I was talking to a fellow recovering addict/alcoholic outside a meeting a couple of days ago. She was in a lot of pain. Family stuff. Her mother is infantile and accusing, and her father treats her like he's an old boyfriend you really should stop talking to, but you don’t. He never abused her, don't want to imply that. He's just needy and unsupporting and utterly self-obsessed, or so it appears to her. Money's involved, which just electrifies the whole situation.

So of course she wants to escape. She wants to get drunk and find a stranger to get lost in for a few hours. She knows it's not a solution because when she drinks she drinks like an alcoholic, but that doesn't stop her from wanting it anyway. So there's that old push and pull. The basic struggle of early recovery. You want it and you don’t want it. And you can only struggle that struggle so long before you give in. It's like hanging from a pull up bar. It's easy. Until you try to do it for an hour without a break.

A heroin addict I used to know who was in between runs once told me, "All I want is to be able to shoot dope in a world with no consequences. Is that too much to ask?" And yeah, that's too much to ask. Because we live in a world of cause and effect, or if you want to get all Buddhist about it, a world of Dependent Origination. This only exists because that does. Without this there’s no that. Without that, there’s no this. It’s unwholesome hacking your pleasure centers to escape from life and there's no getting away from it. It’s like fucking with a compass by bringing a magnet near it. Sure, you can get it to point anyway you want, rotate the thing and call that North, say. But you’re going to get lost. In this world when you do unwholesome things, you get unwholesome results. Cause and effect. The fruits of karmic action.

Buddhism, like all systems of virtue ethics, boils down to a single maxim. To be well, do well. It’s very simple. The problem is that sometimes we’re in pain and we don’t want to do well. We want to run. And when we do we get lost and we suffer.

I got off route on a rock climb once. Ran out about a hundred feet of rope on lead. If I fell, I'd fall two hundred feet into the other face of a dihedral. The climbing was thin and really goddamn scary where I'd gotten myself. The mapped route was a 5.7. Where I'd ended up after an unplanned traverse was about a 5.11 (yes, that looks lower, but in the Yosemite rating system a five eleven is higher than a five seven because there is no class six climb). Anyway it was well beyond my competence level for a lead. And in the middle of trying to get to safety, to some crack where I could plug a piece of protective gear into the rock to thread the rope through, a voice in my head said--

Just let go.

Just let go of the rock. End the fear. I wanted to run away. Even though the reasonable part of my mind knew that fall was a death sentence, I still wanted to bail.

So outside that meeting I heard myself telling this woman something I didn’t know I knew. I told her that there were really only two choices out there for us and they’re both dyads. You can have a life of pain and joy, or you can have a life of pain and suffering. And after I said it, I thought that maybe this is the significance of the First Noble Truth. This is the choice that it leads us to.

I hope she chooses pain and joy. I hope I can continue to as well. Eight years now, and counting.

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