Friday, February 03, 2006

Turning back, or running into the fire

I left work early Thursday night. That is, I left when most normal people leave - at five. I was "done" in more ways than one...

My plan was to come in a bit early and leave a bit early, but somehow getting out the door this morning just was more of a struggle than I'd planned. And by the time five o'clock came around, I was more than ready to hop a bus and catch a train south for coffee with one of my sponsees and an AA meeting, which we'd talked about the night before.

I have to emphasize that it had not been a "bad" day - I didn't drink, didn't hit anyone, kept my clothes on all day and my mind mostly focused on work, so it really was a good day. It had, however, also been a day of starting 500 things, and only finishing about three of them - not an overly impressive success rate, when our team is so badly behind the 8-ball.

But for some reason, the tasks at hand just really wore on me, today. So when the thought came that I should just stay at the office, put in a few more hours to "catch up" and skip the AA meeting, the saner parts of my brain stomped that idea to death, and I packed up my satchel and left.

It's a good thing, too. I heard some real truths tonight...things I needed to hear.

Among her many careers over her life, the person speaking at our meeting tonight had been trained to fight forest fires while she was in college. And she shared two images from that experience that really resonated with me.

One thing she shared was that she'd been taught in fire-fighting school that if she was driving through the woods and came upon deer or other wildlife, to just stop a moment, and the deer would turn around and head back the way they came. Seems the deer would invariably turn back to the familiar path they'd already traveled rather than cross the path of a vehicle. What resonated with her, and with many of us in the room tonight, was the tendency of addictive people to turn back to the familiar, even if it's uncomfortable, or even deadly.

God have mercy, but I understand that tendency. It's the way I've lived so much of my life...

In almost every job, in several churches, and in a number of interpersonal relationships, I have stayed long past the time when it was enjoyable, past the time it was comfortable, or even tolerable - because of the fear of what might happen next. It's been my mantra to say, "Oh, it will be better when [fill in the blank] happens..." - when I'm older, when I lose weight, when I get a better job, when this particular project gets done, when I move, when I graduate, when I find a partner...ad infinitem.

Then when the situation becomes completely untenable, I either quit or get fired, leave, walk out or get walked-out-on, and feel guilty about failing. And in each situation, I usually skip feeling that I've failed, and go straight to feeling that I'm a failure. I've even managed to do this a few times in sobriety - most notably the collapse of my plans to attend seminary here in Chicago.

The other image she shared was an instruction from the more experienced firefighters - that in order to escape the fire, a person must run toward the fire wall itself. The wisdom is that the wall of fire was only a few feet thick, and the area behind it was burnt-out and without fuel. If you tried to run away from the fire, it would catch up with you, consuming everything until it caught up with you. Only by going through the fire did anyone have a hope of surviving.

In telling my own story, I have an used a very similar image - that of being trapped by a fence made of brambles that seems to extend to the horizon in either direction. My experience is that I will try anything - travel 30 miles to the left or right - rather than go through two feet of pain going forward. God knows, I am learning (however slowly) to resist that idea - but I have a lifetime of experience in pain avoidance of all kinds, and at all costs.

There is much to which I can apply these images - to my current work situation, to my experiences with my various addictions. But for today, my prayer is simple:

"God, help me turn from the evil that I know, and to push on through the barriers of pain to the freedom that can be mine."

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

In the interest of anonymity, I'll not sign this, but you'll recognize me, Steve.

I was taken by Barbara's "run into the fire" analogy, too.

As I reflected on her lead after I got home last night, I realized that I learned that lesson in a different context -- we were trained, against all instinct, to "run into the fire" in combat, that is, to take the right to the enemy, aggressively, rather than try to hide from it, overwhelming the enemy with superior firepower.

Experience taught that it was the best way to survive a firefight. The minute you allowed yourself to be pinned down, you lost your combat effectiveness, and put yourself and the others in your unit at grave risk. A part of me still doesn't believe it -- it is counter to all instinct to run into a field of fire -- but I know that it is true.

Barbara talked about her experience in terms of facing her demons. She was certainly right, and I've had the experience, as you know.

I was touched, too, by the way in which she spoke about her demons, briefly, in the time she had to speak. She has learned the other great lesson of AA, too, it seems -- the way to stop a secret from killing us is to get the secret out into the light of day for all to see. Secrets lose their power when we do that, their power over us and their power over those who surround us. It is, as I know you have learned, liberating to bring our secrets out into the open.

The first lesson -- running into the fire -- deals with self-deception, and the second lesson -- we are only as sick as our secrets -- deals with deception of others.

Both -- facing demons and exposing them to the light of day -- take courage. It was the example of others in the program, men and women like Barbara, who shared their lives with me, that gave me the courage to do them same with my life.

That's how it works, I guess.

Well, enough musing. Good post.

Rick said...

Good wisdom here. Thanks. I', going to spend some time meditating on that... run toward the fire.

~m2~ said...

this is what struck me:

...was the tendency of addictive people to turn back to the familiar, even if it's uncomfortable, or even deadly.

of if the familiar is shame?

or guilt?

or self-loathing?

i want to give you major "atta-boys" for packing it in for the night and attending that meeting. good on you, bro. good on you, and good for me, too.

AnotherLostAngel said...

Great post stever.....

short of time again...as usual....but thanks...

I am diving as hard and far as I can into the deepest secrets and disruptions in my soul...the hard, frightening things that feel un bearable, intolerable...beyond merely painful or disappointing or hard to face...more like the sources of absolute terror...the threat of disintegration, of disolution...the fear that one will become undone as a human being to one's deepest core....but wading in with the courage of inspiration from folks like you and barb and tom and others....not deserving of a lot of personal credit....noble aims have not started this exploration.....instead, it owes it origin to the fact that more of the same has become too painful, too crippling, to brutally destroying of my humanity....so I am jumping out of a burning airplane....1000 feet below, with nothing but fear between me and the big splat...but a bit of faith in God, as demonstrated through the acts of his humble servants, you and the rest, give me the courage to jump when every instinct in my ethos is to stay in the plane, hide under a seat and say to myself "it will get better....I dont deserve this....everything will go away if I pretend or wait long enough.."

Sarah has been down with flu for almost 2 weeks...and it is the friday of a week where we have not even stepped outside...I am truly stir crazy...I wish I were there last night....If it is the barb I am thinking of, I would have liked to hear her lead....but we do what we have to do.

Walk strong rambler.

Love

peter

Sanford said...

Powerful post, Brother Steve. Straight from the heart and unsparing in honesty. Christ has set you, a sinner, upright to preach and teach. He has blessed you.

Jonathan said...

Like the post - thanks.

Anonymous said...

got a lot from the post and the first comment too.

thank you.

we all fight our own demons and my battle while not unique is wearing me down. Lord have mercy! The safe and the familiar pull me back all the time. Sigh

Im A Foto Nut said...

When ever I made it to a meeting that I really would have rather not gone to, I always seemed to hear just exactly what it was I needed to hear to make the feeling that made me not want to go to the meeting in the first place go away!

I have always said, well it was a God thing!

As far as the post is concerned, I have heard it before, but needed to hear it again. This is a wonderful way to revisit the familiar in a brand new way.

Thank you dear brother,

Incurable Savant