Kintsugi – The Art of Embracing Imperfection

Do you ever feel your Higher Power is speaking to you?

Not literally, of course.  I know I’m not Moses, and I haven’t seen any burning bushes.

But my Higher Power does speak to me by making me aware to patterns in the world around me.  By allowing a topic to be addressed around me enough times in quick succession that I have no choice but to see it as a sign and pay attention to it.

This phenomenon has happened to me fairly often since I came back into the program on September 28th of last year.  The most recent instance of it is the concept of embracing my past and the parts about me that aren’t perfect.

Now it is quite literally and clearly stated in AA literature that through working the steps, we will come to a point where “we will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.”  That is, of course, all good and well.  But I think to me, and probably to many other newcomers, the Promises have tended to go right over my head.  Sure, those things sound great in theory, but they really have been just so inconceivable for me; I had absolutely no way to imagine them or grasp what they might mean.  They may as well be in an entirely different language.

But I have recently heard the concept of not regretting the past (etc.) put into more than one metaphor that just clicked for me.

The first time this happened was at a church service two weeks ago.  The church I have just started attending is in between pastors, so the services are led by different guests each week.  This particular service was led by a singer/songwriter duo called StoweGood.  They performed a song titled “Beautiful Brokenness.”

The song is based on the Japanese art of Kintsugi.  “Kintsugi (金継ぎ?) (Japanesegolden joinery) or Kintsukuroi (金繕い?) (Japanesegolden repair) is the Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered goldsilver, or platinum, a method similar to the maki-etechnique.[1][2][3] As a philosophy it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise.” (Wikipedia)

Well how about that?  So this concept has, of course, been around much longer than AA.  It predates the Big Book by, oh, five hundred years or so.  Now, this would have been a beautiful enough analogy on its own to have some meaning to me, but this concept kept coming up after that.  Within a week of this church service, I was listening to the most recent episode of All Songs Considered, an NPR podcast I’d never listened to before, and they were discussing the forthcoming Death Cab for Cutie album, named… wait for it… Kintsugi.

At this point, I’m already seeing Divinity in the situation.  The concept of appreciating imperfection has been one I’ve been trying to embrace for some time now.  I am a perfectionist by nature, and I expect things (especially myself) to be perfect.  So a few years back, I was reading the blog Soul Shelter and came across this quote from John Ruskin, an eminent “poet, artist, critic, teacher, social reformer, and early conservationist” of the Victorian age:

In all things that live there are certain irregularities and deficiencies which are not only signs of life, but sources of beauty. No human face is exactly the same in its lines on each side, no leaf perfect in its lobes, no branch in its symmetry. All admit irregularity as they imply change; and to banish imperfection is to destroy expression, to check exertion, to paralyze vitality. All things are literally better, lovelier, and more beloved for the imperfections which have been divinely appointed, that the law of human life may be Effort, and the law of human judgment, Mercy.

I have been considering taking up songwriting… I’ve always felt some sort of tug from within me, to create.  A good friend of mine is a songwriter and has agreed to sit down with me and try to put some songs together, if I send him some ideas.  So at this point I had decided that this concept was striking me so strongly that I needed to express what it means to me, in my life.

But HP, He’s still knocking me over the head with this idea.  Last night, at dinner, someone brought up a different metaphor for the same concept.  He said, “You know, a quartz crystal?  It’s got flaws in it, right?  If you looked at a quartz crystal that didn’t have flaws, it would be boring looking.  Those flaws, what they call imperfections, catch the light.  They’re what make it interesting and beautiful.”  Wow.

Today, I was sitting here trolling through the new releases on Spotify, and I see this album cover:

MlFNGO2r4m1yyBsYtAjFleg8POUqARgmsSmwsHt4Hey Rosetta! - Second Sight Album Download

Again??  This is the album cover for “Second Sight” from the band Hey Rosetta!, which was originally released in October of 2014, but was not released in the US until January 27, 2015 (which is why it’s still on the new releases).  (PS another weird coincidence, the NPR podcast I mentioned before?  Yeah, it was also released on January 27.  January 27 is also the first album-release date after the aforementioned church service…)  And guess what.  There’s a track on the album titled “Kintsukuroi,” which according to Wikipedia is another term for Kintsugi.

