The Cave

Five Years

Today marks five years of sobriety in my life. I look back at that time and I ask myself have I come far? Am I a better person? Is it worth it? If I am honest with myself I can respond with some conviction “yes” to all of these questions. When I look at the person am I now compared to whom I was five years ago the change is remarkable. This process of change has not been dramatic but gradual. Change has not come over night but has been achieved through incremental progress, “one day at a time”.

Has it been hard? It has been the hardest thing I have ever done. Becoming sober and trying to achieve a measure of emotional sobriety has been a roller coaster ride. The good news is that anything that we strive for, anything worth doing is rarely a walk in the park. Sobriety is no different. Most days we are getting by fine but we keep up the pressure and test ourselves. By never resting on our laurels and by applying principles in all areas of life and by being true to our values we prepare ourselves for those tough times when we need to dig deep. Philosophy helps us to get there.

 

“There is no success without hardship” – Sophocles

 

Life is a Wrestle

The Stoics understood the purpose of philosophy. They committed to applying their philosophy every waking hour. It was not a tool they used when they needed to draw inspiration or use a handy “get out of jail free card”.

 

“The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing, in so far as it stands ready against the accidental and the unforeseen, and is not apt to fall.” – Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius compared life to a wrestling match. A wrestler is able to move gracefully and with purpose. The Wrestler is aware of his surroundings and can move through time and space with ease like a dancer. At the same time a Wrestler can anticipate an attack and if taken off guard can quickly recover from an assault, break a hold and turn the table in his favor. Using strength, flexibility, agility, momentum, technique, courage and intelligence the Wrestler prevails over his opponent.

Unless we take our philosophy for life and apply it, practice it and make progress constantly we will not benefit. We should learn from mistakes and strive to improve so that we do not become complacent and untrained. We are less likely to handle the adversities of life, be it an opponent in the ring, a sudden crisis, a tragic event or even a petty inconvenience that raises our ire if we are ill prepared.

Being sober has been five years of “train hard to fight easy”. I have had to wrestle mostly with my own failings. I have worked the 12 Steps and applied my principles and values in order to recover.   Working the Steps and being Jedi has enabled me to manage my anger, fear, anxiety, resentment and self pity.

 

The Cave

In many ways the last five years has been a solo journey.  I have had to face many challenges and confront many fears and a great deal of doubt and pain alone. My family has been there and there is also a fellowship to learn from but ultimately any one who passes through their personal Dagobah Cave must do so alone. When Luke Skywalker confronted his dark side in the Dagobah Cave he did so by himself. Yoda knew what Luke would face there; he too had faced his own personal Demons and conquered them.  Yoda also knew that Luke had to face the cave alone.

 

“What will I find in there”? – Luke Skywalker

“Only what you take with you” – Yoda

 

The Dagobah Cave scene was a symbol of the human need for self exploration and self knowledge. We all want to know what resides within ourselves every flaw and fault as well as every virtue. When I embarked on my journey or recovery I did not know myself. I thought I did but it was an illusion. The person I saw when I looked in the mirror was not the person that other people saw. What I believed others saw in me was not a reality either. I lived in self illusion and dishonesty.

Only by having the courage to confront myself and reveal all of my faults and flaws to another and to my Higher Power was a clear picture presented. I was appalled by what I saw but I also knew I did not have to be that person any longer.With self-knowledge  I could change but I had to want to and be prepared to do the work.

 

The essence of knowledge is self-knowledge” – Plato

Catharsis

In order to change sometimes we have to be prepared to undergo a personal catharsis first. For me it was hitting rock bottom and then finding a way out as I surrendered to a Higher Power. It was not the first time I had experienced a transformative experience. The death of my Mother when I was seven was traumatic and confusing. The years I spent in orphanages, juvenile foster care and living with an abusive alcoholic taught me about survival and the value of human dignity and justice. Service in the military and years as a homeless itinerant after discharge taught me about the wider world and showed me the best and worst in others and in myself. Alcoholism too was an important school of life.

 

“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny” – CS Lewis

 

All of these experiences were personal Dagobah Caves; trials on the journey of life. All of them carried poignant and powerful impacts on my life that shaped my character and my destiny. Those experiences carried important life lessons which have made me who I am today.

