The Joys of Being Wrong

By Nick Short 08/03/18

I am limited when I am in my own power, convinced of its sufficiency.

Silhouette of a man standing by a tree
There is meaning and comfort to be gained in surrendering our ego to something greater than ourselves.

I had initially thought to write this story – the story of a person once self-presumed irreparably broken who recently completed chemotherapy turned Ivy League law student in a sensible, stable long-distance relationship – once I had received official acceptance letters from myriad top-ranked schools and the boundless adoration of a future wife, an expression forged in platinum, maybe with a tasteful emerald or cushion cut. Submitting it now, though, amid this very particular brand of uncertainty so laden with the weight of proving my worth, after many rejections and healthily parting ways with my girlfriend, seems a far more fitting representation of the point of recovery.

What is that point?

The wording will vary for everyone, of course, but to me:

The point is not what you get: the point is what you do with it.

Were I to await the above, the increased likelihood of this lesson being misconstrued as “quit drugs, win big!” would overshadow the actual essence of sobriety. Sure, the cash and prizes sometimes include overwhelming esteem, material gain and skyrocketing popularity; more often than not, though, the promises of recovery entail something less expected – something that we wouldn’t at onset necessarily identify as exceeding our wildest dreams, but that somehow does. That’s one of the most amazing things about all of this, really – that what we think is humdrum is actually fulfilling, and that what we think will be fulfilling actually sells us short.

There’s a reconciliation of paradoxes implicit to the recovery process. When I heard of the addict mentality described as “negative ego” I didn’t fully grasp its implications until I heard the same rephrased by a young woman who said that, in her active addiction, she felt like a “piece of shit in the center of [her] own universe.” Later I heard such peculiar self-evaluation termed as “arrogant doormat” and “I didn’t think much of myself, but I was all that I thought about.”

When I first got clean, the catalyst beyond threat of discontinued financial support was certainty that I would finally be recognized for the meteoric talent that I was – that all of the reasons for which I thought I used substances would be reinterpreted and rightly understood as unappreciated genius and, once so affirmed, I would no longer indulge that self-destructive tendency born of being “misunderstood” – no wait sorry – not just misunderstood like you are – distinctively misunderstood. Quitting drugs for me, however, has actually shown its primary benefit to be that I now get to participate in life just as other people do – like a person looking to what actually is instead of constant consumption with what is not, with how they’ve been wronged, with how they are somehow simultaneously better and worse than ____, all at the same time.

Even now, despite years of practiced right-sizing and spiritual dependence, there is a part of me that continues to sustain the myth that I am somehow so special as to be immune to the conditions that dog other people, despite a consistent undercurrent of fraudulence: that I can put in a little less effort, that I am somehow shrouded in a halo sufficient to enchant those so blessed to gaze upon my angel face.

We do not look at the world as if it were a mirror, reflecting only ourselves and whatever lies behind us: we look at the world as through a window; we see what is ahead but can’t help also catching our own reflection. Who we are, and what we think, informs what we see. That myth I maintain is delusional, so a part of who I am is delusional, and that part collects evidence to support that delusion’s accompanying grandeur. For as much as I develop my faculties of reason and reality, I think I might always retain a degree of magical thinking where I believe that maybe more is possible than may actually be possible. Sometimes I think that gives me the courage to take actions in faith and belief that might otherwise be precluded by too much logic, or not enough magic; while I can’t parse the precise extent to which that contributes to faith-based actions, it does seem to keep my chin parallel to ground and sky.

The other day someone asked me “How do you get from pain to faith?”

When I am in pain I am drawn closer to God. I do not balk at those who feel that pain instead causes division, or interpret pain as an absence of God: it is an absence, if you choose it to be. God is not the cause of pain; God is the solace that might be sought within it. It is almost as easy to blame God as it is to seek God; it is almost as easy to see differently as it is to see the same. When I am disappointed, it is not because God did not respond to my commands – God is not obligated to obey me; to the contrary it is I who is afforded the choice to obey God. All people have that agency – the ability to decide whether or not to honor and uphold that which is divinely informed, however “divinely informed” may be interpreted.

Whatever face you give to God, whatever name – that entity is with you. God is intended to comfort you in the impossible length of the dark night; God is intended to draw you closer.

What is closer? What does it feel like? Closer is the humoring of my will, the acknowledgment of its concerns and demands without automating action upon them. Closer is the awareness that maybe someone or some thing, either vaguely understandable or wholly intangible, may know better than I know. Closer is the nearly imperceptible sense of warmth you feel when you’re in great pain but know that this will not break you, that what you feel is not fully representative of your capability, because you are not just you – you are you plus that something greater; you are you and not alone.


When I am charged with the full control and conduct of myself, as though my will and intention were affected within a vacuum, my ego enters stages left, right and center. When I surrender some bit of my will I am more closely actualized as who I am meant to be, rather than who I think I am meant to be, or who I project that I am. When I willingly enter into and actively sustain that relationship – severing ties to the notion that it has to be just me, that it means more if I do things on my own – then the way that I see the world, as it is and with my reflection, is limitless. I am limited when I am in my own power, convinced of its sufficiency. When I am in my own power, my options consist solely of those that I am capable of conceiving; when I am in God’s power, my options are as limitless as that to which I am intentioned.

I do not always agree with that to which I am intentioned. I recently received another “no” from an elite law school – another from one to which I was sure I’d be admitted – and have, in the past 10 minutes alone, assigned permanent and predictive weight to that decision. I have convinced myself that both my present and future fate are tethered to those rejections. I have projected that those rejections foreshadow a coordinated stonewalling effect that will prove ever prohibitive of every ambition that I have ever had, and as such I should just learn to teach spin, because that is probably how I will end up – alone, undereducated, and teaching spin – *not even at SoulCycle* (see what I did there?) – for the rest of my life.

When I fully inhabit my individualized agency I am downright apocalyptic. I allow no slit through which a ray of truth might shine; I do not suffer fools as I misunderstand soothsayers to be. At those times, I am in the most limited space I can occupy. And then, the break; then, the unexpected; then, that which I’d so quickly discounted, manifests.

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