There’s this thing I used to hear when I first came to meetings, a thing that really used to piss me off: I’m so grateful to be an addict.
Every time I heard that, I wanted to go over and punch whatever screwhead said it. Fuck you, I’d think. You’re grateful to be an addict? You’re glad you scraped pot resin out of a pipe and then sucked enough butane to fill a balloon while you got that goopy tar lit, and sucked that acrid smoke into your lungs? You’re happy that you got so loaded that you couldn’t form words? That you went to jail? That your life fell apart? Which part of that was the good part?
It’s all part of the path, they’d say. Fuck the path, I’d think. I’m right where I need to be, they’d say. In a meeting with the other losers, I’d say.
Eventually, of course, I started to get it. My life before addiction was mostly devoid of inspiration or real purpose, and when I did get a sense of my purpose and desires, I was told they were wrong. When I expressed my feelings, I was generally quieted. So I learned to stuff things, not feel things, and feel frustration. And then I found booze. Then weed. And leaving town. I found getting away.
But addiction finally brought me first to my knees, then to a meeting (thank goodness), and then to myself. Once I actually said, out loud, and meant it, “I’m an addict, I’m scared, and I need help,” I was on my way. I was being really honest with myself and others for the first time in a long time—and nobody told me I was wrong or to be quiet.
There Are No Problems
I’ve been thinking about this lately, this idea of what seems like a problem actually being a blessing, something to bring me closer to me and others. The thing is, I have to recognize it as such, as an opportunity for growth, instead of something to be shunned or stuffed.
One of the big themes in my professional life has been the High Energy ADD Flake. It sounds like a sugar-laden breakfast cereal, but actually it’s a teacher disguised as a tormentor. The Flake comes at me with grand visions of fantastic business success, where we work together to launch some exciting new thing which soon, very soon, will become a money or adventure machine that just spits out cash and trips.
Once I swallow that hook, I am in the world of the Flake. He has infectious energy and intoxicating plans. But his focus seems to shift a lot, from one detail to another, from one immediate plan to another. His aim seems to wander, though the energy and vision are always there. Soon I get a little confused and frustrated because it’s always some new plan, some new gizmo or strategy or partnership that is The Big Thing We Have To Do.
With each of these Flakes, and there have been a few, I always get to the same point: This dude is crazy. Not a bad guy, but nutso, and I can’t rely on anything he says. He’s not lying, he just can’t focus long enough to get anything done, or even remember what we’re working on. But oh, does he have vision!
Do I do that?
Here’s the point that recovery has taught me: When I am complaining about somebody else’s defects of character, there is a very high chance that I am guilty of that same thing. So I ask myself, when I can remember it, “Do I do that?” And dammit if the answer hasn’t been yes every time.
I have big plans but problems following through. I change strategies all the time. I lose track of details. I cancel stuff at the last minute because I am over-committed.
So, as the Universe likes to do, I get a mirror held up to my face so I can see what I look like. Life sends me Flakes to show me my flakiness. What seemed like a problem, all these damn High Energy ADD Flakes tormenting me, were actually messengers and teachers, saying, “Hey, you might want to take a look at this.”
So here’s what they teach me:
- Flakes are annoying, so try not to be one.
- Vision is great, but without follow-through it’s empty
- Flexibility is essential, but consistency of purpose is beautiful
- Develop goals, and then a plan, but don’t get too attached to either.
- Be honest with people you’re involved with; don’t sell them a bunch of hype.
- Purpose comes your Higher Power, not from other people—and especially not from flakes.
So you might think that, powerful teachers as they are, I would be grateful to these flakes. So far, I have managed to be grateful for their presence in my life. Being grateful for them is easier than being grateful to them. What I really like is to be grateful for them from a safe distance.
I have recently ended some important professional relationships in my life, mainly because of their flakiness. More important, I am working on my own flakiness, trying to get better at simplifying my goals, keeping them realistic, and building a plan for them which I actually have a shot at completing. And if not, I accept reality and move on.
Move on, that is, with gratitude. When I can. As a sponsor used to say, “It’d be a shame to go through all that misery and not learn something.” To which I add, “It’d be awesome to go through all that growth and come out grateful.”