I’ve been invited to give a talk at an event coming up in the next few weeks on “Addiction and What Life Is Like Living in Recovery.” I’ve been clean and sober now for more than 18 years, and throughout that period, my attendance at 12-step meetings has definitely waxed and waned; however, I've stopped beating myself up about this because I look at it as a barometer of what else is going on in my life at the time.
As a writer and public speaker, I’ve had many occasions when I’ve touched on how I’ve had to navigate my issues with addiction, but in all that time, I’ve never been able to adequately articulate what it’s like living with that monkey inside you, constantly trying to wrestle itself free. For me, the essence to getting to the heart of that question lies in which side of the fence you find yourself on within the addiction community—Those who see themselves as “recovered addicts”, and those who prefer to self-identify as “recovering addicts”.
Within the literature of Alcoholics Anonymous, the word “recovered” comes up at lot, and come to think of it, why wouldn’t it? Many an addict latches on to that idea as a desperate lifeline of hope. I, on the other hand, have grown to embrace the fact that until the day I die, I will be a recovering alcoholic. I long ago decided to make peace with this disease, but that in no way makes me immune to feeling frustrated and angry by the circumstances surrounding my relationship with the addiction.
When my addiction is at its worst, I’m like a belligerent toddler surrounded by beautiful colorful toys, but inconsolable, as all he wants to play with is the one toy that sits on a shelf just out of reach. I often lose sight of how incredible my life is because I become fixated on that one thing just out of my reach—a drink or a drug. It’s in this space of ‘dissonance’ or ‘disruption’ that I need always remind myself of the insanity of picking up that first drink or drug. Whenever I arrive at that o’ so precarious place—and believe me when I say that even though 18 years have passed, I still become ensnared in that hollow—each and every time my only escape has been to divert my attention to a place of gratitude. For me, gratitude has come to mean ‘clarity’, and with that clarity comes the daily reprieve of not picking up that first drink.
I was recently listening to one of the last interviews the writer and educator, Bruce Kramer gave before succumbing to his battle with ALS—although he’d probably refer to it more as a ‘dance’ than a ‘battle’. In the interview, he was discussing how every one of us struggles with something that is beyond our control, and in fact, it’s our humanness that naïvely convinces us that we have the illusion of control in the first place. What struck me the most was when Bruce said that in order to find that place of serenity, we have to find a way to “grow into the demands of that, which is beyond us.” I find these words so enlightening in that they remind me that learning to see a ‘challenge’ as a ‘gift in disguise’ is not only a way to make peace with what challenges us, but also the clarity to begin to understand the beauty in the chaos that surrounds us.
I’m now at a place where I see ‘healing’ as not meaning ‘cured’ or ‘recovered’, but rather, as the temporary breathing room that only comes with the acknowledgement that being present with discomfort is not something to be feared. By walking into that, which frightens or disarms us most, we permit ourselves the opportunity to learn from adversity. And as Jacob said when he wrestled to find the truth hidden within his struggle, face your adversity and exclaim: “I will not let thee go, unless thou bless me.” (Gen. 32:26).