When I was in middle school, my friend Ed invited me to attend a Chicago White Sox game. The game was his birthday present, and together with his dad we headed to Chicago for the celebration.
As it turned out, the day was to include much more than the ballgame. We left plenty early in the day, allowing us to venture to the observation deck of the John Hancock Building. That was followed by a journey into Chinatown, where we enjoyed a great lunch. Then it was off to the game.
It was such a fun day, and I was honored to be Ed’s guest for the day. We enjoyed a lot of adventures together growing up. That day was one of the more memorable.
Believe it or not, one of my favorite things about the day was watching the water in the toilets in the observatory of the John Hancock Building. Ed’s dad had told us about the toilet water on our trip into the city. Neither of us fully believed him when he told us that the water would slosh back and forth in the toilet bowl because of the swaying of the building in the breeze.
That’s right! That 100 story building made of steel and glass bends. I couldn’t wrap my head around that concept, and neither could Ed. As a result, we both thought his dad was kidding about the toilet water. We had to see it for ourselves to believe it.
Once atop that giant skyscraper, the magnificent views had to wait. Our first stop was to the men’s room! We opened a toilet stall and there it was… the water in the toilet bowl was indeed sloshing back and forth. Ed’s dad, a plumber, went on to describe how important it was that the building, and everything in it, be designed to sway. Bending in the wind, it turns out, keeps it from snapping in two.
The ability to sway in the breeze, or even in heavy winds, gives the John Hancock Building amazing structural integrity. This integrity is something the architects and engineers responsible for its design had to plan for. Without it, no one who came close to it would be safe.
As important as integrity is in a building, it is just as important for me as an individual. While I was actively using drugs, my integrity was severely compromised. My ability to withstand even the smallest challenges in life was sacrificed. Everything became a reason to use, and as I used, nothing was important, especially not integrity.
When troubles came, rather than standing strong on a firm foundation, I simply hid. I hid inside the fantasy land created by drugs. Soon, my life had no structural integrity. When I bent under pressure, I stayed bent. Unlike a skyscraper that bends temporarily, then returns to its intended design, my life flexed further and further.
Before long, I had flexed so far that I went from an upright position, to one that was bent over. I was no longer standing. I was bowing. Bowing to the drugs. Their wish was my command.
When I first entered the rooms of Narcotics Anonymous, the mention of integrity made me cringe. I had bowed to my addiction for so long that integrity seemed permanently out of reach. I would think back to better times. Times when integrity had meant something to me. Back when it defined me. I wondered how it could ever be restored in my life. Would I ever be able to “stand upright” again?
The twelfth step gave me the answer I so desperately needed. It told me that we “practiced these principles in all our affairs.” It’s that simple. Like all the other spiritual principles, if I wanted to have my integrity restored, I simply needed to begin practicing it again.
So, I took the plunge. I began living with integrity. I began keeping my word. I began to live by standards I had once compromised. I stopped bowing to drugs and stood tall.
Yes, it was that simple. No, not easy, but simple. I stumbled at first. I remember an early relapse after which I did not want to admit to others that I’d failed at staying clean. I wanted to lie, to cover it up, to act as though it hadn’t happened.
Each time I lied, I was actually bowing a little more to my disease. My lack of integrity in that area of life was affecting all other areas of life. So, I did the difficult thing and publicly acknowledged my relapse. That little acknowledgment had me standing upright once again.
As a recovering addict, I choose not to live in a bubble. I choose to live a full and fruitful life. I choose to practice integrity, along with all the spiritual principles of the NA program. By doing so, when the storms of life come, I am able to stand. Sure, they still cause me to flex a bit, but today I lean into life’s winds rather than being forced to bow to them.
Have a remarkable day!