Dream tonight of peacock tails
Diamond fields and spouter whales
Ills are many, blessings few,
But dreams tonight will shelter you.
When I first moved to the town I currently live in, no one knew I was an alcoholic and addict. I was deeply ashamed to be one, as though it were some failing on my part. A pronounced defect in my character that made me less than and apart from. I lived this way for over a decade and it was extremely uncomfortable. Accepting a glass of champagne only to place it down or throw it into a potted plant when no one was looking. Sitting at dinners while feigning interest in someone's recent tour of wineries in the Napa Valley. Holding up shots of icy caraway-seed scented aquavit with the Swedes and “real”, so-cold-it’s-almost-syrup, vodka with the Russians. I was acting, playing along, just trying to fit in. But this is not necessarily a good idea. At least for me it wasn't. If anything it made me feel more apart from, more defective, more isolated, more lonely.
But during the Covid lockdown something shifted and I got a different, very rare variant of the fuck-its. Not the usual destructive kind where we say F it all and go back to drinking and drugging, but another kind. A benevolent and gracious fuck-it sent from the universe. And this message was with regard to breaking my anonymity, letting everyone know the truth about me. A fuck-it urging me to come out of my recovery closet and to finally say “this is me, people. This is who I am and who I have always been and perhaps will always be”.
And miraculously, this coming out has been wonderful. I don’t suggest this for everyone but I have found the experience freeing, rewarding, and at times frustrating. And it only took me 20 years to do it.
So now I’m “out” and people know that I am an addict in recovery. As such I have found out that everyone and their mother has someone in their life that needs to stop drinking. A loved one or friend who is slowly committing a coward’s suicide with alcohol. It’s hard to watch. Painful. So they call me for advice. And I’m grateful to be of service. I always hope that I can be of some help.
My response is always the same. The truth is I only know of one way to stop drinking and that is the program of A.A. Maybe there are other methods out there but for me and millions of others A.A. works. Much more importantly, I always make sure to stress that no one needs to believe in God to become a member. There is but one requirement for membership to Alcoholics Anonymous and that is a desire, however small, to stop drinking. You don’t even have to stop drinking to be a member. You can still be drinking and drugging away and attending meetings just to check it out. To see what's really going on in that mysterious club, hidden away beneath the church. To sit still for an hour listening to other peoples’ voices and not your own. And to witness how something as mysterious and strange sounding as a 12-step program could possibly work.
Then I hear the same refrain, mostly from well intentioned folk who have never darkened the threshold of an A.A. meeting. They are more than happy to inform me (as if I have not been sitting in meetings all these years), that “A.A. is all about handing your life over to God - and my husband (wife, partner, mother, father, son, daughter, best friend, cousin, co-worker) is an atheist so they can’t do it. They do not believe in God. They have never believed in God and they never will. Can you please help them?”
That’s when I come clean and tell whatever concerned soul is confiding in me that I have two Higher Powers and neither of them is God. My first Higher Power is the space between thought and action. The ability to tap into that fractional space and consider the outcome of my actions BEFORE I act on them. The idea comes quite forcefully at times to take the drink, take the pill, call the dealer, and before A.A. I would have. The thought would come and I would just act. On autopilot. But now the thought comes and there is a sliver of space to think about what I am doing and to reconsider my response to the powerful urge to escape. A fleeting moment in time to stop, to take a deep breath, and to consider that there just might be another way to manage my current discomfort that does not include intoxicants.
My second higher power is the Peacock.
Have you ever really looked at a peacock? Watched it unfurl that exuberant iridescent plumage? Watched it shake itself into its full glory? Seen it shine and sparkle? Marveled at the sun or rain picking up the spectacular depths of the highlights and shadows? I've been enraptured by this bird, displaying to me, quite casually now that I think about it, every color known to mankind in its shimmering halo.
And there is not just one type of peacock. There are several varieties. The classic Indian peacock, the Javanese (green peacock) and the Congo peacock. And now, praise be to weird and sci-fi-esque breeding practices we have black, brown, yellow and purple variations of the peacock - all so otherworldly and awe-inspiring that I’m happy to have the good fortune to share a planet with them.
And then there is the white peacock. My favorite. Not as flashy perhaps as his fellows but ethereal, magical, resplendent. William Blake once wrote “the pride of the peacock is the glory of God” and that's what I think of when I see a peacock (which, thanks to the dastardly magic of technology and cellphones is now whenever and wherever I want to). “That’s it!” I say pointing to the glorious peacock. “That is it! I’ll have what he’s having! Whatever made that, that will be my higher power.” Because say what you will about humans being the most evolved species on earth I’m definitely not so sure about that. I mean can we make a peacock? Of any variety? Even the humblest of the lot, the small unassuming Congo peacock? I'm afraid not.
The magic and mystery of the peacock is what I tap into when the space between is not enough. My own Higher Peacock. The glory of nature. The ever flowing Chi. The magnificence of life itself. The force behind it all. A power greater than myself. The source behind the fish and the fowl, the oceans and the mountains. I bow to the spirit of the universe. Which, once I remove my head from my posterior and I open my eyes enough, often makes me speechless with wonder.
Oddly enough I only found out while doing my peacock due diligence that the most spectacular feature on the male peacock’s tail feathers, the rounded deep blue and gold circles (silvery gold and ivory, shot through with gleaming platinum in the case of the white peacocks) have been called, throughout history, the Eyes Of God. Peacocks are all over historical and religious texts as a symbol of peace, immortality, and maybe most importantly as a reminder to we humans that although we may truly believe that we are “all that” we are, in fact, not all that. A peacock is all that. A sunset is all that. A thunderstorm is all that. Planet earth is all that. We are the fortunate ones, lucky enough to live on it and bear witness to its splendor.
And that’s what I tell my atheist friends who are trying to get sober but can’t do A.A. because of the God piece. “You don’t need God, and you don’t need a Higher Power that you have a hard time accessing or that you don’t yet understand". All I needed while attempting to get sober was the rooms of A.A., the space between thought and action, and my own Higher Peacock.
So forget the God piece if you will, the idea of a heavenly Higher Power floating somewhere above us all, judgmental, out of reach, removed. I believe that everyone can find their own Higher Peacock. A Higher Peacock that can and will help them to get sober if they are willing to surrender to it. Like the peacock's spectacular plumage, our own Higher Power may be hidden away most of the time. But then it can burst forth unexpectedly, beautifully, miraculously. I’m pretty sure that it’s there, inside of everyone, waiting to be discovered and enjoyed. It may just take some searching.