Pride

The second installment of the 7 Spins on 7 Sins guest blog series features the sin of Pride. Pride is proclaimed by some to the be the sin from which all of the Seven Deadly Sins arise. Hubris, which it is also known as, is also said to be the gateway through which all other sins enter the moral soul. It is no coincidence that the middle letter of Pride is "i" - preoccupation with the self, the ego. I want to thank Sean Paul Mahoney for his trademark take on this Sin—with humour, humility and great insight. A fantastic writer and friend. Thanks Sean. - PS

 

Pride

“Would you rather be right or would you rather be happy?” - somebody at a meeting.

I might not remember who said it but I remember it pissed me off. My initial thought upon hearing this back in 2009 was, “Well, I’d like to be both. I’d also like an iced coffee and some new shoes, if we're taking requests.” Like why couldn’t I be right and happy? Why did I have to choose? More than that, doesn’t just being right make me happy? Isn’t the satisfaction of knowing I am right and you are totally, pathetically wrong reward enough? My poor, sweet, newly sober brain didn't quite grasp the idea that I was so filled with pride that it was actually killing me. Me being filled with pride? Surely you’re thinking of someone else. I knew that I hated myself on some level. I mean, no one who does as much cocaine or glugs down as much tequila as I did isn’t exactly nailing the whole love yourself thing. Therefore, if I hated myself there was no way I could be filled with pride, right? I had been to enough gay pride parades to know that just because you marched down the street in glitter high heels and assless chaps it didn’t mean you couldn’t secretly hate yourself. Nevertheless, it became pretty clear that if I wanted to get sober I was going to have wrap my brain around the idea that pride was a serious defect and one that was probably keeping me drunk.

I agreed to write about pride because I love Paul (but for reals—who doesn’t?) and it because it’s something that I might have a teensy problem with. Okay. Maybe a big problem. I have such a problem with pride I’m usually too proud to even it say that out loud. I know. Exhausting. Anyway, as I perused ye olde internet in preparation for this piece, I found all kinds of lists. 10 Ways Pride is Ruining Your Career, 6 Types of Pride You Don’t Want and finally 6 Undeniable Signs Your Pride is Taking Over Your Life. Bingo. That list struck a chord. I winced as I read the numbers: 1. You Find It Difficult To Admit Your Mistakes, 3. You Refuse To Back Off An Argument Even If You Know You’ve Lost 6. You’re Afraid To Say I Don’t Know. Yikes. I’d read enough. Enough to know that yeah pride has at one point or another taken over my life, just like the title had said. Damn you, internet!

When I got sober in 2009, it was after almost two decades of trying to manage the tornado of my using and drinking. My pride kicked in early on as it continually told me, “You don’t need help. You’ve got this. Now, order another shot, you big dummy.” This pride, mixed with a heaping helping of delusion, slowly destroyed my life and drove me to the brink of insanity. I suffered in silence over and over again instead of saying, “Hi. I’m a disaster and could use a little help over here.” Pride had also kept me from asking for what I really wanted: out of jobs, out of relationships, out of myself. This toxic pride wasn’t the kind we think of when we envision a person ridiculously proud of themselves. Instead, it was a pride that had somehow convinced me I wasn’t worthy so why bother asking?

When everything simultaneously hit the fan as I bottomed out, I had to toss pride out the window and ask for help. The first call I made was to my younger brother then my sister and on and on. I was in trouble and out of options. After a lifetime of parroting, “I got this!’ I had to admit I didn’t fucking have it. That entire year was a series of humbling experiences wherein I had to swallow my pride and ask for help over and over again. I also had to constantly say, “I’m wrong” and “I don’t know what I’m doing” and “I’m sorry. I messed up.” This was disappointing for me too. I really did think that I’d stop drinking, I go to a couple of meetings, maybe meet a nice, rich boyfriend and my life would magically come together. Uh. No. Instead, I got dealt a serious health diagnosis that changed my life, I left a decade plus relationship, I crashed on friend’s couches and basically had to rebuild my life from the ground up. And I did all of it sober. Now, this isn’t because I’m amazing. It’s because I had a lot of support. Support I got because I finally told my pride to shut the hell up.

