The American Civil War was 1,487 days long. Seems like that would represent a microcosm of the time it takes to define a Nation, but division was to be no longer. Fort Sumpter was bombarded by the Southerners in the spring of 1861 in what would be the spark that lit the fuse. Four years and twenty-seven days later the Confederacy was dead, and 3.9 million men, women and children were to be freed from bondage.
Sometimes, to make things right, you need to go to war.
My sobriety chafes the gatekeepers of programs the world over. This is because I never needed them to achieve what I have. All it took was practice.
People ask me about war at every turn. Children ask me if I’ve killed people because they don’t know not to. Depending on my emotional proximity to the person, I offer learned responses. Short, poignant pieces of information to placate the audience.
Those who have heard the whole story all tell me to write a book. It’s ingrained in Americana, the fascination with war. It’s how we came to be for god’s sake. So I fault no one. What they don’t know is how I’m trying to release myself from the bounds of my past, at least long enough to get some sleep.
Before Chuck, that meant drinking.
Lama Changcup Kunchok Dorje, or Chuck, is retired now (an Emeritus, it’s called), and spends his days in the Pacific Northwest taking pictures of sunsets. We still correspond but for the most part I have let go of leaning on him as my teacher, as it should be.
When I met Chuck he was already at an ageless point in his life. He had a laurel wreath of gray hair and an aura of serene understanding. The way he would gesture during a dharma talk was like how linen floats beneath water, suspended in existence. What I loved about him was his approach to reality. Here he was, this looming figure, expounding on the weightiest insights of the universe when he’d extract a smartphone from within the crimson robe he was draped in, look at it like it came from the future and then say to the class “Someone liked my tweet,” as if two worlds weren’t colliding in plain sight.
Chuck taught me to meditate.
A common misconception about sitting in practice is that the goal is to get “good” at it. As if there’s a World Championship of Meditation. This is crap. Meditation is a war of stillness. It may not get easier. It may not change. You survive, is all. You learn to be with the thoughts that arrive and to arrive beyond those that leech you from being. With practice.
In the same vein that CrossFit gave me purpose meditation vanquished my doubts in confronting interferences in pursuit of my objectives. The deepest depth I’ve seen I saw with my eyes closed, repeating a word the meaning of which I do not know. What sobriety did was equip me for was what the true war in my life would become, the war within.
Trent “Eightball” Schmidt went first, fresh back from the shit, in February 2011. Doc Pohovey and Cedrick Mack died a month apart from each other in 2014. All of them spent a year in the high terrain of Afghanistan alongside myself in 2010. On the tarmac in Nurnberg, Germany, I’d have thought we were out of reach. What I’d learn in short order is that war is always in your wake, and it can kill you no matter where you are.
My abstinence came as a preemptive measure in honor of Eightball, and it wasn’t immediate. He had lived in my tent overseas and we had grown close. When I heard he had been killed stateside while driving drunk I cried like I never had in my life. We’d been home for less than 60 days.
Doc and Cedrick both killed themselves. I don’t know how and it doesn’t matter. Back in Germany, I drank with both like it was our job. Their deaths reaffirmed my commitment. You don’t have to be a rocket surgeon to piece together that combat trauma coupled with depressants are an express lane to the afterlife. After 22 months without a drop of alcohol I decided it was a lifelong obligation.
Today is February 3rd, 2021. I’ve been sober for 3,000 days. That’s over twice the length of the conflict that at one point decided the fate of this country. It hasn’t been easy. It hasn’t changed, but I’ve survived.
Sometimes, to make things right, you have to go to war.