As a child, I never really trusted "The Wizard of Oz."
Not the man so much, though he was shady enough, but the story -- specifically the way it ended.
Yes, yes, very happy Dorothy made it back home. Glad that the (very) scary witch was now a puddle in a mop bucket somewhere (one might surmise that it was a bucket rudely used by the flying monkeys as payback for having been the witch's personal Luftwaffe, but that's really just speculation). Wonderful that the dog and all were safe and sound, great that the lion and the tin man and the scarecrow got what they thought they wanted.
But what put me off was this, Dorothy's final line, and really the "moral of the story" in the MGM film:
"Well I -- I think that it -- it wasn't enough to just want to see Uncle Henry or Auntie Em -- and it's that -- if I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn't there, I never really lost it to begin with."
If you think there's something important missing from your life, like your heart's desire, don't really search for it -- if you don't find it at home then you're just wrong -- there's nothing missing at all. Just stay home.
Even as a child, though I didn't have the ability to put it into words, this was deeply emotionally unsatisfying and didn't make any sense to me at all. So, budding nerd that I was, I went to the source and read the original book by L. Frank Baum, which of course led to reading all the rest of the series, "The Oz Books." (Since when was an alcoholic satisfied with one of anything?)
Totally trippy. Bizarre for any age, but mind blowing when you realize these were written between 1900 and 1920 (there are 14 books by Baum in all.)
I'm happy to report that Baum's Dorothy was a lot pluckier than the one written in the 1939 film.
For example, in the first book, Dorothy isn't nearly as disturbed by her relatives' failure to believe her as her movie counterpart is -- and Oz is a real place she visited and returned from, not a fever dream resulting from a head injury and maybe Em's questionable cookin'.
The subsequent books tell of Dorothy swept overboard by a tidal wave and swallowed up in an earthquake, among other things -- I'm telling you, that child was positively disaster prone -- but she's pretty much back on the farm, foregoing a land of music and magic for life in Kansas, and she's determined to make that work.
And although it took her a while, by the time we get to the sixth novel "The Emerald City of Oz" Dorothy changes her mind.
By book six Uncle Henry is going to lose the farm, since he can't pay the mortgage he had to assume after the tornado in the first book destroyed it (Take a moment with that -- go ahead. No outside issues are really appropriate in this blog, keeping as close to the spirit of AA as I can here, but go ahead) so Dorothy decides to contact her old friend Ozma of Oz and move back to the Emerald City for good, taking Uncle Henry and Aunt Em with her.
(Ozma is both royalty and a good witch, but back in the second book had been transformed by a wicked witch -- there were a number of them running around in the series -- from a Princess of Oz into a little boy -- and then back into a princess when Dorothy and Glinda rescue him. Her. Possibly making for the first transgender protagonist in any literature of the 20th Century, let alone something considered classic children's literature. See what I mean? Totally trippy. Should MGM have made a sequel to the original musical based on the second book, one can only imagine the song they'd have had to come up with to explain that little bit of character development. "I've Got a New Kind of Wand!" might have been a good working title.)
So Dorothy tried to make Kansas work. For Em and Henry's sake. For the sake of what she thinks she's supposed to do -- but eventually things just aren't working out, and she changes her mind. She makes a different choice.
When I first got sober there was this great gal who came into AA shortly after I did. We were about the same age, had similar stories -- we clicked. I will always remember her laugh, a great whooping thing that was absolutely impossible to resist.
She got sober for a while, found love, got too busy and fabulous for AA, drifted from meetings, drank and committed suicide.
Too abrupt? Too neat? Too simplistic to link the "drifted from meetings" to "committed suicide"?
Actually, no, it's not. I knew her well. I was around. I read the note. I'm not saying that every person who drifts from AA meetings will drink, nor am I saying that every alcoholic who drinks will commit suicide (directly, anyway), the issues are too complex for pat answers and logic that's reverse-engineered to prove a pet point -- but I am saying that I was there, and in my (informed) opinion that is what happened in this case.
