Sunday, 26 September 2010

Sunday Morning, and All is Well

Sunday mornings are really rather enjoyable, these days. I’m doing telephone service for the anarchist organisation of which I am a member, which largely involves waiting for phone calls which don’t often come and sitting around in my pants contemplating life, the universe, and everything.

It’s an enforced Sabbath, I suppose. Good for the state of my soul. A few hours when I have to stay at home and do nothing but bimble about a bit, and watch the world turn.

This morning as I write this, I’m listening to “Ten New Songs”, by Leonard Cohen. I like Leonard Cohen. I’m a big fan. I like his Jewishness and his humanity. I like his humour. Some people have this idea that Leonard Cohen is for depressed Goths sitting around in darkened rooms covered in goats’ blood and feathers and reciting the Lord’s Prayer backwards, but I’m not wearing black fishnets or a latex bodystocking; nor am I morose; nor are there any feathers in evidence, unless you count the wispy bits that sometimes grow out of my ears.

On the contrary, I am full of quiet joy. The voice of Leonard Cohen is like the deep breath of God as it blows down from the mountain; like the twinkle in His very eyes. And he has His angels with him, ah yes; lusty and brown, they are. I know you can’t pick your family, but if I could have picked my own grandfather, it would probably have been Leonard Cohen.

The phone hasn’t rung, but that’s ok. I’m here, and that’s what service is about. I used to think I had to go out and save people; to pick them up out of ditches and car parks and evangelise to them. I used to think that maybe I could stop them from killing themselves. But I can’t save anyone from anything; none of us can. Now I prefer to stay anonymously in the background and just be available. There is a gentle spirituality in it.

I think it might be time for my fruit.

I have to say, I’m not a great lover of fruit. I like sausage, egg and chips. But for some reason which I can’t even explain to myself I’ve been eating more healthily over the last couple of weeks. It wasn’t a conscious decision: it just happened. Suddenly I found my fridge full of spinach, broccoli, tomatoes and mung beans, and my cupboards bursting with lentils. I woke up one morning and it was there. I wondered if I was in the right house. I thought I’d maybe slipped into some alternate reality; you know, the one in which I’m a bearded hippy. But I didn’t appear to be clad in a tie-dyed t-shirt or spandex psychedelic trousers, so if it was an alternate reality, it was one which was new to me. I decided to roll with it. After all, things change completely, moment by moment. In one reality I don’t have a fridge. I don’t have a house. I don’t even have any shoes, sometimes. I’m constantly paranoid and deluded. I’m always scratting around on the street trying to get a pound together for another can of super strength lager. I have sopping wet trousers. Any reality is better than that one. 

Saturday, 25 September 2010

In Our Rags of Light

This morning I thought I’d throw out all my formulas for successful living and see what happens. Fly by the seat of my pants, as it were. I’ve found this week that there’s nothing much better for the soul than a lack of discipline.

It allows it to be, somehow. When I’m not putting any restrictions on it; when I’m not trying to attain something or getting lost in spiritual materialism; this is when my spirit unfolds.

Drop striving. It’s pointless.

The problem is that we’ve all been force fed a diet of misconceptions: that achievement equals success; that we have to move onwards and upwards; that we’re all different; that we need to have a goal to work towards; that if we can just achieve this or that or the other we can be happy and secure.

To live like this brings about frustration, resentment and fear. The constant wanting for something other than what is only causes pain. And the pain doesn’t come from not having what we think we want, but from the wanting itself.

We manufacture our own misery.

The purpose of life isn't to do, but to be.

I stole the title, by the way. From Leonard Cohen.

                                                                         Leonard Cohen                                                                                  

Friday, 24 September 2010

Another Dead Good Buddy

People seem to be dying left right and centre these days. Or maybe it’s just the kind of life I lead, or my neighbourhood. One week you’re meeting them for coffee in Boscombe; the next week they’re dead. It’s unnerving.

