I’m sitting here in the San Juan Mountains of Western Colorado. I’m on vacation. This is a time when conventional thinking would say, “Sit back, relax, you deserve a break.” Maybe I do, and I’m certainly finding the scenery and pace of mountain life relaxing. But I have also been writing a new fourth step to share with my sponsor when I return home, reading books by challenging authors in order to stretch my thinking into places it hasn’t gone before, studying for a test in a history course I need to pass in order to further my education, and I’ve been taking the time to meditate and connect to something greater than the whirling mess of thoughts that go through my mind. I’m not telling you all of this so you’ll be impressed and say, “What a busy guy. He’s so great. Bravo!” I also am not doing all of these things because I feel like I am on the edge of taking a drink or drug and need to stay busy. On the contrary, a drink or drug is the furthest thing from my mind and my life is entering levels of success and progress I once thought was impossible. That’s what keeps me vigilant. Success!
Success, prosperity, progress, good times, these are the real dangers for me because they can have a hypnotic influence, luring me into the idea that I can let up on the spiritual practice which made it all possible and begin to operate on conventional logic. Conventional logic would say, “If you don’t take a drink, you won’t get drunk.” Yuck, I still find that statement slimy and insulting. Spiritual wisdom would say, “If you don’t maintain your spiritual awareness and internal condition, you’re thought life will become increasingly self-centered, the quality of your relationships will slowly erode, your life will begin to feel unmanageable, depression and anxiety will return, life will begin coming at you instead of flowing with you, you will eventually find yourself backed into a desperate corner convinced that life isn’t treating you fairly, and then you will take a drink.”
There’s a big difference between those two schools of thought. Conventional logic is for people who have power over whether or not they will take a drink or drug. Spiritual wisdom understands that for the real alcoholic or drug addict, unless the person experiences relief and freedom from the internal condition and twisted thinking of addiction, they will take a drink or drug again. This, in my opinion, is truly the most difficult part of recovery: accepting and embracing the fact that I will have to live by a different standard and a different way of thinking than most people if I want to stay sober. This is also what seems to be the most difficult for our clients at Spearhead Lodge.
Most people in America today, no matter what their political leanings or religious philosophies, seem to be in agreement that although we have made great progress with science and technology, our cultural experience has taken a turn for the worse. Maybe we have always been materialists, operating on the belief that the next flashy object or the next set of circumstances will bring the happiness we have been looking for, but it seems that young people today are being bombarded by this message at unprecedented levels. I myself have noticed that I am almost always connected to some sort of electronic media that is trying to influence me just as much as I am trying to use it for my purposes. Don’t get me wrong here, I am not suggesting that the world must change its message or become supportive to my recovery in order for me to stay sober. I am saying that I must remain on guard against the message of “happiness through materialism” and being “cool” by pop culture standards. If I don’t want what I feel is going wrong with pop culture to erode my spiritual life, then I probably shouldn’t subscribe to its messages and fall into that current.
Seems like an easy decision right? Just ignore it, do my thing, operate on spiritual principles and all will be well. But I am only awake to that choice as a result of the spiritual work I have done in my recovery and the fact that I place my connection to my Higher Power ahead of my government, culture, and the conventional thinking of my time period. For our young clients who have no context to even make a judgment about what they want to buy into or not, the desire to fit in, be cool, and find their place in life overrides all else. I don’t know how many young men have told me something like this, “I have tried in life. I have had a decent job, a nice girlfriend, a car, friends, and my family believing in me, but I was still dying inside and got high again.” Why did he get high? Because the addict or alcoholic trying to fix his internal condition by achieving success and acceptance in the world is like a fish with no gills trying to survive under water. Eventually he realizes his efforts are not getting the job done and seeks the familiar relief he knows will work through drugs and alcohol. The addict is different and has different requirements for well-being than most people. Until he accepts that, little can be done. He will try the same old experiment of living like the people around him and the people he sees on TV and finding that it doesn’t work for him. There are complicated neurological reasons for this I won’t get into here.
So what’s the solution? At Spearhead Lodge I consider us as staff to be culture builders. We take young men from a place of believing that their material possessions, circumstances, and achievements in life are paramount to their well-being and introduce them to the concept that their character, discipline, thought life, spiritual condition, and the way they treat other people is paramount to their well-being, in fact, their sobriety depends upon it. To be fair, their parents may have been driving this message home for years but in the face of an increasingly toxic culture among young people, it fell upon deaf ears. Throughout the ages, being cool with ones peers has always been more important than following mom and dad’s values. So these young men are tasked with creating a positive culture amongst themselves, reinforcing it with each other, and reaping the benefits in order to become “sold” on a spiritual path to recovery. Otherwise, they will try once more to stay sober on conventional logic, making everything look good on the outside while their internal condition screams for a solution.
My role in this wonderfully messy and challenging process is to be a model for change and to help steer the culture at Spearhead Lodge in the right direction. In order to perform my role well, I must also be nourishing my spirit, carefully choosing what to allow into my mind, enriching my character, and finding security in my relationship with my Higher Power rather than subscribing to the messages on the TV. That is a full time job but it comes with an amazing benefits package including: sanity, sobriety, peace of mind, and a purpose. That is why even though I am on vacation, in recovery, there are no days off!