At this point, I feel it is literally impossible for me to view this as coincidence.  So what am I supposed to do with this information?

In reading the Wikipedia entry for Kintsugi, I see that the philosophies surrounding it are even more in line with AA principles than I realized at first.  Kinstugi can be tied to the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, the idea of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, or incomplete.”  Another potentially related concept is that of Mushin, roughly translated as “no mind,” a mental state “achieved when a person’s mind is free from thoughts of angerfear, or ego during…everyday life.”  To illustrate the purported connection between Kintsugi and Mushin:

Not only is there no attempt to hide the damage, but the repair is literally illuminated… a kind of physical expression of the spirit of mushin….Mushin is often literally translated as “no mind,” but carries connotations of fully existing within the moment, of non-attachment, of equanimity amid changing conditions. …The vicissitudes of existence over time, to which all humans are susceptible, could not be clearer than in the breaks, the knocks, and the shattering to which ceramic ware too is subject. This poignancy or aesthetic of existence has been known in Japan as mono no aware, a compassionate sensitivity, or perhaps identification with, [things] outside oneself.

So living in the moment.  One moment (or day) at a time.  Accepting things I cannot change.  Striving to be free from thoughts of anger, fear, or ego.  Did Bill W write this?

Maybe this is intended for me as a beautiful metaphor for the program, one that can sink in more deeply than the sometimes-dry words of the literature…

What are your thoughts on Kintsugi?  Beautiful brokenness?  Have you had similar experiences of something that can only be described as a message from God?  Am I nuts?

Saying Goodbye

After just over two and a half years of a long-distance relationship, Lee and I broke up last January, the day I moved to Nashville to be closer to him.  The following year, we constantly redefined our relationship–sometimes we were friends with benefits, at one point we were dating exclusively, other times we were just friends–but we stayed in consistent contact throughout most of that time.  This situation enabled me to entertain a certain level of denial about the end of our relationship.  Although I knew it was over, there was just enough hope there that I was able to avoid thinking about and processing the inevitable end.

Two weeks ago, I asked Lee to dinner and told him that I needed to completely cut off contact with him for a while.  I know this was the right decision for me, because I would not be able to move on and get any closure if we stayed on the same path we were on.  I’m working on being okay with this–of course some days are easier than others.  Luckily, this time around, I have a strong support system here in Nashville.  I have meetings, my sponsor, friends in the program; everyone has my back, and I have people to turn to when it becomes difficult.  In an effort to help myself gain some semblance of closure, I wrote Lee a letter, one I never intend to send.  It is simply an exercise to help me process my feelings about the whole thing.

I don’t know if this will be relevant or meaningful to anyone, but it was definitely helpful for me to put into words some of my thoughts on relationships and endings, to put things into perspective.  The letter follows:

Lee,

Maybe one day I will get enough closure to quit thinking about you and move on.  The last time I wrote one of these letters, I was going to my first Nashville therapist, I was still drinking, and you and I were still somewhat together, in whatever fucked up thing we had been doing for the last year.  So although I’ve already done this once, I couldn’t think very clearly, and I couldn’t get any closure because it wasn’t over yet.

I feel like this is some kind of exercise a therapist would have a widower do after his husband dies, writing to him to help give himself closure about the end.  And in some small way, that is almost what this is like for me… at this moment, I need you to be completely inaccessible to me if I am going to have any hope of moving on.  I truly hope that one day you will understand this.

God, Lee.  I love the fuck out of you.  I honestly don’t know how to put into words just how much this situation hurts.  I know it will get better.  To the very core of my being, I know this, but it doesn’t make it any easier to experience it.

Right now I’m struggling with whitewashing, glorifying, romanticizing the relationship.  Of course I know there were negative parts.  I know I got my feelings hurt on a pretty regular basis.  I know I didn’t always understand you, and you didn’t always make that any easier for me by opening up to me.  Yet at this moment I just want so badly to run to you, to tell you that it doesn’t matter, to suck it up.  Maybe I didn’t help you open up because I didn’t ask enough questions.  Maybe I was too self centered and focused on telling you about me to notice when you were opening up, or to give you an opportunity to share.  Maybe you shared more than I think, and I just didn’t notice it.  Maybe I had unrealistic expectations for you, by expecting you to communicate the way I wanted you to.  In much the same way I often accused you of having unrealistic expectations of me.

