August 5, 2011
A woman walks into the beauty parlor and exclaims, “I’m so tired, I don’t know which end is up,” to which the busy beautician replies, “You better make up your mind quick, honey, because I’m ready to shampoo you.” It just goes to show you…when you look at something from a different perspective, you see a completely different picture.
Once upon a time, there was a little boy who wanted a pet rat, and it was decided that said rat would live at his dad’s house. (He had a bowl of hermit crabs that lived at his mother’s house, but, unfortunately, she was drinking heavily then, and all the hermit crabs sidled off to live with Jesus.) The boy and his dad were told that female rats were more sociable, and they selected a lovely little rodent that, for reasons that escape him now, the boy named Isabella. He loved Isabella dearly, and would cuddle with her and carry her in his pocket, crooning, “Bella, bella, Isabella.”
One day, the boy’s dad called the mom and told her in a hushed, worried tone that Isabella seemed to have developed what looked like a couple of big tumors, so he was taking her to the vet. Mom waited tensely for the next phone call (liberally soothing her nerves, as was her custom). Finally it rang, and she braced herself for the worst. “Mommy, guess what?” the boy said in a very serious voice. “The doctor just turned Isabella over, and now Isabella is Charlie!”
My dearest spiritual teacher said that people grow in one of two ways: they are pulled by a vision, or they are pushed by pain. I was pushed into the rooms by pain, and as I stayed, I was pulled by a vision inspired by others’ experience, strength and hope. When I was drinking, I was obsessed by trying to keep my affair with the bottle a secret. I was sneaky, I lied constantly, and, for the most part, I thought I was pretty slick. I had a system for everything (meaning the purchase, consumption and disposal of booze bottles, because nothing else mattered nearly as much). Predictably, the amount of time, energy and attention I was shoveling into the all-consuming business of digging my own grave, caused problems to develop in other areas of my life.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one, but it was my theme song: “As soon as my life gets better, I’ll stop, but not until.” I was not willing or able to turn that platitude over for a long time. Like Isabella becoming Charlie, my transformation would also be contingent on my growing a big set of “tumors,” but inwardly, on my spirit. My life would get better as soon as I stopped drinking, but not until.
As the fog began to clear from my brain, I learned more about turning things over. It was not enough to just turn my thoughts over and see what sort of white-bellied wiggly varmints squirmed out, alarmed by and unaccustomed to the light. I needed to turn my life over, one piece at a time, to a God/dess of my own understanding. As a minister, I had for years urged people to do just that. As an alcoholic minister, I realized that I, quite literally, had not been practicing what I had been preaching. For someone with quite a lot of practice swallowing, my pride did not go down easily. But, as is the case with many things that initially seem impossible in our program, once I became willing, the hardest bit was over. The actual “doing” was a relief.
As I progressed through the steps, I encountered my character defects in a whole new light. Sodden and surly, or even hung-over and horrified, it was easy to whine about how I was the worst person in the world, irredeemably flawed and a bona-fide turd in the punchbowl of anything good and wholesome. When I looked at my list of defects in sobriety, however, I gradually accepted that I was neither horrific nor candy-assed; I was somewhere in the middle, a recovering alcoholic willing to learn and grow. I saw that my defects, too, could be turned over.
For example, if I were not judgmental, I would not have the capacity for compassion, because there is no “here” and “there,” where God is concerned, no “good” and “bad,” no “us” and “them.” There’s only one thing, and that is the Thing Itself. God is either in, through and as everyone, everything, everywhere, or It is no-One, no-Thing, and nowhere at all.
The choice, then, is always with us: Where do we put our time and attention, our essence and our passion? In every moment, we can “turn it over” to That which is closer to us than our breath. We can release whatever does not serve us, as individual parts of the Whole. We can allow the Universe to transform it into a thing of beauty, by the Grace that created us. We can move forward surrounded by that Grace as Its beloved servant, in whom (S)He is well pleased.