When I limped into recovery over 12 years ago in San Francisco and raised my hand as new to the group, I cried.
I cried with mourning and grief; I also cried with relief.
The mourning was multilayered: I was grieving for having realized how much time I’d spent battling a demon in single-handed combat—a battle I could (and would) never win but continued to launch attack after attack to get under control, to get my life, my heart, my sanity under control. And I could not.
My efforts were meaningless, but I railed against that monster for a decade. The opposite of “chasing the dragon,” I quickly learned the consequences of waking the beast and fought tooth and nail to put it back to sleep. Like an overtired toddler, the beast of addiction could not be soothed with my mortal tools.
So, I cried in that meeting because of all the wounds I’d suffered in that hopeless fight.
I cried, also, because that dragon and the fight I’d waged with it had become the most constant companion I’d ever had (or at least realized I had — it would be a little longer before I came to realize the benevolent forces abundant in my life during all that hellacious time, too).
I cried in grief over the pal I knew I was coming here to say goodbye to with a finality. Oh Palsy, the times we had! Together, we travelled from small-town suburbia, to college-town alleyways, to South Korean karaoke bars, and all over the South Pacific.
All the way, like a boulder tumulting down a cliff face, onto a couch in San Francisco.
And here we were, you and I, palsy, having the same ol’ fight again. The scenery changed, but nothing else had. And I knew, ultimately, that I had to leave you to find other folks to talk with, to give me new and different ideas and new tools for walking through this marvelous miasma of existence.
And so, I cried for the loss of this dragon-friend with whom I’d traversed continents and decades.
I also cried with relief.
The clatter of swords, I call it. That moment when you see the brave knight tete-a-tete with the gilded beast, the hero all sweaty and injured and launching her assault again and again. And you can see, anyone watching can see, that she cannot win. That what is happening here is a travesty of power — this is twisted and sick to make her continue to fight that monster. What kind of sick bastard are you continuing to encourage this harm to our hero??
And the hero finally understands. She realizes the hopelessness of winning and she lets her longsword fall.
It’s slow motion, an end-over-end descent of metal, til it clatters to the floor of the dark cave and echoes against the stone, bouncing and oscillating just a little in its death throes before it comes to a deep stop on the ground.
There is silence.
The hero stands there now, empty-handed, the dragon overhead watching this change. This isn’t some battle tactic, this isn’t some sly made-ya-look. Our hero has dropped all of her fight and knows that, if absolutely nothing else, her fight is over.
Relief tumults upon her in waves. Cleansing, heaving, sobbing waves that I cried in that new room of people who understood.
I am intimately reminded of that moment today as I continue to do my work around Judgment and Control, these friends who have been with me since before the above dragon was awoken.
These two friends have been so close to me, I have thought of them as myself. I have not seen the molecule of air there is between me and them; I have thought we were the same.
But something has begun to shift, G-d’s Infinite Crowbar prying these stranger, more insidious demons apart from me, and showing me that they are, in fact, not really me.
I have worn them as closely as my skin, and it is a painful process to pull them off, or have them pried from me.
You remember being in ballet when you were little, and you had those thick opaque tights for recitals? And dancing in your ballet shoes, all the friction created from that movement rubbed your ankles raw? You sucked in your breath as you danced because a smile was required, and you let those shoes and tights meld into your skin, wearing away parts of yourself, and replacing them with the fabric of this alien material.
You remember after each performance, sitting in the changing room with tightly top-bunned heads, unwrapping those gorgeous silk ribbons from around the white opaqueness, and impatiently yanking or tenderly pulling off those shoes and beginning to unfurl your tights back off down your legs?
You remember that moment when the tights are down to your feet and they have caught? They are attached to the skin of your heel with blood and a little ooze? It’s a moist but hard affixing, and the fabric of the tights pulls thin as you tug on it to see how deeply attached it is to your body.
You tug, you make bargains with god, you tell yourself “1,2,3” but start back at 1 when you’ve chickened out.
Sometimes in that moment, you take a deep breath, steel yourself, and rip it off. You watch the raw patch of skin saturate with new blood and maybe begin to pool into real droplets. Sometimes in that moment, you know you’re too scared to handle it on your own, and you ask a friend to come and just do it and, like how you do with a phlebotomist, you look the other way while they do for you what you cannot do for yourself.
I am right now both the puller and the asker for help in the pulling.
Judgment and Control are so enmeshed in my person that this individuation is painful, raw, grief-laden, and … a relief.