By Enrico Blanca
Sometime in 2016, I could easily have died in my apartment.
I had just poured another shot of vodka for myself while standing at the refrigerator. While jerking my head in down the hatch fashion, I kept going straight back until I hit the floor. A chair was about four or five inches from where I fell and if the back of my head had caught the edge…. As it was I cracked a vertebra in my lower back.
After getting out of the ER I went to buy more booze.
I have a photo of myself still wearing the yellow “fall risk” wrist band but, naturally, I was served.
Then about six months later, I took a header into my television, catching the corner with my noggin. I bled like a stuck pig but just wrapped a towel around it and went to sleep. A few days later I was diagnosed with a subdural hematoma. My TV still worked which was fortunate since basically all I did all day was chain smoke, drink and watch Law and Order reruns. And I watched Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell. I had my meals, cigarettes and vodka delivered. The only real contact I had with the world was texting my best friend Ross in California and phone calls with Donna, a dear friend.
Once Donna came to visit me in Manhattan and we got intimate until I fell on the floor, could not get up and she had to call for an ambulance. This was my routine—for two years.
I would get dried out in a detox hospital, get discharged and go straight for the hooch in my freezer.
One time, late at night, I fell and did not have the strength to pull myself onto my bed. No one answered my desperate calls for help. This shit went on for two miserable years. Toward the end of that time I became embroiled in a twisted and baroque situation with my former girlfriend Rachel and a self-professed psycho-sexual sadist named Brett which culminated in my arrest for unlawful surveillance. Finally last summer, the judge presiding over my case came to the end of her rope with me and presented two options: prison or a residential stay at a substance abuse facility. My caring and humane lawyer Mike prevailed on Judge D. for the latter and I was delivered, straight from the court house, to a place on Long Island, named C.K. Post.
My 28 days there in a dormitory setting with mostly men from very different racial and socio-economic backgrounds than myself did the trick. And the experience could well make for an interesting story in itself. But I will continue with what has happened to me in the year since I got out.
Firstly, I was mandated to be a client in an outpatient drug and alcohol program in Manhattan. Since I have written here a bit about Revcore, let me just say that being in groups with mostly black and Latino parolees has been one of the most powerful and revelatory experiences of my life. I think about those remarkable men often.
The other experience, which is quite wonderful, has been renewing my involvement in the Ordinary Mind Zendo on the Upper East Side. The teacher there is Barry Magid and the small sangha is made up of warm and interesting people. Barry is almost always there, accessible and altogether amazing. I was going to receive the precepts at OMZ’s semi-annual sesshin in April at the Garrison Institute, but that has been postponed.
When I mention my current Zen activities to people, they assume it is good for my recovery.
While I do think that zazen and sangha give me important benefits toward maintaining abstinence, the truth is that I go there out of a feeling of exuberance and flourishing. Because zazen is good for nothing. It is off the means-to-an-end grid. For me, Buddhism is a religious practice which simply allows me to feel in-sync with the way things are: ever changing and interdependent. While I have practiced Zen on and off for 40 years, I have never felt in my guts, the fundamental realization that that what we call our self is a fleeting embodiment of a constellation of causes and conditions, thoughts and habits.
Now, I am locked down along with everyone else and am using this time to read, write, listen to the music I love, reflect and meditate. I surely miss the social opportunities which I enjoy. And I do feel for those (like my Revcore buddies, many of whom live in New York City shelters—the epicenter of the epicenter) hit hardest, but otherwise this monkish life mostly appeals to me.
Despite our current crisis, I am experiencing myself being reconstituted. Now I am a bohemian poet, a small potatoes philosopher, a connoisseur of food and the erotic, and a sober, cosmopolitan Zen humanist.
And I am more grateful than I can say.
Enrico Blanca is a free range intellectual (of pecking intelligence), poet, flaneur, socialist and cosmopolitan bon vivant who lives in New York City. He has had a nearly 30 year career as an academic librarian and is now embarking on a second one as a substance abuse counselor. A long-time Zen practitioner, he now studies with Barry Magid at the Ordinary Mind Zendo. He has a passion for music, cooking, writing and performing his poetry, and cherchez les femmes. Right now he is all about Ikkyu.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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