Nearly eight years later, I still have to move pride out of the way. Just a few weeks ago, my beloved grandmother died at 89 years old. Here I was again needing help. I called friends and told them I was hurting. I needed to admit to my husband that I couldn’t do the dishes and that I needed help taking care of our cats. I texted the people who helped me back in 2009 and again asked them to pray for me. I’ve opened my mouth in meetings and cried in front of strangers more than once lately. It’s been a bitch of a month, if I’m totally honest. And that’s the gift right there.

If I was still swallowed up by pride and delusion, I’d be acting like everything was okay and that I didn't need help. Translation: I’d be acting like a crazy person. Life is messy, unglamorous and really sucks a lot of the time. But it sucks even more when I’m a nutjob too filled with pride and low self esteem to even ask for help or think that I deserve help. The truth is when I stop comparing myself to others, when I ask questions when I don't know something and when I even choose to be right instead of being happy, there are genuine, beautiful things just around the corner.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Sean Paul Mahoney is a writer, playwright, blogger, tweeter, critic, podcaster and smartass for hire who lives in Denver, Colorado with his husband and two cats. Read new stuff weekly on his blog seanologues.com

Greed - The Hollow Pie

The first installment of the 7 Spins on 7 Sins guest blog series features the sin of Greed. Greed is defined as the strong desire to gain, especially in money or power. It can also be about scavenging or hoarding of material or objects, or of thievery. It's a sin that ignores the spiritual realm. This week's offering, "The Hollow Pie" digs deeper into how greed can manifest and how it affects the spirit and mind. Thanks to Kristen Rybandt for her fantastic take on Greed. - PS

The Hollow Pie


My brother used to get his haircut at a tiny barber shop trapped in time. The two barbers were brothers with Greek accents and thick heads of wavy hair, one with matching mustache. While my brother got his $5 haircut, I sat in the back on a red vinyl chair with one small cut in the seat like a stab wound and always went for the same dated collection of stories about what happens to children when they make poor choices. 
 
My favorite story was called The Hollow Pie. It was about a boy named Robert who always picked the biggest and best looking treats for himself, bringing great shame to his family and forcing them to collude in what can only be the cruelest prank to pull on a child with a sweet tooth. Robert's aunt invited them all over for dinner one night and sabotaged the biggest and best looking treats so that when Robert once again went for those, he bit into a hollow mini-pie, a bitter cupcake and two horrible tasting (poisoned?) chocolates. Everyone else had a wonderful meal because 1) apparently this meal was 100% dessert and 2) they had saved the best looking but sham treats for someone else, in this case Robert. The moral of the story is clear: don’t be such a greedy pig, Robert. Also, find a less deceitful family.  
 
I wonder why this story, one of two dozen in an over-the-top preachy book, haunted me all these years. Was it the glaring injustice poor Robert suffered alongside gratuitous illustrations of desserts? Was it the possibility that I could have been born into a family, however deceitful, that recognized dessert as a meal? Or could it be that I was a lot like Robert, always eyeing up the biggest pie with a plan to get it on my own plate? Wasn’t everybody doing that? 
 
Greed, not to be confused with gluttony, is not simply eating too much dessert, but making sure no one else gets it. When we’re greedy, we go after something at the expense of others. We don’t consider other people’s needs and an even distribution of supplies. It’s every man for him or herself and can extend beyond food and money or other material possessions. We can be greedy for power and status, for accolades and attention. When we feed greed in one area of our lives, it often encroaches on another. Greed spreads like a disease. 
 