 

“Self knowledge puts us on our knees, and it is very necessary for love. For knowledge of God gives love, and knowledge of self gives humility” – Mother Theresa

 

 

The School of Life

If my alma mater is the school of hard knocks, then the last five years of sobriety has been the most powerful graduate school I could have ever hoped for. The prize has been emotional, mental, physical and spiritual growth. Recovery teaches us a great deal about ourselves and others. We are taken beyond the limits of what we thought was humanly possible. Much of the time we are swimming against the tide.

There are  years or decades of reinforced behaviors, ideals, bias and sacred cows to overcome before we can progress. The requirement is a complete overhaul of who we thought we were. We have to stop looking outside ourselves for faults and excuses but look inwardly at how we have made our lives. For many this can be confronting and frightening. Some of us fight it and resist but we know that we must enter that dark cave and put trust in our Higher Power. We must enter alone and face the truth, only then can we emerge victorious.

“When you think everything is someone else’s fault, you suffer a lot. When you realize that everything springs only from yourself, you will learn both peace and joy.” – Dalai Lama

 

Life Contract

Tomorrow I will wake up to another sober day. God willing there will be many more. I like to believe that I will see this life through without sliding back in to alcoholism. The future is uncertain and far better people than me have relapsed so I don’t take my life for granted. Even the most promising Jedi can turn to the dark side and become Sith. If I can continue the upward march towards a higher vantage point that never ends till the final breath I will be contented. There is still much work to do; there is no five year contract on sobriety or personal betterment. It is a life contract with my Higher Power.

We should never be complacent. I will not rest because of a milestone. It is only another day. Aurelius believed that his Legionnaires should train as hard in peace as they did in war. So should we. As Jedi we are compelled to train and to improve ourselves, it is our personal duty. While we drop our guard our opponents are watching and waiting for an opportunity. Our addiction is outside doing push-ups while we get comfortable in our complacency.

If we work at it a little at a time, day by day, consistently without repose we see the change that we seek not just in ourselves but in others too. Improvement happens incrementally. We work and do what we have to do, rather than what we want to do.

A philosophy for life is for life and to live well is to do so without struggle and without rush. We only live one day at a time and deal with one obstacle at a time, with each step we climb higher. Consistency and commitment is everything. Faith keeps us there. Remember it took Yoda nearly 900 years to reach enlightenment. Enjoy the ride and also take the time to smell the roses, you worked for them.

Tolerance

Remember, a Jedi fights only as a last resort. If you are forced to draw your lightsaber, you have already forfeited much of your advantage. A Jedi trusts the Force and at first seeks other ways to resolve problems: patience, logic, tolerance, attentive listening, negotiation, persuasion, calming techniques. But there are times when a Jedi must fight. – Luke Sywalker to Students

Higher Learning

Some time ago I was at a University during  its Open Day and I wandered from one tent stand to another. There were Philosophy and Political Groups to Religious and Sporting Clubs. A tent for sober and recovering students was parked next to a group calling itself “Party Hardy”. I enjoyed the appearance of harmony and tolerance on the campus. There were students wearing signs of religious affiliation and an Islamic students tent tended by young men in dish dash and prayer caps were serving Halal sausages to student wearing shorts and singlets.

I came across a tent stand that was occupied by a group that sit on the political spectrum well left of the middle. A large bearded guy with a Karl Marx T-shirt was standing next to a girl wearing a Hijab and a “Black Lives Matter” T-shirt. The guy saw me looking at the Posters decrying all the wrongs in the world from corporate power to American Imperialism and environmental destruction.

Seeing my attention he offered a newspaper and said “Hi”. On the cover was an article about the conflict in Syria. I paused there and he said something to the effect that “It was *expletive* terrible what is happening over there, Russia and Assad have started killing the Kurds”. My jaw dropped and I looked at him in amazement and asked “What? For real?”. This was a shock, did I miss something in the last 24 hours? The war in Syria moves and shifts at an incredible speed, alliances form and break up. The news is distorted and often fabricated. I spent a lot of time digesting news and sorting fact from fiction. If true, this was a serious development.

“Yeah Man *expletive* they dropped gas on the Kurds in Aleppo”, he said starting to get a little excited, “ *expletive* Russians, I *expletive* hate them”.

The penny dropped.

“Actually I said, that’s not right, last week there was a gas attack in Aleppo on the district held by the Kurds but the perpetrators were anti-Government Rebels holding East Aleppo, not Assad or the Russians”, I told him.

