Skillful Living

Hola mi Gente,
When I facilitated workshops, I was always looking out for experiential exercises. This, in turn, kept me in a state of constant exploration and learning. So, in a very real sense, my workshop participants were actually my greatest teachers.

Alive

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Change your words into truth and then change that truth into love…
— Steveland Wonder, As

 

Ever consciously reflected on the fact that you are alive — right now? I mean really get into that? Try this, soften your belly and relax your jaw. Feel — feel don’t think — feel your heart beating deep inside your body, and feel the rhythm of your heart as it radiates outward, pulsing in your hands, feet, and neck. Feeling your heart in this way, relax and open as in an offering to the world.

While you are at it, take a moment and try to feel how you live your life. How do you spend your life’s moments? What did you or will do today or yesterday? What are your plans for tomorrow? Who do you love and do you love deeply?

The undeniable truth is that no matter what — no matter how much money you have made, how many Coach Bags you own — one day you will become numb and your heart will stop, you will stop breathing, and all this will disappear. In some moment just like this one, your life will end.

Period.

Are you ready for death? Are you ready for the death of your children and your loved ones?

Perhaps one day you will be friends and family celebrating, a gentle breeze, the sun caressing your face. Suddenly your heart stops. A final plea… and then fade to black…

Are you ready? I mean, are you truly ready? Have you loved and lived fully and given of your deepest gifts?

A life well lived is a life faced with an open heart in every moment. You can be wide open, holding nothing back and you will receive in return without pushing away. This is true whether you are living in a penthouse or the Big House (prison). The opening of your heart does not come from an analysis of some kind, it is not dependent on external factors, it does not come from “loving” in the normal sense that we conceptualize love. The opening of your heart comes from a deeply felt sense. You are openness, inseparable from this entire moment. The one truth is that everything comes and goes. Everything must change.

Your child’s smile: precious but temporary and already dissolving.

Your lover’s tender embrace: already disentangling.

Life often resembles the ocean in that, try as we may, we are essentially helpless to stop the waves — they come and go, no matter how much we rail against them. Yet, while it is true that we cannot stop the waves, we can still learn how to surf. Every moment is a miracle and already disappearing. Every experience is at the same time full and empty — both.

A life lived merely for the sake of experience is a cheated life full of tension, insecurity, loneliness, and a deep sense of emptiness. Your Coach bag cannot fulfill you because, at some point in time, it will fade. It will break, or get lost, stolen, or worse: it will fall out of fashion. Your experience cannot fulfill you because as soon as it comes, it is already gone. Like the addict’s obsession/ compulsion for a fix, it’s an illusion, just out of reach.

If we stop the grasping, life becomes free and full of light. Surrendering is opening. That’s how you open — you surrender, opening full and bright, breathing deeply. Offering your heart of hearts, you are reborn in this moment. Believe me, when the end comes the only questions that will matter is whether you loved deeply and lived fully. But do not wait, death gives us the permission to live freely and love openly this very moment.

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.

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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.

Why I’m Single

Hola Everybody,
Please consider supporting my writing and advocacy work by donating whatever you can (or sharing) at this link HERE.

People sometimes ask me, Why are you single? LOL There isn’t a simple answer to that, though complications never stopped me from attempting anything. So! Here goes…

The Single Life

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(Or: The Man Your Mother Warned You About)

Let me clarify right off the bat that I’m not attempting to justify or defend my “singledom.” I am single mostly because it is how I choose to live — it’s a conscious lifestyle choice. Contrary to conventional wisdom, there are many, many advantages to being single.

A little history… I’ve been single for most of my adult life primarily because I never viewed being in a committed relationship as a priority. I didn’t grow up idealizing the conventional wife-2.5-kids-house-picket-fence thingee. And yes, I liked to have fun and during my earlier years attempted to have as many sexual and casual relational experiences as possible. I am only making an observation when I state that I have experienced a lot. More than the norm. One friend found my experiences so unusual, she accused me of reading too many Penthouse letters.

So strike off at least 20 years to simply being a slut — mostly. Not a “player.” I was never a player. I am too introspective or conscientious for that. I am not so cruel that I would intentionally hurt others in my quest for gratification. More accurately, I was a hedonist with philosophical tendencies. (I’m having fun here, but I suspect there will be a price to pay for all this fuckery.)

