In her book Playing It by Heart, Beattie helps readers understand what drives them back into the grasp of controlling behavior and victimhood-and what it takes to pull themselves out, to return to the healing, faith, and maturity that come with a commitment to recovery.
Personal essays, inspiring anecdotes, and prescriptive reminders show readers how to stop acting out their painful obsessions. Marked by compassion and keen insight, Playing It by Heart explores the author’s most intense personal lessons and shows readers that, despite setbacks, recovery is a lifelong opportunity for spiritual growth.
A personal anecdote by Melody Beattie reflects on the nature of faith and confronting the pain of controlling obsessions and victimhood.
Nichole was driving. I was a passenger. We were on the short road that runs behind my home, on our way to get some food, when the car ahead of us, an older dark Mercedes, slammed on the brakes. The next or simultaneous thing we heard was the screeching of an animal piercing the evening air. The next thing we saw was a cat shooting through the air and into the bushes on the side of the road. The car started to drive away. Nichole stepped on the gas, driving around and in front of the Mercedes-effectively blocking it from moving forward. Nichole lowered the passenger window and leaned across me. The driver of the Mercedes, a dark-haired man with a high forehead-the kind that has worry wrinkles running all the way across it in parallel lines-rolled down his.
“What are you going to do about that cat?” she screamed.
He furrowed his eyebrows. “What cat?” he asked. He maneuvered the Mercedes around us and drove off into the night.
“Why do people do that?” Nichole said, turning to me in anger and confusion. “Why do people lie like that?”
I started to psychoanalyze the man. Then I cut myself short.
On my trip to the Middle East, I had faced that question too. It was one I had asked for many years in my life. Shortly after climbing Mount Sinai, I had gone on to Israel. I spent ten days in the Holy Land, then traveled by car to the country of Jordan. For some reason, I had it in my mind and heart that I wanted to visit Pakistan on this trip too. In fact, I was obsessed with getting into this country, even though I had been told that obtaining a visa was difficult, if not impossible. Undaunted, challenged, and determined, I traveled by car to Jordan, a small country neighboring Israel, and started working on the visa officer at the Pakistani Embassy there, trying to beg, coerce, or convince this man to let me in.
After I went back and forth with this somber visa officer for several days, he finally relented and agreed to let me visit Pakistan-for one week. I felt humbled, honored, and excited. It was the week before elections in Pakistan. They weren’t letting foreigners, particularly writers, into the country. I felt special, like I had won a prize.
I felt blessed.
That evening, I went to a Jordanian supermarket and bought a shoe polishing kit. My black boots were dirty and dusty from all the walking I’d done. I stopped in the hotel lobby for a while, on my way to the room. It was the month of Ramadan in the Islam religion. For Muslims, that meant it was a holy fasting day-no smoking, food, beverages of any kind, or sex during daylight hours. I had tried to participate in the fast for just this one day-to honor the religion of this country and to see how it felt to participate. By lunchtime, I couldn’t take it anymore. I was starving and thirsty. I sneaked up to my room and wolfed down a bag of potato chips and gulped a bottle of mineral water.
By now, the restaurant in the lobby was filled with an air of festive celebration. Once the sun went down, Muslims broke the day’s fast by engaging in a virtual feast. I didn’t feel festive. I felt guilty, remembering the potato chips and water. “I’m sorry,” I said, offering a simple heartfelt prayer up to the ceiling and hopefully straight on through it to God.
What I heard and felt next I’ll remember for a long time. Perhaps it was the intense spiritual ambiance created by the fasting and prayers of most of the population of the country I was in, filling the air with words, thoughts, and devotion the way incense does with its scent. I don’t know if it had something to do with me, that altered state that happens to me when I’m scurrying about the world with my antenna up to see what I can see, hear, and find, protecting myself, and trying to discern where to go next. Or maybe it wasn’t about me at all. Maybe it was about God.
But I swear I heard these words: You tried. That was good enough. It was a still, small voice-a gentle nurturing one-whispering to my heart. Then the strangest feeling washed over me, from my head down to my toes. It was gloriously blissful, loving, accepting, and cleansing at the same time.
Oh, I said, remembering. So this is how God’s unconditional love and forgiveness feels.
Excerpted from Playing It by Heart: Taking Care of Yourself No Matter What by Melody Beattie, best-selling author of Codependent No More. In her many best-selling books, including Stop Being Mean to Yourself, Codependent No More, and The Language of Letting Go, Melody Beattie draws on the wisdom of Twelve Step healing, Christianity, and Eastern religions. She lives in Malibu, California.