“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways” (I Corinthians 13.11).
In this blog entry I will suggest a few ideas about how the process of gaining sobriety has some interesting and informative parallels with the process of maturation. Close consideration of what maturation is and how it occurs might help in the navigation of the path leading to sobriety.
Some who struggle with addictions feel that once afflicted, one cannot be free. Others hold that freedom can be gotten, though it involves a lifelong commitment to an attendance of meetings. The first are quite simply wrong, of course, and for those who hold the second idea, freedom remains perpetually virtual. It never really is.
My journey to sobriety began when I was about 9 years old. It was around that time that I had what I now recognize to have been a kind of philosophical thought. I stood in my room, surveying the toys scattered randomly about, and I became aware of a shift in the sense with which I beheld them. It struck me that there would eventually come a time when these things would no longer provide any enjoyment for me. Time would inevitably effect my estrangement from the joy that I received from them. I was deeply unsettled by this. But then this realization came to me: I will no longer enjoy them for the simple reason that my desire will by then have run its course, and that adolescence – that woeful interloper – will by then have fully displaced any trace of this particular desire. I realized that for all intents and purposes this shouldn’t be a difficult state to embrace, since the desire would be absent, and hence there would be no longing for these toys. My thought should have ended with this reasonably sound notion, but it didn’t. I began instead to lament the loss of my desire for these things; I lamented the loss of loss. I suppose that ultimately I was unsettled by the recognition that childhood must inevitably be left behind, and that I would eventually come to acquire a new identity. I’d have to learn to chase girls around, and spend all kinds of time standing around in line at a bank – the sorts of tedious and deplorable things that men choose to occupy themselves with.
I’ve since then learned that chasing girls around isn’t such a deplorable thing after all. The process of maturation waylaid the naïve pessimism I had entertained that day so long ago. The way I see it, maturation is a process involving the productive, informative interaction between reason, desire and will. The fruits of this interaction are the means by which Paul and every other child puts an end to childish ways. The process is a poetry of the self (the words “poem/poet” derive from the Greek poiein – “to make/create/do”). Navigating one’s way through life, picking up things here and there in the mind – these things become matrices of reason. The poetry of the self emerges from the dialogue which takes place between the will and desire. Reason provides a kind of grammar for the poem, setting aright any missteps in syntax, safeguarding the cohesive flow in the narrative structure of the self that will come to be written.
All human engagement with the world is mediated via the mind. All action is preceded by some level of deliberation which results in a decision. Where the mind has been – our personal history – is in constant negotiation with where we would like our mind to be – our personal future. Just as a fruit comes from a tree, both the will and desire come from a thought. Desire and will are the fruits of thought. All desires have a history – they don’t simply emerge from out of nowhere.
All human transformation involves moving from some former place to a newer. The impetus for the movement is the dialogue that takes place between desire and will. I wrote previously about Plato’s analogy on the governance of the soul/self. Plato presents his idea with an analogy of the self, which he proposes is akin to riding in a chariot pulled by two horses of disparate natures, one noble, the other ignoble. I would like to propose another chariot analogy here. My analogy involves three horses under the direction of the self/charioteer. The three horses (in the spirit of Plato, these horses of course have Greek names) are: Sophia, who is the center of the team. To either side are Eros, and Thelēma. These horses are very powerful, and they will lead wherever the charioteer directs.
Sophia, whose name translates to reason, wisdom, sound judgment, and skill, is the center of the team. She functions as a centrifugal power and energy, exerting the greatest influence over the momentum of the team as a whole. The horses to either side, Eros, whose name means desire and love, and Thelēma, whose name translates to will, are both directed by Sophia (provided she has been given a healthy diet). The direction in which Will and Desire move is informed principally by Reason. In other words, Desire and Will don’t simply go wherever they themselves see fit. Both in the process of maturation and in that of attaining sobriety, desire and will don’t just happen. Desire and will are themselves fruits, not trees. But reason will only get one so far. Reason must be working in a close synergistic relationship with desire and will.
Eros (love/desire) – a particularly troublesome horse for persons with disordered desires – wants to draw the self forward into the world. Perhaps a loved self is the only kind that can effectively be in the world. This isn’t the spurious love of self-centredness which points back only to the self; it is the love which points outward, which acknowledges and can accept that a fullest authenticity of presence to and in the world merits the worth and dignity of its sharing. This is possible only in sobriety. Only in sobriety can the self be fully present to the world. Only in sobriety can there be full manifestation of the worthiness of the self, and of all it has to offer to the world in unmitigated, unimpeded, fully authentic presence.
Thelēma (will) is sometimes a little ahead of Eros, sometimes a little behind – sometimes she leads to Love, while at other times Love leads to her. Will and Desire/Love impel one another to push forward, encouraging one another to advance and to grow. Sophia (Reason) alone cannot lead one to love oneself, but once Reason begins to impact one’s worldview, one’s will is transformed, and the authentic worthiness of the self becomes more apparent. Love then becomes possible, and one’s will sets its sights on it.
When the dynamics of reason, love and will are operative and healthy in persons seeking sobriety, there is continual maturation of these dynamic themselves. The self becomes far more immersed in the experience of authenticity and presence to the extent that the compulsion and attraction to the illusory, childish (in a pejorative sense) nature of intoxication begins to trickle away, to lose its seductive, magnetic power. Indeed it eventually becomes a deeply abhorrent and fearful thing (by which I mean not a thing to fear doing, but a fear to recall having done). The depth and feel of a sober life is of such a quality that one comes to not want to surrender it at any cost – even amid everyday difficulties and trials. The likelihood of a return to using becomes every bit as unlikely as a stooping down in return to the toys scattered on the floor of one’s childhood.
It is informative to note that the verb in Paul’s statement is in the active voice – i.e., this is action which he himself has effected. He was himself instrumental in effecting the process of maturation, in the “putting aside” of childish things and ways. And the transformation here is final and decisive. This is more apparent in the original Greek of Paul. The Greek verb katargeo has much more of a sense of finality and completeness than the English “put an end to.” The Greek verb means “to cause something to lose its power or effectiveness, to invalidate, to make powerless; to cause something to come to an end or to be no longer in existence, to abolish, to wipe out.” No doubt Paul managed this transformation by means of his increasing in wisdom, aligning his will to that wisdom, and allowing a new perspective on love – which includes the formation of a healthy and reciprocating desire – to solidify and further foster this maturation.
If I may venture here a neologism, I think that this type of growth might be referred to as thelemoerotic maturation. It is a maturation of the will and the formation of a sound perception of the nature of love. There is a movement to a perception of the worthiness of the world, the worthiness of self, and the realization that one has in the self something of great worth to give back to the world. There comes a mature and resolute acceptance that such is possible only via the authenticity which is garnered and engaged in sobriety. We begin to give ourselves permission to fully give and to fully be. This is a conscious pursuit of freedom.