Familiar Suffering

17 percent:
the success rate of the oldest residential drug & alcohol treatment facility in the world.
17 percent
of people stay sober for a year after they leave.
17 percent.
And it’s the highest success rate of any treatment center in the w h o l e world.
17 percent.

*Data from the book A Million Little Pieces by James Frey, published in 2003.

One of the most recent studies on recidivism rates – which most often refers to the rate at which a person relapses back into criminal behavior after being released from prison – showed that 67.8% of people were rearrested within 3-years of being released from prison, within 5-years that number increases to 76.6%. And of those prisoners, a little more than half were arrested by the end of the first year of being released.

I often ponder why it’s so hard to break our cycles of detrimental behaviors and habits. These are more extreme examples, of course, but the thread is the same for all of us. We all have a hard time letting go of the suffering we’ve grown strangely accustomed to. Even when we know what we’re doing is not working. Even when we’re miserable. Even when we’re crippled by shame and guilt and fear.

A common deterrent towards making positive changes that I’ve heard often from people, in a variety of contexts, involves the deeply rooted and long-held view that they’re broken, un-fixable, damaged beyond repair. My husband used to think he was one of those people. I have at least two friends and a family member I can think of that feel this way, too. And it makes sense to me that if we think we are broken then there’s little sense in trying to change course – because there’s a core belief that nothing will work.

“Attachment to views is the greatest impediment to spiritual growth.” -Thich Nhat Hanh

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Knowing Thyself

To listen to me reading this blog post in audio form:

 

I’ve questioned whether I can make it through this book: A Million Little Pieces by James Frey, the likes of which I discovered propped up in one of those little free libraries situated on a quiet neighborhood street in town. I almost didn’t take it, on account of the Oprah’s Book Club sticker adhered to the cover, which was designed to be a draw, a first-class recommendation, a rubber-stamp of approval by someone people trust. For me, though, it served only the ill-affects of resigning to a fate that had been chosen – neigh, thrusted – upon the masses, as though a woman who graces the cover of every O magazine should wield the power to say what’s hot in the literary world. How does this work? Do people care so little for their own opinion that they should have cause to hold hers in such high regard as to turn over their decision making power? But, I digress.

The reason I may not get through this book has nothing, in fact, to do with the circular sticker glued to the front. Instead, it has to do with the sheer visceral magnitude of the writer’s account of getting sober – in what turns out to be the oldest residential drug and alcohol treatment facility in the world, located in the state of Minnesota. The rock-bottom nature of his experience. The clutching force of how far a human being can spiral down the black hole of depravity. The hellish descriptions of agony. But it’s the realness that keeps me reading. And I know that since he mustered the ability to relive it while coiled over his computer, hands shaky on the keys, I can settle in beside him and listen to his story.

The point? There’s a time to push through discomfort and there’s a time not to. It depends on the situation and where we’re at. If we don’t know ourselves well, it becomes almost impossible to intuit which time calls for which action. Sometimes discomfort is a sign of needing to stop engaging with something because it may trigger us in un-beneficial ways. Other times, it’s a sign to keep going because it affords us the opportunity to learn and grow. And only we ourselves can know which time is which.

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Don’t Take Things So Personally

I know what THAT look means. What is it? Is it my tatts you’re disapproving of? Is it my piercings? My wild hair? My colorful outfit? Geese. Why do people have to be so judgemental? I mean, here I am having lunch, minding my own business, and this dude has the gall to stare at me like THAT?! Who does he think he is? Does he have nothing better to do? Is my alternative appearance so displeasing? People are such haters.

Uh-oh. Crap. Now he’s coming over here. Great. Here we go.

“Excuse me, would you mind closing the shade right next to you? The glare is quite something over where I’m sitting.”
“Uh. Sure.”
“Thanks so much, I really appreciate it. My eyes thank you, they’ve been stuck in squint mode ever since I sat down.”