Recovery and Justice
Ken Burns’ wonderful PBS documentary on the Civil War includes historian Shelby Foote telling the story of a young solider brought before General Lee for discipline. Seeing the trembling soldier, General Lee tried to calm the young man by assuring him that he need not be afraid–that he would receive a just response to his actions. The soldier responded, “I know, General, that’s what I’m afraid of.” How many people at the height of their addiction careers have shared that soldier’s feelings as they faced accountability before a police officer, judge, employer, professional licensing board, spouse, child, friend or untold other injured parties?
Addiction is an unrelenting relay race from drug experience to drug experience nested within equally incessant efforts to escape the growing consequences of drug use. The accumulating debts rising from these processes constitute a point of reckoning that must be faced in any attempt at recovery. Awareness of that point of reckoning and the complete lack of understanding of how it could be faced often fuels continued drug use and related acts of self-destruction. This point of reckoning is an essential dilemma facing anyone seeking recovery. Recovery is many things, but it is at its best a platform for justice. Recovery without justice is a strained and haunted recovery.
The earliest members of Alcoholics Anonymous learned on the anvil of their collective experience that key actions were required to bring justice to those harmed and to bring to the alcoholic whatever degree of forgiveness and self-forgiveness was possible. Those essential steps included rigorous self-inventory (honest accounting), confession (honest admission of guilt), restitution to those harmed (amends) and unpaid acts of service (helping others). Whether one is recovering with the support of a Twelve-Step fellowship or through another pathway of recovery, those four steps remain the best strategies ever developed to ameliorate guilt for past injury to others and to self.
We may fear justice within the recovery experience, but recovery without justice is an incomplete and festering recovery. Recovery with justice allows us to bury the ghosts of the past and to live with ourselves in the present.