Little Ben

Little Ben shimmied into his man suit to go to the arena. He”d learned the hard way that he had to or people would step on him – sometimes literally. They just didn’t take him seriously most of the time.

Maybe it was his age. Maybe it was his joyful spirit. They just didn’t like being around someone who refused to get drawn into their glum gravity. His cheeriness in the face of their crankiness was disconcerting. It reminded them that they had a choice to be cranky, that it wasn’t automatic, or fate.

It was like sobriety – drunks don’t like to hang around those in recovery. It reminded them that there was a way out. They felt embarrassed, or shamed, by his presence. And while it would be easy to go along to get along, he chose not to. It had taken too much work to get where he was to fall back into bad habits again.

Docility through culture

We’ve slowly developed a culture that tells women that they deserve to drink – that it is a sign of being a mature woman. This is simply another way of getting us to be submissive and docile. A drunk woman doesn’t stand up when she’s being pushed around. She just goes and refills her glass.

Just because alcohol is legal doesn’t make it safe. It may be culturally acceptable to have a drink but that doesn’t mean that regularly doing so is good for our well-being.

When I finally decided to stop smoking pot, I learned I was a very angry person. I had a lot of learning to do – learning that I stopped doing when I started smoking to “enjoy” life. I had to learn how to stand up for myself and set boundaries and decide how I wanted to live my life on my terms. I’d been covering up my pain with pot all those years.

Now that drinking is something that our culture says adult women do, we need to step back and examine the repercussions. If more women drink, then more women will accept that the way things are is the way things should be. We will become numb to our own pain, rather than working to change it.

Now more than ever is a time to be awake. Being conscious and involved in life isn’t easy, but sleeping through it is wasteful and sad.

Poem – becoming sober

Becoming sober is like
doing surgery
on yourself.
Everything hurts,
because the things that you used
to run away
from the pain
are the very things
you know
you can’t do
anymore.
So you have to sit down
with yourself
and dig deep
and uncover
all the pain
that you ran away from,
no matter how long ago,
no matter how it happened,
with no anesthesia.

Nobody can do this work for you.
Nobody gives you the tools.
You can watch others
with their struggles
and pick up an idea or three
of what might work for you,
but you’ll only know what works
when you try.
It might work that week,
but not next year.
You’re a different person then.

When we drink or smoke
or do drugs or overeat or
blame others or make excuses
we put up walls
around ourselves
so we don’t have to feel.
We become divorced
from our bodies,
from our lives.
We become immune
to the day to day feelings
of being alive.

Being sober
isn’t just about
stopping using
whatever it was that you used
as a shield,
as a crutch,
as anesthesia.
Being sober isn’t about
forgetting
the past or
the pain either.
Being sober is about
being alive,
and facing your past
and present reality
with courage
and love.

Poem – she left

She left years ago.
She didn’t walk out.
There were no bags.

She left his comic books and cartoons.
She left his callused hands and callous ways.

He was thin skinned
and thick headed.

He never saw it. He never saw her leave.
He never saw her as anything
other
than a roommate, a prop, a support.

Her accomplishments rendered him speechless,
more impotent than he already was,
self-depreciating, self loathing.

A man isn’t a man just because of his age.
A husband is more than someone who is married.

She left him,
left him in her heart,
sad for his emptiness
his neediness,
his brokenness.
To try to fix him was to take away his power.

She left him
to his own devices –
Playstation, computer, and tablet. Action figures too.
Maybe they will help him to grow up.
Maybe one day he will learn from his
mistakes
instead of celebrating them, sickly
by repeating them,
over and over and over and over
and wondering why nothing ever goes his way.

She left him,
because she woke up,
and kept waking up
next to him.
His daily drunkenness on his own failure,
his addiction to his own pathology,
sickened her.

It threatened her.
It threatened her.

Like an alcoholic fresh out of rehab,
his ways threatened her
sobriety,
her awakening.

She left, because he threatened her,
not with words, not with fists
but with his very being.

Real medicine

I knew a lady who was cold. It was early in the morning and she was shivering. She asked her daughter to get her a hot cup of coffee. She hadn’t slept well all night. We have been in a camping event so there wasn’t any central heat. She hadn’t brought enough blankets either. I looked at how she was sitting – all hunched over, hugging her arms to herself. This was a physical coldness and it didn’t need to be fixed by putting something into her, especially a stimulant. That would make her feel worse with her lack of sleep.

Her hair was thinning a little so I offered her a knit cap. We lose most of our heat through our heads. She put the cap on and within 10 minutes she was visibly warmer. She relaxed her shoulders and rested her arms on the table instead of hugging herself. She was a lot more comfortable. It was a simple fix that didn’t require coffee.

I had a coworker who had a headache one day and he asked for a Tylenol. I gave him one. Two days later he said he had another headache. He asked for another Tylenol. I didn’t give him one this time. He was young and needed to learn how to take care of himself. By that I mean more than just buying his own supplies instead of expecting other people to supply his needs.

