The angry red face is there because it is the face of addiction, of a person so isolated from reality that he or she does not know any other way of being. This is what the crazy land of addiction is like. I know, because I spent twelve long years of my life living there. It broke up my marriage and the family I had with a loving wife and four small children. The world that I traded it for seemed adventuresome (and it was). It was also irresponsible and out of control. It wasn’t until early March, 1979 that I realized that if I didn’t quit drinking, I would lose my life. That was 35 years ago. Life has been unbelievably better since then, one day at a time. Following is the Introduction to the book I will publish either later this year or early in 2015. Mostly finished, I need to finish it, send it off to beta readers, edit it, and then publish it. When you finish reading this, please leave your comments and feedback. All the best to each of you.
“Why?” —A child
Why pick up a book on recovery? Are you curious and want to learn more about the subject? Does someone, either you or someone you know, suffer from a disease called addiction, so you want to find out more about it? Have you just recently begun a treatment program or wandered into your first recovery group and you’re wondering what lies ahead? If you are, you’re definitely not alone! I recall the first time I walked into a treatment group and then into AA: I knew where I’d been, but I hadn’t a clue about what lay ahead of me. For that, I had to rely on those who had been there before me and knew the lay of the land. I started out thinking that recovery was from an illness, and discovered along the way that recovery is far more than that; recovery has to do with discovering who I am, how life really works when it works well, how to live so it works well most of the time, and how to keep my balance when it doesn’t. The shocker to me was that, with two master’s degrees and twelve years experience as a counselor, I didn’t know much about what makes a life work well, or how to go about doing it. One of the discoveries I have made since is that when we emerge from addiction, we are all clueless about how to live in life and how to make life work well. The reason is that instead of engaging with life, addiction causes us to disconnect and hide from it. Making matters worse, addiction creates an inner reality that is radically disconnected from the real world, which it defends as the only reality that we know. The result is destruction and death.
Emerging from addiction, which we know as recovery, is like moving from a dangerous, oppressive country to one where people are mostly happy, know how to deal with the things life hands them, and are free to move about as they choose. If this “new land” seems a little strange and off-key to you, it is. What you and I came to accept as “normal” in the world where addiction rules, is looked upon as dangerous and crazy by those who don’t live there. A client used to call the reality of addiction Crazyland, a place filled with darkness, insanity and danger. If you’re an addict, Crazyland is a place you’ve become habituated to, and it likely seems normal. It certainly seemed normal to me, and clients defend it in my office on an almost daily basis. To live a life that’s happy, you have to leave Crazyland and enter a world that you know little about, even though you may have grown up there. As I know this from my personal and professional experience, it is the only world in which you will find peace. Moving past your comfort zone, which in reality is the zone of the familiar, is something you can learn to do. It is something that others, just like you, have done, and it is well worth it. It is in moving forward that you discover what a truly awesome journey life can be, and often is.
How addiction begins
No one that I know of chooses addiction as a life goal. We don’t just one wake up one day and say: “I’m going to become (a junkie or a drunk) just like Aunt Peggy or Uncle Fred.” Addiction sneaks up under the guise of friendship and fun, two of addiction’s favorite disguises. We discover it’s there when our lives begin falling apart. What started out as an experiment or fun ends up controlling our appetites and attention. Over time, addiction kills us.
Addiction develops the same way you boil a frog. First you put it in a pot of cool water, so it thinks it’s found a nice new pond. Then you turn the heat up slowly until the frog is boiled. It may be sneaky, and the results may be deadly for the frog, but it works. Try dropping a frog into a pot of boiling water; it’ll hop right out again. The slow way gets you frog legs for dinner. Poor frog! When you’re the addict, it’s poor you! We end up feeding addiction’s insatiable appetite, and it’s poor us.
If this description fits you, as it did me, you’ll want to read this book and, if you haven’t already done it, find someone who can help you get your life back on course. What I’ve learned in the twenty-seven years since I quit drinking is that life, lived to its fullest, is an awesome and wonderful journey. Recovery is deciding to become sober and take the road to a place where you have the freedom to be who you are and want to be. Recovery is learning that the Crazyland of addiction is not your home, just as it was not mine, we’ve just been there long enough for it to seem as if it is.
The habits we’ve developed and the damage done to our brains by addiction make transitioning from Crazyland challenging. It’s like getting out of prison, or moving from a country where you have no freedom, to one where you are free to be who you are, without fear of reprisal. The challenging part is that the responses and habits that served you so well in Crazyland get you in trouble in the new place called reality. Feeling awkward and uncomfortable at first is normal; so is wanting to run back to Crazyland. My earnest advice to you is to keep moving forward, seek help, and keep growing. If I could make it, you can. A key, as they say in the Twelve Step movement, is to be honest about where you are, be open to new learning, and be willing to learn and to keep going. It’s definitely well worth it!
The only thing I knew for sure when I sat down in Ed Anderson’s office on the morning of March 3rd 1979 was that my life had lost meaning, I was lost, and I was in trouble. I had blacked out the night before when friends were over for a visit, and it had scared me. Ed was a chemical dependency counselor whom I knew at St. Mary’s Hospital in Minneapolis, because I had worked with some of his inpatients. I liked and trusted Ed.
After explaining the situation to him and giving him some history related to my drinking I asked him for his opinion and advice. I knew what his answer would be. I began my recovery that evening, sitting in a recovery group in the hospital I worked in, right there in front of everyone I knew.
