Announce your place in the family of things

Isabel and I want to share this with you. We hear a lot of former and recovering addicts describe the grim and lonely hours waiting for them on the far side of their addiction. The loneliness and bleakness are real, but that’s not the end. It’s a stage in a transformation that can be breathtaking.



-by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.



29 thoughts on “Announce your place in the family of things

  1. April July 26, 2015 at 7:51 am #

    This is beautiful! Thank you!

    The sense of community on your site is wonderful… thank you for creating a space where we can be who we are!


    • Marc July 26, 2015 at 8:00 am #

      It’s great to have you here with us, April. I saw your previous post, but I’m having a hard time catching up with comments. I’m sure you know that I’m really happy to help by providing this forum where like-minded (and even not so like-minded) people can connect and share.

    • matt July 30, 2015 at 7:11 pm #

      …it’s ironic that our families are often a reason for us being the thing we are, who we are later in life, and what we have to revisit, reframe and reinvent in recovery and in being free…being who we want to be, not what we don’t want to do.

      • April July 30, 2015 at 7:48 pm #

        Well said Matt! I’ve had to remove from my life anyone who didn’t support my reinvention and wanted to drag me back down… either into addiction or into permanent second class citizenship as the designated alcoholic. I create my own identity, and I certainly won’t reinvent myself by focusing on the scar tissue left by what I’ve healed from.

  2. Aleah Sato July 26, 2015 at 9:04 am #

    Ah, one of my favorite Mary Oliver poems. I keep it on a sticky note, above my computer.

  3. Robin Roger July 26, 2015 at 10:05 am #

    I wonder if the people who don’t find a solution to their loneliness write poems.

    • Mark P. July 27, 2015 at 8:38 am #


      They write poems about being lonely.

      Writing is a liberating way to express any feeling, especially the darkest ones, that never seem to go away.

      • matt July 27, 2015 at 10:39 am #

        …and that’s what makes us human. We learn from experience. The more we’re open and pay attention, the more we can learn… about the good, the bad…and the ugly.

      • matt July 27, 2015 at 10:45 am #

        exactly…poetry is a way of capturing the ineffable, of describing experience through experience, of eschewing crafty grammar and stolid structure for a freedom of expression…that captures a moment in time.

  4. Mark July 26, 2015 at 10:41 am #

    Marc, I’ve finished The Biology of Desire. It’s on the list for a second read. Your description of what’s possible post-addiction is hopeful and truly inspiring.

    Along those lines I often wonder if something similar hasn’t resulted from Jill Bolte Taylor’s massive post-stroke restoration allowing her to easily manage the arousal/stress of being on the world stage instead of being consigned to a basement lab at Harvard for her whole life?

    Even if we have suffered addictions, we can still be contenders!

    • Marc July 27, 2015 at 5:31 pm #

      Good to hear, Mark.

      You’re right that that stroke story epitomizes the atmosphere of no limits….once you’ve put yourself (back?) together in a unique way. I saw her TED talk. Fabulous!

      • Mark August 2, 2015 at 7:36 am #

        There’s another wonderful stroke recovery story in Diane Ackerman’s, 100 Names for Love. She became the primary caregiver after her husband had a stroke. When the neurologists and physical therapists were adamant in setting low recovery expectations, she had her friend Oliver Sacks stop by and give them all a good talking to. It helps to have friends in high places consciousness-wise.

  5. Janice July 26, 2015 at 2:31 pm #

    Thanks for sharing this beautiful reminder of the truth of our interconnectedness. Here is another that strikes the same cord of truth, with the invitation:
    “Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the conversation”.
    Everything Is Waiting For You by David Whyte

    Everything is Waiting for You

    Your great mistake is to act the drama
    as if you were alone. As if life
    were a progressive and cunning crime
    with no witness to the tiny hidden
    transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
    the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
    even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
    the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
    out your solo voice You must note
    the way the soap dish enables you,
    or the window latch grants you freedom.
    Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
    The stairs are your mentor of things
    to come, the doors have always been there
    to frighten you and invite you,
    and the tiny speaker in the phone
    is your dream-ladder to divinity.

    Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
    the conversation. The kettle is singing
    even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
    have left their arrogant aloofness and
    seen the good in you at last. All the birds
    and creatures of the world are unutterably
    themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

    — David Whyte
    from Everything is Waiting for You
    ©2003 Many Rivers Press

    • Isabel July 26, 2015 at 2:49 pm #

      Oh I love David Whyte…

  6. Donnie Mack July 26, 2015 at 2:53 pm #

    This is what has kept me going for decades now . By the time I get to the liquor store , I have , in on way or the other been “Clubbed into a dank submission” .

