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The Struggle Is Real

"... those hard times when you get up early and you work hard; those times when you stay up late and you work hard; those times when you don't feel like working - you're too tired, you don't want to push yourself - but you do it anyway. That is actually the dream. That's the dream.”

- Kobe Bryant

Recently I was thinking about an old episode of The Twilight Zone that made a very big impression on me. In the episode, a pool shark, a real hustling, scheming, good-fellas kinda guy, dies in an accident and goes to the afterlife. He arrives at the most beautiful pool hall he has ever seen and, at every table, is yet another rich mark (aka sucker) just waiting to be hoodwinked by this cunning masterful con man. As he starts to play, he is jubilant. Ecstatic even. He swings cockily between tables, sometimes playing two or three tables at once. He shoots blindfolded and backward and with one arm tied behind his back. It seems that he cannot miss a shot. It seems he cannot lose. Even unable to see, or using the wrong hand to shoot, the balls are going in. Even when he knows he will miss, the ball goes in. No matter what the pool shark does, he wins. Again and again and again and again. After a bit, his joy begins to fade. Something is off. He tries to miss and can't. Something feels spooky. He becomes frightened, then frantic, running around the most gorgeous pool hall in the world looking desperately for someone to give him an answer.

Finally he stumbles upon the manager and he asks him somewhat hysterically "where am I?" The manager tells him he has died and is in the hereafter. "But where am I?" begs the pool shark. "Am I in Heaven or am I in Hell?"

I loved that. It would be hell if our team always won. If our player always triumphed. If we never missed a shot. If we always got our way. If I always got my way, what would be the point of trying? As Kobe said, it's the struggle itself that is the dream. If I didn't have to struggle, if I didn't have to fight for what I want in my life, including my sobriety, I don't think I would enjoy it nearly as much. Having to fight for something makes any victory so much sweeter.

A good friend of mine told me about an elementary school out in Los Angeles, which her niece attends. At this school, there is a "winners" soccer league. In fact, all the school sports are part of this "winners” league. So the kids suit up and go out. There, they sort of listlessly kick the ball around because the coach and their parents told them they have to. Not because they want to. Apparently, the kids all pretty much dread these "no-loser" games. Goals are made but never celebrated. At the end of each game, both teams have zero points each and everyone is meant to be happy about that. Then they are all supposed to celebrate together. That sounds like the most demotivating way to do anything that I have ever heard of.

Now academics are publishing papers left, right and center, letting us know that maybe those "everyone is a winner" sports leagues are not doing our children any good. Lo and behold, competition can be a very good thing. Research shows that struggling is key to mastery in anything and that it is often the highest achievers in the world who have struggled the most. Neuroscientists have also recently discovered that mistakes and struggle and even failure are important for brain growth and brain development. If we are not struggling, they say, we are not learning. It would seem that a little bit of struggle does a lot a bit of good for our brains.

When I first started working, I was desperate to prove myself in a highly competitive field. I have had some success (but of course, as an addict I want more. More, more, more!) The competition still motivates me and provides me with much needed discipline and rigor. My career continues to keep me focused. It keeps me from getting lazy, it keeps me on my toes, it keeps me in the ring.

And that's how I feel about sobriety too. It's worth fighting for. I have a disease that tells me, quite convincingly, that I don't have a disease. I have a disease that would just love to see me self-destruct.

I've come to realize that something I have fought for is always more meaningful than something that has been handed to me. Sobriety requires work. Making several meetings a week, being a part of the fellowship, spending time with sponsors and sponsees, reading the A.A. literature. Any goal we set for ourselves takes time, patience, focus, perseverance, grit, and almost always, some degree of struggle - just like staying sober does.

So, the struggle is real. But is it the struggle that I love? Or the results of the struggle? I'm not so sure anymore but I am sure of one thing...I'll keep on hustling, because that's the dream too.


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