Skip to comments.A(NOTHER) GRIEF OBSERVED
Posted on 10/25/2009 1:24:48 PM PDT by Joe 6-pack
I got sober in January of 2004 at the age of 34, so almost a year had passed before I celebrated my first alcohol free Christmas. During that year, I found a tremendous sense of peace, and a blossoming of my physical and spiritual health. One of my first observations regarded the passage of time. When I was drinking, I would leave work Friday night, proceed directly to the bar, and the next think I knew, I was stumbling out of bed on Monday morning, looking for some semblance of clean clothes, feeling like Friday afternoon had just happened and there had been no respite. Once sober, my weekends seemed endless, and filled with life. When Monday morning arrived, Friday afternoon seemed like something that happened ages ago, and I returned to work rested and eager. Furthermore, this seemed like a microcosmic representation of my life. The 17 years of heavy drinking were a blur and as I indulged myself in sobriety, I realized the degree to which my alcoholism had prevented me from growing and maturing. Time and its passage had taken on a whole new meaning for me, and Ive been busy ever since catching up on the emotional and spiritual maturation I denied myself during my late teens, twenties and early thirties.
Up until that year, Id spent virtually every Holiday Season away from home in the military, or later on for my private sector employer. Christmas was typically a day off, and I availed myself of the opportunity to drink right through them the few Christmases I did spend at home were no different, and while I was in the presence of family and friends, I may as well have been a thousand miles away a I nestled into an alcoholic fog.
I spent my first sober Christmas alone as well, but I called home on Christmas Eve when my parents were hosting a large family gathering. The phone was passed around and I exchanged seasons greetings with the family members; some of whom Id not spoken to in years. The moment the call ended I was filled with an intense sense of loneliness and isolation unlike any Id ever known before. A day or two later, I mentioned this to a fellow AA member who had been sober for several decades. I can still hear his words like they were spoken yesterday When youre sober, you feel everything.
Flash ahead to January 2009. The first time I ever saw K. I knew she was an incredibly special lady. Casual conversation at the dog park eventually led to a date here and there, and last spring, when I took a business trip to California, I kenneled my dog at the veterinary clinic where she worked. We kept in contact for the week I was out there, and when I flew back home on my 40th birthday, she was at the airport with a birthday card, balloons and my dog. On the ride home, I told her for the first time that I loved her, and that her happiness was more important to me than was my own. Granted, this was not the first woman to whom I expressed my love, but in sobriety, she became the first woman to whom I truly meant it, understanding the full implication of the words. In that regard, here I was at 40, experiencing my first true love. The relationship flowered, and became increasingly intense, but in so doing, she became uncomfortable, and as she would relate to me this past week, found herself in a different place, and desiring that the relationship end. While I suppose the cynical reader could (and is welcome to) write this off as nothing more than a summer romance, I found that in sobriety, our relationship had been fuller, more consequential and passion-filled than the six years of my long past failed marriage. Never before in my life had I invested so much genuine love and hope in another. She was, I know, struggling with a few personal issues of her own, and there was not enough I could do for her to place happiness at her feet. In the end, it was, she explained, nothing I had done or said, nor a failing on my part, but merely the relationship growing a direction she was not ready for, nor wishing to continue.
Her words struck me like a lightning bolt, and at the time, I saw months if not years of incipient pain, grief and suffering, and yet here, a week later, I am typing with a serenity and sense of acceptance that are frankly unprecedented and for which I am incredibly grateful. Mind you, Im not free of pain, or heartbreak, but I am able to see through and embrace it, and have found in it a great sense of purpose which brings me comfort,. It is my deepest hope that I can share it with those who might at present, find themselves in need of such solace.
Although overwhelmed by the end of the relationship, my first desire was to remain true to her and to myself. I had told her that her happiness was more important to me than my own, and as she dissolved the relationship, I found myself in the position to prove the veracity of my words. The end of us was a necessary condition she felt to finding her happiness, and as I told her, I support that. Certainly, my hope had been to be a source of her happiness, but if that was not the case, I could not fight her or the circumstances and remain true to my words. I came to recognize that to be honest meant being willing to play a big role, small role or no role at all in her life. This was my opportunity to put up or shut up, and I chose to honor what I had once told her.
