My History with a Higher Power
As far back as I can remember, the world was a mystical place: anything was possible. Everything had meaning and everything was real.
Every story conveyed to me my parents carried a moral or a spiritual lesson. It was emphasized, from an early age, that I had been spared the experience of living under a Communist regime, wherein one could not hold any spiritual or religious views. This coupled with my active thought-life lent me the impression that the world was place of extremes. On one hand, there was death and misery and totalitarianism; on the other hand, there was a land of freedom, one of hope. Superficial as that observation was, these were historical and existential facts. Unlike my grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, or my other grandmother, who was ill most of her life, I was healthy. I was alert and inspired by the people and events around me. I did not have to contend with the trials and tribulations that other people had to go through. Nevertheless, I did not live in a bubble. I sensed a story was taking place for everyone on the earth, and of the earth itself, that there was such thing as destiny—and that there was an ineffable, invisible, and transcendent Force which was manifest in all things.
At my Bar Mitzvah, I made a point during a speech that, as Soviet Jews, we were slaves living in an oppressive regime, much like Moses and the Israelites were, thousands of years ago in Egypt. Freedom from bondage, from oppression, was considered by my family to be a blessing, if not a miracle. A religious or secular miracle was indistinguishable, even though my parent’s had different views about God. There was a sense of the sacred, even for my father (who was an atheist). Political miracles were real, not just theory. It was impossible for me ignore or deny the country that I came from: the mass death, world war, oppression. I contrasted what I learned about my country of origin with my life in California, and reasonably concluded that my life, from my background to my present, as well as my future, was a nothing short of movement from Totalitarian Purgatory to a living Paradise.
By adolescence, however, which coincides with the beginning of my drinking and drug use, I became an amateur theologian and a philosopher. I questioned everything and asked the big questions: why we are here on this planet; what is the point of life; what is the good; why does evil exist; if there really was Higher Power; if so, what this Higher Power wanted to to do with humanity; and what this Higher Power wanted for my life and for the lives of everyone else, who seemed infinitely smaller than Him and, in turn, insignificant to Him.
I was never a true agnostic, though often adopted the agnostic/atheist position superficially in order to fit in with others. It was all or nothing for me. Through various thought-experiments, I understood God as completely actual, real, or otherwise totally non-existent. I had sympathy for the atheist position in respect to the question about the evil in the world, and I had compassion for secular compassion; yet, I believed in miracles, in perennial philosophy, in mystical experiences, in the sacred. I, therefore, could not sit in the middle, where the debate was and simply circle around the issue. I had a position, so I adopted the position; I would side with the religious people for a while then with atheists for awhile to test myself. Let’s say there was a God, or that there was no God—that secular humanism was the way it was, through and through. I did not find a secular humanism to be particularly noble or more intelligent than the views of a religious fanatic. Both sides assumed that they that were right and were stubborn about being right, and as far as I could tell and were equally closed-minded. I sought the Truth, though never claimed to know the Truth. I wanted to be open-minded. Opposing religious and atheist views were fortified by reading 19th and 20th century philosophers—Nietzsche, Kierkagaard, Sartre—among others. I sometimes thought that being good and responsible action was enough—that doing well was all that a person can do in life. There was no heavenly reward; life was absurd, all one can do is do the best that one can. Still though, I saw the error in such thinking—because it was clear to me that “doing the best that one can” was not always enough. Consequences were inextricably attached to every ethical decision, bound up with it—be it lying, stealing, cheating, not revealing a certain fact, or not doing what one says.
This “hypocrisy” issue made me question whether people could actually ever live up to what any respective faith or religion demanded from them. I did not dislike people who were religious, yet I wondered about their motivation in being religious. Was it simply to be right? To be on the winning side? To be comfortable? To feel good? For their lives to have meaning for them and them alone. What about others? Do they need to be guided toward the Truth? Was guiding someone a condescending position? Why—I asked myself and others around me—did people say one thing and do another?
