Say, Yes

Say, Yes

By Stan Bumgarner M. Div., Counselor

Last Sunday we celebrated Valentine’s Day — the holiday of love, flowers and candy. I couldn’t help but remember back to elementary school and those pastel, heart-shaped candies that read: Be Mine, Call Me, XO and Love You.

Love is an amazing emotion to celebrate. It provides a sense of connection, belonging and purpose. At its best, it’s honest, trusting and accepting. American author and religious scholar Thomas Merton wrote, “Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone — we find it with another.”

Who doesn’t desire brotherly love, the love of a family member or meaningful intimacy? Addiction and alcoholism, however, take away our ability to love or be loved with a genuine connection. Active addiction is anti-relational. Its essence is described by David McElrath, a spiritual care provider, as, “isolation of an intense magnitude that prohibits any other kind of deep relationship.”

Addicts sink into an abyss, into an internal dialogue between us and our drug. In that universe only our voices, opinions, decisions and wants matter. Our children become irritations who get in the way. Our spouses take up too much of our time, and require explanations about where we’ve been and how we’ve spent all the money. We drift away from old friends we trust, and trade them in for using buddies. Our mothers and fathers, grandparents, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, have learned to lock their doors, hide their money and let the phone ring unanswered. Our only relationship becomes the one we have with our drug of choice.

The solution to our barren, addicted lives is to admit the primary relationship in our lives is pathological. We have chosen our substance over the love of partners, friends and family. We have turned our backs on life itself.

A recovery friend of mine once told me he doesn’t change until he has run out of all other options. I believe this is true for most of us. Perhaps it’s like what poet Wendell Berry once said, “It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey.”

Every person who begins and sustains recovery reaches a point where they say, “I can’t live like this anymore.” Often, that light only comes on when there is the real possibility of losing a spouse, child or the support of parents. It’s painful to think about moving forward in life without the drugs that have always provided temporary relief.

The opportunity for treatment and recovery feels as if the loving spirit of the universe is giving us a chance to decide what kind of life we really want: one of love and connection, or one of pain and isolation. It’s as though the loving presence is giving each of us one of those little heart-shaped candies asking, BE MINE?

When that happens, I hope you will say, YES!

Stan graduated from Vanderbilt Divinity School in 2006 and worked for the Tennessee Association of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services teaching ministers across the state. This led him to become an alcohol and drug counselor, a position he currently holds as primary counselor for the Cumberland Heights Extended Care program for men. Stan is a regular speaker at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Clarksville, the father of thirteen-year-old twins and active in his own 12-Step recovery.