A Spiritual Journey
(original post July 13, 2015)
As I was mowing the lawn yesterday morning and sweating in the extreme humidity, all kinds of thoughts were passing through my mind. For some reason, my brain is very active when I am walking behind a lawn mower. Maybe it’s the noise of the mower or just the feeling of freedom from being outside - or both – or neither. I really have no idea.
One of my first thoughts was the excerpt from my book in which I mention what I just wrote in the first paragraph – the mental “energy” I have while mowing. From there, my mind touched on the fact that I should complete my story (in a second book) by finishing where I left off in part one of the book – my first morning in the psychiatric hospital. Yes, the psychiatric hospital. Three weeks of utter anguish. The surreal walk to my car on a Friday evening as snow was beginning to fall after my last ECT treatment. Sitting on the sofa in my living room thirty minutes later hearing the words of my wife, “You know, this is a spiritual journey.” Even in my psychotic state, I knew the truth of those words and mumbled, “Yeah, I know.”
That is where my focus settled as I emptied the first bag of grass clippings yesterday. Spiritual journey. Did I gain any insight or wisdom during the two and a half years of my “spiritual journey” through a hell I had tried to avoid and circumvent but reluctantly ended up going through? Yep, I did. Lots of things, but one was the granddaddy (or grandmother) of them all and is undoubtedly the reason for the “happy, joyous and free” existence I now have. Until yesterday, I had never taken a look at the whole picture of my life, especially as it relates to this subject.
I will begin near the beginning where my journey started and try not to get bogged down in details. My mother passed away when I was eight years old. (Although I didn’t know it at the time, her death certificate stated that she committed suicide. She had been taking some sort of psychotropic drugs for postpartum depression and apparently finally gave up.) I recall very vividly the feeling of “I will never see her again.” It was one of those gut-wrenching “how can this be true” feelings of the infinitude of the word “never.” Once the shock wore off sufficiently, I had to find someone to blame for my loss. I turned my bitterness toward the medical establishment. Surely, the doctors could bring her back to life and to me. That’s what this eight-year-old believed. They just didn’t care about my pain. They were cruel and heartless.
One would think that I would have placed the blame squarely on God. God created her. God could bring her back to me: God could have prevented her death in the first place. How dare God do this to me? Now that I have the advantage of looking back with a 61-year-old mind that is no longer in anguish, it had been all but impossible for me to blame God as a boy. I had been taught wrongly to, first and foremost, fear God – and I did. I had become very good at it. God had the keys to a place where one burns forever and ever. All it took was to get on his bad side one time and a little boy could become toast...forever. Nope. Not God’s fault. Damn unfeeling doctors.
I was hurt. I was bitter. I became very withdrawn from others. I did whatever it took to stay that way. I found the perfect thing to help me do that at the age of thirteen. Booze. It seemed to work for me for many years and allowed me to forget about my monumental loss and my bitterness – or so I thought. Life went on as well as the drinking. I graduated from high school, went to the service, graduated from college, got married and started a career. Now that I look back (and it is very hard for me to admit to myself and others), I realize that I kept myself very emotionally numb all those years. Over the years, I became consciously unaware of why I originally started to drink, and I slowly became addicted to alcohol. Don honestly believed that he “just liked the taste of booze” (and the buzz of course). Everyone around me believed it too.
The stage was set for my second monumental loss and my descent into the world of psychiatry which would ensnare me for the next fifteen years. I had built a 15-year career as a trusted and capable scientist. Somewhere in the fifteenth year I was forced to prematurely present the findings of a project I had been working on for over a year. I objected. It was not time to reveal the findings to the public. My objections did no good. The deception and avarice of governmental politics won. My work was destroyed within a few weeks by two power-seeking individuals. I was not permitted to defend my work. My career as a capable scientist ended immediately. No one apologized. No one cared. For years, I seethed a bitterness and hatred that I had never known in my entire life. I remained employed, but I had no career. They had taken it from me and taunted me for being upset. I was consumed with bitterness and remained bound by pure hatred for several years to come.
During that time, I began to drink a lot to numb the bitterness and the anxiety that had been created when my career was destroyed. The more I drank, the bigger the anxiety grew until I was having frequent panic attacks. Of course, I went to the doctor, and the drugging began. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I was in almost instant tolerance from the clonazepam I had been prescribed. I simply drank more and more to quell the growing anxiety. I tried many times to quit drinking. In desperation, my final attempt was a plea I made on my knees to the Creator – not to simply HELP me quit drinking (which never worked because I could never hold up my part of that bargain) but to MAKE me quit drinking no matter what I would have to go through. I took my final drink a few weeks later, and the anxiety, panic attacks and dark depression that I knew was in my future began.
It took seven more months to realize that I needed to ditch the clonazepam if I ever wanted to be well. It took nearly three years from the day I quit drinking to feel mentally and emotionally well again. Early in those many months of withdrawal, I prayed the standard prayer that most of us pray when we are in anguish. I asked for a miraculous healing – for a rapid road to wellness. The more I prayed it, the sicker I became. It wasn't too long until I developed another strategy. This one clearly was not working. Actually, I had become so ill and  desperate that I simply “threw in the towel” and prayed a “white flag” prayer – one of complete surrender. “Father. I hurt. I know that you know that. If I get through this, make me who you want me to be.” I had never prayed such a prayer in my life and meant it as I did now. My prayers had always been “If you do this for me, I promise I will 'be good' and do this for you.” I prayed this surrender prayer thousands of times over the next many months.
As I suffered through those months, most of my benzo rage was directed inwardly. It wasn't a bitterness or hatred. It was not the hatred that I had had for myself all those years I drank, when I would get up in the morning after a binge the night before and greet my image in the mirror with “I hate you.” That was gone. There was no animosity toward anyone about anything. That was completely gone. Even the clonazepam-induced grey haze and constant derealization I had lived with for the previous thirteen years didn’t cause me to produce any venom. Somehow, in the midst of all the horrid suffering of benzo withdrawal, the bitterness and hatred of many years evaporated.
Now that I am well and can look back on my experience, I see that the spirit of bitterness and hatred was taken from me. That spirit had not served me well at all over the years. It turned a little boy who had lost his mother toward alcohol in order to numb his pain. It turned a forty-something scientist whose career had been decimated by others into someone who wanted to exact painful revenge on those who were responsible. It made that same man turn his own hatred inwardly at himself. It was destroying me from the inside, and I didn't even know. But, the “make me who you want me to be” prayer was honored, and the spirit of bitterness and hatred vanished.   
Over the course of my withdrawal and in the months of wellness that have followed, I have identified and acknowledged many spiritual aspects of my journey. Perhaps the greatest thing I have learned was (and still is) that there is a vast difference or distance between my spirit and my thoughts, feelings and actions. In many ways, it seems to defy or contradict what I had been taught over most of my life. It has helped me to develop a better understanding of life, myself and others. I have been “made into a person” I finally like.