As one does, I often spend my Sunday nights watching Game of Thrones. If you’re not familiar with the series, I’ll try to summarize it in a sentence: it’s a medieval political drama set in a fantasy world that includes underappreciated giant wolves, dragons, magic, zombies, shape-shifting ninja assassins, pirates, nonsensical plot lines, often terrible dialogue, languages invented for the show itself, and a creepy kid who zones out a lot at inopportune times that can control birds with his mind.
It’s complicated. And of course, when you’re trying to condense all of that material into a television show, there are often going to be problems. There are valid criticisms of the show as it lurches onward to the end of its final season, releasing a generation of nerds from ten years of HBO subscription bondage: the pacing is terrible, the plot contradicts itself frequently, character arcs are destroyed for expedience, it’s difficult to understand why people do what they’re doing fairly often. A world once presented as being vast and unforgiving at first (a major character once risked an army to capture a bridge near a swamp) is now easily traveled in a matter of hours should the plot require it, and the alleged hero of the story recently gave away his dog without so much as a hug.
You’re a good boy, Ghost. I still love you.
And yet, with all of these valid criticisms of the show and those producing it, the biggest news item of the day was that someone forgot to remove a take-out coffee from the camera’s view in a scene. People are missing the forest of storytelling failures for one very small (tall? maybe it was a grande) half-caf soy latte tree.
It’s easier to find one stupid thing and inflate its importance than it is to address the underlying structural defects of everything surrounding it. There’s no immediate gratification in understanding the larger thematic issues: they’re complicated, they take experience, research or information to understand, and it’s a lot of work to develop and propose solutions. That’s a lot of effort; better to find a small problem with an easy solution and pretend it’s a big problem.
This happens a lot in recovery. We don’t like to think about why we can’t accept certain things that are going on in our lives, but when we find a small problem with an easy solution we often celebrate ourselves for identifying it. Sobriety is often reduced and simplified; while it’s easy to say that the solution would just be to not drink and go to meetings, that ignores the social, biological and psychological factors that weigh in on one’s motivation and ultimate decision whether or not to surrender to our affliction. We focus on the smallest possible problem, having the thing we’re addicted to in front of us and, in what’s often a split second decision, indulging our demons and ignoring the consequences.
It’s much harder to dive deeper into ourselves. It’s uncomfortable to unpack our personalities and our histories to understand why we feel the need to use or abuse a substance that, even though temporarily, divorces us from reality. What is it in our lives that’s so difficult and abhorrent that we’re willing to do anything to avoid it? Why do we turn to the substances we abuse in the first place? Have we learned to use them from watching others? Would we seek them out if they weren’t available? Would we invent them if they didn’t exist? Perhaps we’re too focused on the act of using because it allows us to focus on something that’s much easier to deal with.
It’s very simple to give broad generalized statements and to parrot slogans. Slogans have their place, cliches exist for a reason, and stereotypes often do have some basis in reality (though exaggerated for effect). These things shouldn’t be the whole of one’s recovery, though, and when used need to be identified as what they are. They’re nothing more than commercials. They’re memetic devices to remind us of the larger ideas; there exists something deeper below the clever-but-shallow turns of phrase.
Taking inventory of one’s life and actions is essential. It’s key in the process of really understanding what led us to to do the things we’ve done. It takes a significant amount of introspection and criticism to understand our motivations. Our actions extend well beyond a hasty decision and have the weight of a lifetime behind them. It’s not so much the what, but the why, that needs to be addressed in recovery.
There are bigger dragons to face than a cup.