The day brightening despite looming clouds. I have just had a long conversation over the phone with a friend who was diagnosed this week with macular degeneration, a frightening diagnosis at the best of times. I have had a long battle with my eyesight owing to detaching retinas and rubeotic glaucoma, but at least I do have some helpful suggestions on living with worsening vision. Living sober, that is. My drinking did nothing to help the liver/eye connection and I am lucky to have any sight at all today.
But it was good to be there for someone in distress and to talk from long experience, a change from sharing my limited experience of sobriety. In early days, a friend in AA told me that AA is not passive entertainment and the point is not to sit around waiting to be affirmed or to only read self-help literature and listen to tapes, but to move towards being able to CONTRIBUTE, to share my experience,strength and hope in meetings even if I felt shy or clueless, to help out with the practicalities at meetings — wash up cups and set out literature, help newcomers to find lifts and give out my phone number, to meet up after meetings with others newer than myself for coffee and to encourage and befriend them – in short, to get into the give-and-take of human relationships again. She pointed out to me that AA is not solipsistic or an end in itself, it is a bridge back to the grittiness of real life and we can take our new-found skills and willingness to be of service with us into the workplace and community involvement. Nothing builds self-esteem more solidly, in my experience, than to be of some use after years of drunken isolation and acting only as a social liability. Even if I am unable to get to meetings very often, I still have opportunities to contribute and make a small difference in my own community.
After we had chatted for a while, my friend said she might go out and give herself a treat. She didn’t mean that she would buy herself clothes, or even a book. She believes in a concept to me but one which I like, that experiential purchases make us happier than material purchases — she would rather pay for dinner with friends or a weekend retreat than a new sweater or pair of shoes. Experiences enrich us in a way that possessions don’t. Objects don’t love us back. I still opt for treating myself to books, which are experiential in a way I suppose…
And my friend is ordering through Amazon a book she has had recommended, former law professor Toni Bernhard’s How to be Sick, on living with chronic illness. Living skilfully and hopefully despite chronic illness. Living with the practice of gratitude.
I wrote about Buddhist-inspired practices that I’d devised on my own to help with the many difficulties that my husband and I were encountering – such as coping with the relentlessness of symptoms, weathering fear about the future, coming to terms with a life of relative isolation, facing the misunderstanding of others, and dealing with the health care system. Again, I used my personal experience to show the reader how to work with these practices.
The book was created slowly and with great difficulty. I wrote it lying on my bed, laptop on my stomach, notes strewn about on the blanket, printer within arm’s reach. Some days I would get so involved in a chapter that I’d work too long. The result would be an exacerbation of my symptoms that would leave me unable to write at all for several days or even for weeks.
There were also periods when I was simply too sick to even think of putting a book together. Then the project would be left untouched for months on end. Being so physically sick would sometimes have such a strong affect on my mental state that, during the darkest moments, I considered tossing out all the work I’d done, despairing of ever being able to complete it.
But mental states come and go—and in the end, I pressed on, determined to finish the book in the hope it would point the way for others to live skillfully and with equanimity and joy despite their stressful circumstances