The Lifelong Quest For Sobriety…The Ultimate Hero’s Journey—Part 58

Guest Blogger and long-time Council friend, Bob W. presents Part 58 of a series dealing with Alcoholism and Addiction from a Mystical, Mythological Perspective, reflecting Bob’s scholarly work as a Ph.D. in mythological studies.

In 1861, at the outset of the Civil War, poetess Julia Ward Howe penned the lyrics to The Battle Hymn of the Republic, to the tune of the earlier work, John Brown’s Body. Both were part of the Abolitionist movement, which had been trying for past decades to bring an end to Slavery in America. The initial stanza to Howe’s rendition is as follows:

Mine eyes have seen the Glory of the coming of the Lord.

He is trampling out the Vintage where the Grapes of Wrath are stored.

He has loosed the fateful Lightening of his terrible swift Sword.

His Truth is marching on…

In my view, the idea of the “grapes of wrath” in this song could be seen as the need for retribution against the institution of slavery, a deep felt sense that is coming forth into the consciousness of the people of America in a manner similar to that of a vintner bringing forth the sweetness of a wine by the crushing of grapes.  The virulence of this song and of Howe’s expressed opposition to slavery parallels the intensity that gripped the nation in the lead-up to the Civil War.  

Interestingly, John Steinbeck used these same words as the title of his 1939 Pulitzer Prize winning book about the plight of the “Okie” migrants from the Plains’ states to California, in the aftermath of the devastation of the Dust Bowl in the 1930’s.  I would see his vision as that of equating the “grapes of wrath” with the need to address the deplorable conditions imposed on these migrants in their flight from the Plains and their efforts to find a place of “home” in the wine and agricultural regions of California.  It is clear to many that Steinbeck thought just about as negatively toward the banks that he believed forced the Okies off their farms and out of the Plains and toward the large corporate farming companies and vintners that exploited them as migrant workers in California, just about as strongly as Howe and others might have thought of the institutionalized system of Slavery in America.

There is another parallel here for me.  Would it not seem logical to see our despicable behavior in the depths of our drinking and using as something similar to the “grapes of wrath.” How we behaved with the world around us, the pain and trauma we created for those we otherwise really did love, could be seen as negatively as Howe and Steinbeck saw their themes. To get sober and develop a sustainable life of sobriety, we had to trample those grapes, those legions of behavior, and repair the devastation that they created.  The fascinating play of the words of “vintage” and “grapes” and the volume of wine and spirits that attended our lives in our disease adds another fascinating element of synchronicity here.  We had to work to allow the authenticity of our inner most selves to emerge as wine does from the trampling of grapes.

How wonderful it is today that, as we work diligently to build a life in Sobriety and to allow the Truth of who and what we really are to fully develop, we are working for our own indomitable Truth to be “marching on…’

The Lifelong Quest For Sobriety…The Ultimate Hero’s Journey—Part 57

Guest Blogger and long-time Council friend, Bob W. presents Part 57 of a series dealing with Alcoholism and Addiction from a Mystical, Mythological Perspective, reflecting Bob’s scholarly work as a Ph.D. in mythological studies.

In the evolution of these Notes, we have attempted to look at the afflictions of addiction and alcoholism both in the rampant untreated state and in the long, maybe lifelong process of recovery.  We have seen these journeys from a deeply mythic perspective, all aspects of them having stark parallels to the thousands of stories of heroes that attend the human experience.

In recent times, I have begun to see our journeys as coming in stages. First, we stop drinking or using. We deal with the pain, the minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day agonies of living without the substance or behaviors we used to medicate and escape.  Slowly, slowly, we begin to feel better and, in time, time itself seems to move along without those daily tremors of abstinence and deprivation.  Soon then we begin a second stage…that of working with a sponsor over the steps, one by one, embracing a Higher Power in personal terms and climbing the staircase of the Spirit, coming to understand our disease and its pitfalls in deeper and deeper terms.  We commit ourselves to service is small ways, supporting the Fellowship in daily chores and working with others.