The thing I know about greed is it’s as hollow as Robert’s pie. When I feed greed – the biggest dessert, let’s say, or posting something online in search of a generous handful of likes – I’ll expect the same or more next time. If I have to settle for less of something, it’s a disappointing blow. How could it be that less of something feels worse than not having it at all? Greed is a dark and bottomless pit, always hungry and never satisfied because someone else always has more than me. Greed tells me I deserve more. The thing is it it never stops telling me that. 
 
When I start noticing those less than feelings, which is usually directly related to how much time I’m spending online, and probably not coincidentally, that’s my cue to take a break. I may or may not actually retreat into my quite-enough real world brimming with work and other responsibilities, plus real live people to spend time with and dote on. Unplugging is probably the best long term antidote to feeling greedy for attention, validation, status or whatever else I’m looking for online. I just struggle with this because I also find a lot of connection and joy online. It feels like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I’d rather find a healthier balance, and that’s where changing my focus comes in.
 
The only other way I know to squash greed besides starving it is by feeding someone else. In The Hollow Pie story, Robert’s brother Charlie advises “I think if I were you, I’d leave the biggest and best looking things for somebody else next time.” Let’s forget for a minute that Charlie was in on the whole trick and ask ourselves what would happen if we did pick the smaller, lesser-seeming item or skip it altogether? Would we starve? No, we would not. Would another pie or opportunity come along, eventually? Yes, we could count on it. How would we feel if someone we care about or even dislike were to get that best-looking thing instead? It might smart a little or we might see them happy and feel a sense of selflessness and love. In not feeding our own bottomless greed, we have the opportunity to nourish ourselves and others with something deeper and more meaningful. 

The old barber shop is still there, by the way, and it looks exactly the same from the outside. Sometimes I get the urge to stop in and see if they still have the book with The Hollow Pie, but I actually found a paperback version of it a few years ago and bought it. Collecting or hoarding can be another symptom of greed, but in this case I'm sharing Robert's cautionary tale with you, minus the trickery and hollow pies.

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Kristen Rybandt posts regularly on byebyebeer and writes for AfterPartyMagazineYou can also follow her on instagram for cat pics and random tomfoolery.

Leap

I saw them the other day.

They looked like all the other ones I've seen before, and they still break my heart.

I didn't see them the day before on my ride home from work, but there they were. Fresh flowers. Teddy bears. Bright red ribbons flowing in the wind. All attached to bridge railing posts. Markers of where someone stood and stared at the traffic below, taking in their last few breaths. Perhaps knowing that it would end soon. 

I feel the need to stop whenever I find ad hoc memorial sites. Whether if it's on a run, or a bike ride, or a stroll through the park, I will stop. And look. I don't touch anything. I look over the railing, and wonder if they felt anything. Was it better than what was shredding them up inside? Did they tear up, perhaps tapping into that small part of them which knew there was perhaps another way out? Or was it too late - had they numbed out long enough it was a matter of follow through and physics at that point?

I don't think of these things in a morbid way. I think about them because I know I was in a very dark place many times in my own life. I know that feeling of wanting to shut it down permanently. I understand that need to not be in pain any more. I had felt it many times in my life. It was strongest when I got sober, when I felt that I couldn't live with the drink nor could I live without it. I figured it would be best not to live then. It was too hard. 

What I understand now is that it wasn't so much that I wanted to die, but it's that I just didn't want to live. And that's a considerable difference. Numbing myself with alcohol to the point of oblivion was the closest to dying I could do regularly. I killed my spirit with more spirit. I drowned my emotions until they choked out. I bled my soul out so that I could maybe make it through the day. I crushed myself under the weight of my own twisted wreckage. Offing myself one ounce at a time was a suicide-by-installment plan which seemed to suit me like a tight coffin.

Moving through the struggle of both wanting to die and wanting to live was one of the toughest times in my journey. I had no choice but to make a massive shift in my thinking and perceptions of myself and the world. If I wanted to stick around, I had to pitch the idea of easy outs, like booze and suicide, and get down to the brass tacks of cleaning house and facing my fears. There were many times I raged against myself, others, God. But I kept at it, because I knew that my life needed to be more than just a stain to be scraped off the street. Sandblasted and sanitized from the earth. 