So! That’s how or why I was single for most of my adult life. But why am I single now, you ask?

Well, the reasons are many. I am currently unemployed, so I couldn’t blame you if you observed that being broke is not an attractive look. But I was single when employed and earning a decent wage. So it can’t be that.

Whatever the case, one reason might be that there’s a large segment of women who will have nothing to do with me because of my past. I am a man with a past and “bohemian” doesn’t even begin to describe it. I’ve been many things at different times in my life, many of them not attractive to the more conventional types (or any normal person, for that matter). As a consequence, my past serves to marginalize me. I’ve been everything from an active addict to (make-believe) pimp, to criminal, to scam artist, to… well, you get the idea. In a way, I am the man your mother warned you about. And no, whatever rumors you may have heard, I have never thought it was cool to fuck my girlfriend in the ass and then leave her. I’m kidding!

I’ve met many women who have balked because of my past. And that’s OK, really. I am open and honest about who and what I was and if you can’t accept that, it really doesn’t pain me. Good luck and before you close the door (gently please), take as your parting gift that ultimate prize — the last word. Summed up, there are women who won’t have much to do with me because I’m the Gangster of Love or some bullshit like that.

I am probably old enough to be your father but my outlook is young in nature. I love to laugh, to flirt, to have fun. I have seen more ugliness than even my tired eyes could ever tell you, but I’m still utterly fascinated and awed by life. I am curious to the point of distraction and I enjoy exploring new ideas and questioning beliefs (yours and mine).

I mention all this because I think these are attributes that are an attraction and a turn-off. For some, my “look” and attitude spell, “Danger” or at the very least immaturity. I’m still the one who will point out the Emperor (or hostess) has no clothes when everybody else knows discretion is the better part of valor. I sometimes get that side-eye look from women. You know that look that says, “You’re trifling… ” or something like that. Women lacking an evolved sense of humor won’t get me. So! There’s also that.

But here’s the primary reason why I’m single. I am single because when I commit, I commit completely and fully, I don’t play around. When I open my heart, there are no conditions.

No ifs, ands, or buts.

I take relationships seriously when I do commit that means getting out of my comfort zone. And I guess if you’re with me the one promise I can make it that there’ll never be a dull moment. And, believe me, that’s not always a good thing.

I’ve met too many women who claim to want intimacy, but whose idea of intimacy is really me doing what they want me to do. Or their idea of intimacy is an intimacy that’s only about holding hands and doing the touchy-feeling thing. To me, that’s not intimacy, it’s a caricature of intimacy. Intimacy, for me at least, is about opening up and becoming fuckin’ vulnerable in a way that’s oftentimes very scary. Intimacy demands complete, utter surrender. No holding back, giving it all even when you’re too afraid. It’s really about taking a huge chance in the face of the overwhelming evidence of past hurt and betrayals. And let me tell you: there aren’t too many willing to be like that and I’m too fuckin’ old to play house.

So there, that’s my story and I am sticking to it!

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

Sunday Sermon [Surrender and Devotion]

Hola mi gente…
I’ll be at the Loisaida Festival today. Come join us!

Surrender & Devotion

05-29-16_ Sunday Sermon [Surrender & Devotion]

 

You all are probably sick and tired of my constant references to surrender. But you see: there’s no way around it: if you want to be happy for once in your fuckin’ life you first have to surrender and surrender completely. This is no, “Well, I’ll surrender a little bit, then later I’ll surrender sum more” surrender. No, that shit doesn’t get it. You’ve been doing that long enough and half-assed surrendering got you half-assed results.

No, I want nothing more than your total, unconditional, utter surrender. And I don’t want it for myself (though my world would be made better by it), nor do I want you to surrender to me (though that would be nice).

I guess I should start at what I mean by surrender. The word “surrender” gets a bad rap in our culture, with its almost obsessive and exclusive focus on the individual. Surrender is often interpreted as giving up, weakness, ceding, as in defeat. While I am referring somewhat to giving up, I use it in a different way. Surrendering to me means letting go of our resistance to and fear of the total openness of who we really are. Allow me to reiterate:

Surrender means opening up to the fact of the total openness of who you really are.

