Another Pilgrim’s Progress—Part 2
by j.r. horton
what do you do when you understand that the quotidian world must be your resident reality? the exhilaration of a the recent experiences of altered states must become ephemeral if one wants to participate in the world where fellow human beings spend all their time. After all, a guy can’t get laid regularly in that other place. gotta eat, too. you step back onto the path of normative spirituality, but now understand that there are alternatives. it’s now a matter of finding a path that fits your feet, and will lead you to a place that transcends the place where your butt is sitting.
while waiting for the spirit to move me, i opted for more alcohol and drugs, especially cocaine, to stop the tedium and give me a phantom experience that was vaguely reminiscent of my recent other-worldly past. it became pure Hell itself, but it worked.
i began drinking alcohol as a palliative when i was seventeen. at fourteen i’d started to fall in the world of clinical depression, but the night i first drank a 6-pak of Coors beer my world changed. i finally had some relief from a family life where alcoholism and violence were the norm—the Saturday Night Fights full, and up close.
drinking carried me through the stress of college and the military, where i began to exhibit all the symptoms of full-blown alcoholism. i was in trouble constantly but my job performance as a Russian linguist and intelligence analyst kept me afloat for about two years, before i was sent to the Air Force’s equivalent of Coventry for the remnant months of my enlistment.
eventually, almost 25 years later, i had had enough. one Sunday i got down on my knees and pleaded to God, for the first time sincerely, for help—and very real miracles began to happen. this is now a story of a spiritual conversion. but first, a major digression.
here is my version of the history of Christian dogma in a nutshell, and this is where the description of myself as a skeptik kicks in.
if you read the all stories from Exodus you will begin to understand why the Jews needed a schooling from God who, in the human form of the messiah Jesus the Christ, appeared to convert them to the paths of charity and love for all humankind, regardless of their ostensible enemies’ religious beliefs.
in the book of Exodus, Moses comes down from Mount Sinai to discover that some half the Israelites have reverted to pagan worship in the form licentious rituals meant to honor the pagan god as represented by the Golden Calf. This is a metaphor (most of the Old Testament is couched in metaphor, the language of a pre-literate time) for the division between secular and religious Jews, and it continues intact to these times. the secular cast of the present-day Europe and America has its roots in that time, when half the founding culture of the modern world lived by the strictures of the Decalog and the other half insisted that “if it feels good do it.” to my mind, that is a corrupt philosophy that has, for one thing, given us the major plague of moden times HIV AIDS as well as other curses. but the mainstreaming of homosexuality, and other mortal and dangerous conduct, continues unabated, in spite of the horrific evidence.
And what about the founding of modern Christianity? First, there is the adoption of the terrible story of Adam and Eve from the Jewish canon, where Eve has sex with Satan in the form of a snake, the creation myth that founds, in order, all the major monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Moslems.
now back to my time on this planet: it’s 1988 and i am down on my knees, praying to a God i don’t believe in for succor. and then a very real miracle happens.
it was Sunday the 13th of May. i had spent most of the evening and night swilling scotch whisky at Griff’s Wapiti Lodge, the only restaurant and decent bar in the Wapiti Valley, west of Cody and halfway to the east gate of Yellowstone National Park.
that morning i woke to find my truck missing from the driveway and, assuming i had caught a ride home, i started to walk down the Green Creek road to the highway to catch a ride to Griff’s, and reclaim my vehicle. about a hundred years down the hill i found the pickup stranded pecariously on large rocks that formed the base of the road, just above a culvert. now sober, i figured out how to get back on the road then drove back to the house. and it was then that i got down on my knees and asked whoever was up there, honestly, for help. nothing happened. i dried my tears and went to the refrigerator to see if, perhaps, a beer might have dropped behind the crisper drawer and i could use it to slake my thirst for alcohol in any form.
at that point, i had a prompting, a realization, that i was at an irrevocable turning point. the voice told me that if i drank that day i would die, and i knew it was profoundly true. it was ten-o-clock in the morning and the only bar in the valley opened on noon on Sunday and i was so, so thirsty. in a past search for a treatment center i’d decided that i’d rather die than take on another ten thousand dollars of debt when the process of forfeiting my truck and my house for non-payment was well under way. i had nothing to lose so why not get utterly drunk on my last few dollars then lie down on the bed and shoot myself? i’d practiced the act often enough, in the hope that when the time came the act would come reflexively.
resigned to the apparent fact that this Sunday was the last day of my life, i turned on the TV to watch a football game and wait until the bar opened.
only minutes later an announcement appeared on the screen: Remember, if you are a Viet Nam-era veteran you are entitled to…drug and alcohol treatment…”
i got up to phone the VA hospital in Sheridan, Wyoming and a women answered to inform me that there was a three-month waiting list for treatment. Sorry.
i went back to the front room and was watching my last football game when the phone rang, and it was the same woman. “Mr. Horton, we just had a cancellation. Can you be here on Tuesday?”
i said "Yes, I’ll be there", and went back to sit in my chair to watch the rest of the game, knowing that i was going to finally be OK—i was going to live.
a succession of more, very real, miracles came to pass after that, but that’s another set of stories.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays