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Lately I’ve noticed a spate of film comedies where a group of buddies has a wild night of drinking, and can’t remember any of the outrageous things they’ve done. Predictably, hilarity then ensues. That kind of movie has become a standard bromance formula—but the reality sure doesn’t match the movies.
I have a good friend from Arizona who initially realized he had a drinking and drug problem on the morning after his 30th birthday. His friends threw him a great party—at least it had seemed fun, from what he could remember—but he woke up in bad shape the next day in a Mexican jail.
He told me he had the world’s worst hangover, a pounding, splitting head and body ache that felt like someone was whacking him with a sledgehammer. His eyes slowly opened and he realized he also had no idea what had happened during the last twelve hours, not a clue about what he had done or where he’d gone. The party, he dimly remembered, started at a bar in Tucson, but he had somehow wound up in another country, in a rural cell filled with other prisoners. He felt their hostile stares, then looked down at his hands and saw they were covered in scrapes, bruises and dried blood.
I won’t go into all the gory details, but my friend finally figured out that he’d somehow gotten involved in a drunken bar fight in a border town. The Mexican police had broken it up, but not before injuries occurred. As soon as he returned to full consciousness, he realized he had two broken fingers and a broken nose. But someone else had been hurt even worse in the melee, which meant that the charges against him—assault with “grievous bodily harm”—carried a very long potential prison term.
How did it end up? My friend spent more than a year in jail, and went into deep debt financing his legal defense. He endured some terrible things in that cell. He lost his job, and ruined a budding career. His fiancée left him, convinced that only an alcoholic brute would wind up in such a situation. He definitely did not have a light-hearted Hollywood aftermath—instead, it turned into the worst experience of his life. But my friend eventually recovered from his lost weekend, because he resolved to stop using drugs and alcohol. On that day in the jail, sick and suffering and filled with regret, as they say in just about every addiction recovery and rehab program, he realized he was “13, going on 30.”
The phrase refers to the two ages you are when you stop abusing alcohol or drugs—your actual, chronological age; and your emotional and spiritual age. My friend had just turned 30, but because his addiction had begun at age 13, he hadn’t really progressed emotionally or spiritually since then. Instead, he had dulled his feelings, buried his emotions and anesthetized his inner spiritual reality for the next 17 years—those critical formative years when most people do their growing up. As an addict, when he encountered any problem in life, he just drank and got high to ignore or avoid it, rather than actually dealing with the problem and maturing as a result. As he pondered the arc of his first three decades while he sat sober in his cell, he experienced a revelatory new self-awareness. He had halted his own development and maturation by refusing to face his actual life, he realized.
So at 30, he started over. He began to think about how he wanted his life to grow and develop, and tried to point himself in that direction. When I first met him, ten years later, he had ten years of sobriety under his belt, a loving wife and daughter, a new profession and a new Faith. He had become a Baha'i.
I asked him “After all that trauma, what made you decide to be a Baha'i?”
He had started going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings when he got out of jail, he told me, and met a whole new, sober group of friends. They introduced him to an entirely different kind of life, one that didn’t party every weekend or rely on any artificial chemicals, barriers or buffers between him and the realities of existence. Through that group of friends he met the love of his life who was now his wife, a Baha'i who taught him about Baha’u’llah’s message of unity and peace. “Life hasn’t been perfect,” he said, “I still have my struggles, but I’m so grateful. I didn’t fully appreciate what the Baha'i teachings really meant for me until I came across this passage in the Baha'i writings:”
Poison is harmful to man. It is the nature of man to find enjoyment in that which is gratifying to his senses; if he pursue this path he subverts his individuality to such a degree that the poison of darkness which was the means of death becomes the means of his existence and his nature becomes so degraded and his individuality so deflected that his one purpose in life will be to obtain the death-dealing drug.
What causes the change in the individuality? It comes through the acquirement of evil habits. God originally endowed man with an individuality which enjoyed that which was beneficial and shunned the drug; but man through his evil habits changes this creation and transforms the divine illumination into satanic darkness.
As long as man is a captive of habit, pursuing the dictates of self and desire, he is vanquished and defeated. This passionate personal ego takes the reins from his hands, crowds out the qualities of the divine ego and changes him into an animal, a creature unable to judge good from evil, or to distinguish light from darkness. He becomes blind to divine attributes, for this acquired individuality, the result of an evil routine of thought becomes the dominant note of his life.
May all of you be freed from these dangers and delivered from the world of desires that you may enter into the realm of light and become divine, radiant, merciful, Godlike. - Abdu'l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, pp. 133-134.
“That was me,” my friend said, as he finished reciting the passage from memory, “a captive of habit, vanquished and defeated.”
“Congratulations,” I said. We shook on it.