In a few months or years, we move to a third stage, life in a container, a network of like women and men with whom we can live and be sustained with increasing ease and comfort.  As addicts and alcoholics, we are always at risk, but, in time, staying close to that Community, relapse becomes less and less of an option.  We begin to see the true meaning of the idea of a Sunshine of the Spirit. We begin to feel the overwhelming sense of gratitude for our Higher Power and the Fellowship that engulfs us.

Beyond this, I am beginning to see the idea of a fourth stage, maybe another dimension, a fourth dimension.  Committing ourselves to service first and foremost, eschewing any recognition, or even any third party knowledge, of such service other than our Higher Power, we become a rock upon which the power of the Fellowship is seamlessly resting.

We become a bit like Dante in the final stages of Paradiso.  Earlier in this trilogy, Dante had to trudge through the horrors of the Inferno with all the characterizations of the missteps of mankind. Then he moved into and through Purgatorio where is detailed the struggles to redeem oneself of the travesties of bad behavior. Much of Dante’s larger story here is reminiscent of our own journeys and our progress towards committed sobriety. But then Dante finally ascends into heaven, Paradiso, where he ultimately comes face to face with God.  As outlined in earlier Notes, the scene is captivating with God represented as a magical essence of pure love.

It has come to me that there are those of us to whom we all look for leadership and inspiration who have been cloaked with just such a spiritual mantle. Said another way, there are women and men among us in whose presence we all feel especially blessed…women and men who have become a near manifestation, deep within in our mind and hearts, of the power of a higher being.  What a joy it is to live in a community of such lightness and splendor!

The Lifelong Quest For Sobriety…The Ultimate Hero’s Journey—Part 56

Guest Blogger and long-time Council friend, Bob W. presents Part 56 of a series dealing with Alcoholism and Addiction from a Mystical, Mythological Perspective, reflecting Bob’s scholarly work as a Ph.D. in mythological studies.

In the commercial world that is the core of the economic society in which we all live and work, the experience of bankruptcy, along with the economic impacts of death and divorce, is one of the horrors that some of us have to experience.  We can define bankruptcy as insolvency, a condition in which the financial equity in one’s organizational structure or life system has been entirely exhausted and the ability of cash flows to service all sorts of debt obligations is nil; it is an experience that horrifies us and the commercial worlds in which we all live.   There is a set of laws called the Bankruptcy Code (the “Code”), formerly known as Title 11 of the U.S. Code of laws and regulations which governs precisely how the process of bankruptcy is meant to work to allow individuals, corporations and other organizations to resolve the conflict presented by their debt obligations and, then, to be rehabilitated.

I have had some experience in this world and it strikes me how it resonates so powerfully with the experience of addiction, the descent into its worst nightmares and the process to recover and build a sober life.  I have come to believe that life in our economic world is replete with people that span the full range of experiences, from those for whom success and wealth seem to come with consummate ease, to those who just can’t keep it together and are always on the edge of, or deep in the throes of insolvency.  It is much like the range of experiences of all humanity with addictive substances and behaviors. Many of those at the dark end of the economic cycles are increasingly caught in the web of insolvency as a result of a spendthrift and wholly irresponsible patterns of life.  They seem powerless over the experience of living beyond their means and their life increasingly becomes unmanageable.

The process of recovery for such people is also much like that for the alcoholic and addict, working with consultants, therapists, family and friends to discover a new way of living and managing daily affairs.  There are many parallels in the descent into bankruptcy and the process to recover to a sound and responsible way of living.

