Sobering Up

By Jim Selman | Bio

As we move into the sixth month of the ‘global meltdown’, it seems like it has been going on a lot longer. I can hardly remember what it was like when we were ‘high’ on the prospects of prosperity forever. Like most ‘-olics’, we thought we controlled something we didn’t control that then began controlling us. In our pursuit of the American Dream, we somewhere began to get a little too much of a good thing and became ‘hooked’ on the idea that perpetual growth would continue, our houses would appreciate forever, and that expecting a 20% return on our investment was just a matter of finding the right ‘money manager’ or stock pick.

We ‘hit bottom’ when people woke up that paper money isn’t the same as money on paper. Our addiction to ‘stuff’ and the oil to fuel it, driven by a ‘more is better’ mindset resulted in a self-destructive spiral that has left many of us without our homes, without our jobs, and for many without a community (and in some cases, without our family). Does this sound like the well-traveled path of an addict, an alcoholic, a compulsive gambler? It does to me. Unfortunately, the ones often hurt when people are trapped in one ‘ism’ or another are the innocent bystanders or family members. So it is in these times. Many of the people out of work were not the speculators or the con artists, but simply those who were in the line of fire when the triggers were being pulled.

When an individual or society ‘crashes’, there is little to be gained by endless after-the-fact analysis or a search for who to blame. Why someone became an alcoholic is irrelevant once one is infected with the disease. Experts can debate causality. For the alcoholic, it is only a question of whether they’ve “had enough of having enough” and are willing to surrender to the facts of life—that they can no longer lie to themselves and pretend they have a choice when clearly they do not.

AA and other 12-step approaches to recovery from various ‘isms’ are based on three basic ideas. First, that the person had lost control—the ability choose. Second, that they could not recover by themselves. And third, that their recovery could begin only when they surrendered to some ‘higher power’. Whether the higher power is God, the universe or economic laws is irrelevant. The only action is to surrender to something bigger than ourselves.

In today’s reality, everyone is waking up the morning after to the realization that our past excesses are over. Just as every alcoholic harbors the dream to someday be able to drink again ‘like a gentleman’, many would like to believe that we will ‘bounce back’ and can enjoy another ‘boom’. The question is whether you’re willing to bet your life and the lives of your loved ones on it.

Sobering up is not easy. It is painful. At the end of the day, however, most who do recover are stronger, more alive, and grateful that they were able to recover their ability to choose. In terms of our current economic meltdown, recovering the ability to choose entails refocusing on core values, buying and selling what is needed, taking responsibility for our actions, giving up the fantasy that anyone is entitled to anything, and looking outside ourselves for what is wanted and needed and, if possible, providing it.

© 2009 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.