old and young

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According to Kierkegaard, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it  must be lived forwards” (Kierkegaard, S.,  1960, The Diary of Soren Kierkegaard, Sect. 4, #136 , ed. by Pete Rhode, 1843 entry).  Now that I have lived over six decades I can see the wisdom in this statement. I doubt that I would have when I was in my twenties. Sometimes in recovery meetings you will have twenty people there, sixteen of whom have only days to a few months of “being clean”, and the other four or so will be “old timers” with years to decades of recovery.  The newcomers, many times, are young and still residents of treatment centers.

At first glance, it seems like an odd mix of people. Obviously, they hopefully have a desire to stop drinking or using in common—-but what else would make such a diverse group functional?  I imagine some of the young new comers, once they leave the meeting, talk amongst themselves and ask “Why would we want to listen to those old folks? And “old-timers” are often asked why they keep going back to meetings year after year and decade after decade.  Even others in recovery ask the “old timers” what they get out of those “beginner meetings”….how can it possibly help your recovery, don’t you need to be in meetings with people who have “good recovery?”

I think the quote from Kierkegaard helps explain why beginner meetings work. You need the backwards vision/wisdom of the old-timers and the future-oriented “excited to begin to hope again” perspective of new comers to balance the meeting content out so that a realistic perspective is provided. Old timers need to remember the pain and agony that first brought them to recovery, and beginners need to know there is hope and that recovery can be attained and kept through the years.

Chittister (1999, In Search of Belief, p.75) has written, “Perspective is a powerful tool. It can also be a deceptive one. Once we come to understand a thing, we often fail to see it as it really is, as it was when first we experienced it. Once understanding comes, we seldom see a thing the same way again. We read back into it what has, over time, become clear but which we did not recognize at the beginning. We begin to be enamored of it in ways that had no meaning at its outset.” These words, too, help explain why a mixture of those new to recovery and those well grounded in it benefit from each others’ experiences and perspectives.

At the time, Chittister was writing about the experience of believing in Jesus Christ, but her words also accurately describe what happens in twelve step meetings. Those with years of recovery have begun to read insight and wisdom into their memory of “before recovery” and when they first entered recovery. The words of newcomers bring back the pain, trigger memories, and help improve the accuracy of the old timer’s perspective of “what it was like and what happened” before they entered “what it is like now.” In the beginning, hitting bottom and having to surrender to a power higher than yourself is miserable, painful, scary, and full of shame. Only later does it become, in memory, that glorious moment when you surrendered your will to the God of your understanding and began growing spiritually.

What are your thoughts about how the perspectives of both “young and old” can work together to give us a more accurate perspective of our reality, our past, and our future? God bless and keep you.