In the world of management theory, there is an axiom known as the Peter Principle, which essentially states, “Within any organization, an individual will rise to his or her level of incompetence, and then fail.” This is usually interpreted to mean that once a person begins receiving recognition and promotions based upon their abilities, they will continue doing the same thing until it stops being effective, with “fail” here meaning an end to advancement. At this point three options exist: become satisfied at their current plateau; develop new abilities in order to advance again; or leave and start over in a new organization, in hopes of a better result. (One could remain in that place and pursue a different career path, but that is still starting over.) Each of these options has merit, and it is up to the individual to decide which is in his overall best interest. Making that decision wisely, however, requires an accurate and honest assessment of the reason for the “failure”, and this is often a very difficult thing to do. An incorrect assessment will often place the blame for failure on others instead of ourselves, and lead to a cycle of new beginnings and poor endings…wash, rinse and repeat.
According to the doctrines of Alcoholics Anonymous (among others), the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result each time; by that definition I was insane for much of my adult life. By 2005, I had changed jobs six times, looking for the company that would appreciate my abilities while ignoring the fact that I didn’t follow rules very well (pro tip – no such company exists). My personal life traveled a similar arc, as I consistently dishonored my commitment to the woman who had stood by me for more than ten years, waiting for me to tie up the loose ends of my previous relationship and finally marry her. I had also (behind her back, two years previously) resumed using cocaine, coming up with a variety of excuses to “explain” my irritability, poor sleeping and eating, and disappearing money. She cannot be blamed for not catching on, because 1) addicts are astoundingly good liars; and 2) the easiest person to lie to is the one who wants to believe you. Eventually, things spiraled completely beyond my control, and I came home one night to her waiting to confront me. She said she had two questions, the first one being, “Can you look me in the eye and tell me the truth?” I already knew the second question, so I answered both with one sentence – “Yes, I am using coke again; in fact I’m high right now.” Of course, she was expecting that, and informed me that she was taking the kids and going to her mother’s house; she would expect an answer as to what I planned to do by the next day…and then she left.
That may have been the longest night of my life. I sat in a chair for hours, trying to figure out how I had gotten to this point, and what I was going to do next, but nothing made any sense…in my worldview I could blame no one but myself, and therefore I would have to be the one to fix it; but if I knew the solution, wouldn’t that have prevented me from being broken in the first place? What was I supposed to do?
I can only describe what happened next as a vision. You may or may not believe that, but for me no other description will suffice. There, in my living room, appeared a simple wooden door, with a plain brass knob. From beneath the door shone a warm, peaceful, inviting light – a stark contrast to the lonely darkness that surrounded me. I intuitively understood that I was being given a choice – stay where I was, and keep everything I had: an empty home, a shattered marriage, children who no longer respected the man I had become; or open that door and step into the light of love and forgiveness, of new possibilities. Only one condition needed to be met: I had to relinquish control of my life, and allow someone better qualified than myself to take the reins. So, I did the only thing I could do – I surrendered. I dropped to my knees on the floor, and spoke directly to God as I understood him for perhaps the first time in my life; I told Him, “I give up. I do not know what You want me to do, but nothing I have done is working, and I’m out of options, so whatever it is, I’m all in.” There was more, but that one sentence was the essence of what my heart cried out – and afterwards, I found the strength to pick up the phone and call the number for Cocaine Anonymous, and to say the words aloud: “Hello, my name is Nick, and I think I am an addict…I want to quit, but I don’t know how…can you help me?” The man I talked to located a group in my area that was holding a meeting the next day, and then stayed on the phone with me, sharing his experiences with the program during the years he had been sober. He encouraged me to invite my wife to attend the meeting with me, and to make my family a part of my process, but I should wait until she called me…he said I needed to sleep on this decision and be sure that I really meant it before I told someone else, because my credibility had been severely damaged already, and one more broken promise was the last thing I needed on my scorecard at that moment. I hung up the phone, prayed again to God thanking Him for helping me make the call and asking for the strength to actually go to the meeting. Then I laid down and slept the best night’s rest I had had in years, looking forward to the morning.
In my next post I will share how that first prayer of surrender led to a fundamental shift in how I viewed life, the universe, and everything…and how I viewed myself, as well. I hope you will continue with me, and if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to share them…it means a lot to know that what I write makes an impact in another’s life. See you then!