02 October 2007

Getting Well, Part 6: From Insanity to Wisdom

Insanity, it is often said, consists of doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results.

This statement is a popular reminder among those in recovery, because we are particularly prone to compulsively recycle our bad experiences, hoping, as all gamblers hope, to win big the next time, while forgetting, as all gamblers forget, that the game is always rigged.

Does sanity then consist of doing the same thing over and over and expecting the same results? I devoutly hope not; on the other hand, knowing enough to expect identical results when you repeat the experiment [if none of the variables has changed] is a definite step in the right direction.

There are times when it may be worthwhile to repeat the experiment, simply to confirm that the initial result wasn't an anomaly. It can be worth making sure that he really is so thoughtless that he gets up and leaves the restaurant while you're finishing your dessert, after the check is paid; you may likewise want to be certain that she really is as prejudiced as she seemed to be during the conversation you had about Darfur. Consigning people to the emotional dustbin is a major decision and should be a well informed one.

However, when you repeat this kind of experiment, you need to be sure that you can deal with the outcome.

Over time, as our stock of experimental knowledge accumulates, and as we learn to interpret events that we couldn't fully process before we began our recoveries, we will more easily accept initial unpleasant results as accurate, without any need to replicate them. This is often regarded as 'negativity' by those who don't have to bear the brunt of these experiences themselves. It's not; it's simple good sense, with an education.

We who are in recovery are often derided for 'having baggage'. But there's a lovely thing about baggage: it has contents. And if the contents are handled properly, the 'baggage' of recovery turns out to be nothing more or less than experience; and if experience is handled properly, it turns out to be nothing more or less than wisdom.

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