“Even God could not make a place so safe that it did not have a snake in it.” Dr. Jordan B. Peterson
There aren’t many people in the west who are unfamiliar with the story of Adam and Eve. Regardless of religious preference or even a belief in God, most everyone is familiar with the story of the serpent who “tricks” Eve, who then persuades Adam to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, the only tree they were forbidden from. But what if it wasn’t a trick? What if it was an analogy that individually, as well as collectively, there isn’t a place The Universe could create that was so safe that it did not have a snake in it? Even if that place is within ourselves? I’ve spent a great amount of time in the last year trolling my garden for snakes, most of the time out of a necessity more than a willingness. I had struggled most of my adult life from many ISM’s, egocentric ideas that I was separate from the people around me and that my actions and behaviors didn’t reverberate past a few minutes. I, Self and Me. Just as I had falsely believed that once out of my mother’s house, her actions, attitudes, and behaviors would cease having an affect on me and how I saw the world. It was unknown at the time I entered into adulthood, that parents, grandparents, and other adult figures could and have passed on negative generational patterns, as well as generational trauma that springs from those patterns to their offspring if they are not unlearned before having and raising children. My lived experience is a testament to how true that is.
As an adult, I spent a great deal of time trying to find out what exactly was wrong with my family and the members within it. Haven’t we all? That is where we started, that where all of it started. Our culture, our habits, our initial belief systems; this is where we first learn what it means to be human. These are also the people with whom we start developing our Ego around, as well as our personality. It easy to point fingers outward as we get older and say, “they are doing it all wrong and to blame for me getting it all wrong.” Especially if, from day one, we have a deep, fundamental feeling that we don’t belong within our family of origin anyway. A familiar feeling that started amassing in me from my earliest memory. One would initially suspect that it is our family members who don’t fit, and we are simply fine the way we are. The old cliché is “I’ll do it differently when I am an adult/parent/boss.” I remember looking specifically at my mother as I was entering adolescence and thinking, “I don’t want to be like that when I grow up.” We often think if we take a different route outward, it will alter to our inward state and adjust itself accordingly. What happens if that isn’t the case? What if we end up just repeating the same dysfunctional and selfish patterns as the generations before us, just looking, sounding, and appearing differently on the outside? For example, what if one generation’s shopaholic is the next generation’s alcoholic? What if we pass on dysfunctional and destructive self-soothing behaviors despite our best intentions to do otherwise? What can we learn from past generations to help heal our individual wounds and give birth to our authentic self? Can we learn to stop blaming the past and those in it for our failings and gain a sense of confidence over our own shame and guilt at being human, and thus inherently imperfect? Can we take responsibility for our present circumstances and plan for a better future, putting trust in and preferring the unknown for the ease and comfort of the known? Can we see a future where we are of service to others, either by example or effort, without pushing our own Egocentric agenda? I was about to learn the answers to these questions and many more, whether I wanted to or not.
For most of my adult life, I have been battling a ISM of both the mind and body, alcoholism. One would believe it is justifiable for me to blame biology in acquiring this disease since several members on the maternal side of my gene pool developed it throughout their life, including my mother. It’s a pretty convenient theory and one I was willing to die by at the beginning of 2018. I had fully accepted that I was an alcoholic of the hopeless variety and was more than prepared to die by the bottle without a concern in the world, not even for the concern of what that death would do to my children. Had it not been for a moment of clarity on Mother’s Day 2018, that would have been my fate. I have since learned that while I can blame biology on my physical allergy to alcohol, the choice to take that first drink and self soothe the shame, guilt, resentment and fears I had inside instead of addressing them in a healthy manner that was healing was all mine. The alcohol was but a symptom, the ISMs were the true problem. Alcoholism just masked the rest of them. I had let my self-will run riot and to the extreme. The same fate that had befallen my mother. A fate she was unwilling to recertify within herself even up to her death from breast cancer in 2011.
