After averting a potentially catastrophic DXM relapse, I set out to build a brand new life. In Liberated Living, we’ll transform myths to truths, take down the stigmas associated with “addiction” and “mental illness,” and learn powerful tools for permanent, total recovery.
This is part two of an eight part series.
There is a tale of debatable origin, of an elderly man imparting wisdom to his grandson.
This grandfather speaks of a battle raging within. Two wolves, fighting to the death.
One wolf represents righteousness, the other malice.
“Which will win?” the grandson asks.
The old man replies: “The one I feed.”
Which, in a sense, is true.
What is nourished will grow.
Nourish goodness and it will spring to life, to greatest heights of heavens and beyond.
Feed hatred, and it will beget power-subduing shackles from which escape is arduous.
Throughout the annuls of history, one norm is abundantly clear:
Human beings are host to a chronic condition called blackandwhiteitus.
That is, most of us have a default proclivity for perceiving the world in black and white.
Good vs. evil. One side against the other. Us vs. them.
Middle ground be damned.
Wolf of light, wolf of darkness. Feed one, starve the other.
Fed wolf lives, malnourished wolf perishes.
That’s the theory, anyway.
And it sounds credible enough, right?
Sure, basically. However, the tale is interwoven with an acute case of blackandwhiteitus.
So, let’s delve deeper…
A basic, mostly-reliable principle:
What is attacked will defend.
What is struck will strike back, or else hide, or die.
Perceived threats to freedom and well being are, as a general rule, retaliated against.
Exceptions are rare.
It’s effortless to see this tendency play out on the social and global stages.
Fights break out, between individuals or small groups. One attacks, the other returns the favor.
Bloody wars declared, between countries. Both sides with their fingers on buttons that could render the world to ash.
Often overlooked, equally brutal wars occur internally. Inside each and every one of us.
Those wolves within.
The outer world proves more readily tangible than the internal.
Henceforth, let us analyze common dynamics of the outer world to promote a basis for internal inquiry.
The macrocosm (the global stage)
In my nation of origin, the United States, when we\’re threatened by perceived threats to our liberty and social or economic livelihood, our tradition is to unleash havoc on our enemies.
Many of my countrymen joyously celebrate the demise of such foes.
The murder of Osama bin Laden resulted in exuberant romps in our streets.
Admittedly, it is difficult to perceive they who would slaughter us as anything but vile.
Truth is, though, they are human beings.
With lives, families. Dreams, personal senses of righteousness.
In conversation with a friend, she expressed stark disgust at the animalistic transgressions committed against American journalists by the ISIS.
In her mind, there was no middle ground.
ISIS, to her, is total evil.
When I asked her why she thought ISIS would commit such atrocities, she stared at me blankly. Speechless.
“Surely, they have reasons for what they do?” I asked.
She’d apparently not considered the possibility.
She’s not alone. Not even close.
However, in most cases, every person on the planet deems his or her actions wholly valid.
Another nation’s actions are as valid to them as ours in the United States.
When those actions don’t agree, there it is: us vs. them.
On 9/11/2001, many Americans perceived the World Trade Center assault as an instigating act against our country, the catalyst for war.
In most American minds (including mine at the time), our swift and unmerciful retaliation was justified.
Clear-cut, black and white vindication.
But the attacks on the World Trade Center were not an out-of-the-blue instigation.
“Terrorism” doesn’t pop up out of nowhere, for no reason.
To them, we were the villains. The instigators.
In the minds of Al-Qaeda, the U.S. was an evil force, best off vanquished.
They were willing to kill us and even themselves in the name of their righteousness. While we were united by our will to strike them down with our own fiery brand of righteousness.
To both sides, the other’s concept of righteousness was akin to unforgivable transgression.
So, visualize for a moment, the wolves the grandfather spoke of. Fighting for supremacy.
The old man told of an internal battle, but can you align the tale with global tensions?
And are we objectively certain that one side is good, and the other evil?
The microcosm (the inner stage)
Just as warring global entities clash, so do contrary aspects inside of people.
The wolves within.
One strikes. The other fights back. Exchanging blows, like nations at war.
Literal, physical wolves in a fight would probably go at it until one of them is dead.
But the wolves within (opposing aspects of ourselves) do not adhere to the rules of flesh-and-blood.
And this is why the grandfather’s story doesn’t take us far enough.
As far as I know, it is impossible to wholly kill a part of ourselves, though we may give it our best attempts.
So, no matter which side we feed, both wolves will survive. With messy, ugly wounds.
Rather than perish, the losing wolf can only be pushed aside, buried in deep-down prisons.
But surely, it will live on.
Its pained howls are faintly, hauntingly heard in times of silence.
And when it escapes – an inevitable eventuality – you’d better believe it will be out for blood!
The nourished, supposed victor of the duel will be attacked with animosity most frightening.
Much like a suppressed, ignored nation striking back at a stronger one.
Enough wolf talk, man. Let’s get real.
How does this manifest in real life?
Pick your terminology: Inner conflict. Cognitive dissonance. Mortal Kombat of the heart and soul. Angel and devil on shoulders, beating each other to pulp.
Cats and dogs, living together, mass hysteria.
I’ve often, in the past, considered my self-destructive tendencies as the bidding of an evil, vile, atrocious sector of myself.
At the most desperate of intervals, it was tempting to perceive those tendencies as demonic afflictions. Surely, in my thickening spiral of decay and brokenness, I had been marked by Hell.
(On that note, some do see addiction as a dance with the devil.
My personal revelations into the nature of self-limitation and loss of control are not congruent with, but are totally respectful of religious perspectives.
