ASK ABDI: WILL I BE OKAY ON MY SPIRITUAL PATH?
QUESTION: Like your client that you mention in your last podcast episode, when the bottom completely dropped out from my life - I pulled the emergency brake and stopped EVERYTHING. I’ve been able to, more or less, not work since around 2015, but for me it goes beyond not working. I’m not a particularly wealthy person, but I’ve had enough resources (and desperation) to invest in myself and do what I’m doing for the last two to three years, which is mostly sitting with myself and feeling what I’ve been running from my whole life. My business of 15 years collapsed, I sold everything, moved, broke up with my partner, quit drinking alcohol and caffeine, quit nicotine, quit TV, quit politics, quit video games, quit music in the car, and mostly quit Facebook and the news. I quit going to bars and quit all my friendships, quit rescuing, quit people-pleasing, and quit achieving... quit most of my family (for now). I quit chasing gurus and looking for silver bullets, quit the fantasy of a hot young guy who was going to “rescue” me. I’ve been quitting Zoloft and Klonopin, which I started taking in 1991 for panic attacks (very slowly, down to 25% of what I started at). Oh, and the dog died. I eventually stopped pretty much everything in my life and more or less just sat... to the best of my ability I completely stopped numbing and running. And HOLY SHIT, what a ride!
I know many people are going through an awakening process these days, but I don’t personally know too many other people (in our culture, anyway) who have been able to do a full-time, day after day mostly “sit and cook” type of awakening... sort of like a “dark night of the soul sabbatical”. I’m guessing folks like that are out there, but not in my immediate orbit. Just about everyone I know has to manage a life while trying to navigate this process... work, kids, relationship, etc. I have none of those things going on. On the one hand, perhaps I haven’t had these added “stressors”; on the other hand, I haven’t had these other “distractions”. But it seems for many, the inertia of life continues through their awakening and their lives naturally evolve through the process. I feel like my life momentum completely stopped. For me, I guess it had to. And it’s been brutal and it’s been amazing, and I know it’s not over and in some ways it never will be. Some days still... whew... I COOK!
I found Adult Children of Alcoholics/Dysfunctional Families and that framework for healing has been profound for me. I’ve found some really great trusted “fellow travelers” locally to work with around childhood trauma. Meditation (now much more informal and diverse than when I originally started) has been my central practice, along with journaling, some bodywork on my own, and reading/education. EMDR was also really useful for me to break into some of the unconscious and open up the stored childhood trauma body memories. I was lucky to find a great clinician to work with me in that way. From that context, I feel I’ve been “desensitizing” and “reprocessing” as well as “detoxing".
What I am hoping is that you can provide some insight from your having worked with others who have put their “life on hold” for some extended time to do this inner work full-time. I went from “jet-setting” and “living large” to laying on the floor like a small child in fetal position, weeping. What has it looked like for others to emerge from a full-time dance with the spiritual abyss and intense confrontation with one’s childhood trauma? To come out from a period of contraction and solitude and rejoin humanity in a new way? I completely stopped the momentum of my life. I know it’s beginning to move again on it’s own, but is there really still nothing else I’m supposed to be doing? I’ve “pushed” my whole life, and then I learned not to. Is there a time I begin to “push” a bit more again?
I know what I’m learning is the practice of becoming comfortable with discomfort (to put it mildly), feeling my feelings, not abandoning myself to behavioral addictions or intoxicating substances, not losing myself in dissociation, more consciously setting boundaries, and authentically connecting with myself and others... but it all still feels so foreign! It’s like that sensation of waking up in a strange place and not knowing at first where you are - totally disorienting and still terrifying. Will the short moments of peace and clarity and connection I now enjoy at times, grow longer and become more frequent? I have the sense that at some point I will be supporting others in their awakening process (and to some degree I already do that), but it still feels too soon to be doing anything along these lines formally - I don’t even know what that would look like. My inner child feels like the world is still a big scary place, and all the armor is gone. I’ve created my safe place to heal, my little “hermitage home”. I trust that as I continue to heal, my sanctuary will feel more like a prison, and that’s how I will naturally know to move forward. Does this seem right?
ANSWER: What a badass brave soul you are, my brother. Kudos to you for your immense courage to truly be Sober with a capital “S”. To “completely stop numbing and running” is really all that needs to be done. We all resist it by replacing one numbing agent with another. All that you describe, including fantasies of the perfect relationship, spirituality, guru seeking, social media, etc., can be just another stop on the numb train. As you have found, when one truly commits (or more accurately, is pulled into it)... ”HOLY SHIT, what a ride!" Ripping the band-aid off in one full swoop, as opposed to playing around with lifting the edges one millimeter at a time, is quite an experience.
All the words that you are using point to the fact that you are healing and not just moving the furniture around on the Titanic. “Desensitizing, reprocessing, and detoxing” is exactly what needs to take place. It is wonderful that you reached out to another that you intuited could help. Culture is not our friend at such junctures. It has no road map to help support us in our internal journey. It is, in its present configuration, an externally focused and biased organism. As such, it can offer no compass to the path you have/has chosen you to undertake. It is okay to reach out and ask: “Is this okay, am I okay, will I be okay, or am I fucking crazy?” This is more than okay, you are finally becoming okay.
We are always in process of becoming, do remember that. There is no end point as such, but yes, it does get easier. Much easier. If you were not totally “disoriented and terrified”, then you were not delving deep enough. The “short moments of peace, clarity, and connection” will grow. Fear HAS to be faced on the path and we all do our best to avoid it. Never trust an awakening that does not include passage through terror. It is part and parcel of the process. If one has not experienced the terror as part of their awakening, rest assured that there is spiritual bypass taking place. The fear of being “too vulnerable” is natural. We give up rigid protection for fluid interconnectedness. You will continue to care for yourself differently, as you have started doing.
It is important to have a “sanctuary” at such a juncture. You are a rare person that has given themselves full permission to immerse in it. But dropping out of life all together is not possible for some, nor necessary. The main thing is to do all you have done: to release all behaviors that numb. Internal and external. Your life at this point is a boat that you are using to undertake a journey. You will not need it when you reach the other side. One can become attached to such a life-saving vessel, but you will know when to step out of it. Carrying a boat on our back when we are walking on firm earth makes no sense. You will know when that time is. Your “sanctuary will feel more like a prison” at that time. Life will indeed “move again on it’s own”. You will enter the world and be in it, but it will feel different. You will be in it and not of it, so to speak. But not in a dissociative kind of way, more like a sober person among drunks. You will find like-minded others. As you have already found, many behaviors will no longer make sense.
Do keep in your heart that the process of becoming sane in an insane culture will make you question your sanity initially. That will pass in time, for what you now have in your possession is your inner compass. This is alchemical gold, and with it you will navigate your life from a centered place. All that this realm can throw your way will be handled from a different place of equanimity. The good, the bad, and the ugly will knock on your door. You will answer all with the direct knowledge that nothing can give or take from you what you already are. Since, in fact, there is no thing that is not you. As for what the future will bring, listen to all of your intuitions. But also know that by being rooted fully in the moment, all that needs to flow to and through you will do so.
Don’t forget to smell the roses along the way when you come up for air. And buy a wheelbarrow to wheel around all that courage.