I have a good friend who has worked in this world most of her life, helping debtors to migrate through the myriad of processes that the Code provides.  I was at a meeting with her one day, where a number of distressed debtors – individuals, couples and small companies – sat in a large room ringed with small alcove offices.  The small offices were occupied by officials of the Court system and the meeting, called a Chapter 13 meeting in Texas, was to allow for the Court system and the debtors to come to terms with the precise nature of the debtors’ insolvency and develop a procedure for its resolution to be presented to and approved by the Bankruptcy Courts themselves.  As different debtors were called to a particular office my friend went with them, as their counsel, to explain and arrange each of their processes of resolution.  As I sat there observing, I was struck by the fear and anxiety on the faces of the debtors and the ease and comfort of my friend’s manner in working with them to a resolution. She was an “angel of mercy” moving about the room, very much like the presence that recovering alcoholics who serve as sponsors have in a room full of distraught and anxious newcomers of AA and its sister12 step programs.  Both are wonderful experiences to witness, the newbie alcoholic starting to work the steps with a sponsor and the bankrupt beginning the processes of financial rehabilitation with her/his counsel, both nurturing recovery with a presence of deeply committed service.

The Lifelong Quest For Sobriety…The Ultimate Hero’s Journey—Part 55

Avalon mythical island

Guest Blogger and long-time Council friend, Bob W. presents Part 55 of a series dealing with Alcoholism and Addiction from a Mystical, Mythological Perspective, reflecting Bob’s scholarly work as a Ph.D. in mythological studies.

Santa Catalina is an island offshore southern California, “26 miles across the sea…” from Long Beach.  The “26 miles…” line is from a 1958 song by the Four Preps, a male quartet of Hollywood teenagers whose name conveyed their image…preppy, well groomed suburban kids in white shirts, identical suits and skinny ties. They had a number of hits in the late 50’s and 60’s as the popular music world was moving from traditional rock ‘n roll to folk ballads.

But the island of Santa Catalina eschewed their image.  It was a quiet, very rocky, almost magical island whose main harbor and city then and now is Avalon, a quaint village of shops, restaurants and B&B’s.  Avalon also was a very reverent name in ancient Celtic legends. 

Avalon was an island in the marshlands of Wales where spiritual beings with great healing powers were said to reside. It was also the place where the magical sword, Excalibur, was reportedly to have been forged, the instrument that empowered King Arthur with a mantle of invincibility.

When Arthur was wounded in his battles with Modred, he was transported to Avalon where he was attended to and healed by the Enchantress Morgana le Fay. While Avalon on Santa Catalina today is just a nice quaint city on a distant isle, those of us blessed with the miracles of the Process of Recovery can easily see it in its mythological constructions. Travelling there across the water, entering the beautiful harbor, walking among the rocky hills of the island, we can imagine ourselves as Arthurian Knights, reveling in the bliss of a magical existence, immortalized in so much literature…for our lives in the “sunlight of the spirit,” afforded by our diligent working of the program, is precisely that…is it not?

The Lifelong Quest For Sobriety…The Ultimate Hero’s Journey—Part 54

Guest Blogger and long-time Council friend, Bob W. presents Part 54 of a series dealing with Alcoholism and Addiction from a Mystical, Mythological Perspective, reflecting Bob’s scholarly work as a Ph.D. in mythological studies.

Jane Austen is recognized as the premier author of the Regency Period in England, the historical period that preceded the Victorian Era.  Her various works adroitly characterize the highly structured yet anxiety riddled social structure of the upper classes of British society. Perhaps her best such rendition is the story Emma, about a privileged, headstrong society girl in a small fictitious town in England.  Early in adulthood, Emma begins to manipulate her peers in her social structure to pursue the lives she believes they should, according to their standing, whether or not they agree with her or whether it is the right thing for them to do.   

Her penchant for such machinations develops to such increasing levels of bad maneuvers that she is ruining various lives irreparably.  Emma remains unconscionable is her efforts until George Knightly, a friend who is her one constant critic, finally convinces her of the extent of the damage she is doing and provokes a change in her behavior.

Emma’s descent into the behavior that so ruins other lives is similar to that of many of us as we descended into the final throes of our disease. We heaped abuse on others as if it was our right to destroy lives; we believed that relationships meant we could treat others as prisoners.  For many of us, it was only in the shock and final realization of such destruction that we could begin to pursue relief and reconstruction.

