A Trial of Skirmishes for my Soul Like Thing

Honestly, I feel some kinship with Buridan’s ass. Somewhere between faith and cynical skepticism. Right now, as I sit here in my apartment bedroom, looking at the growing sentence on the screen in front of me, surrounded by Nabokov (the new grey Vintage printing) and dog eared copies of David Foster Wallace’s oeuvre, a bunch of Joan Didion, C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, comics by Grant Morrison and Chris Ware and Jack Kirby and little plastic bobble heads of famous movie/video game/TV characters (a personal favorite is Walt as Heisenberg holding a tiny baggy of blue meth) I feel sort of empty in creepy way, like all this doesn’t mean much, and if a fire burnt it down I wouldn’t have to worry about this shit I keep accumulating. But, before you get afraid I’m going lecture about the importance of simplification and the dangers of materialism, I actually really fully love all of these items. I’m talking completely cathected. I remember where I was when I was reading the very end of Infinite Jest (the steps of some library in a breezy and noisy and vivacious NYC waiting to visit a college friend who’d also recently finished the book). These items tell me stories and right now I don’t give a shit about them.

Honestly, it’s a tough night, just because it’s one of those nights, not for any devastating reason. So I said a prayer to myself, asking to release the burden of self so that I might be an example of His/Her power to those I might help, the usual thing, and at the end I added a bit about how even if I don’t feel faithful I’ll try to still carry it forward.

Right now I’m in a pathless land between two states and a reliance on feeling alone isn’t enough to navigate from one to the other.

Here’s something: so many discussions of religious conversion are talked about as cataclysmic or orgasmic instant turns of thought (Saul to Paul and all that) but my conversion to whatever it is I’ve found as be slow and full of moments of decision and action and moments that simply happened to me. So much needed to be in place before I could get anywhere close to something like trust in the future.

You see, my emotion wetworks just weren’t functioning in a way to make sense of experience as anything accept a kind of bare knuckles, bare teeth, cruel world of threat. Even at my most optimistic I was forcing back deep fear that I’d unknowingly practiced over the years (and had been reinforced by a lot of trauma).  A friend could call me up and tell me that I meant a lot to them and they’d love to see me and I’d be left with a slight haunted feeling that I’d done something wrong, to hurt them.  This feeling was so subtle it never made sense to name it, until I felt trust.

So here’s another thing, even though this pathless place can’t, as of now, be determined solely feelings, it’s only through feelings that I’ve become convinced of its importance.

I didn’t used to like to exercise around others, but I’d do it if there was no other choice. And so recently I was running on the local bike path and there were two girls, average in every visible way, slicked ponytails and matching yoga pants, walking and chatting I was quickly coming up on their heels. My initial reaction was to slow down and just shuffle my feet behind them to make it seem like I was still jogging. This was seriously my solution to the situation. The idea of running around them was not on the table. Then I asked this thing that’s bigger than me “Do I trust everything will be okay” and my mind thought about how stupid an idea that was, just totally pathetic, of course it would be, but I just didn’t want to pass them, did I ever think that? And a subtler, calmer voice that I felt in the nerves of my fingertips, and the butterfly garden in my stomach, and the cooling breath in my chest asked again, “Do I trust everything will be okay” and it responded to itself “Yes” and I ran around them.

I could still hear a sort of emotional bickering, but it not as loud as weightless quiet I was left with. This thing, this way of thinking and being, this appeal to something more made me feel free from my own imposed bonds. How can I give that up? How could anyone? It was both a freedom from (anxiety) and a freedom for (anything I thought important enough to put energy into). And the large blue lake on my left and the sun resting behind the ski trail tattooed mountains in the distance and the placid waves of breath that moved in and out and this new kind of hum felt like some kind of living.

And yet, by the time I got back to my apartment I was arguing with my head again (about the best way to be nice to myself, but the discussion was politics-at-Thanksgiving heated) and I thought back to that moment and my wide puppy eyes and oh-too-bushy beard and pasty legs and okay to shapely calves and thought to myself what a sap, what a smark, rube, dolt, boob, sucker. The cynical side, the one that wanted to keep me from getting taken in by something that was outmoded and uncool, the side that feared and hated authority and kept telling itself it would change things from the inside, in just that small amount of time it wasn’t just denying this freedom, but actively ridiculing it. And so suddenly I was trying to figure out how this self-deluded argument started, if it was my feelings or thoughts, and how the fuck did I end up like this in the first place? Within seconds it was one fat chicken and egg orgy that wanted me to decide: cynical or spiritual? Faith or folly? Make a decision.

And I did. I decided I’d only gotten hear by trying to listen to that quiet voice that might belong to us all, that forced decisions weren’t freely made decisions, that if I was to choose to follow something greater it would not be driven by whips of my old master anxiety. I would wait until things calmed. They did. And it turned out there was no decision to be had. This, all of this, is happening to me just as much as I am happening to it. I can only be open and try to be humble. Faith, right now, seems to have less to do with certainty in ideas and more to do with openness towards moments that are not evidence of faith, but the result of it. That seems like part of it.

And so now, this stuff, books, toys, junk, all of it has to do with this struggle with faith and none of it has anything to do with faith. It’s another place to project these abstract concepts. Right now my mood likes to make a case that my projections onto this material stuff really matters or that it has fuck all to do with anything. That’s going to keep happening and I’m going to keep remembering to wait, be open for those bits of grace. Also I don’t want to get rid of Walt.

