Dear Hope Nation,
For at least two reasons, I don’t get to write about philosophy very often. First, most people’s eyes and brains glaze over when the subject comes up, believing they’re in for Latin phrases and other even less clear language. I promise no cogito ergo sum nor ontological proofs will cross my lips here. Second, although glib and good with words, I’m not all that smart and most philosophers are well beyond me. Like eight-year-old Keith, I have at best a Classic Comics understanding of much thought. That said, I do want to draw on Plato and his cave to make a point about recovery.
Very briefly, Plato’s Allegory of the Cave offers us people who are prisoners in a den, bound by foot and neck so that they face only a blank wall in front of them, while a fire burns brightly behind them. All they can see are their own shadows and the shadows of objects behind them projected onto the wall by the firelight’s flickering. With no other stimuli, of course, the prisoners follow intently the movements of the shadows, having no notion of the reality of the objects which cast the shadows. These prisoners award honors to those best able to predict the next shadow or to identify patterns in the play of the shadows and light on the wall. Eventually, a man is released from his fetters and dragged into the sunlight; at first, he is unable to see well, his eyes having been weakened by years of the dim cave light. Soon, though, as he adjusts to his escape from the cave, he comes to realize that he had previously been deceived by the shadows; his entire earlier existence is now revealed as completely meaningless, even absurd, to him. He is overwhelmed by the variety and beauty of the sunlit world. Feeling duty-bound to return to the cave and tell his former fellows of their predicament, he makes his way back; once there, however, he finds it very difficult to convince them, for his time in the sun has made his eyes less suited to discerning the shadow-play on the cave’s wall and he appears more the fool to them than he had before his enlightenment. While Plato suggests the men who had remained trapped would eventually kill the returnee, I like to believe he might be able to convince some prisoners to join him in the light.
In active addiction, we are those prisoners, trapped in this world and unable to discern reality. Without recovery, we are as absurd, basing our entire existences on falsehoods, ignorance and misunderstanding. Until and unless we recognize our situation, we are doomed to mere existence, rather than life, our minds and souls trapped and useless. As with Walker Percy’s castaway, though, our first obligation, nay, necessity, is to accurately identify and “name” our predicament, then set about addressing it. That is where recovery comes in.
I spent more than 30 years in the cave of addiction. While the substances changed over the years, I remained in that cave, joining my lowered companions in watching the flickering light on the wall. Without any faith that leaving addiction was possible, I still took weak, faltering steps toward some kind of help. Given the power of sunlight, as made manifest in other men and women in recovery, I, little by slowly, became a free man. Today, duty-bound but joyful, I, along with many of you, return to the cave, hoping to convince the firelight watchers that life can be better.
You matter. I matter. We matter.