The 12 Steps for Everyone [Step One]

Hola mi Gente,
I realize there are many people who see the 12-step movement as a cult, as misguided, or as a failure. That’s fine. I have no interest in debating the merits of NA/ AA or in trying to convince anyone to join. What follows is my experience as someone who’s been free from active addiction for 26+ years. I do, however, believe anyone can benefit from practicing the principles that form the foundation of the 12 Steps…

Every first Sunday, I will post my attempt to translate these principles for the general public. Also, if you’re suffering, please know that there is hope after dope… There are links to resources at the end of this post.

Stopping the War

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We admitted we were powerless over our addiction, that our lives had become unmanageable.
— The First Step of Narcotics Anonymous

 

I was once told that these spiritual principles were as a bridge back to life. What I didn’t know then was that this bridge is built on the very bones of those who came before me. This series of posts is an attempt to honor that lineage.

The First Step confronted me with two problematic words: powerless and unmanageable. I also didn’t notice at first that every NA step begins with the word “We.” I was a loner; “we” wasn’t a word I used much. Everything was about me. They say an addict is an egomaniac with low self-esteem, and that contradiction in terms perfectly described my state of mind.

Let me just say that 12-step recovery is about action — it is an experiential approach. Every step involves growth, exploration, and some measure of action. I think people who have never attended a meeting have misconceptions about 12-Step Fellowships.

People in recovery like to say that the first step is the only step you have to get perfectly. I disagree, recovery is an ongoing process, and my understanding of the first step expands and deepens as I grow. However, there is a level of acceptance necessary for the integration of this step. But I get ahead of myself…

There are several powerful psycho-spiritual factors at work in the First Step. Primarily, there is an admission. Admitting to a problem has become a popular notion in our culture that first came to prominence in twelve-step fellowships. The act of admitting touches on the first spiritual principle of the first step: honesty. However, admitting means nothing without acceptance. For example, at one point in my life I had no problem admitting I was an addict; I could be honest about that. But that admission and $2.75 got me on the train, which is another way of saying that admitting by itself it is worthless. It wasn’t until I embraced another core spiritual principle of the first step, acceptance, that I was then able to make changes in my life.

The more NA meetings I attended, the more I heard my own story being told by others who were honest about themselves. I began to see that I had a lot in common with these people when it came to my addictive behaviors. On the other hand, it took me a long time to come to grips with powerlessness. I was raised to think of myself as powerful. I was taught that if I exerted my will on any issue, that I could overcome anything in the world. If I had enough cojones and worked hard enough, I could have power over anything.

Besides, it wasn’t my addiction that was the problem, it was everyone else. At least that was what I told myself. If only other people got their shit together and external situations in my life corrected themselves, I wouldn’t be in such a fix. The problem with my thinking was that it involved exerting willpower. The problem with my willpower was that it was warped. The more willpower I exerted, the more I fucked up. I tried everything: using only on the weekends, snorting instead of using intravenously, drinking instead of using other drugs, using only certain drugs in certain combinations, etc. The irrefutable truth was that no matter what I tried, I always ended up in the same place: all fucked up.

Imagine a machinery part that was made to perform only one action, or to move in only one direction, or in one specific way. No matter how much you oil that part, no matter how much you try to make it more efficient or move faster, it will still perform how it was meant to function. If a part was meant to move back and forth, for example, no amount of lubrication will make it move sideways. Similarly, if the only tool you have is a hammer, then everything begins to look like a nail. My will was fucked up, meant to move in a specific direction and no exertion of that will could bring about lasting change. In fact, my will often brought more destruction.

Simply put, I came to the realization that if I wanted to change, I needed to develop new tools, to come to terms that will alone wasn’t getting it done. And what that really meant for me was that in order to begin my journey, I first had to surrender. In fact, as I look back now, the whole process of recovery is one long, beautiful, liberating process of surrendering.

The First Step is like the beginning of a hero’s journey. In the archetype of the hero (or errant knight), most heroes begin reluctantly, clumsily, and then forces beyond their control propel them past their ordinary lives into a journey of personal change and renewal. Like most addicts, I was unaware of aspects of myself — my feelings, for example, and the wreckage I was creating. The first step freed me to begin my quest for self-knowledge and transformation.

Admitting to powerlessness was a long and slow process; accepting that admission brought me to the gateway of healing and sanity. That was also about another core spiritual principle: willingness. Instead of willfulness, what I needed was willingness. It’s part of what is often called the HOW (honesty, openness, and willingness) of recovery.

The common misconception about the first step for those who have never tried to apply it is that it is defeatist. The first step is not about defeat. It says powerlessness, not hopelessness. Powerlessness is not uncommon, in fact, and if we open our eyes, we realize that we have no power over many things. Take the weather, for example. As we Northerners brace ourselves for a cold winter as I write this, I understand completely that I can’t stop the snow, but if you take the time to stop, look, and listen, you may come to realize that preparation is a lot better than trying to control the elements. Another thing we have no power over is how others act or think, yet we spend enormous amounts of time and energy trying to exert control over other people. Oftentimes, we don’t even have power over our own emotions, but we can learn to relate to them differently.

The first step is really about admitting powerlessness over living in the extremes. Try fighting the rain, or better yet, a hurricane, and you’ll get a sense of what it is to fight addiction. You have to surrender. You have to take refuge.

As part of taking the first step, you take an inventory of the consequences of your addiction. For me this meant documenting the jobs I lost, the people I hurt, and most of all, the harm I did to myself. In reflecting in this way, I could no longer deny the unmanageability of my life as an active addict. This was a hard nut to crack because I never wanted to admit my life was unmanageable. I had it together, I liked to think, I just went a little overboard sometimes.

