Doubling Down and Drowning

clint with tulips final

In the wake of yesterday’s turkey shoot in San Bernardino, which eclipsed last week’s Planned Parenthood shootings, does anyone even remember the community college in Roseburg Oregon? It was exactly two months ago. My friends on the left rage that meaningful gun control must happen. My friends on the right demand that an armed citizenry would diminish bodycounts. From my perspective they’re both wrong.
The raw facts on sheer numbers of weapons in the U.S. dictate that it is no more possible to limit guns in America than it would be to follow through on Trump’s half baked idea to round up and deport 11 million illegal aliens. They’re here, they’re queer, get used to it.

The concept of a good gun owner taking out a bad gun owner is why nearly all of us have a pistol in our castle to protect our family. The right likes to trot out an occasional incident where that actually worked out for the home owner but they’re quaint when put head to head against the huge numbers of accidents, suicides and domestic violence killings they’re actually used for. The strategy of conceal carry is already an unmitigated disaster in every poor gang turf in America. Sadly our movies and television reinforce the fantasy that we’re all potential antihero bad asses, exacting righteous one to one head shots against hapless, aimless storm troopers. Newsflash Mister Eastwood: It’s. A. MOVIE!!! (Or tv show or video game). We’re fed that imagery a dozen times a day. Never the reality of being so coursed with fear and adrenaline that you lose coordination, can’t hit the side of a barn and probably run out of bullets in your panicked first five seconds. Stop it.

From where I sit the enemy is fear.

As a citizenry we’ve always had guns. That’s a constant. The real variable is hope and the lack of it. Always a constant in poor areas where killing is a regularity and doesn’t make the news is a perfect microcosm of what “normal, white America” is sliding towards and we’re freaking the fuck out in the worst possible ways.

I grew up with a small dog named Burgie. She was an unusually well tempered Dachshund. She got along with everyone, four legs or two. She even showered our Culligan man with kisses every month. As she got old and couldn’t walk well, went deaf and her vision was clouded by cataracts she became increasingly snappy. Everything started scaring and threatening her. She didn’t feel safe and felt helpless to cope with her circumstances.

My childhood pet is a perfect corollary for America. The middle-class is being choked out into a paycheck to paycheck existence. Far from the idealistic dreams of Babyboomer bra burners choosing to have careers outside the confines of “Domestic Engineer”, no one has a choice anymore. The traditional fabric of a stable family and neighborhood is all but gone. Everyone is from somewhere else and no one has time to get to know their neighbors. My last decade of employment was with a company who stubbornly held onto the classic 40 hour workweek, health benefits and retirement fund blueprint. We were small so it was easy to watch in real time how, through privatization, increased shareholder over worker focus, pressure to jettison classic employment packages for temp, contract or part time workers not qualifying for benefits increased anxiety. Job security was replaced by “be grateful you even have a job”. I watch it play out louder and tighter, at every level. Thank goodness the media is here to point at our neighbors as being the culprits and cause of our personal collapses. Out of neurotic frustration and pent up impotent rage we’re all too happy to buy in and lash out. At the exactly wrong thing.
My friend Kevin posted a comment last night suggesting 2 Chronicles 7:14 as our hope. I’ll spare you the peek at google.

“if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

As an atheist it would be super dooper easy peazy lemon squeazy to roll my eyes and dismiss any verbiage from my favorite fiction fantasy book. But Kevin is a christian and that passage provides direction, focus and comfort for him. My decidedly irreligious eyes read this as hope. Inner reflection. Reinforced by better action. Toward myself, you, and my neighbors. What influences you in a positive way? When was the last time you fed your heart by reading, practicing, and expanding your better self? What do you do to be a part of any sense of community? How do you help yourself by helping others? These aren’t fluffy, esoteric questions. They’re the only things that keep the claustrophobic terrors of day to day life from killing hope.
Another law, another gun, another person or people to blame won’t make me feel safe. Only hope. And hope comes directly from what I think, say and do every day. Fear or Love – which am I worshipping right now, this very second? Because that thought, idea or action is the life I’m choosing moving forward.

The Vilification of Virtue

frank

As Pope Francis parades across D.C. I am reading a resurrection of hatred for the man across my news feed.
By Christians.
It disgusts me.
As an atheist I have no dog in this fight. But as an outsider looking in I have a great deal of affection toward Frank because though we surely don’t see eye to eye on everything (not a prerequisite for my admiration btw) he does espouse the spirit and ideals of what I understand to be the core of Jesus’s philosophy; Love, Tolerance, Humility, Compassion, Service. Principles that, for myself as a Humanist, are just as imprinted on my heart. Principles and ideals that seem to be, in practice, anathema to what worshippers of Republican Jesus preach. A sort of hate-filled, paranoid mantra of fuck you, I got mine, wealth ministried, god hates poor/brown/gay/foreign/liberal devils because they’re ruining God’s Chosen Country… in Jesus’s name, Amen.
Seriously. What the actual fuck. That’s some serious Through The Looking Glass shit.
I understand the cynicism of some of my fellow unwashed heathens who decry Frank as a propaganda pitchman for a corporate brand that’s been tanking for 20 years looking to rebuild it’s stock. I don’t agree with it but I see their point. My own perspective is that even if this were true, he is the CEO of the world’s largest social services conglomerate on the planet. Public displays of washing female muslim prisoners feet, holding the disfigured in prayer, defrocking high ranking clergy who harbored child molesters or used church funds for lavish personal excesses, personally discarding the plush environs normally availed to a Pope/CEO for modest furnishings and clothes – as he apparently has done his whole life, offering olive branches to gays, atheists, women who’ve aborted, acknowledging their humanity, these are all ideas worth living up to, whether you’re me writing this blog, a single mom raising a family, a 30something middle manager at Walmart in Tallahassee, or God’s celebrity pitchman. Whether he’s looking to refill pews and coffers or not, he’s setting a tone of brotherly love and inclusion that has to affect 1.3 billion people. The fact that so many old guard Catholic practitioners and bishops are pissed off by this to me shouts volumes about how much they’ve forgotten what Christ’s message was in lieu of their own personal security and power.
I admire Frank because his message is double dog daring me to love you whether you’re like me or not. And people hate him for it. Jesus was said to have been considered a radical. Frank must being doing something right.