More importantly, he needed to learn how to take care of himself by fixing the cause and not the symptom. The symptom just points to the cause. I told him to go drink water. If he didn’t feel better after 20 minutes (which is about the same time that a Tylenol would take) then I would give him a Tylenol. He went over to the water fountain had a sip. I said “No, keep drinking until I tell you to stop.” He needed to have 16 ounces of water, not a sip. I watched him drink and counted off the time and then told him to stop.

I forgot about keeping time on purpose. An hour later I pointed out to him that he hadn’t asked for a Tylenol again. His headache was gone.

Likewise, we have a guy who is studying to be a doctor who is there every day at the library. He’s a doctor in another country, but America won’t take his credentials. He has to take the exam here to be licensed here. He’s been studying every day and he’s not been taking care of himself. It is starting to show.

His hair isn’t brushed, his clothes are rumpled, and he now is saying that he can’t sleep and he has a headache. He asked me for a Tylenol. Rather than give him that kind of medicine, I gave him real medicine. Whether he takes it or not is up to him.

Real medicine is to suggest he take time off, go eat healthy food (all he eats is meat and rice), go exercise, and spend time with his wife. He says that he can’t leave his studies. He doesn’t get that if he doesn’t take care of himself, then it doesn’t matter what he studies – it won’t go in.

We’ve talked about preventative medicine before and he blows me off. He’ll make a fine western doctor if he passes. They treat the symptoms and not the cause too.

I tell him about friends of mine who are now off their diabetes medicine because they eat healthy food, exercise, and have lost weight. He thinks I’m lying. He says it isn’t possible.

He even brings his food to the library. Somehow they have an understanding in the department he studies in. He’s got a little crock-pot that he plugs in to heat up his food. He doesn’t even have to cook it. He gets it from his in-laws. When I say he needs to take time away from his studies and go outside the library for lunch, he says he can’t eat anywhere else because he has to eat food that is halal because he’s Muslim. I point out that you can eat vegetarian food and be perfectly safe. He wrinkles his nose at me.

It is hard to watch people drown.

Sure, I could give him a Tylenol. But that is aiding and abetting.

I’d be like the doctor who gave my Dad a prescription for cough medicine, knowing that he smoked two packs of cigarettes a day. Of course he coughed. Cough medicine isn’t the right medicine. Real medicine would be to refuse to treat him until he stopped smoking. Real medicine would be to direct him to smoking-cessation programs. Real medicine would be to help him learn better ways to deal with stress than smoking.

Real medicine involves hard work, not a pill. Real medicine involves being mindful and disciplined. It features daily exercise, no stimulants, no refined sugar, and lots of vegetables. It includes focusing on breathing. It includes learning to speak up for yourself. It includes being creative. It includes making time to rest. It includes working towards your dreams. It isn’t easy.

Becoming conscious is a lot like becoming sober.

Resolution. On gossip

Making a real resolution to stop saying anything negative or stop gossiping is like making a resolution to stop drinking. It is turning from something bad to something good.

But the problem is that all my old “drinking” buddies are still drinking. All the people who still like to gossip and say negative things are still going to come up to me and try and drag me into it. I can tell them that I no longer want to be part of that life but it doesn’t matter. They haven’t made that decision that they don’t want to be part of that life.

So what they’re doing is what they’ve always done. They don’t realize that they are weakening my resolve. They don’t realize that when they try to get me to gossip that it is like trying to get me to drink. I tell them I’ve sworn off the stuff and they still don’t get it. They don’t know how to be my friend unless they are gossiping. So sometimes it means that they don’t talk to me at all.

I’m sad for them, that they don’t know how to talk in a healthy manner.

Gossip isn’t just speaking negatively about someone. It is repeating what someone said without them present. It is spreading information that didn’t need to be spread. If I have a private conversation with someone, I don’t want to hear about it from someone else. They weren’t in the room when the conversation happened. If they weren’t invited when the conversation happened, then they shouldn’t have it repeated to them.

Staying sober with Rumi

In the book “Teachings of Rumi” by Andrew Harvey, there is this following story.

“A self-styled dragon hunter went into the mountains to trap a dragon. He searched all over the mountains and at last discovered the frozen body of an enormous dragon in a cave high up on one of the tallest peaks. The hunter brought the body to Baghdad. He claimed that he had slaughtered it single-handedly and exhibited it on the bank of the Euphrates. Thousands of people turned out to see the Dragon. The heat of the Baghdad sun started to warm up the dragon’s frozen body and it began to stir, slowly awakening from its winter hibernation. People screened and stampeded, and many were killed. The hunter stood frozen in terror and the dragon devoured him in a single gulp.

Your lower self is like that dragon, a savage tyrant. Never believe it’s dead: it’s only frozen. Always keep your dragon in the snow of self-discipline. Never carry it into the heat of the Baghdad sun. Let that dragon of yours stay always dormant. If it’s freed it’ll devour you in one gulp.”

Whatever you did to get sober is whatever you’re going have to keep doing to stay sober. The work isn’t over. Discipline is the only thing that keeps your sobriety going. There is no letting up. The same is true for staying fit. You can’t diet and lose weight and then start eating whatever you want again. It has to be a lifetime change.