Spiritual Principles meet PTSD
PTSD is alive and well and living in the suburbs. On my way to our in-town mailbox, I spotted a smoke cloud. My mind tried to make sense of it. Was it merely clouds as there were many filling the sky? Was it my imagination? As I got closer, ironically I was leaving a message for Joleen my savior. Once again I said “fuck”, and hung up mid-message. I called 911, and they said the now ominous response, “crews are on the scene.” Pushing further, panic building, I inquired, “Is it a house fire or a wild fire?” The operator was kind and responded, “It’s a lightening strike”. Tears now coming, I explained, “I just lost my house in a fire, seeing smoke freaks me out.” Some kind response came back and we said goodbye. The fear rose quickly to the surface. Not again. Not here. Not now. I realize there are fires burning elsewhere in Colorado and around the country. There will certainly be even more this summer. Yet, this close to home feels especially threatening. Not here, please. Please whoever you are up there in the sky or in the molecules or flitting on the wings of fairies or in our hearts. Please whoever and wherever you are. Please.
My prayers answered for today as I awaken to a dark and misty sky and the patter of raindrops hitting Flame’s aluminum skin. It’s cozy in here now with 3 blankets and Tigger at my feet, a wool hat and the Irish wool sweater I carried from my house. David is still sleeping and I am on my first cup of coffee. I believe today will be a two cup day. Jessica and I worked all day yesterday sorting and organizing in Flame and then moving to the outside to do some clean up. Jessica is a rock – and a rock star. She was tireless in her efforts, patient with me in my particular needs in placing items and strong in carrying the artifacts and articles to a more serene resting place – out of site for now. We worked our asses off. Good thing she has that cute ghetto booty that I noticed when we first met. Did I mention that she can move too? The girl can bust a move as both a belly dancer with a world-class running man routine to boot. And, she and I share a brain, so the day was long, arduous and beautiful to be with her.
Mid-morning, Rick from All Container Services in Denver delivered our new “outbuilding” – a forest green 20 x 8 shipping container which Rick deemed to be in “excellent shape”. What was truly excellent was how kind Rick was even after the harrowing drive down our one-way mile-long jeep trail of a road. Yes we have done road work over the years yet driving a large truck with no idea of what will greet you at the end is a serious act of faith. I warned him with my directions and he trusted my lead. Jessica took charge of giving him hand signals and Rick far exceeded my request to pack the container tightly against the edge of the cement pad, up close to the side of the hill. I texted David hinting of a large present awaiting his return. This will be his man-cave.
My woman-cave hopes to be a light-filled shed parked on the side of our hill in some picturesque spot of which there are still many. We are still working out the details but the plan is for a 10 x 12 space where I will cozy down. In this cozy space now, having finished my 1stcup, I startle suddenly as a strange wind sounding like a low flying jet kicks up the hill. Something blows over outside and bangs something else and I jump and gasp momentarily awaking David. Exaggerated startle response. I remember this from my days in grad school. Yes, I would say I have that. Calm one moment and fight or flight the next. Danger looms around any corner gotta make sure I can run and hide. I don’t think I will fight, I believe I will run although that fight response is what I was referring to yesterday. The perceived threat of another human being snarky. Deep breath.
I had the pleasure of attending my 12-step meeting last night and being amongst my peeps. What a room that is. How lucky I am. How lucky we are. Not chosen, though, remember? In our little living room, we gather and share our heart and souls. This particular room (we all agree) is quite special. And, we are not the only ones who think so. This place attracts recovering types from “down the hill” – Boulder, Denver and other far-reaching suburbs. We talk solution. We live solution. We live in recovery, not in the struggle. We work our programs. We do the deal. We love each other as the dysfunctional family of choice that we are. As it says in the literature, we are people who normally would not mix. Yet here we are mixing. As I shared before, these people surrounded us not just with love in the early days but in many backbreaking hours of physical labor. They were with us, holding our hands and hearts as they sifted through ashes and rubble and risked their fingers and toes as they moved around the hazard filled site.
Yesterday, as I settled on the couch in between two macho men (they will love that I said that!), one asked where we were living now. Of course I have pictures to show, so I pulled out my iPhone and began my show and tell of life in Flame. The burlier of the two responded by touching his heart and tearing up. This is life in recovery. This is the family I have been meeting since 1989. One might think that as a 23 year-old entering a smoke filled room packed with people twice my age that I wouldn’t feel at home. Yet, at home I was. The Gateway Club in Fort Lauderdale, Florida was where it began all those years ago (after rehab, that is). This was an eclectic bunch ranging from street people (one even spoke in tongues) to executives to housewives and we came together for the 5:30 almost daily. I did the recommended 90 in 90 and settled in nicely. I learned from the elders, shared my fledgling story, found a higher power and found myself in those rooms.