“That’s Bullshit” he replied, now looking at me with suspicion.

“No” I said “It was reported in many of the media outlets and by the Observatory for Human Right in Syria”

“What media?”, he asked “ *expletive* RT”?

“Yes, RT, Al Jazeera, Middle East eye and others”, I replied.

“RT and Fox man, that’s *expletive* Fake News, run by Putin and that stooge Trump”, he was getting a little red in the face, his voice was louder.

I made a comment that I knew people in Syria, western volunteers in the Kurdish militia, the YPG, and independent correspondents they had corroborated the story but the mainstream media had not picked it up.

At the mention of the YPG, the girl in the Hijab who had been standing to one side in silence, spoke up;

“The YPG?” she said “They are Terrorists, stealing land from Arabs, persecuting Muslims. They are worse than ISIS”, she pointed a finger at the sky.

“I’m sorry?” I asked rhetorically and replied;  “They have Arabs in their Forces, Christians too. They are socialists like you, don’t you support that”?

The bearded guy glared at me “They’re not Socialists Man, they’re puppets of Western Imperialism!”.

I was flabbergasted, these people are meant to be educated “But, the US supplies weapons to everyone in Syria fighting Assad or ISIL, even listed Terrorist groups”, I said and rattled off some names.

The lady’s  face grew darker as I spoke “The Kurds are racists and nationalists who oppress Arabs and Muslims on their own land!” she shouted “Anyone who supports them is an Islamophobe and a Racist”!

They both glared at  me like I was some sort of decayed trash. I was the enemy in their eyes. The symbol of what they hated. The conversation had ended. I gave him back his paper and moved on. I heard the girl say “Privileged White Asshole”  to her ginger haired white friend.

Tolerance is Being Heard

Once upon a time I had been politically active. I had considered myself a Socialist of the type that wanted to see the poor lifted up and conditions for blue collar workers improved. There had been the protests for the protection of Forests, nuclear disarmament and end of Apartheid in South Africa. We felt as if the causes were for everyone not just the few and our dreams were for a better future not a more divided one.

The protest movement was based on Love and Hope, not Fear and Anger. Now decades later I was in the same place I had walked in Protest as a naive activist complaining about intolerance and had just been called a “Privileged White Asshole” by a person who didn’t know me at all for expressing a view.  I thought about my childhood, the living in poor housing, the missed meals and forgotten Christmas’s. Going to school in threadbare clothes and worn out shoes. The years of struggling in alcoholism and the sting of shame at being broke all of the time. I felt like someone had kicked me in the groin. I never knew the privilege she was referring to.

How can someone judge  a person so blindly and so negatively when they don’t even know the person? We are taught that a person’s skin color, ethnicity and religion should not matter and that tolerance should be embraced. Yet at the same time the freedom of open dialogue and expression has been constrained to such a degree that to have an opinion is discouraged unless it is accepted as “politically correct”.  It occurred to me that there are people in the world on both extremes of the political spectrum who are intolerant of others beliefs and views. That not all people of Faith are tolerant of other Faiths. The world is more intolerant now than ever before and as a result people are lashing out.

The highest result of education is tolerance” – Helen Keller

Opinions are not Facts

We believe what we want to believe and when evidence appears that contradicts that “sacred cow” we either revise our view point or we throw the shutters down. I’ve been called Islamophobic, Homophobic, Xenophobic, Sexist and Misogynist and a Russophile in my time. I would reject those charges, except I am quite fond of Russia and Russian women in particular.

The point is that we may not agree on certain points of view or opinions but we can allow dialogue and discussion that is informed, considerate and causes no harm to others. If one is to learn and expand their knowledge the opinions of others must be considered and evaluated in an objective and impartial manner. Throwing the shutters down makes no sense just because we disagree with someone on a point of view.

 

Tribal Warfare

A study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine looked at the phenomenon of Social Media and the death of debate. The results found that social interaction is now stymied by the emergence of strong divisions along the lines of opinion on social issues and politics.

A sort if Tribalism has emerged where a person is automatically judged, accepted or rejected as a human being based on their opinions on specific issues such as race, global warming, religion, gender equality or politics. Non conformance with the accepted dogma will result in a tirade of hate comments and possible online harassment. In the real world it can get you harassed,  bashed or worse.

