Meditating this morning on the personal or group narratives that we bind ourselves to for whatever reason, and realizations that we may be presenting ourselves in a light that is less than flattering. Or the lack of realization entirely. It’s true that people will often see what they want to see based on their own knowledge or lack of knowledge and frustrations arise there. Resentments form where we see ignorance and prejudices, but we would be remiss in not considering what we present that could be feeding into the prejudices.
First, the music, and then more:
Firstly, I’m not speaking of racial nor ethnic, nor gender, nor gender identity prejudices. That’s the sort that speaks more to a willful ignorance that people express for whatever reasons. There are plenty of conversations on that. This isn’t one of them. A person of a certain race, for example, could be the exact opposite of whatever bias someone holds, and the racist will hold it anyway. The person is not contributing to anything that would validate that kind of prejudice.
Moving on, I started thinking about this when I was pondering societal attitudes towards alcohol and self-medication culture (or intoxication culture or party culture). And I do use those terms with zero negative connotations. They are simply phenomena that greater minds than mine have observed. Among the non-drinkers, I identify in a particular subset of people in recovery. My choice isn’t for religious reasons. It’s not because I’m taking contra-indicated prescriptions. I’m not diabetic. I would identify, as much as I believe the term to be inaccurate, as a person in recovery. The term coming into more common use now would be SUBSTANCE USE DISORDER. We may never move beyond the prejudices associated with what was commonly known as drug or alcohol addiction. The narrative goes that once you are there, you are always there, no matter how many years you are away from using, or successes one has made correcting the deleterious effects. You all know the story, or you think you do. I’d maintain firstly that there is no single story. Secondly, and more importantly, you don’t know a single story at all until you have been in that place yourself. That’s one core belief of groups like Alcoholics Anonymous that I would hold as an irrefutable truth. There are those who’ve never had a Substance Use Disorder who can speaking intelligently and with compassion and empathy on it, but they learned only because they listened to people who did. It would be difficult to change my mind on this.
In previous posts on alcohol and the societal relationship to alcohol, I complained somewhat bitterly on fears and misconceptions about the disease. I spoke less bitterly about how so many adults still carry very immature, high school level attitudes about using alcohol and drugs, vis a vis the kool-kids and not-kool-kids. It’s real and if you don’t believe me, quit for a couple years and see for yourself. The word is ostracized. Seriously… But that’s almost small potatoes. The issue, I have mentioned before is the narrative that every person in recovery is a relapse waiting to happen. There is an image of emotional and psychic frailty, which of course could be the case with someone in recovery, but most likely as true for anyone in any other social subset.
Getting beyond the frustrations of navigating the world as a sober person though, may require acceptance of how we contribute to this image of frailty through our own language. Every person who speaks or shares at an AA meeting (or any 12 steps based group) is asked to share their “experience, strength and hope.” I’ve been thinking hard on the literally thousands of shares I’ve heard over the course of ten-plus years and trying to inventory the balance of those three ideas that have been imparted to me as a member of the audience. A meeting this past weekend was almost a direct affirmation of my conclusion. Even amongst ourselves the balance tilts deeply into past experience and hardship, and often the solution-oriented part of the share speaks of continued hardship and the strenuous work of staying on one’s feet, even after years and years. Sadly, my conclusion, and maybe it’s different in other places, is that we can really be a bunch of crepehangers. It’s often dismal. It’s no wonder that the people who carry stories of addiction into media present such a view of weakness and frailty. Add to that the fact that when making a book or a movie there is a compulsion to bring drama into the addiction plot and subplot, so the “relapse waiting to happen” is all that inexperienced audiences will ever see. There is no “incidental addiction” in Hollywood. Recovery and reliability are seldom seen as anything approaching synonymous. That’s largely our fault.
We rarely speak of the gifts of sobriety at any great length and that’s a shame. That’s partly because we have it hammered into us that:
“I am only ever an arm’s length or less away from the next drink.” There are two ways of considering this. The first is frightening and possibly incorrect in many cases. That’s that we are just that fragile and that sobriety and recovery is fragile no matter how long we are clean. The other way of looking at it is the same way the rest of the world looks at it. You’re never going to be in a world without it so you’re going to have to change your relationship to it so that it actually is a choice. It’s always going to be there, BUT, it’s not going to reach out and grab you.
“While I’m out having fun, my disease is right there over my shoulder getting stronger and doing push-ups.” This is another one. It suggests in an anthropomorphic sense that there will always be this beast right there waiting to grab you and a lot of people really do take it that way. It’s a useful statement in a way but perhaps it would be better to replace it with something about mindfulness.
I’m guilty of all this misrepresentation when I’m placed in a situation where I’m getting to know someone and they want to know more about me, why I don’t drink, and recovery, etc. There is a more useful framework in language though that seems more useful to me not only when talking to others in the recovery community but with “civilians.” I put civilians in quotes because that’s another semantic framework that I think is dangerous. It builds out an idea of terminal uniqueness for people in recovery. We are not so different from people without substance use disorders. We’re not so different at all. Our ills just manifest differently.
No the reframing I would like to see in shares in and out of the community is in another phrase that we are told to use when sharing: What is was like, what happened, and what it’s like now. The weight and gravity of the share or the offering, should always be on that last part, based on an honest inventory of gratitude. For example, what’s it like for me?
The short story is that after years of hiding and not addressing the ills and obstacles that prevented me from leading a happy, productive adult life, I found away to remove the obstacles and address the ills. I’ve experienced more personal growth in ten years than in the prior forty-eight. I greet most days and most experiences with an often childlike joy and wonder. Even on the worst days there is something so fucking brand new that my heart is filled. I laugh and I cry and everything in between.
I feel alive every single day and I’m grateful to be alive and find joy in that, even on the very worst days.
I’m not a happy idiot. There are dismal days. I get through them and at the end of most of them, I sleep and it’s a sleep where I dream. Good dreams, bad dreams.
The fears and insecurities that held me back from loving and being loved in a real way are gone. My relationships with the people that I love are good.
I am mostly not afraid to be the real me. Embracing vulnerability is a superpower that’s made me feel weightless and bulletproof.
How many people are lucky enough to feel that for even a moment? The trick though it’s not truly a trick is that feeling this requires daily work and sometimes it’s exhausting.
This is the very real narrative that I should be putting out in the world. That’s how I’d like to see more people expressing the reality of “recovery.” It sounds almost evangelical, doesn’t it? Oh well, that’s something I can live with. I’ll take the blame for the misunderstandings and hurt feelings. If someone has ever seen me as weak, it’s at least partly my fault. And I can’t expect people to know what they simply have no reason to know. Not with this one anyway.
Now with issues like racism or homophobia or whatnot, don’t expect my understanding. Get the fuck out of your ignorance. It’s 2020! Read books. Listen to people. Do some damn thing but you’ve got no excuse. I’ll end this now and sally forth to whatever…