Last thing I remember,
I was Running for the door
I had to find the passage back to the place I was before
Relax’ said the night man,
‘We are programmed to receive.
You can check out any time you like,
But you can never leave!’
~The Eagles, “Hotel California”
Addiction and recovery are kind of like the “Hotel California.” The happily mournful melody of the song has been a soundtrack to many of our lives—whether we’ve heard it when it first came out during The Eagles heyday, or in a supermarket in the new millennium remembering it as a song that our parents were really into.
To me, the song’s lyrics make a good analogy for what addiction is like. In one of the interviews, band member Dan Henley said that the song was a commentary on “the dark underbelly of the American Dream, and about excess in America which was something we knew about.” Later, in a documentary about the band, he added, “It’s a song about a journey from innocence to experience.”
Sounds kind of like addiction, right? Addiction, too, is a journey from innocence to experience. And paradoxically, recovery can be seen as a journey from experience back to innocence—or, more accurately, back to reality. This plays well into the belief that “once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic”—if you checked in, you can never leave… But, I say, don’t lose hope—your check-in might not be a bad thing if you recover while at the hotel. Getting better is changing your perception of how you see this strange hotel that you’ve checked into. Instead of feeling trapped inside it—being in active addiction—with recovery, you feel you’re in the right place. The funhouse horror hotel metamorphoses and becomes a home.
As checking in is never leaving, I know I must attend to my recovery forever. Addiction is a lifetime disease. Period. Once you have it, you can’t be cured from it. This brings on some confusion as many people believe that after some period of abstinence one must be certainly cured of the disease. I wish. I wish that was true for myself and for others like me. But since I can’t ever imagine myself taking a drink safely and/or drinking merely for the taste of it and not for the effect—to get obliterated—I have no business declaring that I am cured. What I can say is that I am in recovery.
Back at the hotel, there are some of us who insist on checking out. This is how I see relapse—checking out. Relapse is part of recovery for many of us and exiting sobriety is just like exiting a hotel without paying the bill. In both cases, the destiny is dire—you will always get caught. Hotel analogies aside, with addiction the consequences can be institutions, jail, death. Those things might not happen right away, but with time you’re almost guaranteed at least one of them.
It’s safer at the hotel. But it’s only safe if we see our hotel as a place where we recover, where checking in means never leaving and never leaving for the right reasons—to be able to recover. Recovery… it’s such a lovely place.
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