By Diane Cameron
“Form serves us best when it works as an obstruction, to baffle us and deflect our intended course. It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.”
Those words by the U.S. poet Wendell Berry hang over my desk. They are an invitation to acceptance when I don’t know what I’m doing. They remind me that it’s very OK to not know what’s next.
Embracing confusion and the state of “not-knowing” is part of long-term recovery.
In early recovery, the agenda was pretty clear: Don’t use, go to meetings, and work the program. Everything after that was a bonus—job, family, and friends. After working our recovery program, those things fell into place.
But then we get some good longer recovery and that good recovery gives us options and choices. We can get a new job, change cities, go back to school and study this or try that other thing. In that confusion emerges and at first, it can feel frustrating.
I remember telling my sponsor that I wanted to see skywriting that said, “Diane—do this.” Or I wanted an envelope from my Higher Power with my name on it that contained explicit instructions about what I was to do next.
But recovery doesn’t work that way, nor should it. The gift of a long recovery is being safe enough to try many things and to reassess and reconsider with each new thing we try.
It’s not easy. I know. We’ve not been trained for confusion. And we may react to confusion as a flashback to the old days when it was a constant state or a consequence of using—and in those days we never really had a clear head or good judgment.
It’s also true that in our culture we don’t get a lot of practice in living in the grey. Our educational systems are based on knowing the facts and having the “right” answers. Our compulsion for certainty thwarts real learning—and peace. Yet, it is living in the unknown –and with confusion –that is the basis of all scientific discovery and creativity.
William James—whose writings were so important to AA’s founders and many early AA’s– wrote about the importance of confusion in our spiritual lives. He said that confusion was part of developing faith. Later he said that uncertainty is a vital component of the creative process. Neurologically, confusion is the experience of our brains being rewired and of new pathways being constructed. And isn’t that exactly what we want in our long-term recovery?
We don’t have to be discouraged by confusion. We have the emotional ability to tolerate it. As long as we stay true to our recovery programs and abstain from what kept us prisoner we will reap the gifts of confusion and the impeded streams in our lives will sing.