Will Save Your Life
Only If You Are Willing To GoThere
It was very cold out. That’s all I can remember about that night. I was 13 years old, hanging out on the corner in Dorchester, trying to look and feel like a tough guy, trying to find a way to fit in, and working my ass off to stay alive in the process.
The cover up was simple. Just pour out half the contents of the Coke can I held in my hand and refill it with Baccardi Rum that was in my other hand , my drink of choice at the tender age of thirteen. I had no idea what I was doing, I didn’t understand what I was getting myself into, I couldn’t imagine the impact this behavior was going to haven on my life, and I didn’t care. The concept of consequences was foreign to me. I only wanted to fit in, to be accepted, and to be loved. What a joke, what a lie!
I don’t remember walking (staggering?) home before my two older brothers. I had been drinking with them but I had to be in earlier than they did. I do remember holding on to the back of the kitchen chair and swaying back and forth, while my mother accused me of being drunk. Of course I was drunk! But, I tried with all my powers of persuasion to convince her that she was wrong. I remember her asking me how I got so much dirt on my face and responding that it must have come from the same place that the dirt on my jacket came from – as though she must be incredibly simple minded if she couldn’t figure that one out!
I also remember lying in bed when my brothers came home. The bed was spinning out of control and I had to get up and visit the porcelain throne more than once, projectile vomiting a belly full of rum. I also remember being seriously pissed because my brothers got away with their drinking. I could hear them, in the kitchen, laughing with my mother about the condition I came home in. They were laughing about it! Here I was thinking that I was seriously screwed, that she was going to tell my father and I would end up in a world of major hurt. But now, because of how my mother was talking and laughing with my brothers, I realized that I had just gotten away with the first drunk of my life. I was home free! From here on out, I could do what I wanted! I might have been sick as a dog in a bedroom that kept spinning on an invisible axis, but I was free. Little did I know that it was just the first pile of dirt I shoveled out of the grave that I began digging for myself that night.
So I grew up in an alcoholic household, my father, 4 brothers, cousins, uncles and aunts all suffered from the disease. If an entire neighborhood could be considered to be an alcoholic neighborhood, it was the white, Irish-Catholic neighborhood of Dorchester, where I cut my teeth on rum and coke. It was where beginning to drink at the age of 13 was part of the fabric of life – routine, acceptable and expected.
Given my social and cultural background, as well as the possibility of a genetic pre-disposition to the disease of alcoholism, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I ended up acquiring the disease myself.
I developed a fondness for booze and the numbness it gave me. I was able to achieve an emotional separation from everything in my life. I was able to hide. I was a highly sensitive kid and I think everything affected me at a very deep level. Alcohol gave me the readily available anesthetic I needed to hide me from myself and the rest of civilization. So I ended up following in the footsteps of the people that came before me, and I developed an addiction to alcohol. I became an alcoholic. I should have expected it, but I did not understand the forces I was dealing with.
I ended up having a very difficult time. I quit drinking because there came a moment that every single organism of my being screamed at me, and I knew, like I know that if you want to stay alive you need to keep breathing, that it was over. The therapists I was working with at the time suggested I ignore thoughts and feelings, plan my day and focus on executing the plan. There was no talk of the cars I smashed up on a regular basis, a possible trip to rehab, or the disease of alcoholism. They avoided the subject like the plague. And what did I know? They were the experts and the only people in my life I had to listen to. The only option available to me was to listen to them and follow the suggestions.
You would think that growing up in an alcoholic household, coupled with the amount of booze I consumed every day, would at least have given me a clue as to what was really wrong with me, but it didn’t. And it wasn’t like I refused to do anything to help myself. I was in therapy, with not one, but two therapists! My ignorance, and the refusal of my therapists to acknowledge the real problem, resulted in a six year dry drunk that nearly killed me. A dry drunk is someone who has become an alcoholic that does not give himself the immediate relief and long term agony that a giant slug of Jack Daniels would provide, nor avail himself of the medicine (the 12 steps of recovery) to arrest the deadly disease, one day at a time. I became a very sick man, emotionally, mentally and spiritually bankrupt in every way. But I kept going because there remained a spark of the divine inside that I simply could not kill. It is the same spark that exists in everybody. It was the Voice for God calling me home and I didn’t know. It carried me onward toward something that would change my life forever. It has led me to where I am today, many years and even more lessons later.
During this dry drunk phase of my life, I knew something was wrong with me and I couldn’t figure out what it was. If I could have received a brain transplant that promised to eradicate the constant emotional pain in which I lived, I would have done it in a heartbeat. I thought that I was somehow broken, damaged, or evil. I had done something, or many things wrong, and was paying the price for it because that was how the world worked. My therapists constantly reminded me how horribly I was treating them and struggled to get me to fully embrace the cult they were trying to develop. But that still small voice inside would not let me go there. My feeling of being “less than” was constantly reinforced and I was encouraged to only look at what I did, said or felt that was wrong. I ended up developing quite a long list.
