I know a girl who’s been to rehab a dozen times and will go again a dozen more. Her addiction benefits me in some ways; I’ve gotten a firm understanding of what sobriety takes because of her. The sayings “there are many roads to recovery” and “addiction isn’t a character problem” are nice things to tell suffering addicts but each of us who have come through the other side know they’re bullshit. There isn’t some magical genetic lever that flips in a teenage boys head and causes him to suddenly seek heroin as if his life depended on it. He does heroin a few times because he’s stupid and weak, and his parents and community failed him, and he gets addicted. In this way we can say it’s not completely the addicts fault but everyone bears some responsibility for everything that happens to them.
She’s the typical addict; we’ve all met her. Atheist to a fault; not only does she not believe in God (which is fine by the way) she also despises all of the traditions and rituals that society has been founded on. They seem silly on their own but without any of them, life becomes bleak. I frequently tell addicts that “hope” is the key but this too is uselessly narrow. One doesn’t simply acquire hope by wanting it. We have to work at it, start living our lives in ways that allow us to believe the future could be better. Throwing away all the ideas of Western history just because you hold a grudge against Christianity doesn’t hurt Christianity.
Whether or not you believe in God, if you live in a western country, you’re a Christian. Our laws and traditions are based on Christian dogma. “Freedom of religion” wasn’t about allowing people to be Buddhist or Muslim or Hindu, it was about allowing people to be a different kind of Christian (and to be fair, many flavors of Christianity are as different from one another as Islam is to Catholicism). I’m not making an excuse for religious intolerance or xenophobia, I’m simply stating that nobody is really an Atheist in the way that “Atheists” use the term (and as I’ve said in the past, nobody is really a Christian in the purest sense because almost nobody behaves as if they believe in God, and behavior is far more important than somebody’s claims).
I took her to an A.A. meeting a few months ago. I’m not into A.A. myself. I was able to find hope without turning to a structured belief system but most addicts aren’t capable of that. Either they aren’t wise enough or they’ve ruined their lives to the point that it is practically impossible to believe their future could ever be better. Still, I am inspired during my infrequent visits to these meetings. One can’t claim that the Speakers, with decades of sobriety behind them, aren’t empowering. But when we left, she had nothing but bad things to say about it. She laughed off everything we read and talked about. I knew then that she was already headed for another stretch of rehab.
Perhaps that’s what makes me different. Although I do consider myself to be capable of being wiser1 than the average man (and who doesn’t!), I’m also prone to falling for great speakers. So when I went to rehab, I listened to everything I was told and when I got out I did everything they told me to do. I even went to A.A. for two months in the beginning. I don’t think I would be sober right now, almost four years later, if I’d gotten out of rehab and laughed off everything I’d just gone through.
All of that being said, the idea of sobriety to me has little to do with substance abuse and is more of a state of being. One in which we’re proactively working to realize our dreams and accomplish sequences of goals. In that way, I don’t think most people are sober. I don’t think I am, truthfully. I have good days but less of them than bad days. Substance abuse would compound the bad days as it does for everyone. Still, if you strive to reach some pinnacle of achievement, it does set you apart from most people I’ve met. Having children, for example, is a great excuse to stop trying and settle for poorly raising the next generation of drug addicts.
- I’m making a conscious effort to use “wisdom” instead of “intelligence” these days because intelligence doesn’t mean anything useful. Everyone is intelligent. We can make fun of someone online for not knowing every fact we know, but they likely know dozens of things we don’t know. Wisdom is better on the rare occasions it’s useful to describe a mental acuity that someone lacks. It doesn’t mean the unwise are stupid or unintelligent, it simply means they don’t yet possess the self-reflective skills to apply their intelligence toward their problems.