“I’m not afraid of dying, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” – – Woody Allen
It is suggested in more than one spiritual discipline that we must die daily to become what we truly are. Another metaphor is peeling back layers of the onion. Or Michaelangelo suggesting that in every block of stone lies a statue. All of these suggest a continuous unfolding of the real self inside, through various programs such as AA. And as AA states, what happens when resentments are washed away is more exposure of the sunlight of the spirit. Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly it is promised if we work for it. Something I’ve learned in thirty years of sobriety is that such growth isn’t always the product of letting go of a character defect in agony.
I wrote a song for my friend Connie once that I simply called “Waltz Like This.” We attended the same Al-Anon group at the time, and I penned the lyric after watching her go through a particularly painful episode in her life. My favorites lines were as follows: “Not all secrets are painful, not all mystery is sad – when the house where you lived becomes dust in the wind.” While its true that many awakenings come with the hurt of shedding layers, what I was saying is that not every growth spurt happens painfully. The song itself is my favorite composition. I later recorded the song and presented her with a copy. The lyric was somewhat personal, and she told me that it scared the hell out of her. Yeah, I sure know how to woo the women.
My old friend Doug once said happily during one of his AA talks, “When I was over here working on this, this over here got better.” His expression is less cumbersome than mine, and gets the point across. While I went about my business of recovery for the last thirty years, a few things I wasn’t even thinking about were in the process of bearing pleasant fruit. To be more specific, I somehow grew a family this year. As my friend David likes to say, “How did that happen? I don’t know.”
When I got sober, one of my first orders of business was distancing myself from my family. Not only was I the only person in recovery in the family, I had pieced together a pretty contaminated idea of what it means to be Mexican. And so stayed away. It was not a flippant move. To mingle with my family even years into recovery often meant dealing with instant conflict, shielding myself from attacks. Three years ago at my nephews wedding my oldest sister laid into me when I was trying to make a joke. She is “born again” to a degree. If I said what I was thinking at the time she would have been advised of a new storage place for her bible. So nothing’s perfect among us, and there certainly is potential for conflict just like any other family. But it gradually began happening less and less over the last couple of years. I truly don’t know who’s responsible for what portion of the healing. I will stick to my side of the fence, as I think the old adage of “if God seems far away who moved” applies. The more I let my guard down, the better things seemed to get between me and my other sister and her boys. And I swear their behavior has changed. Or was it mine? Or both? How did that happen? I don’t know . . .
Year after year I stand at a podium and receive a medallion for whatever milestone of sobriety I’ve reached. For a lot of those years I’ve cited that I really don’t have much of a family. I have many times stated that I do believe in miracles, but I wasn’t holding my breath where my family was concerned. The standoff between us seemed appropriate over the years, and neither I nor they really made any effort to close the gap. In recent years my sister Barb, even though recognizing my tendency to isolate, began to invite me over for holidays. More often than not I declined. I just had too many memories of major conflicts attached to Christmas and Thanksgiving. As lonely as I was during those holidays, I preferred a heavy heart over spending a day feeling like I was in a meat grinder. So when exactly things began to change, I don’t really know. Terminal uniqueness may be my guide here. But I know I’m not alone in this type of situation. When I was working on this here, my family life over here was getting better. Grace is beautiful. I didn’t consciously set out to better my family life. The elements and the souls of my kin conspired to produce a single heart. The feeling defies description.
I have spent at least a little time with my three year old great niece who I get to spoil rotten. (I checked the Uncle’s Handbook. There’s a rule stating I have to do this.) I hope to see her much more often. I presented her with two big bags of trinkets, some small, some not so small, and she seemed to truly get a huge kick out of it. I spent Christmas at my nephew Tony’s house along with my sister Barb, and Tony’s two brothers. The wives of my nephews and the rest of their grown kids were there as well. It wasn’t until I got home that felt a sense of awe. In advance I had stated in an Al-Anon meeting that I was really looking forward to Christmas. I don’t think I’ve ever said that in my life. While at the gathering I invited two of my nephews and my sister to come and see me get my thirty-one year medallion in February. Christmas with the family, the ceremonial invite – these were not even thoughts in my head as recently as a few years ago. The sometimes blaring music from my nephew’s stereo belied what I felt inside. The warmth, the peace was almost palpable. I have died daily. And feel so much closer to heaven.
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