Have you seen the documentary The Hungry Heart? APNC presented it at their recent conference-accompanied by the Director Bess O’Brien and Raina Lowell, who was featured in the film.
A poignant, honest, winter grey, yet hopeful telling of one small-town Vermont Doctor’s turn from a regular Pediatrician toward becoming an Addiction specialist, all because of the kids he would see ending up addicted to pain pills as they went through their teen years.
It touched me personally, as it dealt with a beautiful message of hope, it brought me back to my own sense of denial.
As the scapegoat in the family I was inclined to point out stuff or ask questions about that which was unspoken or unacknowledged. My family had the usual laundry list of secrets, nothing too hideous considering the spectrum of life in general but we did have secrets and pain and it clearly dominated how we functioned. I believe that family/early childhood deeply influences/imprints us but being the kid who pointed out that the Emperor had no clothes was a trait I was born with. I came into this life with it, which is another way of saying genetics (or past life). Then something happened.
After some 29 years of cycling through and around drug dependence/addiction a moment of Grace freed me from the obsession to use drugs and I was literally set free. This moment happened during my third day in detox, a detox attached to a long-term recovery program which I entered. This being 23 years ago and on a low budget, this program was quite traditional for the time which meant a lot of 12 Step meetings. In my newly liberated state I took to meetings like a duck to water. In my newly transformed state the idea of exclaiming, “My name is Jimmy and I am an addict” made perfect sense. To state to the world-if only in the meeting- “I’m an addict”, after so many years of denial, was empowering and began a life-long search for healing.
That, converging with my childhood scapegoat dynamic, gets us to here. Again I’ll step back a bit; a take-away from all that is; once one accepts something-even if we don’t like that something-that is when change begins. It literally sets change in motion. This is an energetic law. Once we accept the truth of something we are half-way home. My spiritual moment/drop of Grace actually gave me full-on surrender to the fact that I suffered from addiction and acceptance and surrender makes it okay, makes it good, actually begins transformation. To see reality, to at least accept reality is the process that begins change!! I repeat, ending denial, about anything, and seeing honestly means we are half way home!
All this adds up to me wanting to exclaim the facts and truth about our societal problems, because shame can be busted if we get honest. Since we’re half way home once we know the problem I say, let’s get to exclaiming. How can we make something better if we don’t first identify the problem? So let’s not just say it lets shout it from the rooftops! It brings to mind the line from a spiritual book, “For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.”
Of course, I have to be most honest with/about myself first before I get to proclaim anything from any rooftop. Gulp. So I need a process, a spiritual path in place to support my process of change.
Serious research shows that most spiritual paths have deep similarities and one recurring theme is the need for regular inventories. I need to check myself on a regular basis to know my shortcomings (and strengths) which gives me a guide to lead me to growth/change/healing.
All the serious religions of the world actually have this within their dictates and doctrines.
Just as individuals walking the spiritual path can benefit from regular inventories or introspection & contemplation, as the Mystical Christian tradition names it, so would all organizations benefit from said work.
Which leads me to my friend Chris Budnick’s inventory he gave to the world; An open amends letter to those with substance use disorders, your families and your community. You can read it here AND You can hear it here.
His willingness in this is touching and feels vulnerable. Honesty, open-mindedness and willingness are key spiritual principles we can never have too much of, including as a society. There’s lots of reasons why a person becomes a friend. He’s a friend because of his heart and humor and willingness but also, for me, we have a similar shared background. He has the experience that, if we live long enough, makes us experts, in the best way. Lived-experience recovery, some two decades in treatment work, plus serious historical research, and plenty more adds up to a bigger picture which led him to make this amends proclamation. He also plays semi-pro, fast-pitch, hard ball! All that makes me want to listen up when Chris speaks.
His talk wasn’t universally loved or embraced. This stuff makes many people nervous which is telling. I have watched groups, including Providers who should know better, resist the truths of all this. Once more I shall back up.
When the unconscious is largely in control, we unconsciously use the three defense mechanisms as classically defined: denial, rationalization, and projection. We project over there what we don’t want to deal with in ourselves. The whole point of increasing self-awareness is to get better or at least give ourselves choices. There’s no real recovery without Grace, and an actual spiritual benefit of Grace is a natural humiliation to the ego, in that Grace is freely given and free gifts say nothing about me. This makes everything right sized.
This idea of people/groups needing to do an inventory, to do spiritual footwork, to assess strengths/weaknesses, giving direction toward change that improves things, is deeply embedded within the transformative nature of recovery and actually essential to change. The pain of life drives us toward change and the insight of inventories helps us purge the past to illuminate the future. We want to avoid letting the ego run the show as it leads to consequences and periodic inventories give us practice at submerging the ego. Ego deflation is painful, which means resistance to this process, resistance to change, is understandable and not necessarily a sin, but let us all now proclaim our intention to push through that resistance and forge ahead into change (all the while laughing together at how uncomfortable it can make us feel at times).
That’s what we want those with drug problems to do, so we might as well walk our own talk.
Another well-made movie, from another true story, that displays how ungodly hard denial busting seems to be for us humans, is Spotlight. I highly recommend.
As I listen to the news, it’s clear this world’s in a lot of pain. Make no mistake; There is a way out. We know how to walk into the light and it starts with recovery. Inventory, Amends, Forgiveness & Service = Love
Keep busting denial out there.