She was a true blue, real alcoholic, and when she drank her depressive side was running the show -- and although her sober friends sensed she was in real trouble and tried to intervene, apparently she decided that she had no other choice but to take her life. This all happened many years ago now (if you stay sober long enough and have enough alcoholics in your life you may come to know a disproportionate amount of suicides and early, preventable deaths -- which will make you really fun at parties) but that's what I remember so clearly: No choice. She felt like she had no other choice.
At the beginning of my drinking I felt like anything -- anything -- could happen. I had all the power to shape my destiny and I was completely free -- I could choose to be anybody, go anywhere, sleep with anyone, try anything... a million fun and exciting choices. It was like being a character in a movie -- with a drink in my hand life went instantly from black-and-white to Technicolor, and I felt like any dream could become a reality. Drinking made me feel like I had accomplished something without ever having to get up off the barstool.
I think that's the most clever and terrifying trick that alcoholism performs -- and it's as crafty a trick as poison poppies of flying monkeys. It makes you feel as if you have every choice in the world at your disposal while it slowly, surely, removes them.
You feel like you can go anywhere -- but you always seem to wind up a at a bar. Until you wind up never leaving the house. You believe you can be anyone -- except you're too afraid and obsessed with what people think of you to be yourself -- and eventually you look in the mirror and have no idea who you are.
And for one girl I knew when you're drinking and using you feel like you have lots of choices -- until suddenly you really only have two, and you're sitting at home alone with a drink in one hand and a gun in the other, and you don't even realize that you could choose to put one of them down and pick up the phone. Alcoholism made her believe that the only choices were the drink and the gun -- and when you can't stand to choose the one then you must choose the other.
I found the readings we had at my friend's service while I was cleaning out an old box today in an aborted attempt to bring order to my hall closet. She hadn't been much for churches so we just had a little memorial in a park she liked. Printed some things up to read, sang (badly, as I recall, which she would have found hilarious), told a few stories, said some prayers and said goodbye. Sweet and sad. It was so long ago now I'm not sure I could put names to everyone who was there -- but I remember how over and over people kept talking about how sad it was that she didn't feel like she had any other choice. I suppose some of that is the reaction one always has to suicide -- there's often a "why?" and an occasional angry "how could you?" floating over every suicide memorial service I think, even when the cause is plain and the note clear -- or clear enough, anyway.
And then there's the unspoken "if only's" -- if only they'd said something, done this, tried that, gone there, asked for help... all the "if only's" are the choices they didn't see -- they couldn't see, or they could see but felt they couldn't make.
What AA has done for me is show me that not only do I have many more choices than I at first might see, but that I can choose, try, and if I need to, change my mind and choose again. I'm shown my choices when I share in meetings and air my sometimes crazy, limited, black-and-white thinking out loud, so I can see it for what it is. I'm shown that often it's not a question of the "right" choice and the "wrong" choice -- but rather that for every choice there will be comfortable stuff and uncomfortable stuff that goes along with making it, and I learn that by listening to other sober people walk through their stuff, practicing these principles to the best of their abilities in all their affairs. I have clarity to choose how I want to behave in difficult confrontations by having learned to pause when agitated, and not to respond without thinking first (mostly).
The real adventure is sobriety, since a sober alcoholics has the tools to actually try anything they can dream up, while a drinking alcoholic lives in dreams and thinks they can try anything but hardly ever actually does.
It's in my sobriety when I look around my life and feel like, "Hey! Who turned my life Technicolor?" and realized how much my drinking and my alcoholic thinking had bled my life of any color at all.
As I wrap this up I'm bravely struggling against a cute conclusion about not being in Kansas anymore or going over the rainbow, just to pull it all together thematically. I guess I'll simply close with a salute to the memory of my friend, who I wish had seen that she had more choices than that terrible, final one she thought she had to make all those years ago now, and a wish that anyone reading this today can see that, beyond whatever choices you think you have are perhaps even others. You can choose, or even change your mind and choose again -- and if you can't see those choices, or can see them but think you can't make them, ask for help -- for me, I've always found that help in AA.
You have more choices than you think -- even if you choose to move to Kansas.