Aim Low, Shoot High

RIAN_archive_399644_Young_tennis_players_practicing

When I had a few years clean and had already worked the steps a couple of times, Emmet Fox’s Sermon on the Mount had become all the rage around the rooms. As it turns out, that book was an integral influence on the original writing of the Big Book and after reading it I could see it’s stamp all over Bill’s words. But that’s an interesting side note. What’s in my head this morning is the profound effect Fox’s book had on me as an Atheist. (which is only to say it could probably have a profound effect on *anyone*!)
You see, studying Sermon on the Mount changed the way I saw recovery in AA in a most fundamental way. Fox talks about principles in terms of absolutes. That Honesty, Humility, Courage, Integrity, Willingness, Brotherly Love are perfect ideals. At the time I was a very angry young man, though my two runs through the steps had provided me some relief from that particular bondage of self. Just enough relief that reading Fox’s ideas on practicing principles in all my affairs struck me as something I needed to pay attention to; it mattered not that when I threw a rock [principle] at the east foothills [ideal] that I didn’t hit the east foothills [ideal]. What mattered was that by trying as hard as I could in the moment – I made progress.
What I read in that book was that being human meant that I could never achieve perfection regarding these principles but that every bit of suffering in my life was directly connected to the degree by which I worship my exceptions to practicing them in each affair of my life. My serenity is inversely proportional to my “yeah but’s…”.
Mind blown.
On a very core level I thought to myself, “fuck.” because I knew it was absolutely true even as my mind came up with several favorite, well polished, lifelong trophies of justified rage that I loved (in a Stockholm Syndrome sort of way) to hold up regularly as my righteous burden qualifying me to treat you badly.
Thus began my going on 25 year snipe hunt to eradicate my “yeah but’s” regarding practicing principles. Not because I’m a saint (as all of you who know me know for damn sure!) but because I’m practically Don Quixote when it comes to trapping my own hypocrisies and hoisting them up to be mocked! Sometimes they’re vanquished. Sometimes they’re accepted as being a quirky part of me that I may not be ready to let go of yet. A catch and release program of sorts. But acknowledging my “yeah but’s” means they no longer scurry around ruining my happiness without my permission. Which starts making them look and feel kind of silly.

“12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” never looked the same to me again after that.

The Whitewash of Blackface

269614_2125700498792_1134296117_2405887_3679363_n I have a style of posting on Facebook that encourages audience participation. I throw something out there, often it’s inflammatory. But posed in a way that makes people think. Above all else I want people to think, whether they agree with me or not. I want them to be awake to where they stand on a thing. To own what they believe, not merely recite it like pulling a string in their back. I encourage discourse and opposing views. My only rule is you can’t attack anyone else’s beliefs. You can’t bully. Yesterday after reading the teaser for an article someone posted which had three photos of President Obama, Eric Holder and Al Sharpton with the word THUGS in the title. Behold, my topic for the morning: You *do* realize that when you use the word “thug” we all know you actually mean “nigger”, right? The discussion that followed was interesting and at one point it was suggested that by posing this rhetorical question I was exasperating the racial divide in this country. Now I’ve been chewing on just that idea for the last month. And this is what fell out. I’m not furthering any divide. That divide is plainly there. I’m just calling out the fart in church. The etymology of the word “thug” is of little relevance to the discussion. Very pertinent is it’s popular usage. I’m reading things encouraging conciliation in the wake of the cops getting shot over the weekend. I say the opposite needs to happen. Not an out and out race war but for the topic to not be hastily stitched closed by people saying all the right things to smooth egos, hurt feelings, and retain status quo. We NEED to talk this out. We need to be made to see our willful blindness that keeps things comfortable for us and not for everyone else. (see: U.S. population NOT white, straight, male) The isms in our country are institutional, pervasive and part of every bit of it’s fabric so much so that it is stunningly easy to be blind to it, akin to a fish being asked to describe water. There is much talk about women, brown people and all the other crybabies of society sucking America dry one welfare check, crack pipe and illegitimate rape at a time. That they need to get over it, get a job, stop with the victim mentality. Every meaningful social statistic says that societal opportunity is stacked against them, from birth forward. Blacks, asians, women, hispanics are rarely shown in any media as anything but stereotypes. Caricatures. If they’re strong, capable, smart, well they die to save our white hero (who avenges their death). Or the white savior makes a stand to save them. Educational resources are funneled away from poor neighborhoods. Police arrest nonwhites at 4 times the rate of whites even though drug usage rates are equal. No one except double digit I.Q.ed neanderthals actually say “nigger” anymore, they say “thug” and everyone in the club knows which side of the fence they’re on. All levels of any meaningful career is still firmly a good ol boys club. Even Silicon Valley only has maybe a 25% female employment rate. It’s bullshit. The protesting going on didn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s been brewing for a long time. Most of it isn’t being done by people breaking windows and setting fires. Hell, protesters outed a cop in Oakland undercover as a protester breaking windows – instigating chaos. When confronted he drew on them. It’s insidious. And the media is all too happy to produce the narrative. One crackpot shoots two cops sitting in their car and it wipes away decades of police abuse. I don’t accept the “a few bad apples” argument regarding rogue cops the very same way I don’t accept the “not all men” tactic. It conveniently hands the worst characters over as appeasement to keep everything the same. it looks absolutely nothing in the eye. And that desperately needs to happen. I am not a race traitor, a gender traitor or a closet homo. Those aren’t filters I see through usually and whether you think I am speaks a great deal about you, not me.  What I am is awake. And being so makes me sick. The consciousnesses that need to be raised are *ours*, not the people we keep held down by the fiscal, social throat, insisting that if only they had more character they’d be just like us. Everything about our society is rigged to favor me. Ann Richards, governor of Texas once said of George Bush, “Poor George, born on third base and thinks he hit a home run.” That’s you and I. Maybe you’re relatively poor and you aren’t feeling that statement at all. But the word “relative” is significant. You probably work your ass off just to get by. The people I’ve listed at the outset of my post – they work just as hard, for less, with even less hope of leaving their station in life. The consciousness that needs to get raised is mine. Ours. Step out of your comfort zone. Pay attention to how you get access, privilege, a basic assumption of benevolence simply by nature of your gender, race or orientation. It’s easy to do. Think of the superlatives you use reflexively to describe a black person, even complimentarily, that you find unnecessary to use to describe someone from your tribe. Try it with a woman. A gay person. Those words are unconscious prejudice. And deeds follow words. America is at a turning point. “All lives matter” is a worthless rebuttal to “black lives matter” because we already know white lives matter. Acknowledging that black lives matter brings them into the equation. It has to happen first before “all lives matter” is a truth and not literally a whitewash. I don’t lose a damn thing by offering women, blacks, asians, hispanics, and gays the same humanity, dignity, opportunity, access and rights that I receive simply by virtue of half my bloodline (I don’t have the energy to get into what’s been done to the Native American part of me). We all gain by bringing as many great minds to the table as possible because America isn’t doing well. We need one another.

The Typecasting Couch

687197932424357035

Lately I’ve run into a spate of people (though not risen to the level of plethora) who stubbornly refuse to date this guy or that girl because “they aren’t My Type”. End of discussion. Not coincidently they are, to a man (or woman) keenly lonely. And that breaks my heart because I’ve learned a lesson or two about being loyal to My Type.