Sobriety, for me, was the easy part; I have no idea why, except that I wanted my life back. Recovery, on the other hand, was work, work that included struggle, fear, defiance, and pain, as well as celebration, laughter and, yes, even fun. Without sobriety there would have been no recovery, without recovery there would have been no life, at least in the good sense of the word. And without life, there would have been no life as I have experienced it these past twenty-seven years, a life that I have come to value and love. There certainly would have been no Aiko, no relationship with my children and my grandchildren, because there wouldn’t have been any me.
One of the most significant things that I have learned since that Monday morning in 1979 is that I, like all addicts, put stock in things that don’t matter, have no value, and no real meaning. I put stock in the momentary, paid no attention to the present and its requirements and responsibilities, and fled in to fantasy. And in doing so, I caused four little children and a wife great suffering that they didn’t ask for and didn’t deserve it. It was a bum deal in which everyone lost, including me.
What I have learned since is that everything we need to make life work well is deep inside us, right now and at this moment. Everything we’ve been looking for all our lives we already possess. All we have to do is look inside and begin to uncover and use it. When I began to put my trust in something a whole lot bigger than myself — in God as I understood the idea — I was ready to begin rebuilding my life from the inside out, one day at a time and one step at a time.
Your guidebook to reality
A guidebook for travelers is intended to provide basic information about a place you are planning to visit. When my wife and I planned to visit Costa Rica a number of years ago, I bought a couple of traveler’s guidebooks and, Costa Rica’s English language newspaper the Tico Times and read them, mining them for information. This gave me an overview of the country and its history, provided me with valuable information about places to see and places to avoid, along with other information that my wife and I found useful when we traveled there. When I decided to leave addiction and seek a new life, I used to Ed Anderson and others in my recovery program as my travel guides, because they could teach me what I needed to learn to make my recovery successful. This book is intended to serve you as a Field Guide to assist you in your journey to health, happiness and freedom from the stranglehold of addiction. It is based on my long personal and professional experience with addiction and recovery. Mine it for ideas that you can use in your own journey to a life free from addiction. The journey is a truly awesome one, and life is in the journey, not at the end.
It isn’t necessary to read the book sequentially, but if it’s your habit to read books that way, that’s not a problem. If your habit is to pick and choose as you go along, that will work as well. That’s the way I read travel guides. The main purpose is for you to become as familiar as you can with the language, customs and values of the “new country” into which you have arrived. Accept that you’re going to mess up once in awhile; everyone does. When people are intolerant of it, that’s their problem, not yours. Just keep moving forward and learn as you go what works best.
I encourage you to begin or continue this journey, and to follow it to its end. It is certainly well worth it. For twenty-seven years I have been shaken, challenged, filled with amazement at the height and depth of the discoveries that I continue to make. I am confronted on an almost daily basis with my own stubbornness, limitations and mortality when I try to do too much alone. I am humbled by the presence of others who are willing to walk along with me, and those who tell me I have helped them. It more than I expected or asked for. I wouldn’t go back to the old way of living for anything; this one is way too much fun, and far less damaging to myself and others, and I have discovered a depth to my life and to life in general that I never knew and before could only dream of.
Some final words
Most of us learned early on to live our lives focused on external, surface realities and values. They are not only the easiest things to see and grasp, they are daily promoted in every possible way as being important to who and what we are. From the beginning of our lives, we learn to focus on things outside ourselves, and to assign them great value. Our society, drunk with consuming and consumerism, fosters this natural human tendency by bombarding you and I with messages about how these things will enhance our pleasure, make us happy, and give meaning and purpose to our lives. If we just have certain things, live in the right place, have the right kind of job, drink the right kind of beer or wine or whiskey or vitamin water, look good, and are “cool,” then we’re okay. If we don’t, we’re not. It’s a crazy system. An old bumper sticker said: He who dies with the most toys wins. The bumper sticker got it wrong: He who dies with the most toys dies, and all his stuff counts as nothing. The bumper sticker lied, and that’s a very bum deal that all of us who are addicts know very well, because we’ve been lied to by our suppliers for a very long time.
Restoring us to who we are as human beings, not pawns of addiction and its promoters, is a main goal of addiction recovery. With each step forward, and each day lived, we move further toward recovering who we really are. We recover our relationship with ourselves, with other people, and with the world we live in. We discover that each of us has a purpose, and what that is begins to dawn in us as we move forward. Recovery is growing from the inside out; it is taking our focus away from external things and our own needs and wants, and learning to give ourselves to others in service as we begin to see their value. Recovery is learning to focus on the present moment, and experiencing it in all its fullness and richness, even the sadness.
The secret to a successful recovery of who you are is to begin, continue day-by-day and step-by-step, try not to swallow too much at once so as not to overwhelm yourself, use the help that is there for you, and keep moving forward, at your own speed, but keep going. “Now are you prepared with wings to take flight?” writes Keiko Takahashi; “Can you cast off submissiveness to gravity, affection for the surface of the earth? Now are you prepared with wings to take flight? Can you part with ill feelings from the past, care for the wounds of your heart?” “We have been called to life by God,” writes dom Helder Câmara. “And because in God there is only a perennial today, let’s constantly keep this thought in our minds: always the same and always new.”
“Without hope I cannot live, the late great Hawaiian singer Israel Kamakawiwo’ole sang; “Remember the past but do not dwell there. Face the future where all our hopes stand.”
Move forward with hope.