I had been clean about three months, I had admitted that I was powerless over drugs and alcohol… Now what? I was stuck in recovery. I was just a guy who doesn’t drink or do drugs.
Author – Irwin Ozborne
At the time, I was working at a shoe store in the mall and experiencing significant cravings as I could smell weed on people, hear the drunks laughing as they left the bar, and dealing with the anguish of the dull, boring, everyday life. What’s the point of it all?
Eventually, I caved. I went in the back room to call my old dealer. The fact that his number was still in my phone saved under “Uncle Tom” is an indication that I hadn’t completely admitted my powerlessness. I liked to have something in my back pocket for a moment such as this.
As I pulled up his contact on my phone, two of my co-workers walked in the back room laughing and in their own little world.
“I would just die,” laughed one girl, “No, seriously. I would die. That is all there is to it. Dead, dead, dead. I would just die.”
I have no idea what their conversation entailed, but it brought me back to three months earlier when I awoke in a hospital emergency room knocking on death’s door after an overdose. As they left the room giggling, I felt I had no choice anymore…
Delete. His number was gone forever.
Was this divine intervention? A synchronicity? I had been struggling with my spirituality up to this point in my recovery and didn’t understand it completely. But, I took this as a starting point and for the first time in my life, I listened to the signs the universe gave me.
After deleting “Uncle Tom” from my phone, the next number in alphabetical order popped up on screen. It read “WSC”, the initials of my sobriety sponsor, who I hadn’t called for three weeks. I just kept following the signs and I called him and told him to meet me at the mall for lunch. No questions asked, he gladly obliged.
“Spirituality is in everything.”
“I think I am finally past Step One,” I told him, explaining how I got rid of my dealer’s number. “I don’t want to use ever again. I am powerless over all substances. But now what? I don’t get spirituality. Sure, I enjoy going on nature walks and connect as my higher power. But how will trees and lakes keep me sober?”
“Come with me,” laughed WSC, “You are trying too hard. Spirituality is in everything, it is something you experience, not something you obtain. You see, you are an incredibly real person in an incredibly phony world, and that is why you are hurting so much.”
We walked over to a bench in the mall and sipped on some ICEEs. (Seriously, what 27-year-old sits on benches in the mall and drinks ICEEs?) As awkward as it felt, I knew WSC had some sort of magical lesson he was about to teach. It always seemed that was the case.
Across from where we were sitting, there was a mini-golf course and an arcade with a wide variety of people passing through. We just sat there in silence for a minute or so, watching and observing, while enjoying my first ICEE in probably fifteen years.
“So…” I looked at him in confusion, “Now what?”
“Just sit,” he replied without looking at me, “Just sit here and observe. Without judgment of anything you see, just observe. Don’t speak until you understand Steps Two and Three.”
“Are you powerless?” he interrupted.
“Are you powerless?” he looked at me for the first time. After he saw my sincere confusion he started laughing at me and then looked forward again, “Just observe.”
I crossed my arms and just watched without judgment. The first thing I noticed was a young couple, probably high school aged, at the first hole on the golf course. There was clear energy between them with nervous laughter and so overly conscious of every step they took. While there was some connection, they made little human contact except for the cute high-fives they would give each other after the hole.
Behind the counter was a teenager working at the arcade looking sad, dejected, and bored while looking into his phone nearly the entire time.
A few holes ahead, there was a young family of three. The young child hit his ball, followed by the mother and then father. After the child hit his ball, he ran up to it and was ready to hit it again.
“No!” yelled the father, “Mom is the farthest back so she goes first!”
The child’s posture shifted. A mask was put on him right then and there before my eyes. After the mother took her turn, the child hit his ball and as it was still rolling, he hit it again.
“You can’t do that!” yelled the father, “put it back! You need to wait until it stops rolling.”
“Oh just let him play,” stated the mother.
“No, he needs to learn the rules,” said the father as he gets out the scorecard to tally their totals in what appeared to be quite a competitive game.
A group of stoners were at the next hole, laughing and giggling with each shot they took.
On another hole, there was just a father with his son. His son had a full Halloween costume of Batman on in the middle of September. I know I wasn’t supposed to judge, but I couldn’t help but smile at the peace and tranquility of that moment. The child hit his ball, then hit his father’s ball backwards, then hit his about three or four more times. After he couldn’t get it in the hole, he picked it up and placed it in the hole.
“Hole in One! Hole in One!” He shouted.
“Another Hole in One Batman?” said his father playing along with his son, “I don’t think you are Batman, I think you are Rory McIlroy, let me see who is under that mask!”
“Never!” shouts the kid as he runs to the next hole. Well, actually they skipped about two holes and just went to the next open one.
The father from the other hole, who was trying to teach his kids the rules, appeared furious at this lack of order and discipline.
Then in the back corner, was something that didn’t seem real. There were two women in their early 30’s and each of them had a young boy with them. The two mothers just walked close to each other as their boys played hole-by-hole. In the corner, it was quite dark and had some mirrors. As I glanced over, I noticed each of them had taken off their jackets and only had on sports bras and were taking pictures of themselves in the mirror.
“Mommy, mommy, Jordan just got a hole in one!” said one of the boys, to which the modeling mothers did not listen.
