textiles · exploration · misadventure

Grace and the Abyss


San Francisco Mission mural

Sometimes moments of grace and clarity emerge. My brother David reminds me that alchemical transmutations happen only in closed vessels. He also sez that I have chosen an heroic journey by plowing deeper, over and over, and overturning and unearthing all of the smelly, slimy shit that I can stand to look at. Preparing the field for some future harvest. ~asher

Of Grace

Yes. Despite the pain: the moments of grace. Exquisite and profound, nyet?

I agree with David: you are slogging your way through a classic heroic journey. Call to adventure, supernatural aid, mentors, helpers, challenges and temptations, the abyss. Death and rebirth. Paradigm shift. Transformation and atonement. The gift of the return. It’s all there. It’s like Psilocybin. But way harder. And add labor pains.

I think those moments of clarity and grace are a large part of what kept me sober in the beginning. Sometimes I was a crying lump. Other times, I could sense what was happening, the transmutation, the hard, hard work of understanding how my addiction functioned, how it had affected me long-term, scrying out who I was, who I wanted to be, who I could be, without alcohol affecting everything I thought, felt, needed, and desired.

It was exciting, actually. Through all of the pain, to have moments where I just fell through peace was a totally new thing. At the same time, I was having insight after insight into my own internal workings (aka: why I was such a fuck-up). I was passionately invested in learning about myself so I could change myself. I found that the more I invested in reaching for moments of grace and clarity, the more they came, and in the end I find I have experienced a paradigm shift so profound that I am an entirely different person.

My sister Wendy recently suggested that I’d experienced a 180 degree paradigm shift, back to my original self, the person I would have been had there been no alcoholism and my natural gifts and abilities allowed to develop, instead of being lost in the abyss.

Of the Abyss

The vast majority here have opiates as their d.o.c.* When Xanax and oxy-c become too spendy, the obvious choice becomes heroin and ohhhh even the ones who are my son’s age have enough chilling tales to fill three lifetimes. It’s like they burn brightly at both ends—and in the middle—just to avenge the spirits of the good friends now dead….
And in this company, I am convinced that the problem is not drugs and alcohol. It is a hole in the soul so wide and deep that it must be filled with something—anything…. ~asher

That fucking abyss. My friend, I know that abyss. It terrified me, the first time I became conscious of it lurking there, just like a spider. I thought I’d fight it off to my dying day, because it was so hungry whatever I put into it just vanished in its infinity. I thought I’d never fill it.

But although it is deep, it is NOT infinite. I promise. Each sober day you fill it up with one more grain of something that isn’t drugs or alcohol. Each moment of grace and clarity fills it more, and as you go through life and learn and grow, the grains become pinches and pinches become teaspoons and teaspoons become handfuls.

Somewhere around two or three years sober, mine was noticeably smaller and less painful. By five or six years sober, I forgot about it most of the time. Around ten or eleven years, I suddenly noticed I’d grown a backhoe in my brain, and was tamping down the topsoil, planting flowers, growing fruit trees. Maybe someday I will build a home there.

And you do fill it with people, but you also fill it with experiences, and with your new-found sense of SELF. I remember once I was at a sober party. I always forced myself to go to those things, because “they were good for me” and I was supposed to “enjoy” them. I was three of four years sober. All of a sudden, I realized I WAS enjoying myself! I was having FUN! Real FUN! It was the first time in, oh, maybe 25 years that I’d had honest fun, without anxiety. THAT day got me a swimming-pool-sized payload straight to the abyss.

And that was just one day. Healthier thinking, positive experiences, insights, new skills: they compound. You’re a beginner right now—do you remember the first time you picked up a hammer? And look at the wonderful, amazing things you can do with your hands today. Sobriety and that abyss are no different.

I’ve read your letter, over and over. I’m so impressed with your strength. It takes serious GUTS to ask for help, and even more guts to take it when it comes. Just getting through those first few weeks, riding your bike to meetings two or three times a day and looking for stable housing would have been more than enough for some folks.

Your sister is a helluva force for good. She clearly loves you dearly (not hard), and in my head she wears angel wings.

