Step Two: Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Can I tell you a true story? I had just come off a bender when my best friend suggested a day trip to Misquamicut Beach, Rhode Island. We were to be accompanied by her teenage niece and another teenage BFF. Nothing like girls on a mission to inspire hope. So the four of us packed our gear into the Chrysler, waved goodbye to Connecticut, and an hour later staked out our spot on sands heralding the most beautiful, wild, rolling waves on the east coast. I was so in need of a baptism, and I knew it, so I skipped the shops and answered the call of the ocean. I don’t even think I swam; I let the current pull me in and exhale me out, praying that perhaps a riptide would make it all go away. It didn’t. The ocean breathed life into me as I buoyed in a power greater than myself. I knew damn well I was being washed clean. I stayed in the water for hours.
After, all four of us then went for clam chowder at the quaintest sea side eatery—me pretending that nothing had happened. How could I douse the innocence of the joyous moment of the day? The next thing that happened was the arcade where children played. I remember vividly cheating at the “Smash the Crocodile” game, which should have been an individual effort, but all four of us laughingly exterminated every advancing crocodile. I laughed and laughed until I realized the pure joy in comradery, and in a moment of clarity, I knew that a drink had not crossed my mind since the encounter with the ocean—that vast mother of all living things. Light surrounded me. I still held my composure but felt an undeniable call to faith. How was it I felt as if I had been forgiven? We four took the childhood arcade playoffs by default and had streams of free tickets for additional games; we gave them away to a couple of children and relished their faces as they actualized good fortune. To give freely is indescribable.
Next up on the adventure was the merry-go-round, flanked on all sides by mirrors, the kind that lie to you. Images of reality becoming fat, short or wavy. I mounted my carved, colored steed, and as the calliope began to twirl the macabre cavalry, mirrors both on the inner centrifuge and on the outer walls of the carnival began to swim in a most familiar confusion to my reality. That’s when it hit. My life was an out of control merry-go-round, insanely circuitous, no longer fun. And the thought blazed into my mind was that all I had to do was to step off. The revelation was the culmination of the day. I recognized the metaphor of the angels: step off the addiction. Simply step off the merry-go-round—go ahead. And I did.
As the four sunburned and salty day trippers got into the Chrysler, we sang silly songs and made the trek home. Somewhere along Interstate 95 south, I began to ingest the magnitude of the day. The nascent sunset bloomed magnificent—and yet the sun was hidden behind the clouds. In a sublime instant, I realized that though I couldn’t see God, I had been with him all day. The merry-go-round arcade metaphor jumped up triumphantly. Like a radio tower, I had been accepting angelic missives beginning in the Rhode Island waves. In a crazy mental dialectic, I sang with the girls and stared at the blossoming sky, hearing as clear as clear that, “I am with you. It will be alright.” That’s when I lost it. I’m not accustomed to be faithful. So grateful was I to be aware of Grace that tears could not be commanded. They gave me away. My friend in the driver’s seat, somewhat worried, put her hand on my arm. I held her embrace and kissed it and told her how much the day meant to me. In that inimitable way that sister souls understand, she did.
Crossing the Q bridge home that evening, I could feel the experience shedding its power. I cried and pleaded with the other side to stay with me, not to dissipate. I must’ve looked like a hot mess on the road. I shared with Doug and shared in meetings, even as I felt the ephemeral experience fade into memory. Spiritual betrayal. But I know what I know: that even behind the clouds, there is a peace beyond understanding that says, “It will be ok—you are loved.
Another story: as my mother lay dying, she relayed to me that great grandparents were at the foot of her hospital bed—mind you, they hid in family albums anonymous for decades, and yet the Pierson’s were there to guide Bonnie home. She died in seven days. I could not stay sober, but at some point, after washing her hair and pulling myself somewhat together, I whispered into her ear that I would be ok, and that it was ok to let go. Even though paralysis had a hold on her, she whispered in her altered speech, “I’m not afraid.” Her breathing labored on Wednesday evening as I drank her morphine. She died on Thursday, March twenty-ninth, and I crawled into bed with her corpse, much to the dismay of witnesses, I’m sure. But she was my valiant mother. I know, in my bones, there is another dimension.
So—came to believe? I do. I am just puzzled at my ability to forget and give back the gifts of the spirit. I do not picture my higher power in human form, nor even in the personage of Jesus Christ, Buddha or Mohamed. I feel the energy in the stars. As I look to their inimitable bright history, I am reminded that a Creator is at work. The simple fact is that if this earth were a foot or two closer or removed from the sun, all would be lost. The precision amazes me to the wonder of our providence. I feel the mystery of unknown science, the familiarity of ritual and worship. I could just as easily been seen at Stonehenge. I cleave to science as well as mysticism, and I do not equate that with disbelief. My dilemma is a disregard for self, hence the insanity of step two.
I’m old enough to have experienced periods of elation, of being one with the universe—usually on stage, sometimes in nature, even with people/students (providing I have something to give), but of myself, I am nothing. If only I could trust in the living, breathing, undulating universe, perhaps I could find some kind of respite for the insanity that is my brain. My mother coined me a devout manic depressive, of that I’m sure. Suicide attempts, extended visits into psyche wards, hanging out with the homeless under the Imperial Beach Pier. Oh, and walking through the New Haven ghetto in a fur coat just begging to be murdered. That’s just for starters.
So, that I’ve had periods of lucidity in my life—usually at the behest of institutions—tells me that there is a solution to insanity, of which I am a bonifide citizen. The trick is to sufficiently recall the visions of the spirit when the fears of the temporal come howling in my brain. I’ve never really fit into reality, preferring fiction and theatre, and when that didn’t salve to my satisfaction, then dope. Then began the nightmare. So, I hear one can take step two piecemeal: I came, I came to, I came to believe. I believe alright; I just need to believe I am worth saving. There’s the rub. When the stars are out, somehow, I believe in a benevolent universe.
I am staring at the gifts of my life, believing in angels, hoping desperately that my heart finally breaks hard enough to let in and harbor the light of Grace.