Recovery in an Age of Cynicism
There’s something happening here
But what it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s battle lines being drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
–For What It’s Worth, Buffalo Springfield (1966)
Lyrics by Stephen Stills
Recovery in an age of cynicism requires seeking the less traveled path.
We live in a strange era. Pessimism seems to be seeping into every aspect of global culture–fed by leaders who divide rather than unite, who pander rather than educate and elevate, and who ply the politics of destruction to mask their own impotence to create. Poisoned by such cynicism, we as a people act too often without thinking, speak too often without listening, and engage too often to confront and condemn rather than to communicate, until in our own loss of hope, we lapse into disillusioned detachment and silence–shrinking our world to a small circle we vow to protect.
Under such circumstances, the search for hope from any source intensifies, leaving us vulnerable to exploitive demigods who dice the world into boxes of superiority and inferiority and warn us of alien threats rather than reminding us of our common humanity. False hopes and manipulation abound in such a climate, leaving one questioning where authentic hope and community can be discovered. There are many such pockets, but one can be found in a most unexpected of places–among people recovering from life-threatening and life-deforming addictions.
There is nothing inherently ennobling about recovery from addiction, but there is the potential for profound change within the recovery experience and the potential for a profound experience of community as people support each other through this process. Addiction recovery can be a democratizing process–welding together men, women, and near-children; people of all ages, racial and ethnic groups, sexual orientations, and social classes; people of all faiths and no faith; people spanning all varieties of education and occupation; and a range of political views that under no other circumstances coexist in the same room. Two things bind people in recovery together: the belief that change–even transformative change–is possible, and the recognition that we are all broken and yet can rise above such brokenness to heal ourselves and each other. The living proof of those twin propositions is affirmed daily within these communities of recovery. There is also a degree of growing consensus across religious, spiritual, and secular pathways of recovery about the core values that make such personal and collective redemption possible. Such values include personal responsibility, humility, tolerance, mutual respect, compassion, honesty, forgiveness, gratitude, humor, simplicity, and service.
If people who have courted death and experienced the darkest corners of human despair and desperation can discover hope, meaning and purpose, common ground and community across a rainbow of differences, then why can’t we do that as a country and as a world? Perhaps in years to come we will witness a Recovery Effect–recovery communities, through their expanding size and maturity, exerting a collective healing influence on our larger communal life.