This post was originally published on May 22, 2015.
I was born and baptized Greek Orthodox. My religion sowed the seeds of my alcoholism way before I picked up my first shot of ouzo (at the age of six). Unlike the Catholic baptism in which the faithful are sprinkled with holy water, the Greek Orthodox baptism is a sadistic sacrament in which the priest plunges an infant, head and all, with the intensity of clearing out an unclogged toilet. Sigmund Freud would have had a heyday with this ritual because the baptismal font looks like a gigantic golden wine glass.
According to Zographos (my family name) folklore, I practically drowned when Father K. back at St. Spyridon Greek Orthodox Church in Wadsworth Heights baptized me at the tender age of six weeks. Not only did I acquire PTSD, later on I developed more mental health disorders thanks to the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (our version of Mass). The liturgy requires that the faithful make the sign of the cross when the choir says, “Kyrie Eleison” (Lord have mercy!) and believe me, the choir says “Kyrie Eleison” at least a hundred times every Sunday. Not only did this ritual depress me, but I also developed severe obsessive-compulsive disorder, which is the main reason I sought relief in alcohol (or so I believe).
Unlike the Catholic Jesus who resembles the actor Josh Holloway (Sawyer on Lost), the Greek Orthodox Jesus looks like a depressed terrorist who could benefit from ECT or residential treatment at the local psych ward. But, miserable or not, the Greek Orthodox Jesus was all I ever knew, and even today, I have an icon of Him on my wall.
So imagine being newly sober and being told that I could use a doorknob as my Higher Power. What the hell did that mean?
I Googled “Higher Power as doorknob” to find out, read a few articles, was completely confused and then, after an AA meeting, asked an old-timer to explain the doorknob deity to me.
“This program’s not about religion, it’s about finding a Higher Power that you can count on,” he said.
“I get that but who worships a doorknob? That makes no sense.”
“This isn’t about worship.”
“I am Greek Orthodox,” I said. “We worship Jesus and God and the saints and on Easter Sunday, we eat red eggs to signify the blood of Christ.”
He scratched his head and said, “We rely on doorknobs, just like we need a Higher Power. We need a doorknob to open a door.”
“Not if you have an axe, you can break the door down,” I said, thinking of Jack Nicholson’s character in The Shining.
Not only did that bathroom door scene come to mind, but also, when I think of doorknobs, I recall Danny Torrance’s spine-chilling tricycle ride in the same flick! Who can forget that creepy scene in The Shining which culminates with Danny riding his wheels through a narrow hotel corridor furnished with weird wallpaper, creepy Grady twins and lots of doors with lots of doorknobs?
I let go of the doorknob God. It was way too scary for me.
By this point, I was experiencing a severe existential angst about the Higher Power concept. Instead of being filled with peace, I was in torment. When the Jehovah Witnesses came to my door, I gratefully accepted their literature. In the meantime, the questions in my brain whirled.
What the hell is a Higher Power? How do I find it? Oh my God if there is no Greek Orthodox God, what does that mean? I can choose my own concept of God? How the hell do I do that?
I had an idea.
For years I tried to complete my associate degree so why not kill two birds with one stone? Get the degree plus find my Higher Power in one semester.
I enrolled in a few photo classes at Antelope Valley College. Although I discovered that I needed two more years to get the degree, I successfully registered in Philosophy of Religion. Not only did the class fulfill a humanities requirement but I could also find the answers to my burning questions.
I sat in the front of the class, as annoying and as eager as the Howdy Doody ventriloquist doll. While the 20-somethings wanted to pass or get a decent grade, I had serious matters that needed to be addressed and raised my hand nonstop.
Was God in Allah? Krishna? Buddha? Jehovah? Or was it all about Jesus?
I ran into a few snags. Not only were my questions politically incorrect, but also the lectures were long and often went over the three-hour time slot.
After the Christianity lecture, I bravely approached my teacher and asked, “Do you believe Jesus is the Son of God?”
As he opened his mouth to speak, another student came up to him, and ruined everything.
Forget Jesus. What about Buddha? He was there for me, when I got sober. Besides Buddhism believes in reincarnation, which I really love, because maybe the next time around I can be a movie star and drive a Ferrari.
Okay Buddhism it was! Should I create a shrine at home and put a picture of my deceased mother in it and chant, “ On Nam-myoho-renge-kyo?”
Not a good idea. The spirit of my Greek Orthodox mother would haunt me and I could her say, “What happened to you, my daughter? You were baptized Greek Orthodox!”
Yes, Mother, thank you. Do you have to remind me?
I looked into Islam. Not only did the wording of the Qur’an make my eyes swim, but seriously—a burka? Who the hell could wear a burka? How could I talk on my cell phone? What about my foundation? Forget the makeup, how could I breathe and not have panic attacks?
I threw in the towel and bought a Honeywell classic doorknob from Wal-Mart. After I used scissors to cut through the heavy-duty packaging, I became depressed and shoved the doorknob back inside the plastic bag, along with the packaging and receipt.
Although I had completed the third step, I felt lost. I asked my sponsor for direction and she said in time, my Higher Power would reveal itself to me and perhaps I was trying to avoid the dreaded fourth step inventory.
I had a series of dreams revolving around a pit bull mix named Stella that I adopted out two years prior during a major drinking binge. After I foolishly gave a friend the dog and he drove off with her, I begged him to bring her back home. He refused, and later on I lost contact with him and with my dog whom I dearly missed.
A few days after my last Stella dream, I was in my Philosophy of Religion class. During class break, I checked my voicemail.
I heard a message from a woman at Angel Dog Foundation informing me that Stella was at the Chico Animal Shelter.
I lit a cigarette and called Chico.
Indeed, Stella was there and apparently her microchip information was still linked to me, which I thought was odd, because I had changed my phone number a few times and to this day I have no idea how Angel Dog Foundation, who had spayed and micro-chipped her, got a hold of me.
And how the hell did she get to Chico?
No matter. Via the help of doggy rescue Facebook friends who were able to drive to Chico, pick Stella up from the shelter and transport her home. I was inside an AA meeting when she arrived in the parking lot.
Stella was wary at first but jumped inside my car (and chewed up my seat belt). After we got home, and I introduced her to the rest of my pack, she recognized me. She joyfully jumped on me and cried.
I had a realization. Maybe a Higher Power was not about religion but a HIGHER POWER. The words had been branded in my brain for years and finally I got a glimpse of what they meant. Was it a coincidence that Stella came home after I had dreamt about her or was it the work of something greater than myself? I chose to believe the latter. And that incident kept me sober. It was a miracle that I did not expect to happen but it did and it just gave me hope that I had lost years ago.
When I returned the doorknob at Wal-Mart and got a refund, I used the money to buy Stella a beautiful pink collar.
Oh, and I got an A in the class. As for the degree? Well, that’s another story.