I’m going through a very… interesting time right now. Interesting in that old Chinese proverb of “may you live in interesting times,” way. I guess some might call it a crisis of faith. More and more time goes by. I see more and more people come in and out of the rooms. More and more friends I’ve met in Recovery have relapsed or gone out and not returned. I watch as more and more bullshit gets thrown by addicts and alcoholics ostensibly living a spiritual life. Life doesn’t ever stop being what it is. People outside the rooms, people inside the rooms, people living clean and sober or not, are all still people. Life is still easy for some, hard for others, fucked up and filled with justice and yet not—all at the same time.
I find myself wondering more and more if maybe… just maybe… I have learned all that I am going to learn from 12 steps? And if so, what have I learned? What knowledge have I gained from walking this particular path? I’ve worked the steps multiple times. I’ve worked them the AA way, the NA way, the way my little sub-program does it. I’m not someone who gave up on the steps and said, “fuck this shit.” I’ve worked the program. A lot.
Hmm. It almost sounds like I’m claiming bragging rights. I don’t know about that, but I will say this: most people don’t work the steps. Most people don’t work the program. Regardless of whether or not I have bragging rights, what I do have is the perspective of someone who has not only worked the program but who has spent a number of years truly doing what he could to ‘practice these principles’ in all his affairs. I’ve had sponsees. A reasonable argument could be made that I created a new Area, or District. So what have I learned? A lot. No list could ever be exhaustive. But here’s a few things which come to mind:
- One of the hardest things about leading the spiritual life is the letting go of those others who don’t.
I am responsible for me. No one else, just myself. I can’t make anyone do, think, or say anything. If someone doesn’t want to grow and to change and to better themselves, that is their right and their choice. I can’t make them choose differently, and every attempt I make to do so just causes them to become more entrenched in their insistence not to. People are going to be who they are. This is hard enough for when it comes to dealing with everyday people in everyday life, but it's particularly difficult when I’m faced with someone I care about who is hell-bent on a self-destructive pattern.
- The world does not make sense. And that is okay.
When I was a kid, I would often insist that life wasn’t fair. My dad would always reply that life is basically unfair. This gem was somehow supposed to explain everything. It didn’t. It still doesn’t. I don’t know why I continue to think that my life should be a certain way, or that the world should be how I expect it, I just know that it’s not. No matter how hard or how often I try to make sense out of the world, I fail. The idea that reality simply does not make sense is one I come to not through deduction but overwhelming empirical evidence. I’m not really at peace with this conclusion, but I won’t deny it. Acceptance is something I keep working on, here. I know there are those out there for whom life, the world, reality, what have you, does make sense. I am not one of them. The best I can do is to accept that nowhere is it written that the universe must conform to my ideas of what it should be like.
- When I lean on God, my life goes better.
I’m not a big fan of the ‘G’ word, but it’s convenient to use and I’m not interested in getting into a huge, long discussion about how I perceive my higher power. The important thing isn’t so much what God is like anyway, it’s that by letting go and trusting in God, my life goes better. As in, beyond my wildest dreams better. When I pray, meditate, work on that conscious contact with the unseen spiritual force that is out there (and inside me and others), my life goes better. When I try to run things, it goes to shit. When I let go and let God, amazing things happen.
- The people in 12-step rooms are just like people outside.
There are all kinds of people in the world. No one is purely bad or good. We are all of us some mixture of both. Folks in the rooms of AA or NA or any of the other programs aren’t any better or worse than anyone outside the rooms. They aren’t worse because they’re addicts or alcoholics or for any of the things they’ve done as a result of being that. And they aren’t better for trying to improve their lives. Sure, you can find some of the most spiritually profound individuals in the rooms, with wisdom that would make the Dali Lama smile, nod, and say, “that’s a good one.” And we have rapists, murders, thieves, and child molesters. But you know what? You can find all of the above outside the rooms, too. What I learned in the rooms is that, at the end of the day, people are just people.
- People really can change.
There are a lot of folks who believe it isn’t possible for people to change. My experience tells me otherwise. What’s usually missing from the soundbyte above is that A) it takes a lot of work, B) you have to remain committed to doing it and keep at it, and C) it takes time—sometimes a very long time. But it is possible, it really is possible for people to change. I used to be a stoned-24-hours-a-day kind of guy. That was years ago. I used to rage so hard I’d punch holes in doors. That’s no longer the case. I used to walk around and pass judgment on everyone from my high horse. That is… better than it used to be. Seriously though, and all kidding aside, it is possible to change. It just take a lot of work. A lot. A whole fucking lot.
I don’t know when I’ll be back here to this space, so this is something of a ‘goodbye’. But for what it’s worth, I know not a lot of people have read ‘Thoughts On The Disease’, but I know that there are those who have. They’ve read it all over the world. There have been those who have written me over the years to let me know how much it’s helped them. And that’s all anyone in Recovery could ever hope to achieve.
Peace be with you all,