I suppose what’s unnerving about it is the fact that for so many years – in fact for most of my adult life – it was me who couldn’t stay sober, me who was at the doors of death half the time.

I used to hope for death on a nightly basis, to pray for it, even. You know the kind of thing: “God, please, please (you bastard), don’t let me wake up tomorrow.”

But wake up I did, on an alarmingly regular basis. And I’d wake up to the same stuff. The same TV, the same done-in ashtray, the same empty bottle, the same shits, shakes and rattles. The same having to get a few quid together to go down the shop and buy a bottle of stinking white cider. The same fear and despair; the same hopelessness and resignation.

I remember one particular night, after I hadn’t slept for a week. All I wanted was to get some sleep. Actually, what I really wanted was to drink myself to death, but denied the luxury of that, a decent night’s sleep would have been the next best thing.

I happened to have a bunch of codeine tablets lying around; about fifty of them. I thought to myself, “If I swallow all these in one go and drink a litre of vodka as fast as I possibly can, then surely it will kill me, or at least put me out for twenty-four hours.”


Three hours later I was conscious again and rattling uncontrollably. It was bleak. In the end I came into recovery not to avoid death, but because it seemed like it wasn’t happening for me.

So this week I heard that a friend of mine, a drummer in a band I’d played in, had been found dead in his flat. What killed him? Alcoholism.

Not so long before that, another friend of mine, a schoolteacher, fell down the stairs when drunk and managed to kill himself that way.

Before that, another friend died after an epileptic fit brought about by – you’ve guessed it – alcoholism.

I was awoken at the crack of eight o’clock this morning by a friend of mine who is drinking himself to death as I write. It’s the usual story: paranoid and full of fear, desperate and deluded.

“You’ve got to help me; you’ve got to help me!”

What can I do? I’ll tell you what: nothing, that’s what. If I knew how to stop drinking I wouldn’t need to work a twelve-step program.

I’ve detoxed this guy once, already. He’s had God knows how many detoxes in the last six or eight months, and now he can’t get one. And anyway, it really doesn’t seem like he wants to stop drinking. What he seems to want is for someone to sit with him and say “there, there”, and make it alright for him. We’ve all been there.

But I’m no longer in the business of making it alright for you. I’m no longer in the business of commiserating with you as you selfishly drink yourself to death. You know what we have to do to recover; you know what the program of action is. If you choose not to apply it, that’s your business. If you choose to pick up a drink every time something doesn’t go your way, that too, is your business. And if you want to drink yourself to death, hey, knock yourself out. Just don’t expect me to listen to you while you do it.

Allowing Everything to Be As It Is

Recently I’ve been put on anti-depressants by the doctor. They’ve helped, I have to say. They’ve helped me to stop caring about - well - everything, really. They’ve shut up the endlessly punishing stream of thought that has been interrupting sanity for the last few months.

My sponsor came round and I told him about it. I wasn’t sure how he’d respond; people have some extreme views about medication in recovery.

Saying that, my sponsor’s not particularly extreme about anything, unless you count sitting in silence in a Zen monastery for weeks at a stretch. He’s never actually ever told me to do anything, for example. He just allows me to get on with it.

I remember when I got to steps eight and nine. There I was, with the list of the people I’d harmed, expecting him to help me outline some sort of approach towards making my amends. What he actually said was: “I always find it useful to read the book before making amends to someone. Apart from that, just go and have your own experience.”

It was a similar thing when I told him that I had stopped praying for a month, as a definite experiment in step eleven.

            “Why’s that, then?” he asked.

            “Because when I relapsed, people kept getting in my face and saying: ‘Did you pray in the morning before you took a drink?’ and some of them, if I answered yes, said: ‘Well, you couldn’t have meant it.’ So I have to ask myself this: Do I want to have a fear-based recovery? Do I believe that if I fail to say a prayer in the morning God is going to punish me by making me drink?”