I know I can’t change the past, and I know there is no point in even thinking about it… but I still think that maybe if I weren’t an alcoholic, or if I had stopped drinking earlier, or if I had at least had the presence of mind in my past to develop as a person… that maybe you wouldn’t have wanted to end it.  Because I know that I am a good person, and I know that I am lovable, and I know that you love me.  I know that you love me.  How could anyone not love me?  Haha!  But seriously, I do know that I have a lot to offer… and I hate that it just wasn’t enough.  No, it’s not that it wasn’t enough.  It was just that we don’t work.  We aren’t as much of a match as I would have wanted to believe, as much as I had convinced myself we were.

We had so many good times.  And I have to be okay with the fact that that in itself is not a reason to hold on.  Having lots of good times does not mean there weren’t also lots of things that just didn’t work.  Things are not just black or white.  They aren’t even gray, because black and white don’t tend to really mix and make gray.  As a wise man in an AA meeting once said, it’s more like things in life are all both black and white.  And in this instance I don’t even know if the black was necessarily black, but more like in my case a distasteful shade of orange.  The combination of colors in our own personal rainbows just aren’t that pleasing to the others’ eyes.  I can hear you scoffing at that from here.

I don’t want this to be all there is between us.  I don’t want you to just disappear from my life forever.  But that’s just how I am with everything else in life.  I’m not satisfied with enough.  Enough is never enough.  I want things to go on forever, to be infinite.  And maybe at certain fleeting moments in life, we can be infinite.  I think I finally understand that line from Perks of Being a Wallflower… “And in this moment, I swear that we are infinite.”  There are moments where we can get so completely lost in the moment, that for one second we are truly PRESENT.

I don’t know.  I just know that I have to come to terms with the fact that things end.  Things end, and that doesn’t mean they weren’t good.  And likewise, just because something is good doesn’t mean it won’t end.  Everything ends at some point, some things more quickly than others.

I know I am continuing to go around in circles with my thinking on all of this, and I’m sure I’m fixating… But I think it might just be a process I need to go through.  Can I really grieve the end of our relationship without doing some reflection on it?  And wouldn’t it be good for me to gain something from having been in the relationship and from it’s end?  I mean, of course I have gained a great deal already from having been in the relationship… That goes without saying.  But I mean from looking at how it started, how it progressed, what decisions we both made throughout the relationship, where things might have taken a turn—if they did—or if it was just not right to begin with…

I don’t know.  Wow, I’m saying that a lot in this letter.  I re-established my OKCupid profile yesterday, and I went through all of our messages from when we first started talking.  You know, although it has brought up some sadness and regret and nostalgia and other bittersweet feelings, it has also been really interesting.  We got into some pretty deep conversations really early on, and reading the messages now gave me a peek into where I was at that time.  Not too different from where I am now, in some ways, I guess… although I do know that the words I was saying then were more aspirational than actual.

The experience also reminded me of why I fell for you so quickly.

There is such a strong part of me at this moment that wants nothing more than for us to work out.  Of course there were issues.  But to be honest, I can’t really pin down why it didn’t work.  I know my alcoholism played a huge part in it, even if you didn’t know that was the cause.

At the same time, I know I’m not ready.  I have so much to learn about myself… right?  I have had a tendency in the past to just completely immerse myself in a relationship… but maybe that’s just something else for me to hide behind.  I know I screwed a lot of things up in our relationship, but at the same time I know that any relationship, and by extension the end of any relationship, takes two people.

I struggle with the concept of letting this go and moving on.  Clearly there is a part of me that does not want to move on… I stuck around for quite a while after our relationship ended, trying to hold on to what we had, to what I thought we had, to the idea of our relationship.  But I did make the decision to cut off communication with you for a while, so on some level I do know that this is the right thing for me right now, as much as it may hurt.

No matter what happens between us in the future, whether we can take the good things that exist between us and cultivate a friendship around those things, or if we just chalk the whole thing up as something that was part of our respective paths through life, I love you and try not to regret any part of what we had.  Just like my lambda tattoo, the one that matches yours, you have made an indelible mark on me and on who I am.

