My problems were many and my solutions were few. I don’t know if I was in the habit of solving problems as much as just trying to escape from them. Now I was in a situation with no escape. I couldn’t get away and I couldn’t drink my way out of it. Drinking used to calm my anxiety. Lately, however, it had only inflamed it and caused me to have a seizure and lose my driver’s license. Even after that I continued to drink, but every bottle of rum seemed like just a teaspoon of gasoline dumped into a bottomless pit. The anguish intensified and the comfort was nil. There was no way to fill the aching void.
My guide Santos, who was taking me through the Twelve Awakenings, had asked me to read Chapter 2 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, called There is a Solution. At the rate we were going, I stood a greater chance of dying of old-age than alcoholism, but I knew that he could see a bigger picture than I could, so I did my best to follow instruction, and focused on every word of every page, like the Karate Kid, waxing on and waxing off his hundredth car.
During a past bender, I’d once perused the Big Book in a downtown Los Angeles hotel I was living in, and enjoyed reading all the stories in the second half of the book, about alcoholics and how they’d discovered alcohol, briefly reveled in their new powers, and then inevitably went into a long, downward slide. That was as far as I’d gotten, the kinship I’d felt with those other lost-souls being enough to keep me company at the time.
After hitting rock bottom, however, I found the first half of the book, that talks about addiction, craving, spiritual malady, and a solution, to be just as revelatory and engaging. The words leapt off of the page and straight into my heart. They were simple, commonplace words put into the exact right order and sequence, written precisely for addicts, not some cryptic ancient text that you needed an encyclopedia and atlas to decode. If you were a hungry ghost of any kind, most specifically one with an alcohol problem, the words in the book were a key that could open up your heart.
There is a Solution begins by talking about the demographics of those in the program, how they come from every stratum of society and ethnicity, and once in recovery, how they share the joy and camaraderie of passengers who’ve been rescued from a shipwreck. It then talks about how unlike other diseases, those who suffer addictions aren’t afforded the same sympathy, as say cancer patients, and may even be regarded in a villainous light. The damage their substance abuse does to themselves and others can be immeasurable.
Although the medical profession had often deemed chronic alcoholics to be hopeless cases, the founders of AA, believed they’d come up with a solution that involves working with other alcoholics. Only those with their own hard experience could break through to another such as themselves and share a message of faith and hope.
They then go on to describe the true alcoholic, and when I’d reached this point earlier it had given me some pause. They describe moderate drinkers, who can take or leave alcohol, heavy drinkers, who can stop or moderate, although it may be difficult and sometimes require medical help, and then the true alcoholic, the Jekyll and Hyde character, who cannot control his drinking at all, is always insanely drunk, and becomes dangerously antisocial.
As a life-long drinker, I’d spent a good deal of my days in the company of other drinkers, and come across a number of these Jekyll and Hyde types, who’d be kind, soft-spoken, and decent before a drink, and then swaggering, dangerous, and sometimes downright evil, after only a few. I recognized that I had a problem with alcohol, that once I started drinking it was on, and that’s what I did until I stopped, but there were moments of clarity and productivity between black-outs, not one long binge that ended in a jail, hospital, or mental ward. I’d certainly been alcoholic, but was pretty sure I wasn’t that kind.
That didn’t stop me from wanting to go through the Twelve Awakenings, however, as I believed that it was a spiritual program that would work for me. That’s what I needed more than anything. On top of the drinking, I was a ghost, with a serious mood disorder, who’d suffered through chronic insecurity and instability, and from what I’d found in rambling through the world for the past thirty years, was that the answer wasn’t out there. The only hope I had was to turn my journey inwards. So, it didn’t matter what I qualified myself as. The program spoke to me, and I had hope that it would work for me as well.
There is a Solution goes on to talk about the spiritual experiences that have revolutionized the lives of its members, and the certainty they feel that the Creator has entered their hearts in a miraculous way. This is what I’d been seeking out for years, traveling to pilgrimage places, reading holy texts, doing my best to pray but always feeling like a cardboard cutout, with words that came out like cardboard sentiments, not real, vital language from the heart.
The chapter ends by citing the psychiatrist William James, who after studying religious experiences for a number of years, concluded that there are many ways of finding God. The twelve-step program, from which Hungry Ghosts Anonymous uses to lead to the Twelve Awakenings, is all inclusive when it comes to conceptions of God. All native religions and personal beliefs are granted equal validity. What is important is that the individual finds a way of connecting to their Higher Power in a way, and with language, that is real to them.
This was an approach that gave me hope and a goal. I knew where my will had taken me, and it wasn’t a pretty place to be. Standing with my back to the wall, a sword-tip pressed into my jugular, nicked and bleeding like a first-time shaver, I was pretty much open to suggestion.