Laundry Lists and The Dharma VIII
Holding on and Letting go
Laundry List Trait 13
Alcoholism is a family disease; and we became para-alcoholics and took on the characteristics of that disease even though we did not pick up the drink.
I was the speaker last night at an ACA meeting anniversary. The meeting was in an unfamiliar and kinda rough neighborhood in a nearby city. In order to get to the ACA group upstairs I had to make my way through a large, milling around, crowd of folk who had spilled out of the very large AA meeting downstairs. I am a recovering alcoholic. The disease that got all these people to that meeting is my disease as well.
Quite literally I had to push my way through this group to get to my much smaller gathering of Adult Children. My best guess is that most of the people in the AA meeting grew up in alcoholic or dysfunctional homes. They had probably been through all sorts of traumas and shocks that drove them to surrender and the 12 Steps. Still, it was only a small number of us who made our way upstairs in order to examine the spiritual, psychological, behavioural, and dysfunctional side effects of growing up this way. (I almost wrote ‘groaning up’.)
We do not see ourselves as better, nor more enlightened than our sisters and brothers in recovery downstairs. For whatever reason we have felt a need to push this understanding of the disease a bit further (how to qualify this without sounding arrogant or more enlightened?).
Our experience as Adult Children is that even though we may not have descended to the depths of disease and dysfunction as our parents and families we have, in fact, taken on all the characteristics of the disease and dysfunction. The Big Red Book uses the term para-alcoholic. And the kind of recovery we are seeking is emotional sobriety.
If we have a chemical or other sort of addiction we need to deal with that, to be sure. The denial, shame and isolation experienced by the adult child do not get better in the context of active addictive behaviour. The critical hurdle we need to face and deal with as adult children is that all those attitudes, beliefs, words, behaviours and feelings of the active alcoholic are ours. They are mine! I am an alcoholic in recovery and a para-alcoholic in recovery. Double duty!
No wonder we need a Power Greater than Ourselves to deal with this!!!!
Clinging to Nothing
There are many ways to summarize Buddhist teaching; to condense it all, to distill the many lists into one statement. The summary that speaks to me most clearly goes something like this:
“Clinging to Nothing as Me or Mine.”
There are so many ways that I CLING to so many things every day that I can’t begin to count them. Thoughts, attitudes, beliefs, possessions (the definition of clinging), people, relationships, pets, looks, ancestors, and on and on. Every moment presents an opportunity to cling, hold lightly or let go. I am keenly aware that as I am typing these words part of me is seeking to memorialize, clinging to an image of Peter the clever writer. I have plans for the day that I could cling to, to do lists that might define my worth or accomplishments.
Note that the problem with clinging is the linking of whatever the “object" of clinging is with the self (or perceived self - remember anatta!). Any “I am…” statement is a form of clinging. Anytime we use the words “My” or “Mine” we are clinging. I think it was Ajahn Chah who commented on the tea cup or glass that he considers as “already broken”. Looking at anything this way is a bold antidote to clinging.
I am not Ajahn Chah. I do remember many years ago taking a rubber mallet to a new car I had just bought, imparting a subtle dent to the pristine smooth hood. So much anxiety was released in that moment of reality. The car was dented the moment it was made. All things are impermanent. Clinging leads to suffering. I might own title to the car but it is not me, and it will not last.
Back to para-alcoholism. Part of my hope in ACA recovery is this notion of non-clinging. What gets me to recovery is claiming the dysfunction and disease of my family and my childhood as Mine…and then developing the clarity of insight and strength of clarity to release it from the grip of fear, shame, isolation and family secret loyalty.