I was also confronted with the insanity of an obsession that led to compulsion and how my fight would be futile until I surrendered. If you’re fighting an inner war, then someone has to lose. If you’re fighting an inner war, it follows, you, or an aspect of yourself, will always lose.

Taking the first step clearly showed me that my thinking had little relationship to reality. There were countless times during my active addiction, for example, that I would experience a blackout. A blackout doesn’t entail being unconscious or comatose. In a blackout, you can sit down one minute and the next thing you know you missed an entire episode of your life — while conscious.

A blackout is similar to what I imagine a time jumper would feel. One minute you’re in one time-space continuum and the next, you’re somewhere else and what’s horrifying is that you don’t know what the fuck is going on. One time coming out of a blackout, I had a whole house-full of people wanting to kick my ass, and I had no clue why. It seems I propositioned the bride-to-be (I was at an engagement party) and that kind of pissed a few people off. I once emerged out of a blackout in a different state and different year having lost track of several days. It happened during an extended New Year’s Eve celebration. Several days later, I woke up in a strange house, sleeping next to a strange woman and I had no inkling where I was or what day.

I used to laugh and brag about that (it’s still funny on one level) but it was a horrifying experience. Still I couldn’t admit my powerlessness. It wasn’t that something was wrong with me, I rationalized, it was that other people were too stuck up or rigid, and besides, I know that bitch at the engagement party wanted me. Perhaps you may have never experienced this extreme form of powerlessness, but have you ever had a situation spiral out of control to the point that you were at a loss?

Most of all, the first step is the beginning of the undoing of the karmic consequences of denial. I had to be brought my knees — from hopelessly addicted, being confined in institutions, and even close to death — and still I wouldn’t admit my powerlessness. There was definitely a lot of evidence of unmanageability in my life. Shit, I attempted suicide at least once. What “normal” person can say that?

More than anything, I realized as I became clean did the inner work, that I was addicted to insanity. If my life was going too smoothly, or things were going my way, or I had too many successes going on, I would find a way to sabotage that. I would pick a fight at a bar, or destroy an intimate relationship, or simply disappear. I didn’t know what it meant to have a measure of serenity or consistency in my life. I didn’t know how to cope with that.

Oh, and yes, I’ve kicked more habits than I can remember. The problem was that I just could never stay stopped. It was never hard kicking a habit. But addiction, I soon learned, was not merely about substance abuse. I would get “clean” and chill for six-seven months, but when I started again, it was as if I never stopped. My last day as an active addict, I had spent $300 after having been released from a Rikers Island jail for exactly fourteen days. I went from clean to a $300-a-day habit at the drop of a hat.

I would say that’s unmanageable…

However, there are other ways our powerlessness and unmanageability manifests in our lives. Whether it’s food or cigarettes, or relationships, I think we can all look where we’re being a little self-destructive or even slowly killing ourselves (cigarettes anyone?), suffering needlessly, or causing ourselves or our loved ones harm. I believe we all can identify with the compulsive need to exert control and the denial of powerlessness. I use my life as an example because the extreme manner in which I lived it makes it easier to illustrate my points, but we all have the dark places, the places that scare us.

Today, I apply the first step to many things in my life, especially in relationships and to certain behaviors. For example, in my job search one of the things that help keeps me sane is that I realize I have no power over outcomes. I cannot control how other people behave, or the decisions they make. My power is in the effort that I put in to my job search. Anything else, I have no power over that.

Addictions like to migrate. One might be able to kick the heroin or the alcohol, but then you see people acting out sexually or financially. If you don’t do the inner work, applying these principles in all your affairs, then you’ll continue to be in the grips of addictive behavior. The first step stipulated that I was powerless over my addiction. Addiction is not about a substance, but a way of thinking.

Eventually, I began to conceptualize the first step as something similar to the concepts of Aikido or Wing Chun, two martial arts that stress the importance of never meeting force with force. In a sense, the first step is about learning to flow with the forces of life instead of fighting all the time. It’s learning to transform difficult emotions into opportunities for healing. It’s knowing that while you can’t stop the waves, you can learn to surf.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it, please consider helping me out by sharing it, liking me on Facebook, following me on Twitter, or even throwing me some money on GoFundMe HERE or via PayPal HERE so I can keep calling it like I see it.

Resources

Addiction is one of the most pressing problems in our society — a society that actually encourages consumption at the expense of substance. If you think you have a problem, give yourself a break, and try something new, it just might save your life…

Alcoholics Anonymous: Official website

Narcotics Anonymous: Official website

Allione, T (2008) Feeding your demons: Ancient wisdom for resolving inner conflict. (click here)

Chodron, P. (2005) When things fall apart: Heart advice for difficult times (click here)

Note: The featured artwork is from Ben’h Usry.

On World AIDS Day

Hola mi Gente,
I repost the following story at least once a year. I have lost so many loved ones to this disease over the years. This story is dedicated to all of them because their stories need to be told and they need to be remembered…

Jasmine’s Story

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Yemaya’s Stairway, Peter Pateman

The power of love to change bodies is legendary, built into folklore, common sense, and everyday experience. Love moves the flesh, it pushes matter around… Throughout history, ‘tender loving care’ has uniformly been recognized as a valuable element in healing.
— Larry Dossey

 

[Note: names, characteristics, specifics were changed in order to respect anonymity]

When I first started school and began the process that eventually led to a career as a “healer,” I went through an experience that would forever change the way I understand healing.

