The Bonfire


“Only here's what I really, really want someone to explain to me. What if one happens to be possessed of a heart that can't be trusted? What if the heart, for its own unfathomable reasons, leads one willfully and in a cloud of unspeakable radiance away from health, domesticity, civic responsibility and strong social connections and all the blandly-held common virtues and instead straight toward a beautiful flare of ruin, self-immolation, disaster?...If your deepest self is singing and coaxing you straight toward the bonfire, is it better to turn away? Stop your ears with wax? Ignore all the perverse glory your heart is screaming at you? Set yourself on the course that will lead you dutifully towards the norm, reasonable hours and regular medical check ups, stable relationships and steady career advancement, the New York Times and brunch on Sunday, all with the promise of being somehow a better person? Or...is it better to throw yourself head first and laughing into the holy rage calling your name?”


DONNA TARTT - The Goldfinch.


Just.....Uugghhhh. When I read those lines it immediately felt like a knife had been plunged into my heart. My blood ran cold. At the time I was attending A.A. meetings, working with my sponsor and taking prescription barbiturate migraine pills that I was buying illegally off of the internet. I reasoned with myself (and my exceedingly patient sponsor) that this was fine, because "pills are not my thing". Alcohol was my thing. But take it from me, if you take enough pills over a short period of time and you have an addictive personality, pills will very quickly become your thing. It happened to me and it has happened to many others like me. I wanted the benefits of the program while at the same time the ability to numb out with pills “when needed". It doesn’t work. And I am not alone. Thousands of people have claimed sobriety while still drinking or using.


So I was active in A.A. yet taking drugs, and when I read this paragraph it floored me. It describes me perfectly. I have a heart that can't be trusted. A heart that leads me toward a beautiful flare of ruin, self-immolation and disaster. But read the paragraph carefully. The author is clearly torn. I was too. What is better? Sunday brunch and doctor appointments or throwing myself head-first and laughing into the holy rage calling my name? How beautiful and romantic she makes it sound. How sexy and courageous. And I know people like that. We all do. People from my meetings who have died from addiction, leaving a devastated group of friends and family behind. People who have been unable to ignore the perverse glory their hearts were screaming at them. There are famous casualties: Amy Winehouse, River Phoenix, Jim Morrison, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, the tragic list goes on and on and on. All gone, leaving profound heartbreak and despair in their wake. There is still a part of me that thinks "good for them". They no longer have to deal with the bullshit minutia of human existence. But there is a stronger part of me, an insistent part of me, a part that has always chirped annoyingly in my head - even when I was using - that believes that life is a gift. That my time here on this planet, in this body, is a miraculous experience to be savored. I am here for a reason. We are all here for a reason. We are lights that flicker into being, glow wildly, and are then extinguished. I am a light that will be extinguished eventually, but God willing not by my own hand. And that’s why I continue to go to A.A. Because I know I can't be trusted 100 percent, that there is, and perhaps always will be, a whisper begging me to just give in to the "holy rage calling my name". So I stick close to meetings, to my A.A. wolf pack, to my children and family, and I look for the light and try and stay there because honestly, that is where I am happiest. Where I am able to accept life on life's terms and where I can find some peace, some joy and some laughter, all things that became increasingly unavailable to me while trapped in active addiction. Staying connected to the program of A.A. allows me to live in a space where I can accept my life as a gift, all in. The good the bad and the ugly. Even brunch on Sundays, something that I used to scoff at as being what "normies" would do has become something I look forward to... with only minimal disdain. And when the "beautiful flare of ruin" calls to me I realize that I can throw myself into things other than the bonfire, other than my desire to check out. I can take that energy and channel it elsewhere. Into work, into service, into art, into exercise and eating well and being present. Because being present for life and for the people in my life, while often terrifying, is honestly the most interesting drug that I have ever tried.

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