How unfair does life have to be before we are justified in acting out? How much pain constitutes a valid reason for us to use our substance of choice, or harm ourselves, or just run away? Where is the line? As an addict, I was usually very interested in finding out where this line was. My self-pity was on high alert looking for it; waiting to glimpse a tragic scenario that would form the perfect frame for my breakdown.
If it’s unfair enough, I can do it without guilt, right? Any consequences will be adjusted to allow for the fact that I was driven to it…right? Having a mental health diagnosis provided excellent material for rationalization, because I could try to argue that the presumably slower suicide of drugs was a better choice than a quick and definite bid for death. I didn’t want to admit that there was always a third path.
Being in recovery is messing up this thought process, because I see people surviving any and every kind of unfairness without leaving their path of recovery. Whatever horrible thing leaps into your head when you think of what would make you smash it all to pieces, I’ve listened to someone who went through it and didn’t do that.
“But they’re not me,” you might be thinking, the way I used to. “They’re not _______. They don’t have _______ to deal with.” The truth is, maybe they are not. Maybe the challenges they undoubtedly have that you don’t know about really aren’t as intense as yours. Maybe it really IS harder for you than it is for them. And you know what? That’s not fair. It’s not even close to fair, and it isn’t going to be. So what now? Do we protest the injustice of this all the way to the morgue, or do we seek our own tough, unfair recovery?
I know what my choice is today. I’ve had a lot of help recently from a new sensation I have when I hurt or am overwhelmed with feelings. I feel the presence of a tender compassion within myself, at least that’s the best description I can give it. It listens to all my anger, fear, rebellion and despair without judging; without ever letting me even suspect I am being judged. I guess it comes from learning to love myself a little more, or to be more open to love from some spiritual source.
I’m so glad I have that now, and I think we can all use more of it. But lately I’m most grateful for a message that comes with it: almost an afterthought, but important, like that last line a character tosses out when leaving a room. Quiet, but resonant, almost seductive and implacable like a dominant lover, it whispers: “You know, this changes nothing.”
That mixture of tenderness and immovability is what gets me. My feelings are held with love and understanding, and it changes nothing. I still have to stay clean today. I still have to do a lot of things I don’t want to do. Whatever this thing inside or outside of myself is, I have no doubt that it will love me without end even if I do act out. But that love changes nothing when it comes to the consequences.
This paradox applies to all of us. How do we treat ourselves with kindness and respect, no matter what–no, REALLY, no matter what–and also take an appropriate amount of responsibility for our actions and inaction? How do we learn to correct our behavior without getting stuck in shame or perfectionism or rebellion? When trying to help someone else, how do we find that middle ground between enabling their behavior and judging them too harshly? What makes the difference between beating ourselves up and holding ourselves accountable?
Our quest to find this balance will never end. I’m glad we don’t have to go on it alone.