Dear Hope Nation,
Each of us has three faces.
The face we show the world.
The face we show our closest friends and family.
The face we show no one but see daily in our mirrors.
One thing recovery has done for me is move those faces into closer alignment. They’re still three distinct faces, but they look more like brothers and less like a random set of mug shots. Let me explain.
I have a lot of theories about recovery and even more about addiction. One of my favorites is that folks with substance use disorder lie all the time without thinking of themselves as liars. Some of you remember the Seven Commandments of Animal Farm and how they evolved. For instance, “No animal shall kill another animal” became “No animal shall kill another animal without cause.” When I was drinking, I still had a reputation for telling the truth, at least in the world at large. Over time, though, I made a deal with myself and transformed, “I’ll try to be honest all the time with everyone,” with the simple appendage as long as it doesn’t interfere with my drinking.
With that addition, everything changed, not at first but over time. Once I’d identified protecting my right to drink the way I wanted as the highest good, I couldn’t be honest about anything because drinking was related to everything. My prime directive came down to three words: Protect the Source. At any cost, I would defend my access to booze. Because of this directive, I never felt I was lying when I lied. I was simply living by my own rewritten higher set of principles.
Over time, my conscience became so twisted that the clarifying question I asked in any moral or ethical dilemma changed drastically. By the end of my drinking, I didn’t judge, “Is this the right thing to do?” Instead, my moral guidepost became, “Can I get away with it?” That is, when spotting an unsecured item, my first thought was, “Are there witnesses?” not “should I take this?” Once getting away with it has become your watchword, the moral rockslide has just begun and will definitely pick up speed.
In the same way, this lowered morality also guided my words. Instead of “Is this true?” I asked, “Will this person believe me?” The ride down the slippery slope was quick. Soon it didn’t matter to me whether the person believed me, but simply whether they were willing to expend the energy to call me out on my lies.
I understand different recovery pathways view moral repair through different lenses, and it’s not my job to criticize anything that works for others. I’ll just say I sleep better, feel prouder of myself and am happier with the ethical and moral progress I’ve made over the past 12-plus years. I actually like who I am today, and other people seem to as well.
None of my three faces is particularly cute, but each makes a sincere effort to tell the truth and do the right thing. That’s not everything in life, but it damned sure is something.
You matter. I matter. We matter.
(Painting by Annie)