A couple years ago, my cousin Gary sent a book to me, “Grandfather,” by Tom Brown. It is a story of a Native American who lived ‘without limits or time.’ As described by Mr. Brown, ‘his life was one of grand simplicity.’
I began reading this book about a year ago, then set it down because I was enjoying it too much. Yeah, I’m nuts – but I just don’t want it to end… I don’t know what possessed me to pick it up again this evening, but the chapter I got into spoke directly to me. It deals with ‘loneliness’ and ‘aloneness.’
In recovery, I have not had a “physical relapse,” I have not had anything alcoholic to drink since 28 Jul 1988. And for this, I am grateful. I have however, had several ’emotional relapses throughout the years. And for me, those have been devastating at times. I don’t think I have ever been ‘suicidal,’ but certainly went to the brink of not wanting to live. Matter of fact, early on in sobriety I attempted to “piss off God,” to have Him smite me. Didn’t work – that dude has thick skin!
Up until of late I have always felt my dominate emotion during these periods was ‘sadness.’ And it very well may have been. But now I think I was also dealing with ‘loneliness.’ I didn’t necessarily “feel” lonely during my emotional relapses, just “sad.” But this evening I am rethinking it all.
Two events occurred this week that brought me here this evening. First, I had an opportunity to meet with a former therapist last Tuesday. It was just an informal meeting, not a scheduled “session.” Toward the end of our visit, she told me that she saw me “at peace” with myself. I hadn’t thought about it, but I was – I am.
Then I stumbled back into tom Brown’s book this evening. In the chapter I read ‘Grandfather’ finds himself way up in the mountains. He had been wandering for quite a few years, then began to experience ‘loneliness.’ The more he thought about it, the worse it became. Finally he decided to trek out of the mountains just to talk with anyone.
As it happened, he was trapped by a snowstorm just as he was about to reach a high mountain pass. He had to retreat back down to camp that he had prepared earlier. But he got caught an ended up in a ‘bowl’ in the rocks that gave him a bit of a shelter from the wind and snow. He was eventually entombed, and spent the night in his makeshift shelter.
The next morning he dug himself out of his ‘cave’ and continued back down to his shelter. He eventually reached his camp and began to feel elation. No loneliness. As his strength returned, he began to feel so alive. He wasn’t sure what changed him on that mountain, but he was changed.
The next day he awoke to a clear sky. He still wasn’t sure what had shifted in him, but he knew he was changed. He knew that he had “cheated death” up on the mountain, but there was something that was just not quite the same in him. “This was something far different than one gets from the high achievement than when triumphing over impossible odds…” as Mr. Brown explains it in the story.
Then came the revelation. Grandfather remembered what Great-grandfather Coyote Thunder had told him about being alone and loneliness. He had said, “The chasm between being alone and loneliness is deep. The way you begin to be alone and at peace without being lonely is to know you are with your best friend. When you are at peace with yourself and love yourself, you can never be lonely. Only when one learns to love himself can he love another. You must find that love for yourself before you can touch the purity of aloneness. Love of self, without being selfish, will not allow loneliness to exist. Love of self also creates a love for everything else and brings us closer to the sacred oneness.” Profound… wow…
I don’t think I am “quit there” yet, but I certainly can understand what he is saying. And in brief moments, I have experienced it. Actually I am experiencing it more often than not these days. I am finding myself more and more comfortable with my “aloneness” and more engaging with those I encounter.
I haven’t spent any time on a mountain during these last 18 years of recovery, but I have spent time in “torment.” And through those experiences I am beginning to understand the difference between triumphing over ‘impossible odds’ (those of staying sober) vs. basking in high achievement. And in this, I find great humility.
It is through stories like this that I find deep meaning in ‘kihelakayo,’ – ‘Keep Going.’