Society demands the addict to “stop” yet has no real grasp on what recovery means to begin with. To a lesser degree, we all play out escape behaviors, saturating ourselves with unreality and ideals, falling into the traps of fabricated definitions of humanity. Yet we demand the addict to stop and do everything wrong to make him stop because the addiction, although more or less in all of us, is more visible in the drug addict. The remedy for any addiction is reality, a reality that questions one’s purpose, what the world is, and who or what created us— and in turn live according to such questions. But as long as we turn away from reality, we turn towards addiction and enable others to continue the path of a diluted and destructive existence.
Addiction pertains to all of us. Though the problem may not be substances or compulsions, the condition of addiction is universal and we all experience it to some degree. Every time we turn away from what is true, what is good, what is just, what is virtuous- we take another “hit” in favor of what seems gratifying. While it may seem harmless-to look away or evade your responsibility-it erodes the soul and gradually removes us from our nature of loving, caring, feeling, uniting, connecting, etc. Being unable to face the reality that we are living in contrary to our nature, we continue to turn away, drifting further into pleasures and distractions until anxiety, or depression, or crisis signals us to take action. Recovery is a return to the fundamental aspects of being a person… it is the state of answering life’s questions with action of what is good for the world and what is my responsibility in this given moment. Recovery limits or all together turns away from distractions and pleasures that get in the way of this responsibility.
I’ve come to realize that at the core of every relapse, underneath the distress and volatility of each craving, there is a sincere and desperate cry for reality… a reality tht lives out love, wisdom, and truth in its purest form.
All the rituals and practices of the major organized religions cannot parallel the moment a person hits rock bottom. There are no scripts, no pretensions, no rehearsed utterances…just a man or woman bearing their soul, pleading for healing, for answers- sending their cry into the void in hopes that Something or Someone will come. It’s miraculous to watch. You’ll never see someone as connected to their natural state as that. It’s similar to watching the miracle of birth. Being able to be a part of moments like this, I’ve discovered that there is something greater than ourselves watching over Its creation and I’m convinced loves us.
“Pick me up and throw me where you will. Wherever I land I shall keep the god within me happy…” -Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
I’ve heard many stories from people in recovery dealing with obstacles, some so severe I wondered how they were managing to stay clean and sober. Some had lost their homes to foreclosure. Some were laid off from work. And some had even lost children to illness. In every account, the same statement reappeared at the end of each share, “But I didn’t drink” or “I didn’t pick up”… “no matter what.” These people were living proof that something profound had taken place within, a spiritual awakening. Though the external reality of their lives were constant and difficult, there was a wise and directing consciousness beneath what they presented. This consciousness was impenetrable- although their lives were shaken, they were far from broken.
Recovery is spiritual awareness. People become aware of the divinity within and make a decision to honor it on a daily basis. Outside circumstances such as death, divorce, and financial problems cannot influence the spiritual life within. Many people in AA refer to this idea as the “98 Burn”, a statement made on page 98 of the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book text which states “job or no job, wife or no wife…burn the idea into the consciousness of every man that he can get well regardless of anyone.” While our world may be shaken or everything seems to be crumbling down around us, we must acknowledge the god inside us, unfazed, smiling, and always willing to direct us towards the next step. Stability, healing, and recovery depend not on what happens to us but on the reckoning and daily practice of honoring the divine life within.
It’s surreal to think of how a thing, a substance, sometimes so small, sometimes invisible or pleasantly deceptive to the human eye can utterly destroy a life. Sometimes, these things appear to be beautiful in their rawest form. A swaying cocoa plant or a vibrant poppy add beauty to the fields they inhabit. It’s astonishing and at the same time unfathomable to accept the reality that these beautiful ornaments of nature-once they are separated from their original form and ingested-have the capacity to enslave and obliterate a person on every conceivable level.
I think of these beautiful intricacies of nature in their true essence…I think of the lives that were once whole and later became separated from themselves and the world because of addiction. This helps me understand that there is an objective and guiding principle pervading all living things: Nature and people thrive and are at their most beautiful in their wholeness, and this should never be tampered with…
I have to admit I was never a fan of Mac Miller. But there was something about his recent passing that impacted me. I guess, in some way, Mac Miller was a semblance, a representation of all the young men and women I had come to know over the past 13 years who had also fallen to the grips of addiction and as result went spiraling down to the harrowing end of an overdose. Like the young rapper, many of the people I came across had artistic dispositions, possessed a unique way of looking at the world, and always expressed themselves via creative means of music and art. Sometimes, they sang songs, poems, or played musical instruments in between therapeutic sessions. Sometimes, I’d watch in amazement as the words rhythmically escaped their mouths, cigarette hanging out of the side of their lips, their tattooed arms bearing the faded healing needle marks flaying about with the sounds of the music. These souls who I had come to know were soon gone, victims of drug dependency. I could still remember the songs, the poems, the debates, the drawings many of them left behind. It is this art, somehow clearly unfinished, that leaves behind a sense of bitterness and sorrow. I can remember rationalizing their deaths as “a part of the disease” in the many community vigils… later, having to pull my car over succumbed by the crushing reality: Addiction is powerful…indiscriminate, and it takes the lives of young men and women who possess great potential.