The most productive thing Ive done in the past week is to confront my pain and in order to do so, Ive had to isolate it. The end of our relationship has resulted in a bowl of mixed emotions that is not unlike a stew, and isolating the pain so it can be dealt with on its own terms is like trying to extract a glass of pure clean water from that stew. I began by praying hard, first for K. and that she truly embraces a path that will lead to happiness. I have begged God to remove the other emotions such as fear, anger, regret, resentment, and petty jealousy and leave the pain to be dealt with. He has been most merciful in helping me get these things behind me far more rapidly than Ive had any right to expect or deserve. Like the stew analogy, Ive had to strain, refine, and distill all of those other emotions in order to get that pure, clean, pain out on its own.
Once the pain has been isolated, it can be confronted, examined in its own nakedness. The first thing I noticed about the pain and my sense of loss was its weight and value, and this in turn, unexpectedly led to a deep sense of gratitude. I never had any right to, or claim on K.s time or affection. That which was given to me was a pure gift, and above and beyond anything Id ever deserved. I miss her, but I do so precisely because she is such a wonderful, honest, and compassionate person. Had she been a superficial, shallow, or less than honest person, my sense of loss would not be so profound, and although the relationship is now at an end, while it thrived, it educed a joy that I had never before experienced, and will always remember, which leads to my next observation
The pain is tremendously powerful, but it is not invincible, and nowhere is this more evident in the area of recollection and memories. I will have memories of K. that will remain with me for the rest of my life that is something I have absolutely no control over; however, what I can control is whether these memories exist as precious things to be cherished and treasured, or dark ugly things that I allow to haunt and terrify me. Reduced to this simple alternative, this is a very easy choice, and one that God has fully empowered me to make.
Suffering is one thing that people do equally well. Nobody needs to be taught to feel pain, but the manner in which people deal with that pain varies widely. I self-medicated for many years, which in fact, did not rid the suffering, but merely masked it. This time around, I choose to face it, and in some sense, embrace it. This may sound an odd choice, but upon consideration, not so much. Vince Lombardi once concluded simply, No pain, no gain, and I cant begin to count how many times I heard an Army PT instructor declare that, Pain is weakness leaving the body. Obviously, they were referring to pain incurred during the course of physical training, but why should the concept be any different when applied to our emotional and spiritual fitness? When one can see a sense of purpose being served in their suffering, the suffering becomes decidedly more tolerable, and knowing that my suffering is a necessary condition for K. to advance her life in the direction of her choosing, I can humbly embrace that pain, and do so as an act of love. In fact, knowing that embracing this pain may very well be the last opportunity I ever get to demonstrate my love to her, I want to do so wholeheartedly and without reservation. In doing so, I also reinforce to myself the knowledge that what Ive felt for her is the selfless and unconditional love that I always hoped it had been. Once again, this does not diminish the pain or the sense of loss, but it makes it infinitely more bearable.
A recurring theme of AA can be found in the Serenity Prayer, God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. This prayer has been invaluable to me this past week, and sifting through those things I can influence and those I cant, has brought me a level of satisfaction I would in now way have envisioned myself feeling a week ago.
One mistaken belief and dangerous misunderstanding about alcoholics is, they must not have any will power. The fact of the matter is that alcoholics are generally strong willed, stubborn people whose natural will and inclination is to get drunk. Lock an alcoholic in prison, and hell find a way to make alcohol out of strawberry jam or shoe polish. Strand an alcoholic on a desert island, and hell start looking for something to ferment before he begins looking for something to eat. Its been my experience as a recovering alcoholic, that sobriety can only result from the alcoholics willingness to subordinate his will and desires to God. The words, Thy will be done take on a profound, intense, central importance to an alcoholic seeking liberation from booze, and having learned to utter that simple petition to the Almighty has likewise, been of tremendous value to me this past week. I know what my desires are and have been, but I also know that almost certainly they have at times, and will continue to deviate from the intent and will of God. Remaining aware of the fact that His will must always take precedence has given me an acceptance of my present circumstances, and its an acceptance that becomes less reluctant with each passing day.