I perceive inner conflict as a serious disagreement among layers of self, but the sheer loss of control and acting against one’s own will gives convincing appearances of a sinister assault from forces external to the individual.)
Whatever you prefer to call it, it struck me down for the better part of my life up, with ginormous food, alcohol, and drug binges.
Once I’d had enough of all that, I struck back with bitter contempt and animosity.
What I mean is, for instance, I tried to undo what that “evil” part of me had done by practically starving myself to counterbalance the food binges.
In 2007, gripped by an zealous obsession to lose weight, I consumed less than 400 calories a day. For seven months.
Spitefully detested myself for seeking solace in the booze and drugs that I hated… but couldn’t stop loving.
Stage was set for my inner wolves to fight an endless inner war.
One wolf, fighting to save my life; the other hellbent on destruction from the inside out.
Despite my best efforts, the destructive wolf refused to die.
It can’t. It shall live as long as I do.
On several occasions the darkness was locked away, but had a knack for escaping.
And when it did, it was pissed.
(Inner reactance at its best/worst)
The dark wolf retaliated by slaughtering me to the core, with ferocious compulsions to drown myself in liquor and pills.
This went on for years.
And the cycle made me want to die.
If I stopped living, the internal tension would finally dissolve.
Truly, in the darkest of days, I’d have considered death a miracle.
Thankfully, my demise was not the exclusive prerequisite for dissolution of turmoil.
After all that misery, ending the battle only required a simple-but-profound shift in perspective.
What if, in actuality, that evil wolf was comprised of neglected fragments of myself? Buried and forgotten for so long that it experienced loneliness and hopelessness for not being appreciated by me?
Me, literally the only person in the world that could nurture it to integrate and thrive and to be itself.
So I could be myself.
For years, I thought my lack of control and destructive urges were an unjust travesty, a cruel crime.
Instigation from inner suicide bombers.
9/11 in my soul.
Eventually came this realization:
I instigated the war, or at least had just as much to do with it as the “dark side” of me.
“Tell me about your childhood”
In the dramatic throes of childhood and then adolescence, I denied parts of myself.
As a young boy, I was relentlessly ambitious, creative, and boasted a most-admirable entrepreneurial spirit.
However, the frequent failure of my endeavors was devastating.
Longed in my heart for external validation, but it was sparse.
Was impotent in my ability to keep my fire blazing without constant pats on the back.
Hadn’t yet learned to pat myself on the back.
So, I gave up on most of my dreams.
Threw those youthful ambitions in the garbage. Kicked it to the curb.
Disposing of dreams was painful, but alternatives seemed non-existent.
This was a coping mechanism.
Eliminating the possibility of future failure by lowering the bar.
By lowering the bar, my inner child and its deepest yearnings were put behind bars.
And then I was lost.
Drugs were happy to find me, though.
As I aged, my imprisoned inner child begged for love and acceptance, to be permitted to return to play.
But I didn’t listen. Couldn’t. Didn’t know how to, or what was going on. Oblivious as a stump.
After a while, the neglected child resented the alienation. Construed my refusal to acknowledge it as an act of war. It suited up for battle.
(In the macrocosm, is it possible that those who are unacknowledged and disregarded by others on the global stage may conjure the tenacity to fight?)
And the so-called wolf of darkness was born. Starving for attention, it attacked.
Naturally, caught off guard by the injustice of it, I retaliated. Full-force. The so-called righteous wolf.
Exchanged blows again and again.
Week-long DXM binge here. Vowing to never do it again there.
Eating half the grocery store one day, walking until my heels were bloody the next.
Being pulled in two directions, nearly ripped apart.
Two wolves, warring within.
A new ending
The grandfather’s tale of the wolves exhibits great wisdom, but his insight into inner dissonance is incomplete.
At least, not complete enough to end the inner war.
Since neither wolf can perish, the fighting cannot cease.
And if that’s the case, the only sure outcome of a prolonged battle is a lifetime of misery.
A shortened lifetime, most probably.
The missing factor in the elder’s story is that neither wolf is inherently evil, or brooding, or mean.
Both possess the capacity for ultimate goodness.
And both can be nasty sons of bitches.
Goodness is brought out by love.
Love is the water that makes goodness grow.
Nasty SOBs are born of rejection, neglect, stigmatization, and disrespect.
Since the wolves are within us, making goodness grow rather than producing inner dissonance is equated to total, passionate, unconditional self-love.
Deeply and completely. No ifs, ands, or butter.
Then, the snarling beasts will transform to snuggly love machines. Just grand, old saps.
I know this can be true.
Maybe not for everyone, but probably many. Certainly for me.
If you could hear the mushy conversations that happen in my head lately, I’d blush like crazy.
Those wolves that used to rip each other to shreds, now just hanging out. Chillin’. With tea and biscuits. Perfect gentlemen.
Jesus once told us to love our enemies.
That means the ones overseas, across our borders, and the ones in our minds.
Love them. Show it. Fearlessly. Tirelessly.
Then, bitter enemies become dearest friends.
Watch love be the precious water that catalyzes the growth of goodness.
“OK, sure, Andrew, but how?” Glad you asked. Please see Learn to Love Yourself in 45 Minutes or Less, and parts five and six of Anatomy of a Relapse. Also, read Love Yourself like Your Life Depends On It by Kamal Ravikant. Also, part three of Liberated Living is now available. It reveals a practical, easily-applicable method for instantly and often permanently reframing negative thought patterns. This method (which is similar to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) is probably the single most effective self-empowerment tool I’ve used, and it is the #1 reason why I am 105% certain that I won’t ever inflict unbridled destruction on myself again.
Also published on Medium.