I have had a love/hate relationship with my mother since I can remember. I don’t remember much before the age of four and what I do is too faint of a memory to hang a reliable hat on. I loved her, in that she was my mother, and I felt an obligation to do so. I hated her because of what she brought to the table and what she brought into our home when I was a child, particularly in my adolescence. Throughout most of my adulthood, even though I resented my mother deeply for her actions and behaviors toward me growing up, I loved her enough to stay devoted to her throughout most of her life. That wasn’t out of love, it was out of a false sense of ideology that “she owed me.” I often took the opportunity to turn that devotion into obligation with guilt and shame as I got older, often putting my young children in her care without even asking, moving in whenever I left a relationship or burned my life to the ground or fenagling money or property out of her and her third husband well into my late thirties. I took advantage of her vulnerabilities immensely and internally knew what they were without even having to ask because her character defects and fears were the same as mine.
Despite my well intentions to fulfill one of the oldest clichés of not becoming my mother, I became her all the same. No place had this become more evident than in my relationships with men. Sure, I initially changed the outside in many ways in my younger years. However, I never changed what made me ugly on the inside, what manifested the guilt, shame and fears that had been with me since I could remember. For all the stuff I attempted to orchestrate on the outside couldn’t cover up all the insecurities I had on the inside. I watched my mother from an early age try to manipulate life and the people in it to her will. While there are many things I do not know about her or her life outside of motherhood, I would imagine she operated under much of the same ISMs that plagued me based on the truths about her I know now.
A great man by the name of Chuck C. once stated that “there is one problem that encompasses ALL problems and one solution that encompasses ALL solutions.” The problem is that we believe we are separate from each other. That is what our Ego wants us to think. I often labored under the delusion, especially when I was in active addiction, that my actions and behaviors ultimately didn’t affect anyone else. That my drinking, especially when done alone, wasn’t hurting anyone but me. I don’t know why I ever believed this because my mother’s actions and behaviors certainly affected me, especially when I was in adolescence, and she was addicted to Meth. I can’t speak for my siblings, but for me, this was when I made a subconscious pact with myself to never emulate my mother’s example during those years with myself, others, or my future children. It would be years later that I would learn through my research on the Holocaust that we cannot unlearn things or do better if we do not understand where the behavior originated in the first place. I simply thought “I won’t do that,” and it would just be that easy to do and be better. I have since learned that is not how it works.
In late 2019, when I had just a little over 18 months sobriety, I was invited to listen to a visiting pastor by the name of Edith Greenwood at a friend’s church. While I didn’t and still don’t prescribe to any one organized religion, the invitation has piqued my interest and I agreed to go. I had been doing a fair bit of spiritual seeking outside of my 12-step program and wanted to see what had my friend so excited about this guest speaker. It was during her sermon that she spoke about the cunningness of Satan and acted out with another member of the audience some of the ways in which Satan, or the “snake in the Garden” could persuade someone to go against their own soul. However, I didn’t recognize it to be Satan, I knew it as something else, our Ego. I had separated myself enough from my Ego at that point to know that it is my Ego that constantly attempts to convince me that a drink would be a good idea during times of uncomfortableness, fear, or stress. The symbolism and example of that night left an imprint within that would serve me well when I embarked on an inward healing journey initially unbeknownst to me six months later.
Like many, COVID put a dent into what would have been just another year “trudging the road of happy destiny.” I had made plans to move to Los Angeles last summer and had started working with other alcoholics thinking that I had recovered, and it was just smooth sailing from then on out as long as I kept doing what was suggested to me both in and out of the 12-step rooms. I had also been making the conscious choice to listen to my intuition and distance myself from family members whom I once only longed to have back in my life, namely my youngest sister and remaining uncle. I had even stopped corresponding to my children, feeling most of the communication was being forced on my end and felt that when they were meant to be in my life, they would show up in my life. I had already reached out and made initial amends to everyone on my list with whom I was told to correspond with directly. I still had a ways to go with those I couldn’t find forgiveness for or my part in, but I was much further along than during most attempts in my past. The confidence I had in myself, in my program, in my recovery and in my beliefs all quickly crumbled, along with all of the political, societal and cultural echo chambers I had constructed around my crumbing “identity” in April 2020; a month before I was to celebrate my second year of sobriety.