The ironic thing about the journey is reflected in the Prayer of St. Francis - "It is in dying that we are born to eternal life". In order for me to live, to break out of my death spiral, I needed to die many times. I needed my ego to break and crumble and fall to the ground. I needed to let go of all the things which were suffocating me. I needed to lay to waste the spiritual toxins clogging me up. Killing the old self off was what I needed to break through and start anew. The plunge always comes from within and cascades outwards. 

When I look back at the greatest jumps in my growth, they came on the heels of the dying embers of flames which once threatened to consume me. They came from gathering everything within and moving through the darkness. It was never easy, but the outcome always brought me closer to the Creator, to my Authentic Self. I felt renewed and rejuvenated. I never liked the pain, but I know that I am usually better off having gone through it.

So as I look at the makeshift commemoratives wrapped around steel poles, I wonder how that person would have been today if they had stepped back; if they allowed themselves to walk through the darkness rather than making the final sacrifice. I wonder what wisdom would have welled up from their pain. I wonder what scars they would show. 

In the end, the most painful and yet rewarding and liberating leap is that of faith. As long as I keep hold of that faith, I know that I can soar. 

(The next day I rode past the place where the flowers and teddy bears and bright red ribbons flowed the night before. And everything was gone.) 

Stasis

"Everything looks like failure in the middle." - Rosabeth Kanter

The start is a like a rush of fireworks into the sky, aiming high into the dark clear night, full of explosive determination and a will to wow. The promises and declarations of fidelity to high ideas and creative punch are stamped with excitement. We hurtle on our launch path and look towards that big payoff, that finish line where we wave to the crowd, our laurels sharp and digging into our skin.    

Then the inevitable—the shine starts to rub off. It's unnoticeable at first, but the once blazing object begins to turn lukewarm, mottled with spots of ennui and disinterest. A holding pattern emerges. The finish line seems out of reach. It feels like the the throttle switch has been cut from the inside.

This is natural in many areas of life, of course. Newlyweds pass through the robust and snazzy honeymoon stage to settle into a more practical, less unicorn-and-rainbow-laden world. The new car eventually starts to smell like stale coffee and wet dog. That once exciting new project at work becomes a sloppy slog. Even those birthday cufflinks from Uncle Karl start to lose their chic appeal.

As an alcoholic, my life revolved around finding the New Shiny, the Next Fix. As they say in hockey, I was all Swedish and no Finnish. The buzz of finding a new project to tackle was as intoxicating as the celebratory booze I used to mark each lame-brained and overreaching idea. I could kick start any venture as long as it didn't involve tedious and annoying actions such as work, persistence and vision. In the last 20 years, the combined effort of my best thinking and planning wouldn't fill a teaspoon. I was too busy getting drunk and trying to be clever.  

Whenever the moment of liftoff had passed, and the reality of tenacity-in-the-trenches loomed, I would cut bait. I blamed others. I pointed to the vague notions of bad timing and poor luck. It wasn't that I was lazy—the effort it took to plan, drink, hide, lie and cover up everything took Herculean might and will. I wasn't afraid of a bit of hard work. What I did fear most was the plateau. The let down. The place where I was stuck with me and my lack of confidence in myself. The Unknown.

So it was easier to tap into that dopamine rather than into my own dry well of character. The New Rush was easier to distract myself with than having to sit with my own limitations and my inability to just deal and grown, learn and stretch. Top me up with another fix, barkeep, and make it a triple.

These days I find myself in a sort of stasis. In all parts of my life, it's as if everything has leveled off. The novelty of my new role at work has worn off. The variety and excitement of summer has ceded into the routine of school and homework. My running has tapped out at a certain weekly mileage. Even my recent rapid weight loss has stopped and I have been hovering at the same scale numbers for weeks. My writing projects have not moved, although I am trying to make progress in that department.