It took six and a half years and a final separation from the people who were supposed to be helping me, and to whom I paid a lot of money for that help, to finally figure out that the only problem I had (which is a significant one) was that I had a disease. It is a disease that thrives on isolation, fear, denial, separation, anxiety, resentment and guilt. It is a disease that tells me I do not have a disease. And it is a disease that will surely kill me if I do not take my medicine every day.
As I look back at those dark days, I can honestly tell you that I am grateful for every second of the experience. I am grateful that I was brought to a place where eating a bullet was an entirely acceptable option, and I am grateful that it is because I went there and learned the lessons that were necessary to extricate myself from that horrible place, that I eventually learned about the miracle of true forgiveness.
At the time of this writing (June of 2011), I have not had a drink in over 28 years. For the first few years of my recovery, which began the day I walked into my first 12 step meeting, I had a real hard time understanding how I could have been so cruel to myself for so long. I looked at all of the life threatening situations I put myself into (there were many) and judged myself unmercifully. Today, I have a very different perspective. I see all of the ways that I could very easily have ended up dead, and I thank God for saving me from my own ignorance and fear. Clearly, He has work for me to do and I am more than willing to do it. But back then, I beat myself with a massive baseball bat of judgment and carried an unnecessary burden of implacable guilt about the things I did, the people I hurt, and the damage I caused while I was under the influence of alcohol.
I had a lot to learn until I was finally able to forgive myself.
I had to learn that becoming an alcoholic and a dry drunk were not my goals. It was not something I set out to accomplish. And it was not a life long dream of mine to end up a slave to a bottle of booze. I didn’t plan to become a dry drunk, slipping further and further into insanity every day and fighting with all my might to keep from going over the edge. I did not know that I had an addictive personality. I did not know that my abuse of alcohol was abnormal because I hung around with people who did the same thing. I did not know that growing up in a crazy alcoholic household would have a deep and profound impact on me mentally and spiritually. And I did not know that I did not know.
In order to forgive myself I had to recognize that I was not in my right mind when I was an active alcoholic, that I was under the power of something I didn’t remotely understand, and that I ended up becoming someone that I really am not. I had to realize that I could not possibly have known the things I needed to know in order to intervene in my own life. I had to admit that, as intelligent, sophisticated and
accomplished as I like to think I am, I knew nothing of the dark cloud that descended upon me, including the fact that it was even there. I had to finally understand that I made a lot of mistakes, all the while thinking I was doing the right things. I did not know what I was dealing with and I didn’t know that I did not know. On this basis I was finally able to forgive myself and experience the relief that only genuine forgiveness can provide.
My forgiveness did not change the fact that I still have a life threatening disease, fully earned, one drink at a time. But it did cause a shift in my perspective and remove the guilt I felt toward myself that I always re-directed onto any available target, particularly my family and anyone else who made the mistake of trying to get close to me. My forgiveness also allowed me to understand that, although I became an alcoholic, an alcoholic is not who I am. I learned that real forgiveness, freely applied, will remove all the emotional turmoil I can bring into my life. I also learned that genuine forgiveness is a universal truth, and if I can learn it and apply it to my life, anyone can. There is nothing special about me. But there is a lot that is very special about genuine forgiveness.
Forgiveness is very often misunderstood. That which passes as the popularly practiced form of forgiveness is largely a waste of time, and a cruel joke perpetrated by an ego that has no desire to give up one small speck of control without a fight.
In order for forgiveness to be real it has to create an immediate, noticeable and permanent shift in the long term feelings of the one doing the forgiving. It doesn’t matter whether or not there is an immediate effect on the person being forgiven, because that is neither the intent nor the point. When we forgive someone, very much like me forgiving myself for becoming an alcoholic, we release ourselves of the immense burden judgment and guilt place on our hearts and souls. My forgiveness has nothing to do with anyone but me. By forgiving my family, especially my father, I was able to have an actual relationship with him because he did not have to change anything. I made the shift for both of us.
Have you ever had the experience of being engaged in a serious disagreement with another individual? You were absolutely certain that you were right. You argued your point, did not give one sliver of ground, and made it perfectly clear that there was something remarkably defective about the other person for not laying down and giving in to your superior intellect and obviously correct position. Then you learned that you were wrong. For whatever reason, you discovered that your perception of the situation was flawed and you had made a mistake. This understanding was probably followed by a period of feeling badly about the mistake you made. The operative dynamic here is the understanding that you were mistaken.
You felt some measure of relief and may even have apologized to the other person. You became free of the burden of having to be right. And you were able to repair a connection to another person that had been temporarily broken. The connection is repaired whether or not you are able to speak to the other person because it is the connection to yourself that had really been broken, and it is this connection that forgiveness repairs. Genuine forgiveness always heals us and it always brings us closer to our real Selves, to the person God originally intended for us to be.
I talk about genuine forgiveness because there is a fundamental difference between genuine forgiveness and that which has been traditionally understood. Forgiveness, as it is more commonly practiced, goes along the lines of telling yourself that you are going to “let this go”. You are going to take the high road and overlook that little indiscretion. Or, you have decided that what the other person did or said isn’t important enough to warrant a major fuss, that you are big enough to rise above it, and on this basis you can let it go. There are a number of things, besides the fact that this strategy simply does not and cannot work, that are completely wrong with this approach.
