First Time Free, Baby (but Afterwards, It Costs a Lot)

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Wicked Witch.” Write about evil: how you understand it (or don’t), what you think it means, or a way it’s manifested, either in the world at large or in your life.

For a large part of my life I did not believe in Evil. I believed it was an idea made up to further enrich the self-images of those who believed themselves to be the elect, sort of a Biblical “Ni-ner-ni-ner.” I confused the metaphors used in the Bible to explain evil with evil. It took me a long time to understand why God was so hard on Eve. In fact, he was just telling her that it’s a lot easier to follow instructions and live in bliss than to surrender to temptation and reap the consequences. I always stood up for Eve in Sunday school, but the fact is, I didn’t get it.

Now I know that the metaphors are universal and evil is real. It is as concrete and palpable as Good and there is a fine line between the two. Evil is everything it’s cracked up to be, and the road there is familiar to everyone who’s read or heard any of the Earth’s mythologies. Each one offers a map and the maps are nearly identical.

I learned about the existence of Evil from the choices my brother made. He started out pretty much like every kid in a middle class American family with educated parents, but he had a glitch from the very beginning. I don’t know where it came from and I don’t know what it was. It can and has been blamed on our unhappy family situation, my dad’s MS, the times in which we were teenagers (the late 60s/early 70s), whatEVER.

Toward the end of his life — when I had backed off from attempting to save him from his choice to drink — I began to see the metaphor was no metaphor. At some point, he gave in to the temptation of alcohol. He was really tempted. Not everyone is. I wasn’t — I tried it, got blasted, got sick, hallucinated, alienated friends and lost my glasses (all in one night, my 19 year old experiment with vodka). It wasn’t fun. The euphoric moment lasted only a little while and then it was misery (and shame). I ended up like many people, drinking occasionally and usually not drinking at all. It was no temptation for me ever.

But my brother was really tempted. And whatever high I got from booze, I think my brother’s was much higher. I also believe that being a goofy drunk guy absolved my brother from the responsibility of being a talented artist and a father. He was tempted by that, too. I imagine the road of his life as one crossroads after another in which the choice was always the same; “Drink” and “Don’t Drink.” The road goes down hill, into a ravine, but at first the sides are gentle and it seems easy to turn around. Over time, the sides of the ravine became ever steeper, and, anyway, life sober was filled with responsibilities to himself and others. Tempting, always, to turn away from that. Who would expect a guy lying face down in a pool of vomit to do anything, right?

I always imagined that if he got help and if he got sober and if he were cared for he’d do what I would have done. He was in full-on rehab twice, both times in the hospital, where he was cared for and then in rehab facilities that were — according to him — very, very nice. Both times he was given structure and routine, counseling, clothes, care. He always sounded like my brother when he called me from these places and my heart always soared in hope. I always thought, “Now he’ll see how great life is and how great he is and he will stop drinking!” That is, by the way, the choice made by every recovering alcoholic I had known, a choice based on THAT revelation. My brother’s actual response to these attempts by others to effect his salvation? “You don’t understand, Martha Ann. I like to drink.”

My brother was very far down that ravine when he was pulled up and put in rehab. It was too hard to make the climb OR (and I think this is most likely) he just didn’t want to. It was much, much easier (and more pleasant) to drink. Over time, I truly believe, evil had won and there was no longer any chance for him to climb out of the hole even if he’d wanted to. After a while, even his physical misery was nothing compared to the escape he got from a bottle.

I know that there are people who say “alcoholism is a disease” — and I agree, but it is a disease of the soul. And it is a disease — all addiction is this disease — that can only be cured by the patient. It’s difficult because surrendering to temptation is easier in the moment than fighting the demons within. Deep down in the ravine, it’s almost impossible to see the sky and it’s much easier not to look.

When my brother died, he was working on a painting of St. George in a battle with Satan.

I had to fight a correlative temptation, the tempting illusion that my actions would change what my brother chose. Deep inside I saw it as a battle between good and evil (I was the force for good; booze was the force for evil). It was very, very hard for me to abandon my (prideful? hubristic? loving?) illusion of power and accept that this was my brother’s battle in which the only part I could play — if I remained engaged — was that of enabler. I could only contribute to the evil I wanted to fight if I stayed embroiled in the situation, sending him money, offering moral support and sympathy.

It made me reassess the meaning of compassion. It was difficult to see that I had to care for myself, or I would not exist any more just as my brother’s existence was ever more tenuous. I had to abandon the idea that even after I walked away from him, I would be standing on top of the ravine as a beacon of inspiration and light toward which he would ultimately climb. I had to let go completely.

So in the matter of good and evil, most wise, most clear, is what is written in the I-Ching in Hexagram 43, “Break Through.”  “…the best way to fight evil is to make resolute progress in the good.” 

***

14 thoughts on “First Time Free, Baby (but Afterwards, It Costs a Lot)

  1. I am having goose pimples after reading the sad ending of a sister’s lost battle for good and how difficult it must be for you to let it go…. Life is strange and not at all easy to live.

    • Thank you — it’s the saddest story of my life, but I’m here and doing OK and I know my brother’s story has helped some people. I was very open about sharing it in my classes when I was teaching and more than one young person came up to me to talk about their own drinking problem. I figured if my brother’s sad story saved one kid from a similar fate, that was some redemption.

  2. I look on evil as a manifestation of thought; thus it takes people to manifest evil. Thought is the most powerful tool humans have. If you believe in God, or the bible teachings, you first learn that God created through thought, and by thinking, we, too, create the circumstances that surround us personally. That’s not to say we are not subject to the evil manifested by others, but we can go a long way toward living a good life by not manifesting it ourselves. Think good thoughts, good things happen. I think.

  3. I’m not sure I believe in God, but the other guy has his paw prints all over this world. Drugs and booze have been a recurring issue in the lives of the people I love and have loved. It has killed more than one of them and it still lurks in the corners, waiting for another shot at someone.

    • I view God and Satan as metaphors and, as such, I do love God and fear Satan. The linguistic closeness between the words “good” and “god” in Germanic languages says a lot to me. I think C. S. Lewis did a great job identifying the two as they really are in his book “The Great Divorce.” That’s one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read on this subject and I learned a lot from it.

  4. Wonderfully written account of something that is so profound-evil versus good. I wish that many more people could read this post. I remember other posts that you wrote about your brother’s addiction. It is sad but, I too would have stepped away. When realization hits it is high time to let go of a loved one who has refused all manner of help.

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