In this winter, my work is to hammer at old habits that have become unwanted recourses. I am told to peer into the hungers that create their appeal. The habits are symptoms; if you want to address them, you have to dig a bit further. Maybe so, but if I am to take this route, I cannot go it alone. I am afraid to plunge into an abyss of self and of fears without a guide.
I remember attending my first AA meeting in Detroit, because my brother volunteered there, and attendance was part of his work. Here, the group went deep into the places of fear and addiction within the circle of each other. The honesty was so practiced and calloused, that the brave sharing of stories seemed simple. I was quiet there, as I didn’t quite belong. Alcoholism is not my demon, but we all have depravities that might be amended with this particular sort of nexus that holds people accountable to each other. I looked around the circle and was struck by the sense that I was really looking at each person, unmasked and raw and true. I couldn’t explain why it felt like an immense relief.
After this experience, I drove back home in a car by myself for ten hours. I was about to move to NYC, and I promised myself during the car ride that I wouldn’t forget Detroit as I relocated to a city of so many false veneers. While in Manhattan, I looked up open AA meetings, and would sit in when I felt the need to return to the core of things. I did feel a bit disingenuous at the thought that I might be intruding on their trust, but I was more convinced that I shouldn’t deny myself such an environment, where people shared their best and their worst without pretense. I also visited a public home for impoverished AIDS patients each week, and went room by room with simple art projects and heard their stories while we painted and strung beaded jewelry together. Here too, I found people who had learned to face their worst fears and come clean with who they are. It was sad, but it was real. It was also striking to see the difference between patients who had surrendered to a bitter existence, and those who turned took their pain and kneaded it out each day by choosing to smile and show kindness and look outward to be caught by wonder.
I think it’s this practice of openness and generosity that is the real wholeness. It’s more of a yielding to grace than the ego’s dogged pursuit of a perfect ideal. It’s risky to yield. It means straying from a known path, and breaking out of the protective walls that insulate and barricade us from each other, but I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t at least try. Let this be a winter of re-rooting then; of digging up habits that feed off sinister lies that have settled in, and turning again to the patterns that hope–and trust– can create. I’m not certain of what will grow in place of what’s rooted out, but that is the surprise of spring.