I was 12 years into my own personal recovery from alcohol and other drug addiction when someone finally helped to put all of the pieces together of why recovery, up until that time, had felt like such a struggle. I had improved my diet significantly, added regular exercise and a discipline of meditation, increased attention to my personal recovery discipline, and experienced much better sleep. Now, most people didn’t know it was a struggle—including me. It was simply my reality, but I knew that it didn’t have to be as hard as it was at the time.
The analogy I used came from the Lord of the Rings during the Battle for Helm's Deep. No matter how hard I fought, no matter how many times I was able to fight off the demons and the attack of the forces that seemingly wanted to destroy me, they just kept coming—line after line. Recovery, ultimately, felt more like a fight than freedom. That was not what I had been led to believe, or even had a glimpse of when I first started the journey. The different diagnoses I had been given, the ongoing challenges with rage and depression, and the deep wound of feeling unlovable were finally put into another context: trauma. Suddenly my whole experience of the world changed. Actually, it was transformed! Nothing was as it once had been.
My experiences of trauma were hidden from me, my family, and many of the professionals whose services I sought out to help me. The reason I share this part of my story is because in the years since I started that journey that has deeply affected both my personal and professional life, I have come to learn that there are legions of men for whom this story resonates. It is such a sad and unnecessary story of suffering that has led to so many men with addictions losing their marriages, finding themselves in various programs for dealing with abusiveness, relapsing, developing other addictions, and even ending their lives. That is assuming they were not kicked out of treatment or left their first recovery support meetings because they weren’t able to navigate the intensity of the experience. When recovery support meetings are safe, they are wonderful places of healing. When those rooms are not safe, they simply reinforce people’s traumas.
In my work I talk about “The Water,” the reality in which we are all immersed but of which we are often unaware. The term refers to a parable of the two fish at the bottom of the ocean when another fish swims up and says, “How is the water?” and then swims off. The two fish look at each other and say, “What the hell is water?” That is how gender, in particular, shows up in our lives. That is how gender has shown up in the addictions and mental health fields for decades. And most of us don’t see The Water because we’re in it. Once you begin to see it, you see it everywhere and you begin to appreciate how incredibly deep it runs.