Everything seems to be at a standstill, and this is where the quote about everything in the middle feeling like failure hits home. My default reaction is to change course immediately—stop watching my weight and to start eating poorly again. To overdo or even stop running. To tear down what writing I have started and shelve it. To start looking for a new job. Anything to start a new course, even to my own detriment. It's old behaviours bubbling up again, self-sabotage wearing a cape and swooping down to try and rescue me from me.

If my life were reduced to a five-minute motivational video, this is the part where the weightlifter fails to make the clean-and-jerk and drops the weights in disgust and shame. This is the part where the the gymnast hobbles to the corner, unsure of her next move. Then of course someone says a few uplifting words about digging deep and all of a sudden the bar gets pushed over the guy's head, a scream escaping his lips. The gymnast wraps her ankle and nails the routine and landing. She pumps her fist in the air.

I am not sure that things will happen in such theatrical ways for me, but one thing I am learning in recovery is that it's not always about the short-term rush—it's about long-term contentment. The graph of my life isn't all full of spikes and valleys, nor is it all one flat line. Seasons will pass, and with them the chances to rest and recharge and also to blossom and grow. My job right now is to sit with all this and stick with it. Persist. Look at the big picture. Not give into my old ways. Breakouts will happen. The goal is not the finish line, but in the trudging. The more I see this, the less I need to worry about where I stand and what the outcome will be.

The true shine comes from the glow of moving forward in faith rather than in fear.

Shine on, crazy friends. 

 

 

Speck

It starts with a speck in the eye of the heart. An unflushed irritant. I peck and pick at it, unable to pluck out what abrades that sensitive place. As it grows and shifts about, it begins to spread and aggravate. It churns into itself and becomes harder to pinpoint the exact spot of annoyance. It's like a rash that seems to burn no matter where I itch. Some days I can only let it corrode me as I stand in the swirling water, wondering why it still hurts when I move.

I have been feeling this turmoil for some time now. It's been a uncomfortable comfort. It's a crusty live-in lover with talons. It boils skin down to the gelatin. It happens when I close myself off to the spirit. When I starve the soul. When I play cosmic chicken with my purpose in life. It happens when I deny what has been handed down to me to sow. When I make a fist over the small weathered burlap sack in my hand. I cut it all off and the field remains barren.

As a man in recovery, I have been given a chance to harvest from my sorrow, from my experiences. I have been given Grace. It's not an easy task sometimes, to take this Lazarus-Lite school skit and turn it into a masterful Citizen Kane to be played upon a larger-than-life screen. Breathing and being sober are great foundations for a life, but it is not life as a construct alone. There is more. There needs to be more. 

There must be more.   

When I feel that speck dig into me, it is a reminder that I am needed in some way. I am pushing away against the reason I was allowed to walk the Earth a free person. I am alive, yes, but am I alive? When I feel the speck, I feel that there is something I am fighting. I rage against what speaks to my spirit. I spit and scratch and tear away at the very things that should bring me a sense of calm.

It's all tied to self-worth. Or lack thereof. 

Who am I to write and produce and flourish and succeed? Who am I to play at the court of Higher Self? Who am I to get off my knees and wipe the mud off and climb the oaks and feel the sun on my arms? Who am I to deny myself when I have been supposedly freed from myself?

It's a tricky spot, this speck. This dirt. This self-induced coma that drags me into the shadows when I really want to shine. And that is my struggle—to give myself the permission to be worthy. Not seek it from others. To not allow my stock value to be determined by outside forces. To build a tapestry from golden thread. Gold that was mined from within. God-given.

This will play until no longer plays. Until then I can only recognize the undertow. Clench my fists and let the waves crash about me and wait for them to recede. Breathe a bit. Admire the sand castles ashore. And realize that I was not meant to be standing in shallow waters, trying to itch something that shouldn't be there in the first place. I am meant to speak what is in my soul, free it, examine it, let others hold it. And learn from it. Grow from it. Give it all back to Source.

It ends with a speck.