John Steinbeck's Advice
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Last week was John Steinbeck's one hundredth birthday. I was reminded of a scene from his novel, East of Eden, that speaks very directly to the process of recovery. Adam Trask is a fine and hardworking if naive man who is seduced by a wicked women named Cathy Ames. Adam and Cathy marry and a while later she births twin sons. Soon after the births, Cathy tells Adam she is leaving, says he can drop the babies in one of his wells, shoots him with his pistol, and walks out.
Adam is wounded in his body and in his heart. He takes to his bed to recuperate and languishes in depression. The twins are cared for by others but as time
his farm and affairs go to seed. A wise, older neighbor named Samuel Hamilton comes to visit Adam and finds him in bed. Samuel empathizes with Adam's pain, but tells him that he must not languish. Instead he must go through the motions of living until he again feels alive. That is good and simple advice, but it is not easy. That advice requires that you find energy when you feel drained. But you can always find a bit more energy. You can use prayer, meditation, your group, your sponsor, your therapist, your reading to guide you to what to do. But the energy to do must always come from within you.
I am not referring to compulsive activity, work, or distraction as tactics to avoid pain. I am referring to purposefully going through the motions of being truly alive - working, resting, eating, playing, socializing, reflecting, as a path of healing. Addicts run from pain. Recovery requires learning to experience pain openly and honestly without relying on avoidance or escape. That is why recovery is partly about maturation. The mature brain can have pain and continue on. The immature brain insists that the pain is too much and something must be done to end it now. When you think you don't have the energy to go to a meeting, go anyway. When you feel too tired to eat a healthy meal and are tempted to settle for junk food, eat a healthy meal anyway. When circumstances provide the opportunity to confront the consequences of your addiction, accept the invitation. When your depressed brain tells you that nothing you do will matter or help, remember that depression lies to you. Depression tells you that when you feel better you will do more. The truth is that when you do more, you will feel better. Recovery is about living in the truth and feeling better. Go through the motions of living until you again feel alive.
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