It seems that a constant that overlays in both treatment/recovery and Thelema is the idea of self-mastery. In Thelema, this is expressed through the concept of discovering and living in accordance with one’s True Will (which must also be discerned from one’s immediate “wants” or “whims”.) In recovery work it is expressed through affirmations of being responsible for one’s choices, setting boundaries, reframing thoughts and perceptions, CBT, DBT, and a million and one other psychological parlor tricks, some of which work better than others, depending on the individual.
And in both spiritual and psychological camps I’ve encountered individuals (not everyone) who mistakenly believe that the golden ring of personal empowerment means nothing should ever go wrong, or at least, there should be nothing that you can’t handle. And are very uncomfortable with the hard truth that Shit Is Happening That Is Beyond Our Control.
A perfect example of this yesterday morning came as Eric was walking me to the center where I go for treatment. It was art therapy, my favorite of the group sessions I’m expected to attend. We had barely gotten out of the subway when some fire trucks blasted by, sirens wailing. I watched them turn the corner of the street my center is located on. “Gee I hope my mental health center didn’t burn down before I got to do art therapy.” I quipped, certain that to worry such a thing was happening would be melodramatic, paranoid, pessimistic—all the things people with good mental health were not supposed to indulge in…
…And then as we rounded the same corner I saw that the trucks were in fact parked in front of the building, and the firefighters were evacuating people from it and guiding them across the street. Some, who had obviously been roused from the shelter beds and evacuated still in various states of under-dress, were being handed blankets to ward off the morning chill. (Thank Nu that “polar vortex” thing seems to have passed, at least!) We hesitated stupefied for a second, taking in the scene.
“I guess I should find one of the counselors or nurses and see what’s going on.” I decided.
“Do you want me to come with you?” Eric asked.
“No, let me find out what the situation is.” Eric agreed to wait at a nearby coffee shop, kissed me, and left. I approached the crowd , found my case worker and one of the group leaders, and learned that the issue was a kitchen fire. The kitchen was on the second floor, but the firefighters wanted to do a safety inspection on the entire building. Needless to say the entire process would take over the entire group time.
“What about the floors that are homeless shelters? Will they be ok?” I scanned the crowd. Some of them I knew through the program, some I had never met. But though it was a moderate sized group at best, it suddenly looked like and awful lot of people to lose their beds unexpectedly.
“Those floors should be ok. The kitchen was more the problem.” I was reassured.
My program is in a building that functions primarily as a homeless shelter, with a focus towards the treatment of substance abuse and mental health as well. Not all clients reside in the shelter, and some have even found assistance through the program in being placed in affordable housing. Overall, they provide many valuable services to many people which would be devastating if it were all to go up in smoke, so to speak. Even if it’s only the kitchen, with it’s school-cafeteria level food–that’s still a vital service for a lot of people.
So here’s a perfect example of what can be an unforeseen stumbling block to one’s recovery or even in this case survival – as the legendary Arthur Brown put it “Fire/To destroy what you’ve done. Fire/To end all you’ve become”. Ok, now THAT’S being a tad melodramatic. Here’s the thing; when people speak of control, or even of controlling your emotions. I don’t buy it. We can’t control every chance thing that might happen, or that others may do. And we can’t control how we feel about it, really, though we may try to lie to ourselves about our feelings or repress them, which can leave us with a bigger mess in the long run. Maybe those are the types of illusions that do need to be burned away.
Fire, I’ll take you to burn.
Fire, I’ll take you to learn.
What we CAN learn to do, however, is control what choices we make in response to things that happen, or how we feel about them. Learn to think more broadly about what options are available to us. If I feel worried about the shelter, or bummed about missing art therapy, or annoyed I came out in the cold for nothing, or concerned about the kitchen, that’s how I feel. What I can do is see where things are at when I return, and if they need volunteers to clean or fix it, or donations to replace what food may have been lost.