"Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in"
- Leonard Cohen
Kintsugi - also known as Kintsukuroi - is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with powdered or liquid gold mixed with lacquer. The beauty of Kintsugi Art is that, by putting the fragments back together with molten gold, the potter creates an even stronger, more beautiful piece. Embracing and even enhancing the flaws and imperfections gives greater value to something once considered to be broken or lost.
When I first saw a Kintsugi bowl, I immediately thought of the fellowship of A.A. and how I arrived there. When I could no longer stand the crushing pain of active addiction, I scraped up the shards of my self and I brought them to an A.A. meeting. In my case, no one looking at me would have ever guessed I was so broken. But internally, I was in a state of anguish few but an addict can understand. I felt my sanity slipping away. My hourly mantra of "I will not drink today. I will not drink today. I will not drink today" screeching to a halt the minute I put the drink to my lips. "What just happened?" and "How did that happen?" a loud and distracting buzz in my head as the alcohol kicked in. "Who are you?", I would hiss at myself drunkenly, swaying to and fro and pointing accusingly at my reflection in the mirror. "What about our mantra? We promised each other...Just One!" And the good old "Are we becoming schizophrenic?". My own voice was telling me to drink - drowning out my constant and fervent prayer of "Please don't." A mental civil war was raging between my ears. At the end, I was unable to go one day without drinking. My body was alive but I was dying. I was at the “jumping-off point” that is described in the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous - Chapter 11 - page 152.
"He cannot picture life without alcohol. Some day he will be unable to imagine life either with alcohol or without it. Then he will know loneliness such as few do. He will be at the jumping-off place. He will wish for the end."
As a very last resort, I decided I would give A.A. a try. And so, I arrived in the rooms - in pieces - and quite unable to glue myself back together. But that, I discovered, is what happens in A.A. We come in all smashed-up and then we get un-smashed. We get reassembled. We recover the person that we were meant to be. The person that was demolished years ago by the wrecking ball of active addiction.
At the first few meetings I attended, I was physically detoxing from alcohol. My hands were shaking so I sat on them, full of shame. But I met people there who assured me that they too had suffered through the shakes. And that they too had once entertained the thought that maybe there was no way out - but the final way out. A.A. suggests the idea of a life without the liberal application of numbing agents. But how was I to live without the only two things I believed I could trust and rely on, my solution to the discomfort of life itself, my best friends - drugs and alcohol.
I was confused by what I saw at my first A.A. meetings. By the laughter (are they crazy?), by the joy (maybe they’re still high but pretending to be sober?), by the level of comfort they seemed to have with themselves and others (back to them being crazy). For reasons unknown to me, I went to a meeting every day that first week trying to get sober. These people had something that I wanted. It was clear to me that they had learned, with patience, grit, and twelve simple(ish) steps how to live life on life's terms - and they appeared to be having a very good time doing just that. I jumped in with both feet and have not looked back since.
Now I see people living in recovery as living, breathing, walking pieces of Kintsugi pottery. In the same way that the Kintsugi is made more beautiful because of its cracks, so do we become more beautiful by embracing our imperfections. A.A. has shown me that there is always a chance of repair. That anyone can be put back together. We can go through hell and then emerge from it even stronger than we were when we went in. Smarter, fiercer, wiser, intact. Happily, I see my people everywhere. The dark and fleeting shadow behind the bright and sunny smile, the golden battle scars shining in the sun, and I love them all the more for their simple gorgeous brokenness.