sitting in that folding chair trying not to eat the cookies/doughnuts/other high-fructose garbage-food on the table next to the shitty Maxwell House coffee.

I go to meetings because it lets me spend time with people I love. And it forces me to spend some time taking the steps.

The steps are suggestions, all of them, so none are compulsory. But practiced with discipline, their result is not guaranteed happiness but spiritual enlargement.

Every day, I try to turn my will and my life over to the care of forces greater than I am. Most people focus on the word “greater,” but for me the operative word is “care.” I totally get that there are lots of forces greater than I am (time, light, gravity, Google, etc.). But having grown up with addiction and depression in the house, it has been an ongoing effort throughout my life to remember that there are great forces in the world that can and will CARE for me—without expecting anything in return—if I diligently practice surrender of my will.

//

Harambe

My will is wild. Some news stories of late have reminded me how wild the will is: the kid who wiggled into the Cincinnati gorilla enclosure; the Nebraska toddler who was eaten by a Florida alligator on Disney property; the Oregon guy who went to Yellowstone, decided he’d step past the barrier and walk across the fragile mineral crust, and fell into the hot springs. The water in those springs is so acidic that nothing was found of his body.

Os desaparecidos.

I think perhaps books like Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild” and films like “Into the Wild” have “popularized” the idea of wilderness and made some people think that the wild is entertainment. Safe wildness. But there end up being holes in the zoo fences, gators in the peaceful tropical lagoons. (Disney’s will was to earn money, and not to spoil the fantasy with warning signs.)

And toddlers (and even adults) just seem to want to go wherever they want to.

The wild is certainly beautiful and strong and glorious, but it is also unpredictable and deadly if we do not abide by some rules and apply discipline.

The will is wild. My will can very well drag me underwater if I do not let go of it and follow some rules for safety.

  • Trust “The God Thing,” as my friend Em likes to call it.
  • Clean the dog hair out of my house.
  • Help other people.
  • Be grateful. Write those down.

Also eating good food and drinking clean water. Because I don’t Stop Drinking, I just don’t drink the stuff that hurts me.

It’s hard to practice every day, because I Just Don’t Feel Like It, you know what I’m saying?

And as every spiritual practitioner of every discipline has ever recorded in their meditations, there can be long spiritually dry spells. AND THAT’S NORMAL. But because our self-help culture has sold us the idea that we should always be happy, we think it’s abnormal to practice, and then be unhappy, and then to keep practicing.

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Hands, Soul, And The Crack In Everything.

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In the front window of Clay Yoga, Pittsburgh.

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.

Jenn and Olliver

Jenn and Cara’s daughter. Just lookit them. (via Instagram @blackcatcara)

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.

Shoes — a gift from Sadie.

Shoes — a gift from Sadie.

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.

G Smells Different: Self-Acceptance.

“Mom, you smell different.”

He was sitting in a chair in the garden, waiting for me to cut his hair. (I’ve sent him to my stylist and I consider it a testament to his trust in me that he prefers to have me cut it.) He leaned forward and hugged me, then wrinkled his nose and pulled it away from my Steelers T-shirt.

“No, I don’t,” I said. I pulled the collar of my shirt away from my neck and hugged him again, sticking his nose against the skin of my collarbone. The scent of your skin never changes.

“Mmm,” he said. “Now you smell like Mama.”

He relaxed his tall skinny frame into the chair and I took the shears out of my pocket and cut his hair while the puppy milled around our feet.

The dog’s name is Flo. As in, Go With The Flo. (When I acquired her last year I could feel that the times they were a-changin, and I figured whatever name I gave her, I’d have to say it dozens of times each day, so I better make it helpful. “Flo,” I say. “Flow, come!” Instant prayer for flexibility. Semiconscious affirmation—flow. Move.)

My clothes smell different because I am living in a different place.

I’ve boxed up the stuff that matters: books (not nearly all of them, of course); files and research materials (including the letters, real letters, my parents wrote each other from 1959-1963, up until days before they were married). Some photographs.

My mother, age 2, on her alcoholic father's lap.

My mother, age 2, on her alcoholic father’s lap.

 

Artwork: a chiaroscuro pastel self-portrait my son made three or four years ago; a watercolor portrait I made of him five years ago; a bronze nude made by Roxanne Swentzell, one of my favorite artists.

IMG_1058

I bought this bronze when I was three months pregnant with my son. Because of the interaction I had with the artist in the parking lot of the Heard Museum, where she sold it to me, the cast has always spoken to me of self-acceptance.

