I have lived in Santa Barbara, California for 40 years. During that time, I have experienced earthquakes and fires, but until this past month I had not experienced living in a war zone of fire, ash and profound uncertainty. The consequence to the spirit is a reminder that we are not in charge, that life is a vulnerable journey, and that there is a hand larger than ours on the helm.

The people to whom this lesson is most pressing are those who like to think they are capable, talented, successful — and subject to hubris.

On a parallel plane with parallel lessons, I have been the national philosopher for Foundations Recovery Network for the past 11 years and have been drawn deeply into the world of addiction and recovery. And like those who woke unexpectedly to find a forest fire hot on their neck, very few of those suffering from addiction ever thought that they would wake up caught in addiction’s bear trap. No bear ever thinks it will get caught. Not me. I am too big, too tough, too smart. And now, too caught.

Against both of these backdrops is Mother Nature, prodding us to pay attention, because either you pay attention in life or you pay later.

The giant evergreen trees with the longest history in the darkest forests have pinecones of promise. These pinecones don’t fulfill their promise until the intense heat of a forest fire causes the cones to open, new seeds to fall and new pines to grow. The scientific name for this phenomenon is serotiny. But my term for this phenomenon as it applies to living in recovery is “sober heroism,” the courage of sobriety in the face of facts on the ground.

And here are the facts, folks. We all decide the lies we want to believe and pay for the intimacy of lying to ourselves. After all, personal deceit eventually become public deceit. If you lie to yourself, you will lie to others.

The best exit plan for this fact of life requires that when you can’t change the events surrounding you, you have to change you. Things don’t have to be good for us to be great.

In everyone’s life there are floods of emotion and fear and doubt. When this happens, you can prepare to drown or you can prepare to live under water. And when things in your life begin to heat up, you have to face up and toughen up in order to bear up.

Prayer can be a path where there is none — and divine intervention does intervene. But if we’re waiting to see what God will do, God is certainly waiting to see what we will do.

Post the fires in California and three evacuations, I remain shaken. But I am a better man for having been shaken and survived, and wiser, even if emotionally wounded.

If you are battling addiction, if you are hoping for recovery, put your faith and not your fears in charge. No matter our individual struggles and the anguish of that pain, we are reminded, “this too shall pass.” But not without our effort to change. After all, change is inevitable, only progress is optional.

All recovery is a move toward self-empowerment, born when we are feeling most powerless. If you feel that you have lost power over your life, that doesn’t mean you are powerless. It is rather the truth of admission necessary for regaining power. Just as courage is not the absence of fear, but how we wrestle with our fears.

And one more thing. Here is my blessing on your journey: May you go from strength to strength and be a source of strength to others.


Noah benShea is one of North America’s most respected and beloved poet-philosophers. An international bestselling author of 23 books translated into 18 languages, his inspirational thoughts have appeared on more than 30 million Starbucks coffee cups, and his weekly columns on life were published for five years by The New York Times Regional Syndicate. In addition to his many other accomplishments, he serves as Philosopher in Residence for Foundations Recovery Network. Find out more HERE.


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