Earlier this week, I attended a book reading of the story of Penelope and Odysseus. When her husband returns after being gone for 20 years, he comes disguised as a beggar. Penelope does not recognize him, and only acknowledges it is Odysseus when he refuses to move her bed. Years earlier, he made that bed with one leg that was a living olive tree. Only he would know that, so his identity was confirmed.
Perhaps because I was sitting in the shadow of Swenny’s and my first apartment, my mind rewound to who we were 20 years ago. If we had been absent from one another for all of those years, would we recognize each other today?
I arrived home tonight to a pile of books on the kitchen table. Religious books. Apparently, they are Swenny’s reading assignment, given by his mentor with the expectation of a full report in one week. Since I’m still waiting for him to share his recovery plan with me, I asked how this fits together.
He told me that he needs to change, and these books will help him. At this moment, I wondered who was sitting opposite me. Swenny doesn’t need to change – he only needs to find the will to live without alcohol. And he won’t find that in passages of books borrowed from the church library.
I cautioned him not to fall so easily into someone else’s version of a better Swenny. And I asked him why he’s following someone else’s recovery plan rather than crafting his own.
Hesitantly, he pulled up his plan on his iPad and read it to me. Exercise and prayer were his only two strategies. What happened to his outpatient recovery groups? AA meetings? Apparently, they had made the plan, but that he didn’t want to articulate them to me told me he’s not ready to face the hard work of recovery. He hopes instead that checking boxes on a to-do list provided by someone else will lead him home.
When he gets there, I hope I recognize him…and I hope he recognizes me. I worry that we have lost so much of ourselves to this journey that we hardly resemble who we once were.