This continued for a few minutes and the boys went on to the next hole.
“Mom, he did it again,” said the boy, “Jordan got two holes in one in a row!”
No answer from the mothers now on their phones and putting their jackets back on.
“Jordan got two hole-in-ones in a row and you don’t even care,” said the boy in which his mother still did not respond as they continued on their way.
Only observe, without judgment — that was my goal. So I stood there and watched and did not attach any judgment to anything I was witnessing.
A few minutes later, as the women’s children finished their round. The mother’s insisted on taking pictures with their children in front of the golf course and then instantly went to their phones, likely to upload to social media to show the world they had spent time with their children.
The father with his Batman son, just continued to laugh all the way through their “round” in which they were all over the place. The father was the only one on the course that never touched his cell phone. He didn’t keep a scorecard either. He would frequently pick up his boy and spin him around after each hole to celebrate “another hole-in-one.”
When they finished, they turned in their clubs and the boy made sure he told the man behind the counter who won.
“I won, I beat my Dad,” said the kid.
“Well you are Batman,” the clerk laughed at the site and actually smiled for the first time.
The boy then grabbed his toy stroller he had left behind the counter with a doll inside. He had been pushing this around the mall. He made sure that the toy baby was buckled in and they were on their way. It was an interesting site as every adult who saw this pair, graced them with a smile to see a young boy having fun as Batman and pushing a stroller. And the kids looked on in envy because they had to wear normal clothes and were limited to strange societal norms that they didn’t understand.
“He is going to let his boy push a stroller,” said an older man who was sitting at the bench next to us, “He is raising his boy to be gay. That is not fair to the kid.”
“I find it interesting that is what you are observing,” said WSC, “I look at it differently. See, I grew up without a father. And maybe, if we let young boys know it is OK to play with dolls, then we would have a generation of men who know it is OK to be a father.”
To which, at this point, it all made sense for the first time.
I finally spoke after about thirty minutes of observing, “It’s not that I have to see it to believe it, I need to believe it in order to see it.”
“I need to believe it in order to see it.”
Step Two states, We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity.
“I believe that there is something out there that is connecting us all. Every moment, every interaction, everything we do changes the world. My co-workers talking about ‘dying’ today were speaking about meeting a celebrity, but that ‘coincidence’ led me to calling you instead of my dealer. I believed it and things started to happen around me.”
“Then sanity is just this, just being present and being in connection with what is around you at any given time. It would be easy to give judgments about everyone of these people, but that would be attaching my past assumptions and experiences without knowing them. I see these kids and see how these interactions they experience daily will shape them to be the adults we are observing. Returning to sanity, is returning to being pure. It is return to being in the moment, without judgment and allowing things to flow like a child.”
WSC smiled and waited for me to go on. Step Three says, We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand God.
“Step three is about freedom,” I said with confidence, “It is the death of the ego. It is fully surrendering to the present moment. You always ask me if I am powerless; It’s easy to admit, but it means nothing if we keep resisting. It is timelessness, there is no past or no future, but an endless now. We are trained to live in the past or future, I saw it with everybody today.”
“The ego takes over because of how we are trained,” I insisted, “The kids have no ego, none of them did. But, you can see moment-by-moment how their mask is getting built and put in place. Then the young couple that was so shy, they wanted to love but their masks were preventing their souls from living. We create labels and judgments about everything, which categorizes and creates separation. That is why you told me to observe without judgment, because without labels we are pure. All these labels stay attached to us, to be pure we must detach to see the truth of everything that is.”
“But, what about the stoners?” I asked, “They seemed to be present.”
“Yes,” said WSC, “Addiction comes to those who have a strong desire to be free. We find shortcuts that tease us with glimpses of freedom, before it traps us in more pain that we originally carried. So recovery is more than being sober, it is about finding that freedom naturally.”
I realized that everything is a sign, a guide, and a reminder to help us remember our path. It is as if life is just a dream, and everything is a symbol to help us remember we are dreaming. As I sat on that bench struggling with spirituality, I came to realize that as we grow, we start to build an ego – which is essentially a mask hiding our true self.
The greatest sign I saw that day was quite ironic. The one kid in the mall that happened to be wearing a physical mask, was the only one whose parent was not building him a psychological one.
Taking the Mask Off: Destroying the Stigmatic Barriers of Mental Health and Addiction Using a Spiritual Solution
“Taking the Mask Off” is the new book by Irwin Ozborne and Cortland Pfeffer. Cortland spent years as a patient in psychiatric hospitals, treatment centers, and jails before becoming a registered nurse and working in the same facilities. Based on his experience, this story is told from both sides of the desk. It offers a unique and valuable perspective into mental health and addiction, revealing the problems with the psychiatric industry while also providing the solution – one that brings together science, spirituality, philosophy, and personal experience.
A writer and avid historian, Irwin Ozborne (a pen-name) is a survivor of childhood abuse and torture over a period of 13 years, and a recovered alcoholic. As a mental health practitioner, today Irwin practices holistic care and incorporates eastern philosophy into his work with clients. Irwin is also a contributing writer for Taking The Mask Off, a website dedicated to shining a light on the mental health industry, as well as other areas of our society that are shrouded in deceit and misinformation.