Some days, blogging about addiction and recovery gives me so much joy. Other times, it feels impossible. How can I write helpfully about such a baffling subject?
I’m reminded of a line in a Rumi poem:
“One of the marvels of the world
is the sight of a soul sitting in prison
with the key in its hand.”
Isn’t that so true? It’s one of the most crazy-making aspects of addiction—how it seems to us (and others, too), like freedom is clearly within our grasp. Just use the key, quit the addiction, and walk out of jail.
If only it were that simple. Instead, we scream bloody murder for rescue, and then run at the first sign of help.
It’s hard to explain, except to say that addiction seems proof of our split nature. In the grip of compulsions, we become a soul divided—part of us wants to surrender and part of us fights to hold on.
The demoralizing tug-of-war that results is surely one of the main reasons addicts tend to hate themselves so thoroughly. Add to this an endless series of self-inflicted wounds, humiliations, and losses—and you can imagine how shame fuels the engine of addiction.
Unfortunately, prevailing wisdom says the addict must experience ever more painful consequences, tragedies, and heartbreak—until they finally hit rock bottom and become willing to change.
I agree that desperation is necessary for surrender. But sometimes I wonder if we’ve arrived at an incomplete conclusion. If “hitting bottom” alone is the magic bullet, how come so many addicts suffer one devastating blow after another—and still don’t recover?
What happens when all you have left to lose is your life?
After seven years of hearing addicts’ stories, I have a theory of my own. I think most of the time a low point doesn’t become a turning point unless an addict hits bottom and hope at the same time.
Hope looks different for each of us, of course. For me, hope looked like meeting Susan, who happened to be in recovery. Her obvious zest for life gave me reason to believe that sobriety didn’t have to be equal parts deprivation and misery.
For a bunch of women in Amarillo, Texas, hope looks like a place called the Downtown Women’s Center, where I’m speaking today. As I’ve mentioned, they provide long-term help to homeless and addicted women so they can rebuild lives worth staying sober for.
Given my thoughts about bottoms and hope, you can imagine how much I want to see this amazing organization raise a bunch of money.
If you think of it, pray for me today. Part of what I’ll be trying to say is how hitting bottom without hope mostly leads to despair and too often, death. But hitting bottom with hope can lead to surrender.
And that’s when we notice the prison key in our hand.
P.S. By amazing coincidence, today is also the day Sober Mercies releases in paperback. Since an important message of my book is hope, rather than apologize for shameless self-promotion, I encourage you to buy a copy for someone who loves an addict, struggles with a compulsion, or simply adores memoir.
If you want to make a donation to the Downtown Women’s Center, click here.