The Gift of Desperation: Keeping It Alive

By May 15, 2020 May 17th, 2020 No Comments

“There is a crack, a crack in everything… 

That’s how the light gets in.” 

—Leonard Cohen

What would you say was the most important day of your recovery?

  • Would you say it was when you powered through a craving and realized you avoided a relapse?
  • Or would you say it was the first time a full day had gone by and you realized you had not once thought about drinking?
  • Or would you say it’s every day, because we live “one day at a time” in recovery?

The truth is these are all important days; none is any more important than the other. However, there is another important day you might not have considered: the day you received the gift of desperation. That’s the day that the pain was bad enough to truly motivate you to seek a better life—without alcohol. That day might have felt like the worst day of your life; however, it truly was the catalyst for starting over and beginning your recovery.

Why “Knowing Better” Isn’t Enough

Perhaps you have wondered why it took so much pain to make the change when you “knew better” for so long before that? You had understood the reasons why you needed to stop: the destruction, the morning sickness, the deterioration of health, lost days, not being present, destroyed relationships, and, at times merely existing.

The answer is that, despite our best intentions to do what is best, we actually tend to make choices based on how much pain we are in, and we are driven primarily by our emotions, which tend to override our thoughts and reasoning, especially when it comes to making big decisions requiring dedication and hard work in our lives. And we tend to choose the lesser pain when there is a choice at hand. This is why, despite wanting to recover from alcohol use disorder, if we perceive that alcohol is still making us feel better (alleviating/avoiding pain), it’s very hard to stop.

Pain is in the heart; it’s a feeling thing and thus has more power than thoughts alone. Perceived “gain” (of giving up alcohol and recovering what’s important in our lives) is in the head; it’s a thinking thing. We remained sick as long as we did in our active addiction because we were trying to think our way through it, because we have thought our way through so many other life challenges. We were used to coming up with solutions, but it simply did not work when it came to the addiction, because pain was winning the battle of our hearts.

But pain is not the enemy!

It is quite the opposite, in fact, and one day pain would become your greatest ally for recovery, serving as the catalyst for change. It was not until the pain of the alcohol use disorder outweighed everything else, that you faced that precious gift of desperation, naturally seeking to move away from it. It was here you finally recognized in your heart and mind that the pain of living with active addiction was worse than the pain of being sober.


“For most people, their spiritual teacher is their suffering. 

Because eventually the suffering brings about awakening.” 

—Eckhart Tolle 


In fact, without this tremendous gift of desperation, you might have gone to your grave still saddled to the addiction, having lost everything meaningful to you along the way. The gift of desperation means that the person is willing to do whatever is necessary to make the change in their life—willing to be willing, willing to be open, willing to do anything to get their life back.

The gift of desperation doesn’t feel like a gift while it’s happening! It’s total darkness, and you might have felt like there was no way out. Finally grasping just how empty, beaten, and close to death (in mind, body, and spirit) you were was terrifying, no doubt. Yet it’s in this total darkness where the magic begins. It starts with a sliver of light, and slowly you begin to recover your heart.

For a long time, you were disconnected from your heart while drinking and numbing your feelings. Well, you cannot selectively numb your emotions, chucking anger but keeping bliss, suppressing grief while basking in love. So, the good news is now that you are letting yourself feel the pain in your heart, you can also begin to rediscover feelings of love, since that also resides there. Your heart’s full spectrum becomes available to you again.

Love: The Universal Companion in Healing

You eventually discover love and compassion pulling you through recovery—even if the support comes from someone else rather than from within. Most often during very early recovery, we’re not in a position to love ourselves yet. So whether you’re in the rooms of AA, where they will love you, or in other recovery groups, such as SMART Recovery, Refuge Recovery, or Recovery 2.0, they are there to love and support you. And your family, friends, and loved ones have been waiting for you to awaken to your disease. They also love you.

This is the spiritual nature of recovery, whether you choose to call it a higher power, a universal consciousness, or God.

How to Keep the Gift of Desperation Alive

I’d like to share how the first three steps of the 12 steps (AA)* embody this journey so well.

Step one states, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become  unmanageable.” What this is saying is that you now realize that you have no control over using alcohol or managing your life when you drink. It’s so important to recognize that addiction is not something for you to “manage,” which is a hard concept for many of us can-do Western women to come to terms with! But what is key here is not just the truth of the sentence alone, but your acceptance. You have stopped resisting this truth, and this is where you begin to get your power back. It is a beautiful, paradoxical phenomenon of getting stronger because you are letting go. I love step one, and I read it as if it is giving me power, not taking my power. This is where I accept the situation. I can’t do something about something I don’t recognize and accept.

Step two reads, “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” What greater universal gift can there be other than knowing help is always there for you? Step three continues, “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” Here we consciously choose to allow, to be open to being helped, loved, and supported. Because these statements are heart-centered, reminding us of a loving force supporting us, they help us far more than our thinking minds alone could.

Living in the three steps is what keeps the gift of desperation alive. A simple way of expressing this profound healing path is as follows:

“I can’t. 

Something can; 

I think I’ll let it.” 

Each line above correlates with steps one, two, and three of the 12 steps. So even though you can eventually release the despair you felt on that darkest day, you can still honor the great gift of healing and transformation that it provided you. You honor this by keeping it alive. And how do you keep the gift of desperation alive? By being willing to learn new things to better your life, by deepening your capacity to love and forgive, and by helping others. And then in time after your recovery becomes your routine, you can use the gift of desperation—the energy, the essence—as a springboard into other things, such as your  health, lifestyle choices, relationships, tackling other things, personality characteristics that have not  served you, and so on.

Keep the gift of desperation alive to learn to be the best version of yourself. All of that awaits. This energy is limitless. The flame won’t extinguish. It is always there, always aglow. So when you’re stumbling, bring yourself back to this place, this feeling of, “I can’t. Something can, and I think I will let it.” I will allow, I will be willing, I will be open. 

Until next time, Namaste!



*Please note: We do not endorse any particular recovery program, but rather we welcome all recovery programs that help people become sober, avoid relapse, and maintain their long-term recovery.