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Hitting Bottom

"Blessed are the poor in spirit; for their's is the kingdom of heaven." Mattjew 5::3

I did not drink alcohol.  At about age 40 i was (mis)diagnosed for type II diabetes; and i wanted to avoid insulin by treating this illness by diet.  No sugar, and alcohol converts to sugar in the human body.  So i have been a teetotaler for over 40 years.  But before my diagnosis i sometimes drank, i sometimes drank to escess and i sometimes drank myself nearly into injury, job loss, or jail.

There is now a theory that alcholism can be cured by professional treatment.  One highly advertized treatment center includes the phrase: "I was an alcoholic for ten years, now I'm not." and says (proudly, almost arrogantly), "This is not a 12-step program."  Well, maybe the professionals have it figured out, i don't know.  I wouldn't count on it.

AA says that alcoholism is a physical disease with a spiritual remedy, and i have known many people for whom that theory seems to work when regularly and rigorously practices.  AA also says that drinking is only a symptom of alcoholism, while one must stop drinking to stay sober, not drinking is insufficient.  Alcoholics engage in "stinking thinking" a combination of egotism, pessimism, and irresponsibility that resembles borderline personaliity disorder.  One can stop drinking forever and never be "sober."  One can be a "dry drunk."

Since we live in a world that is confusing and difficult, full of unsatisfiable desires and unavoidable pain, i am in danger of being a "dry drunk" if i do not have some kind of spiritual purpose at the center of my life.

When i could not relax or meditate yesterday i started to reread a book describing the interface between AA and Buddhism.*  I intended to skip Laura S.' personal story, but i didn't.  Laura S attended her first AA meeting at age 30 after several suicide attempts, the last resulting in clinical death, resucitation. and electroconvulsive "therapy" which left her with permanent brain damage.  She had lost her health, her partner, her job, her home, her self respect.  She hated going to AA but there was nothing else to do but drink herself dead.  She had "hit bottom" (and bounced three or four times) there was no where to go but up.

Moving away from alcoholism (i might not be an alcoholic) there are many ways of "hitting bottom."  John of the Cross hit bottom when he was imprisoned by his fellow monks.  The brutal treatment he recieved at their hands nearly killed him, and he knew he could only survive by escaping.  (And he still died young (age 49) as a result of that experience) but it was in that prison that his poetry and spiritual insight blossomed.

Some people have very "high bottoms"   Siddhartha caught a brief glimpse one day of illness,  old age, and death which resulted in a twelve year quest and a 40 year teaching career of what we call Buddhism.

And some people never  have to hit bottom.  Many Hindu and some Christian saints seemed destined for Sainthood almost from birth.  One of the greatest Hindu spiritual leaders died at age 21**, and others began their mystical experiences in early childhood.

I have begun to think that i am one of those people who have to hit bottom, but i haven't.  If i ever thought that i had reached the end of my rope it was because my rope was too damned short or flimsy.  I have never allowed myself to suffer the way some people have suffered.  So it is too easy for me to slip back into "Stinin' thinkin'" and expressing the exact qualities i dislike in  others.  I've not that many years left to take 9 steps backward for every ten forward.

I'm not sure what the writer of Matthew meant by "poor in spirit," (or that Jesus ever used that phrase).  Clearly being "poor in spirit" is a good thing.  One must be poor to be poor in spirit but that is not enough, just as one must not drink to avoid relapse into active alcoholism, but that is  not enough.  I must avoid "stinkin' thinkin' and the behavior that follows it

* 12 Steps on Buddha's Path: Bill, Buddha, and We - A Spiritual Journey of Recovery, by Laura S., 2006, Wisdom Publications.

** Jnanadev (1276-1297)


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 8th, 2016 08:28 pm (UTC)
When I think of hitting bottom (and in my case it's not related to drugs or alcohol), I think of Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem, "No worst, there is none," which I don't recommend reading--I think for him it was the dark night of the soul of clinical depression or maybe just problems with faith.