    The Laughing Heart

    Your life is your life
    don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
    be on the watch.
    there are ways out.
    there is a light somewhere.
    it may not be much light but
    it beats the darkness.
    be on the watch.
    the gods will offer you chances.
    know them.
    take them.
    you can’t beat death but
    you can beat death in life, sometimes.
    and the more often you learn to do it,
    the more light there will be.
    your life is your life.
    know it while you have it.
    you are marvelous
    the gods wait to delight in you.

    Charles Bukowski

  7. Richard Hollett July 26, 2015 at 9:10 pm #

    Isabel and Marc,

    Thank you for this post. The fact that you posted a poem illustrating the pain and desolation of active “addiction” identifies something I’ve felt, but I’ve not yet been able to put words to, til now…. what makes the information you share about addiction so palatable and so compatible with me is the purity, gentleness, and compassion that is carried with it.

    For many, the disease concept feels safer to embrace because it dismantles or softens the moral judgment that often accompanies people’s struggles with drugs and alcohol. I believe the resistance that you personally encounter from disease-concept oriented people/institutions is based in part on people’s unwillingness to re-introduce moral judgment into the lives of “addicts”. While I have never embraced the disease concept of “addiction”, people feeling protective of “addicts” and hoping to keep moral judgment out of the equation for the sake of those who suffer is understandable – and admirable. Even though your position on “addiction” opposes the disease concept, you too have an understanding and protectiveness of the “addict” that strongly comes through.

    I am grateful for the information in your books. However, what most draws me to your work is the part of you that was prompted to share this poem with us. The information itself, without that part of you – whatever you wish to call it – your essence, your spirit, your good nature – would not have as powerful an impact on me personally. Your intellectual/scientific understanding combined with your sort of homegrown, relatable, compassionate insights is very, very rare.

    I am specifically including you, Isabel because I strongly sense that although Marc has plenty on his own right – your goodness amplifies the very thing in Marc that makes his message so compelling.

    So thank you both.


    • Isabel July 27, 2015 at 10:06 am #

      Wow. What beautiful and kind things to say! Thank you, Richard. And I totally agree that what makes this blog, Marc’s writings, his approach (and also this community) so unique is the empathic, gentle acceptance that is the umbrella under which all the rest of the critical thinking and scientific rigor can happen.

      • Marc July 30, 2015 at 8:12 pm #

        Hey, what a nice thing to say. If you’re not busy later, we should meet for a coffee or something.

    • Marc July 30, 2015 at 8:28 pm #

      Richard, My last comment was lighthearted, to Isabel. I can’t even respond to your comment because it is the most loving praise I have ever received.

      But I’ll try:

      What you say about my protective and compassionate instinct is true. I feel tremendous resonance with the struggles we all go through. Recognizing the agony of addiction and yet maintaining that it’s not a disease has been challenging at many levels. But it keeps on feeling correct and true to do so. And the compassion makes it okay…I mean, okay to take away that blanket of protection — the disease label — and replace it with something more legitimate — a sense of acceptance and connection.

      It becomes increasingly clear to me that compassion and connection are the necessary cornerstones of an uncompromising approach to easing the struggle.

    • Marc July 30, 2015 at 8:43 pm #

      Also, you are dead right about Isabel.

  8. Gary July 27, 2015 at 10:06 am #

    Just wanted to say it is a real delight to be able to express our opinions, alike and/or different without harsh critizism…

    For me!…my freedom came from the realization of “not knowing” who I am and letting go of any attachments to what I thought I was or what other people thought I should be!~ “Thinking” that I know who I am, caused, for me, a great deal of pain, disappointment and at times a state of depression thus forcing within me the need for “Relief”. Though my method of relief wasn’t the best in the long run it helped at the time. It helped in that I was able to let go of any form or thought about who I am, who I should be and the deep dowm shame I felt.

    Real freedom is most liberating when you realize that you are your own authority despite the path you may have taken in the past. It’s kind like seeing with your eyes closed projecting a deeper, richer more vibrant meaning to life and how I am connected to it all.