            “Ok,” he nodded. “See if it works.”

Of course, God did not strike me dead, and I drifted back into daily prayer without even realising it. It’s just one of those things I do. Some people call it talking to themselves.

So I could have anticipated his response to my latest news, perhaps, which was: “That’s great. See if it works.”

Because of the perilous state of my mental terrain I’d had much difficulty staying present over the last few weeks, and meditation, well, that had just gone straight out the window. I couldn’t even sit still.

He’d brought round a cd to help me, by this chap called Adyashanti. Now, I’ve never really been keen on the idea of meditation cds - it smacks too much of whale noises and hippies - but I’m learning that what worked for me last year doesn’t necessarily work for me this year, and if something has stopped working then I need to find something new which does. I can’t afford to be closed-minded about these matters.

The investigation was this: What happens when we allow everything to be as it is?

Talk about taking the pressure off. Talk about turning it over. What happens when we relinquish control? What happens when we abandon self-centred striving? What happens when we simply allow things to be as they are?

We become open. We become closer to our natural state. We are the space in which thought arises; the space in which feeling arises. In fact, we are the space in which everything arises.

Naturally, I’m converted. From now on I am going to allow everything to be as it is, at least until I forget.

Now, where was I?

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Proper Crisp

Recently my head’s been like mud. I don’t like that. I remember the six weeks after my last drink, when although my body had recovered, my mind was shot to pieces. Every night I’d go to bed thinking: “hopefully tomorrow I’ll be able to think straight”, and every morning I’d wake up to what I began to fear was a wet brain. This wasn't a happy state of affairs. Drinking yourself to death is one thing, but drinking yourself into a permanent state of cerebral spastication is something else entirely.

It was an especially grim prospect for me, as up to this point I’d gone through life under the happy delusion that I was the intellectual superior of everybody I’d ever met. “What have I got left,” I asked myself, “if I have damaged my brain irretrievably?” The answer was not much. A lifetime of watery soup and plastic pants, and that was about it.

Anyway, it wasn’t to be – thank God – and I recovered, like we generally do.

As I continued to stay sober, and tried to live the spiritual life, I became aware that my mind had become sharper; far sharper than it had ever been.

This pleased me: not least because I had laboured for so long under the illusion that I needed drugs and alcohol to be inspired, and without them I would become about as interesting as lettuce.

But then things started getting nasty. With almost no warning, my thinking went from sharp, to spiky, to hugely aggressive. My hitherto useful and imaginative mind started to take on the more obnoxious qualities of an officer in the Waffen-SS. I suddenly realised that I’d been invaded and occupied by a black-hearted goose-stepping Nazi; a Nazi that was trying to make me throw myself off a tall building or into the path of fast moving traffic.

There was only one thing for it, and that was to start a revolution; to overthrow the heinous dictator in my midst.

Easier said than done: Nazis don’t like to be challenged, as a rule. They’re pretty touchy. So I was going to have to go about it with some stealth. I decided to get a big club, and beat the enemy unconscious while it was asleep. Then I’d tie it up and gag it and stuff it in a tea chest and stick it in the attic amongst the rat shit and old newspapers. It wouldn’t be able to bother me from there.

After that, I’d probably go on holiday, to France.

Well, the coup came off remarkably well. As I write, the usurper is bound and gagged and utterly helpless; exiled to some dark and shadowy corner of my mind. It’s been kicking and moaning all week, but now the fight seems to be going out of it.  

And me, I can walk freely in the street. I can lay down my arms and go about the business of peace. Once more, I breathe the sweet air of liberation.

Vive la Prozac.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Look, No Head

I was halfway to work this morning when I realised I’d come out without my head. Absent minded, you might say, and you’d be right.

My first inkling that all was not normal was the conspicuous lightness of my being. After all, my head is heavy. I spend most of my time trying to stuff it full of things I think I may want or need. I never do, but why take chances, right?

