Recovery is Messy

I have learned a lot about recovery over the past few months. One thing that never ceases to fascinate me is that it’s a process, not an epiphany. I mean its fascinating because even though I get it, I kind of marvel at how deeply entrenched the epiphany thing is — like for me personally, but also as a cultural thing. The pervasive “rock bottom” trope tells you that you have to come as close as possible to killing yourself as you can before the light bulb moment. Then you change.

I have a couple of thoughts on this. First: it’s bullshit. In an odd way, I think it can actually fuel nihilistic drinking. “I”m not there yet. I can keep going. I should keep going.” The (twisted) logic here is that the more effectively you propel yourself to the “bottom,” the sooner you can get better. Or something like that? But we drinkers are all about twisted logic right?

Second and more deeply, I think the “rock bottom” myth plays in to the hope that “if I’m fed up enough, willpower will come.” Rock bottom becomes “the event” that will magically infuse you with the mojo you need to quit for good. In other words, we think, somehow, that rock bottom will make quitting easier.

I think this is one of the reasons why we love redemption stories. They turn change in to a mysterious force from the outside that descends upon you, and smooths the path. But if there is one thing I’ve learned — be it quitting smoking, trying like hell to stay on top of  my to-do list, or shit-canning 90% of what I write before anything is published — it is that change comes out of getting up the next day and trying again.

It takes courage and fortitude just to ignore set aside the self-loathing you feel after you’ve bolloxed it up, and just start over. I don’t always have this courage and fortitude, for the record. But I try to remind myself that starting over is always good. Even if you feel like you are completely full of shit. Even if you don’t feel you deserve to try again. Even if you have failed fifty times before.

This is why recovery isn’t a tidy epiphany, or an “event.” It’s a process. Some of us who learn the hard way have to get realllly good at failing before we succeed. Trying to change and failing is normal. It’s really normal. So if I am talking to someone who is trying to moderate, or quitting for a few days or weeks at a time and always finding themselves back at the starting line, I don’t know what else to do but validate “trying again.” My kid and I talked about this once a while back. No matter how much wallowing you’re doing, and no matter how much you’ve botched up in the past, you can be sober today. Hard to argue with that logic, isn’t it?

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