For a good 20 years you could sew by the pattern of My Type. So practiced at it was I that I’ll condense it down for you right here; Little Stoner Girls Looking for Daddy. Bonus points for little titties and red hair. The closer you were to that, the more I was smitten. The further from it, the less visible you were to me at all as a potential partner. It was on par with being a love geiger counter. Only it took me those 20 years to grasp that the louder the clacking the more radioactive the relationship was going to be. Because the more you were My Type, the more I was going to practice working from my script of who I thought I was and how I thought I needed to act. And you were going to love me back. And it was going to be uh-MAZ-ing. And it was. Until the very same intense fire that created that passion also burned everything down around us. Every goddamn time. Brand loyalty to My Type gave me license to act a part in a script that you had no idea you were reading for. And largely I had no idea either. It often got fugly.

:::clackityclackbzzzclackclack:::

Each attempt more toxic and shorter lived, the more I held rigidly to the idea of the Holy Grail of lovers – the Unicorn! The shining exception to the golden rule of dating: crazy in the head, crazy in the bed! The longer I pursued it the less epic it became until from the outside looking in it was more reminiscent of Monty Python than King Arthur. Indeed I’d become the Black Knight, ineffectually bleeding on things while demanding loyalty to My Type as the one true way to love for me. Shiny had become glaring. I was loyal alright. Loyal to my suffering. Because never deviating wasn’t honorable. It wasn’t even being true to myself. It was only being lazy and scared with great conviction. The really douchey part was that by seeing you as a ‘type’ I also wasn’t seeing you as a person. What a dick!

Here’s what’s helped break my self-deluded spell.

Chaos.

It gets a bad rap in our society but Chaos was the key to smashing My Type. First of all I stopped dating. I know, the next boy or girl you have on your My Type radar has potential. Trust me, it’s the same shit. Because you’re the same. So just fucking stop. Take a breather. Remember who you are when you aren’t trying to complete you at someone else’s expense. Write. Go strange places. With new friends. Or really old friends. Don’t fuck them. Pay attention to what feelings come up when you don’t fuck them. Write about them. Breaking patterns creates chaos. It jars me awake when I didn’t know I was comatose. Only do it while being present. You’ll learn incredible things about yourself. You’ll finally see some ick about yourself that you can actually sluff off and walk away from. Keep writing. Double dog dare yourself to do new things. Discover who you’ve become while you were busy thinking you were someone else in an ill-fitting suit or dress.

That brilliant sense of alertness? The sharper colors? Vivid scents in the air? Those laughs from your belly? Chaos. Write about it. Putting it down on paper essentially makes a contract with myself that this is who I am today. Feel free to tear it up tomorrow. But writing it down cements that I, in fact, am awake!

Now date someone different. Someone outside Your Type. Be awkward. Don’t feel instant lust. Don’t have any idea what charming, clever thing to say. Put the fucking script down, because it isn’t who you are anymore. Just look across the table at this new person, take a deep breath, exhale. And be genuine. You’ll be shocked at what falls out your mouth.

You’ve got absolutely nothing to lose and the world to gain by being who you are with people who expect nothing else. Have an adventure.

#Not All Men (Are Cowards)

You probably think the guy who shot up Santa Barbara because women owed him is a psycho. But if you’ve pressured a woman for sex, exclaimed “I’d hit that!”, called her a whore or a slut when she didn’t act right, made her feel creeped out or unsafe by how you look at her, touched without permission, scorned or punished her for not putting out, or lack the ability to hold a conversation that isn’t rife with innuendo then you’re part of the same psyche that felt the need to make women pay.
NEWSFLASH women are human beings, not a life support system for a pussy. Stop for a minute and flip it backwards – what would you think of a person who treated you the way you treat the women in your life? Think about it.

UPDATE: I caught massive shit for posting this. Even so far as to be called a traitor to my gender. I couldn’t be prouder. I am not a traitor. I want to shove my gender kicking and screaming into the 21st century that it might earn the dignity of being humane.

Acceptance Defined & Defiled

ACCEPTANCE does not mean laying down and taking it. By definition it means seeing things as they are. If, once my eyes are open I find the truth unbearable then don’t bear it. Fight. Loudly. You will be reviled but you will be shocked at how many others feel just like you. You’ll never feel more alive than in the chaos launched in speaking truth to mediocre death.

Smother’s Day

Smoking my morning cigar on the deck I saw a butterfly light, appropriately enough on the butterfly bush across the yard. I said quietly to myself as much as to the universe, “Hi mom.” If you’ve been to my house you’ve seen butterfly ornaments tied at various points around the yard and in the house. My sister has a huge wall piece in her living room near our mother’s ashes of butterflies springing off the wall. It was her thing.
Mother’s day is difficult for me. I had three mothers in my life. One that birthed me, gave me up and after tracking her down ultimately blamed me for my sister’s murder because I couldn’t save her from 400 miles away, before she herself stole all the money from her mother’s trust. One who raised me, who was abused horribly in her childhood, who was neglected and beaten and abandoned by hers. Who spent our life fighting depression and persecution complexes. Who didn’t defend or protect me when I was raped as a small child. Who was a master at the insult/compliment. And one who clearly endured the rest of us with a church smile barely containing the lemon she was biting into during group outings because her family adored my sister and not much else.
Being well entrenched in the recovery community I am surrounded by folks who’s mothers rented them for drugs, beat them, openly resented them, used them as pawns to seek revenge against their exes, neglected them and lashed out at them as the reason their life wasn’t what they’d dreamed for. An old friend of mine once said that she started becoming a better mother the moment she admitted to herself that she hated being a mother. I thought that was absolutely courageous.
Yesterday I posted something from a writer who gave voice to all of us who struggle with today and got hammered for it. It hurt. A lot. Because fuck you, that’s why. You didn’t have my upbringing. Perhaps you aren’t any of my mothers. My post today isn’t for you. It’s for the rest of us. Please stop reading and scroll on to a Mother’s day post that better mirrors your experience. Or unfriend me here and in person. Any rude or hostile commentary to this post will be deleted. Because I won’t be shamed one more time for having feelings that are less than glossy about the most significant relationship most of us ever have.
Over the years those dysfunctional relationships effected every relationship I had with the opposite sex. From abject terror of them, to making them all pay for the harms done me, to playing doormat, to domineering, to being loyal when I should’ve run with my hair on fire, to being utterly incapable of being faithful. My compass spun all over for lack of a true north. There came a time however when I finally needed to be my own man. This came in stages; through the steps I was able to sort out what was mine from what was theirs. Therapy helped me sort out what the steps weren’t designed for. And ultimately a living amends to the woman who raised me, however haphazardly, by teaching her how to treat me. (by no longer making her pay for my childhood and no longer acting like I was 13)
By making peace with my past I came to see how truly fragile she was and how much she had risen, given her own circumstances. It meant calling her out when she acted meanly while standing by her side. Sometimes it meant spending less time with her. It meant telling mother number three to kick rocks when, one more time she talked badly about mom as if she wasn’t there during another endured ‘family holiday dinner’ and letting everyone know that the charade was over. I protected mom.
That was the turning point for me. Not that she changed. She tried. But she was close to 80 at the time. What changed was how her unfinished business no longer effected me.
Someone described to me recently that early wounds are like a giant black spot in a bowl. The spot never actually goes away. It only gets smaller by comparison to all the other moments and experiences I add to the bowl. This came as an epiphany to me at 30 years sober that I had not actually failed for some reason because days like today still hurt. Because a butterfly wandering into my yard still makes me smile wistfully, for who mom was and wasn’t.

