Recovery Requires Facing the Standard Stock Every Day White Bread Moments of Life

By Ken Wells - 10/27/2020


Series One: Blog Sixty-One

“I’ve been to the bottom and I’ve been to the top and peace will come from somewhere else”—Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packer quarterback

A few months ago I completed a book entitled Dare to Be Average: Finding Brilliance in the Commonplace. I wrote it because I have yet to find an addict who has established long term sobriety who has not had to come to terms with the average every day experiences of recovery routine. Yet, I get blow back from addicts and non addicts alike who bristle at needing to embrace the average experience of everyday living. Sometimes I hear people who come to see me in therapy say they want to only see the very best therapist there is to address their addiction. I often will ask them “why do you need the very best therapist, you’re not the very best client”? “Why not find someone one who knows how to help you work with the standard stock and commonplace dynamics that have gotten you to a place of being out of control with your addiction”? It is common for someone in the pain of addiction to believe that they need a therapist who is really good who will get them out of the pickle of pain they have create with their craving. Yet there are no shortcuts. Experiential therapy modalities or any other modality does not offer such. Treating addiction requires that an addict face the pain that is present and apply interventions to the everyday common struggles of recovery. There is no magic bullet. 

Most people grimace with the concept embracing average. For many, to be average is to be half-assed or to be unable to cut the mustard in order to reach a standard of excellence.  To never accept being half assed about effort toward accomplishment of valued goals makes sense. Yet, what if average includes those who were not half assed? What if average is the middle of the pack of all those who have achieved. I recall a client telling me that he was valedictorian of his class of 1000 students in high school. When he enrolled in an Ivy League school everyone else in his class were valedictorians as well. He found himself in the middle of the class of the other valedictorians! Was he half-assed, a slacker or less than because by sheer numbers with others equally accomplished he found himself in middle of the pack? Does the word average only relate to results whereby we compete and compare with others’ achievements? Sometimes, even when you compare my results to yours it doesn’t make a lot of sense.  

Let’s do that for a moment. What would you say that you are average at- not the worst but not the best? Let’s take skateboarding for example. Let’s say you can do it. There are guys who are a lot better and there are guys who would fall on their ass and break their bones. So you are not the worst and you are not the best. Or, maybe you were really good- perhaps, so good that no one was better in the world— like maybe in Tony Hawk’s league!  Yet even Tony Hawk is only the best for a short period of time. Gradually, your capacity recedes just a little and others get better and even pass by your declining abilities. Eventually, over time among the best in the world you either become ‘average’ among all the greats or you become a memory of what you used to be- and you live in the past. — The point is that even the greats have to work with becoming average in some respects. So, even attempting to avoid average results, you still have to face it! It seems to me that dealing with average everywhere you go is something you have to face. So why not deal with it? Dealing with it means to stop letting results determine who you are. Results are not your brilliance. You might produce outstanding results but you will find your brilliance by embracing commonplace experiences that everybody knows. 

Athletics offers such an illusion about the term average—even when you were among the best or you were the best. Look where you are now. You are older, nowhere near the champion you once were.  Do you care to guess how many Hall of Fame basketball players cannot dunk the basketball today? When average is used only as a comparison term, then these players are left to compare the past! Nobody lives there. It doesn’t help living in the present. Yet, when looking at the past, when you compare a collection of great athletes, someone ends up in the middle of the pack of your evaluation!

I like to run.  I run a lot for my age. Have you seen my run recently? It makes true runners laugh. I used to inwardly judge others when I saw people run and it seemed like they were shuffling their feet. Who they were is who I am now. Even during days when I thought I could run like a deer, deer would laugh at me! The point being you really cannot avoid average results. You have to come to terms with average sometime in your life. 

Is it possible to work with the word average and expand its definition to include common experiences that we all know? How can we work with these common experiences to find meaningfulness in life? If we could do that wouldn’t this be an example of brilliance? Therefore, I have expanded the word average to include— the commonplace, ordinary, customary, familiar, mainstream, every day, garden variety, unexceptional, classical, stereotypical, white bread moments, no great shakes, unpretentious, humble, reverential, simple, reasonable, respectable, habitual, temperate, prototypical (ic),

quintessential, emblematic, unremarkable, unnoteworthy, uninspired, accustomed to, unspectacular, lowborn, mundane, menial, obscure, plain vanilla, cut and dried, standard stock, constant, routine, dog days of summer grind, that are nondescript.  Now you tell me who doesn’t experience this shit in their lives. The question is how do you make meaningfulness from all that. When you do you have found your brilliance. 

Finding brilliance in plain vanilla unspectacular moments in life is an assignment for us all and particularly for addicts. When people scoff at being average, two considerations come to mind. First, is the jaded reflection that life is a zero sum game? There are winners and losers, period. It is unacceptable to be a loser which triggers the need to be more to keep from being less. If you win once, why not twice and then compare yourself to everyone who won only once? If you reach a financial goal, why not double its worth and see how you compare with others who are wealthy? Second, is that the first dims the view of average that connects community. That is, that we all struggle with the mundane and the cut and dried experiences in life. Addicts have dog days of summer grind in recovery that require embrace. Coming to terms with limitation is a common thread that weaves together all of humanity. Most addicts resent the need for limitation and boundary. This is common for many. Yet, anyone who honors and respects boundaries and limitations will discover that they can go as deep within themselves and find the brilliance and wisdom that the personal bounds and margins reveal who we are best. This is the average terrain we all share—addict and non-addict alike. “To discover the thing you’re brilliant at you first have to endure realizing things that are average” (Canadian poet, Shane Koyczan). Standard stock every day moments of common shared struggle are critical to recognizing and transforming the average and mundane into meaningfulness and uncovers the brilliance that lies within each of us. 

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