Many years ago, as I was in the process of picking up the pieces of the wreckage of my life, I received a phone call in the middle of the night. An old and dear friend called to tell me that a former lover was on her deathbed at a nearby hospital. I’ll never forget her words, she said, “Eddie, I know you and Jasmine did a lot of fucked up shit to each other, but she’s not expected to last the weekend. If you have anything you want to tell her, now is the time. They’re giving her last rites as we speak.”

I thanked my friend and as I put down the phone in shock, I realized I didn’t know what to do. I mean, there were so many conflicting feelings. Here was someone who had caused me great pain, who had been the object of numerous homicidal fantasies, who was now dying. But as I thought of her it was hard for me to feel the old resentment and anger without a pang of conscience. After all, I thought, I was equally cruel to her. I decided then that I would visit her that very moment.

As I began to get dressed (it was late in the evening), it dawned on me that I had more than one reservation. For one, her family wasn’t too fond of me. In fact, Jasmine once admitted to me that the joke was that they wouldn’t even mention my name, and when they did, they whispered my last name as if actually calling my given name aloud would evoke me. So, in essence, I was something of a persona non grata, to put it mildly. But I resolved that I would go anyway and that if there were any objections, I would simply apologize and leave and in that way I would know in my heart that I attempted to make amends. People, that Serenity Prayer? That shit actually does come in handy sometimes!

As I rode the train to the hospital, my mind kept coming up with various scenarios: the mother would curse me, I would make a personal family tragedy worse, or my presence would only magnify the pain. It was with these reservations that I finally arrived at the hospital and, after locating her, I entered the dark room quietly. The room was full of close friends and family members all huddled around the bed where a wasted and frail young woman lay seemingly unconscious. No one noticed me, as I listened to the priest murmur some prayers. Scared shitless, I waited for someone to recognize me and, as the priest finished his ministrations, the mother turned, noticed me, and with tears in her eyes sobbed, “Eddie! Oh Eddie, mi hijo, lo que a llegamo!” As we embraced, she cried. I could feel a stirring in the room, as my presence was made known.

The mother quietly explained the situation: something had gone wrong with a treatment and her daughter had fallen into a coma after a long bout with HIV and it was expected that she would die soon. I tried to apologize and explain that if my being there was inappropriate, I would leave, but the mother stopped me and led me to Jasmine’s bed. It was hard to look at her, lying there now ravaged by disease. Her mother spoke to her as if she could hear her and said, “Mira nena, look who’s here to see you — Eddie!”

Honestly, I didn’t know what the fuck to do. I mean, what do you do in such a situation? But something told me to take her hand. And as I touched her hand, I bent over and whispered to her, telling her how sorry I was for the things I did to her and how we hurt each other; that I was now living a good life free of my destructive patterns and active addiction. I honestly didn’t think she could hear me, and I thought it was somewhat foolish, but it also felt right, so I kept it up. Her hands felt cold so I rubbed my hands together to generate heat and warmed her hands. I kept this up — talking to the unconscious Jasmine and warming her hands, and then her face, her arms, as so on.

When I felt I had said what I had to say, I kissed her forehead and I began to walk away when I heard her whisper, “Eddie?” Everyone in the room stopped talking and when I turned around, there was Jasmine looking at me, calling my name. At that point, everyone in the room started doing the sign of the cross and Jasmine’s mother was praying and saying that it was a miracle, and people were just running around calling the doctors and there I was in the middle of that whole scene wondering what the fuck was going on.

Jasmine would live for about four more months. And I don’t mean to imply that my hands “healed” her or anything idiotic like that. I don’t know if I had anything to do with it, but later, Jasmine would say that it wasn’t until she felt the heat from my hands that she began to regain consciousness. Before then, she said, she felt she had settled into a form of resignation of meeting her fate. It’s hard for me to describe what Jasmine said, but I think she had surrendered to death. She had lost all hope for life, she told me, and had deteriorated rapidly. She said feeling the heat from my hands awakened her to the fact that there were certain things left undone, especially with regard to her seven-year-old son — our son — that needed tending before she moved on.

During those last few months of her life, I became one of Jasmine’s primary care-givers in that AIDS ward. The nurses called me Jasmine’s “boyfriend” and would arrange her hair in pigtails and her face would brighten when I entered the room. Me? I simply resolved to do what I could — to give what I could to a person in need. Not only because Jasmine needed it, but because it was what I had to do. I felt there was a larger story being writ and that I had a play my role in it.

And she would often request, especially during times of extreme stress, that I use my hands in the same way I did that first night. I never got it at the time. And when I would ask her, she would only say that my hands ran hot (which they do) and that the heat would lessen the overwhelming feeling of numbness that would attack her body.

As with the whole medical establishment during the early days of the epidemic, the doctors could not explain. Indeed, what I witnessed during those days was that the doctors were often at a loss for answers or “prescriptions.” What I learned at that time was that a healer, whether a doctor, therapist, caregiver, or whatever, must act as a channel, or conduit of a healing entity or force. I don’t care whether you call it, God, Goddess, Christ, The Great Spirit, Qi, The Dao — whatever man. Furthermore, in order to become such a channel, there are essential qualities a healer must possess. Some of these surely must be trust, faith, love, and humility.

Though different healers may channel this healing energy through different techniques, none of them can heal — regardless of technique — unless they use it with love and humility. Out of all of these qualities, love is probably the most troublesome because all healers have days when they are not open to love. There are no recipes or formulas for staying open that way. To love also doesn’t just mean loving others, it means loving one’s self too.