The New Intolerance

The phenomenon has spread to Universities and High Schools where lecturers and teachers insist on certain views that are consistent with their own and penalize or ostracize students who question them. I’m reminded of my childhood when any expressed doubt of “original sin” or the holy trinity was met with a torrent of shrieking and admonishment from the Sisters who taught us. If you did not conform you were defective and to be punished.

Recently Universities such as Berkley and  Middlebury College were the scenes of riots as students forced the cancellation of lectures by visiting controversial figures. These were not preachers of radical ideology and extremism but academics who hold a position that is counter to the current opinion and ideology. The Higher schools of Learning are being sabotaged and opinion silenced by dissent, righteous anger and the threat of violence.

Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one’s beliefs. Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of other” – John F Kennedy

Bartolerance

Intolerance is a trait that becomes an alcoholic. Being an obstinate and recalcitrant bunch we tend to get impatient with people that don’t agree with our views. We quickly right off people, places and things that do not concur with our distorted view of reality. Intolerance keeps the Ego strong and provides enough resentment and belligerency to keep us in active alcoholism.

Once upon a time I was a bar philosopher and boozy political commentator, the debates were lively, if not slurred, but as far as I was concerned the other person had nothing to say. Only my opinion mattered but that did not stop me from buying rounds all night to keep the conversation going. Anyone who drank with me was alright in my opinion regardless of their views. I had a type of Bartolerance on opinions.

Tolerance is the virtues of the man without convictions” – Gilbert K Chesterton

Keep an Open Mind

I love the phrases “take what you need and leave the rest” and “live and let live”, the first time I heard them in the context of tolerance was at a 12 Step Meeting early in my recovery. I had become dogmatic in my views about the program and was a bit of Big Book thumper. The printed words in the book Alcoholics Anonymous were gospel to be followed to the letter and without divergence rather than a set of recommendations and suggestions as the authors of the program had intended.

“Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on out-side issues; hence the A.A. name ought never be drawn into public controversy.” – Tradition 10, “12 Steps and 12 Traditions”.

Bill W and the other founders realized that in order to attract people to the program they needed to make it as palatable as possible for all irrespective of their religious, political or philosophical views or lack  there of. The Founders encouraged new comers to go out and try different things and to speak to psychologists, doctors and religious or spiritual advisors about their problems. The fellowship did not claim to have a cure but a program that if accepted as a way of life would bring a spiritual renewal that would remove the compulsion to drink.

In the program there are people of all religious denominations, political ideologies, atheists, agnostics, ages, races and background. Professionals sit side by side with shop floor workers. The rich sit with the poor. Everyone is in the same boat and opinions do not matter. All are accepted for who they truly are, a spiritual being having a human experience. A human being who wants to get sober. I have often wondered at how this is possible but it is and it could be like this everywhere. Opinions do not matter, people do. We can disagree but we can disagree agreeably.

Be Jedi, be tolerant and keep an open mind.

The Hero

“I, I will be king
And you, you will be queen
Though nothing, will drive them away
We can beat them, just for one day
We can be heroes, just for one day” – Bowie

The Hero’s Journey

When George Lucas wrote Star Wars he based the story on the mythical Hero as described by Joseph Campbell. “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” describes the “Hero’s Journey”, a narrative monomyth which has existed since the dawn of story telling. The Monomyth follows the story of one who answers the call for adventure, the Hero archetype. Departing home the Hero encounters and overcomes the fear of the unknown and sometimes with a mentor learns the path to overcoming challenges and obstacles that lay ahead. Towards the middle of the story the Hero meets resistance and facing peril must overcome  an enemy or nemesis and finding strength and the help of others is able gain the prize.

The story continues and we think the Hero is safely home but encounters even greater challenges that bar the way. Unable to escape the Hero battles in a climactic struggle. Victorious at last  the Hero claims the final prize and discovers a revelation that restores the balance. The Hero is transformed and returns home or continues the journey.

The “Hero’s Journey” can be seen as a metaphor for life. We all face similar milestones in our personal Journey through Life. In recovery, we know the path quite well.