Which is the project here. Self-acceptance.

I’ve also bought stuff for this place. I’ve used money that belongs to me to buy things I need. I’ve been urged not to do this. It has been suggested that I’m wasting money. I’m tempted to believe the things I hear from people I love because I distrust my judgment. What I’m learning is that things can always be resold and that peace of mind is worth more than any amount of cash.

Here’s one example.

The most meaningful of all of my new things is my bed. Buying a new bed for oneself alone is an act freighted with fairly hefty symbolism. … How can I describe this bed? As my Quaker surrogate mom would say, “It’s heaven.” It’s the most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept in. Is this because it’s a queen-sized $1,200 Beautyrest bed (purchased practically new, secondhand, for a fraction of the price—I say this to myself compulsively, defensively, subconsciously throughout the day), or is it because it’s in a space that’s private?

Not secret, private. I’ve pondered the differences between the two a lot since I got sober, especially in the past couple of years.

Here’s the punchline. Since I’ve been sleeping in this bed, I’ve slept the whole night through. I wake up feeling rested.

“A good night’s sleep is really a gift from God,” my friend Benedick said today at a meeting at which only three of us were present. I was able to cry at this meeting and feel in physical and spiritual ways the compassion and support those two friends were giving me.

I can argue with myself, I can withstand the chaos and confusion and catfights in my mind about what I’m doing—my lack of self-acceptance. But there is something incontrovertible about sleeping the whole night through. It tells me that on some deep level I’m experiencing peace. And peace happens when the war is over. Peace is about surrender, and acceptance, including self-acceptance.

It’s hard to believe that I used to think I could experience peace by taking drugs. If I think back, I can remember that it worked, sort of, for a while. I remember, before my son was born, taking a trip that I didn’t really want to take (but I didn’t admit that, even to myself: dishonesty was my contribution to that problem), and using one of my headache drugs to sleep through the night in a situation I didn’t want to be in. It zonked me out, and I woke thinking, “Wow—I slept through the night!”

But I didn’t rest. What I did was, I drugged through the night.

Actually sleeping through the night is so much different.

//

Maybe it won’t happen every night. Maybe I’ll stop sleeping through the night. Maybe I’ll regret all of this. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

//

It’s hard to write about this, you know? If I could do all this secretly, I would. My habit is to hide. But I can’t do that anymore. What I mean is, I literally can’t do it: if I carry on hiding, it’ll kill me.

“I can’t write about all this,” I told my therapist recently.

“Don’t you think people need to know what sobriety actually does to marriage?” she said.

//

The first time I remember having a pleasant sleep, I was 18 and I slept over Robbie’s place. His roommate was sweet enough to crash elsewhere. Robbie and I had played tennis for a few hours and we came back exhausted and happy. We slotted a tape (a tape!) into his cassette player and took off our clothes and slid under the covers. He spooned me, two kids who didn’t even know what “spooning” was, and I slept long and deep.

Once, in college, 30 years ago, when I visited Robbie over a holiday, we were talking late into the night in his king-sized bed (at home I slept in a twin-sized bunk bed, sharing a smoke-stained eight-by-ten-foot room with my sister), and we inadvertently fell asleep like that—he was supposed to be sleeping on the couch in the den—and his mother found us in the morning. She made us promise not to do it again and, good kids that we were, we didn’t.

I couldn’t relax into sleep at home, because I was hit at home, and I was screamed at, and I screamed at others; people drank and smoked and lied and hid and vented rage and love in unequal measure at home; there were chaos and confusion and catfights; the sheets all smelled stale and tarnished.

Of course I slept well in Robbie’s room: his sheets smelled fresh, his arms felt kind, and I felt safe.

//

I smell different because my bed smells different, and so does my new chest of drawers, and so does my new sofa. The whole place smells different.

Life smells different.

Shit Happens. And Shit Is Unknown.

A quick post—I am hard at work and have only a few minutes, but I needed to write this for my beloved friend P, who is still in Holland.

P has been going back and forth to Holland for almost a year, tending to her mother, whose health in her mid-80s has been in decline. She bought a ticket three weeks ago when she was told her mother had suffered another setback. Her mother had asked the nursing-home staff to email her daughter a photograph of herself in her nursing-home bed for Mother’s Day:

P's mom in Holland on Mother's Day, 2013.

P’s mom in Holland on Mother’s Day, 2013.

Een dikke kus van Ma!—A big fat kiss from Mom.