I Have a Dream…

I have this belief because I was raised in a socially liberal home. Though my neighborhood was such that you’d get beat if you were even effeminate. My mother was in theater so I grew up around gay. It was as normal to me as people with blonde hair. This was in stark contrast to social views around me. Views which I found not only ignorant but insecure. That was the 70’s in the bay area.
Today I live in the Marigny – the gayest neighborhood in New Orleans. No one threw a parade for National Coming Out day. In a town where a parade happens for any excuse in the world, that’s quite a statement. But the world is not the Marigny.
If I drive 20 miles outside New Orleans I am back in the Southern Baptist Bible Belt where it’s still commonly used to beat faggots. Like it is still in every rural, inland, homogenous, non-integrated town in America. Like it is throughout virtually all religious communities. All over the world.
So i created this poster as an ideal to advance people’s consciousnesses – not as a reflection of today’s reality. Because if you don’t live in a coastal big city or certain havens in the middle of the country, coming out is still losing your family, your friends, your standing in the community, your job. It’s a Big. Fucking. Deal.
It’s ridiculously easy to forget that living the life of a free, white, straight male in America. I started out on 2nd base and wonder what your problem is. “You’re gay? So fucking what.” Apathy is a far cry from acceptance.
So congrats if you took a deep breath and said it out loud yesterday – or any day. I got your back by not making a big deal out of it.

God’s Country II – Electric Boogaloo

Image

An image that keeps playing back over in my mind since I’ve been here happened the first night we tried to hit a meeting. There were a couple listed as close to us so we ventured forth in search of bad coffee and like minds. Our first choice was several blocks up from our house and though I’d been warned that it’s not adviseable to be anywhere along I-10 if I wasnt in a car I figured what the hell. Up the road we went, lovely tree lined streets and restored buildings cheering us along.

The further out we went though, the less care seemed to be taken in their upkeep. Boarded windows, tall grass, abandoned cars and trash encrouched on the less frequently lovely old homes. We finally came up on the church where the meeting was listed at and were confronted with a long sign across the side of its entrance. There it listed some 200 names subheading the years 2007 & 2008. Next to each name was the person’s demise. And no meeting. I checked my gps and found another meeting a little back the way we came and several blocks up, running the perimeter of what is considered the good and bad side of town.

Off we went, recalculated and further determined, marching turf I hadnt cruised since the bad old days of making drops. It’s funny how all of it comes back to you; how you carry yourself, move your arms, enough eye contact to claim your business without unnecessarily challenging, who to nod at and who not. All the while keeping in mind my girl’s protection whilst not reading like I thought I needed to as eyes followed us.

And then it happened.
Along the very wide grassy and tree filled corridor separating east and westbound traffic was one of the most surreal things I’ve ever seen, like Oliver Stone hallucination scene stunning; a black kid, maybe 12 years old trotting along the grass atop a gorgeous horse, bareback. And I mean this steed was majestic. Like those spanish show horses I’ve seen on tv. Big, flowing tan mane and tail, prancing, toned physique. Juxtaposed against a bustling road. Staged behind working class, abject poverty. It stopped me in my tracks. And i smiled. Ackowledging it changed everything. They were off about their business, just as we were. Just as everyone else was. Only now I saw the laughter as we made our way up the road to a new meeting where they didnt do it right. And I didnt mind one bit.

For those of you who used to read my blog posts here is God’s Country the original story, regarding steps, perception and having a servant’s heart. Enjoy!

Breaking the String In My Back

 

Lately I’ve been sort of floundering and rudderless. My life is fairly busy and full with friends, sponsees, girlfriend, family, various adventures, 4th Dimension… but with my career in my rear view mirror for just about 2 years now I dont really feel too much like I have a point other than to maintain the shit that I can do blindfolded.
What keeps pushing its way through the mundane, auto-piloted, Charlie Brown’s teacher drivel (“Blah, blah Neil! Blah blah blahdiddyblah Neil!) that fills the hours in my head is this insistent thought that I need to write something. Not like AA inventory number 71. But something substantive. Two things keep popping up over and over. Either fleshing my blog style out to a series of essays ala The Prophet, because my writing style is designed for that, or a Guide through the 12 steps for Atheists.
I am of course drawn to the idea of the latter idea because it will by its nature cause controversy. Child of Chaos, guilty as charged.
But that’s not the point of why I’m writing this right now. The greater point is that for years now people have been telling me “OMG!!! You NEED to write a book!!!” (insert eye roll) to which I reflexively say, as if I was a Neil Action Figure and you’d just pulled a string in my back, “I used to draw all the time, hours a day when I was a kid. It was my emotional outlet and release. The day I started getting paid to do that, it stopped. Havent been able to draw just for funzies since. Writing is that outlet now and I dont dare fuck with that.” I’ve been saying that shit for years like a sad wistful Sam Jackson’s Jules in Pulp Fiction quoting Ezekiel 25:17 right before he shoots someone.
Except now it occurs to me that what if that isnt even true? Anymore? …or ever? What if that has been nothing but an eloquent weapon to swat people down with so they dont notice I’ve just been being loyal to my suffering and the only thing being shot dead after my soliloquy is Hope?
What then? What if I was to suddenly bitch slap one of my mostest sacredest of cows, step right into its personal space and call it out? What if I dared to step right through my comfort zone and do it different….?

So here’s the gauntlet thrown down. The double dog dare:
In the interest of psychic spring cleaning – what old paradigm, written in stone commandment are you willing to toss on it’s head because it’s no longer a lovely accessory, it’s just a fucking ball and chain.

Of Cherry Bombs & Blossoms

I woke up this morning to news that favorable winds, giving Japan it’s only real break in this continuing disaster, blowing radioactive air out to sea, had turned, and now are heading straight back into towns already decimated by a 9.0 earthquake and 30 foot tsunami. I thought about the core level terror that the idea of radiation sickness must inflict on the Japanese people. And that reminded me of Natsumi Michihira.

