I wake early, sometimes very early. I have been in this habit since I was a kid. When I asked my mom in her later years if she remembers me doing this as a child, she said, “Oh yeah.” And when I asked her why she thought I did this, she answered, “You were always afraid you were going to miss something.” Well, this morning, I was again up before dawn. And I was very glad there was something I did not miss.  And some people I’d like to honor.

Here’s the backstory. I live in Santa Barbara. The rising sun and I usually meet for my morning walk at the parking lot next to the beach. And in the main, I am relatively alone. But today I moved my routine a half-mile north, and I was not alone. There were a half-dozen cars parked and parking as I pulled up, and more were arriving.

I thought perhaps the homeless called this home, but not the car-less. Then I saw people of varying age, gender and weight, kempt and unkempt, gathering around a picnic bench. The sky was now red with its passion, and the gathering was visibly bearing its own purpose.

Then it dawned on me; this was an AA group. And when I asked a woman just getting out of her car, she said, “Yep!” and gave me a thumbs-up. And I said, “Great.” And she said, “Thanks,” as she moved across the sand to join the support circle.

In life, attitude is altitude. And in this random meeting, this woman’s reply and her attitude had a the landmark grace of all the healing souls fighting this disease and doing their work at an AA meeting on a beach in Santa Barbara, or at transforming facilities like La Paloma in Memphis, The Canyon in Malibu or Black Bear Lodge outside of Atlanta.

Few of us look like Hollywood would profile us, and neither do people in recovery. People in recovery are any one of us, but they are certainly all of us. And for me, looking at these folks this morning was like flipping through the pages of an illustrated version of a best-seller entitled Fifty Shades of Sober.

For most of us to be described as sober implies being restrained, bordering on the boring. But for anyone struggling with addiction, the experience of sobriety will bring with it this revelation: Sobriety can be intoxicating.

To redefine sober as intoxicating is to experience the visionary miracle of clarity. Sobriety is an epiphany. It is coming out of the shadows of deceit and delusion and into the full sunrise of gratitude for being alive every day. Sobriety echoes Scripture’s reminder, “This is the day the Lord gave me, and I will joy in it.”

Unfortunately, while sobriety can be intoxicating right now, there are more than 22 million people in America suffering from the disease of addiction; 22 million people for whom clarity is an intrusion, dishonesty is a way of life and implicating others in your pain is a fact of life.

No man is an island and people suffering from addiction are no exception. People caught in this disease often are a deeply hurtful radiating source of pain to themselves and others. Take the 22 million suffering from this disease, multiply that number by the people who love them, or once loved them, and you have 100 million Americans in the pain circle. People who love people suffering from this disease are repeatedly fair game when addiction is in season.

All of us wake up with our dreams and our demons. Some of us go through our day denying what we are so used to denying that it becomes ambient white noise that we don’t hear. For some of us, the denial not only doesn’t disturb us, but it has also become a co-dependent partner in what should be a vociferous divorce.

My definition of neurosis is when we choose to do something that is negative but familiar over something that is healthy but new. You don’t have to be an alcoholic or a junkie to be in synch with this, but many are. In some way, we all sometimes dance this dance. All of us. To deny it is its own habit. A dry drunk is someone drunk on denial who confuses holding the whip to oneself as being a lion tamer.

Of the 22 million suffering, only three million are doing something about it. The souls I saw this morning are not in denial. They are sober heroes. They are dealing or attempting to deal with themselves. They know themselves to be in need of self-support, find strength in honest admission, and in the strength of a support circle.

Or a picnic table at the beach.

Heroism’s stage doesn’t need a battlefield with bullets tracking overhead. Heroes in recovery are those who are on the frontlines of their own lives. They are warriors who face forward every day in the day to day. And when you are battling addiction, the battle is moment by moment, every moment, through the long night.

The people I saw at the beach this morning don’t know me. And most of them appear to me as people I would pass every day without a second look. I would not think it possible that she or he was toughing it out in a hard corner. But at the very least, I could not let this moment pass without giving my own thumbs-up to every soul who feels they ought to be ashamed but refuses to allow that misdirected bias to keep them in chains.

Tell a kid he’s an idiot for long enough, and you will be a prophet. People who beat themselves up are convinced they can’t do anything. Some of us were raised to think that beating ourselves up is an act of character. Wrong! Being self-abusive for what is less than our best serves no purpose and is masked by the emotional exhaustion of thinking we have done something. Self-accountability, not self-abuse, is the streetcar named desire.

Not that many years ago, when we learned a friend had cancer, we would whisper, “She’s got cancer.” It’s time to take the whisper campaign out of addiction. It’s time to face the facts and take shame out of the equation. Being shamed by the disease of addiction or saddling shame on others only cripples the effort to begin healing.

Someday is no day. Dealing with one’s addiction is something you solve one day at a time because it is never solved. If this sounds like a tough challenge, it is. But so is living responsibly, one day at a time. If you doubt this, or feel superior to an addict’s struggle, it is not only the addict who is in denial.

My mom was right. This morning I was profoundly glad there was something special I did not miss. I pray thanks for leaving the dark ages in society’s attitude toward addiction and for a new day dawning. I give witness to the courage of anonymous souls at an anonymous picnic bench in the sands of time. There is no shame in shouting for help, and there is no heroism in silently drowning.

Across the sands of time, too many stigmatized souls have been washed out to sea. Enough. It’s time to break the stigma of addiction. It’s time to leave the prejudice of habit and ignorance. It’s time to wave goodbye and say good riddance. We all count and count on each other. We’re all in recovery. We’re all recovering from who we are to who we might yet be. Be your best. Honor those who are trying.

Noah benShea

Copyright April 30, 2014

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