Think about how we behaved with loved ones at the height of our disease, the abuse and bad behavior that was so destructive and cruel without our even being aware of what we were doing.  And think how we pushed those same loved ones into behavior patterns to protect themselves, even though such patterns set them up for Al-Anon like pathologies. The repair of both sets of behaviors required almost lifelong efforts of recovery for both.

In a late scene in Austen’s book, there is an exchange between Emma and Knightly in which Knightly castigates her for a particularly mean and outrageous series of comments towards a garrulous societal friend. He says: “How could you be so unfeeling? […] How could you be so insolent in your wit to a woman of her character, age, and situation?” 

Emma tries to explain away her affront by diminishing the target, but Knightly will have none of it.  He adroitly points out that, despite Emma’s innermost self being of much higher quality, her penchant to put down and abuse others is destroying who she really is.  This exchange causes a dramatic change in Emma’s consciousness and the beginning of an ultimate resolution of the story…one that is highly enjoyable and uplifting.

For all of us in Recovery, how much like this has it been that a friend, or group thereof, has finally gotten through to our innermost selves, occasions that finally triggered the Journey that ultimately saved our lives and the lives of those around us.

The Lifelong Quest for Sobriety…The Ultimate Hero’s Journey—Part 53

Guest Blogger and long-time Council friend, Bob W. presents Part 53 of a series dealing with Alcoholism and Addiction from a Mystical, Mythological Perspective, reflecting Bob’s scholarly work as a Ph.D. in mythological studies.

The 2010 movie, Inception, portrays the activities of two thieves, Dom, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, and Arthur, played by Joseph Gordon Levitt, who are “extractors,” performing corporate espionage using an experimental military technology to obtain information by infiltrating the subconscious of corporate execs.  They execute their craft by establishing a shared dream platform in their targets’ minds.  Dom has been successful in this practice to such an extent that he believes he can also embed information and ideas in targets to cause them to accept something or do something they would otherwise reject.  In fact, he has been accused of the murder of his wife because he embedded her with an idea that resulted in her demise, and he has been a fugitive of such crime living in various places outside the U.S. ever since.

In the firm, his beliefs in this regard approach the level of grandiosity, maybe even a growing grandiosity that is quite familiar to many of us inflicted with the disease of alcoholism.

A Japanese businessman hires Dom and Arthur to perform this advanced procedure on a business rival. This client offers to hire Dom with the promise that he can remove any connection Dom has with his wife’s disappearance and the alleged crime, allowing Dom to return to the U.S. and be with his children.

In the film, the evolution of the scheme to accomplish this feat becomes incredibly intricate and complex and there are many hiccups as they work through the execution thereof.  Dom has not been entirely straight with Arthur and the members of their team of operatives about the possible pitfalls of the procedure they have designed. As the movie unfolds, the complications become more and more intricate, but it is only in the clear headed advice and hard direction of Ariadne, another member of the team, that Dom finally makes the adjustments for the whole scheme to be successful. In the end, he achieves his best outcome and is re-united with his kids.

How fascinating it is that this particular team member is called Ariadne.  Played by Ellen Page, it is Ariadne who provides the path to the solution in the movie.  Ariadne was also the character in an ancient Greek myth, the daughter of King Minos of Crete who gives Theseus the means to kill the Minotaur and escape from the Labyrinth.  Ariadne had given Theseus a sword and a bunch of twine as he was being led into the Labyrinth to be eaten by the Minotaur.  Theseus used the twine (Ariadne’s Thread) to mark his course into the Labryrinth and the sword to kill the Minotaur. 

The Thread was then the means he used to find his way back to the opening.    DiCaprio’s performance in playing Dom, and the process of misinformation he uses to manipulate everyone, is very resonant with this alcoholic.  How many times in our disease did we create a complex web of lies and deceit to accomplish some idiotic goal that had very little useful purpose except to feed our disease…and how many times was there an Ariadne, and, ultimately, a group of Ariadnes, to guide us to the opening of an ultimate path to Recovery.