“I dreamed I had a child, and even in the dream I saw it was my life, and it was an idiot, and I ran away. But it always crept on to my lap again, clutched at my clothes. Until I thought, if I could kiss it, whatever in it was my own, perhaps I could sleep. And I bent to its broken face, and it was horrible…but I kissed it. I think one must finally take one’s life in one’s arms, Quentin.” —Arthur Miller
“It is the nature of desire not to be satisfied, and most human beings live only for the gratification of it.”
When does a habit become an addiction? I have heard it said that with a habit you are in control of your choices, whereas with an addiction you aren’t in control of your choices—but what about a situation in which a habit slides into an addiction? For example: It may seem like a harmless habit to drink on weekends, but what if it seriously affects your family? What if you say and do things that you would normally never do? Would you call this a habit, or an addiction?
I will never forget my last night of drinking. It happened on that sailboat, on a gorgeous evening in which we had invited the people on the boat next to ours to join us for dinner. I guess it’s kind of funny for me to say I will never forget that night, because the truth is, I only remember our guests coming aboard and then leaving. I remember absolutely nothing in between. When I awoke the next morning I had to wait for my husband to awaken so that I could try and read his face. Had I embarrassed him? Had I done anything outrageous? Was he mad at me?
When he finally awoke, he appeared fine, his usual, happy-go-lucky self. I was too ashamed to tell him that I couldn’t remember anything. I tried to discreetly ask him about the evening. He said that we all had a good time and that I was funny and engaging. Funny? Engaging? Thank God! And I couldn’t remember a moment of it. I was utterly confused, mainly because I had yet to learn that when an alcoholic has a blackout they can appear to be totally conscious to others. Years ago there were stories of pilots flying planes in a blackout. I had always thought blackout meant the person passed out. I knew then that I was done with drinking, but I could not imagine how I would accomplish quitting.
I did not drink every day, nor did I get drunk every time I drank. I was always surprised on those mornings that I awoke struggling to remember how I got home the night before. I would often be terrified to answer the door on those mornings, fearing that whoever I met there would somehow guess—or maybe even know—something about my shameful behavior from the night before. All this, when I had no idea if anything shameful had even happened!
During the next few years, as I finished obtaining my bachelor’s degree and somehow survived four unruly teenage children, I tried hard to control my drinking. Since I did not get drunk every time I drank, I kept telling myself there was no way I was an alcoholic. Little did I realize at the time that the very fact that I was having this debate with myself was a sign that I had already slipped into the denial that is characteristic of every alcoholic. People who do not have a problem with alcohol have no reason to even enter into this kind of self-argument.
In 1978, Mike and I moved into a home on a little canal in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It was there that I met Judith, the next woman to have a life-changing impact on my life. Judith lived across the street from me, and as our friendship blossomed we began to meet several mornings each week at 5:30 a.m. With coffee in hand, we drove to the beach just in time to watch the sunrise, jog, and discuss various spiritual literatures.
If it was EST that cracked opened my armor-plated heart, it was Judith’s influence that replaced the confused and punitive worldview I held with one of infinite spirituality. When I learned that she was studying to be a minister, I was deeply intrigued. Spiritually, I felt like a babe just awakening and ravenously hungry.
While jogging on one of those glorious, sun-filled mornings, I was suddenly struck with a profound knowledge: that the God of my childhood understanding was not the God I was awakening to. That long-held image of a jealous, judgmental, controlling God who lived in a far-away sky could never again be the God of my understanding. On that hallmark morning, I came to believe that God, as Mystery, lived within each of us, inviting our participation in a direct relationship. The beauty of that moment was stunning.
During the first three months after my participation in the EST weekends, something deep inside of me was incubating, growing— changing. Words and the concepts those words symbolized kept breaking through into my consciousness in moments of solitude and contemplation.
One day, as I was driving on the Florida Turnpike, I found myself reflecting on how often the EST trainer had used the terms “cause” and “effect.” Cause and effect. Cause and effect. I kept saying the words over and over in my head as I drove—just as perplexed as ever at what in the world they meant—then, suddenly, I knew. Out of nowhere, my whole life flashed through my mind.
I saw with unmistakable clarity that I was in charge of my attitude and responses. I was in charge of how I interpreted each and every one of my life’s experiences. While it was true that I had not necessarily chosen the actual circumstances I was exposed to, I was the one who held onto lifelong beliefs about every experience. They were my interpretation of the experiences. In the light of this awakening, I first saw that it was my core belief that I was hopelessly stupid which naturally ensured that I would meet and marry men who affirmed and reinforced that very self-imposed estimation of myself.
In the years since the 1970s, when it was widely popular, Erhard Seminar Training (EST) has often been cited as a hallmark example of the “human potential” movement fostered by the “me” generation that inspired Tom Wolfe’s article, mentioned earlier.
During a ten-year span, over one million people participated in EST training, including such celebrities as Diana Ross, Valerie Harper, and John Denver. I am aware that EST has been defined as nothing more than a self-indulgent, cult-like movement. I totally understand that perspective, because there were indeed many annoying aspects of the program: the four-day seminars (two weekends) did use a lot of extreme measures such as keeping participants in back-to-back sessions for hours without allowing the use of the bathroom. Such measures were used to break down a person’s ego-defenses, though, and to open us to self examination. I know that our marriage would not have lasted had it not been for how I was affected by those weekends. My exposure to the intense self-searching eventually led to what I refer to as my first conscious moment. A defining moment, indeed!
IT WAS IN August 1976 that Tom Wolfe, writing for New York Magazine, first used the expression “the ‘me’ decade” to describe the new prevailing attitude of Americans towards self-awareness and the need of fairness in the conduct of human relationships. At that time I was struggling with what I saw as a woman’s dependence on men for her sense of empowerment or worth. Feelings ranging from bitter helplessness to seething anger were elicited as I became obsessed with the need to be self-supporting. Determined to never again be dependent on a man for my financial well-being became my number one goal.
As the holidays neared, I fretted over where to spend them. This was the first Christmas that my children had lived with their father, and I was torn between wanting to be with them and with Mike. Carol, knowing that I had no family, invited me and my children to her home for Christmas. This was the beginning of Carol’s kindhearted generosity. Her goodwill would be extended to me and my children over many years to come.
My nervousness disappeared immediately as a beautiful woman opened the door with a hug for Mike and a most welcoming smile and an extended hand. I knew immediately that this was Carol. She was blond, slender, and abundantly gracious. Her fair skin and piercing blue eyes were stunning. As Mike headed toward the bedroom to visit with Poppa, Carol said, “Come, let me fix you a drink and introduce you to my husband, Bobby. Mike very seldom brings a friend for us to meet, so you must already be special to him.”