It Is Not Your Fault.
When we are in the “either-or” blame place we cannot see, hear, or love each other, or think critically. It is an absolute dead end, 100 percent of the time. Solutions exist in the paradox, in the space of “both, and” not “either, or.” It is in this way that the author sees addiction as one of the primary portals for collective healing. Those of us who have the willingness and opportunity to walk through the pain of it—to drop the elusive shackles of our simplistic blame stories and instead step into the complexity of responsibility—emerge with a deeper understanding of the human heart.
We develop a capacity for compassion and forgiveness—the real kind, not the platitudes—because we’ve been to the basement of our own pain and know what’s required for survival there. We can’t afford resentment—not toward ourselves, nor each other—and so we have to find a way to love instead. Or, at the very least, to accept. When we gain these capacities individually, we’re able to practice them more broadly: in our families, our communities, and beyond.
It Is Your Responsibility.
Knowing there are real factors driving our behavior helps to make sense of our seemingly nonsensical actions. And we can then begin to feel compassion for ourselves and our shortcomings. We are naturally wired not to take responsibility; it’s a defense mechanism. But, conversely, we are also wired to take responsibility. We just have to learn what it actually means and looks like, versus what we are often taught (duty, obligation, being “good,” and following the rules).
Responsibility forcesyou to look at any situation with clear eyes and ask yourself: Is this something I want to continue feeling, doing, or being part of? What is my part in it? How am I making it better, or worse? What choices do I have, and am I willing to make them? This last question is the money shot. We always have some kind of choice, even if it’s only to hold something or someone differently in our mind—to begin telling ourselves a different story about it—one that is less harmful, painful, and destructive to our well-being. I’m not saying it’s easy; sometimes, this kind of choice is among the hardest we will ever have to make.
Is Unfair That This Is Your Thing.
Because life is unfair, yes. But also, because you don’t deserve it. This isn’t happening because you’re a broken, bad, weak, selfish piece of crap (or whatever other self-punishing thing you think). This happened because it happens. It just…happens. You didn’t ask for it and you aren’t being punished. But it’s yours. If no one has told you yet, let me be the first: I see you. So, breathe. And then do it again. Let’s keep going.
This Is Your Thing.
The problem with using alcohol to numb our pain is that while it may work temporarily, it always, always adds more pain in the end. Whatever we may gain in temporary relief is multiplied with suffering in return. As the saying goes, “It’s hard to get enough of something that almost works.” So in an attempt to avoid pain we only create more, not realizing that the elimination of pain is a futile enterprise, whether we are drinking or not. Yes, it’s painful to get sober and feel our feelings and face our past and do the hard work of cleaning up our insides. But in sobriety, at least there’s a payoff. In sobriety, at least we can put the inevitable pain of living to use. We can let the pain move through us, and allow it to change us in the ways we need to be changed and teach us what we need to know. In this way, pain can be transmuted into wisdom.
This Will Never Stop Being Your Thing Until You Face It.
The sheer number of things we can’t control in life (and thus, have to learn to accept) is absurd when you stop to think about it. Yet, we constantly deny or resist the limits of our control. Even the most evolved and wise among us are guilty of having tiny, tiny little control issues. Some more than others, to be sure.
We want things to be a certain way: the way we think they should be. We want people to be a certain way: the way we think they should be. And we fight, tooth and nail, to try to shape the world in our own image. So much of personal development, self-help, and productivity culture is built on the promise of control—that if we just hustle harder, believe more, find the right pill/app/diet/whatever, think positive thoughts, and optimize every ounce of our time and energy, we can have it all. While it would take an entire other book to dismantle the harm the self-help industrial complex causes, all I want you to understand now is that when it comes to recovery, we must surrender; we must accept the reality of what’s not in our control (beginning with the effect alcohol has on us). It’s only in surrendering to that truth that we can begin to heal, grow, and reclaim our power. And it’s only by accepting life as it is that we develop the capability and capacity to change it.
You Can’t Do It Alone.
If you look around your life right now and see only negative reflections of who you are, if the people closest to you—your family, your friends—don’t support you in your sobriety and don’t reflect back a positive, benevolent version of you, you’re not alone. In psychology, this behavior is known as “the crab effect,” or “the crab mentality,” named for the behavior of crabs in a bucket: When one tries to escape, the other crabs immediately try to pull it back in. Humans have similar tendencies—we will often try to undermine and halt the progress of other, better-performing peers. The thinking goes something like “If I can’t have it, you can’t either.”
These people can’t be mirrors for you no matter how badly you want them to be; they can only be crabs. Don’t exert any more energy trying to get their permission to leave the bucket. Set about finding the mirrors instead.
Only You Can Do It.
Only you can learn the sacred dance of your life. Only you can make the small, quiet choices that move you toward sobriety and into freedom and the fullest expression of you. There will be people all around you to place hands on your back, push you forward, and remind you what’s true when you forget. You’ll have cheerleaders and teachers and witnesses and guides. But nobody—no single person, no army of support—can love you or care for you enough to bring you all the way home. That job is yours, and only you know if you’re fulfilling it.
You Are Loved.
Simply accept the fact that you are accepted. Held in grace. Forgiven already. Then one day—perhaps soon, perhaps in many years—you will find yourself doing something entirely ordinary: stirring cream into your coffee, digging around for a match to a sock, turning your key into the door, stepping off an airplane, kissing your child good night, petting the velvety ear of your cat, sitting in your car for the thousandth time listening to a once-stranger on the internet talk about love. And you will be struck with the sudden realization that what had once sounded foreign and impossible is now yours: that love lives inside you, that it always has.
We Will Never Stop Reminding You of These Things.
At first, sobriety takes everything. It’s all-consuming. But as time goes on—if we do give it all our effort and attention—that changes. The progression goes something like this: impossible, difficult, strange, normal, wouldn’t have it any other way. The progression is made possible by consistent effort over time.
This is why number 9 is a promise: to remind, to remember, and to do it together. Because as long as we never stop reminding one another of these things, we stay the course. We avoid the place where, as Jeff Tweedy sang, our “blessings get so blurred,” and we forget what it is we’re fighting for.
But also: If we do forget, it’s okay. We just come back. The invitation remains open. The nine things are a door that never closes, a promise that never ends.