Philip Seymour Hoffman died of an overdose last night after being sober for more than two decades and I am reminded that none of us, no matter where we get to, no matter what we achieve are immune from self doubt, from struggle. Within our journey of self discovery, just because we attain a measure of success, doesn’t mean we stop having to work to move out and through a day at a time. One of his quotes said “Acting is so difficult for me that, unless the work is of a certain stature in my mind, unless I reach the expectations I have of myself, I’m unhappy. Then it’s a miserable experience. I’m putting a piece of myself out there. If it doesn’t do anything, I feel so ashamed. I’m afraid I’ll be the kind of actor who thought he would make a difference but didn’t.” And I could cry at how human … because although he received accolades and awards and praise, he was unable to know, all the time, what a difference he made.
And I so utterly … “get it” … as a “friend of Bill” for many years. I’ve gone to meetings, been a sponsor to my “girls,” listed resentments, made amends, prayed on my knees, read, highlighted and dog-eared the “Big Book” over and over, traveled to workshops, retreats and conferences, listened to speakers from all over the world, attended conventions and hand in hand with tens of thousands of people recited the Lord’s prayer, yet still I can struggle.
Cunning and powerful…this disease that centers in my mind. So much so that a snub, a photo, a song on the radio, totally out of nowhere, in the middle of a fabulous day can creep in and mess with my head in an instant. My alert, awake, non-anesthetized, sober head. I don’t get an invite to someone’s party and suddenly I am nothing, worthless. I might as well drink. I’m not asked to go to lunch with the girls” and I want to go home and hide under the covers. Until one of them turns around and says, “Hey, I was supposed to tell you. You in?” And I am “part of” instantly, reeled back in to belonging in a split second.
Yes, this “giving my power away” can still be a challenge and it’s hard not to “go there.” I know I’ve come pretty far, but once in awhile the “work, work, work” doesn’t seem to be kicking in. And although “The Promises” have materialized after all, once in awhile the only thing that seems to show up is the doubt and lack of confidence that I buy into. The ticket seller for the roller coaster ride in my head can be just so damn persuasive some days.
And once the “ride” starts the dips and twists of it occur in trying to own that I am valuable. To really, truly own it deep inside myself and not as a reflection of ineraction with others. Having read the article about a tragic death of an amazing actor reminded me. Looking to you or to you or to you to give me self esteem was fleeting.It never worked long term. Over these double digit years “in the steps” I’ve doggedly worked to learn how to honor myself first and foremost and then venture out to others. Standing still and vulnerable with a Higher Power and then with a few “trusted servants” has afforded me tremendous opportunity for growth and although the circle is small, I can and do open my heart with others, look them in the eye and feel enough.
But it is within the deeper relationship that I sometimes stumble. The sacred and honored one with my lover is where I can get caught off guard, where my low self esteem tries to chip away. Where the coaster stalls right at the top of the track now and again and I pray not to fall. A mention of somewhere he went years ago and before blinking I’ve written storylines and dialogue on the “who, what, where” of it and what it must have meant to him. Then made up worries of “before he knew me” and what he shared with others gets in the way. They spin before my eyes in seconds, like a tornado of self doubt and less than, and swirl deep into my spirit causing me to question my footing along with my grip on right here right now. All this before I have a chance to remember how many wonderful moments I’ve shared with others that have brought me here to today or how many times he has told me he has never imagined loving this way.
Talk of a city, a restaurant, or a vacation spot and my creative juices go to fear that may be based on a cookie cutter photo I saw from his old album that might have been nothing more than a “take this shot here” when you really look at it, but the thoughts spinning feel so real. So utterly genuine and absolute that things seem unsure and I somehow feel betrayed. The irony is that the betrayal is actually about a time before he even knew me and that directly within this betrayal stems a subconscious awareness of solution that I have gathered in my work. The realization that I may be projecting my own travels, gifts received and loving moments and that they have nothing to do with him works to win over the doubt and often does, but sometimes it can still lose for a little while.
Every so often, out of nowhere I worry that deep inside of him lurks the moment where he will want to go back there, wherever there is, to the place without me. The place he has no interest in going to and that absolutely hadn’t worked for him. And along the way in the midst of these thoughts I remember that this disease centers in my mind and that helps, but I wonder. How can I stop it? I mean REALLY stop it for once and for all? At what moment have all the others, all those other sober people that I have met and listened to and watched and admired, at what point did they overcome these thoughts, these messages, these fears? Was it in year one? Year five? Year ten? How come it all still comes up for me…sometimes….??
Until recently I thought this meant that I was failing somehow, that I wasn’t really a good sober example. That somewhere, somehow I was lacking in my sober life. I’ve worried that I was a fraud somehow, thinking that everyone else in the “program” had arrived at a magical place of surety. A place where they felt utterly whole and confident, complete and comfortable in their skin and never wavered from. A place of arrival, at which all was good and right within them, in their spirits, at their core and that they never, ever left once arriving. But it really is a matter of “constant vigilance” and “a day at a time.” And you know what? That’s OK, because none of us are alone.
