Consider that over three hundred years ago, a man named Alexander Pope made the declaration that ‘ to err is human’. His quote became a well- known, wide- spread idiom that can’t logically be denied. Few other claims regarding the human condition are as fitting. As human beings, we are virtually born to make mistakes; From our first attempt at standing on our own two feet, to the mis-spoken words and actions that we come to regret throughout our lifetime... mistakes are the common thread that ties everyone on earth together. One thing that separates us, however, is that as humans who suffer from the disease of addiction, we almost never learn from those mistakes and in turn, we continue to make them over and over again.
We repeatedly take the same mis- steps, wrong turns and downward slopes. Our sins get bigger and badder and less forgivable. The errs we make result in damaging and detrimental consequences, like broken friendships and marriages, isolation, jail, homelessness, job loss, financial ruin, separation from our children and even physical maladies. The less visible destruction we reap is what happens inside of us and to those around us. We break hearts and promises and dreams. We become shadows of who we once were, doppelgangers bearing a slight resemblance to our former selves, destroying the people closest to us. Most often, our remorse and guilt are real. Our apologies are sincere. Our hearts ache over the injuries we inflict and the planets we spin out of orbit. But we don’t stop making mistakes, no, instead we stumble into the same missteps, over and over, because we don’t learn from them the way others do. We look you in the eyes, shameful and apologetic, tears on our cheeks, and vow never to put you through whatever nightmare we’ve brought to your doorstep ( again). You believe us, as you should, because we genuinely mean it. We believe it, too, because we’re truly shaken by our actions and how they’ve affected you. We never, ever want to cause that kind of pain to anyone, especially our loved ones. So we swear to change, to be better and stronger and smarter and sober. And we are! We do things differently and you find relief from the fear and the worry. Life goes on, things are looking good, and then BAM!! After a month, maybe a couple, we blow everything up all over again! And again and again and again. Can you guess why? Because we are addicts and that’s what we do.
The ‘Big Book’ of Alcoholics Anonymous defines insanity as “ doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results”. That is the insanity that grips us alcoholics and addicts. We convince ourselves, despite all of our experiences and evidence and research to the contrary, that when we drink or drug this time, we’re going to figure out how to control it. We sell ourselves on the idea that it will be different, that it won’t be destructive or painful or end in the same exact place it always has- loss and grief. We deny the wreckage that is cultivating just beneath our feet, waiting to make an appearance the following day or week or month when we lose our footing, fall into the swampy water and drown. We actually believe, just like we promised, ( to you and to ourselves), that this time, we can use or drink in safety, somehow. And that is all the proof you’ll ever need that this is a disease of the mind. There is no denying how powerful it must be to convince a rational, intelligent human being that he can make the same moves he’s made before ( or many times before) and not reach the same exact destructful end. This, my friends, is what we refer to as the Vicious Cycle.
Like a piece of debris swept off the ground and drawn into the ravaging winds of a cyclone in full force, we are caught up in the storm. When it’s fury dies down, the whirl- wind loses its velocity, the pouring rain subsides, the howling quiets and everything comes to a halt. We stand alone, observing the wreckage surrounding us and wonder how we got here again. That familiar emptiness and hopelessness engulfs us and then we face a decision. Do we keep going for the quick fix? Deny ourselves an opportunity for retribution? Continue to run and try to numb the pain? Or do we face our demons?
Unfortunately, it seems the only thing that truly motivates us to even attempt a change, is pain. That very pain generated as a direct result of our actions, the kind we can’t hide from or cover with a band- aid. And if you don’t know already, addicts generally acquire an unusually high threshold for it. It’s ironic, considering that drugging and drinking is a form of self- medicating our injuries in the first place, but hear a few horror stories about the kinds of torture we put ourselves through to continue running, and the irony somewhat fades into the backdrop.
If we’re lucky... if we come to believe in the possibility of recovery for ourselves, then the best we can do is come stumbling back into the real world, sober, making new mistakes; simple, everyday errors that cause a lot less damage to everyone, including ourselves. The only chance of that happening, though, is if we figure out not only how to get clean, but how to stay that way. This, of course, is a process of trial and error in itself, an exercise in damage control. What it’s not, is an exercise in futility no matter how many do- overs it takes.