Tuesday, 18 January 2011
Step off the ghost train
"Is it not because each wants to play the lead?" (122:2)
The 'actor' metaphor runs through and beyond the first 164 pages of the book 'Alcoholics Anonymous'. We have the actor trying to play the director but producing confusion and harmony, and we have the actor who thinks he is the chief critic in one of the stories.
But there is another aspect to this metaphor which is not discussed so often.
I am the actor, not the part.
That means you are the actor, not the part, too.
Sounds pretty obvious, really.
Except: do I believe that the drama that can go on in my mind is real? It produces emotions, just like the emotions I will feel when watching a film at the cinema, which can be so visceral, I feel sick or frightened or whatever, in a genuine physical sense. The mind is the ultimate source of my behaviour and emotions. Even though there may an external stimulus, my mind has to be receptive for that stimulus for the train of dominos to start falling.
What I experience, when I am in the middle of the drama, is these 'real' emotions, and, because the emotions 'feel' real, and I can point to external stimuli—your criticism, your actions, your drama—I judge the drama itself to be real. I am no longer the actor—I am the lead part, so engrossed in the role that I have forgotten who I am.
Before I came to AA—and for years afterwards—I was on a ghost train. Strapped in, totally absorbed in the horror, shuttled from one ghoulish 'experience' to another, the whole time bedevilled by sets of emotions prompted not by the cardboard, neon-painted demons and cobwebbed skeletons flashing up before my eyes but because of what I thought they represented. Thought.
"Therefore, the main problem of the alcoholic centers in his mind, rather than in his body." (23:1)
My problem rests not in my life but in my perception.
"So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making." (62:2)
What is worse is that, once I realise this, that my thoughts are the problem, I become so identified with my thoughts I cannot choose otherwise.
"So we think cheerfulness and laughter make for usefulness. Outsiders are sometimes shocked when we burst into merriment over a seemingly tragic experience out of the past." (132:2)
"A man may criticize or laugh at himself and it will affect others favorably, but criticism or ridicule coming from another often produces the contrary effect." (125:2)
Laughter at myself takes me from being the lead in the drama to being the observer of the drama. At first, I can still feel the heat of the fire, but, as I gain more and more distance, I realise how unreal every aspect of the drama is.
"... a strenuous effort to face, and to be rid of, the things in ourselves which had been blocking us." (64:0)
"We have been trying ... to discover the obstacles in our path." (72:1)
"If we still cling to something we will not let go, we ask God to help us be willing." (76:1)
Step Four and Five, according to the Big Book, have as their purpose the identification not of who and what I am but the identification of everything that I am not.
I am not that which blocks me.
I am not the obstacles in my path.
If something can be let go of, it was never 'me' in the first place—it was something I acquired and wrongly identified myself with.
I did not learn this principle for a very long time in AA, and feel very fortunate to have learned it now.
I have been down paths since coming to AA which, rather than releasing me from the drama by showing me I am the observer of the drama, not the drama, deepened my identification with it.
I have seen brilliant therapists and psychoanalysts. The purpose of the therapy and psychoanalysis was understanding, liberation, and change.
The result—and I in no way blame the therapists or therapies—was this: I became so identified with my thinking patterns, my childhood suffering, my neurotic reactions to life originating in a past I had no control over that abandonment of self (the fabricated drama) was then unthinkable. Whenever freedom loomed, I would 'remember' the past hurts and humiliations and bring them into my present and they would become my filter for reality in that moment. The information learned in therapy was invaluable. For me, it was not, however, enough.
I am so grateful to the people in AA who have shown me how to dis-identify with the tons of junkyard garbage. The process has been simple:
(1) catalogue the thinking and behaviour to be discarded (Step Four)
(2) discuss with other people (Step Five)—not as wounded heroes but as dispassionate, amused observers
(3) forgiveness of everyone and everything
(4) amends to everyone I have hurt
(5) reliance on God in thought and action
The purpose: abandonment of self, whatever the form.
And, on a good day, I step off the ghost train and out of the 'funfair' and stride into world.