Yup. You are total open consciousness. You may not know it, but everything you need for your freedom exists within you right now, in this very life, this very moment. You just need to stop resisting this very important truth.

Surrendering to me means giving up that little mass of tensions you call your “self” — the story you created as a response for the need to feel real. All that bullshit: your horoscope, your Myers/ Briggs categorization, your social security number, your ID card — all that shit is bullshit. It’s your little telenovela, your personal soap opera. That is not who you are. That whole thing — that “personality” — is a bundle of tension you chose to take on in order to separate yourself from everyone else’s telenovelas. You can actually feel it: it manifests itself as a contraction in your body.

You cannot be vulnerable nor can you surrender while immersed in your personal soap opera. You cannot love, nor know love, nor be loved while you’re all twisted like that.

Soften yourself, breathe — luxuriate in your free space…

Surrendering to me means to open with no boundaries. Shit, you cannot say, “I love you,” when in a state of surrender. There is no “I” — no “you” — that loves. There is only love. Quick! Think of someone you love totally without condition — a son or daughter, or a lover…

Feel that?

That is what you are. It’s palpable — you can feel this thing that you are — it’s always there even when you lose sight of it. That’s who and what you are.

Surrender to me means loving without limits. It means to break down your walls and to let down your guard so that your lover can feel your genuine, naked, and unhidden core without defenses. Your belly becomes soft and your breath becomes full. You willingly open your body and heart to your lover. When you reach this level of awareness, life unfolds differently. If you are hurt, you experience the hurt, but you remain open and full. You live your life as open like the sky, the ocean, the trees. Surrender to me is the gateway to the deepest possible way of knowing.

You might say you have opened like this and I will challenge you. You may have surrendered to someone or something but I have met very few people who have surrendered to the notion they are love. What I mean by surrendering is the practice (not the thought, or analysis) of surrendering. In this context it is not surrendering to your fears, nor the demands of another, but directly to love. If you tell me you have no resistance to any of this, then I’m going to call you on your bullshit because if you have ever tried surrendering in this way the first realization is that there is a huge resistance to it.

True surrender, in the manner in which I use the word, is not adapting in order to please people. Nor is it even momentarily sacrificing your emotional needs. These are all secondary needs and true surrender is about breaking through veil of these secondary needs and amplifying the primal and very human yearning to give and receive unlimited and unbound love.

And that my friends is devotion.

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

The 12 Steps for Everyone [Step Three]

Hola mi Gente,

Right off the bat: I am not interested in debating people who consider 12-step fellowships cults, or who think they are ineffective or whatever. The 12 step fellowships aren’t for everybody. If you were to attend a meeting, you would here this repeated in the prefatory readings at every meeting. However, if you were to ask me how I got clean, I would have to tell you that the fellowship of Narcotics Anonymous saved my life. My experience also tells me that internalizing and applying the principles found in the 12 Steps could be beneficial for everyone, regardless of whether they identify as an addict.

* * *

 03-15-16_ 12 Steps for Everyone [Step Three]

Turning it Over

Step Three: We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

 

The first time I came to the fellowship of Narcotics Anonymous, by the time I reached this step, I had decided to quit. This is bullshit! I told myself. Fuck that God shit.

At that time I wasn’t ready for recovery and I spent the next five years, the worst of my life, chasing my addiction so that I could get outside of myself. In a very real way, my addiction was my Higher Power, and at some level I knew this, but I would not kneel before a God I didn’t believe, or religious principles that I saw as intolerant and juvenile.

I didn’t sit still long enough to read the part of the step that says: … as we understood Him. The second time around, I was more willing to learn to listen and listen to learn because I had a burning desire to stop the suffering. Yet, while I was more open, but I also knew that I couldn’t pretend to submit to religious dogma because my efforts had to be genuine or I would risk going back.

My First Step work forced me confront the contradiction of my addictive process: that I felt powerful when in fact, I was powerless over my addiction and needed help. The First Step gave me hope… However, having internalized and accepted my powerlessness (not to be confused with hopelessness), I was left open and vulnerable, and while I understood my powerlessness, I needed something to latch onto, some form of support.