The Hero

People have always been inspired by the Hero. Legends and Myths are full of them. Since the Babylonian tale of Gilgamesh written in 18 century BC, the human story has included Odysseus, Hercules, David and Jason. Our contemporary fiction is full of them and include unlikely heroes like Harry Potter, Bilbo and Frodo Baggins and Luke Skywalker and Jyn, Rey and Finn. Each of the characters became swept up in events greater than themselves. They  became accidental heroes who went far beyond what they believed they could achieve for the greater good. Their stories followed the classic “Hero’s Journey” as described by Campbell. The Hero provides humanity with an example for others to follow. We carry our Heroes on shields and decorate them with awards and medals.

No Ordinary Hero

Sometimes the Heroes of the world are right in front of us but we don’t even recognize them. These are not like the Heroes in the Ancient or Modern Sagas. They have committed themselves when action was needed with no time to think or plan. The bystander who jumps in to perform CPR, the one who instinctively jumps in to a swollen river to rescue a drowning child and the person who races in to a burning building to pull out survivors are the ones we sometimes hear about in the news. They remind us that there are still people out there who are willing to risk their lives for others. We think their acts are exceptional and rare while in fact they are in most people. The instinctive need to help and to protect and preserve life. It’s in our DNA.

We often hail our sporting achievers as “heroes” yet what have they done other than win a title, medals or a trophy, usually for great monetary reward and fame? Society tends to overlook underpaid and overworked care givers like Paramedics, Nurses, public health care Doctors as well as Police Officers and Fire and Rescue for their daily heroic deeds. Volunteers who dedicate their time and money to helping the poor, looking after the environment or taking care of animals are rarely considered “Heroes”. Not many people would count School Teachers, Hospice Workers, Aid Workers and Volunteers as Heroes. Soldiers are treated as “Heroes” and lauded for their military feats in some wars and derided or condemned for fighting others.

The Classic Hero as described by Joseph Campbell is a rare gem and one that primarily exists in literature and movies. Real Hero’s are are actually everywhere.

The Accidental Hero

Luke Skywalker was a hero of my childhood and for me had all the ideal traits that made such. I could also relate to Luke Skywalker on a personal level as I had also suffered loss. Skywalker gave many kids a dream that they could reach for the skies and achieve incredible feats if they only believed. Not long ago someone pointed out that Luke was no Hero. Why I asked? Well, he had destroyed an artificial planet with many thousands of lives. This “atrocity” had not ended the war, in many ways it had extended it and the untold suffering it caused.

The Death Star was moments away from ending the Rebellion and the war but instead it was destroyed. The Empire suffered a crushing military defeat with the loss of important Admirals and the ultimate weapon of deterrence. The war raged across the galaxy for years after and so did the death and the destruction. My Friend kind of had a point.

My Friend also pointed out that Luke Skywalker was not only against the established rule of law and active in an illegal Rebellion but he was indoctrinated in to an ancient religion. This religious belief compelled him to destroy the Death Star and continued to drive him to carry out attacks in the war and eventually topple it. Does this not sound at least a little like a terrorist?

The Modern Hero Dilemma

I thought about the many recent conflicts I had become acquainted. In these wars I had taken sides. One side was “Right” and the other “Wrong”. More than once I had called people I knew “Heroes”. They had traveled to Syria to join the Kurds and fight ISIL, an extremist and brutal regime. While I believe my friends to be Freedom Fighters and “Heroes”, other people, many decent and intelligent, called them “Terrorists” or “Criminals”. It made me realize that the word “Hero” can be a little ambiguous at times. In fact not everyone can agree on what, let alone who, a Hero is.

Then  what is a Hero? How would we define it? Many Real World Jedi have their own definition of what a Hero is and they diverge as much as people in any other part of society. This is a Jedi Philosophy Blog so I will take the words of Joseph Campbell to help define what a Hero is here:

A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.“- Joseph Campbell

Then that would mean that anyone who has died for a cause that he or she considered bigger than themselves fits the definition of a Hero…Obviously this cause problems as it would firmly validate the phrase “one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist”. The cliché in fact contradicts itself as we know that no terrorist can be a Hero and no Hero can be a terrorist then neither can exist as they cancel each other out. To me a Friend in Syria is a Hero fighting for Freedom from tyranny, to many people in Turkey and  the Arab world he is a Terrorist as he happens to be fighting under a Kurdish Flag. Being a Hero can be complicated.