The family that raised me during the 60’s and 70’s here in the bay area were progressives. They never told me what their politics were, they only insisted that I vote. They were of opposite spiritual beliefs but left it entirely up to me to explore that realm or not. Their friendships showed me a cultural pluralism that ingrained so deeply in me that when I step foot other places where white is all they’re serving I feel uncomfortable. My father was the token round-eye in an Asian tennis club. Ma did theater and clowning. I knew plenty of gay people and met my first transsexual when I was probably 10. The families we spent most of our weekends with were a family of hippies raised by beatnik parents, a black & white couple from the east coast who did co-op farming, and a pair of Japanese immigrants, first generation, with two sweet daughters.
Toshi and Natsumi were soft spoken, polite and very nice people. Their daughters straddled the line between their parents traditions and the gratifications of California. They taught me about Japanese culture by exposing me to their fairly spartan lifestyle, festivals and especially their food! God do I love Japanese food, but then Natsumi was a great cook and first impressions are everything. Their english wasnt all that great but being influenced by them at such an early age it didnt occur to me that this was something to be mocked, that they were somehow retarded because they couldnt talk right. No, it caused me to pay closer attention, to notice the strained and embarrassed looks on their faces, to read other cues they gave – and most importantly to realize that they each knew at least two languages, and how ridiculous do I look thinking them inferior when I know but one. Megaduh.

In 1994 Natsumi fell gravely ill and died very quickly. The Big C. It was my first Buddhist funeral and I remember it as if it was last week. Each person walks up to an elaborate urn and sprinkles incense into it, then turns to the grieving family and silently bows. Looking Toshi in the eye as I did so was the most profound expression of grief, respect, love and compassion I’ve ever been a part of. Nothing in the dozens of western funerals I’ve attended touches that one act of caring. Crap, the memory of it makes me cry now. When I returned to my seat I read through bleary eyes the memorial card each of us received as we walked into the Temple.

Natsumi Michihira
Born 1940 Nagasaki, Japan
Died 1994 Sunnyvale, California

Natsumi died of Leukemia. The weight of it floored me. The enormity of all the ramifications of it. Of how this particular death could affect her husband. Of the choices they made to come here of all places, given that they’d been touched first hand by the bomb. In some respects I still cant wrap my head around being in their shoes. But it continues to speak volumes about their courage and character.

Now you probably think you already know what’s coming next; the Apology. And you’d be wrong. This blog isnt about rethinking my Grandparent’s decisions in the waning days of WWII. In fact, given the sheer brutal tenacity of the Japanese fighter, more so the closer we got to the Homeland, coupled with their belief in their Emperor as a near deity, dropping the bombs likely saved 2 million lives on both sides of a land invasion. No, what inspired my fingers to require abuse of this keyboard was a combination of thoughts and feelings.

I’ve heard several people prophesy the coming lawlessness and post-apocalyptic chaos that we all know our society would delve into a week after *we* had a Great Quake, followed by a 30 foot wash and rinse with no Daddy Guvmint to save us in any practical way would be replicated in the Land of the Rising Sun. It wont. Thinking so is simply myopic. Their national psyche is such that they’d rather sacrifice their own lives, moving in teams to their mortally wounded nuclear facility, asking older employees to go first because they’d be less likely to develop cancers before they passed of natural causes than younger workers. It’s shop owners *lowering* their prices in affected areas so that people can get what they need. It is the anti-selfish. It reminds me that courage and selfishness are mutually exclusive. It’s being afraid and doing the right thing anyway.

I think of Toshi and Natsumi and my Mom and Dad and I remember that the fruits of a tree are rarely seen by those that planted the seeds. I sure am grateful for the seeds they all planted in me. And I pray for the people of Japan. For what they’re showing the rest of the world. Churchill famously said that America always does the right thing – after it’s exhausted all other options. We are first and foremost a nation of Christian values – with a fat helping of ‘Hey! Look at Me! Arent I great?’ Often for no good reason. We usually arent bright enough to realize we should be embarrassed by our collective behavior. Today isnt one of those days. And I’m glad for the seeds planted so many years ago, to see the miracles amid the suffering thousands of miles away. It inspires me to be even quieter in how I go about being in service today.

Schleprock, the Patron Saint of Self Pity

The saddest thing regarding victimhood is that it is nearly always unconsciously self imposed. The book spells this out a dozen ways for me but it seems that the longer I am sober the more aware I become of just how cunning, baffling and powerful my disease is and in the subtle ways it whispers ridiculous lies to me about you, me, my place in this world and my relationship to God. Every day. All day.
“To thine own self be true” from Shakespeare’s Hamlet emblazoned on the backs of our recovery chips doesnt mean for me to protect myself and honor my truth (whatever the fuck that is), read in context it is telling me to be honest with myself – then I can lie to no man. ‘Victimhood’ is among the greatest of my self imposed prisons. If I am a victim I have no peace and no power. Its hell on earth.
Tragically, my disease works hard to keep up with my recovery. The phrases ‘what I did yesterday doesnt keep me sober today’ (aka resting on my laurels) and ‘my daily reprieve, contingent upon the maintenance of my spiritual condition’ take on huge ramifications as I get further into recovery. Much the way the 4th step covers my character flaws in raw, basic terms but by the 10th step we’re looking at the same things in minute shades of gray, my defects find new ways to spin themselves into the driver’s seat as i trudge this path of happy destiny.
Hence I’ve come up with a few spins on the step process for sponsees who’ve been around awhile. Its fairly easy to do some going through the motions with the steps once we have the discovery process down. Turning a few things on their heads specifically designed to jar me out of my autopiloted victim stance does wonders for fostering a psychic change even 20 years down the road:

• In step one I will often ask older sponsees to write down everything during their day that frustrates them or pisses them off. We all know the AA politically correct answer to the question “What do I have power over?” (in Stepford/cult/pod person voice) “I have power over my own thoughts and actions. I have no power over those around me.”
Good sponsee. pat. pat.
This all but ruins the entire rest of the step process because I’m building a house on the foundation of a lie. In principle, yes. The sponsee was telling the truth. But its the truth told from pulling the string in his back. The honestanswer is that everything in my day that pisses me off or frustrates me is something I think I have power over. And these are the things that I need to focus on in steps two and three!

