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Recovery Meditations For Hard Cases
From the Introduction to
Recovery Meditations For Hard Cases
by Barry B. Longyear
So, why the title Yesterday's Tomorrow, Meditations for Hard Cases, and what is a "hard case" anyway? Yesterday's tomorrow is like tomorrow’s yesterday: a hard case's convoluted way of saying "today." It all has to do with trying to hit, what is for many of those in Twelve Step programs, that almost impossible target, the present moment. Hard cases frequently get stuck in the past or in the future, with occasional periods bouncing back and forth between the two. Of course, if that’s all it took to be a hard case, an hour with a wigpicker would take care of it, but there is more than that to being a hard case.
When it comes to prayer, hard cases frequently suffer from paralyzed knees, low-altitude sickness, and a newly discovered interest in science and philosophies holding forth upon rugged individualism. Trust doesn't come easily to a hard case, and trusting in some sort of vaporous power purported to be greater than oneself least of all.
I met a good example of a hard case when I was going through aftercare at a local rehab. Just before my group session, I heard one of the patients talking about how the folks on the unit had told him he needed a power greater than himself if he was to recover. "That’s when I chose Satan for my higher power," he announced to everyone within hearing. After he said that he wasn’t going to go to any Twelve Step meetings after rehab "because they told me to stay away from drunks and junkies," I suspected the lad might just possibly be a hard case.
As for hard cases and meditation, this work could have just as easily been titled The I Hate to Meditate Meditation Book. The one thing the hard case finds more frightening than trusting a higher power is the hard case trusting in him- or her self. That's what meditation is: listening by yourself, perhaps to yourself or to a higher self, or to a higher power. Where day-to-day recovering persons slip effortlessly into the lotus position, adopt an expression of celestial bliss, and "Om" their way to enlightenment, the hard case makes jokes: "Meditation is either sleeping and not getting any rest, or resting and not getting any sleep," or, "I am not a sofa spud; I’m spiritual," or, "Om Om on the range ...."
Are we agreed that there are hard cases? Good. So, why this particular book?
I'm a hard case. Through much experimentation, I have learned that I am not unique. There are a lot of us out there. From my own experience, I know that hard cases need something more than mere slogans, smarmy platitudes, or off-the-cuff suggestions to move them to action. They need to know what and why, and even more importantly, they need to know how. It's all well and good to say "Turn it over" to someone who is flipping flapjacks. A person holding a wildcat by the tail is never in any doubt about how to let go. In recovery, however, when it comes to letting go, hard cases need to be given the letting-go tool itself, complete with written instructions and the instructional video. We need to be told and shown how it works, and it needs to be done by someone carrying the scars of experience, as well as done in a manner that can sidestep our rather substantial defenses.
If you come at a hard case with a halo on your head, all you'll achieve with the listener is boredom or unintentional humor. If your wisdom is couched in clichés or in plug-in modules of long-winded psychobabble, the hard case will probably get ill. If the message aimed at a hard case is at all self-righteous or judgmental in content or tone, the almost certain result will be anger or laughter. And if you attempt to shove any part of your religious beliefs down the throat of a hard case, chances are you're going to get a fight. Yet there are many hard cases in recovery. To recover and stay alive, hard cases also need the message, but how is that message going to get through all of our armor?
I always considered myself a man of judgment and reason. I didn't know I was a hard case until after I began my journey of recovery in rehab. Early in the screening process I was somehow sorted out into a last-chance therapy group whose members started out on probation. As a genteel young lady explained it to me, "In this group they’re already onto your bullshit and they're tired of it. Screw up once and they toss you out on your ass." In other words, the members of this elite therapy unit were hard cases, or "tough nuts to crack," as one fellow patient put it. At the time I didn't know why I had been gathered up with the other nuts for this particular honor. Later, while I was looking at where I had scratched out the Serenity Prayer that had been printed on my coffee mug, I realized that it might have had something to do with my attitude.
