I often write about the views from my balcony. From up here, four floors above the world, I can look out and see a bald eagle sanctuary across the street to the west. Our apartment complex’s swimming pool is visible to the north. I can catch glimpses of my favorite cycling path through the other apartment buildings. Even my little garden plot can be seen from up here.
One thing I seldom if ever have mentioned is the big blue glass hotel I can see to the northwest. Towering more than twenty stories above the Arkansas River, the hotel is part of a large casino complex that is a couple miles from our home. At night, I can look out and see a virtual checker-board of lit windows. Lights on in the rooms of guests taking a break from the gaming, food, drink, and entertainment available in the casino below.
The hotel looks amazing from the outside. I’m certain that the views are breathtaking. Since it is less than two years old, my hunch is that guests are treated to the very latest in hotel accommodations. Granite bathrooms with bright lights and French milled soaps. A variety of complimentary hair and skin care items. A mini-bar and snacks. Maybe even white terrycloth robes and slippers. All to make the guests feel pampered and appreciated.
As I looked at the hotel this morning and reflected on today’s spiritual principle of “hope,” I recalled my first trip to Las Vegas. It was during our family’s infamous journey out west. I was around twelve years old when we took that three-week long trip.
We had easily been traveling for ten days by the time we found ourselves in Las Vegas. I remember being absolutely stunned by the lights on the Vegas strip at night. It was as though the sun had never set. Adding to this illusion was the fact that the sidewalks were jammed full of people.
In my hometown, the only time folks were out after dark was on Friday nights, when most of the stores stayed open to the late late hour of 9:00. It was approaching midnight and the sidewalks were packed.
As I looked out my car window, my dad made a comment that has stuck with me to this very day. “Just remember Son, none of this was built with money from the winners.”
It took a moment for the significance of his words to set in. Then it struck me, all of this was paid for by the losers. People who had come to town full of enthusiasm, dreaming of striking it rich. People full of hope as they entered the city, but who left full of regret or at best, disappointment.
Dreams of returning home and boldly telling their employers to “take this job and shove it,” were replaced by reality. Their money was being left behind. Left to help pay for more bright lights and even grander casinos in the future. After all, someone had to pay for all those fancy bars of soap and terrycloth bath robes.
It’s been over forty years since my dad spoke those words of wisdom to me. Yet they come to mind every time I pass one of the fancy casinos that now proliferate the Oklahoma countryside. Casinos are the ultimate caveat emptor… buyer beware. All who enter are full of hope, but most who leave will not have found any. There is no promise of winning.
When I first entered the rooms of Narcotics Anonymous, I heard it said that the only promise NA offers is freedom from active addiction. I still hear it at almost every meeting. There are no promises made regarding relationships, finances, careers, or even health. Only the promise that I never have to use drugs again.
For the non-addict, it is hard to understand the appeal of this message. The non-addict cannot even hope to understand the bondage that comes with drug addiction. Bondage that had, at one time, taken every bit of hope from my life. Bondage that had isolated me from the normal society I had once known so well. Bondage that kept me locked in a prison of fear and despair. In the end, I wanted nothing more than simply to die.
So yes, freedom from active addiction was appealing to me. More appealing in fact than all those bright lights along the Vegas strip. Better than all the French milled soap and complimentary toiletries in the world. Even better than a plush terrycloth bathrobe!
Freedom from active addiction, it turns out, is all that I needed. It is still all I need. Take away the drugs, walk me through the steps, and give me spiritual principles by which to live, and I will show you a once-defeated man who is now filled with hope!
As for those things lost to active addiction, well, I have learned that my hope is never going to be found in them. In fact, it never was. Yet the hope I have found spills over into those areas as well.
Today I have genuine relationships. I don’t have wealth, but I am made rich by the people in my life. I have a great career, but I do not let it define who I am. I am healthy today, but I do not take it for granted, knowing it can be gone in a moment. In short, I have been given hope in all these areas, but I also have perspective in them.
There is nothing lucky about the recovering addict. I don’t know a single addict who has found and sustained freedom from active addiction without hard work and sacrifice.
As for our surroundings, the rooms of NA are not fancy. No French milled soaps or terrycloth bathrobes. Certainly no minibars!
No, not fancy, but so much better than all the bright lights and fancy hotels in the world. Better because anyone who walks into these rooms is a winner! The only condition for winning, is the willingness to make the effort. All who enter, and who choose to stay will discover that an addict, any addict, can stop using drugs, lose the desire to use, and find a new way to live.
Have a remarkable day!