While I didn’t drink, I did seriously contemplate suicide. I didn’t understand how I could have done as much inner work as I had done, both with the 12-steps as well as outside work, and still be so full of self and the belief that MY WAY was the only way to see and do things. I had been wrong about so many things and greatly humbled as a result. I felt like I was at step one again, except this time I wasn’t just powerless over alcohol, I was powerless over EVERYTHING and my life was about to become quite unmanageable as a result. While I had found many mentors to guide me through to a path of willingness to let all my old beliefs and attitudes go, not just only the ones I thought should go, it was one man and his affinity for stories and their meanings that guided me home and to the courage to be my authentic self. I owe that man, as with many others along the way on this journey I’ve embarked on, my life. But I digress.
Things became quite different for me after April of 2020. While I still did forge ahead and move to Los Angeles only a few months after originally planned, things quickly fell apart and in grand fashion. I was only in LA for a few months when I retreated back to the Central Coast feeling defeated and lost. I was grateful to have a friend, more often a surrogate mother, point out that this crisis of consciousness had put me in the perfect position to travel for while till I could figure things out. I had gotten the brilliant idea to visit my son, who was about to turn 30 in a few weeks, thinking this was a sign that things could finally be put right with my son at the very least. I had to learn the hard way that this is how we let our Ego set us up. We have or get an idea that seems good enough to generate expectations and when those expectations aren’t met, the Ego attempts to convince us that the other person is at fault for our expectations not being met when WE were the one that created those expectations out of our ideas and what we think they should look like. Perhaps this is just my long-winded way of saying that by the time I bought my plane ticket to Orlando, my son had informed me that he did not want to see me. It was quite an initial blow indeed. Looking back, I realize that this was just The Universe clearing the way for some major inward growth.
This was where my journey began even though The Universe had been preparing me for almost a year. Sometimes, The Universe needs to set up the stage for endless growth the same way we pack for a long road trip. And a long, winding trip to my authentic self is exactly what I was taken on. A trip that entailed facing some extremely harsh truths about myself and what I allowed to happen to my children because of my own guilt, shame, and fears. The same fears that befell my mother and made her susceptible to a Meth addiction and the people, places and situations that entailed, even long after the addiction had taken on different forms in both her and her third husband. I had to face how I hurt others who I later learned loved me deeply but who I just assumed were using me the way the men that came before them did. Mostly, as I was excising the snakes I had let run rampant in my Garden other than alcohol, I was gaining the courage and the confidence to set up boundaries so as to defend and excise one particular snake from my family garden as a whole. That of self-righteous indignation. The indignation of others, including myself and my children, to believe ever at one point that is was acceptable to invite in, lie for and deny the continued presence of a sexual predator within our family. I can only hope by finally standing against this one last demon, I can put to rest some pretty devastating generational patterns within the maternal end of my family line and build a safe enough place for my children to heal what my own ignorance perpetuated in them when I allowed this man to set up shop in our heads and lives for over two decades.
My mother and I have laid to rest our grievances some time ago. The mother I carry with me in my heart is not the woman I knew on this earth. The woman I knew who walked this earth was, in the end, full of fear, regret, pomp and sheer rage that she could have been wrong about so much. It took me a great long time to realize and come to terms with what I was watching unfold before my eyes ten years ago. When I first walked back into the meeting rooms, I was told to listen to the similarities and not the differences in other’s stories with regards to what is what like, what happened and what it was like for them now. For a long time, I couldn’t hear my story because I didn’t understand what they meant by similarities, not differences. I always assumed they meant outside similarities, not the ones we all are familiar with to one degree or another on the inside. Once I started working with the woman who successfully walked me through all twelve steps, one of her suggestions was to attend a weekly woman’s meeting. I was reluctant because I didn’t like women. I found I had more in common with men and I thought more like a man. When I started hearing their stories, it wasn’t so much my story I heard at first as that of my mother’s. All of the pain and suffering I watched in her body and face during the nine months leading up to her death were all described by these women. The not being able to accept things as they are and let go. Listening to the women was like hearing the unspoken cries my mother could not utter in the last months of her life. And I had the singular honor of witnessing it all.