My Second Step work helped me come to terms with trust, at least a little, and it challenged my feelings of grandiosity, bringing me to the realization that I am a human being, and as such, I am not all-powerful — the “Great I Am.” It taught me the value of surrendering my small self in favor of my Higher Self. The Second Step helped me take a fresh look at faith and it helped me begin my spiritual search anew with a new perspective. In fact, I see my entire history of active addiction as a spiritual search gone wrong. Recovery was a matter of turning that mad search into something sane and good.

In the beginning, I was able to accept the collective consciousness of the fellowship of NA as my Higher Power, but as I continued to work the steps in my life, I revisited the teachings of Buddhism (The Dharma) and I accepted them as my Higher Power. In Buddhism, I found a Higher Power that could restore me to sanity.

In Narcotics Anonmyous I was taught that there are no “shalts.”In other words, nothing is forced down our throats and everyone works the steps to the best of their abilities and at their own pace. In fact, working  the steps is not a requirement, simply a suggestion. The first three steps serve as a foundation — a bridge — back to life. It’s not about belief, but about practice. Believing is not enough; it is through living and applying the steps that we recover our Original Self. I think what’s most important for anyone, is maintaining a frame of mind described by Zen masters as “beginner’s mind.” In the mind of an expert, it is said, there are few possibilities. But in the mind of a beginner, everything is possible.

Let me add that I as I have progressed spiritually, I have come to realize that bridge back to life was made from the bones of those who came before me, many of whom never got clean, never tasted spiritual freedom.

Truly, change and recovery are about coming back to a state where we’re open to suggestions and looking at life with fresh eyes. It’s about dropping the mess and listening to the message. If you’re like me and many others, there are issues that have tested you sorely. Whether it is drugs, sex, relationships, your emotions, food, or other people, we all have found ourselves at our wit’s end at one time or another. The Third Step is about letting be, as the Taoists put it.

One thing I was painfully aware of was that whenever I imposed my will, things became messed up quick. If I was in a relationship, my will meant lots of insanity. Imposing my will on my addiction meant that it made it worse because my will was warped. So recovery (and specifically the Third Step) is a lot about letting go of the impulsive need to control. It’s about allowing a Higher Principle, set of moral and ethical guidelines, Higher Power, or God — or whatever you choose to call it — guide your actions.

For me, that Higher Power as I understand it is The Dharma. In other words, instead of exerting my will on my addictive behaviors, I was letting go in favor of a set of spiritual principles that emphasized ethical behavior, contemplation, and cognitive restructuring. Rather than chasing a bag, or the delusional grasp for happiness through destructive behavior, I was instead flowing into a spiritual practice that guided me toward a saner way of life. For my purposes, I do not believe in an Abrahamic God, but I am an addict in recovery.

My experience with the 12 Steps is that they have taught me that when I’m less reactive and defensive, life becomes less stressful and simpler. The truth of the matter is that I’m constantly taking my will back. I become a backseat driver to my life and demand to make a left turn, when my Higher Power (as understood by me) is telling me to make a right. There are times I’m downright nasty about it and I take the wheel and “all of sudden” there I am, ass out on Broadway. In my early recovery I would take my will back on an hourly basis. I had the good fortune to have someone explain to me that recovery (and life) is really about practice not perfection. The point is if we’re to evolve, then letting go becomes a way of life. These principles are guidelines to progress. The issue isn’t spiritual perfection, but spiritual practice. No one, my guide told me, gets this perfectly.

Whatever your understanding of your Higher Power, it is suggested that it be a loving and understanding. For me this means living a life of non-harming, of skillful speech and action. If I can turn my life over to that Higher Power, then I’m released from the bondage of my smaller, ego-driven self. For some this can mean throwing away the concept of an angry and jealous God for one that is loving, accepting, and compassionate. It could mean an understanding of God that resides within, instead of the concept of a patriarchal God-in-the-sky. Perhaps the Universal Principle is a stream flowing through all of us. Maybe my Higher Power, rather than being an old white guy with a beard can look like Halle Berry, instead. Who’s to say? What’s important, in this spirituality, is that your Higher Power be loving and trustworthy.

