Death, Life and Choosing to Be Awake

(This is a repost. I think my story can be helpful for lots of people. - Paul)

My brother and me.

My brother and me.

I held my older brother in my arms as he died. He had drunk himself to death. The night he died, he was in a hospice because of liver failure. He was only 45. His last breath is forever burned into my mind.

 That could have been me. I had quit drinking 17 years earlier, when I was in my late twenties. I had found my bottom, which alcoholics and addicts need to do. The beginning of the end for me was an acid trip during which I did a number of exceptionally stupid things.

The following month was pretty hardcore, even by my standards. I had “the buzz” down to an art form. I knew how much I needed to drink so that when I smoked the weed, I found the perfect oblivion.

I was tumbling down the rabbit hole into the deeper levels of Hell. I got wasted everyday by myself, wallowing in self-loathing and self-pity. I found some pretty dark places.

When I was at my bottom, I had the great fortune of meeting with an old friend from college. Within minutes, I was crying in her arms. I felt safe enough with her to let go of denial.

I knew that I had to change. I didn’t want to die. It was as if I had fallen into the abyss and landed hard on a cliff on the way down. I looked out over the edge and saw only more darkness. Deep inside me was a voice calling me to wake up. There was an angel there offering me her hand.

Denial is a funny thing, because you really don’t know what it is until you have come out of it.

The next day, I went to my first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. The doors to that building were the heaviest I had ever opened. There, I met other people who had hit their bottom (or who were forced to be there by a judge). With baby steps, I started to get my shit together. Countless cups of rotgut coffee and mountains of cigarette butts in huge ashtrays. I learned useful cliché phrases like: “You think it is bad now? Just wait, it will get worse” and “Stinkin’ thinkin’” and “One day at a time.”

I don’t go to AA meetings anymore, unless I am taking someone for their first time (which I will gladly do, but only if they ask me, are serious about it and are not using). This is not to criticize AA, I simply found something that worked better for me and my situation. This other path is what I share through the work I do helping people.

My brother never found a way to escape.  I don’t really know what happened, but I can imagine. I know the lifestyle: “Party, Dude! Party!” Lots of beer and booze. Lots of bong hits. Heavier stuff as you get older, because it gets harder to get a good buzz.

He went down the road of self-destruction. I don’t judge him for it. There were opportunities for him to change course, but he didn’t, for whatever reason. Addictions are powerful. Our minds don’t want to let go of our habits, even the ones that are killing us, because they are familiar.

So, why am I telling you this?

Because, it is much better to live your life being awake than asleep. Like in the movie “The Matrix”, Neo is pulled out of the dream he thought was real into the harsh reality of the Real World. It was not easy, but at least he was alive, awake and aware. And he lived out his life’s purpose to the best of his ability. He lived his life fully. Others wanted to go back asleep — back into the Matrix.  Have another drink....

It was not easy for me waking up. I had to work hard to fix my insides and the clean up the messes I had made. It took me 10 years to fully understand why I tried to numb myself with booze and drugs.

The payoff has been huge. I have traveled the world. I live overseas in an amazing place, with an amazing wife. I can feel beauty. Songs can make me cry. The joy of playing with a two-year-old fills my heart up so much that I can barely stand it.

I am no longer afraid. I am no longer a slave to my inner rage. My eyes are open and I see that the world is both a wonderful and a terrible place. I choose to live in the wonderful part and I am not afraid of the terrible part.

I feel all of my feelings now, even the pain. When bad things happen, I now have the inner tools to deal with it. I may not enjoy it, but at least I am alive, awake and aware.

Ultimately, I have found that you have to heal your soul. Yes, taking care of your mind, body and emotions are extremely important, but the reason we are born on the planet is because of our soul - to evolve at the most basic level. We face trials and tribulations to make us stronger. Not everyone succeeds.

An important part of the spiritual path is awakening. Our souls are born into our bodies and take years to adjust to living in this physical world. That is the purpose of childhood. During that innocent time, many of us get twisted up. We can spend the rest of our lives living in that twistedness, or we can learn how to untwist. But you have to see it first.

So, if you are dissatisfied with your life situation, you have the choice and the ability to change it.  It may seem impossible, but you can do it.  It seemed impossible for me back when I was a drunken, pathetic mess - but I did it.

But also remember the little boy I shared a bedroom with growing up, who had the same opportunities as me, who died without fulfilling his potential.

The world has both the light and the dark. You choose where you want to live. The clock is ticking.

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Paul Crouse

Paul Crouse is a spiritual teacher and advisor, life coach, writer, speaker and photographer based in Kyoto, Japan. He helps people who consciously want to change their lives for the better. He helps people build a strong inner foundation, while helping them to clarify and achieve their goals. He works with people worldwide via video calling or face-to-face in Kyoto. He also leads workshops and seminars, both online and in person, for organizations and companies.