Rolling past the halfway mark in Hip Sobriety School, I can only hope to double up on assignments and cram for finals. With my less than perfect AF performance so far, the written and interactive portions of the course need to excel.
This is beginning to feel way too much like my foray into Junior Life Saving when I was 14. I had enough cumulative points to pass because my exam score was 99 percent, but the instructor said he simply could not hand me that certificate in good faith. After all, I had failed to execute the "fireman's carry," a shallow-water move where my arms needed to reach far enough behind me to wrap around his 250-pound body and schlep him to shore. He ended up bringing me in—as a demonstration. That and my wild, flailing attempts to escape the clutches of the person I was supposed to "save" during the simulated drowning. The bitch was as strong as a bull elephant and determined to thrash on top of me until I stopped breathing.
Gone were my daydreams of spending every summer in high school employed as a pool guard with zinc oxide on my nose, a whistle around my neck, Foster Grants over my eyes, and a cute bikini showing off my golden tan. Not that I disagreed with his decision. Unless the person in trouble was very, very small and either limp or unconscious, we were both going under. The entire experience left me feeling embarrassingly weak and ineffectual.
During a family visit to Ohio last year, my five-year-old grandson Emmett dared me to race him from the front door to the end of the driveway. When I told him there was no way I could run like that anymore, he shook his head and said in a matter-of-fact tone with a hint of resignation: "You've lost a lot of strength, Grandma Maggy."
Holy shit, that precious little fellow was right. Over the past few years, I really had lost ground, unraveled, gone to seed. It would be okay if this was the best I could be, the best I could do. Not that I set the world on fire living alcohol-free, but at least I was on the right track. I wasn't collapsing into a glass of wine every evening and indulging every craving for sugar and carbs. My diet was healthier, my weight was natural, my anxiety levels were in check, and my energy levels were far higher. I actually liked myself—always a huge plus.
The worst part of this realization—or the best part—was knowing that I could be doing so much better. I know what daily yoga and visualizations and whole, real food and nature walks and exercise can do for my body and mind and soul. The response, the changes begin almost immediately. Every cell in my body starts to do the happy dance and shout out "Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Have some endorphins and dopamine and serotonin and oxcytocins and let's keep the good life rolling!"
In getting back on the sobriety track, I began looking at things I had never questioned before. As in how much the words "sober, sobriety, discipline, and abstinence" turn me off. One of the more clever fellows in AA used to call his state of being "sobrenity" for the combination of sobriety and serenity. I love that. Michael Beckwith did the same thing for me when he changed "discipline" to "blissipline." But abstinence—what on earth could I possibly do with that ever-so-Catholic-childhood term that reeks of self-repression, giving up, going without, and holding back our most natural instincts.
In mulling the sound and concept of that word over and over, it dawned on me that the key to complete freedom often lies in staying away from anything that drags us down or holds us captive. Or in Holly's wise words, "You have to know what you can't fuck with."
Abstinence would be the perfect name for a powerful, headstrong, determined, unstoppable champion race horse. Abstinence coming up the back stretch, running for the roses, his nostrils flaring, his sinewy muscles flexing, his coat shining—flying into first place, moving far out front—and it's Abstinence! A new record!
Sure enough this gorgeous chestnut horse appeared in a meditation with Coronet white leg markings and a white Sanskrit OM symbol on his forehead. Such love. He came with so much love and so much strength. The next morning I combed the Internet for a photo but nothing felt quite right. Not until I stumbled upon this little gem:
There I am. Standing on the back of my beloved horse named Abstinence—so balanced, so strong, so free. As much as the energy in this image spoke to me, the real magic lies in the timelessness of the silhouetted perspective. Sunset or sunrise? Are we looking out at the brilliance of a new horizon? Or are we facing forward with a fading sunset behind us, celebrating the closing of another day of full-on radical aliveness?
Grannie is all about getting her strength back again—better than before, better than ever. Abstinence and I are going there together because for me, there is just no other way. Moderation stumbled right out of the gate and all he really wants to do is munch on the grassy sidelines. The long race, the good race, making the very best of this wild and precious life are just Meh! to him. But not this fellow. Day and night, year in and year out, this fellow is my champion.
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