It has been through these individuals that I’ve confirmed there is something creative and divine about the addict. The addict lives an expressive life, in a state of constant desperation to reunite with a greater reality- unfortunately, many times, the connection is an erroneous one, sought artificially through a substance. Many addicts die in their relentless pursuit to be whole again, to be reunified with their source and relieved of their separateness. Mac Miller and the 350 souls that die daily from drug related deaths in the US alone should remind us all that money, fame, and achievement alone does not grant us wholeness and that the ultimate source of fulfillment must be sought after to make recovery possible.
The worst sickness in mental health is not classified as an illness. It is rare in contemporary psych literature and discussions. I would go as far to say that the majority of us are unknowingly suffering from it. Yet, when we closely examine the effects of this problem we find that it is correlated with all self-injurious, suicidal, and addictive behavior. These three problems contain the common theme of self-loathing-a self loathing that is perpetuated by the cunning and deadly state of denial. But it isn’t a denial of the actual behaviors that are my concern. It’s the denial of something deeper that evolves out of a mainstream consciousness that people are entirely good and that “badness” is an external mysterious force that selects only a small percentage of us. Wrong! The reality of human nature is that within it there is both good and evil and to exclusively attribute one to who we are is to deny our exact nature. People are good, but they are also inherently flawed and capable of evil. The goal is to live responsibly with these two natures. However, the majority point of view tends to deny this fact and what results is a perpetuation of symptoms and high risk behaviors. When we deny who we are and do not embrace our wholeness we become imprisoned by what we should be. When the evil or flawed nature arises, on a subconscious level, we experience discomfort, anxiety, and self loathing. The battle of suppression begins, often to intolerable heights leading to self-harm behaviors such as self-mutilation, addiction, and suicide. When we internalize the lie that man is good and that’s all that he SHOULD be, a frantic self-loathing society emerges-addicts use, cutters cut, and the hopeless attempt to nullify themselves into oblivion.
Imagine if we began to break the chains of internalized messages of what we should be and began to embrace what is- who we really are. When people fully acknowledge their strengths and weaknesses-their goodness and flaws- they are prone to inflict love rather than pain on themselves and others. I believe it’s time we awaken to the reality of the all encompassing duality of good and bad.
“There’s a mission that treats alcoholics and drug addicts located at the heart of Skid Row, Los Angeles. It’s a community center, so often beds fill fast and many seeking treatment are turned away and placed on a waiting list, requiring many to wait months before getting help. A fair percentage of those turned away have an earnest desire to get clean. Yet, they have no where to turn and so they wait, often in the blistering sun of the summer afternoon or in the unpredictable occurrences of the winter nights. Vulnerable to the elements, they lay underneath the refuge of an indifferent tree, a piece of nature notoriously known as “The Dying Tree.” Their desire for a better life far outweighs the predictability of the next fix. The commitment and focus by which they express in their determination to wait and to abstain, parallels the greatest ingenuity- humanity attempting to change against the odds. And the odds are heavily against them, as many of them wither and die beneath the scanty branches of The Dying Tree. Days pass, weeks, and months, and they wait. Many convulse, falling flat on their heads, scarcely leaving behind a few items for survival. Others die of dehydration or health related conditions, and those remaining, unable to continue the fight, relapse- overdosing after a period of abstinence due to the body being unaccustomed to the dosages. A grim and bitter ending it seems but the souls that never make it through the doors of possibilities of a different life grant us the greatest lesson. And that is, with every challenge we face, with everything we desire, we should place ourselves at the precipice-at the doors of possibilities and change with an unrelenting commitment, willing to sacrifice everything, willing to battle the elements- in the coldness or the unrelenting heat of daily living-for the opportunity of a better existence.”
Several years ago I was leading a process group with patients affected by schizophrenia and addiction in a community outpatient center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Each patient took turns sharing thoughts and feelings on challenges of dealing with their symptoms and discovering more effective ways to deal with their condition. As I listened to the their daily struggles, their efforts, and their level of gratitude, I couldn’t help but to think that in contrast to the rest of the world these seemingly poor souls were in reality the fortunate ones. These individuals, through their condition, had acquired a keen ability to reflect, to identify weaknesses and strengths, and make difficult but responsible decisions necessary to change. This group knew themselves at a level so profound they were able to help newer struggling members through their experiences. These people understood the problem- they were awake. There was honesty, there was sincerity, and a knowledge of self I had rarely seen anywhere else. These individuals were fighting for their lives and they were doing it from the inside out. They were aware that the war they battled was within and when someone attempted to deviate from this reference point they were quickly reminded of the errors of external blame. This group like several others I’ve worked with stood in stark contrast to the general consciousness of society that declares “I’m fine” and that the solution is “somewhere out there.” I’ve come to learn the most valuable lessons through people committed to their mental health and addiction recovery- and that is-the ultimate state of being human is not attaining nor portraying perfection, but a full ongoing life commitment to fight, to love, and to do battle from the inside-out.