I was willing to accept those who were consistent with their belief system, rather those who were not, regardless of the content their belief. “Fake it, until to you make it” seemed like a mechanized anathema to my sense of the sacred. I did not find the belief in repetitive rituals, worldly aphorisms or sayings, regurgitation of sacred books, to indicate any genuine religious faith. What I came to understand about believing in God was that if one sought Him it should be genuine. If there was genuine belief people could change. Faith was a beautiful gift—yet did I have it? I was torn between nihilism and divine illumination as a teenager. I was entranced by the genuine belief in God, and the then tore down the philosophical edifice of every religion that I studied.
And then it happened. I had a profound spiritual experience when I was 17. Feeling as though I were outside of my own body, sober, this jarring spiritual experience lay the foundation for my present beliefs, and changed me. I felt the presence of the divine in my heart, and in my mind, and in my body, and in my soul; it was all-encompassing, in everything that I saw or anyone that I talked to. Although, what I was experiencing was considered delusional by others, I came to realize the real delusion was that God did not exist. God got my attention, whether I wanted to accept it or not. I was endowed with a sense certain things were not, nor could not be decided by human will alone.
In this respect, the world to me, as far as the human experience was concerned, was a spiritual world. There are things seen and things unseen—and in between these things were “the doors,” quoting Aldous Huxley. I sought to walk through these doors—walk right into the room of the spiritual states of other people’s smiles and other people’s tears. When I met people, I was more interested in their search or lack of a search for meaning, than in what was on their resumes. I believed there was a barrier between the human and the divine, yet this barrier was thin, and contingent on faith. I sought out the quality of faith, rather than quantity of it, for I believed I was put on this planet for a reason: and, I hungered for God to sustain me and use me in some way.
Insanity in Deeds and Thoughts
I quaffed my first full bottle of wine at twelve. I nursed hangovers, ignored the frantic concern expressed by my parents. I did not drink water; I would stop for several days, thinking drinking was a thing one should do only on the weekend. Yet my obsession proved to be cunning. I drank at lunch, in school, sneaking sips of vodka/cranberry cocktail from Gothic women who disguised their poison by using sports bottles with crinkling straws. I hated the intensity of hangovers. I sat in British Literature, unable to make the connection between life and fiction. I ditched school to drink, returned, masking my alcoholic breath with Double-Bubble chewing gum. Binaca was another tool; if I smoked enough cigarettes, it seemed to mask the stench even better. I was almost always smelly. My thoughts raced. I could not contain the overflow of ideas. I could not handle my emotions. Chumming with friends under freeway overpasses—talking about everything and nothing—seemed to facilitate my need to feel accepted. I thought I found poetic license by trying to out-drink my friends. I learned how to drink a half a bottle of vodka in five minutes. I dominated discussions; I got pats on the back. I tried to stop when I was hung-over the following morning; I did not drink more to quell the shakes; I smoked reefer. Balls of resin were forged together, after scraping through the charred fragments of copper pot pipes. I popped aspirin, took pain-killers. There was a set of physiological errands I had to learn to feel fine, to feel good, to feel normal, to feel comfortable in my skin, to not regret the drunken escapades and the general uselessness and pointlessness they entailed ; there had to be a way to control every moment of irritability, or spontaneous action that did not originate from my own volition; I hooked up with women; dumped them; saw them hook up with others. I was a chemist, a shaman of shame; a reliever of physical and spiritual disgust. I hated myself. My mind was restless. An unraveling thread of free associations, in kaleidoscopic fury, scrawling in circles behind my actions. I ran away from home to drink. I stole liquor from groceries stores for myself and for others to have fun, so that I would be accepted. When the booze wore off, I would steal alcohol while drunk—an action which fortified the possibility of being apprehended by police. I went on road-trips, camping trips, not because I cared about the people I was going with, but the fact that there would be booze there, and that I would have access. I never refused an offer to get drunk; if there were difficulties in scheduling, so as to make me more prone to getting caught by my parents or someone else who cared about me needed me sober, I planned accordingly. I said I was staying over at my friend’s house; I lied to remain untouched. I lied so that I could get numb later. I liked the numbing effect of alcohol. Numbness seemed appropriate because the world seemed indifferent to my knowledge of its gyres, its self-promoting ineptitude, its horde-like sweeping over of its tentacles across the meal-plate of my soul. I ran away. I went to university to drink more; to become an expert; I learned which drink represented what—the classy drinks, the poor-man’s drinks, the economy-laden drinks, the crème de la crème of cocktails. I indulged in all of them, as if trying to prove to myself what I was capable of knowing, or better equipped to understand. I wanted to be an alcoholic; to drink at parties until parties were long over; to drink in the morning, watch the sunrise, thinking I was spiritual.
