I’ve been chronically ill now for almost 2 years. It affects me both mind and body. The symptoms are chronic fatigue and the accompanying brain fog. Often it is hard for me to follow a train of thought, which means reading is difficult. And so is writing. I’ve lost a lot of what I used to think of as me.
Despite this illness, or rather BECAUSE of it, I have had to change the way I think about things. But perhaps I should start with my point, rather than how I arrived at it.
When I got sober, I was taught by the SoCal sober community that what I get for getting sober is sobriety. I know that sounds both obvious and circular. But the common conception is that when we get sober that somehow God or Life will fix our lives. If we’ve lost our kids, we will regain custody. If we’ve lost employment, we will find work. If we’ve lost our health, good health will be restored. Etc. Etc. Etc.
My life after I got sober looked pretty much like it did when I was drinking: I was still single, I still worked as an adjunct professor, I still drove the same car, and still lived in a tiny apartment. The differences were that most of the excitement was gone: I dated less (hardly at all), didn’t get on stage as often to play music or perform poetry, published less, and focused more on spiritual pursuits and new, longer writing.
For a long time, I wondered when God or Life would finally smile upon me for being a “good girl” and deliver up the Good Life. But things just kept getting more difficult, especially after I got sick and couldn’t work, and when my sensitivities to toxins became so severe that I couldn’t be around most people or in most buildings. Life just got harder and lonelier.
Always looking for solutions, I asked myself, “What can you do now that you couldn’t do before?”
With ample time on my hands, much of it spent lying down and all alone, the answer came: This was my Monk-in-a-Cave opportunity. I would use it to deepen my spiritual connection with a higher power.
Because I couldn’t comprehend much of what I read anymore, and when I could it was only a few paragraphs or, on a good day, a few pages, I began listening and watching spiritual talks on YouTube: Abraham & Esther Hicks, Gregg Braden, Joel S. Goldsmith (The Infinite Way), High Magick, and countless healing meditations, including those whose vibrations promised DNA repair and cellular healing.
I really wanted to be healthy again. I wanted to be healed. I really didn’t care whose God I had to pray to. Or what words I had to say. Or in what language. I even attended a Vietnamese Healing Mass — an all Vietnamese Catholic service where I understood nothing! At the service’s conclusion, the priest held a giant golden cross over my head and blessed me. A friend went to Lourdes, France, whose waters are famed for healing.
“Bring me some of that water,” I demanded.
I prayed in English, Sanskrit, Hebrew….and indirectly in Vietnamese, I guess. I meditated. I did positive visualization. I vigorously watched my language to make sure I wasn’t sending my body the message to be sick. I called various healers for prayers, and my friends said they were praying for me regularly.
In other words, I had deep, persistent, motherfucking faith, y’all.
And, still, I was sick.
For a long time, I felt like if I were doing things right or if I had enough faith, I would be healed. I felt like I had somehow brought illness upon myself by thinking the wrong thoughts or by not being faithful enough.
One especially hot day in Colorado not too long ago, sitting in a chair in the shade near the 11-foot camper where I had been living for two months, I remembered, “All I get from being sober is sobriety.” I don’t know why those words came to me then, but I realized suddenly that ALL I GET FROM GOD IS GOD. I don’t get guarantees of healing, of wealth, of well being, of love, of satisfying work (or any work), help in a pinch, or anything at all really.
What I get is knowing that I am going to be okay NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS.
Stop and really soak that in. Because that is faith: “I am going to be okay no matter what happens.”
We haven’t been forsaken or punished or whatever because we are sick or because we are poor or because we are outcast. In fact, it occurs to me now that Jesus said “Whatever you do unto the least of these, you do unto me.” And then there’s Job. When shit is going seriously sideways, how about I consider the faith of Job?
If this sounds alarmingly Christian coming from someone who calls herself a Jewish witch, it is because during my illness I have found a great deal of comfort in the teachings of many spiritual traditions, including Christianity, Buddhism, Vedanta, Judaism, Gnosticism, Rastafari and various occult practices (“Occult” just meaning “hidden” not Satanic or evil. In fact, any Bible thumper out there should know the Gospels: “There is nothing hidden that shall not be revealed.” Revelation, even of the educational variety, is sacred.)
Having embraced One, I receive the prayers said on my behalf with the Love with which they are sent, regardless of the person’s faith or the language in which they pray. So thank you for your prayers. They are working; I am more and more sure I am loved all the time.
In those times that I can remember — because, honestly, I forget important things like this a lot, which I attribute more to being human than to being ill –that God is not wish-granting Santa Claus but an ineffable eternal wellspring of consciousness, I feel myself held in this glorious web of Life and hold space for the miracles that happen so often that I take them for granted. My heartbeat. My breath. The rising sun. Mitosis. Meiosis. Cellular respiration.
I don’t know what enlightenment is exactly. Letting the light in? Letting it out — “Opening out a way for the imprisoned splendor,” as Robert Browning said? These are questions that lead me back to One again and again. And in my best and most faithful moments, that is enough.