I learned in those days that healing does not necessarily mean to become physically well or to be able to get up and walk around again, something Jasmine desperately wanted. I came to realize that healing means achieving some kind of balance between the physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual dimensions (spiritual in this sense meaning the reality of interconnectedness). For example, Jasmine would never walk again, and her T cells were, like, nil. In fact, doctors were at a loss to explain why she was alive and resolved themselves to minister to her while she was still alive. However, Jasmine became awake and though she was young (33), sometimes she gave the impression of a very wise, very old soul with far more knowledge than her years. I learned in those days that suffering kicks up the evolutionary spiritual dimension by a few notches.

Don’t misunderstand, Jasmine, like many AIDS patients — even more so than patients suffering from other life-threatening illnesses because of the tremendous stigma attached to the disease — was lacking in qualities of self-worth, self-esteem, and self-trust. One day she admitted that she felt these qualities were impacted by a lot of guilt, shame, and ambivalence. There were issues Jasmine never had a chance to address, some, such as some issues regarding her son, her addiction, and her deep-seated feelings of guilt, she took with her to her grave. But when faced with the seemingly impossible, we do what we can — and that’s what Jasmine did, one day at a time, sometimes one breath at a time.

In a way, we were like ships passing in the night. I was in the midst of reinventing my life, starting anew, doing the things I never got a chance to do, and exploring and actualizing my potential. Sometimes I would forget that for Jasmine, this was as good as it was going to get. There were times when I would forget and think that maybe she would get “better” whatever that means. The reality was that she was on borrowed time and that often worked to minimize her motivation. Over the years, I have lost too many friends to this disease. Some emphasized that they were living with a disease, not merely dying. I don’t know if Jasmine ever got there. But we learned to trust one another, and laughed many times at how easy it was to revert to old patterns.

I do believe Jasmine experienced a degree of healing. But Jasmine’s “healing” didn’t occur at an individual level, because we are all connected through a vast neurological network of relationships to an infinite number of people and creatures on the planet. I learned that the process of healing even one person has consequences for all of us. It did for me: though I didn’t fully realize it at the time, acting as a channel for this healing energy, Jasmine’s situation had a healing purpose for me.

Most important to Jasmine was the seven-year-old son she had to say goodbye to and as she went about trying to resolve issues in her life, she seemed to become more at peace with her illness. There were days that her smile would remind me of the Jasmine I had known — beautiful, alert, intelligent and spunky — someone who took pleasure in challenging me and my interminable teasing. But those days became increasingly rare. Eventually taking care of Jasmine became a job that took priority over everything else in my life, in the process burning me out. A part of all this had a noble purpose, of course, but a lot of that was also to my tendency toward codependency. There were times I would forget that I was but a conduit through which some of this was happening and I would forget that Jasmine would not get better.

And she took me hostage, Jasmine did. Her greatest fear was of dying alone in that hospital room. One day, after a particularly rough night (Jasmine’s main caregiver, her sister, and I had obtained special permission from the hospital administration), I was irritable and tired. My life had been consumed by Jasmine’s disease and I was feeling spent, confused, and angry — all dangerous triggers for a person in my situation. By then, Jasmine had lost her ability to speak and if we weren’t there doing it, she would not be cleaned in a prompt manner, so there I was cracking jokes about cleaning Jasmine’s ass and laughing about it. Sometimes I swore I saw a grin on Jasmine’s face during those times.

Anyway, I was tired and I wanted to go home, shower, and to re-energize myself. I tried calling her sister several times, but she could not be reached due to a business meeting, so I turned to Jasmine and told her I was leaving and would be back as soon as I could. I hated doing this because she would become agitated if I left the room to use the restroom, let alone tell her I was leaving. Jasmine was horrified of the idea of dying alone.

As I left, I turned to look and there was this look of stark fear on Jasmine’s face. In that moment, I felt so bad about my own anger and it dissipated. I blew her a kiss and promised I would be right back. She was still upset… but I reminded myself she always became upset whenever I left the room. I took the elevator to the lobby and just when I entered the lobby, something almost physical stopped me dead in my tracks. It was as if I had run into an invisible wall. And then it hit me… I knew what was happening.

Jasmine passed away as I was entering her room. When she saw me, the most beautiful smile of gratitude and contentment came over her face. She couldn’t mouth the words, but the look in her eyes — I’m sure if she could she would’ve said, “Thank you, Eddie.” I stood by her, heard the death rattle, and she was gone.

The only difference between Jasmine and the rest of us, I came to understand, was Jasmine’s degree of illness. It seems to me that the whole planet is going through what Jasmine experienced with her terminal illness. My conclusion is that there must be a way to for all of us to go through a cleansing process, or a way for us to become conduits for healing in order to eliminate the hatred, greed, pain, grief, and rage that we harbor for so long.

I think Jasmine’s greatest gift was to teach me that we must all tap into this healing energy so that we might become whole… I wrote this because I believe that so many of our loved ones — our family members, loved ones, friends — have died at the hands of this epidemic, but the truth is that people only really die when our memory of them is erased.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

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The Gift

Hola Everybody,
I wrote this a few years ago and I’m revisiting it today because it’s time for me to the exercise again. The post is based on a conversation I had with a good friend over Sunday brunch. She, in turn, first came across the story in a book.

The Five Wishes

 07-21-16_ The Five Wishes

The following is neither new nor earth shattering. It’s quite simple, actually. However, this post can change your life…

A good friend called me all excited this past Sunday, and as we walked together to have a late brunch, she related the following to me:

Imagine you’re on your deathbed, this very moment, tonight or fifty years from now. Try to make a mental picture. Got it?

I stand by your deathbed, look you in the eyes, and ask, “Was your life a complete success?”