I love you and owe you a huge debt of gratitude simply for being yourself.

I wish you all the happiness in the world, whatever that may mean for you.

You are you.  I am me.  And we are okay.

Now it’s time to get on with life, whatever that may mean.

All My Love, Always,
Simon

My Last Drunk

Good Evening, All.  I just had my first official meeting with my new sponsor.  My second sponsor since the beginning of my AA journey, and my first sponsor since coming back from a long rough period and getting back on the wagon.  He asked me to write down, for myself, a description of my last drunk.  A way for me to put my bottom into words, so that I could come back to it in the future and not forget what it was like to be far down in the pit.  He of course told me that it was for my own use and that I did not need to share it with anyone, but after writing it I decided I wanted to post it here.  It may help someone, it may give an explanation for my prolonged absence (although I know no one expects one), and as I have been using this blog as a way to document my experiences, it seems like an appropriate thing to do.  So if you’re interested, read on.

November 9, 2014

My last drunk ended September 28, 2014.  But I’ll start earlier.

I don’t remember a whole lot about my last drunk.  The last few drunks seem to run together.  I had had several attendance issues at work during the few months leading up to the end.  My boss confronted me about it, then each time after that followed the HR protocol.  She gave me a verbal warning, then an unofficial written warning which involved HR and the start of my Employee Assistance Program plan.  They mandated that I work with the EAP and start going to a therapist to determine which direction I needed to go with my treatment.  My therapist didn’t seem to think that I was an alcoholic or perhaps doesn’t really believe in alcoholism.  I feel he enabled me, and I used it as an excuse to try drinking again.  At that point I had built up 21 days of sobriety and was sleeping with Lee (my ex).  The situation with Lee was really getting to me.  I had become emotionally entangled and wanted more than he was willing to give, and that situation coupled with my therapist’s blase attitude became the perfect excuse to start drinking again.

Prior to going back to AA and building up 21 days, I had just come off of a several-week bender.  I had drank heavily every single day for at least six weeks.  I decided I needed to stop drinking and get back into AA that time after a Google Hangout with my Internet friends, the end of which I didn’t remember due to blacking out, and after which I somehow bruised my tailbone severely and got a black eye that I feel could have resulting in my losing my eye if I had landed even slightly differently.  I don’t remember anything about the circumstances surrounding these injuries because I was completely blacked out.  At that point I absolutely knew that my drinking had gotten completely out of hand again, and that I absolutely HAD to stop drinking.  So I stopped cold turkey and detoxed for the first time.  I had, as I said, never detoxed before.  Apparently I hadn’t developed the chemical dependency yet before then.  The detox was absolutely terrifying.  I was shaking and sweating and had a fever and visual hallucinations.  On top of that I was having panic attacks.  I couldn’t sleep at all for at least a couple of days.  At one point I was so absolutely exhausted that I somehow managed to fall asleep in the middle of a panic attack.  The physical symptoms just compounded my determination that I really had to get serious about quitting.

During that same bender I had slept with a huge number of men.  Or maybe not a huge number. but in retrospect it seems like an inordinate number, and I also wasn’t completely safe.  At that point I was certain that it was absolutely the last time I would drink.  After all, who could go through something that terrifying and ever go back to drinking again?  But then the emotional distress from sleeping with my ex, and the little glimmer of “hope” I got from my therapist’s laissez-faire attitude about my drinking, were enough to encourage me to try again.

So I did, going out on another bender, in which I had several more blackouts, slept with several more men, and racked up another absence and tardy, which led to my final written warning from the bank about my attendance.

