Most weekdays I work at The Retreat as the Spiritual Care Coordinator. Most of the time I am meeting with men and women who have already identified themselves as alcoholics and addicts who need recovery and want recovery, using the Twelve Steps and the Big Book of alcoholics anonymous. They understood that what The Retreat has is a thirty day immersion into the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. What The Retreat does not have is radio, television, computers, cell phones, and much in the way of entertainment. We take people who need recovery, put them with people who have recovery, and let everyone benefit from shared experience.
It’s Tuesday afternoon at The Retreat, and it’s cold. Right now it is 6 degrees below zero. The forecast for tonight is 26 below. Tomorrow’s forecast is 15 below in the daytime and 29 below at night. The all-time low was 32 below, set on the evening of February 3, 1996.
I just returned from a Christmas cruise with a family group of nine people on Holland America’s new ship, the Niew Statendam. Our group of nine included my wife and myself, our two daughters, two sons-in-law, and three grandchildren. We all get along well.
This month, there are a lot of “service pieces” in magazines and newspapers with helpful advice about how to not be sad at the holidays of Christmas and Hanukkah. These well-meaning columns have suggestions on how to change our moods and move away from sadness. However, I have a theory that having feelings that match reality is mental health, not mental illness.
I never asked this question when I was getting sober, but I have heard other people ask it. I thought they were raising unreasonable objections to getting sober or expressing resistance to recovery. Over the years, patients at Hazelden and guests at The Retreat have spoken of their reluctance to recover by saying that they are afraid to recover, because they are afraid of who they might be if they stop drinking or drugging. What will happen, they ask, if they get sober and don’t like themselves, or don’t like who they have become?
When I was a boy, I eagerly read each issue of Mad Magazine. It’s fictional editor, Alfred E. Neuman, had a quote above the index of each issue. One of my favorites was “Some minds are like concrete: all mixed up and permanently set.” A Peanuts cartoon of that era had Lucy shouting “If you can’t be right, be wrong at the top of your voice.” I’m writing this newsletter during the Senate hearings on a Supreme Court nomination. It seems as if nearly everyone is sure that they know what happened at a high school party long ago: the nominee is guilty, or innocent, depending upon whom you ask. I’m not hearing the more humble opinion of “I don’t know, I wasn’t there.”
Alcoholism is a disease of self-deception. We can be taking all twelve steps, and still avoid the spiritual growth of the program. “Remember” the Big Book says, “that we deal with alcohol---cunning, baffling, and powerful! Without help it is too much for us. But there is One who has all power—that One is God. May you find Him now!” (p.58-59)