You might say, “Yes, my life has been a complete success,” or you might say, “No, my life has not been a complete success.”

If you answered, “No, my life has not been a complete success,” you would have a reason why. For example, J. Paul Getty, who was once the wealthiest man in the world, is reputed to have said on his deathbed, “I’d gladly give up all my millions for one experience of marital happiness.” If he could have had one wish granted, that would’ve been his wish.

Still with me? Wondering what this has to do with you?

Well, here it is then, if you had told me on your deathbed that your life had not been a success, what would be the things you’d wished happened that would have made it a success?

The question cuts to the core: what are you really doing on this planet? What is your life purpose? Do you have a mission? As my friend asked me these questions, I felt more than a little anxiety, but on another level, there was a sense of relief — a sense of being able to go inside and reach into myself in an empowering way.

Back to you: you have to answer the question. You can’t get back to me while you mull your responses. You’re on your deathbed; you can’t afford to continue to live as if you’re never going to die. This moment is all you have anyway. There’s no right or wrong answer, or perhaps you’re one of those rare individuals who feels his or her life has been a total success (I have yet to meet one). Dig deep, give yourself permission and the answers will come.

Whatever your answer, look at it from the perspective of your deathbed. Put in the past tense, and do it from the point of view that your life was not a success. Here’s one of my own:

My life was not a complete success because I never really got around to expressing to my loved ones how much I loved and appreciated them. I wish I had told my son how sad I felt at how we had grown apart.

In other words, I wished I had paid more attention to the relationships with the people most important to me and that I had communicated my feelings more often to the people I loved and cared about.

My friend then asked me, “Now turn that into a goal. Put it in the present tense.”

My life is a complete success because I express my deepest feelings with all my friends and family. I say the important things I need to say and do all the important things I need to do. There is nothing significant that I leave unsaid or undone.

My friend went on to ask me to list four more deathbed wishes and then she asked me, “Where are you with achieving each of those goals?” Realistically, I had to admit that most of my deathbed wishes were mostly a lot of good ideas rather than actual realities.

I was reminded of my experiences when I worked in a hospital ward for terminally ill patients. These were people who knew they were going to die — soon. And whenever I asked them if they had one more illness-free year, what they would do with that one year, there answers were never was anything like, “Make more money,” or, “Invent some wonderful gadget,” or “Spend more time at the office,” or “Worry more about money.”

Their responses were mostly very simple: spend more time with their loved ones; to take the time to enjoy life more often; to say I’m sorry instead of holding a grudge; or to spend more time with family and loved ones.

My friend then took me a bookstore and showed me the book she had been reading. It’s called “The Five Wishes,” by Gay Hendricks. In it, he shares his five deathbed wishes and how he went about realizing them. It’s a small little book, and there’s a website where you can download a worksheet to help you recognize and realize your own five wishes. For me, they are more like personal promises and it’s a gentle way to make manifest a rewarding and fulfilling life.

So many of my friends online and off are struggling these days. It seems that too many of us are counting pennies and it seems like each day brings another struggle, another challenge or setback Whatever the case, I truly wish all of you genuine happiness. If I prayed, my prayer for you would be that you’d be given the opportunity to do what you most love to do and to do it joyously and passionately. I strongly recommend you visit the website and check out the free video based on the book (click here).

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

Jasmine’s Story

Hola mi Gente,
I repost the following story once a year. I have lost so many loved ones to this disease over the years. This story is dedicated to all of them because their stories need to be told and they need to be remembered…

03-16-06_ Dream Woman

Above: Yemaya

The power of love to change bodies is legendary, built into folklore, common sense, and everyday experience. Love moves the flesh, it pushes matter around… Throughout history, ‘tender loving care’ has uniformly been recognized as a valuable element in healing.
— Larry Dossey

 

[Note: names, characteristics, specifics were changed in order to respect anonymity]

When I first started school and began the process that eventually led to a career as a “healer,” I went through an experience that would forever change the way I understand healing.

Many years ago, as I was in the process of picking up the pieces of the wreckage of my life, I received a phone call in the middle of the night. An old and dear friend called to tell me that a former lover was on her deathbed at a nearby hospital. I’ll never forget her words, she said, “Eddie, I know you and Jasmine did a lot of fucked up shit to each other, but she’s not expected to last the weekend. If you have anything you want to tell her, now is the time. They’re giving her last rites as we speak.”

I thanked my friend and as I put down the phone in shock, I realized I didn’t know what to do. I mean, there were so many conflicting feelings. Here was someone who had caused me great pain, who had been the object of numerous homicidal fantasies, who was now dying. But as I thought of her it was hard for me to feel the old resentment and anger without a pang of conscience. After all, I thought, I was equally cruel to her. I decided then that I would visit her that very moment.

As I began to get dressed (it was about 2 am), it dawned on me that I had more than one reservation. For one, her family wasn’t too fond of me. In fact, Jasmine once admitted to me that the joke was that they wouldn’t even mention my name, and when they did, they whispered my last name as if actually calling my given name aloud would evoke me. So, in essence, I was something of a persona non grata, to put it mildly. But I resolved that I would go anyway and that if there were any objections, I would simply apologize and leave and in that way I would know in my heart that I attempted to make amends. People, that Serenity Prayer? That shit actually does come in handy sometimes!

