Tragedy in Sobriety

“The reward of suffering is experience.” Harry S. Truman

Sometimes I hear people in meetings say, “If I didn’t come to AA (or fill in the blank) I was going to die.” I’m not looking to be the bearer of bad news, but the number one cause of death is birth. Recovery is more a quality of life issue. We are all going to die, that’s one of the only things that is promised in life. Recovery avails us the ability to improve the quality of the time we have left. To live with purpose, dignity, and sometimes even a little grace.

Even the most disciplined spiritual practices will not provide us with a life devoid of tragedy. People we love will die, our hearts will be broken, and we will hurt people. People will hurt us; we will be betrayed, we may even betray others. We will make terribly poor choices at times, some of which can be life-altering.

The two Types of Tragedies

Self Imposed:
These crises are self-created. They may be from unresolved issues that are showing up in different forms of continuous reoccurring patterns. These patterns may be unhealthy dating, poor financial choices, broken relationships, or legal problems to name a few. All of these self-imposed tragedies can be overcome with help, maturity, willingness and a process of some sort.

These are the unavoidable aspects of life that can be devastating. The loss of a loved one, irreconcilable differences in a marriage, or illness. These will come out of nowhere at times and always be a test of faith.

True Tragedy and how it Affects our Life

Suffering is experienced the same whether it has been self-induced or not. Consider these the dawn on the “Dark Night of the Soul”. In this article entitled “A Dark Night of the Soul and the Discovery of Meaning,” Thomas Moore brilliantly describes the experience and its silver lining. He starts by describing it: “Anyone may go through a period of sadness or challenge that is so deep-seated and tenacious that it qualifies as a dark night of the soul. I reserve the expression ‘dark night of the soul’ for a dark mood that is truly life-shaking and touches the foundations of experience, the soul itself.

I have had several, from being arrested in recovery, being diagnosed with heart disease after suffering two heart attacks in a week at age 35 and losing over a decade of sobriety. I have gone through the hellacious pit in my stomach betrayals and heartbreaks and losing an organ in early recovery this time around last year. We all go through it, some more than others.

The Illusion of Security

As hard as my life has been, I know that it’s been like playing in the sandbox compared to others. It comes to us all. Pain is pain; there is no point in comparing. To summarize the old Asian proverb says, “A man’s toothache is a greater tragedy to him than one hundred thousand deaths across the world.”

I fell prey to the idea of spiritual materialism at these times in my life. “Spiritual materialism is the belief that a certain temporary state of mind is a refuge from suffering.” Basically the idea that because I do good things only good things will happen to me. Don’t fall for this; it’s not true. Life still shows up, there are practices that we can do to become better people. Life will still happen on life’s terms, and it’s up to us on how we deal with it.

The question isn’t if we will suffer tragedies, that’s a part of life in or out of recovery. The question is how do we deal with tragedy in recovery? Now that we have the types of tragedies down, we can address how to deal with them in the next blog.

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