The quest for wholeness begins in brokenness. What is not broken cannot be mended. What is not wounded cannot be healed. Reintegration begins with separation. It takes the possibility of losing nearly everything before we are willing to try nearly anything. Recovery, of any sort, begins with hitting bottom.
But first comes the painful admission that things have not turned out the way we had hoped. All our denying, lying, blaming and shaming do not halt the painful downward spiral toward unmanageability; fear that irreparable damage had already been done; and that cries for help may have come too late. No ventilator for the soul exists. A cure for addiction and COVID19 still does not exist. And soon we might not exist either. Welcome to the bottom. Here is what it looks like:
It is difficult to tell where will hitting bottom will begin and end. Each health crisis is different in some respects and similar in others. Here are some possibilities about what hitting bottom from addiction and COVID19 looks like:
• Our best efforts have not yielded the results we expected, hoped for or demanded.
• We have pondered, purchased, promoted and pontificated and now we’re pooped.
• We have studied previous events (1917 pandemic), and we still appear to be crashing. History is repeating itself.
• In obliviousness, we believe doing nothing is a solid strategy.
• Magical thinking whispers that hope and prayer will save us.
• We await new people and ideas to appear with solutions.
• We lash out at those we believe have failed us.
• We fling unfounded solutions at the wall, hoping they stick.
• We covet bottles of booze and hand sanitizer.
• We ruminate about a return to good-old, pre-disease-days.
• We banish people from our imaginary empire.
• We blame everything and everyone but ourselves.
• We change our Facebook photo. Maybe that will help.
• We become impenetrable, while thinking we are open.
• We clench our teeth and refuse to take our medicine.
• We learn we are our medicine but seem allergic to ourselves.
It is difficult to tell where bouncing back will begin and end. Each health crisis is different in some respects and similar in others. Here are some possibilities about what bouncing back from addiction and COVID19 looks like:
• You must first hit bottom.
• You must admit and accept that you seem to have hit bottom.
• You must become willing to go to any lengths to get off the bottom.
• You must become aware of many of the sources and causes of your predicament.
• Your must confess and atone for mistakes and misdeeds.
• You must remove yourself from the head of the table, leaving that seat open to experts including, possibly, God.
• You must relinquish control of the process of recovery to God, nature, including the science of disease.
• You must accept that you are not God.
• You must intentionally share this process and other resources with those you may help to achieve and maintain recovery from that which almost sank.
• You must come to believe that pain and suffering are part of leaving the wilderness of disease.
• You must leave room for the possibility that recovery from disease just might leave you stronger and more resilient than you were before you hit bottom.
• It takes hitting-bottom to see and do something about it.
• Bouncing back from an isolationist, narcissistic perspective and coming to accept our interdependence with others promotes healing.
• Hitting bottom is not necessarily the end and may indeed be the beginning of healing. Bill W. of AA felt that “failure” is the seed and soil out of which recovery blooms. The Apostle Paul in the Bible says, “So I ask, have they stumbled so as to fall? By no means! But through their stumbling… salvation has come” (Romans 11:11).
Disease, failure and defeat may become ports of entry into a new way of life ~ but not before traveling blind, stumbling around, forging a new identity; new life; new path, and new relationship with others and with God, as you understand God (not as I understand God for you). In their brokenness and vulnerability, Paul and Bill W. became more open to allowing God to have a larger role in their lives.
From this experience of hitting bottom and bouncing back ~ Bill W. culled three ideas that became central to his work: (1) Change comes when a person [or institution or nation] reaches a state of total desperation and collapse. (2) An admission of defeat is necessary. (3) An appeal to a higher power is unconditional.
In a nutshell, here is a program of recovery for individuals, our country and our world:
We are healthiest when we function as a beautiful and beloved community. But when a beloved community encounters a life-threatening, pandemic problem ~ it cannot be “in control” of its own recovery. A problem will very rarely solve itself. The best dentist in the world does not drill their own teeth. The best surgeon in the world does not operate on their own body. And the best nation in the world cannot remove its own diseases. If we could heal ourselves, then all we would need is a good leadership team. No leadership team that plays God will succeed.
Part of us bottoming out on COVID19 is bottoming out on trying to fix ourselves by ourselves. Despite good intentions, success is not determined solely by any correct combination of administrative, programmatic or financial reforms. Temporary, arbitrary, whack-a-mole fixes may help, but they do not heal.
We are not going to save ourselves by using God as a tool. God, however, can save us by using you as a tool. We humans are ultimately powerless over the people, places and things we once felt powerful over. The diseases of addiction and COVID19 are great examples of this:
People ultimately cannot be forced to conform or believe.
Places do not exist to which we can escape and live as if none of this ever happened.
Things happen. Like it or not; build a wall or a moat or not; hoard resources or not; find someone or something to blame or not: things happen.
FROM ILLNESS TO RECOVERY
God performs “interventions” and breaks into ordinary reality at precise and yet unpredictable times which cannot be anticipated or explained, but which can be recognized once they arrive. In all of these spiritual interventions, it is God (as you understand God), with our cooperation, that is the ultimate source of the healing that transpires. The only credit we deserve is the willingness to show up and cooperate with the healing.
Lifeguards know that drowning people resist rescue. Persons infected by disease often need to be intervened upon by outside forces. Interventions can be quite complicated (surgery) or rather simple (social distancing). Sometimes interventions simply do not work. The intervened-upon may not want to be rescued. They may not drop their “weapons” of denial and deep-seated self-destructive tendencies.
Whether you see rebirth in fragile yet stubborn flowers that poke through snowy slopes in early Spring; or in the resurrection of Jesus; whether you see it in a relationship made new; in an alcoholic who becomes a sober, productive person ~ evidence of “rebirth” is all around us. Just as every cell in our body dies and is replaced every seven years, just as dead trees fall in the forest and become food, sanctuary, and home to various forms of life ~ so too do individuals, nations, and even diseases and viruses cycle through birth, death and rebirth.
Out of our sorrow and darkness of hitting bottom from COVID19, we can be made new. We can be restored to health and sanity. Unburdened by wearisome preconceptions and prejudices about the way things have to be; and free of fixations and ruminations about the way things used to be; we are able to become who and what God intends us to be.
In addiction and in cases of COVID19, I have certainly seen much loss; but I have also seen people and communities be reborn and start life all over again. I have seen lost and lonely ones ~ alcoholic, drug-addicted, COVID19 positive and others~ who have had to re-learn all the basics: how to manage their own affairs without help from experts; and how to live and thrive despite the loss of beloved ones taken from them. I have seen individuals, institutions, groups, and organizations threatened ~ by booze, drugs, disease (such as COVID19), financial peril, aging, domestic violence, and many other things. And then I have seen them thrive anew in a life of purpose and of peace.
There is an axiom of unknown origin in AA that states, “Don’t deny someone their God-given desperation.” Desperation is not fun; nor is it the first choice I would offer to anyone; but it sure can be a great teacher! It can be a great gift from God. I pray that God is willing to grant us physical as well as mental and emotional and spiritual recovery. When this pandemic that visited terror, death and grief on the people of earth ~ I hope and pray we have learned much and find a lifetime of causes to celebrate God and each other!