I’ve had a mind-blowing series of synchronicities in the last few days. I’m talking the kind of experiences that remind us that there is a world of “invisibles,” whether literal or imaginal, that can draw us toward the truth we are actively or unconsciously avoiding.
Synchronicities are acausal and nonlinear. I apologize if the telling of my story is equally circular:
I’ve been pretty seriously depressed for some time. There was the death of my mother. There was the death of my father, his disinheritance of me, and my brothers’ refusal to talk to me about it. A couple of longterm friendships crashed.
There was botched emergency surgery on my knees, leaving me broke and unable to run, bike or even walk downstairs comfortably. There was — there is — the loss of significant income from Creative Loafing’s cutback of my nearly 30-year-old dining column.
There’s my brother’s serious illness and my estrangement from him. (Estrangement and the refusal to discuss its causes drenches my family like a marinade of 500-proof liquor. And, yes, I most certainly include myself among the marinated.)
So, I’ve been pretty depressed and crazy at times. So much so that I decided to go to an AA meeting today, for the first time in 20 years. I thought picking up some of the program’s tools again might be helpful. Still, I sat in my car outside the AA clubhouse, Galano, for a bit, making excuses not to go in. Then I looked at my iPhone and noticed the date: April 9. I suddenly realized that this was the date I got sober 30 years ago. I seriously had no memory of this until that moment. Synchronicity. I didn’t dare not attend the meeting.
And there’s more…
I found the meeting quite soothing and a welcome reminder that I have dealt successfully with some major challenges over the years. I heard exactly what I needed to. But the small meeting at noon also made me anxious. Why had I quit going to meetings in the first place?
My memory — the start of another synchronicity — startled me again. At the time I originally arrived at AA, I was under contract to HarperCollins to write a book about what remained of the strange, Southern Gothic world of Flannery O’Connor. I was also cranking out cover stories about eccentric personalities for the Sunday magazine supplement of the AJC. I was living in a very strange world. And I loved it.
But getting sober rudely lifted me out of that world and in fact seemed to initiate writer’s block. I was frequently questioned by a “sponsor” — AA’ese for “mentor” — about my preoccupation with the weird. Who but a drunk would want to spend a month with a touring freak show? If I wanted to stay sober, my sponsor told me frequently, I might want to consider joining the “normal world.”
It sounds ridiculous, but, without questioning, I took this message so to heart that I walked to the Zesto near my house and, in a black depression, threw what I’d written of the book into the dumpster. This was the years of typewritten manuscripts. I had no copy. When I told my AA sponsor about this a few hours later, he raced over with a flashlight to retrieve the pages, but the dumpster had been emptied. He was horrified. I was actually relieved. And I do mean that.
When I have told this story over the years, I’ve always blamed the “shadow” side of AA, its supposedly normalizing dogma. But at the meeting I went to today, I realized that my action had very little to do with the imposition of any severe notion of normality that AA tries to foist on members. The group was reading from the foundational text, “The Big Book,” and much of it actually concerned the value of “crazy wisdom,” not a term AA uses, but one from the Dharmic traditions that certainly applies.
This was an embarrassing revelation but another awakening synchronicity: I happen to be (finally) writing a book about the virtue of being different, odd, eccentric, abnormal, whatever. In writing it, I’ve been reviewing my history with my mother. She was obsessed with making me normal throughout my childhood and adolescence. While she didn’t manage to achieve that, I did end up feeling guilty and afraid every time I’ve “stuck out in a crowd,” even if for flattering reasons. And I’ve usually run out of sight as quickly as possible.
That’s the real reason I abandoned my book project of 30 years ago. I did not want to appear crazy to my mother and the residents of her world. So, blaming a minor subtext of AA — and I seriously only got this today — was a convenient way of copping out of my book contract. The new, sober, normal me would not be embarrassing anyone, not even myself, no matter if it derailed my career. I do wish someone had intervened in this process, but I doubt I would have listened.
Now, I do believe AA promotes some behaviors that are superficially normalizing, like belief in a “higher power.” It doesn’t prescribe a certain concept of a higher power, but there’s a lot of pressure to believe. I understand that the idea is a strategic way of giving up a narcissistic perspective, but I’ve had many clients over the years bail for other support groups because of the “higher power thing.”
I also think my role as a writer preoccupied with the bizarre did make quite a few people uncomfortable in the early days of my sobriety. But, my God, that was equally true — more true — of the world at large. Above all, though, was my own discomfort with myself.
I should, however, give myself credit that during the 20-some years I wrote my weekly “Headcase” (nee “Paradigms”) column for CL, I did celebrate the beauty of the wacky. And I urged gay men to revel in their outlaw status for seven years in a biweekly column elsewhere. But with the end of those columns (and the onset of aging), I think I began retreating back to my wish to stay hidden. And that in turn reminds me that soul must have expression in order to flourish.
What do I make of this cluster of synchronicities? I think they ask me to move both backward, to what I learned of value 30 years ago, and forward, to appreciate and share the crazy wisdom I’ve accrued in my life as a paradoxically visible outsider.