Most importantly, this step is all about coming to terms with trust. It is really about learning acceptance, of letting go of the compulsive need for control. In my active addiction, I was more concerned with control than about relationships. Lack of trust, my friends, is really about control. If you don’t trust someone, then you’re trying to control that person. In other words, lack of trust is the impulse to control because if you can’t trust another, you want to do everything yourself. And how has that worked so far?

Let go…

This is for you, whoever you are. Take what is useful. Ultimately, however, this is mostly for the still sick and suffering addict out there all alone thinking there’s no way out, or defending a madness slowly killing him or her.

My name is Eddie and I am an addict in recovery…

 

 

Living Skillfully

Hola mi Gente,

When I facilitated workshops, I was always looking out for experiential exercises. This, in turn, kept me in a state of constant exploration and learning. So, in a very real sense, my workshop participants were actually my greatest teachers.

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Weather_-081

Alive

Change your words into truth and then change that truth into love… — Steveland Wonder, As

 

Ever consciously reflected on the fact that you are alive — right now? I mean really get into that? Try this, soften your belly and relax your jaw. Feel — feel don’t think! — feel your heart beating deep inside your body, and feel the rhythm of your heart as it radiates outward, pulsing in your hands, feet, and neck. Feeling your heart in this way, relax and open as in an offering to the world.

While you are at it, take a moment and try to feel how you live your life — how you spend your moments. What did you or will do today or yesterday? What are your plans for tomorrow? Who do you love and do you love deeply?

The undeniable truth is that no matter what — no matter how much money you have made, how many Coach Bags you own — one day you will become numb and your heart will stop, you will stop breathing, and all this will disappear. In some moment just like this one, your life will end.

Period.

Are you ready for death? Are you ready for the death of your children and your loved ones?

Perhaps one day you will be friends and family celebrating, a gentle breeze, the sun caressing your face. Suddenly your heart stops. A final plea — fade to black…

Are you ready? I mean, are you truly ready? Have you loved and lived fully and given of your deepest gifts?

A life well lived is a life faced with an open heart in every moment. You can be wide open, holding nothing back and you will receive in return without pushing away. This is true whether you are living in a penthouse or the Big House (prison). The opening of your heart does not come from an analysis of some kind, it is not dependent on external factors, it does not come from “loving” in the normal sense that we conceptualize love. The opening of your heart comes from a deeply felt sense. You are openness, inseparable from this entire moment. The one truth is that everything comes and goes. Everything must change.

Your child’s smile: precious but temporary and already dissolving.

Your lover’s tender embrace: already disentangling.

Life often resembles the ocean in that, try as we may, we are essentially helpless to stop the waves — they come and go, no matter how much we rail against them. Yet, while it is true that we cannot stop the waves, we can still learn how to surf. Every moment is a miracle and already disappearing. Every experience is at the same time full and empty — both.

A life lived merely for the sake of experience is a cheated life full of tension, insecurity, loneliness and a deep sense of emptiness. Your Coach bag cannot fulfill you because, at some point in time, it will fade. It will break, or get lost, or stolen, or worse — fall out of fashion. Your experience cannot fulfill you because as soon as it comes, it is already gone — an illusion, just out of reach.

If we stop the grasping, life becomes free and full of light. Surrendering is opening. That’s how you open — you surrender, opening full and bright, breathing deeply. Offering your heart of hearts, you are reborn in this moment. Believe me, when the end comes the only questions that will matter is whether you loved deeply and lived fully. But do not wait, death gives us the permission to live freely and love openly this very moment.

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

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 25+ years. I do, however, believe anyone can benefit from practicing the principles that form the foundation of the 12 Steps…

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Stopping the War

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.

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 described perfectly how I felt.

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 have huge 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 $2.50 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 intravenous injections, 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 of 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 my will wasn’t working too well. 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 took me years; 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 spell and some snow 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.

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, 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.

It’s 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. 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 of where I was or what day.

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 to 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 was addicted to insanity.

Oh, and yes, I’ve kicked more habits than I can remember. 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 an institution 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, 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. 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…

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

Alano: “The Online Alano Club is a nonprofit association intended as a resource for Alcoholics Anonymous® members and groups, as well as any individual who has a desire to stop drinking. Members from other 12-Step programs, especially the Al-Anon Family Groups, also are welcome.”

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.