Monday, November 17, 2014

The Last House on the Block

Anyone who has spent any time at all in meetings becomes painfully familiar with AA's many stock sayings: "It works if you work it"; "Put the plug in the jug"; "The more I miss meetings the more I miss drinking"; "Keep coming back".

For the most part, they never did much for me. I found them, by turns, trite and infuriating. When I was doing well they did not add to my comprehension of the benefit I had derived from working the steps, reading the book, joining in the fellowship of the group, or being of service to others. When I was doing badly, they tormented me with a smug simple-mindedness that seemed to suggest that all of my troubles would vanish if I just applied myself correctly to the program.

I used to fantasize about simply reading a pages-long list of them in one of the more fundamentalist meetings, and limiting my share to that.

One that always stood out as different from the rest was the notion of AA being "the last house on the block". The refuge that took us poor, battered drunks in and offered us hope after everything else had failed to cure our drinking problems.

That I could relate to. I had tried many means of conquering drugs and alcohol, and none of them helped: therapy, meditation, church, yoga, chi gong, exercise, self-will. Lots and lots of self will. Promises and vows and commitments and resolutions. They never stuck. Alcohol was my protector, my lover, my parent, my friend. My Higher Power. And there is no arguing with a Higher Power.

I came to my first meeting broken and in tears. I was beaten, done. I asked for help and I got it. Though stuck in the middle of a run-down thoroughfare in Richmond, California, that meeting truly was the last house on the block for me. And I'll always be grateful for that. Because, for me, it did work when I worked it. At least on the substances.

Then I found myself 12 years sober, divorced, laid off from work, and teetering on the edge of complete spiritual collapse. Suicide began to seem like a possibility.

Working the steps had helped me learn to examine my motives, clean up my life, and at least think of being of service to others. Unfortunately, it had not helped my PTSD and the depression and insomnia that often accompanied it. I went through a grueling childhood, and the effects of it have never left me. Not African child-soldier grueling. Not Brazilian street-kid grueling. But, by middle class American standards, pretty catastrophic. And AA was not helping (nor were any of the other methods I had at my disposal).

The 12 Steps were received in the 1930s. In American society, there simply was no concept of healing from from trauma at that time. And that was precisely what I needed.

I had nibbled away at it for years: individual therapy, group therapy, chi gong, EMDR - these techniques had all helped to various degrees and allowed me to function in society.

But when I plunged to the bottom, they couldn't do any more. So I tried something new. I booked space in a 12-day ayahuasca workshop in Peru. I went there and, under the care of wonderful American facilitators and powerful Shipibo shamans, found a clarity and self-love that I had never believed was possible.

I am blessed to be able to continue the work in a loving and wise community back here in the States, and it is completely changing my life. Every two weeks I drink ayahuasca and experience what comes up for me. Every two weeks I am granted insights and healing that would have taken me years to arrive at by more limited means, such as traditional talk therapy. Perhaps they would never come at all. As a dear friend in Peru noted, "It's tough for a therapist to keep up with a divine trans-dimensional being."

Among those familiar with these power plants, the words "psychedelic" and "hallucinogen" are not in favor. Instead, we prefer the term "entheogen" - "creating the God within". That has been and continues to be my experience with this holy sacrament, and it is what compels me to write this journal.

For me, it is truly the last house on the block.

God bless you, whoever you are.

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