The more I work with alcoholics and addicts the more I realize that we all carry wounds from our past. Unfortunately in America it has been acceptable for far too long to remain “wound identified.” That is, we use our victim hood as our identity. We use it to elicit sympathy and to excuse ourselves from getting into service and helping heal the world.
As a child, I was taught stories of courageous men and women who overcame great obstacles in their lives and made something out of their selves. Some of the world’s greatest men and women have been saddled with disabilities and adversities but managed to overcome them.
Raise a man in abject poverty, and you have an Abraham Lincoln. Strike a man down with infantile paralysis, and he becomes a Franklin D. Roosevelt. Deafen a genius composer, and you have a Ludwig van Beethoven. Have him or her born black in a society filled with racial discrimination, and you have a Booker T. Washington, a Harriet Tubman, a Marian Anderson, or a George Washington Carver. Call him a slow learner, “retarded,” and write him off as un-educable, and you have an Albert Einstein.
These are the stories that need to be told. Too often the only stories we hear on the news now days are of those who are saddled with disadvantages. Not stories of people who have risen above those disadvantages.
The victim card is a losing card. I remember being diagnosed as severely bipolar in 2001. I already knew I was alcoholic. This seemed like a little much.
On a ski trip in Utah I found myself in a Salt Lake City bookstore. Somehow I stumbled up a rather clinical book about co-occurring disorders–mental illness coupled with addition or alcoholism. In no time I zeroed in on a statistic buried in the appendices related to the recovery rate of those with a co-occurring disorder. I was devastated. I forget the exact percentage but it was so low I figured I didn’t stand a chance. I determined that day that the best I could hope for was a few more years of insanity and alcoholism as I was destined to die an alcoholic death.
Holding the victim card firmly, I scarcely darkened the door frame of the rooms of recovery for five years. What’s the point? I was doomed.
Fortunately, I had a father who didn’t even know what a victim card looked like. Raised during the Great Depression, he knew adversity but never succumbed to it. Though we didn’t speak much of my addiction to alcohol he did slap me upside the head once verbally after I called to whine to my mother about how everything was “poor, poor me.”
First he let me know I didn’t need to be dragging my mother through the wreckage of my life. Second he pointed out that life isn’t all about rainbows and unicorns. We are here to learn lesson. Life is a series of classrooms. We don’t get to pick which classroom we are in or what time we take our lessons. (If I got to pick it would be recess all the time.)
Our purpose is to learn the lessons life places before us. If confused, we pray to discover what it is we are to be learning.
These were not his exact words. I learned the wording in the rooms of recovery. But the message was clear–stop whining and figure out what it is you are supposed to be learning.
Each of us faces a unique set of obstacles in our lives designed to teach us to grow and learn. But there is no guarantee that we will get out of the life classrooms what was intended. If we succumb to victim hood, the learning stops … abruptly. There is no growth.
Though I did not sober up until eight months after my father’s passing, he planted a seed of understanding that literally saved me. Rather than giving up hope when the statistics said “why bother,” I readjusted my perspective on this thing called life and opted for lessons over victim hood.
The rooms of recovery—though occasionally featuring a professional victim—are full of people who don’t roll over and play victim. Just the other night I encountered a man at a Twelve Step recovery meeting who was all about lessons over victim hood.
Just two months after sobering up he learned that he had far advanced cirrhosis of the liver. He did not falter. He kept doing the deal.
Now he has a little over a year of recovery. His liver is starting to fail. Physically, his future is not bright..
Though physically weak, he is on fire for recovery. When he shared, he shared with power and conviction. His was not a message of “poor me.” Rather it was a message that the steps work, that the emptiness within is gone.
Though his skin was jaundiced, his eyes were alive. They spoke volumes about hope. They spoke volumes about the miracle that awaits the newly sober.
Oh that I may never again fall backwards into victim hood. I have recovered from a seemingly hopeless state. Though there will undoubtedly be challenges ahead, may I learn and grow so my victory over them may bear witness to God’s Power, Love and Way of Life.
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