The geographical cure
What is a geographical cure?
When the alcoholic fog began to clear, I was able to pay attention and listen at meetings. I began to hear words and phrases that I had never heard before. In AA, I discovered a whole new language. I was introduced to some unusual expressions. They were designed to describe the disease of alcoholism and the journey toward recovery.
The term “geographical cure” was one that didn’t need explaining. I knew exactly what it meant. This was my pattern of escape since early adolescence. The following definition describes it perfectly.
“An attempt to cure or escape the disease of addiction by moving to a different geographical location, in the hope that distance from “people, places, and things associated with drinking and using will make abstinence easier (or unnecessary).”
Reprinted with the permission of:
A concise definition
Whilst in the grips of addiction, the geographical cure was something my life depended on. There was no question that my drug and alcohol dependency required some radical survival strategies.
As a young adult in my home city of London, I was already drinking to excess. I was out of control from the get-go. It wasn’t long before I ended up in the mental health system and in prison. Within a few years, I was living on the streets. To escape childhood memories, I often moved to other locations in England.
As a young alcoholic and addict, I quickly became a ‘garbage head.’ This is an expression I heard at meetings when I was in the States. It describes someone who becomes addicted to all mood-altering substances. By the time I was a teenager, I would use anything and everything to dispatch myself from the harsh reality of being homeless.
Despite our difficult history, my mother was relieved when I told her I wanted to go to Israel to live on a kibbutz. She actually financed the trip in an attempt to save my life. I was totally isolated in London and on a mission of self-destruction through drink and drugs. In the AA Big Book, a line perfectly describes how I felt. I winced when I first heard this quote read out at a meeting.
“Almost without exception, alcoholics are tortured by loneliness.”
12&12 Step Five, p.57
Further down the rabbit hole
Looking back, the motive for the geographical cure was only partly to escape the consequences of active addiction. It didn’t work anyway. So why did I become so addicted to the geographical cure? There was much more to it than trying to stay clean and sober. Being overseas gave me a temporary feeling of self-worth. I finally had an identity; I finally had a sense of self. I was the crazy English guy. My job was to convince everyone that I was an untamed and wild party guy. I liked to see myself as someone who lived on the fringes of society.
The ‘geographical’ made it possible to be a rebel. My heroes were Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper from the movie ‘Easy Rider.’ Deep down, I was lonely, lost, and frightened. Being on the road gave me a temporary sense of self. Hiding behind this image was the only way I could connect with others.
I wasn’t interested in the twelve steps when I first came into the fellowship. To me, they seemed like some religious hocus pocus. Any spiritual solution to treat addiction struck me as absurd. Whenever I saved enough money, I would be off again. Eventually, I did manage to stay clean and sober. Perhaps not surprisingly, as someone with an addictive personality, my escapades overseas became all about casual sex. With my finely honed image of the wild and untamed drifter, it was easy to manipulate my way into serial sexual encounters. It wasn’t long before I became a full-blown sex and love addict.
Recovery is an inside job.
I did manage to stay clean and sober for fairly long periods without working a twelve-step program. Besides sex and love addiction, I kept getting into very toxic and dysfunctional relationships whenever I was back in the UK. Mentally and emotionally, I was getting worse, not better. This was my experience even whilst abstaining from alcohol and drugs. Despite going to meetings every day, I was getting progressively worse. I found myself in a very dark place a long time after arriving at my first meeting.
“We are convinced to a man that alcoholics of our type are in the grips of a progressive illness.”
Big Book – Chapter three “More about alcoholism” p.30
Reluctantly and only through unremitting pain and suffering, I gradually changed my attitude toward AA’s twelve steps.
“We were in a position where life was becoming impossible, and if we had passed into the region from which there is no return through human aid, we had but two alternatives: one was to go on to the bitter end, blotting out the consciousness of our intolerable situation as best we could; and the other, was to accept spiritual help.”
BB “There is a solution” p 25
I identify as an agnostic alcoholic and addict. God and a higher power are mentioned in six of the twelve steps. The day came when I could no longer hide behind my agnosticism. The pattern of addiction morphed from one addictive behavior to another. After twenty-five years in AA, still sponsoring myself, I didn’t want to live anymore. I arrived at the “jumping off place.”
“He will be at the jumping-off place. He will wish for the end.”
Big Book – Chapter Eleven “A Vision for You” p.152
The greatest gift of all
I now had the Gift Of Desperation. With this gift, I surrendered to the Good Orderly Direction of a sponsor. It was the smartest decision I ever made. God, for me, became the Group Of Drunks in AA. (Acronyms for GOD) With the help of a sponsor, I accepted that AA itself was a power greater than me. He kept reassuring me that if I persevered with the program, I would certainly have a spiritual awakening, if not a God awakening.
I will always be grateful that I surrendered and became teachable. The twelve steps worked. I began to have love in my heart for myself and others. This has led to a “new freedom and a new happiness” (The 12th Promise, BB p. 83). I am comfortable calling this new freedom and happiness a non-God-centered spiritual awakening. AA’s action program has connected me to my true self. It was MIA (missing in action) when I was in active addiction. It was the best outcome I could have ever hoped for!
I am no longer condemned to seek the illusory and temporary sense of self that I got from the geographical cure. What I was searching for when traveling to the far reaches of planet Earth was closer to me than I ever imagined. It was the priceless gift of my true self!