My first day in rehab I awakened from my last blackout screaming at a nurse and hollering that I didn't have a problem, and even if I did, all of this down-home-Jesus-higher-power crap had not a damned thing to do with me. In addition, I attempted to walk out of treatment on my fourth day, and only remained by the grace of a hellish cold snap and a very large roommate who promised to break my legs if that was what it would take to keep me on the premises. He repeated his offer two days later when I attempted to walk out again. Although my experience shed more than a little light on my friend's control problem, I couldn't really see that I was one of the tough nuts. That began when the recovering psychiatrist who did my initial screening gave me my very first understandable indication. After listening to me go on for an hour about how I didn't have a problem, how I really wasn’t like the other people on the unit, and even if I did have a problem, why this Twelve Step gibberish wasn't for me, he shook his head and said, "Barry, you're just bound and determined to make this as hard on yourself as possible, aren't you?"
I was stunned at the suggestion---and disagreed, of course. The reason I disagreed was because I figured such a person would be stupid, which was not in accordance with my self-image. I later learned that such a person is not stupid; instead, he's a hard case. Hard cases are usually too smart for their own good.
Now, after fifteen years in recovery, my hard case has a few cracks in it. Still I have major battles with things that others in the program seem to have no trouble accepting and using. I wrestle with things like asking for help, trusting a higher power, using the telephone, depending on others, trusting the process, letting go, working the Twelve Steps, staying in the present moment, and so on.
I began recovery thinking that my problem was alcohol and prescription drugs. Within two years it finally got through to me that I am also a food addict and a compulsive gambler. By then I knew, as well, that I had already earned my stripes in Al-Anon and ACOA. Over the course of the next few years I had to face up to being an incest survivor, as well. I seemed to have every addiction from fingernail biting and video games to butter bread and nasal sprays. Hell, when I stopped smoking I even became addicted to nicotine chewing gum! I ran out of days to have meetings on some time ago.
Often during the course of this adventure the cracks in my hard case filled in again. It was all too easy for me to think, "Is this what recovery is---every time I struggle to my knees, I get slapped down again? What does the universe have against me?" I was at the top of my career when I was using but once I got clean, I couldn't get any work. On top of this were serious health problems, tax increases, economic recessions, advancing age, thinning hair, and so on. Black depression haunted me for months on end. It was at exactly such moments when some goody two-shoes reading from one of those Pollyanna, everything's-perfect-in-my-life meditation books would leave me grinding my teeth and feeling even more depressed. I must admit, there are times when I feel that the authors of those books are entirely too happy.
"We can't afford resentments, so forgive and forget." These are lame words to someone who is thinking, "If I can get the bastards back before I reach Step Eight, will I still be okay with the program?" In the depths of a pity wallow, though, another member of the fellowship would frequently get through my hard case and help save my sanity by the use of very special, but admittedly unauthorized, program tools: humor, grit, and an occasional spiritual two-by-four upside my head.
For example, shortly after beginning therapy for being an incest survivor, all the rules of the universe seemed to have changed for me. It was like being taken back to my first day in rehab. The shame, the anger, the emptiness, the betrayal, and how all of this affected my loved ones and my view of reality combined to make returning to my old life of puking mindless oblivion look rather attractive. It was at the closing of an NA meeting, my head deep within this chasm of self-pity, when someone began reading that particular group's traditional closing, the third paragraph of "We Do Recover" from Narcotics Anonymous . It began, "When at the end of the road we find that we can no longer function as a human being, either with or without drugs, we all face the same dilemma. What is there left to do? There seems to be this alternative: either go on as best we can to the bitter ends---Jails, institutions, or death---"
At that point I interrupted by throwing in my cynical two cents by hollering, "Right on!"
In response, a friend at the meeting said, "Remember, Barry, life sucks better clean."
Life sucks better clean. It was funny, it was true, and it was put into terms a hard case like me could understand. I was too far in the hole that night to do anything but sneer at "Today I have a life second to none," or some other attempt at a gratitude wallow. "Life sucks better clean," on the other hand, was right where I was. It was all the reason I needed to stay clean that night. I added that sage remark to the many funny, irreverent, hard-hitting, filthy, and definitely unauthorized program sayings that have saved my life over the years, continuing the growth of what became Yesterday's Tomorrow . . . .
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