I went to gatherings where free booze was offered. Carousing revolved around my jagged revolution around the room in which words, sentences, anecdotes, and insights were the punctuation marks in the drunken sentence that was alcohol. I was promiscuous; I could not stop drinking, nor consciously thought of myself as someone that could or would stop; if I hit a wall, I hit it again; I sat in the background, in some corner, near some light, sipping, gulping, stirring my drink with my finger, thinking the action exuded proprietorship, self-reliant charm. I wanted people to love me, though I was unable to love them. I went to look for another drink. I walked around in public with a drink; I collected bottles. These were trophies. I was the champion, I earned their emptiness. Mundane tasks came my way; to take care of my bank account; to pay a bill; to stand in line at some counter, in order for academic things to get done; these tasks were commercials, intrusions to the flow of my alcoholic game-show. I wished to die drunk. I drank in bathrooms to feel dirty, so I can drink to being dirty, to not showering, brushing my teeth, clipping my fingernails, which collected dirt no matter where I was. I looked for stragglers; for other drunks to keep up with me, who knew what I was, and knew what I was doing, and were Watsons complying to alcoholic mystery of my Sherlock Holmes existence.
People began to worry; I said “I understand,” though opted not to face the facts. The facts were I hated the boy I saw in the mirror: my lips were always ready to be whetted and reinforced by alcohol. I would throw up, drink more. I would seduce women by having a supply. I ran through life, through other people’s lives like a juggernaut scattering a field with a crowd of hissing angels. Nothing was good enough; no plan elegant enough; no theory good enough for me to accept. I had one theory: the theory of more. I would white-knuckle it and not drink when something important was to take place. I thought I was celebrating after the event’s completion, though I ended up precisely where I left off. I was borrowing time, borrowing money, insisting I was entitled to a drink. After all, I was the one that was the entertainment. I was owed. I had a third hand; and that hand had a drink in it. Who were you to deny this trinity? I became a snob. My grades slipped somewhat—though not much—though enough for me to know there was a difference. If I did not excel at my creative or academic tasks, it was clear it was tied to rhythm of my drinking. Party time was my time. My time was precious. I gloated in the shock my conglomerates expressed, by leaving me alone to drink alone. They were right; I was right. I drank better than all of them. I was going to take it to the end. I was going to be a unique alcoholic.
I shot heroin and drank; I drank and I shot heroin. I oscillated between real friendships and drinking relationships. I promised not to hurt people anymore, though could not stop saying mean things, insanely drunk or on drugs. I fell into depressions; I cut myself, I tried to hang-myself. I overdosed. I tried to drown myself in a swimming pool. I was thrown into mental hospitals, jails. I relapsed in recovery homes. In my heart, I knew I had a problem, though I wanted to let the problem linger there, without any willingness to do anything about it. I flirted with female psychologists and tried to intellectually one-up my shrinks. I did not care to see how my psychiatric disorder walked hand in hand with my alcohol problem. Alcohol was no longer a friend; it was my livelihood. I could not sleep without it. I tried to stop, though only ended getting strung-out on heroin, which lead to daily sickness, and I would withdrawal months later, to which I would go again, start drinking ever harder than ever before.