Gosh. It has been 14 years since I had a kiss from my mom, who died June 3, 1999.

It’s hard for P to be so far away from her mom. “She’s just worried about ME having a good day,” P said to me during our morning walk and her eyes spilled over. “She’s only thinking of me.”

That’s the kind of mom I want to be. I want to let my kid go and do his life, even if it’s in another country, on another continent, or in the same house. My first real exercise will come this summer. He’s 15 and can go wherever he wants in our city.

P and I have talked a great deal about how we can’t know when life’s great changes will happen, when the shit will finally come down. Useless to walk around holding an umbrella over my head. I have to live and practice enough flexibility, spontaneity and ingenuity to respond to life’s surprises. I meditate to discipline my mind, prying its rigid fingers off the stories it writes before the shit happens. Trying, always, to dictate the story arc (I usually have several running at once).

P booked the ticket. Then, once she got there, she worried: that something would happen.

That, this time, nothing would happen.

//

I was talking with some women in recovery this morning. We meet up early Thursdays and this morning I was talking about some changes in my life, telling them I’m responding with as much flexibility, spontaneity and ingenuity as I can but that I’m still procrastinating on some tasks, that it feels as though I’m letting myself down, Letting God Down, and that when all is said and done, I can’t control everything—Shit Happens.

“But shit is unknown,” one of my friends said. “We can’t know what shit’s going to happen. That’s what makes change so unnerving.”

Yes.

To get out of my head, to stop compulsively controlling The Story, I’ve been walking P’s dog, Ginger, three or four times a week, along with my dog, Flo. I’ve been doing this since P started going away. I herd Flo into the back seat and drive to P’s house at around 8, by which time everyone else in P’s family is at school or work. Ginny jumps on me (I can hear P telling her to get down) and, even though I shouldn’t when she jumps like that, I give her treats and kisses because she smells like P’s perfume and because she loves me, because I miss P and I want to make her dog happy even if I can’t make her happy—even if I can’t see the smile on her face, even if I can’t feel her arm threaded through my elbow as we walk.

Walking Ginger and Flo takes me two hours. They’re big dogs (Flo is only 45 lbs. but she has a big-dog attitude), and I sometimes walk five or six miles to do it. In the summer P and I will spend three or four (sometimes five) mornings each week walking the dogs together.

P taught me that dogs actually smile. Especially Labradors.

Ginger and Flo.

Ginger and Flo.

Natural mood-lifter.

Saturday I walked Flo, and P’s husband, whose name is also P, walked Ginger. The off-leash park is around the corner from their Loft/House and we walked up the hill in chilly, damp air. I’m training wiry Flo to obey and stocky Ginger to jump:

G with Flo, Ginger, and Tyson.

G with Flo, Ginger, and Tyson.

Sunday and Monday I didn’t sleep well. In the small hours Tuesday I woke and checked my phone: an email from P titled “Sad”:

My mom passed away this morning 7:10 Dutch time.

Two hours before I woke.

That morning I walked Ginger and Flo and on my way up the hill passed a sign hanging from an electrical box:

IMG_0629

So I took a “motivator” for P. It was a handwritten poem, maybe put there as a project by neo-hip-hop-folk-rapper students at the school across the street. It’s about Unknown Shit About To Happen.

Running like the wind

Fast, faster, fast as can be

Running to wondrous things

To a life full of possibilities

No more lying around

Sitting and lazing on the ground

Nothing will come to me if I don’t go and get it

So I’ll run towards the things I want to get

And I don’t care anymore if I have to sweat

And as I run I see all new things

Different lands with all kinds of shapes and beings

I feel different airs

Smell different scents

And I can suddenly handle the idea of rent

For as I run I can see what can be

All sorts of fun is waiting for me

So I run and I run, until I can’t anymore

And then I decide to run some more

And although I’ve seen so much more now

I know that there’s so much more to make me go “wow”

And since you worry because I’ve never worked so hard

I’ll send you a letter saying “I’ve found my inner bard”

This bard tells me my journey’s just begun

And I know life’s about to get much more fun

And all because I decided to run

//

“When I come home,” P told me before she left, “I’m not leaving again for a long time.”

But who knows? We can’t know. She might fly off to Barcelona again, or to Siena, or run off to stay in the loft in New York City. I might drive to Boston or fly to Rome, book a train to Ancona and take a ferry to Zadar.

Zadar

Zadar, Croatia.