There is an apocryphal tale that upon unveiling a sculpture of an angel, Michelangelo was once asked how he could sculpt such an incredibly lifelike, exquisite piece. His answer was simple stating that one need only take a block of marble and carve away all that does not look like an angel. Identifying Gods will in my life, has become a similar endeavor. There are big chunks of my thoughts and behavior that are clearly not Gods will, and can clearly be lopped off wholesale at the outset, but as the form begins to appear one must be more careful, and attentive using smaller and smaller chisels, and refining and polishing the final form. Somewhere in the middle ground there are unexpected surprises and differences of opinion between God and myself of what the final shape should look like, but Hes the patron, and Im merely the sculptor His design must always take precedence.
I began this vanity post with an allusion to C.S. Lewis, and will conclude in the same way. Lewis spiritual autobiography is titled, Surprised by Joy, which he in turn borrowed from a Wordsworth poem of the same title (and which also, incidentally deals with the poets surprise to find contentment in a period of grief and loss.) K. is not the first person to ever break up with me, and in fact Ive had much longer (punctuated by alcohol) relationships, but Ive never before had a truer, cleaner, honest and open love. Yet, with its passage, I am grateful for what it was and the hope and joy it instilled in me. I hope and pray that any person who needs to read this finds it, and that if, by some small chance K. should ever stumble across these musings, that she knows that she will always be loved for what she brought to my life, and that she has in both her presence and absence, brought out the very best in me.
For that I will be forever grateful.
SURPRISED BY JOY
~ William Wordsworth
Surprised by joy -impatient as the wind
I turned to share the transport - Oh! with whom
But Thee, deep buried in the silent tomb,
That spot which no vicissitude can find?
Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind -
But how could I forget thee? Through what power,
Even for the least division of an hour,
Have I been so beguiled as to be blind
To my most grievous loss? - That thought's return
Was the worst pang that sorrow ever bore
Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn,
Knowing my heart's best treasure was no more;
That neither present time, nor years unborn,
Could to my sight that heavenly face
Where were all the typos when I was looking for them?!?!?
Beautiful. May God bless you with peace.
He has. Thank you :-)
“A Grief Observed” saved my life after my mother’s death. Your post is most eloquent, hope things get better for you very soon.
You are turning into the man your Dog always knew you were.
Some day a very lucky woman is going grow to love you.
At 45, I nearly where you were, maybe worse.
I think of your freedom of mind, spirit and body.
You have learned much young one!
I have read Surprised by Joy - CS Lewis really manages to convey the wonderful peace, contentment and indeed Joy that comes from ‘knowing’ the Father.
Blessings to you brother!
Thanks Mel. I’m grateful Lewis was such a prolific writer...I can read through his works and by the time I get to the end of them, I’m ready to start over at the beginning. When there’s something I NEED to read, I pick up my Bible. When there’s merely something I need to read, I pick up Lewis. I’m never disappointed by either.
What a moving story and so well written. You have overcome a lot and your strength and maturity show in your writing.
Joe, that was beautiful. And I didn’t notice any typos. It was all too beautiful...
Thank you for your very kind words and prayers. They mean so very much to me.
A couple of months ago there was a discussion going on about dogs. I don’t remember what it was about, but I responded by saying that I was getting two German Shep. pups that were to scheduled to be euthanized. Your reply to me was just great and I thank you for it.
The pups are doing real well. They turned out to be Shepherd mix with whatever got in the back yard, but that’s OK. They are wonderful, smart, and big girls — sleeping on the floor next to me as I type this.
Thank you...glad to hear you got a couple great dogs! They are true friends, and mine has been an invaluable companion to me this past week, even moreso than he usually is :-)
You've figured out by yourself what many people take a lifetime to learn. And some never do.
It will get better and you will have your moment in the sun with someone new.
Terrific thread. Thank you
Although, I think you've nailed it on your own.