Chris DeLine

Cedar Rapids, IA

Imperfection in Recovery

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“Never in our lives, long before we had a drink, were we able to settle for status quo. Nothing that was normal ever merited our attention for more than a split second. If it wasn’t better than normal, we didn’t like it. And that’s before we ever had a drink. So, we had better jolly well grasp and develop, because a happy sobriety will turn into a drunk unless we develop.” —Chuck C., A New Pair of Glasses

I know that voice. The one that says it’s never enough. Only, it’s not a voice — it’s a hum. It’s a feeling. It’s a reverberation that rings heavier with each echo. It is words, it is tension, it is desire. And there’s a gravity to it. But that gravity’s conditional: It gains strength only when leaned in to.

I can lean in — believing the status quo isn’t worth settling for, the moment is flawed, the results aren’t coming fast enough, the potential for change is limited — and by feeding that voice of what it wants, that gravity gains in force. That feeling becomes an obsession. The options for escape become limited. The discomfort, if I can call it that, becomes something that needs to be turned off by something outside of myself.

Or I can lean out — believing the current state of affairs isn’t that bad, the results are coming as fast as they can, the potential for change is evolving — and by starving that voice of what it wants, that gravity loses force. That feeling of obsession drifts. The options for escape become vast. The discomfort, if you can call it that, becomes absorbed by something greater than myself.

It used to be that if the voice got too loud and the moment got too heavy, the best way to turn it off was to drink. To drink heavily. To drink when I woke up, and continue drinking until I was no longer awake. Because drinking to a point of oblivion made me feel better than normal in both times of success and times of failure alike. It made me feel above average even while life was anything but. But that doesn’t happen now. And that hasn’t happened for a long time. And it all began when a friend helped me lean out when I couldn’t do so by myself. Then, with the help of more friends, I was able to lean harder. I didn’t think leaning out like this was possible, or that I’d even ever want to. But here we are.

That doesn’t mean I don’t still know what that voice sounds like. I know, because that voice continues to exist within me. The voice that says nothing is ever enough. That’s the insidious nature of this thing: It always seems like it’s gone forever… until it isn’t.

Sometimes I lean in. When I do, it isn’t for long, because a puzzling side effect of knowing better seems to be doing better. And recovery is teaching me the knowing better part. It’s teaching me to take positive action when I need to inspire positive thoughts, and rely on others when I feel like I should go it alone. And in doing so, the occasions which prompt me to feel like I can do nothing else but lean in seem to come at far more infrequent intervals than they used to. But they still happen. Because I’m not perfect. I’m human. And my recovery is a human recovery. The wonderful thing is, I’m starting to learn that means it’s enough.