First it comes from a place of superiority, which is ego, and is therefore based on fear and guilt. It is not healing, and it provides neither relief nor a correction of erroneous perception. This type of “forgiveness” does not change anything. You still believe the other person has wronged or attacked you in some way, and that very belief lives between the both of you forever. The only thing that is really wrong is your thinking, which is the good news because you can change your mind any time you want. The ability to decide what you think, and thereby feel, is one of the only things you do have control over in your life. I am not telling you that this is easy. The lure of the familiar (the way you have always thought and felt, often without being aware of it) is very often irresistible. However, I am telling you that it is possible to be free, because if I can do it, anyone can.
The erroneous belief that you can just “let this go” necessarily emanates from a position of imagined superiority. Arrogance is just another name for the fear that drives the feelings of inadequacy and vulnerability that plague our lives every day, often without our conscious awareness. This type of thinking, no matter how good we are telling ourselves we are being, only serves to maintain a state of isolation and separation. It perpetuates the illusion of “us” and “them”, it does not heal, and it ensures that you live in a constant state of guilt and fear, whether you know it or not.
A Course in Miracles asks the question; “Would you rather be right or happy?” This is a very good question, if you stop long enough to give it some thought.
A Course in Miracles also teaches us that a miracle is simply a change in perception.
So, in order to understand and apply the dynamics of true forgiveness in our lives, let’s take a look at the 5 building blocks of forgiveness:
1. That you do not, nor did you ever, have the big picture. All you know is that which you have learned or experienced. This gives you such a miniscule perception of all that exists, that something so small could not even be measured.
2. That nobody else has the big picture, either. Everyone else is acting out of their experience. Just like you, they are taking past experiences and allowing them to color everything they think and feel today. This dynamic also guarantees that the future will look exactly like the past, unless you decide to make a change in the present. Remember, insanity has been defined as doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting a different result.
3. That anything you do, say, or think, has nothing to do with anyone else. It has only to do with you. It is all your stuff. Conversely, anything anyone else says, does, or thinks, has nothing to do with you. It only has to do with them and their perception, which is the product of their past. So, what we have is a situation where everyone’s past keeps bumping into and reacting to one another, and nothing changes, because nothing changes. Remember, every time you point a finger at someone else, there are three pointing back at you.
4. That we are all walking, talking, judgment machines, often without being aware of the extent to which we judge everything. However, until we make a conscious decision to refrain from judgment, we have no idea how much it permeates our lives. Think about it: You see it between the red states and the blue states, political parties, religions, nationalities, races, (the Native Americans were branded as “savages” which made it easier to justify our savagery toward them, the Black Africans were labeled sub-human which made the economic justification of enslaving hundreds of thousands of human beings acceptable, the Nazis were the “master race”, infidels are not clean and Muslims are terrorists.
5. Following and accepting the logic of steps one to four, the probability exists that you misperceive, to a greater or lesser extent, every situation you find yourself involved in. Accept this as a fact of life and become willing to notice your own propensity to judge. It is the judgments which are always entirely ego based and have the intent of keeping us separate from other people (and separate from God, which is the subject of another white paper) that you need to summon the courage to face. Remember, willingness to do creates the ability to do. Your willingness to begin noticing and eliminating your judgments gives you the saw with which you can begin to cut through the bars of the jail you have erected for yourself.
Understanding and allowing the principles of the building blocks of forgiveness into your life will always lead you to the unmistakable and counter intuitive miracle of forgiveness.
GENUINE FORGIVENESS OCCURS WHEN WE FORGIVE OTHERS FOR THE MISTAKES WE HAVE MADE.
Genuine forgiveness has nothing to do with the other person. It has only to do with ourselves. It has to do with the willingness, discipline and ability to recognize that we have probably looked at something in the wrong way. A good rule of thumb is to remember, at those times you have negative feelings about anything, the probability exists that you have misperceived something. Give yourself the benefit of this doubt and it will make a magnificent difference in your life. All you need is a little bit of willingness. If you cannot find the willingness, that is ok. Just try being willing to be willing.
Real forgiveness does not lead to happiness because happiness is not a destination. Real forgiveness produces a sense of peace that is beyond happiness. True forgiveness releases us from our own misperceptions, unfounded judgments, feelings of inadequacy and burdens of guilt. It can be learned by anyone, will always change your life for the better, and it can last forever.
True forgiveness is the only thing that can permanently release us from the shackles we have bound ourselves with through judgment, prejudice, and ego. Forgiveness is the mechanism that we have been generously provided to rescue ourselves from ourselves. It is the only adequate answer we have for an ego that would imprison us in minutiae while convincing us of our grandness. It is the only answer we have for an ego that would keep us feeling separate from our brothers and sisters by using fear, suspicion and criticism, while telling us that we have so many friends and how popular we are. Forgiveness is the only tool we have that can totally release us from the pervasive feeling of being “less than.”
Genuine forgiveness is the quickest way to become the person God originally intended you to be. It is a guaranteed mechanism that will allow you to experience the peace, serenity, joy, and love that you came her with, that you have sought for so long, and that is your birthright.