I don't know the book about Laura S, but there are a good many other books on Buddhism and twelve step programs. However (again, since I've not had to deal with substance problems), I've really learned so much from Pema Chodron's books (which are about hitting bottom, in a way, and certainly about "stinkin' thinkin'"), When Things Fall Apart and The Places That Scare You. Those are books that have meant a lot to men in prison that I've worked with, who have been dealing with drug and alcohol problems among others--but they've also meant a lot to people who're just going through some rocky places.
Feb. 8th, 2016 10:02 pm (UTC)
Thank you. Many of my friends read Pema Chodron and the quotes they leave me are always helpful. I guess i ought to read her.
Feb. 8th, 2016 10:05 pm (UTC)
I especially like her because she's not promoting orthodox Buddhism but simply talking about human issues--and she does it well.
Feb. 8th, 2016 10:17 pm (UTC)
Ah, my kind of Buddhist! But i do find Buddhism in general to be simple and true. And i do know how (most of the time) to take what i need and leave the rest alone.
Feb. 8th, 2016 10:23 pm (UTC)
Yes, me too.
Feb. 8th, 2016 10:28 pm (UTC)
As you know, my son died recently, technically of a heart attack brought on by cardiomyopathy and arteriosclerosis; but the heart damage was caused mostly by alcoholism. If I was to be totally honest, I would say my son committed slow but sure suicide via whiskey. He had mental and behavioral difficulties from early childhood on, started 'acting up' in second grade at age 7 but it was his last couple years of high school when he really became a big ball of rage, hatred, self-loathing and suicidal ideation. He struggled into his twenties, moved to live alternately by himself and with friends, partied and did drugs and drank, screamed his rage out in a death metal band for a few years. He settled down awhile when he had his first and only true love, but both of them had so many mental health problems between them that even their mutual love for each other ultimately couldn't surmount these problems. My son crashed and burned big time after his gf finally threw in the towel and ended their relationship and moved away; he ended up being committed 2x to a psychiatric facility, once voluntarily and once with police at my house making sure he went quietly in the ambulance or went handcuffed, sigh. But nothing worked, he wouldn't stay on meds (after a diagnosis of clinical depression, borderline personality disorder and acute panic disorder) because he said the meds numbed him too much and one particular one made him feel even more psychotic. He tried working several jobs but quit or was fired from them all because he would just flip out from stress and anxiety; he began drinking again and then it was rehab time; again, no success. He visited AA twice, came away disgusted and wouldn't go back. He had many of the traits you describe, and he was definitely heading toward hitting the deepest bottom it's possible to hit. At that time he had a deep antipathy toward Christianity but got into Buddhism because to him it made the most sense and fit his worldview and personal views and spiritual sense the best; I think the only time he was genuinely at peace and did think life was worth staying around for were the years he devoted himself to the practice and really lived the Eightfold Path daily. He stopped drinking, changed to a vegan diet, meditated a lot and left outside jobs to stay home and care for his sister. She loved that so much and he had more patience with her actually than I do. But sadly he just couldn't rise above the personal demons that always came back. He would tell me he knew he was the most selfish human ever, clinging to his addictions even as he saw the pain it caused his family and the way it was destroying his body; he told me he tried to give a damn but got to the point where he just didn't want or care for anything but that fifth of whiskey waiting for him daily. He told me more than once that even if he never took another drink and somehow miraculously managed to fix his broken body and health again, he would be, as you said, forever a 'dry drunk' and fixating on the next substitute 'soul deadener' to make him forget his life and himself. He was this bewildering mix of compassionate, empathetic man who would literally give someone the shirt off his back and his last dollar but also someone who ranted that he hated people in general; he was someone who wouldn't kill even an ant or bug but would curse at me and say terribly hurtful things to me and who was so filled with pain that toward the last he would break windows in the house and punch holes in the walls. He was just so tortured and wanted so much to do good and to love everyone and to help others but so terribly unable to help or save himself. He and I had the best, funniest, most fascinating conversations ever, he could cook anything and never used a measuring cup or spoon, just threw things together and they were awesome; he wrote beautiful poetry, drew wonderful art, and he was so so loved but we could never love him in the right way that might have saved him or at least enabled him to be strong enough to ssve himself.
Feb. 8th, 2016 11:41 pm (UTC)
I don't think i ever said i'm sorry for your loss. I am.
And i have more to share.
Feb. 9th, 2016 03:07 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure where you think your thinking is stinking ... you strike me as exhibiting a holy humility in this. Which is a good thing, as long as it doesn't end in discouragement.

I am seeing you, of course, only through your journal. Maybe you have something on your conscience that I do not know about. But I do not believe you stray far from the right path. Whatever is worrying you, my dear, turn it over, pray for grace to continue to change, and be at peace. One of our AA principles is "progress, not perfection". No matter how many years you have left, you will not reach perfection in this life. Look for neither all nor nothing. One foot in front of the other.

Feb. 9th, 2016 11:40 pm (UTC)
Perhaps i should have said that i am better able than in the past to catch the scent of a rotten thought, and when someone else catches the scent of my thought through my unkind words, i become embarrassed. While the unkind words need to be stopped and i am grateful to those who call them to my attention, the embarrassment is an indication of my slow growth. Other peoples' opinions of me should be none of my business.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )



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