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I Want My Experiences to Serve a Purpose
This is the story of my ch . . . ch . . . changes, which took me from insanity to clarity, from egocentricity to altruism, from alcoholism to activism. These changes have marked an evolution in what I want from this life. I am what I want. What I seek to consume, possess, and achieve is a mirror that reflects my lusts and cravings, values and priorities, and moral boundaries or lack thereof. I am happy to say that what I want today is much less toxic and self-centered than what I used to want. It's taken decades of self-examination to peel back the layers and figure out what really makes me happy. And while I'm still searching for my ultimate bliss, I know for sure it's not what I once thought it was. It's not alcohol, cigarettes, money, food, sugar, or status symbols: I've consumed all of those in massive quantities, and they've just made me miserable. Now, I want what can't be tasted, smoked, worn, seen, or counted. It's the opposite of material. As sappy as it might sound, what I want is spiritual.
The shift from material to spiritual is a particular challenge in our culture. We have allowed ourselves to be defined by our consumption, instead of by our ability to move beyond it. To keep consumers consuming, the corporate culture has brainwashed us into thinking we can change ourselves by changing what we buy, which pills we pop, what type of booze we swill, what gated community we join, what kind of golf clubs we swing, and what kind of cancer sticks we dangle between our lips. We've been told that certain consumer choices say a lot about us, that they reveal our character. If we've stepped up to a more prestigious brand, we've changed for the better. Nonsense! We cannot consume our way into personal growth. Yet, millions of us have bought into this cynical concept of faux identity. If you keep buying the 'latest and the greatest' but feel like you're stuck in the same place, you're just changing labels, and that's not changing. That's rearranging. Real change occurs on the emotional, psychological, and spiritual levels, not in a shopping mall, a car dealership, online, at the drugstore, at the liquor store, or at the fast-food joint.
For too long, we have allowed ourselves to be manipulated by forces whose sole purpose is PROFIT and POWER. We have given advertisers leave to claim that inanimate objects have spiritual qualities. One ad, in perhaps the world's most prestigious newspaper, urges us to buy an expensive diamond by insisting that such a purchase will feed the soul, lift the spirit, and increase our resolve to achieve whatever we wish. Really? How exactly does a diamond feed the soul? It's absurd! This is false advertising. Today, as a culture, we are awash in false advertising.
As a society, we've lent legitimacy to these patent lies by literally buying into them. As a result of this unnecessary, self-indulgent consumption, we've gone a long way toward destroying our natural environment with our waste. Perhaps most important, by obsessing about material things, we've cheated ourselves out of the most fundamental aspect of the human experience: real experiences that result in real growth.
Unlike diamonds, meaningful experiences can actually feed the soul, resulting in self-development and self-knowledge. Authentic change has allowed me to gradually learn why I'm here experiencing this existence as well as what I am destined to contribute during my lifetime.
For me, meaningful change has been about getting sober, becoming honest, and adopting a new attitude. Sobriety has allowed me to shift the criteria I use for all the decisions I make from an ego-based formula of what's in it for me to a more evolved formula based on compassion for other people, other living creatures, and our environment. It's an ongoing struggle, and there are many times when I fail. But I keep trying.
This book is my story of how I've progressed from self-obsession to a life that I hope will count. In the tradition of the Twelve Steps* created by Alcoholics Anonymous, I'm going to lay out what it was like, what happened to change me, and what it's like now. For thirty years as a television news reporter, I've been recounting other people's mostly sordid stories. Frankly, the prospect of airing my own dirty laundry scares the wits out of me. The very thought of this sparks a flood of memories, primarily featuring the many stupid and embarrassing things I've done over the years, especially before I got sober. My face burns at the prospect of sharing some of these memories with you.
I know we're all only as sick as our secrets*. By pouring out the intimate details of my personal history, I am trying to get healthier through honesty. Still, I can't help but wonder if you really have to know every single one of my secrets. Is that what is meant by rigorous honesty*? These thoughts swirl through my mind as I huddle under my covers unable to sleep.
Suddenly, I pop out of bed and I'm at my computer, my sleep mask still affixed to my forehead. Am I having a bout of inspiration? Or is it just a spell of insomnia brought on by my Chihuahuas, Cabo and Foxy, who keep scratching and burrowing under the covers, trying to find a more comfortable spot? The recovering people pleaser* that I am, I could learn something from these two. They have an innate self-esteem that borders on haughtiness. They crack me up. I'm so glad these two little rescues are with me on this leg of my journey. I tell them everything . . . and they don't judge.
