How long do I have to do this? When will this be over? How long until I’m cured? I’ve never met someone in recovery that hasn’t asked a question like this at some point. My question was, “How long are you going to make me do this?” I was sitting across the desk from Agent Gilbert. She was my parole officer. One of my conditions of parole said I had to attend a weekly group meeting. Agent Gilbert responded with a question. “Are you attending the meetings because you are being forced to or because you want to be free?” Well, duh! Of course, it’s because I’m being forced to. No, I didn’t say that out loud but I’m sure she could see it in my face.
My experience is that most people enter recovery because they feel like they have to. A husband or wife, mom or dad, an employer, maybe a judge, somebody has issued an ultimatum. Whether we start down the recovery path because we recognize our need or because somebody shoved us this direction, we all want to believe there is a quick fix available. There has to be a one-day workshop, a weekend intensive, a ten-day detox, a thirty-day program or ninety days to a new habit, and shazam, I’m cured. I entered recovery with that same addictive mindset that had plagued me for years. I was looking for the magic pill that would provide the quick fix for all of life’s stress and problems. I haven’t found that yet.
What have I learned and experienced in the years since I sat at that table with Agent Gilbert? I learned that parole and probation could only make me go to group for four years. I have learned that recovery isn’t a magic pill, and it isn’t measured with the words, “how long”. It’s more of a never-ending journey filled with experiences and interactions I never dreamed were possible. It contains daily disciplines like prayer, mindfulness, meditation and self-examination. These disciplines aren’t task masters that I am a slave to. These disciplines are tools that allow me to experience life to the fullest extent possible and they allow me to interact with community in a way that is life giving to both myself and those around me.
Let me go back to those groups I was required to attend back in the day. When parole and probation was up, I ran from those meetings and swore I’d never go back. Over time I began to recognize some of the benefits I hadn’t been able to see when I was attending. I realized that the group gave me a safe place to process my struggles with others that were struggling with the same things. I returned to groups a couple years later. This time by choice. I’ve attended several types of meetings over the years, AA, NA, Celebrate Recovery. For several years now, I have regularly attended a group called Samson Society. I was in one of their local meetings last night. My check in there has become kind of a joke. “Hey guys, I’m Ron, and if I live to be one hundred, one of you will be pushing me in here in a wheelchair.” I don’t attend because I’m told I have to. I attend because this group has become a safe place for me to be honest and to process my thoughts and struggles in a community that doesn’t judge me or shame me. I come to this group to spend time with my family.
If you find yourself asking the question, “How long?”, shoot me an email at email@example.com. I think there’s a better question you can be asking.