During this last time out, I absolutely HAD to drink every single day.  I would sometimes start the day with a very strong drink, in the hopes that I would delay the onset of my afternoon withdrawals.  I was so far down the scale that I would start withdrawing within hours of my last drink.  Even if I drank in the morning, by the time I got home in the evening, I would be shaking so severely that I could barely get the glass to my lips for my first afternoon drink.  I had to chug down my first drink and quickly pour myself another in order to feel normal.  I had reached a point where I no longer had any desire whatsoever to drink, but I needed to drink.  I had become a slave to alcohol.  More than at any point previously, I was powerless over alcohol.  Completely, utterly, and totally without will.  I had no choice whatsoever in the matter.  No matter how much I didn’t want to drink, I knew that if I didn’t, I would go into horrendous withdrawals.  At this point, I had researched alcohol withdrawals and DTs.  I read that alcohol withdrawals are one of only two drug withdrawals that can directly kill a person, the other being from benzodiazepines.  I could start withdrawing, have a seizure, and die.  I could not sit at home and detox again.  So the only thing that I could do was maintain my drunk so that I wouldn’t die, because I’d had my final written warning at work, and was terrified of taking the time to go to a hospital detox for fear of losing my job.

I had chosen to just keep drinking indefinitely rather than risk losing my job.

But the constant cycle of drinking heavily every night, having a very stiff drink in the morning, driving drunk to work, then progressively getting worse and worse throughout the workday, not accomplishing anything at all, and feeling like utter hell before I could finally leave and drive home, just to replenish the alcohol in my system so I wouldn’t go further into withdrawals… it had become intolerable.  I could not continue on that path, because I knew that it would only continue to get worse and worse.  And that the only outcome of continuing on that path would be to lose everything anyway and eventually die.

Saturday, September 28, I was supposed to meet Lee for brunch.  I woke up that morning feeling even worse than ever.  I messaged him and told him that I could not do brunch, and that I absolutely needed to go to the hospital and detox, and I asked him to come pick me up and take me to the emergency room.  He agreed.

As I had done on a number of mornings previously, I fixed myself one or two very strong drinks, because I knew I was going to the hospital and it would be a long process, and I didn’t want to start withdrawing until I was in a safe place.

I HAD DECIDED TO GO TO THE HOSPITAL TO DETOX, AND I GOT DRUNK BEFORE GOING BECAUSE I KNEW IF I DID NOT, I WOULD START DETOXING BEFORE I COULD GET TREATMENT.

That is how severe my physical addiction had become.  Hell.  Slavery.  They say that it takes desperation for an alcoholic to truly accept and admit powerlessness.  I thought I had reached that point of desperation before.  Boy was I ever wrong.  My situation had finally become so desperate that my ONLY option was to go into the hospital to detox.  I knew that I would not be out of the hospital before work on Monday, but I knew I had no other choice.  My desperation was severe enough that I was willing to risk my job to get help.  I texted my boss and told her that I was going into the hospital to detox, and that I would most likely not be out of the hospital in time to go to work on Monday.  She didn’t respond right away.  I don’t remember now how long it was before she responded, or if she even responded before I was in the psych ward and without my phone.

In retrospect, checking myself into the hospital, going through a medically-supervised detox, and going into the psych ward, was the best thing that has ever happened to me.  Was the best decision I ever made.  Without any reservation whatsoever, I can say with certainty that it was the right choice.

I learned so much about myself in the hospital, and gained perspective on my life and where it had been leading for…. well, for as long as I can remember.  Who knows when the trajectory began or what twists and turns might have happened to get me to the point I was at.

I can never go back to that desperation and suffering.  Being completely and utterly powerless over alcohol.  No longer wanting to drink.  Having absolutely no desire at all to drink, but having no say in the matter.  I was a SLAVE to alcohol, in the truest sense I can imagine, and it was Hell on Earth.  And if I ever drink again, I will go right back there.

I’ve heard it said many times, but often the most cliche of phrases have become cliches simply because they are so true:  My life may not be easy now that I have stopped drinking.  Things will still go wrong.  I will still have heartache.  I will still have to work at things.  Abstinence is not a cure-all.  I don’t know what the future will bring.  But if I am drinking, I have no chance at all at having a life.  If I don’t drink, at least I have a chance.  At least I have a choice.  At least then I have control over my own actions and choices and reactions.  If I drink, I am surrendering any ability I may ever have to choose, and I have no chance whatsoever.  My only option, my only chance, is not to drink.

I am allergic to alcohol.  That does not make me a bad person.  It does not make me broken.  It does not make me evil or wrong.  I have no choice in the matter, and I never did.  My alcoholism means that I cannot drink like non-alcoholics do.  I never could, and never will be able to.  But that is not a burden.  That simple fact about me has brought me to a program that can provide me with the tools and with a framework and principles by which I can choose to live my life, which is something I may not have found otherwise.  Thank God.