The Journey

As a recovering alcoholic I know that things never appear to be black and white. Every ideal and bias that we hold is a product of our Ego. The human psyche pushes many of us to embark on the “Heroes Journey”. In a perfect world there would be no need for Freedom Fighters or Terrorists. Heroes on the other hand, we need those angels like the Paramedics, Nurses, Cops and Soldiers who put others before themselves. The recovering Alcoholic in a 12 Step Meeting who comforts and consoles a newcomer who is at the end of his wits is a Hero. Each of us can through simple act of kindness and love in our daily lives also be Heroes.

“Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay… small acts of kindness and love.” –  Gandalf “Lord of the Rings”

Marcus Aurelius admonishes us to stop “Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one” There are five common traits found in a Hero. They are courage, selflessness, humility, patience and caring. These are the virtues which the Stoics like Aurelius found so important if one was to achieve the “good life”. They are also the virtues that a Jedi was expected to demonstrate consistently. The 12 Steps require all five virtues for recovery to be built on a solid foundation:

Courage

Courage is when a person does something in spite of their Fear.

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear” – Mark Twain.

Selflessness

Selflessness is doing something for others without expecting anything in return, indeed often with personal sacrifice.

selflessness is the only way for progress and prosperity” – The Bhagavad Gita

Humility

Humility is acting in a way that shows you respect yourself but never place yourself above others to look down.

Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less” – CS Lewis

 

Patience

Patience is being able to accept that things to happen at their own pace even when we wished they wouldn’t. Good things do come to those that wait.

Patience is bitter but it’s fruit is sweet” – Aristotle

 

Caring

Caring is showing to others the kindness and concern that they deserve. Caring is in the little acts that we do every day.

Caring The simple act of caring is heroic” – Edward Albert

 

Can we be all of these things? Can we be the Hero that we are meant to be? We can be Heroes not in the big causes that we take up but in the simple every day acts of life.

Fools Rush In

No! Unfortunate that you rushed to face him… that incomplete was your training. Not ready for the burden were you.” – Yoda

In “The Empire Strikes Back” Luke Skywalker departs Dagobah against the advice of his teacher and mentor Yoda. Luke is driven by the need to help his friends and seeks to confront the evil that is Darth Vader. At this time Luke is unaware of the truth about Darth Vader, he is untrained and mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually unprepared for the challenge he has set himself. All of this matters not to Luke, like his father Anakin, he has a strong will and wants to prove himself. There is the compulsion in him to rush things and reach his goals before he is ready. In the Cloud City of Bespin Luke is lured in to a trap and meeting Darth Vader learns the terrible truth of his past before narrowly escaping. The revelation nearly destroys Luke.

Later in “The Return of the Jedi” Luke returns to Dagobah seeking to resume his training and finds there a frail Yoda, close to death. Luke broaches the subject of his Father and it is revealed that indeed Darth Vader is his Father, Anakin. Yoda then admonishes Luke that he was bound to fail in his confrontation with Vader, he was unprepared and not ready for the strong psychological and spiritual burden of knowing the truth and resisting the Dark Side. Yoda reminds Luke that sometimes in life we must realize we have much to learn and farther to go in our personal growth before we are ready to enter the next stage of our life.

The Stages of Life

Life happens in stages. We all know this. Babies are born and grow, Children bloom in to Teens and young Adults and then enter Adulthood. Eventually they find their chosen profession, find a partner and perhaps begin a family. Along the way they reach and surpass typical milestones in life mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Eventually their own kids grow up and leave the nest and they enter in to the middle years of life possibly with Grandkid. There is retirement and contemplation and eventually the twilight years before succumbing to old age. That is how an “ideal” or “typical” life is meant to look, or so we are told.

The life experience of one person will differ to another. This can be due to a range of factors including age, gender, cultural upbringing and education. We may find ourselves getting impatient with other people or disagree with their views. Often times we have to consider that they may be at a stage in their life which we have passed or yet to reach. We have to make allowances for that. Remember that life is a progression, a journey in which we learn and grow over time often in stages. Sometimes we guide others, like our kids and sometimes we take advice from those with more life experience and wisdom than us.

