Into the Unknown, Again

In my opinion, there are few acts more courageous than taking the step from active addiction into recovery. I recognize this may sound strange to someone who is not familiar with addiction. Objectively, entering recovery seems like the only reasonable thing for a person to do if he or she is dying by way drugs and alcohol. If you are in a room with a grizzly bear that wants to kill you, the rational thing to do is to get the hell out of that room. Right? The logic seems clear, but the experience of addiction has little to do with reason and logic. To the contrary, as a human condition, addiction is fundamentally irrational.

I was well aware of the fact that I needed recovery years before I opened the door and stepped through. A little piece of the irrationality that kept me stuck went something like this: I find the unknown more terrifying than death.

It doesn’t make sense, I know, but this terror was a fundamental part of what kept me locked in with my addiction. Sure, I was getting mauled on a regular basis, but there is comfort in knowing what it’s like to be mauled by this particular bear. Yes, the room is small and windowless and smells like shit, but at least I know where to find the light switch. Okay, there’s a fucking bear in this room, but what if there’s a lion in the next room? Thank you very much, but I’ll stick with what I know.

Through practice, I’ve gotten better at dealing with the unknown, with mystery and ambiguity, but I still struggle years after taking the initial leap into recovery. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to change direction and begin trudging into the unknown, with no clear endpoint, no grasp of the tools needed to make the journey, no clue of what trials exist along the way. It requires a surrender of perceived control and an opening of the heart to the chaotic twists and turns of human experience. It demands the belief we are arriving some place, no matter how difficult any particular part of the journey becomes. Courage isn’t the absence of fear, it’s continuing forward despite fear.

Recently, I've found myself once again stepping into the unknown and struggling to find my way. This particular venture began with the realization that I needed to leave my job. Though this situation is by no means a life or death endeavor the way entering recovery was, I’m grappling with fear and still in need of courage.

Since July, I’d been trying to make this job work. I’d tried every attitude adjustment trick I knew. I’d written gratitude lists. I’d tried a service mindset. I’d denied what I knew was true by telling myself and others the job was great. But ultimately, the truth hit me upside the head. I arrived at a turning point. I reached a place where I had to confront the fact that the job wasn’t allowing me to grow personally or professionally. Beyond this, the stress was making me unstable, and seriously impacting my relationships. By December, it was clear to me that I needed to move on.

While I was home for the holidays, I had a long talk with my parents about the situation and my fears around leaving the job. My concerns were the usual things: how would we pay our bills? What if I couldn’t find another job? Would a gap in my resume look bad? Honestly, I was arguing for familiarity. I’d rather be sick with stress and spinning my wheels than take a risk and start moving toward something better.

Out of our conversation came a novel idea. Being the wonderfully loving, and slightly enabling parents they are, they said, “Why don’t you just come stay with us for a while? We’ll put you up until you can figure out what you want to do next.”

The relief was immediate. Suddenly, a large portion of what had been terrifyingly unknown became known. I’d quit my job, move home, and figure things out. The appeal of the familiar was so strong I agreed without much conversation with my wife, and without much thought on my part. I put in a notice with my boss—who let me go later that week—and began planning to return.

It’s easy for me to mistake the feeling of relief as an indication that I am moving in the right direction. This was perhaps the fundamental mistake that led me into my addiction. I’ve had to learn that the opposite is often true. I tend grow most when I push into fear and embrace the uncomfortable feelings. Through January, I found myself leaning on the relief of returning to the familiar. I took comfort in the idea that we’d have lower overhead, that I’d be able to leverage my connections to find a job, that I’d be back in the recovery community that helped me get sober. When confronting difficult situations, I began finding myself thinking, “This will be solved once we get back to Massachusetts,” or “We will deal with this after we move.” All along, I was failing to confront what was necessary, which is the fact that in order to arrive at a place in my life where I can be the best me and realize the depth my potential, I need to move forward and not back.

Ultimately, after some difficult conversations and some reality checking with the help of my wife, it's become clear that moving back to Massachusetts isn't the right move for either of us. This decision has catapulted me even deeper into the unknown. I've taken the first step by leaving my job…but here I am, without full time work, without leads for a new job, without any clear idea of what is next. I'm staring into darkness.

Through this experience, I've been thinking quite a bit about my first leap into the unknown, almost 10 years ago, when I entered recovery. The world was wide open, though I didn’t know it then. I was afraid, though there was nothing to fear. In a strange way, I feel as if I’m coming full circle, the way we tend to do in recovery. In 2008, I had no clue what I was going to do, how I was going to do it, where I was going to end up, how I was going to get there, and in what condition I’d arrive. I feel this way as I sit here, writing this post. The only difference now is that I have some experience. I've been here before, and my experience tells me I have everything to gain if I can find the courage to push forward.