• Step four has me write who I’m resentful at, what happened, the areas of my life affected and finally my part. HUGE set up for a victim stance. What dawned on me after having been here awhile is that I am the only common denominator in all these scenarios. So I have long timers read the list backwards: I am (selfish, dishonest, inconsiderate, self seeking & frightened) [column 4] because I dont trust God in these areas of my life (sex, security, social ambitions, emotional, financial security, self esteem, personal relationships) [column 3]. It causes these situations (the resentment) [column 2] with this person [column one].
The look of horror, rationalization, resignation and acceptance the first time the committee gets knocked off their lazily tilted board room chairs using this redirection is just fucking awesome! When the lightbulb goes on over their heads its truly having a ringside seat for a New Freedom and a New Happiness. There are of course exceptions. I dont read the childhood stuff, what I refer to as ‘original sin’ resentments backwards. I had no hand in being raped as a child, or abandoned, or otherwise abused. What i have them look at there is in how I’ve made countless, blameless people pay for the harms done me as a child.
As a whole, this redirect makes looking at my character defects in 6 & 7 a great deal more productive.

• Step 8 & 9. I do NOT put myself at the top of my amends list. This is a wildly unpopular move from most other’s perspective. I do this for a couple of reasons. If I’m looking at these steps from the view of Brotherly Love and Justice and I am following the directive in the book of being hard on myself and easy on the other fellow then putting myself at the top of the 8th step list taints everything else I do here. I had my best interest in mind during every shitty thing I am attempting to clean up here. Loving myself first before I can clean up my messes is a circular, empty exercise in selfishness and self centeredness. I gain self esteem by practicing esteemable acts, in this case making things right, not by thinking more about myself. We close most meetings with the Lord’s Prayer. In it there is the passage “[God] forgive us our trespasses AS we forgive those who trespass against us.” Reread that. The ramifications are huge. What it says there is that I am forgiven as i forgive you. It also says that I am impelling God to make this happen. I need only be willing and to practice brotherly love to make it so. I am purely a conduit for God’s love to work through me to make things right and as it flows through me, to you, I am forgiven or cleansed with that love as well. Boom. That simple. That cant happen by thinking about myself more. And I am by no means a christian. But the principle is Universal.

I hope these lil tidbits help. They’ve given me great freedom from the sneaky little traps my mind lays for me. In making me a victim it retains its control. Being a victim separates me from you and God. As the old saying goes “I identify my way in and compare my way out”. That includes the sneaky trick of lamenting others’ victimhood.

Telling You What I Need to Hear

A month ago I started sponsoring a fellow who I’d known around the rooms for many years. He approached me because he’d heard that once upon a time I’d trafficked meth in sobriety and he figured I’d understand his addiction to power and adrenaline. True enough. As we were standing there I asked him if he had any digits in his phone that he knew he could make quick cash with. He said yes. My response was to kill em. Out came his cell and God bless the willingness of the desperate – delete, delete, …SIGH… delete.
I was so proud of him for the courage that took.

Two days later a very rude and uninvited thought popped into my head. Neil? Yes. Do you have the very same balls to delete the names from your cell and social networking sites that you know you can call to get a quick fix of validation?

Fuck.

I stewed on that one for another two days. Not because i needed to have a debate in both houses followed by a 2/3 super majority passage to enact. Oh no. The bald face truth of that double dog dare meant it was all over but the shouting. I spent that two days grieving the loss of one of my oldest and dearest safety nets. The clarity of what I HAD to do was unshakable; I could not, would not, ever have happiness in my life in a love relationship unless I stopped touching base with my past. Holding onto it, even with just a finger tip, was the death of my last relationship and would forever be in the way of my ability to be present with anything new in my future. You cant unknow something like that. So I either trust God or I dont. Fuck.

Delete, delete, delete, delete, delete, delete, …SIGH… delete.

And it was done. I’ll be damned if there wasnt a huge sense of relief that washed over me. And what’s this…? Hope? As with every other rock that I’ve grudgingly handed over to that Power I dont understand, i am amazed at how much lighter I feel after I surrender what wasnt truly mine in the first place. I feel right-sized again. Free. Buoyant. Better prepared for this next adventure. All because I told a guy what I needed to hear.

Apologies in advance to all of you that just said “Fuck.”

God’s Country

I’ve long been perturbed when people refer gushingly to places of expansive physical beauty as ‘God’s Country’. I always reflexively wonder what kind of God would favor Yosemite over Uganda? Does God not hang out in Los Banos? …Okay, maybe that’s a poor reference… but still.

This weekend I finally crashed under the weight of all my circumstances over the last eight months; lost career, lost leg, lost girl. The environment that had evolved by making my home so open to everyone had turned into a prison of sorts where I had nowhere to seek sanctuary. So I beat feet, jumped in my car and drove till I ran out of sunlight with a change of clothes, a credit card, three spiritual books and a pad of paper. Left behind was my lap top and the ever mischievous and increasingly conspiratorial FaceBook. I shut off my phone after letting a couple of people know that I was going to disappear for awhile and that I’d be back when my pen ran dry. I pulled into a shitty motel with a shitty diner attached to it and holed up.

I stood on the balcony that first night and exhaled a long draw from my cigar with a sense of wistful comfort. This flea bag joint was on the same stretch of road where 25 years ago I’d done business in my former lifetime running meth. Where I’d had to come running one summer night to find my partner spun out of his head, bent over the toilet in his chonies with a half pound in his hand, swearing the cops were there. Only he was right – the poor bastard was being tortured hearing the radio of one of the town’s finest as a hooker worked out her bill in the next room.

Ah, good times.

Only now it was cold, the wind was blowing angrily and the rain was relentless. I sought refuge at the fine dining establishment next door and saddled up to the counter. I’m not sure who was a more firmly ensconced piece of the building, the server, his woman by the register, or the crusty old timers at their well worn thrones further up the table. There was an ease amongst all of them and they welcomed me to their laughter as they razzed a busboy in two languages as he repeatedly failed miserably at snatching a stuffed toy with a wretched crane claw through a garishly lit glass stand. Dessert was blended with an equally good natured back and forth between the denizens threatening to theatrically sermonize and arguing about which language the Bible should be in.

It thawed me and I remembered back 20 years to my last holiday with my father. On the road back from San Diego visiting my sister, we got stuck in a roadside joint by pea soup fog on Christmas night. We all came together laughing and singing. Ma, who was a professional clown, making balloon animals for everyone and a crown for a bald girl whose dad was bringing her back from chemo up north. Magic only happens when you arent expecting it. i was grateful these new kindred souls invited me in and just as grateful that I could still be happily surprised by the gregariousness of strangers.

The next three days were an ebb and flow of writing, praying to nothing, reading, random connections with others on their way somewhere or looking to not be found and pretty mediocre food. But what kept coming up over and over was the love and mutual respect, unspoken as it was, that people had for each other. That they readily accepted me as being a part of. No one was there by accident and I was enlisted to help people with their rooms, borrow a phone, engaged in all sort of small talk to yard nods to profound discussion as I stood in my doorway along with everyone else as it continued to rain. I was one among on my own terms.