The fact is, when shit happens, my life usually gets a lot bigger. If I allow it. And I don’t think God cares whether I sail to Zadar, but I think God wants my life to be big.

Spirituality = Reality.

Today I’m borrowing this title from my good friend Dani, who has written under it for four years (click here to read her in Freedom From Hell). Thanks, Dani.

//

My friend Jacques’s dad died four days ago in Tucson.

I’ve known Jacques for 25 years. When I met him in 1988, he had gotten sober two years before, at age 22, and was dating Ben, who was studying in the same writing program I was attending. Jacques and Ben are still both poets and English teachers. We were all born in the same year.

Ben’s mom has been living with terminal cancer for several years; by incredible coincidence, the day after Jacques’s dad died—just three days ago, in other words—Ben’s mom had a setback and began actively dying. These former lovers are losing their second parents within days of each other. I find the resonance strange and beautiful.

When it became clear to Jacques that his dad would not last very long, he told the hospice staff that his dad needed a Catholic priest. The hospice worker told Jacques she’d send a minister, a social worker, they had all kinds of resources.

“I need a CATHOLIC PRIEST,” he said. “My dad wants last rites in the Catholic tradition. Can we please get a Catholic priest?”

“I had no idea why I said that, my dad and I didn’t talk about what he wanted at the end,” Jacques tells me today on the phone. “But my dad was a strict Catholic, G, it was serious with him, it wasn’t mumbo-jumbo.”

Jacques, one of three brothers, was born at St. Francis Hospital (Rabbi Abe Twerski and the nuns later turned it into the city’s haven for drunks and junkies; my cousin Danny spent some time there, I believe—it was notorious in our family that you had hit shameful low-bottom if you were at St. Francis; meanwhile, I was born at Braddock General, which, for a number of years until it closed in 2009, served as a detox and rehab for the river valley’s addicts). Jacques lived around the corner on 44th Street till he was in second grade, when his dad started making enough money to move them out to the suburbs, where they had the split-level and the country-club membership.

On the drive back to his hotel four days ago, the hospice worker called his cell and said the priest had arrived and was ready to give his dad the sacrament, and that she’d put the phone on speaker so Jacques could hear his dad’s responses.

“And this is no shit, G, OK?” he said. “On the very last word—on the ‘Amen’—the hospice worker said, ‘Your dad just took his last breath.’ He died on the last word of the sacrament.”

We sit there in silence, absorbing this.

altar-boysJacques and I were raised strict Catholic in the 1960s and ’70s. Jacques was an altar boy (dunno what my thing is with altar boys, but I can just picture Jacques in red robe with white lace surplice, holding the censer and cracking jokes under his breath). Jacques and I know what sacrament means, even though we no longer receive them ourselves.

“You did that because you were sober,” I remark. “If you hadn’t been sober, do you think you’d have had the presence of mind to be so certain about what your dad wanted, and to act on that leading?”

“You know, I have goosebumps on the back of my neck when you say that,” he says. “Because I’ve been thinking about that. He didn’t tell me he wanted that—I just knew.”

“How old was your dad—86?” I ask. “That’s a hell of a long time to live, and you made sure your dad had what he needed at the end of that long haul in order to let go and be at peace. In doing that for him you showed him great compassion and kindness.”

“I’ve been realizing something about love,” he says. “It’s not a feeling. It’s a commitment, a desire for the other person’s wellbeing such that you’re willing to sacrifice yourself.” Not in a codependent way, he emphasizes; not in a way that fosters the other person’s weakness and insecurity and one’s own security and vanity, but in a way that fosters the other person’s growth and peace.

Jacques has racked up large bills flying from his home in northern Michigan to Tucson every month since August, when his dad fell and had to move into nursing care.

“Love is hard, G!” he says. “It’s so hard!

We pause, considering this weighty truth.

“Well,” he says, and I can hear him stretching, “I’m standing here in the 75-degree sun and I’m gonna go take a swim now.”

“Fuck you, darlin,” I say fondly.

//

So this is part of the way I stay sober. People in The Program talk about “helping others,” reaching out to the newcomer, and I do that, but I also interact with several people in my life who are oldcomers, who count their sober-time in decades, and I stay active with principles I’ve learned from many years in Al-Anon. Long-time sobriety doesn’t guarantee any results—serenity, peace of mind, happiness, even a good night’s sleep. It starts out one day at a time, and it stays that way.

Meanwhile I tell Ben I’ll take some of his classes if he can’t get back from Dallas in time.

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