New Beginnings and Unexpected Blessings

Change and opportunities for growth can come in all different kinds of ways.  It doesn’t often occur in the way one might expect.  I have been on a long sabbatical from this blog, for myriad reasons, and a lot has happened since my last post.  At some point very soon I am going to pick it back up, but I just wanted to write this brief post to say I’ll be back. 🙂

Dealing with Disappointment

Acceptance.

It’s a deceptively simple word.  It is entirely possible for a person to acknowledge that something is true without actually accepting it.  Acceptance involves not only admitting the truth of a statement, but also the repercussions of that truth, without attempting to change the situation.  “Acceptance in human psychology is a person’s assent to the reality of a situation, recognizing a process or condition (often a negative or uncomfortable situation) without attempting to change it, protest, or exit.”

On Tuesday, I missed a call from the agent listing my house.  As soon as I saw that I’d missed a call, I immediately called him back.  I was expecting just more follow up on the sale… the buyers had reviewed the inventory of furniture they were going to purchase from me, and they accepted it?  Or maybe they got final approval for their mortgage and had scheduled the closing?  They needed some more information from me, perhaps?  As skeptical as I was for the first week or so after we signed the contract, I still did not foresee what came next–the buyers were backing out of the contract.  Some kind of sale they were relying on fell through, so they no longer felt comfortable going through with their purchase of my house.

As I mentioned before, I had kept my expectations low for a little while after we signed the contract.  I know how these things work, and I know there are a million tiny ways the contract could fall apart.  A real estate purchase contract is very rarely worth the paper it is written on.  Plus, up to this point in the process of selling my house, I’d had plenty of disappointments–enough to know not to get my hopes up.  But then, the closing date just kept getting closer and closer, and I knew I had to start packing, just in case.  And then I started to think about what it would be like to move back in with my parents for a bit while I looked for a job in Nashville, just in case.  I thought, I’ll have to make sure my parents get a WiFi range extender so I can watch Netflix and Hulu in my bedroom, just in case.  You get the point: after a while, these “just in case”s started to add up to a pretty strong belief that the house really had sold.  Not only could I see the light at the end of the tunnel; I could also taste the fresh air, feel the sunlight.

Every major experience (and every minor one, for that matter) has an effect on who we are, what we know, how we think and feel, what our reactions are.  We are the sum of our experiences.  And everything I’ve gone through in the past few years, and especially the last few months, has turned me into an experience-sponge, trying to suck every last drop of knowledge and growth from every situation I encounter.

This setback could have absolutely floored me.  For about an hour, it did.  I sat at my desk, feeling sorry for myself, crying, hoping no one would see (or maybe hoping they would, and I would get their attention and support–you know how narcissistic we alcoholics can be!).  But then, miraculously, I stepped back and evaluated the situation.  I took stock of the facts.  I reminded myself that it was simply a momentary setback and not the end of the world.  I prayed.  And suddenly, what had, just moments before, felt like a crushing blow, became simply a minor setback.  I had a sincere experience of acceptance and serenity–so this is what it feels like!

Looking back, much of my life has felt like a scramble, a struggle, a fight, where I’ve clawed my way through and wore myself out just trying to keep my head above water.  I also realize, looking back, that this fact has absolutely nothing at all to do with the objective reality of the difficulty or ease of the circumstances in my past–this fact has absolutely everything to do with my own perceptions and reactions.  My life and experiences have been stressful and difficult not because of the circumstances themselves, but because I chose to make them that way.  I know now that life doesn’t have to be that way.

Acceptance is serenity is peace is happiness.

I’m not saying you should accept everything in your life at face value–far from it!  Instead, what I’m saying is it’s absolutely crucial to be discerning about what you invest your energy in.  Step back and honestly assess what parts of your circumstances you do control, and what parts you don’t.  Then accept and let go of those parts you don’t.  It’s that simple.

I am okay.  I am going to be okay.  I am going to be better than okay, in fact, even in the face of a major disappointment.  Somehow, I feel grateful even for the disappointment.  I had no idea that was even possible before.

How about you?  What are your experiences with handling disappointment?  What works for you?