Mary Sojourner M.A

She Bets Her Life

Mending 2: the insidious promise of "busy busy busy"

How busy busy busy won't buy you peace, love or anything else...

Posted Mar 16, 2010

Each time I forced myself go to the old rocking chair in the little cabin on the Mojave mesa, I told myself that I was hugely lucky.  I'd signed on with my 12-step sponsor and myself for an improvised 45-day in-home treatment program. I'd agreed to not use any of the multitude of fixes I suspected no longer worked; to take part in one or more meetings a day; to check in with my sponsor regularly; and to stop everytime I wanted to get busy.  "You're lucky," I muttered. "You're not raising a handful of grandkids because one of your own children is a tweaker.  The rent's paid for this month and you've still got a few hundred bucks left on your credit cards and a social security check.  You have nowhere to be for most of the day.  You aren't battling multiple sclerosis or cancer or dementia.  You are responsible for no one except for the ungrateful cats and yourself.  You've always taught your students to embrace the Big Nothing.  Well, wrap your arms around It, woman."

When it was warm enough, I pulled the rocker out into the gentle sunlight and sat.  When it was cold, I bundled myself up in sweaters and a sleeping bag and sat in the cabin.  I sat through more than a few dawns.  I sat through sunsets and moonrises.  My hands ached from being clenched.  My jaw hurt.  My brain tumbled wildly through my past, the empty present and nightmares of the future.  And, I sat.

Each morning I woke around 4 a.m. and made myself lie still.  It was in those pre-dawn hours that the ordinary terror of being dead broke and homeless kicked in.  I longed to jump up and google the nonexistent jobs in desert California.  I stopped myself from desperately sending essays and proposals to magazines and agents.  My sponsor and I had agreed that a woman in 45-day addiction treatment would not go job hunting.

One late afternoon around Day 36, I walked out to the old downed Joshua Tree about a mile north of the cabin.  I saw, as I always did when I walked toward the tree, the shape of a gray seated Buddha.  My heart lifted a little.  I kept walking.  As I drew near, the Buddha shifted to a gnarled stump, no less amazing than the form of a wiseman.  I sat down in the cool sand.  It was then or perhaps later - those hours blurred - that a memory floated to the surface of my awareness.  The details don't matter.  It was a recollection of the horror a little girl might feel as she witnessed her mother alchemized into a terrifying unknown.  It was not the first time I'd had the memory,but this time I felt  beyond doubt precisely what had occurred.

If this was an inspirational television show or a feel-good self-help blog, I'd either tell you that I miraculously recovered from addiction, OCD and financial disaster - or that I began slowly and steadily to move toward a spiritual awakening that completely altered my life.  She Bets Her Life is only this:  a woman bets her life.  I'll leave you to imagine what moved in me as I understood the origins of that from which I will never be free.

The 45 days of in-home treatment came to an end.  I woke the next morning knowing I had to do something to earn money.  I wrote a near-hundred of friends, students and readers and invited them to subscribe to a weekly essay.  I called the essays Dispatches.  My friends, students and readers came through.  They generously bought me enough time to feel the terror of homelessness fade away.  Slowly, my thinking seemed to restore itself.  Stuff, as we addicts are wont to say, happened.

Six months later, I loaded my old Vibe and a little trailer with everything I owned, the four cats and myself and drove north.  I had two long days alone to reflect on those last days in the Mojave.  As I sifted through what I'd learned, I realized with no little surprise, that of all the fixes I hadn't used, being desperately busy had been the one I'd turned to more often than any of the others.  I thought back over a busy busy busy fifty years of life: divorced student worker activist mother of three for twenty years; single activist writer for another twenty years; crazed inter-net multi-tasker for the last ten years.  I remembered my desperate efforts to get everything right, the time a friend and I were making lasagna and I insisted you could not make the sauce with red onion or layer dry noodles in the casserole.  She had challenged me to take a a chance and do it her way.  I did, my gut in a knot, my heart pounding.  The lasagna, of course, was delicious.  I thought about how often I'd driven myself to exhaustion being the perfect worker, lover and mother, of crawling out of bed at 5:30 a.m., slogging through the endless days and collapsing into bed at 1 a.m., only to repeat the same routine the next day.  And, that was not the busy busy busy 2000's, it was the 1970's and '80's.  

I ticked off the memories like beads on a broken mala and I recognized that none of it, not all the perfect meals and active listening and wondrous love-making had brought me anything enduring.  I wondered when I had been promised that doing everything perfectly would win me love.  I told myself that one day at a time,  that con would not rule me again.

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