During the afternoon in the lull before the place started its nightly buzz I stood again on the balcony and watched as a girl folded towels for tomorrow’s house cleaning duties. To my right was a working girl engaging her boss and making her way down the stairs, that bold, swaying strut clacking time with each step in her spikes like a supremely sexy metronome. I thought to myself that they were both working and who really paid the higher price? And as i finished my rhetorical question she swung into the laundry room and laughed with the maid. It was beautiful to behold.

My last dinner at Chez Greasy Spoon was spent at a booth by myself and I observed all the goings on around me. There were at least four different dialects being spoken, lots of animation amongst the clutches of people as they ate. I was content to watch the show when a couple caught my eye. A young black father and his 3 year old daughter were in the booth next to me. he faced me directly though he never looked me in the eye. This didnt surprise me as we werent of the same clan so to speak. I was completely taken however at how he was with his little girl. He was very gentle, calm and soft spoken and always engaged her. And quite the little chatterbox she was. I marveled at his doting love for her, though not smothering. He was as a Daddy is supposed to be – a strong stable loving guide. When she spilled the maple syrup intended for her blueberry pancakes he only got up and grabbed a wet cloth to clean everything up with, then went back to sharing their meals with her, much to her protestations at the sanctity of HER flapjacks being violated. I was suddenly possessed of an urge to break the rules and hurriedly finished up my chicken fried roadkill and slipped up to the register. The same cashier was there from the previous night and he looked at me quizzically when I asked him if I could pay that gentleman’s bill along with mine. “Sure” he said and as he slid both tabs up to me he asked if I knew him. “Nope.” And he lit up as i finished by saying that it was a thanks for being such an amazing father.

I have no idea how that scene played out 10 minutes later but I’d forgotten how absolutely amazing it made me feel to practice random and (mostly) anonymous acts of kindness. I slept well that night. The din of wind and chatter outside as good a lullaby as I’ve ever heard.

The inventory is written and I’m back home. Ready to go for a long trip with a good friend across the southern U.S. An old sponsor of mine used to take a week every year and just disappear, usually to the desert. His home was very much like mine is now; a busy place full of love and recovery. Though with mine there is the added spice of debauchery. (You havent lived till you’ve stood in a circle reciting the Lord’s Prayer with a roommate’s fuck noises in the background.) Now I get why he needed to leave every now and then, headed to God’s Country to get filled up again. To meditate and contemplate who he had become since last time. Those three days of lousy weather in a crappy motel choring down barely edible food restored me. It was a long weekend in the middle of the week in God’s Country. Because God is wherever I bother to look around me and see.

Do You Believe in Miracles? (You Sexy Thang!)

dance210904

I dont. But then I dont believe in a religious or deital God. My experience with prayer is that when I call something into my conscious mind I become suddenly aware of those things I’m seeking, which were likely all around me the entire time, though I was blind to them. I chuckle at meetings when people say ‘God’s testing me’. Really? You mean you werent already lustful and greedy? God’s flinging temptation upon you? …or was it that you were busy in a 6th step and asking for help with something and now aware in a way you hadnt ever been of just what a lustful, greedy pig you actually are!
Even my one true pearl of an example of a real miracle seems to bear this out for me much more so than the idea of an Omnipotent Father; I was sitting in my bath tub struggling to breathe from pneumonia with the shower running over my head. At the time I was a 2 pack a day guy and had been for 25 years. From my shower I could see the tv in my bedroom and on it was a particular ad campaign being run on endless loop about 8 years back. In it a guy says “I cant get outta bed without a smoke!” then it cuts to a guy laying in bed, covered in sweat, saying “I cant get out of bed”. Cut to some sassy girl, “I tried to quit once and I put on 10 lbs!” fading to another, very gaunt woman with a wrap around her head, “I’ve lost 25 lbs so far”. Now I’d seen that ad a hundred times. It didnt mean squat to me. But right then I felt the full weight of it to my toes. I raised my hands over my head, palms up, lowered my head and said, quietly “God take it.”
And it was gone.
No withdrawal, no craving, no mood swings. And not another cigarette since. I hang out with smokers and neither crave them nor am pious or born again about their smoking. I have sweet freedom. Others would call this a miracle. What I call it is one of two times in my life that I was ever perfectly humble. Now it only lasted a few minutes and I was lucky enough to have prayed during that brief window. What I received was the miracle of lack of ego; for that small stretch of time I had a clear awareness of who I was in relation to you, the rest of the world and the flow of the universe.
I recovered quickly from that precarious state to my regularly scheduled slightly-better-than-slightly-less-than you comfort zone. But I took with it an ability I hadnt had 15 minutes before.

I can not solve my problems with the same level of consciousness I had when i created them. -A. Einstein

Prayer and meditation is the only way i know to raise my consciousness. Knowledge raises my thinking or contemplation. Prayer raises my Energy.

But that’s just me. Your mileage may vary.

13th Stepping for Jesus

2r3bds1

I’m Neil and I’m a seducer. (Hi Neil) Seduction though, for me doesnt have to have anything to do with sex. I seduce almost habitually and have rarely followed through with sleeping with any of my, um… victims. Does that make me a tease? No. It’s not my focus. Seduction is an incredibly subtle dance, one that I often have an advantage in because it’s usually a woman’s realm. They dont see it coming. My father was an absolute master at this. He always ended up with two scoops of ice cream on his pie. Women adored him. Because he made others around him feel good about themselves. There was often a gentle sexual aspect to his play, though it was barely perceptible and always deniable. Believe me, I took notes, though I doubt I will ever achieve his innate skill. He could just as easily drop a seemingly innocuous comment into the middle of a room then sit back and watch the fur fly an hour later with no one knowing who’d started the ruckus in the first place. All the while his horns cleverly disguised as a smirk on his face.
I cant fairly speak to pops’ motives for doing this. I can say that for myself seduction is often for control. If I can seduce you, I have security.  When I was young I stumbled on to it as a compliment to my first defense mechanism; quiet aloofness. I grew up enjoying the company of women. In fact I was perfectly comfortable in their presence – unless I was attracted to them. Then I was a mum fool.

I once had a friend, Monika, who sat me down one day and explained to me (after swearing me to silence because she’d be struck dead by the XX Godesses for betraying their secrets) how things really worked. I still thank her to this day. Oh did I have fun, the more I practiced and explored this certain charm. I also hurt quite a few people in my eager ignorance as well as having had it blow up in my face. (Hello, crazygirlrestrainingorders!) I started getting laid quite a bit, much to my astonishment, but it was much like climbing on a motorcycle with no training (or so I hear. *cough*). Slowly I began to realize that seduction when applied to other aspects of my life other than sex was quite comforting. It gave me a certain power over you that in my mind, made me safe from you. It also usually made me feel superior. If I could seduce you then I ever so slowly started to lose respect for you. It became a self serving and alternately self defeating weapon that kept me just as alone in my mind as I was when I was 15. Redoubling my efforts I came to a point of one’s too many and a thousand’s never enough. I couldnt achieve any sense of validation from it anymore.

