“If you allow anything to become more important to you than your recovery, you’re sure to lose them both.” I’d heard this slogan a hundred times before, but this time it was coming from Earl, the folksy, homespun clinical psychologist at my residential treatment facility. I sat back in my chair, hoping for another one of his humorous stories. I didn’t have long to wait.
“Do you know what this saying means?” he asked. Most of the guys in the room nodded their heads. Like me, they had heard this slogan before.
“Well, do you?”
“I don’t think you do,” Earl countered with a wink, breaking into a sly grin. “Do you want me to tell you what it means?”
“All right then. I believe I will.” He turned to the chalkboard and wrote in large block letters the words “If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out.”
“Can anyone tell me what this is?” A dozen or so hands shot up. Seeing as how I’m notoriously non-joiny, I kept my hand down. Way down.
Earl pointed to someone in the crowd. “OK, smart guy. What is it?”
“It’s from the Bible.”
“You’re right, so far. Now what does it mean?”
“Well, I think it means that if there’s a part of your life that offends God, you should get rid of it.”
“Good, good! Now, why?”
“Because if you don’t, you’ll go to Hell?” came the uncertain response.
“Right again. If you don’t get rid of the parts of your life that offend God, He’ll turn his back on you and you’ll lose Him. And by the way, when you lose God, you’ll also lose that part of you that offended Him, won’t you?”
“It’s the same in recovery,” Earl went on. “Putting something ahead of your recovery just means holding onto something even though it’s going to make you go back out and drink or use again. For example, say your old job is so important to you that you go back to it once you get out of here, even though it was so stressful it practically drove you to the bottle in the first place. Sooner or later it’s going to make you drink again, and once you do, it’s only a matter of time before you lose that job that was so important to you to begin with.”
“Anything that gets in the way of your recovery has to go, or you’ll lose both. It’s that simple.”
There wasn’t much reaction from the audience. We’d heard this part before, too. Many times.
“How many of you know that this idea doesn’t just apply to recovery, though?” Earl paused, waiting for a response that wasn’t forthcoming. “Can anybody give me an example of how this idea applies to other areas of life?”
There were no takers.
“OK, let’s try this one. It’s a sports example, so you guys should be able to grasp it. How many of you remember when Mike Ditka drafted Ricky Williams for the New Orleans Saints?”
Finally, a wave of hands rose in response. It’s probably safe to say that the room was full of the type of middle-aged sports fan who would likely remember this particular fiasco.
“I thought so. Well, for those of you too young to remember, Mike Ditka was the coach of the New Orleans Saints a few years back. For some reason, he decided that Ricky Williams, a running back, was the latest second coming, and traded away practically all of the Saints’ draft picks to get him. Now, I’m pretty sure Ditka did this because he wanted to win games and keep his coaching job. But when it turned out that Williams was not all that, Ditka refused to change course, and stubbornly held on to his ‘star’ running back.”
“What happened? New Orleans kept losing, Ditka got fired, and the Saints wound up trading Williams anyway. In other words, because Ditka put his running back ahead of his team’s best interest, he lost both the running back and the team.”
Earl paused, letting the story sink in. He must have thought the lesson needed further hammering in, because he continued.
“Ever hear how they catch monkeys in Africa?”
Bewildered, we all shook our heads no.
“Well, I’m not sure if this is true or not, but this is the story I heard. You see, they put a banana in a jar and leave it out for the monkeys to find. The monkeys get a look at that banana and reach inside to get it.”
Earl made a motion with his hand, mimicking putting it into the rim of a glass jar. As I sat there watching him, I had to suppress a laugh, seeing as how it looked just like the scene in Chasing Amy where the Alyssa Jones character (Joey Lauren Adams) shows Ben Affleck the proper fisting technique for lesbians. I didn’t really think the humor would be appreciated, so I kept it to myself.
“Now,” Earl continued, “the monkeys can reach inside the jar, but they can’t get their hands out holding that banana. And with the jar on their hand, they can’t climb any trees or swing away on any vines like Tarzan.”
“So they’re pretty much helpless while you just walk right on up and get ‘em. Now, if they’d just let go of that banana . . .”
Earl paused again, extending his clenched fist and slowly opening it for effect.
“They could get away. But they don’t. They’re so into that banana they found that they refuse to let it go, even though it’s going to get ‘em caught. And the funny thing is that when they do get caught, they wind up losing that banana anyway, y’know?”
“A lot of people, alcoholics and non-alcoholics alike, behave like this, holding onto our ‘attachments’ even though they get in the way of our bigger goals. But we alcoholics and addicts really can’t afford to hold onto our bananas, because the cost of losing our sobriety might easily be our lives.”
“You all have seen the ‘Death Board,” right?” Earl was referring to a board on the wall in detox with pictures of Healing Place alumni who have died in active addiction. The thought of that board was sobering to each of us, no pun intended. We nodded our heads. Earl pressed on. “Then you’ll agree with me that any ‘banana’ that gets in the way of your staying clean and sober has gotta go.”
We kept on nodding.
“All right then. Just remember. Don’t be a monkey. Let go of the banana.”