I abandoned civilization; I drank to escape the process of mourning my mother’s death. I became homeless; I begged for change; sold semen for my addiction; worked for gang-bangers; comforted prostitutes on the street in order to be loved, to be accepted as an alcoholic and as a person. I was a slave, a creature pushing the euphoria button, long after the button was worn away. Everyone lost respect for me. My friends resented my company; I broke my father’s heart. I lost the respect of my sister. My girl-friend cheated on me, left me for other men. I could not stop hating myself. I drank to hate myself and hated myself for drinking to hate myself. I was godless. I was alone. It was not I that lived, but the alcoholic beast inside me. I moved from black-out to blackout, blind to God. The universe was nothing but blackness. Those stars were moments of hope. I caught a glimmer of something good in me only to watch it slip away.
I drank more and more. I did not know how to stop; I could not stop. I drank to die. Death was the god I worshiped. Hypocrisy its companion. Jails. Ripped out teeth. I was powerless over everything. People, places, things, ideas, situations. I wanted to care about life, though did not know how. I wanted to care, though was too afraid. I cried often. I thought an alcoholic was all I could ever be. All my dreams were out of reach. I lost my dignity. I could not live up to what my mother wanted. I could not go on. I was afraid, alone. I lied to my own soul.
A Picture of Mental Sanity
Healthy beliefs, in respect to my mental health, would not put me blindly into harm’s way. I would understand my compulsions and not bury myself in cross-addictions, such as chain-smoking, addiction to pornography, to coffee etc. I would cease having to put any chemical of any part of my body, unless it is recommended by my doctor, sponsor, and family members. I would be alert, have the ability to focus, make plans, organize, respect my surroundings (a clean room, kitchen), understand social protocol, and handle thoughts of despair and uncertainty with responsibility.
My mind would become my greatest asset rather than my greatest curse. I would apply my knowledge or insight towards positive things, such as writing poetry, short stories, novellas, novels, non-fiction books, etc. I would have little time to dwell in my negative thoughts, for I would have too many positive things to work on.
My mental health, then, in general, would be an indicator that I can work well alone and that I have at the very least, made some kind of truce with society. I would also use my knowledge of my own psychiatric disorder to help those who have similar problems, so that they can better understand themselves and their road to recovery. I would become organized in my endeavors, rather than leaving things to randomness or chance. I would be willing be in action and stay in action, without letting apathy get the best of me.
My vision of physical health would entail a good diet, no junk food. I would exercise on my strength training twice a week. I would do some extensive cardio-vascular exercise twice a week. I would be more fit and would actually listen to what my body is telling me. I would not over-eat, nor under-eat. I would make appointments with doctors and dentists and actually go to them. I would make sure to clean my denture everyday and soak it in Listerine overnight. I would brush my teeth twice a day. I would lose excess body-fat, and not indulge in foods which have no intrinsic nutritional value. My sexual health would improve. I would pay more heed to healthy sexual behaviors that are not dangerous for me and that are not obsessive. I would go for walks more and drive less.
Sanity in Relationships
Sane relationships with others would be based on trust and respect. I would not lie to people, even if something unpleasant needs to be discussed. I will listen, rather than only talk. I would honor the gifts that God has given others. I would notice these gifts. I would be receptive to other people’s pain, needs, and fears. I would not take myself so seriously and put others more at ease with my company. I would let people know I care about them through my actions, not only words. I would work with others, collaborate with them professionally. I would be willing to end relationships if I find them to be perilous to my life. I would have the integrity to honor my relationships. I would set limits to my social interaction, without crossing lines, nor seek out approval for myself, nor saying things that are rude, crude, or non-applicable which would make people feel “less than,” as if they are somehow supposed to be competition with me.
I would generate good conversation with people, listen to their concerns and their ideas. I would be more open with my wants, my dreams. I would try to inspire others to be open with their wants and dreams. I would share myself and I would also show others how to share themselves. I would do whatever it is my father and my sister ask of me.
