When we are out drinking and using there is no end to the fun and laughs we get from our wild exploits. Most of us can tell the so-called “war stories” from our wild days. Even in recovery we often have laughs exchanging tales of wildness. For some of us, the wildness and even destructiveness of drinking and using becomes an actual feature of our self-identity. I recall a friend who once told me that heroin was a huge part of who he was and how he presented himself to the world. It wasn’t just a way to get high, it was a way of life.
Some of these times even come with no small measure of real rock star exploits. I personally know someone who made it into the rock and roll heights, playing with some well-known bands. He was a real-life rock star and the drinking and drugging were part of that life for him. There was no way to really separate the life of a rock and roll musician from a life of drugs and drinking.
Both of these guys had their luck run out on this way of living. But this is no cautionary tale. The point is that we really are not the drugs we take. We make choices to live this way and the tales of wild adventure actually conceal the tragedy of what happens to us. My friend who lived the heroin life found himself serving seven months of a much longer sentence before finding his way to recovery. And that rock star is not a rock star anymore. We may identify with the rock and roll wild man but he is an image on an album cover, not a real person. For every punk rock hero or goth-heroin cool kid that turns up in the world, there is a small army of dead young guys and sad men who lost careers to drugs and alcohol. All of this is what the Big Book calls “gutter bravado.” We tell the tales and laugh and impress each other because the reality of that life is in no way heroic, funny, or cool. We lose it all in the end and the ego that drove that life is all that we end up with. We end up broke, sick, and alone. Some of us end up with legal problems which persist well into recovery.
The point here is to draw attention to how the ego drives our using. As we descend into a drinking and drugging life, we find ourselves flying high on the way these substances make us feel and they ways in which they seem to give us access to the wild rock and roll lifestyles we see in music videos and concerts. It is fun and exciting and we set ourselves apart from the common and boring folks who “just don’t get it.” But this is all ego and our reliance on ego alone results in hurting ourselves and everyone around us.
Both guys I talked about in the beginning are sober today. My friend who identified so strongly with heroin is now making independent films. The rock star is a working musician. For both of them, their art speaks louder than their egos. This is what we gain from recovery. This is what we gain from putting the ego aside.