I am fifty-three, and I feel like parts of me are disappearing into the ether. Like most boomers, I've convinced myself that I don't look my age. Still, as my mom says, 'The body is like soap. It gets used up.' My eyesight is getting fuzzier, so I have to set the point size of the type at 14 so that I can actually read what I'm writing on the computer screen. But the good news is my increasingly used-up body is feeling less weighed down to this earth as I continue to lighten my load spiritually and psychologically. I am feeling more and more that, when my time comes, I will be ready to take off and see what's next.
The biggest leap in my personal evolution was getting sober. I was a drunk. I was what you would call your garden-variety lush. I didn't kill or maim anyone. I didn't leave a baby or a dog to suffocate in a hot car. I didn't even get a DUI. But believe me, I was a blackout drinker who did many bizarre things while under the influence. I am not proud of those times. However, like many drunks, I also have a few fond memories of the silly, kooky things I'd done and the wild, decadent parties I'd attended. Even in darkness, there is some light.
I finally put down my last drink in 1995 on April Fools'Day (yes, I got sober on April Fools' Day). At the time, I thought any possibility of fun was gone forever. I also thought my problems were finally over. I was wrong on both counts. Now that I'm actually in touch with my feelings, because I'm no longer covering them up with inauthentic substances, I cry more than I ever have, but I also laugh more, much more. Why, just earlier this evening, I got a serious case of the giggles after losing my shoe upon leaving a fancy charity gala in Bel Air. My high heel simply slipped off my foot, tumbled down a flight of stairs, and into a gully. I limped along to the parking lot on one high heel, sparking stares from people who must have thought I was quite tipsy. But I wasn't concerned. At this point in my sobriety, I'm always relatively relaxed because I know there's absolutely nothing I can do sober that's as embarrassing as what I used to do drunk. Not even if I tried hard!
Sometimes I get so giddy in sobriety that someone will ask me if I'm okay to drive. I love that! I laugh and assure them that I'm okay. There's still a goofy teenager inside me, and I don't think she's going anywhere. That's okay. I like her. But I do believe that virtually everything else about me has metamorphosed and continues to do so thanks to finally ridding myself of my drug of choice—alcohol—and getting into recovery.
Becoming sober was a profound shift that occurred in my psyche. Just about everything about me has changed these last fourteen years. My attitude, my expectations, my thoughts, my feelings, my behavior, my sexuality—it's all different. There's a sober saying: The only thing that has to change is everything. How true that is!
Once I got sober, I was slammed with a host of new challenges I hadn't expected. I quickly learned that addictions jump! Without alcohol, I began craving food—particularly refined sugar and carbohydrates. Junk food that I'd never even noticed before—like Oreos—suddenly became very seductive. It's very common for recovering alcoholics to crave sugar. I was relatively lucky because I also became a vegan and that automatically knocked a ton of junk food off of my plate. But I still managed to find the sweets, like Oreos, that had no butter, milk, or other animal products. I also gorged on high-tech gadgets as my addiction hopped to shopping. My work became an obsession as well, and I overdid it there too until I hit bottom. That happened when my workaholism destroyed a very important love relationship.
Alcoholic thinking*—a black-and-white/all-or-nothing view—often remains even in sobriety. For many dry drunks* this type of thinking never gets resolved. I recognized this, and so, once the obsession to drink was lifted, I began working on my emotional sobriety*.
When I was still in my disease*, I had been devoting huge amounts of energy trying to escape from unpleasant emotions. In other words, I was stuffing my feelings*. When I finally surrendered to my powerlessness* over alcohol, I had tons of energy that needed a new outlet. I looked at the world around me and realized that there were things about it I desperately wanted to change. With this newfound energy, I began to take action to effect change and make my life count. But there was still more to come internally.
Without alcohol, my unresolved personal issues—which I had grappled with in therapy for many years—resurfaced with a ven-
geance. I no longer had a way to drown my innermost secrets. I could no longer drink my way into denial. With nowhere to hide, I finally admitted my true sexual orientation to myself. I am gay. I also had to take a fresh look at how I interacted with people. I began to examine my codependent* behavior and realized that I, alone, must take full responsibility for my life and my happiness and not try to find self-esteem or fulfillment through another person.
