Almost twenty years ago, but what now seems like a lifetime, I was living in New York. During that time, I saw a therapist twice a week because I was feeling stuck and unfulfilled in life. I had a lot to work through emotionally, ghosts from the past which haunted me and which I had tried to ignore and run away from. One of my ways of running away was through drinking. My therapist used to say that when I’m drunk I’m, “like a sailor on shore leave, wild, happy and free, at last”. Yes, free from the authoritarian tyrant which was myself.
During one session, while recounting yet another drunken episode, a crazy night out (there were many during that period), he put it to me that I might be an alcoholic and that I definitely seemed to have a propensity to addiction.
I’m sure there’s a genetic cause for this, maybe in 10 years or so they will discover the gene, we’ll see.
Really?! You think so? Are you sure? What do you think I should do?
I had already known this on some level but didn’t want to accept it. He didn’t give me a direct answer, but instead told me a story, a legend actually. It may not be new to you, but it was to me. And it has guided me ever since.
In ancient times, in what is now Turkey, there was a city which lacked a ruler to govern it. An oracle decreed that the next person to enter the city driving an ox-cart should become king. A peasant farmer named Gordias drove into town on an ox-cart and was immediately declared ruler of the city. Out of gratitude, his son dedicated the ox-cart to the gods and tied it to a post in the town square with an intricate knot. The oracle then declared that any man who could unravel the knot which secured the oxcart to the post was destined to become ruler of all of Asia. Alexander (the Great) happened to be traveling through the city at the time. He learned of the prophecy and became determined to untie the knot but struggled to do so without success. After some time, he said, “I know how to do it”.
How did he do it? Before revealing that, I would like to share a little more with you about myself and my relationship with alcohol.
The decision of whether to stop or continue drinking has continued to be an issue for me throughout much of my adult life. I now live in Barcelona, Spain, far away from New York and that period of my life, which seems like a long time ago now. I enjoy my life here. I am a visual artist (painter) and teacher. I genuinely love my work and the city I live in and have a great group of friends and students who are supportive and good people. I have a spiritual practice which is becoming deeper and more important to me with each passing day. This includes, among other things, yoga, meditation, and prayer. One of the results of this practice is that I seem to to be falling in love with life. I also cry easily lately, even sometimes for nothing, so it seems.
Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean, Tears from the depth of some divine despair Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes.
But really, I do know why. I believe that as Jack Kornfield says,
When we open our hearts to the world, there’s a terrible beauty and ocean of tears.
A couple of weeks ago, after a night out, I woke up on a Sunday morning later than usual, and with a hangover. This has become a rare occurrence, but nevertheless, it made me very sad. I didn’t want to get up, but I was determined to have a normal day, beginning with journal writing, meditation and yoga class.
Let’s do this I said to myself. Let’s do this????
These words I heard myself say made me very sad indeed. And I did cry there in bed. This is because normally, especially lately, I wake up filled with gratitude for a new day and begin with the words “Good morning, morning!”. I also like to begin my Sunday journal entries with “Sunday morning, calm.” But there was no calm on that recent morning, at least internally.
Never again, I vowed to myself, will I greet a Sunday morning with those words “let’s do this”. These mornings are too precious to me, we may have many more, or we may not. This becomes more apparent with age and time.
Returning to the legend of Alexander and the knot. He became determined to untie it but struggled to do so without success. After some time, he said, I know how to do it. With that, he unsheathed his sword and struck down hard upon the thick rope slicing through the knot with a single stroke, thus solving the riddle. And eventually, as prophesied, he became ruler of Asia.
There are times in our lives when we are faced with difficult and confusing decisions. We may ask family and friends. They often give us different, even conflicting answers. This makes us more confused. We feel lost. Sometimes, as in the story of the knot, what is required is a clean break. No more endless mentalizing, trying to think it through, back and forth, in and out. Deciding not to drink was one such decision for me. This was what my therapist in New York helped me to see a long time ago.
We all know there are people who do not have a problem with addiction and there are some of us who do. And most of us have been touched directly or indirectly by this. I took that recent Sunday morning and my hangover as a gentle warning, a sign from God or Universe, or the One or whatever you want to call Her or Him or It. As if to say,
There is this thing you are ignoring, I invite you to listen. This time I will tell you softly, with only a hangover and lost Sunday. But next time may be different.
I have seen the writing on the wall and I am paying attention. Are you?
I asked myself and I ask you now,
Does alcohol interfere with the way you want to move through life?
Do you feel rested and open-hearted the morning after a night out? Or do you feel irritable, cloudy, and maybe even a little depressed?
Do you agree, as Michael Brown said in his wonderful book The Presence Process (a book which changed my life) that Alcohol and drugs sedate authenticity?
Maybe, for you, alcohol is not a problem.
Or maybe it is.
I want to greet each day, as much as possible, with loving kindness and an open heart. I want to live my truth, which is that I am (as we all are), as Ram Dass says, “Loving Awareness”. Alcohol, for me, interferes with that.
No more asking myself before a night out, feeling nervous and with some anxiety,
Will I stay within my self-imposed two drink limit tonight?
“Maybe. Or Maybe not.”
Will I remain free from harm or danger while under the effects of alcohol?
“Maybe. Or Maybe not.”
Will I arrive home safely, at a reasonable and desirable hour?
“Maybe. Or maybe not”.
Well, no more “maybe knots” As with Alexander, I have cut through this quandary with the decision to leave the drink once and for all. You may not become a ruler of Asia, but you can be a good and responsible steward, protector, and ruler of your own life. “Your one and only life”.
Are you with me?
If you are drinking too much too often maybe we can help. We are an independent, private, anonymous community forum. Alcohol is the only drug that people will question you for not using but we understand how it feels to lose your off switch.
Talk to Us.
You can read more about us Here
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It’s never too late.
More from the Boozemusings Community Blog :
Find more of Robert’s writing on the Boozemusings Blog here
and his art work on his website Here
Image of “Alexander the Great at the Fountain of Life with the Prophets Khidr and Ilyas,” , by Yadkar al-Katib Copyright Holder the Walters Art Museum
Tears, Idle Tears by Alfred Lord Tennyson – Poems | poets.org