And I know I mentioned him before, but your roommate sounds so awesome. If he can live through his heroic doses to travel the heroic path, he, like you, will be one hell of an asset to the sober community. The kinds of stories and experiences that come with that kind of use and subsequent sobriety are powerful motivators for and bridges to those that want to follow you. I SO wish I could be there for some of your conversations/recovery meetings of two.

In other news, I’m weaving a bath mat! I’ve been kind of lamo and taken no pictures, but hopefully it will come off the loom next Tuesday and I can snap some pics and send. I dyed all the yarn myself!

Tons of big fat hugs. Love you,

*Drug of choice

(For the rest of my Letters to Asher series, click here.)

9 thoughts on “Grace and the Abyss

  1. “a hole in the soul” Funny (or not so funny) I used to say that I shopped (which is an addiction of its own seriously and the debt it causes sucks) because I had a huge hole in my heart that needed to be filled. You and Asher are such awesome writers and your journey is amazing. So glad you continue to share.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, the hole in the soul is a common element to early sobriety, but in my experience absolutely not exclusive to it. I think it’s a pervasive social illness, as so much of what our mainstream culture values aren’t things that truly fill the soul: monetary success, fine houses, material acquisitions. Striving and achieving are all well and good, but if they don’t fulfill our deepest needs as human beings, they don’t fill that hole. Much of our pervasive advertising sells to us by exploiting our sense of our own deficiencies, which makes matters worse, I’m sure.
      You seem very aware of your own “hole in the soul” and how you tried to fill it. Has your awareness changed the way you go about life, the choices you make?
      Thanks for your kindness about the Asher posts, for being a constant reading and commenter, and for sharing bits of your own journey. I just love it.
      I feel like I fell into OZ with these. They’re just kind of magic; they propel themselves.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes they are awesome. When my foster son died I filled that hole by shopping or tried too. Debt and not much to show for it shocked me into realizing what the heck I was doing and stopped but still paying debt and getting there. I no longer need to fill that hole with things. It is people and relationships and living myself that works.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. The abyss. I know it well. It knows me well. I am so impatient to discard my current life and begin filling it. I don’t know how to begin filling it where I am. Just typing that sentence left my fingers frozen on the keyboard.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Och, my heart. I know, I know. What can I say that will help? I know you CAN fill it. It’s possible; I’ve done it. The secret is, I think, that it takes time, and much of the time when you actually ARE filling it, you have no idea that that is what you are doing.
      It starts to fill when you experience what you have experienced over the past handful of years: a paradigm shift. Your brain has gone 180 degrees, from “I love Mack” to “How do I meet my own needs and what do I need to do to make sure that’s done?” That’s a huge shift, and you are currently exploring the answers to those questions. Every time you get a little clarity, that’s a sprinkle of dirt into that hole. Every time you do something different from what you did before, make another healthy choice, that’s another sprinkle. I promise you, it adds up over time. It’s hard to wait, we just want that emptiness to go away. But we have to wait, because it takes time to build something new. This is a long response. I just really, really want to give you something supportive that you can use. Thank you for having the bravery to comment on this post, despite how it made you feel.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you, Lou. Thank you for taking the time to really comment. I read this back when you wrote it and was deeply moved. And then couldn’t muster the emotional energy to reply in kind. Two weeks off has been a very helpful recharge. This: “and much of the time when you actually ARE filling it, you have no idea that that is what you are doing.” Yes. I have been filling it. I’ve been filling it since I showed Mack the door. There have been lots of challenges since that day. Particularly with family. And giving up alcohol has been part of a bigger picture. I could only get so far, throw only so much dirt into the hole, while I was still drinking. So I took the next step, and stopped. I’m sincerely, deeply thankful that you’ve helped me see the forest. And the sprinkles of dirt, turning into piles, beginning to fill the abyss.


  3. I totally get that can’t “muster the emotional energy to reply” thing. I’m there myself sometimes, especially this past September—20th anniversary of dad’s death. I wanted to acknowledge your reply when I was in a better frame of mind. I’m so glad you can sense those sprinkles into the hole, and hopefully you get a shot of hope and excitement along with them, from time to time.