“So I know it’s just a spring haze
But I don’t much like the look of it
And all we do is circle it
And I found out where my edge is
And it bleeds into where you resist
And my only way, way out is to go
So far in” — “Spring Haze” (Tori Amos)
This post has nothing and everything to do with parenting. This is a subject that has been the work of a strenuous inner-dialogue, though it’s the first time that I’ve written anything publicly on the matter.
The day that my maternity leave ended, a large road construction project began smack dab in the middle of my route to work. As such, I’ve had to take a longer detour into the office each morning. Along this detour, I pass a settlement of recovery houses by the side of the road. The whole mismatched complex boasts the sign, “Serenity House” at the entrance. From what I can make of it, there are two residential houses with satellite trailers sprinkled on the grounds. Each morning when I pass (a few minutes before 8am), there are small throngs of folks hanging out at picnic tables outside. They are mostly scruffy smokers, some young, some old. There are a number of questionable fashion choices and scraggly haircuts. For some reason, seeing this sight in the morning (maybe because it’s early and I’m still very tired) brings about in me an extremely visceral reaction.
The reaction comes from the truth that I used to be one of those people. For years. This isn’t something that I talk about a lot anymore. To be honest, I’m not sure it’s a topic I’ve ever touched on this blog. In my teens and early-twenties, I had a serious alcohol and drug problem. I first got clean at 17, relapsed at 20, got sober again at 21, and have been clean since then (over eight years). My “program of recovery” has evolved to look very different from the 12-step prescription that’s so prevalent in America today. I don’t go to meetings, have a sponsor, or believe in an interventionist god. I’ve done all of those things in the past, and they were helpful in their own way, but the dogma couldn’t overcome the lack of authenticity that I found in myself in that space. For me, and I can only speak from my personal experience, the constant attention to the problems of my past (and other people’s chaotic lives) kept me in a sick spiral. Breaking out of that mode of thinking about recovery, like breaking out of the cycle of addiction, has been one of the most formative intrapersonal experiences of my adult life.
I find that this topic ruffles a lot of feathers within the structured recovery community. It’s never my intention to offend, but I can’t help but think that the subject upsets people because it casts a little grey area on the black and white rhetoric of 12-step programs. The bent is usually something to the effect of, “those who don’t go to meetings are dry drunks who will use again.” Nothing in life is that clear cut. I value my sobriety. I value my formative years in a structured program of recovery. But now, I value the time and energy that it takes to attend to the life I’ve built out of that recovery. Perhaps that’s a selfish conclusion (i.e., I’m not paying forward the time and attention given me by others). Still, I feel that the life I lead today best enables me to be of service and love to my wife, our son, my friends, parents, and colleagues.
When I sit back and think about what it took for me to get here, I’m floored by the complexity of my experience. While I hit a low “bottom” when I was actively using, I think that I sustained more unhealthy behaviors and relationships over time in recovery than at any other point in my life. Some of this was the by-product of getting sober so young, but some of it is what happens when sick members justify the behavior of other sick members. Dis-ease breeds dis-ease. This was by no means my across the board experience, so I don’t mean to sound petty. I was also inspired to new levels by many of the friends I’ve made in my years in recovery. There are some beautiful, healthy, intimate, vulnerable, loving people out there. And I’ve had the good fortune to share the road with many of them during some difficult times. That said, I haven’t found 12-step programs to be the magic bullet promised. I’m always striving for authenticity, which is fluid, not prescriptive. It’s like the dilemma in R’s last post about food: How do we strive toward higher ideals without sacrificing our critical thinking?
I don’t have the answers to that question, but I’m learning to trust my intuition more readily. I can make healthy choices for myself and my family. I can eat cleaner, locally grown foods. I can parent my child openly and actively. I can protect and strengthen my marriage each day. I can make smart choices of how to spend my time, money, and energy. I can find a way to work for myself while empowering other people. I can fight for my civil rights. I can strive to be a better friend and a better daughter. I can choose to tell the truth. I can choose to amend my behavior. I can choose to accept and love myself as a whole and unique person. I don’t think it’s true humility to walk through each day thinking of oneself as an emotionally diseased person who must submit their agency, as one is not to be “trusted.” I want to find my humility in reverence to life, to nature, and to the experience of love. I don’t need religion for that. And, I find, that as I strive for these goals, I’m able to measure myself by the yardstick of my own life. I spent much of my young life fruitlessly comparing myself to others. Inevitably, I always prided myself on my seeming superiority or chastised myself for my seeming inferiority. But when I take myself on my own terms, I can see the ways in which I have already outpaced my best self of last year. And I hope that I’ll be able to say the same thing with each subsequent year. Mostly, I don’t want to quell that deep inner voice with the thunderous pronouncements of external direction. If I want to teach my children that they need to learn and follow their own internal compass, then I have to be willing to lead by example.
All of this is just to say that I’m the most satisfied that I’ve ever been. Not because everything has fallen into place, not because I’ve solved all of the conflicts in my relationships, and certainly not because I think I have the answers, but because I am slowly surrendering what I think I “know” to what I actually need.