As I rode the train to the hospital, my mind kept coming up with various scenarios: the mother would curse me, I would make a personal family tragedy worse, or my presence would only magnify the pain. It was with these reservations that I finally arrived at the hospital and, after locating her, I entered the dark room quietly. The room was full of close friends and family members all huddled around the bed where a wasted and frail young woman lay seemingly unconscious. No one noticed me, as I listened to the priest murmur some prayers. Scared shitless, I waited for someone to recognize me and, as the priest finished his ministrations, the mother turned, noticed me, and with tears in her eyes sobbed, “Eddie! Oh Eddie, mi hijo, lo que a llegamo!” As we embraced, she cried. I could feel a stirring in the room, as my presence was made known.

The mother quietly explained the situation: something had gone wrong with a treatment and her daughter had fallen into a coma after a long bout with HIV and it was expected that she would die soon. I tried to apologize and explain that if my being there was inappropriate, I would leave, but the mother stopped me and led me to Jasmine’s bed. It was hard to look at her, lying there now ravaged by disease. Her mother spoke to her as if she could hear her and said, “Mira nena, look who’s here to see you — Eddie!”

Honestly, I didn’t know what the fuck to do. I mean, what do you do in such a situation? But something told me to take her hand. And as I touched her hand, I bent over and whispered to her, telling her how sorry I was for the things I did to her and how we hurt each other; that I was now living a good life free of my destructive patterns and active addiction. I honestly didn’t think she could hear me, and I thought it was somewhat foolish, but it also felt right, so I kept it up. Her hands felt cold so I rubbed my hands together to generate heat and warmed her hands. I kept this up — talking to the unconscious Jasmine and warming her hands, and then her face, her arms, as so on.

When I felt I had said what I had to say, I kissed her forehead and I began to walk away when I heard her whisper, “Eddie?” Everyone in the room stopped talking and when I turned around, there was Jasmine looking at me, calling my name. At that point, everyone in the room started doing the sign of the cross and Jasmine’s mother was praying and saying that it was a miracle, and people were just running around calling the doctors and there I was in the middle of that whole scene wondering what the fuck was going on.

Jasmine would live for about four more months. And I don’t mean to imply that my hands “healed” her or anything idiotic like that. I don’t know if I had anything to do with it, but later, Jasmine would say that it wasn’t until she felt the heat from my hands that she began to regain consciousness. Before then, she said, she felt she had settled into a form of resignation of meeting her fate. It’s hard for me to describe what Jasmine said, but I think she had surrendered to death. She had lost all hope for life, she told me, and had deteriorated rapidly. She said feeling the heat from my hands awakened her to the fact that there were certain things left undone, especially with regard to her seven-year-old son — our son — that needed tending before she moved on.

During those last few months of her life, I became one of Jasmine’s primary care-givers in that AIDS ward. The nurses called me Jasmine’s “boyfriend” and would arrange her hair in pigtails and her face would brighten when I entered the room. Me? I simply resolved to do what I could — to give what I could to a person in need. Not only because Jasmine needed it, but because it was what I had to do. I felt there was a larger story being writ and that I had a play my role in it.

And she would often request, especially during times of extreme stress, that I use my hands in the same way I did that first night. I never got it at the time. And when I would ask her, she would only say that my hands ran hot (which they do) and that the heat would lessen the overwhelming feeling of numbness that would attack her body.

As with the whole medical establishment during the early days of the epidemic, the doctors could not explain. Indeed, what I witnessed during those days was that the doctors were often at a loss for answers or “prescriptions.” What I learned at that time was that a healer, whether a doctor, therapist, caregiver, or whatever, must act as a channel, or conduit of a healing entity or force. I don’t care whether you call it, God, Goddess, Christ, The Great Spirit, Qi, The Dao — whatever man. Furthermore, in order to become such a channel, there are essential qualities a healer must possess. Some of these surely must be trust, faith, love, and humility.

Though different healers may channel this healing energy through different techniques, none of them can heal — regardless of technique — unless they use it with love and humility. Out of all of these qualities, love is probably the most troublesome because all healers have days when they are not open to love. There are no recipes or formulas for staying open that way. To love also doesn’t just mean loving others, it means loving one’s self too.

I learned in those days that healing does not necessarily mean to become physically well or to be able to get up and walk around again, something Jasmine desperately wanted. I came to realize that healing means achieving some kind of balance between the physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual dimensions (spiritual in this sense meaning the reality of inter-connectedness). For example, Jasmine would never walk again, and her T cells were, like, nil. In fact, doctors were at a loss to explain why she was alive and resolved themselves to minister to her while she was still alive. However, Jasmine became awake and though she was young (33), sometimes she gave the impression of a very wise, very old soul with far more knowledge than her years. I learned in those days that suffering kicks up the evolutionary spiritual dimension by a few notches.

Don’t misunderstand, Jasmine, like many AIDS patients — even more so than patients suffering from other life-threatening illnesses because of the tremendous stigma attached to the disease — was lacking in qualities of self-worth, self-esteem, and self-trust. One day she admitted that she felt these qualities were impacted by a lot of guilt, shame, and ambivalence. There were issues Jasmine never had a chance to address, some, such as some issues regarding her son, her addiction, and her deep-seated feelings of guilt, she took with her to her grave. But when faced with the seemingly impossible, we do what we can — and that’s what Jasmine did, one day at a time, sometimes one breath at a time.

In a way, we were like ships passing in the night. I was in the midst of reinventing my life, starting anew, doing the things I never got a chance to do, and exploring and actualizing my potential. Sometimes I would forget that for Jasmine, this was as good as it was going to get. There were times when I would forget and think that maybe she would get “better” whatever that means. The reality was that she was on borrowed time and that often worked to minimize her motivation. Over the years, I have lost too many friends to this disease. Some emphasized that they were living with a disease, not merely dying. I don’t know if Jasmine ever got there. But we learned to trust one another, and laughed many times at how easy it was to revert to old patterns.