I stopped for a moment and wondered: should I go back and get my head? It’s full of indispensible stuff, after all. And where am I going to put all the stuff from today that I want to keep and drag around with me on the off-chance that I may need it at some indefinable point in the future?

The thing is, I was quite enjoying not having my head. What’s more, I couldn’t remember anything that was in it anyway.

I decided to risk it, to go “sans-head”, as it were.

The sun was shining, and the cars glimmered in the blue morning as I floated down the pavement like a long feather. It’s lucky we’ve got gravity, or I may have floated off into the atmosphere and never come back.

I saw a besuited office worker sitting on a bench, grimacing into his coffee. It was all going wrong for him this morning, you could see that. Not only did he have his head with him, but it was covered in screaming red acne. It looked like it could use a good soak in some vinegar.

For a moment I pondered the idea of joining him on the bench; to suggest that he just leave his head right there and go about his business without the bloody thing; that he’d probably have a much better day without it, or at least, if he insisted on carrying it around for the rest of the day, to take it off as soon as he got home and give it a nice long soak.

Of course, reason and good manners got the better of me, and prevented me from making such a faux pas. I remembered that when I’m sitting there with my head full of heavy irrelevant junk, the last thing I want is to be molested by somebody so frivolously headless. In fact, I’m hoping to see them get hit by traffic.

Not only that, but he had a bag, which in itself was bursting with stuff. Someone with a bag like that is unlikely to see the value of getting rid of their head. In fact they’re probably in the market for an even bigger bag or a bigger head; maybe even a huge filing cabinet.

So off on my way I went, my spirit abounding with headless joy.

When I got home in the evening, I propped my head on the kitchen table, and considered it as I had dinner.
Isn’t it strange, I thought to myself, that such an innocuous body part could harbour such sinister motives? And to think: had I not absent-mindedly neglected to take my head to work with me this morning, I might never have known about it. I might still be labouring under the delusion that I can’t live without my head, and then where would I be? Grimacing into my coffee and wondering why my day is turning out so badly, no doubt.

That did it. I said to my head:

“You’ve had your fun, mate. No longer am I going to be dictated to by you, you bony devil.”

And with that, I buried it in the garden, among the cabbages.

Fertilizer, you know.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

The Love Umbrella

Every now and then I crash. One moment I’m breezing along without a care in the world; the next I’m violently plummeting the icy dark depths of despair.

It’s all in my head, I know it is, but knowing it doesn’t make the slightest bit of a difference.

I know too, for example, that everything solid on the physical plane is mostly made up of empty space, but it doesn’t make getting out of handcuffs any easier.

That’s what it feels like – imprisonment. Like I’ve been kidnapped by this toxic entity in the middle of my soul. It’s a tumour: a big black maw slathering on my awareness.

I want to get rid of it, really I do. I want to cut it out, surgically. I’d rather have a hole in my soul than this fucking thing.

If I didn’t know any better, I could believe I was possessed. And in a sense, I am. Not by any demon, but by my own ego, which is struggling for supremacy.

My ego wants to separate me from you. It wants me to believe we’re different. It wants me to believe that we’re not the same stuff, the stuff of the universe, the stuff of God.

It wants me to feel threatened; to lash out; to fear; to hate.

It wants to make me forget my true nature, which is the nature of God.

A friend of mine told me that in every moment we have a choice: to stand under the umbrella of fear, or the umbrella of love. And she was right.

If sobriety and the twelve step program have taught me anything, it’s that my thinking is nonsense; a random cacophonic stream over which I have little control. And knowing that means that I can step out of it, and observe it rushing by. And when I observe it, I notice a few things. It has no rhyme or reason. It has no basis in reality. It channel-hops. It contradicts itself.

If I'm looking for the truth, I certainly won’t find it there.

So here I stand, under the love umbrella, waiting for the storm to pass. I’ve never been here before, and I’ll never be here again. Maybe I should’ve brought a camera.