This morning I heard from my cousin in Zimbabwe who has had an email from my actively alcoholic brother in the United States. My brother has a court appearance pending for breaking several restraining orders and wants to do a quick geographical escape back to Africa. How my heart sinks when I read his aggrieved and bitter emails to my cousin, the insistence that nothing is his fault, the accusations against his ex-wife and the torrential self-pity. It could be my own voice some years back. And like me, he is filled with nostalgia for a country that no longer exists. There is no home for him to return to, no farm, no parental house, no safe place, no hideaway. And unless he sobers up, no place for him in human society.
The elderly neighbour who was assaulted and burgled last week has had a severe stroke and is in a deep coma. He may not recover. How terrible to have one’s life peter out in rage and fear: in the days and nights before his stroke, the neighbour went about armed at all times, threatening any black person who walked down the street, sitting up nights with a loaded gun at hand. But the attack came from within the cordoned heart, as is so often the case.
The festive season is at hand, a time of year I dread and associate with family chaos, suicides, drunken car accidents and ugly conflict, greed and recklessness. In the last couple of years, sober and grounded, I plan for a quiet time with friends, lowered expectations, time spent going to meetings, gardening, reading, writing letters and sharing meals with lonely neighbours or those who are struggling in the recession, those trying to get sober. I discourage the giving of gifts and ask friends to donate to battered women’s shelters and homes for Aids orphans. Doing the next right thing helps and I know that the key is to enlarge my life, live more fully, open to loss and sadness along with the hope for times of happy togetherness. The ‘littleness’ of my life as an alcoholic still appalls me, the tunnel vision and closed circle of concerns and lack of vision. I do know all this, and each morning I remind myself that gratitude is not just a passive attitude but also an action, a way of showing my thankfulness for all the sobriety. But still the fear follows my heels at this time of year, breathing chills down my neck.
One of those days when the Serenity Prayer is a balm to my spirit.
Grant me the serenity
the things I cannot change,
the courage to change
the things I can, and the
wisdom to know the difference,
Living one day at a time,
enjoying one moment at a time,
accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
taking this sinful world as it is,
not as I would have it,
Trusting that you will make all things
right if I surrender to your will,
so that I may be reasonably happy
in this life, and supremely happy
with you forever in the next.