Addiction, NA, Narcotics Anonymous, Recovery, Spiritual Principles, Twelve Steps

Self-Discipline and Tiny the Hamster

Did you know that hamsters are practically blind? I know I didn’t. That is, until Tiny became a member of our household.

Tiny is Shaun’s pet hamster. He’s a cute little fury rodent with the blackest eyes you’ve ever seen. Eyes that are very misleading, because to look at them, one would assume that his vision must be really good.

Alas, Tiny’s eyes, it turns out, are mostly decorative. Amanda informed me that Tiny, and hamsters like him, can only see about a body’s length in from to himself.

This nearly blind state becomes apparent when Tiny is set lose inside his plastic ball. It’s a cool clear plastic bubble that lets Tiny roam around our apartment without having to worry about him running away. He rolls until he bumps into something, then rolls another direction.

His blindness never seems to frustrate Tiny. I suppose he really doesn’t know any better. So, he accepts it as the norm.

Yesterday I wanted to broaden Tiny’s horizons, so I brought his bubble out onto the balcony. Shaun and I had checked to be sure the railing was low enough to keep him from rolling over the edge. Despite Amanda’s initial objection to the idea, Tiny rolled around out here for almost an hour.

From one end to the other, Tiny explored the balcony. He found our chairs, table, and planters. Showing no real interest, he moved to the edges. Oh, that was where he wanted to be. He would roll up to an edge, and pause to gaze out into what for him must have been a brightly lit abyss.

It was almost as though he felt drawn to the light. Drawn to the promise of what perhaps to his hamster eyes, looked like freedom.

The fact is that Tiny was lucky to be inside his bubble. He was oblivious to his own blindness. He was also oblivious to the fact that he was four stories above the ground. Without the protection of his bubble, he surely would have plummeted to his doom.

When he finished his time out on the balcony with me, I took him back inside to the comfort and protection of his habitat. (Habitat sounds better than cage, don’t you think?)

There, in the safety of his environment, he was able to run freely. He had some water out of his leaky bottle. He ate some food. Then it was play time. He scurried about, seemingly content with life. One thing he didn’t do was to push against the edges of his habitat. No testing the walls to see if they were still solid. Nope, instead, he contented himself with enjoying life within the boundaries provided.

There are ways in which I can relate to Tiny. His blindness reminds me of my time spent abusing drugs. There were times when I was oblivious to the dangers that were around me. All that mattered was the drugs. It didn’t occur to me how close to life’s edges I was living. Instead, like Tiny inside his bubble, I kept pushing as close to the edges as possible.

In time, I found myself living in a cage of my own design. It was a cage of closely guarded secrets. A cage made of fear and isolation. A cage in which I could forget about life, and avoid any real struggles.

I grew comfortable in the cage that drugs built for me. I didn’t want out. I seldom thought about what life outside my cage would be like. Eventually, I forgot about life outside that cage completely. My cage gave me a sense of protection and comfort. Like Tiny, I was blind to the fact that I was truly a prisoner.

My cage had several names: addiction, denial, lies, isolation, death.

By the time I was introduced to the rooms of Narcotics Anonymous, I was totally oblivious to the fact that I was living in a cage. I was convinced that I was no addict. I just knew I could stop using drugs any time I decided to. I simply didn’t want to yet…

Thankfully, it didn’t take me long to realize I was in a cage once I met others who had been caged at one time too. I could relate to their stories. They told of cages that sounded much like mine. Then they told of the freedom they had found in NA.

That’s right, not only did they help me see that I was living in a cage, they also helped me see a way to escape the cage I was in! They talked about working steps. Living by spiritual principles. Not using drugs, no matter what. They spoke of freedom, and I wanted it.

Before I knew it, I was experiencing freedom for myself, and it was good. Old habits die hard though, and sadly, I found myself retreating from life back into the old familiar cage of drug abuse. At times it seemed as though the freedom of recovery might not be for me. Permanently moving out of my cage just seemed so impossible.

Then I learned the “just for today” principle of the NA program. Stay out of the cage, just for today. Sometimes, it’ll even be “stay out of the cage just for this minute.”

Ok, I could do that. I could muster the self-discipline needed to stay out of that cage for a minute, an hour, or a day even.

As I have worked the steps, I have discovered other cages in my life. Character defects that hold me back, keeping me from fully realizing my potential. Things like people pleasing, pride, and ego. As with the drugs, with help from God, and by practicing self-discipline, I can stay out of these cages too.

Today, thoughts of returning to my old cages are fleeting at most. The freedom I have found has opened my eyes to how wonderful and full life outside those cages can be. Yes, there are times that life is frightening, but with God’s help, and a little self-discipline, I can face life, knowing it will never be nearly as bad as life in a cage.

Have a remarkable day!


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