Back From the Shroud Again

Jesus, it’s been a year. I’ve wanted to continue this blog, but like everyone else who drops out of writing I thought I had better stuff to do. In my case, sometimes this was true. Right now I’m clean and sober. Nine months so. Tonight before I go to bed I’m going to pray to a thing I don’t understand and thank it for my sobriety today. Tomorrow morning I’ll say another prayer asking that thing to give strength (Courage? Wisdom? Guidance?) to those I care about and, more importantly, those I dislike.

Here’s a few things about me. I’m not suicidal anymore. My mood is more stable. My foundation, the thing that lets me feel like I have a right to exist has started to root firmly. I’m okay. More than anything I am and I am becoming okay. I guess, and the cynic in me is embarrassed (yet fucking delighted) to admit I’ve found faith, or at least some kind of faith.

I can’t go into all of it now, but if this is at all helpful or interesting or I just feel like writing about it I’ll give you the gross pieces of the journey, every step  of the way (nearly hit by car, crying on the phone, desperate and sullen eyed in a yellowed church basement surrounded by lumps of people as desperate (I thought) as I was, Styrofoam cookies and luke coffee, seat neighbors hemorrhaging phlegm, the days upon weeks of wanting a drink, the thousands of soda’s to curb the desire, and more than anything the fear).

Honestly, right now I don’t know how this all fits together, alcoholism, depression, suicide, desperation, pining for community, finally finding it. But right now, today, it does.

A little while okay I was preparing for the biggest test in grad school (my comprehensive examinations). I’d have a few hours to write 15+ pages in response to three lists of books I was supposed to have read (and in a few instances did read) and I was sitting in my office, staring at the ceiling, unable to move because my body would itch with the kind of hateful anxiety only procrastination can produce and I was trying not to image how I’d fail and drop out and get a shit job as a shit cleaner cleaning up shit at shit houses and everything was shit and if only I had a drink to take the edge off then I’d probably start studying and maybe I’d meet some girls at the bar[1] and I’d feel that glowing feeling in my stomach again and God damnit was I lucky to realize my thoughts spiraling out of control and so I called my sponsor.

He asked me “How’s your relationship with your Higher Power”

And in my head I said, “God fucking fuck” as in that moment I didn’t want to think about anything outside myself and in some ways was not capable of attending to anything but these obsessions  and so then I said to him “Well how’s your, um, what do you do, when uh—“
And he followed with this, “Listen man, do you trust that even if you fail these exams you’ll be okay?”

And I said to myself “Fuck.” And I said to him “Fuck.” I told him “No, I guess I haven’t I mean, but Jesus, okay I think I might—“

“Say it right now, ‘even if I fail these exams I trust I will be okay. I trust I will be okay”
So I did. And something changed. I’d never tried trusting the future. I was too scared to. The future isn’t a sure bet and if you ain’t taking a sure bet you’re a chump. Of course I was at my wits end every other Friday night. It was probably time I bet on something new. Finally time I wagered something. So I did. And I still am. And something is different.

I can walk across campus or the grocery store or most places without emotionally assuming everyone is eviscerating me with their x-ray vision of my soul. And it’s not that I’m hidden and safe from others, it’s more that I trust that were I to meet any one of them, by and large I could relate to thing about something, there is some community still between us all. If I can do it with the guy coughing up phlegm and talking about government satellites in the seat next to me when I’m in the rooms I can probably do it with a lot others.

And that’s what a kind of faith looks like. A kind of God even. It is both a thought and a feeling, a feeling that opens up possibility, the possibility of being hurt, but also discovering something new, new people, instead of cowering in my own desires.

You see, I think the Program (AA) has shown that my imaginative faculties were serving the wrong master and I simply was not aware of it, nor was I in a place to be aware of it. And I don’t think this trust is a singular thing that can save me, it relies on so much more: my family, my friends, the AA community, meetings, step work, exercise, eating enough, not drinking. Each is one element that leaves me grateful to have this thing that feels like faith. Do I trust I will be okay? Do I trust this will keep me sober? Day by day I can say yes. I can reorient my overactive imagination to serve up hope and trust, words that are tired on the lips but revitalizing in spirit. Do I trust I will be okay? Right now it’s a tentative yes. If nothing goes my way and I step in dog shit and get mugged and kicked out of school and a loved one dies in a car accident do I trust I will be okay? As delusional as it sounds I give another tentative yes. That’s how it needs to be right now and perhaps that’s how it will continue to be.

Do you trust you’ll be okay? No matter what?

[1] So here’s the thing about my mentally obsessed mind space: at pretends to offer me a solution to an emotion and that solution comes in the form of emotional fulfillment. But the fulfillment isn’t a feeling, it’s just perpetual desire pretending to be something else and that something else is an impossible creation. When I image booze and girls, and girls especially, it’s an amalgam of a whole lot of girls I knew and know and images I’ve seen from magazines and movies and porn, all rolled into one soulless Frankenstein’s monster of my own desire. It is a total objectification of women as a way to satiate my insatiable appetite for self-destruction and it is very convincing. Even when this takes the form of a day dream where we get ice cream and talk at length about James Joyce and Jack Kirby it is tailored to fit my every desire. This is not a good relationship if only because it would not challenge me or help me understand others in a vaster and probing human way. It would be the same conundrum the protagonists face at the end of Ex Machina. My mind is great at coming up with impossible objects of desire it wants but can’t really ever love.