The turning point for me came when I’d had a nervous breakdown as an extension of this same mindset. Because I had no real sense of Humility regarding this skill, nor a belief in the idea that I had value without seducing, when the girl of my dreams walked out on me my house of cards collapsed into a pile of rage, grovelling and depression. I decided that whatever happened I couldnt live like this one more day. I found a therapist, female of course, and promised myself that even if I seduced her, meaning bringing her over to the winning side, that I would continue to be completely honest with her and follow through on her direction. The first time I made her cry tears of empathy I knew I had a choice to make and I chose to stay. I never stay. Loyal to my suffering all those years, abandonment was a hell I knew and worked hard to achieve. The hell I know is better than the one I dont. Making a choice to stay – and respect this woman, became an incredible turning point in my life’s arc. She ended up helping me turn a defect into an asset by installing Humility into it. She helped me see that I am not separate from you, that we are all one in the same, no greater or less than. It was then that i finally saw the power in my father’s charm. He used seduction to connect with those around him, and from the smile that was usually on his face I realized that he allowed himself to be charmed right back, to be a part of it – not apart of it. My girl is forever amused by this. She was my best friend for 20 years before we added ‘lovers’ to our resume’. She’s had a ringside seat for the best and worst of me. There was no seducing her. There was no need. Love comes from an entirely different place than seduction. Though it can often be the match for the fuel.

The thing that’s changed as I’ve gotten older and more comfortable within myself is that I use that gift for the forces of good, offering up a psychic half hit of X and leaving you feeling open, comfortable, slightly vulnerable, intrigued and vaguely aroused, or not. It isnt the point anymore. What’s important is to be one among. Something I’ve always craved and dared not wish for.  I get that now simply by giving. Often now that includes a vaguely warm, safe feeling, though you just cant – quite – put your finger on what it is that makes you want to give me a second scoop.

God as I (dont) Understand Him

bf70d099-7bf3-428a-8e35-db01214e95f8

Over the last 26 years, trying on many spiritual hats I more come to believe that the quote aughta read as i dont understand Him.

I was raised by parents of opposite faiths, neither practicing, who’d decided that i should find my own path and so, didnt impress one opinion or another on me unless i asked.

I got sober in Santa Cruz, California in the early 80’s. The New Age capital of the free world. Rehab flooded me with a great deal of eastern and western religious and philosophical directions to explore. I found much of it interesting, though much more from a sociological perspective. And besides, I was watching how many of the practitioners of these esoteric schools of thought were conducting themselves. You could prop up all the crystals, meditations, robes and incense you wanted but too many were still trying to get status, laid and rich. Still, there was a certain… something that i couldnt quite define that kept me open to what might be.

AA meetings were a curious mix of western/christian-influenced buzz phrases and prayers but somehow it never really bothered me. I sorta looked at people who’d freak the fuck out on their presence, particularly the Our Father at the end of the meetings as having a giant chip on their shoulder since they were choosing to ignore the request preceding the prayer, “for those who wish to join us…”. To this day I usually just chime in after they start off the ‘Our Father, who art in heaven’ bit. It just doesnt suit me but I see no reason to shout what does suit me over everyone elses version.

What i did eventually key into was the writings of Emmet Fox. Initially his Sermon on the Mount, which served as the text for many AA groups before the Big Book was written and a very popular reading within the Oxford Movement. It’s basic spin was metaphysical christianity. Fox looked at the bible as a book of metaphors and psychology, not of history. This appealed to me greatly. It also took the principles I’d been studying in AA and took them to a much higher level. Fox dealt in absolutes. I knew that I’d never be able to live up to the ideals that Fox espoused but I treated it as if I had a ball in my hand and threw it across the yard. Sure I’d hit the fence, no big deal. But if I take that same ball and aim for the mountains in the horizon, it’ll never make it that far but just look at how far it DID go just by trying! This school of thought worked great for me for several years, culminating with a workshop done at my home by an elder statesman in AA. He was close to 80 at the time, with 50 years sober and actually studied under Fox in the 1940’s. It was an incredible time. That said, there were things about the teachings that just didnt sit well with me. Reincarnation for one. I just couldnt buy into the premise. To me it seemed (and still does) an outcropping of man’s incredible narcissism. But i wasnt willing to reject the whole teaching for my misgivings about one aspect of them.

Then I had a stroke.
It sucked all connection to God right out of me.
And it broke my heart. The book talks in We Agnostics about the tragedy of the man who had once had faith and lost it. That was me. There was nothing worse than knowing that I had once had a great connection to God and now the line was dead. Not even a busy signal. I spent the next few years sort of wandering aimlessly. Eventually I settled on a red head as my higher power. Oh, bad. She wasnt qualified for and didnt want the job. I had no idea how much I’d invested into her as the source of my peace, serenity and happiness until she walked away. In my wanderings of the latter half of the 1990s after dialing that dead phone so many times, I rejected the God concept altogether, eventually worshipping science because at least there was a tangibility there, and besides wasnt it systematically shedding light on one biblical story after another? But when she left science was cold comfort. I had nothing. And I was broken in a manner that I had never experienced in all my life.

I came to meetings, using a cane because I’d lost some 40 lbs (I weighed 150 to begin with) and sat in the front row. I listened to everyone; newcomers and old, young people and seniors, friends and adversaries, stable and insane because they all had something that I’d lost. Hope. Desperation, the essential ingredient of step one led me to to a recommitment to the steps, to the principles that guided them, that had been omnipresent in every spiritual path I’d ever explored over the years. By 2002 I’d embraced service and the 12th step as my duty, gift and blessing. No longer was it a job I was contractually obligated to. I found it to be the key turned, unlocking the Promises. Gone is my chair from the table of the debating society. I no longer care.

Through my whole sobriety there has been a passage that has always nagged at me. From the solution to fears in the fourth step in How it Works:

“we trust infinite God rather than our finite selves.”

Infinite. Meditate on ‘Infinite’. I cant do it. It makes the inside of my skull itch. Its just too fucking big. So how can my finite mind conceive of a God I can understand. It is by definition, sold short. So i quit trying. ‘My own understanding’ is that the principles are universal, throughout all religions, philosophies and premises. They are the road signs to that God that I am ill equipped to understand. What I do understand is that at any given time when I am in the moment, present, practicing Honesty, Openmindedness, Humility, Brotherly Love, Intregrity, Willingness, Courage, Justice, Empathy and so many others I sense a clarity, an almost humming in my chest, barely perceptible but undeniable. It connects me to you and all things. It is never there when I am in ego or fear but always when I am present in a principle. I need no other proof or understanding. God is in the practicing of these road signs right this minute.

(Mar. 19, 2009