I would make my mother proud of me. I would develop lasting friendships and heal those relationships that I bruised. I would not be afraid to say I am wrong to someone, or that I do not know something. I would be willing to go-out-of –my-way to help someone in recovery. I would not contest nor complain about anybody wronging me. I would keep my side of the street clean, and get along peaceably with others. If something is blatantly wrong in my eyes, I would stand up for this cause. If there was a general feeling of confusion in the room, or in society in general, I would offer a constructive interpretation in order to bring clarity, insight, and hope to people. I would comfort people who are unsure about themselves, or do not love themselves, or have forgotten that they precious to God. I would do all of these things, with all my heart, by first truly learning how to love myself with all my heart. I would have relationship to myself, so that I could have a better relationship with others. I would ask people what is going on in their lives. I would take interest in them and their plans. I would also make sure they feel better about following through with their own goals. I would become less selfish. I would become willing to mentor people younger than me. I would be willing to fall in love, stay in love, and nurture love with a woman whom I honor, respect, admire, and am willing to stand beside. I would offer my experience, strength, and hope to those that lack them. I would defend the under-dog. I would be a brother to the brother-less. I would be a refuge to the lost. I would defend spiritual principles, and lend my ear, heart, or helping hand to all of those who are struggle, who are lonely, and who suffering.
Sanity in Self-Concept
My vision for a healthy self-concept entails a genuine respect for my identity. I would love myself for being the person I was, the person I am in the present, and the person have I yet to become. I would see myself as a friend to humanity and a friend to myself. I would never forget from where I came from. I would see myself a passionate person who wishes to bring hope into the world. I would see myself as a creator, a teacher, a brother, a son, a lover. I would see myself as a man who does what he says and says what he does. I would understand myself. I would not second-guess the gifts that I have been given by my Higher Power. I would see myself as a man of action. I would not hate myself, nor misconstrue my depth of feeling for weakness. I would accept myself as I am and not compare myself to anyone else. I would see myself as a man on a mission, working to actualize his creative vision. I would not feel ashamed of what I have done that was negative in the past, rather would see how my past enriches me as man. I would be a friend to myself. I would believe in myself, or rather understand that God believes in me as well. I would see myself a steward of God’s creation. I would not gloat in pride, nor would I short-change myself. I would accept compliments without feeling uncomfortable. I would understand that everything I stand for must be nurtured and protected. I would see myself as protector—as a man upholding a tradition. I would understand I followed in the footsteps of great men. I would see myself as a good man. I would not see myself as handicapped, rather I would see myself as blessed. I would see myself as a motivator, and as a leader. I would enjoy spending time with myself, rather than be burdened by it. I would see myself as a passionate poet, a noble warrior, and a man of faith. I would not be afraid of myself. I would not become hypnotized by myself, either. I would see myself as a channel between the unknown and the knowable. I would see myself as diviner of the mysteries of consciousness. I would see myself as a builder of beautiful things, relationships, and ideas. I would see myself as a vigorous scholar—and unflinching philosopher, a questioner, a humble seeker. I would see myself as someone who accepts God’s will. I would see myself as a man with integrity, who values the Truth. I would see myself as a person upholds the value of life. I would see myself as someone who appreciates people. I would see myself as an experimenter—that is, I would never lose sight of the child in me. I would see myself as a person in society. I would see myself a traveler. I would see myself as an old soul—that has seen many things, and lived many lives, who understands the gift of life. I would see myself as a child of God. I would see myself not only as someone who was called forth to be sober, to serve God, but someone who does what God says and wants from me. I would see myself as person with a rich, cultured, sophisticated understanding of the world. I would see myself as a man with more than one culture, as a man who understands other languages. I would see myself as translator—a person who creates bridge of understanding. I would see myself as a channel for God’s message. I would see myself as a honest person, who once lead a life of lies. I would see myself as sinner that had been spared from sinning further. I would see myself as a person who understands the angels. I would see myself as a man who is unafraid of evil. I would see myself as a freeman. I would see myself as man who cares about the weak. I would see myself as the man who remembers. I would see myself as the man who lives with all his being. I would see myself as a friend to God and to humanity.