    “Losing myself”, in the end, really truely, was my greatest gift!~

  9. Mark P. July 27, 2015 at 10:52 am #

    In the interest of sharing and with a little trepidation, this is my poem about loneliness. My addiction used to be the only thing that “comforted” me. Not any more.

    Nothing Out, Nothing In

    In the deepest part of our soul
    Our most sacred thoughts live
    Love, passion, joy
    Disappointment, insecurity, anxiety

    At our most vulnerable, we share these thoughts
    Dancing with other’s thoughts
    To beautiful music, coming together
    Connections are created through God

    Vulnerability becomes the heartbeat of life
    Opening ourselves to the Truth of God
    Our light shines brightly with others
    Seen and admired in all of God’s Kingdom

    Fear stops the music
    Fear stops the dancing
    Fear stops the sharing
    Beautiful thoughts, trapped in our souls

    Alone in our silence
    Looking for a dance, searching for the music
    That will allow us to feel the beauty of God
    Our light so dim, it slowly burns out

    Fear is cruel, does not discriminate
    Hard as steel, deep as an ocean
    Protects us from vulnerability
    Sits with us so we are not alone

    Tricks us into letting nothing out
    Mocks us as we let nothing in

    We miss the music, we miss the dance
    We miss the connections
    We miss God
    We miss purpose and Truth

    Fear has won
    Nothing Out, Nothing In

    • Richard Hollett July 27, 2015 at 11:31 am #

      Mark, thank you a lot for sharing your poetry and vulnerability with us. It’s very beautiful and resonates deeply with me.

      Only moments ago I was thinking about a situation I am having with a family member and was feeling all self-protective, defensive, and critical – then I said to myself, “who are you kidding? above all else, you love him- so get to loving so the other crap fades into the nothingness that it is.” Then I read your poem, which seemed like really “poetic timing”. It’s those universal nuggets of wisdom that keep me on a safe and solid path. I would love to read more of your work.

      Thank you again,


      • Marc July 27, 2015 at 5:33 pm #

        This cosmic pinball thing is truly amazing….

      • Mark P. July 27, 2015 at 7:56 pm #


        Thank you so much for the kind words. I am glad that the poem resonated with you and I also love “poetic timing.”

        If you want to look at some other poems I have written, they are all posted on my blog.

        Each of the poems has been important to me on my continuing transformational journey.

        Thanks again for the response.

  10. warren levine July 28, 2015 at 12:46 am #

    Dear Marc,
    Extremely impressed with both your books, but i wanted to add a comment. I agree with the extremely motivating force of dopamine to facilitate or help bring people towards their impulsive and or compulsive substance or behavior, but i do believe the stronger motivating force is the opiod release that occurs in every “high”. Whether it be gambling, alcohol, or any other source of abuse, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is the satisfaction of the “high” itself which i believe is the excess opiod release. Dopamine brings you to that “high”, but i believe the opiod release is more powerful.

    • matt July 28, 2015 at 5:09 am #

      I might go one step further and say that it is the “expectation” of the release that drives the high, not even the “high” itself

    • Marc July 30, 2015 at 8:41 pm #

      Hi Warren. I agree that the pleasure of the high must involve endogenous opioids. I got that from Berridge and colleagues. But note two things: First, opioid release triggers more dopamine…because it inhibits the inhibitory controls on the VTA (the dopamine factory in the midbrain). I think that’s how pleasure actually steers ongoing anticipation, even the anticipation of the contiinuation of the good feeling. Second, addictive activities lead less and less to pleasure, more to relief, as activation moves up to the dorsal striatum and the activity becomes compulsive rather than impulsive. So you really don’t need opioids once you get to that stage — unfortunately.

      Also, I agree with Matt in his comment above: the expectation is really the driver. But of course without a pot of gold, at least earlier in the process, there would be nothing to expect.

  11. Jasmine July 28, 2015 at 5:54 am #

    Dear Marc/Isabel:

    How wonderful to see a joint post from you both. I hope there are more to come 😉

    Thank you for sharing this most thoughtful poem, and to the other contributors for so many resonant responses/writings. I also love David Whyte, and this poem in particular has brought me much solace and light over the years:

    The Well of Grief

    Those who will not slip beneath
    the still surface on the well of grief

    turning downward through its black water
    to the place we cannot breathe

    will never know the source from which we drink,
    the secret water, cold and clear,

    nor find in the darkness glimmering
    the small round coins
    thrown by those who wished for something else.

    — David Whyte
    from Where Many Rivers Meet

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