I was having a conversation with someone yesterday at our community Beltane ritual about that tricky thing that happens to us as we get further along in our recovery process… you know, when you start questioning whether you actually ARE an addict or alcoholic? When you remember the innocent pleasure of just that ONE glass of wine, or brownie, or bump? It’s easy to romanticize the early days, especially if we began with an easy curve, especially if we were young when we started and so hadn’t developed the tools we have now for dealing with difficult situations or emotions. Hell, everybody does stupid crap when they’re a kid. Maybe if, today, we got back on that horse (aka “no longer on the wagon”) we wouldn’t have the same issues. Maybe we could engage in those behaviors in a normal way.
Oh, the beautiful maybe!
One of the first and best benefits of getting in the program for me was not having to think and question all the time whether I had a problem. I knew I did. I could finally release the idea that I was in control of what was happening. I got word that I was sick, and that my sickness was not something to be ashamed of, and I got to stop trying so desperately to hide the ways that I wasn’t like most people in this area of life. I know we’ve all heard the comparison of alcoholism to diabetes, or another life-changing and life-threatening disease. You can hate that diagnosis all you want, but are you going to keep eating candy for breakfast? And we’ve heard that meetings are like a medicine that you can’t always feel the effects of; you just have to keep taking it to keep you healthy.
When you get a little time under your belt, this can all seem so far away. Whether you have 5 or 15 or 50 years, the further you get from your last bottom, the easier it is to think that maybe you imagined it all.
It’s said that one of the most important reasons to keep going to meetings is to hear the stories of newcomers, to bring our own stories fresh into our minds, to remind us why we’re here. But honestly, many of us don’t keep going to meetings forever. After the first few years (or more), our social and spiritual lives get rooted elsewhere. Especially for Pagans, who might not have felt welcome in the rooms in the first place.
So what’s the answer?
Like so many other things in life, that depends on YOU. What’s at stake in your world? What if you did have that one glass or shot or smoke? Some of our addictions are more obviously dangerous. We can tell that if we’re shooting up, that’s pretty much always a problem. If we’re smoking meth, that’s pretty much always a problem. However, we are masters of justification and, when pressed, can probably find ways to decide that those things are okay in moderation. Haha.
But people all around us are having one glass of wine, or two, just enough to take the edge off that social situation. People are having fun and letting their hair down and relaxing with just a few fingers of whiskey. Why can’t that be us?
Why can’t diabetics eat candy for breakfast?
At some point, we figured out that we had a problem. We identified the problem. We named ourselves as a person with this illness of addiction and we had clear intentions to keep ourselves healthy and sane by avoiding the substances that were killing us. It was the hardest thing to allow that to happen. It took immense courage to clear our eyes and minds and hearts to allow us to see how out of control we were, in whatever form that took.
Are you able to have that conversation you’ve been putting off? Tell that person how you really feel? Can you dance freely or make love wildly? Sing karaoke? Finally feel okay with yourself?
There are lots of reasons why people submit to their addictions. When we find ourselves in this danger zone, it’s important to look at what we’re really missing in our lives. What do we imagine that indulging ourselves is going to do? We need to figure out another way. Most of us can, if we’re really deeply honest with ourselves, see the slippery slope. We can see how “one is too many and twenty isn’t enough”. So where do we get courage? Where do we find peace?
If we can sort out what we’re missing, we can use our big beautiful brains to sort out how to get those things. Needing to have a difficult conversation? Read this really great book called Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most. Wanting to be freer in your physical expression? Find a practice which helps you to open your mind and know your body better, like Tai Chi or this crazy business. Seeking inner peace? The Buddhists have that equanimity and mindfulness thing down to an art. (This realization changed my life, again!)
The important thing is that we get to have those scary thoughts and feelings about our dis-ease and then we get to decide what to do. There’s a really big chance that, if you think you can have “just one”, you’re lying to yourself. But even if you can, what’s the real benefit of that indulgence? We know it won’t really make us smarter, or better-looking, or funnier, or braver, in real life. It will just put a fake foundation under us, which is likely to crumble just when we need the support. It will just assist us in letting unhelpful conditions continue to exist in our lives, when what we really need to do is change those things.
Remember those precious first moments of clarity? Your pink cloud? You saw the possibilities inherent in a cleaner, freer life. Can you see them now?