What a long strange trip it’s been. I cannot imagine my life without recovery. Anyone with long-term sobriety will walk through many things in a full life. My beloved sponsor is walking through Stage 4 lung cancer with an astounding grace and beauty. He… yes, I am a rule breaker, I have a male sponsor. And, footnote here: don’t do this unless you have a lot of time under your belt. There I said it. Men stick with men, women with women. And, I have a lot of time under my belt. K, are we clear now? So anyway, he is walking his talk. This man is power – it comes leaping from his piercing blue eyes striking either fear in your mind or deep adoration in your heart. It’s usually one or the other with him. Most people start out with fear and yet it turns quickly to deep love for this wise man. Some choose to stay in the fear and decide that his light is too glaring, his wisdom too sharp, his voice too bellowing, his love too strong and they run the other way. When I first met him, I felt that. Just who was this wild man with the handle bar mustache and ponytail who wore biking shorts to meetings with no bicycle in site. He was an artist and that explained a lot. Then, I observed him over time and drew closer to his light. First, I worked with his wife Sandy who is a softer version of the above yet with her own fierce passion and brilliant light. These two are a team plain and simple. A few years later, I worked with Bill. And, man do I love that man. Man, do I love those people. They have single handedly helped more people than most of us will ever even meet. For real. It is an understatement to say they live a life of service. They bring love, light and joy wherever they go. Now on their almost daily trips down to the chemo lab, Bill hands out bear hugs to strangers and Sandy hands out a stack of “Spiritual Principle’s” cards adorned with the best way to respond to life:
Their motto is always “see what you can bring” and what they always bring is these principles. Does this mean they are not human? Far from it, they are just called from a deeper place than many of us are. They live their life from gratitude and an attitude of service. I listened to both of them share last night after I introduced the topic for the meeting – “The Keys to the Kingdom” a tale from our literature and a story of the gifts we have been given. Even in the midst of dealing with this major upheaval in their already packed life, these two live from “be the gift”. They look for the gift in everything. And, they see it a lot faster than most of us.
I opened the meeting by sharing my utter surprise in hearing myself say “I love my life” out loud. Yet, I know this is a gift of the program. I can love my life in the midst of destruction and chaos. Later someone echoed words he attributed to both me and David – which was actually just David who said: “the fear of losing everything was greater than actually losing everything.” An immediate rebuttal passed through my mind, “I did NOT say that… David said that….” My mouth remained shut as I inquired into this notion. I can’t say if it’s true or not, actually. I can say that my fear of dirt was greater than the actual experience of the pervasive dirt that surrounds us – and is being tracked in as I type on dog feet this wet morning… Losing everything carries many complications that I never expected in my fears but the point is we are walking through it all. Sometimes with grace, sometimes without… probably mostly on the grace side with a few moments of misbehaving. And, living from grace does not mean we don’t experience grief.
Watching Bill and Sandy walk with such grace is another reminder of what is possible. They raise the bar in walking through the fires in life. In those times when I get the grumpy sales person on the line, I can respond with compassion. “Where there is hatred, may I bring love…. Where there are shadows, may I bring light… Grant that I may seek to understand, rather than be understood…” Yes, most of those Spiritual Principles come from the Saint Francis prayer, which can really be our instructions for living. A tall order you say, and I concur. Why not strive though, right? As Bill would say, “try it out and report the results.” He goes on to say, he gets a better response when he says, “Bless you” than when he says, “Fuck ya”.
I just added my own verse to the St. Francis prayer and emailed it to Dusty – a fellow sorcerer in the practice of dark humor who is currently in town and dealing with many foiled plans whilst in the driving rain. “Where there are ridiculous situations when we doubt the existence of anything that makes any sense may I bring snorting laughter.” I don’t think St Francis will mind, do you?
Who really knows what is in the mind of another human being. They don’t know our pain and we don’t know theirs. My guess is that most humans don’t go around sharing how they love their life. They may not even know they can love their life. For that, I can have compassion. I have been given the gift of choice. I can choose to love my life in the midst of chaos. I can also genuinely feel it. For that, I am eternally grateful.