I am a firm believer in coincidence bringing you things or advice you need. Give me a thick book and let me open to any page with my eyes closed, and whatever word my finger lands on, I will do my best to figure out its meaning for my life...even if it is simply "a," "an," or "the."
So, on Monday, when I was picking up magazines on the Reference floor, I found a copy of the latest Tricyle: The Buddhist Review magazine that someone had been reading. I remember thinking that it was left for me.
On the cover, listed with the other articles was one titled, "Breaking the Cycle of Addiction." The article is an interview with Robert Chodo Campbell, Executive Director for New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care.
(I'm not linking to the online version of this article. It costs over $25 to access Tricycle online.)
Q: Did Buddhism play a role in your recovery?
A: Not in the beginning. I was five years sober before I found my Buddhist path and met my first Zen teacher, Dai En Friedman. I was in supervisory training at an analytic institute on Long Island, and every when when leaving supervision I would see this woman coming into the office. She was really amazing-looking - bald with piercing blue eyes - and I thought, "Wow. She's someone I'd like to know." The next time I saw her, I said, "Hi. I'd love to introduce myself to you," and she said, "OK." And I said, "My name's Bob. I'm living out here, training in this institute, and I hear you're a Buddhist monk." She said, "Yes," and I said, "Well, I'd love to learn a little bit about that." Then for some reason I just blurted it all out: "I've been sober for five years, and I'm having a really hard time with it. I'm so depressed, and my childhood was terrible with incest and drugs and this and that. And I come from this long line of alcoholics and violence." Basically, I just vomited all over this woman. Her response was the catalyst for my shift in consciousness: "You know what you need to do? You need to shut up. You need to shut up, and shut up long enough to hear your story, because it's just a story, and you've been carrying it around now for what, 35 years, 40 years? And that's what you are living out of, so how about rather than acting out of it, listen to it and take a look at it?"
This really struck me. I think about the things I've told myself on my road to AA: unhappy in love, unhappy in relationship, living with someone who took advantage, living with someone who made me feel like my only worth was working two jobs and giving him the money and the freedom to screw whomever he wanted in my apartment. Unhappy with my HIV. Unhappy with my family. And it becomes just a story to hold onto. A story that doesn't need to be held, no matter how familiar and therefore comfortable it is.
It also reflects some of my reticence on going to AA, where the main bulk of the meeting is listening to people's stories. Stories like they're life rafts but in this case they do nothing but pull you down.