I do believe Jasmine experienced a degree of healing. But Jasmine’s “healing” didn’t occur at an individual level, because we are all connected through a vast neurological network of relationships to an infinite number of people and creatures on the planet. I learned that the process of healing even one person has consequences for all of us. It did for me: though I didn’t fully realize it at the time, acting as a channel for this healing energy, Jasmine’s situation had a healing purpose for me.

Most important to Jasmine was the seven-year-old son she had to say goodbye to and as she went about trying to resolve issues in her life, she seemed to become more at peace with her illness. There were days that her smile would remind me of the Jasmine I had known — beautiful, alert, intelligent and spunky — someone who took pleasure in challenging me and my interminable teasing. But those days became increasingly rare. Eventually taking care of Jasmine became a job that took priority over everything else in my life, in the process burning me out. A part of all this had a noble purpose, of course, but a lot of that was also to my tendency toward codependency. There were times I would forget that I was but a conduit through which some of this was happening and I would forget that Jasmine would not get better.

And she took me hostage, Jasmine did. Her greatest fear was of dying alone in that hospital room. One day, after a particularly rough night (Jamsine’s main caregiver, her sister, and I had obtained special permission from the hospital administration), I was irritable and tired. My life had been consumed by Jasmine’s disease and I was feeling spent, confused, and angry — all dangerous triggers for a person in my situation. By then, Jasmine had lost her ability to speak and if we weren’t there doing it, she would not be cleaned in a prompt manner, so there I was cracking jokes about cleaning Jasmine’s ass and laughing about it. Sometimes I swore I saw a grin on Jasmine’s face during those times.

Anyway, I was tired and I wanted to go home, shower, and to re-energize myself. I tried calling her sister several times, but she could not be reached due to a business meeting, so I turned to Jasmine and told her I was leaving and would be back as soon as I could. I hated doing this because she would become agitated if I left the room to use the restroom, let alone tell her I was leaving. Jasmine was horrified of the idea of dying alone.

As I left, I turned to look and there was this look of stark fear on Jasmine’s face. In that moment, I felt so bad about my own anger and it dissipated. I blew her a kiss and promised I would be right back. She was still upset… but I reminded myself she always became upset whenever I left the room. I took the elevator to the lobby and just when I entered the lobby, something almost physical stopped me dead in my tracks. It was as if I had run into an invisible wall. And then it hit me… I knew what was happening.

Jasmine passed away as I was entering her room. When she saw me, the most beautiful smile of gratitude and contentment came over her face. She couldn’t mouth the words, but the look in her eyes — I’m sure if she could she would’ve said, “Thank you, Eddie.” I stood by her, heard the death rattle, and she was gone.

The only difference between Jasmine and the rest of us, I came to understand, was Jasmine’s degree of illness. It seems to me that the whole planet is going through what Jasmine experienced with her terminal illness. My conclusion is that there must be a way to for all of us to go through a cleansing process, or a way for us to become conduits for healing in order to eliminate the hatred, greed, pain, grief, and rage that we harbor for so long.

I think Jasmine’s greatest gift was to teach me that we must all tap into this healing energy so that we might become whole… I wrote this because I believe that so many of our loved ones — our family members, loved ones, friends — have died at the hands of this epidemic, But the truth is that people only really die when our memory of them is erased.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

Being an Ally

Hola mi Gente,
I ran across the following yesterday on a blog I was reading (here). I am of Puerto Rican descent and when I read the following tweet, it almost made me cr07-12-16_ Being an Ally_ 001I don’t think white people can fully appreciate how many of us are feeling. It’s as if our feelings — as if we — are invisible. If you can see me, see my people, acknowledge our pain, and offer to help… That means something.

So you have a chance to be better colleague today and here’s how…

Being an Ally

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First, THANK YOU for reaching out/ clicking/ being here.

No one marginalized group has ever successfully advocated on behalf of themselves alone to enact change. It takes informed and empowered allies to tip the scales, and I thank you for understanding that (even if this is the first time you’re actively realizing it) and seeking a way to better lend your voice. Again: Thank you.

The black community comes from a lot of different (and valid) schools of thought when it comes to enacting change. Protests, policies, petitions, and public demonstrations (literally didn’t even try for alliteration there) are all important tactics, but above all else, I believe that one on one discussion is the most effective change agent.

If after reading this, you feel better equipped to challenge even one person about their thoughts on racial injustice (or lack thereof) in America, that is a greater success than any hashtag I could devise or any mass message I could broadcast. When’s the last time a CNN pundit transformed someone’s worldview?

The complete resource: A Guide for White Allies Confronting Racial Injustice

Talk about it, give people space, and keep looking in the mirror.

Today, I spoke to a total stranger — a white woman — who asked me, “How are you?” We were at a newsstand and maybe she saw the look on my face as I skimmed the tabloid headlines, or maybe she saw the hurt in my eyes — I don’t know. We didn’t say much, but we hugged one another. That right there was worth a million online interactions.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

Picking up the Pieces

Hola mi Gente,
Sometimes the wreckage of past mistakes can seem overwhelming, its repercussions a constant reverberation in our daily lives. When we try to pick up of the pieces of our lives, it could seem that there are too many obstacles, too many consequences. The following story serves as reminder that healing, or coming into wholeness, oftentimes happens in small increments — one day at a time, even one breath at a time…

 

The Starfish Story

06-16-16_ The Starfish Story

Early one morning a man was walking along the beach, watching the ocean waves breaking on the shore, and he saw a most unusual thing. He saw that the beach was littered with thousands of starfish that had been washed up on shore and were dying in the sun. Far down the beach in the distance, he could see a young woman picking up starfish and throwing them back in the ocean, one at a time.

