I say I’m an addict and you envision a bum passed out in a gutter on the lower East side. I don’t look like that bum. I don’t fit that image. So you smile at me and say things like, “well, you can’t really be addicted to food, can you?” or “oh you’re not really an addict, why label yourself that way?” or “you just need to use a little more self-control,” or “why can’t you just stop?”
I call myself an addict, not because I am active, but because I cannot allow myself to forget that my brain is hard-wired that way. Once active, I can’t “just stop.” I call myself an addict because that is the best descriptor of how my brain works. I accept this. I know this about myself. There’s no judgment, it is what it is. I call myself an addict because I don’t have the wiggle room to say I’m not. Whenever I delude myself into thinking maybe, just maybe I can do x, y or z just this once, I’ve opened the door to addiction and I can’t afford to do that. Once I become active, I may be able to stop, but I may not and that’s not a risk I am willing to take. For twenty-two years I lived as an active addict and by the time I finally found the support and help I needed, I was ready to end my life. It is not a way of life I want to revisit. (I’ve written about some of this, ‘here‘, ‘here‘ and ‘here‘.) But people have a tough time with this concept. People who aren’t addicts, find this difficult to grasp. That’s okay. They don’t need to understand it. I just need to keep doing what I’m doing.
There are things I need to do that help me stay “clean”. I need support from other addicts. Those friendships and relationships are not only important, they are essential. All of us have a similar vision for each other and ourselves. We place our shared vision above individual personalities. If a disagreement arises, we try to remind ourselves and each other that our common goal is far more important than whether we like or dislike someone. We try hard to keep away from gossip, judgment and personal attacks as best we can. We talk about progress not perfection. We mentor each other and reach out to those who are struggling.
Within these principles there are a great many tools that help us. For me, the single most important thing has been realizing that when I behave with integrity, and by that I mean, do not lie, cheat, take advantage of another, treat others as I would like to be treated, do my best to keep my energy directed at my behavior and actions, reach out to those who may be struggling, listen, learn, remain curious and tapped into the wonder of life and all that I do not know, then I will live a far better life than if I do not do these things. This also is the only method I know of to stay free from my addictions. It’s pretty simple, right? Simple, but not easy to practice. I often don’t get it right. But I keep trying.
I bring all of this up because there are many of us who have neurologies that differ from the majority. As I said, judging my own or anyone else’s as good or bad, better or worse is unhelpful. It is what it is. We can get caught up in semantics, we can argue about addiction or any other neurological variation from what is considered the “norm”. But more importantly (to me anyway) is the vision. Many do not agree with that either. My vision includes a society of inclusion. I am reminded over and over that compassion and love are actions. Who I am and the way I behave have nothing to do with what others think of me. There are people who need support to do things I can do without thinking. Things I take completely for granted, like communicating. There are people whose lives could be transformed from one of misery to one of purpose if their neurology was accommodated.
In yesterday’s interview, Tracy said, “The man I am today is because my autism is the gift I was given to be a leader to anyone who has ever felt less than human based on their appearance. Martin Luther King knew that hurt and he took it to the mountain of peace. My mind is more like a Mensa candidate than I can type. My life is a testimony to the lesson of humanity. Like Larry typed “More like you than not” is the guiding principle to inclusion.”
We are all more alike than we aren’t.