Just as in adolescence, watching a Methed out liar, thief and cheat burn her life to the ground for a couple of teenagers and fellow tweaker while throwing her children under the bus in order to do it, I was watched, as she lay dying, what I did not want to become. See, I was learning something I did not yet understand but would as I took the journey to my authentic self. We can die from what ails us faster if we are unwilling to be open minded and honest with ourselves enough to try a different way. The greatest life lesson I ever took from my mother was that I could die just as quickly and in as much misery without a bottle in my hand as I can with one if I am unwilling to face myself, accept and forgive myself for being human and learn to let go of people, places and things that no longer serve me.
In the end, I learned, my mother kept a lot of secrets to herself. She kept from her daughters the confessions of sins that ravaged her inside but pretended never happened on the outside. What my family, my siblings and my children fail to understand is I didn’t want to not be like my mother because she married young or fell in love with the wrong men. I wanted to not be a hypocrite and that is exactly who my mother was and what I ultimately became. I let myself tell myself stories that were untrue, exaggerated or made up to play victim amongst a family full of more victims when I was anything but a victim. I have always known that was wrong and I became the biggest hypocrite of all when I went against every instinct I had along with a few people who strenuously warned me not move to Missouri with a man where something about him wasn’t right. My mother faced a similar situation with similar consequences when she chose to marry the man she left her second husband for. A choice she would come to regret on her death bed. We both let our insecurities about ourselves and fears of abandonment and being unloved and unwanted override our sensibilities that would have kept these predators out. My mother didn’t get to excise hers before she died, but I get a chance to excise mine and hopefully help to start the healing of the many others who’ve been hurt along the way, either directly or indirectly, by this man and his nefarious actions, attitudes, and behaviors.
They say when one adventure ends, another begins. I have put to rest many of the demons that foreshadowed and shaped my inner world for most of my life. While the ISMs do crop up from time to time, as I am only imperfectly human, I have been given the power of choice to let them go and not dominate me. I can observe, not absorb. To remember that I am no better or less than anyone else on this planet, despite what evidence one may present to the contrary. So, what does one do with all of this “illumination” now? For me, it is doing what my mother could not as a living amends to both her and the woman within I have been suppressing for the continued comfort of others. I am going to tell my story and help others with the experience, strength and hope I have gained from this journey. That death is but a beginning, never an end. Whether it be the death of our bodies or the death of our egos, these events free us to just “be” what we are put here to be – to be of service and a reminder to others that there is hope and renewal in all things final, one just has to be willing to see it.
While Adam and Eve’s fate may appear bleak to most who hear the story, my take is they were never punished for the outwardly deed of disobeying God, listening to the serpent, and eating the apple. It was for deflecting blame, lying about it and not owning or taking responsibility initially for their own guilt and shame in committing the sin in the first place. That is where is where salvation lies, in my opinion. It’s in admitting our part in things, regardless of how insignificant or indirect that part may seem to us. It is in accepting things as they are, changing what we can (which is usually just ourselves and how we carry ourselves in the world), forgiving ourselves and others for their imperfections, and letting go of what no longer serves us. It is in realizing that bigger things, fundamentally spiritual and moral things, are at work other than our finite selves.
An extremely influential mentor of mine, Dr. Jordan B. Peterson, was once asked during a discussion with Dennis Prager at the PragerU 2019 Summit: “You live as if there is a God. Is that correct?” After stating a few points of observation, he states: “To be able to accept the structure of existence, the suffering that goes along with it, and the disappointment and the betrayal, and to nonetheless act properly, to aim at the good with all your heart, to dispense with the malevolence and your desire for destruction and revenge, and all of that, and to face things courageously and to tell the truth, to speak the truth and to act it out, that’s what it means to believe. It doesn’t mean to state it; it means to act it out. And unless you act it out, you should be very careful about claiming it.” While I don’t claim to know for sure if there is a God or not, I do know we each have and Ego and a Shadow Self that Ego protects with every fiber of its imaginary being. I’ve lived through and come out the other end of seeing that mine reaches to the depths of hell. And so did my mother’s. And so does every single living member of the human race. The real trick, in my opinion, isn’t to kill the Ego so much as to integrate the Shadow so the Ego has nothing to hide behind. I learned I could still become a monster when necessary but keep it at bay by being honest with myself, others, setting firm boundaries and being of service to my fellow man, not of service to my ego. I learned it wasn’t so important to believe as to “act as if God exists, because God only knows what you’d be if you truly believed.”