I read about this actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman, that I admired so greatly. I hear people share at meetings about life on life’s terms and about standing still and alert with no numbing agents in the midst of challenge. I listen to stories of tragedy and loss, of ache and grieving, of disappointment and doubt and less than and I realize that these stories are not always being told by a newcomer. I am reassured when I hear others talk about how hard it was for them to lose a baby sober the way I did, to bury their parents, to get divorced, or to own trauma, all experiences I have stood in alert and awake, without a drink to numb the pain.
The other day I heard someone share that she wanted to drink so badly she could hear the clink of the ice cubes and the sound of the wine rushing over them. That she could smell the fruity aroma and then actually taste it in her mind as she felt it going down her throat soothing her. I could smell and taste it too as I listened to her share. And then in the next breath she reminded all of us listening that this was why she was sitting here in this room talking about it. And in an instant, in the same way I was with her reminiscing the drink, I immediately was with her breathing our sober, grateful breaths. She admitted that after many years, 24 to be exact, she knew that even though the liquid drug would help her escape her struggles within a brutal divorce for a moment, that it would numb the pain of truth that her own self doubts were her marriages saboteur, it would be the moment before the moment of relief that would take her down. At the end of her share she said again that she was 24 years sober and that she was unashamed by her share.
I was so utterly grateful for her at that moment. Perhaps more than she could ever truly know. But then again, of course she knows. Doesn’t she?
That sometimes it’s not the major life stressors that grab me anymore, but the subtle ones, the tiny triggers that for many would never be triggers. Triggers within an amazing life shared with my soul mate that are thankfully few and far between, but that can still kick in during an “unguarded moment.” Worry that a late night ring on his phone, a weather alert, may be some lonely ex reaching out. That a call dismissed in front of me while we are having dinner must involve a secret, instead of being his pain in the ass boss reaching out trying to take personal time that he is not willing to allow him. That his children not returning our calls means they don’t want to spend time with us. That an old friend checking in from the past will remind him of some other place or time that might take him from here.
Why at times can I struggle so deep in my soul worrying about losing what I already have or about not getting what I really want when I am in the middle of a life with everything I have ever wanted or needed? Why do I still wonder where I am supposed to be “by now” when there is nowhere else I would rather be?” The only pill I will ever have to swallow is that there is a disease called alcoholism that “centers in my mind” and must be addressed every single day. A disease that does not discriminate against any socio economic or racial bacground, the one that does not offer immunization for fame, that has to be addressed one thought at a time and that has a solution a day at a time. A solution that we have to be reminded of, but that’s OK.
Just now a song comes on the radio as I am typing, the singer pining over a long lost love who happens to have the same name as one of my man’s ex-es. I should be chuckling at the irony and yet I am gripped, stabbed in the gut. Truly wounded and afraid. Afraid of the ache that I feel so utterly and that I am terrified my man might feel if he hears the song, even though I know absolutely that she was not a true love. I sincerely wish I was kidding, but I’m not. The fear grips me tightly, enough to knock me on my ass, but luckily I am already sitting. Here at my desk. Right here. Right now. Typing.
I tell myself to breathe as the words come over the airwaves, the longing that may as well be my longing, but over what? … is touching my core. It is a longing to not be influenced by any of this anymore. A fear. A song. A doubt. An invite. A snub. A thought. A call. Or lack thereof of any of these. And I feel accusation broil up, self doubt, rage even, towards myself and my struggles. Yet right here, right within that anger at my struggles I am reminded of how far I have come and my fingers stop and the fear is over. Just like that. It is gone within seconds, as quickly as it came.
The pause in the truth of all of it is the solution that I am living. It is the place, this pause, where my Higher Power lives and where I can always find him if I remember. After all these sober, alert, awake years of keeping on keeping on, this disease that centers in my mind is alive and well sometimes leaving me to doubt, to fear, to feel as if I am not enough, to struggle, to worry that there really is no way out. Imagine a solution being very simply remembering that there is one. Yes, there is a solution and I have been living it. And all I have to do is remember to pause to find it deep down where it lives. Where I found it within this work over time. And I am promised freedom as long as I continue to work. I am promised! For you, maybe just maybe, knowing that someone else can still sometimes worry, wonder, struggle, doubt, fear and keep on … sober … perhaps will help you stand still and sober for one more day too. I sincerely hope so.
The last little bit to type – The song is over now and towards the end I decided I actually like it. I’m not getting it on Itunes or anything, but I actually liked it, in just the same way I actually do like roller coasters. I feel grateful. I am sober. I am awake and alert. I am ready to go out into this day looking to make a difference and as I do, I will remember Philip Seymour Hoffman questioning whether he made a difference right in the middle of making a huge one.