Sobriety Navigator: We are not our disease.
In 1990, one Sunday morning at a home group meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, a familiar face walked through the door. It was an older gentleman I had frequently seen when I first came into the A.A. 12 step program a decade earlier. When we broke up into small groups and began our sharing, this gentle, kind spirit (who was visibly sad) proceeded to talk about his constant struggle with sobriety. I did not know this person outside of meetings and did not know his personal story, and now learned he had been struggling with recurrent relapses.
As we all sat there quietly listening to him talk, he said something that touched me profoundly. He claimed that the reason he struggled with sobriety and life in general was because he had never felt good enough for himself. This man had rejected himself all his life and had known nothing of the freedom from the bondage of self. Of course, many people reached out to him with compassion, understanding and acceptance. Nonetheless, this gentleman committed suicide a few years later.
In 2000, I was standing outside talking, but mostly listening, to my favorite brother. He was very distressed about his addiction to marijuana. He was again telling me that he had been smoking pot every day since 1973. Every so often he would come to me and talk about what was really going on in his life. I never judged him, I just listened. He was a closet marijuana user. After he finished sharing, he stomped his foot and said, “I don’t want to go to a 12 step program.” He was ashamed of who he was and had been all his life. Marijuana helped him to cope and live with the self-condemnation and toxic shame that overwhelmed him. He died from this disease of addiction in 2004.
These are just two stories of the many good, kind, sensitive human beings that either couldn’t make it or refused to even try. Their self-rejection prevented their understanding that we have a disease, we are not a disease.
Just because we feel bad doesn’t mean we are bad. Just because our judgment becomes impaired from substance abuse does not mean we’re stupid. Our higher power can and does accept us, just the way we are.
It has been the experience of many recovering members of 12 step program that recovery, maturity and emotional sobriety happen in a natural, organic process, usually when we’re too busy living life on life’s terms to notice the gradual changes. It is usually when we work with the newcomer or listen to someone else speak at a meeting that we are reminded of where we were and how far we have come. Most of us can’t tell you exactly when the changes occurred.
Our value as human beings is not measured by how we feel about ourselves at any given moment. Our value exists because we exist.