I was at a 12 step meeting this morning and the reading was on relapse. Relapse is a significant part of my story, although I sometimes don’t view it as relapse; rather it feels more one long period of active addiction punctuated by sporadic and brief interludes of abstinence. Previously, I was never able to get a couple of days in for a variety of reasons that were not obvious to me but I’m sure were obvious to many. I have also had the troubled experience of several friends relapsing in the past few weeks and it is obvious to me why. I’m sure that “why” applies to my inability to maintain recovery as well. Willingness. Each and every one of them (and I) was not willing to surrender to and accept their (my) disease of addiction and tried to get by on ½ measures. Not only do ½ measures avail us nothing, they avail us tremendous suffering and often times death.
As I listened this morning to my friends in recovery share on their experiences relating to relapse, I inevitably began to compare their stories to mine. Many of them came into the rooms of one fellowship or another, never to pick up again. While this mystifies me as it is not my experience, I soon began to realize that at this moment in time, we are the same: clean and sober and in active recovery. How I got here versus how you got here is irrelevant. I am here, in this moment, and this moment is all I have. To contrast and compare my experience and yours, while useful to the extent that I can learn from your experience, is otherwise dangerous and disconnecting. But there is a comparison, I realized, that is useful. My life today compared to days in active addiction, or even 6 months ago in sobriety. In listening to others this morning, I was also reminded of a recurring dream I had up until a few months ago, that poignantly encapsulates this self-comparison.
It is better described as a nightmare. One of deep isolation and despair. In it, I search for connection with others – longstanding friends or romantic partners of the past. I struggle to find phone numbers are even remember who these people are, and those who I do remember and manage to contact universally shun me with abject ridicule or complete indifference. It is so bloody painful. It is painful even now as I write this, even though I have not had this nightmare for some time. This was a dream of shame, despair and self-loathing. It was an accurate reflection of my life in active addiction.
And therein lies the comparison, if you will. I no longer have this nightmare. Why? I no longer suffer from deep disconnection from others and myself that was destroying my spirit. I would say destroyed because it was nearly that, but some breath of life was retained inside my soul that was lovingly nurtured by God (however you care to conceptualize “God”) and by people who could identify with my self-persecution and my hopelessness. That, for me, is another useful comparison: we are the same. We all need love and connection to thrive and the folks in the 12 step fellowships knew that and provided that for me. I needed to bring only two things to the table: willingness and a desire for honesty.
Writing this little narrative makes me think of one other thing. The saying “you have to love yourself before you can love another” was always met by me with contempt. What the hell does that mean? How can something love itself – it is uni-dimensional which makes relationship impossible. And then it twigged: I know how to hate myself. That I know. And if that were true (which I can say with certainty that it was), then it must also be true that a person can love him or her self. I can confirm that today I understand what that means and accept it. It’s not perfect by any stretch, but if I decide to compare it to the past I am in an entirely different dimension of living. A comparison well worth making, for today I have a life. Yesterday I did not.