There's so much to tell. But would you want to know everything about my personal struggles? You may simply be reading this book because you're interested in my life, and for that I thank you. But if you identify with my story*, then we will both learn from my experience. That is the essence of all recovery programs. Many of the battles I'm fighting, the compulsions I'm struggling to conquer, are the same as those experienced by many of my friends, relatives, coworkers, and neighbors. Some struggle with overeating, with alcohol or drugs, with workaholism, with codependency, with compulsive spending, with gambling, with sex addiction*, or with facing the truth about themselves—whatever that truth may be. And virtually everyone I know, including myself, suffers from generic overconsumption—a chronic craving for more of everything that is poisoning our lives, not to mention our oceans, skies, and forests. My friend once called himself a tornado of consumption. That description fits most Americans. Sadly, we're a nation of addicts. For a multitude of reasons—our health, our finances, and our environment, among them—we need to take immediate action to reduce our collective consumption levels. Unfortunately, addicts don't respond to reason or rationality. Just as you can't reason with a drunk who is on a binge, we are not going to lecture our way out of America's consumption mess. Fortunately, there are proven recovery methods out there that can help us get a handle on our addictive consumption. I've used them to deal with my plethora of addictions, and I will share these techniques with you while I tell you my story.
The clearest path to overcoming any addictive behavior is to listen to somebody else talk about having that same addiction and what they did to deal with it. The reason this works is there is no judgment or blame. When you and I share* our experience about an addiction or a secret behavior, you are neither above me nor below me. We are the same. And we are both on the way to getting better.
Virtually every one of us has some addiction or compulsion or secret urge with which we are grappling. This even applies to those recovering alcoholics call normies*. Those are the so-called normal people who don't seem to be under the sway of weird or uncontrollable urges, the annoyingly perfect people who never seem to lose it or go off the deep end. Normies can be the worst closet addicts! They can have some of the most crippling addictions, namely the ones you can't see, hear, or consume.
Addiction appears in many disguises, from ambition to neurosis. Obsessive-compulsive behavior can turn life into a giant game of avoiding the cracks in the pavement. Such compulsive disorders often have an addictive component. Workaholism* makes one so obsessed with his or her career that family and friends become irrelevant. Shopaholics—or overconsumers—buy uncontrollably, to the point of accumulating massive debt. Drama addicts* are people who seem to thrive on creating chaos and emotional conflict wherever they go. There are also rage-aholics*, people who erupt into tantrums at the drop of hat. You also have the 'professional victims,'—people for whom life is one giant pity party*! We like to say these folks are 'married to their martyrdom.' And, of course, there are love addicts*, people who are so hooked on the romance of courtship that they never learn to endure the nitty-gritty of a long-term partnership. And my personal favorite, codependency, is when someone is essentially addicted to somebody else and goes into withdrawal* if they're not around. In one way or another, it would seem we're all addicts—the only difference is the drug of choice*.
In sobriety, I've been given some amazing recovery tools, which I try to use in all aspects of my life. These tools are the Twelve Steps. They help me mend all manner of dysfunctional, addictive, compulsive, and irrational behaviors. Originally developed to help alcoholics achieve and maintain sobriety, they've since been applied to every addiction under the sun. And, you know what, they work! At times they seem like magic. Actually, they're gems of wisdom that crystallize timeless and fundamental spiritual principles into a modern format that's easy to put to use. Some call it religion without the mumbo jumbo. As you take in my story, you will get a thorough knowledge of the Twelve Steps and how to apply them to your own life, if you so choose.
The Twelve Steps have guided me through a whole maze of mind-
blowing changes that have formed the true adventure of my life, a journey of self-discovery that is still in full throttle. As a recovering drama addict, I try to react to each new challenge with all the serenity I can muster, though the sharp turns and bumps keep coming.
'Foray, foray, come what may!' I sometimes cry out, only half joking. I am striving to experience the ultimate joy and freedom that lies in compassion and being of service* to other people and other living beings. It's my hope that, as you read my story, you will relate. Let's change ourselves and the world for the better!
©2009. Jane Velez-Mitchell. All rights reserved. Reprinted from iWant. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442