Fredrick Nietzsche once said that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Even though he lived in Europe this strikes me as a very American expression. I mean we love that phrase, Kelly Clarkson even has a silly little song about it and we create cheesy pictures about it like this one to the left (why ARE the tree’s pink?). And why not? It speaks of triumph over tragedy and going through fires of adversity and being made stronger and purer then before. Occasionally in my recovery somebody will say that phrase to me and truth be told, it rings eerily hollow deep down inside me and while I know they mean well, I just don’t buy it. Addiction sits well outside whatever realm that phrase exists in. In fact sometimes (just for fun) I want to counter with something more appropriate such as, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, unless it leaves you passed out on the floor in a pile of your own vomit.”
Oh, sure, it’s a healthy attitude to have when facing adversity (it beats depression and despair anyway) but I feel there is an underlying and unadmitted truth we all secretly know to be true. That sometimes, what doesn’t kill you, doesn’t make you stronger. It can leave you completely crumbled and broken on both the inside and out.
We have all heard stories about widows who never recovered from the deaths of their husbands, or war veterans who suffer the rest of their lives from nightmares or PTSD. And here is the great paradox of addiction recovery. If it made me stronger I wouldn’t need a higher power, meetings, rehab or any other help. The simple fact of the matter is that alcoholism completely bankrupts you. It leaves you spiritually, physically, emotionally and even (often) financially defeated. It leaves you knowing that you simply can’t do it. You can’t stay sober or be made whole on your own. You need a higher power to rely on, to be strong for you in your weakness. It is in the admission of complete powerless ness that you can find any strength at all.
I suppose when it comes to addiction that what doesn’t kill you can make you stronger, but the strength is not coming from you. It’s from something bigger and more powerful then you and it flies in the face of individualism, strength and self-empowerment. All virtues we seem to worship in America. However, in the midst of the suffering you can find something better and truer, a chance for freedom grounded in surrender. You find a way to navigate the gritty reality of the modern world and ultimately you find something you never had before, you find a path to peace.