It takes a long time to bring excellence to maturity.” – Publilius Syrus

Growing Up

Everyone ages and matures at a different rate. I have met 16 year old kids living in less developed countries who were more mature and grounded than some middle age professionals I have encountered in the corporate rate race. Maturity does not necessarily correlate  with age, position, address or size of pay check. Indeed as an active alcoholic I was emotionally and socially immature, a child in a man’s body. I stopped growing as a person once I started to rely on alcohol as a social stimulant and then a requirement. That did not stop me from being relatively functional but I needed booze to function. In sobriety I discovered that I lacked the basic tools to interact with people and handle situations normally. The crutch had been removed and I had to learn to stand on my own two feet with nothing more than a basic comprehension of a program for recovery and an even dimmer understanding of the concept of a ‘Higher Power”.

“Every difficulty in life presents us with an opportunity to turn inward and to invoke our own submerged inner resources. The trials we endure can and should introduce us to our strengths.” – Epictetus

I would not expect someone who has just hit rock bottom and looking for a way out of alcoholism to know everything there is to know about recovery. It takes time, patience, effort and a lot of faith to build the experience, knowledge, wisdom and skills required to attain “contented sobriety”. Deciding after 6 weeks of “white knuckled” abstinence that we are cured is deceiving one’s self. We can try to test that idea and perhaps get away with it but it is a huge gamble and one that rarely pays off in the long run. Believe me I tried.

The Long Curve

There are many things in life which present as a steep learning curve, parenting is one of them, bringing a baby home for the first time can seem daunting and even terrifying to new parents. There is all this stuff you have to do and know that no one tells you about and the books don’t even mention. Nothing prepares you for it. Babies don’t wait if they are hungry or need a diaper changed or run a fever for us to figure it out the first time.  By child number two you are a bit more settled and after that it’s a doddle. Now you are a veteran in child raising and you look at new parents going through the same steep learning curve and you smile knowingly. Parenting is stressful but most parents cope fine and learn a lot about themselves. Recovery is sort of the same, it is a learning curve but it’s not steep, its long and its all up hill.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit”. – Aristotle

Fools Rush In

One of the things I learned is that we cannot rush our recovery. There is no well defined point that can be reached where one declares “That’s it! I’m cured”. To take the view that a cure exists is to decide there might be short cuts and seek arrival at the desired destination of a subjective “normalcy” sooner. This is called the merry-go-round approach to life. We may change seats and try different ways of but we are still on the same ride and nothing changes.

What is “normal” anyway? Some would argue for alcoholics it is the ability to “take it or leave it” and to respond to life in an appropriate and proportionate manner. I am recovered but I will never be fully recovered and being honest would not even be able to define what “recovered” is. If I make it to the end of the day in a better condition than yesterday it’s a win.

The important thing to remember is that although we can claim the power to recover, we remain powerless over alcohol but we are never powerless to act. Many people might dispute this and claim a definitive cure but I err on the side of caution and set the cardinal rule as it applies to my addiction. I may be ready to take up a lot of challenges in life now and in the future but I will never be able to drink normally again. I won’t make the same mistake that Luke did and rush in to confront my addiction by feeding it.

Wise men say, Only Fools Rush in” – Elvis Presley

 Reaching Victory

Will I ever reach a stage in my life where I can claim victory? If recovery is a journey where the final destination is the end of life then it would be fair to say yes. If I can reach the end of life without having relapsed in to who I was before and can hopefully look back on a life “well lived” and accept death with equanimity, that is a victory in my book. There is no desire in me to declare a “cure” and return to drinking or arrive at a point that can be defined as “happily ever after“. I would not return to the illusion if I could, even if assured of being able to indulge without fear or anything worse than a hangover. That is a sane and a mature approach to something as insane as addiction. Live on life’s terms.

The final battle between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader provides a lesson in victory. Surrendering control, accepting what is, embracing reality and letting go of what does not serve through action leads us there:

Luke Skywalker departs Dagobah and on the Planet Endor surrenders to Darth Vader. Taken to the Death Star II Luke is tempted to the Dark Side by Darth Sidious. The Emperor forces Luke to  battle Darth Vader and urges his to succumb to anger. Luke has grown and is able to resist falling to the Dark Side. His actions ultimately save his father and destroy the Dark Lord. Like Luke we must be willing to confront our own darker side not by use of force or resistance but by surrendering to what is, accepting who we are, embracing change and finally letting go. That is the path to victory. Luke had reached the end of his training and could now call himself a Jedi.

There is no “happily ever after” but Luke does find some closure, for now.

There must be a beginning of any great matter, but the continuing unto the end until it be thoroughly finished yields the true glory.”- Sir Frances Drake