When he was close enough to her to be heard above the waves the man said, “You’re wasting your time. There are thousands of starfish here. You can’t possibly make any difference.” The young woman reached down, picked up a starfish, and threw it as far as she could, back into the sea. “I made a difference to that one,” she said, and she reached down to pick up another.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

The 12 Steps for Everyone [Step Four]

Hola mi Gente,
Last night, after many polls had him losing (one poll by 18 points just ten days ago), the Sanders campaign/ movement pulled out a victory. Just think for a moment that Sanders launched his campaign less than a year ago and was widely ridiculed by both neoliberals (who call themselves “liberals”) and neoconservatives.

On another, somewhat related note, there’s been an almost a total media blackout on the financial crisis happening in Puerto Rico (click here for more info). My heart goes out in solidarity to the intrepid Puerto Rican students waging the good fight against the forces of austerity who are, with the exception of Bernie Sanders’ campaign, the very same vulture capitalists financing the US elections.

Note: Every month, I dedicate this blog to one of the steps of Narcotics Anonymous. These posts are by no means intended as extensive exploration of recovery. They are merely brief expression of my strengths, hopes, and experiences culled from my spiritual journey.

* * *

04-06-16_ Step Four

Step Four: Uncovering the Patterns

We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
— The Fourth Step, Narcotics Anonymous

 

So far, we have explored what I call the “Recovery Cha Cha Cha” — the first three steps that serve as the foundation to recovery and freedom from active addiction. Step One brought me face-to-face with the major contradiction in my life: my denial of my problem and how I managed to feel powerful when, in fact, I was powerless and needed help. Step Two challenged my grandiosity. I have heard it said that addicts are egomaniacs with low self-esteem and I couldn’t put it any better than that. My low self-esteem pushed me to inflate my ego, but all I ever felt inside was emptiness and feelings of unworthiness. Finally, Step Three  helped me see that my efforts at control were in actuality ways in which to sabotage myself. Ultimately, I can only take responsibility for myself and I must leave the rest to a Higher Power of my understanding.

Yesiree, the “Great I Am” is a hard bitch to ride! LOL

Step 4 was daunting mostly because I didn’t want to do it. I was afraid. I mean I did a lot of fucked up shit in my life — especially towards the end of my active addiction. I took a lot. I became the kind of person that would steal something from you and then helped you look for it. My thinking was so fucked up that I could rationalize stealing toys from underneath a Christmas tree. I used and was used by women. I kid around that I was a former pimp and technically, I was. But I was no pimp, believe me. I used to like to say that I was a “broker for sexual services.” As much as the word is used today, it’s nothing to be proud of. What I was — I was an addict. Period.

Who the fuck wants to look at that shit?

I stole, but I stole more than property. I stole affection and trust and used it to feed my addiction. Perhaps my story is extreme, but let me ask: how many of us have stolen affection? How many of us have manipulated and controlled in order to feel better about ourselves?

Luckily, I had some great people around me in my early recovery. Quite a few of them are no longer with us, and my post today is dedicated to them. They helped me recover in spite of myself, because I was (still am? LOL!), one dense ma’fucca. To me the idea of a moral inventory was both scary but also riddled with conflicting emotions. However, after having taken those first three steps and applying them to the best of my ability, I also knew I was still feeling a lot of shame and guilt about my past. My actions had clearly not been moral by any measure. It came to me that I needed to look into the shadows and to uncover those deep dark secrets or risk losing my recovery. By the time I had one year, I knew I wanted to leave clean more than anything.

I took the advice of my sponsor and decided to write out my inventory. I used several different 4th Step guides and my inventory was extensive (me being the perfectionist I am). What I saw when I did my 4th Step were behavior patterns. All around. For the first time I saw that I fell repeatedly into the same patterns and this was largely liberating.

The 4th Step gave me the gift of self-knowledge. By reviewing in detail my fears, desires, thoughts, motives, and actions and discovering how they created wreckage, I was better able to uncover the secrets that compelled my behavior. Some of you may have tried this with a therapist. I had also. However, what made this moral inventory different was the previous work of the first three steps because those steps became the foundation upon which I was able to vanquish fear. What I saw underlying all my character defects was fear. Without the foundation of the first three steps, my moral inventory would’ve been weak and my shadow side would’ve eventually usurped my efforts.

Because I was embodying the principle of the Third Step, I was able to turn over my fear and tendency to judge. I realized I was powerless to change my past, but that I was able to take accountability for now. Eventually, my Fourth Step gave me courage along with insight. And to a lesser degree, having faced myself with as much honesty as possible, I was able to lessen the fear and the shame. There were no more secrets, and more was being revealed.

On the other hand, the 4th Step was a draining experience for me. Sometimes, when things seem their darkest, it’s difficult to see the positive. Initially, I discovered, it was difficult for me to take credit for the positive in me. I lived as a phony, showing only the parts of my self that I thought were good. I lived between the secrets, the shame, exploitation, and abuse of my addiction and the good parts of my public persona. I felt like a phony about my public self because people did not know the real me. When I finally faced the inner addict, my addiction became my teacher about my basic goodness. I had to come to the realization that I was strong, enduring, clever, and willing to risk even in my addiction. All these were qualities the addict in me stole in order to become powerful.

The addict in me was that same psychic entity that stole from me and then pretended he was helping me look for these qualities. I learned that all those qualities were mine and that they were available for me in my recovery.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…