The gifts of time: Understanding and growth beyond addiction

…by Hildur Jónsdóttir…

I have a problem with the term recovery. For many of us recovery implies that there once was a wholeness that was shattered through addiction, a wholeness that we need to recover, find again. I have toyed with the word restoration, but likewise, often there is little to restore. For many of us, our lives before addiction were never anything but shattered and disconnected. Yet this disconnection, these lives shattered, are the points of departure on our journey through life forward. Therefore we need to learn how to navigate from there, not back to a distant past, but to a future yet unknown to us.

Still, we have to come to terms with our past. We long for an understanding and for a meaning of our lives.

This writing is inspired by a fellow reader here who some months ago claimed in anguish: Do I have to continue to live with this shit? This shit in the basement that keeps thrusting its ugly head up into my consciousness here and now. My answer is yes. We have to live with the ogres from our past, named shame and guilt and regret and sorrow. But let me also share my contemplations on the concept of time.

I will start with an old parable from the Inuits in Greenland.

During the long, dark winter, when there is frost and snowfall, Inuits throw their waste in a heap outdoors, for it to be covered with snow in the next winter storm. A new layer of waste is added to the heap to be covered again, and then another and another. Each layer freezes into the same thick chunk pileofsnowof ice. When spring arrives, it is of no use to try to clear it up all at once. The only thing to do is to let each layer appear one after another as the higher chunk  thaws. So one layer thaws and is cleared away, then another, then another. No one can force their way prematurely to the bottom of the heap, but they can rest assured that every layer will finally be revealed and dealt with.

This parable corresponds beautifully with the Inuit concept of time. I have come to understand this. From the birth of man and consciousness, in earlier agricultural societies, time was circular. The rhythm of life was cyclical, from the beginning of life in spring through growth, harvest and finally death. Death was followed by rebirth, for nature and for man. The cycle would start all over again. The industrial revolution changed our concept of time, nature did not dictate it any more, but production lines did. Time became linear, just like production and progress. Peak performance was always in demand. Be productive! Act now! Consume now! Be happy now! And be greedy!

This is not to be mixed up with the concept of here-and-now as in mindfulness and meditation. These do not demand peak performance, instant happiness or suppression of emotions. Just attention – and time to be present.

icecaveThe old Inuit concept of time sees no time spent, no time wasted, no time gone. Time arrives. Time only arrives. Each and every moment we receive the gift of time to be added to all the gifts of time already received. Yes, nature is cyclical, yet still unpredictable; the variations in weather, the movements of the sea animals and of the ice are never exactly the same. Nature asks of you only attention and time.

We amass abundance of time, a growing wealth of time. But time also uncovers what came before, allowing us to deal with it. Time will arrive and thaw the stiff and icy chunk of your past. And with your attention and readiness you will deal with everything that the thawing reveals, loosens and presents to you. Not all at once. Layer by layer.

The impact of this on my thinking and my relationship with my past is profound. Nothing in my life, in my traumas and experiences, in my relations to people, is ever going away. Nothing is lost and nothing is forgotten. I have nothing to “get over.” Everything is there, intact, ready to be added to, interpreted and reinterpreted, constructed, deconstructed and reconstructed. I can roam freely in my limitless treasure chest of time that reaches beyond my own physical limitations – and keep the lid open for it to receive the new gifts of time that keep coming to me.

My past, my amassed time, is therefore both intact but also constantly recreated. Because now I have the power of attention. I have the power to examine what all this once meant to me, but I also have the power to Innuitmother&childchange what all this means to me now. I have gained an insight that I would almost call spiritual, where even my ancestors and the story of my extended and immediate family belong. And where all of you (in this community) belong. Instead of disconnection there is now connection, over space and over time. There is, in each moment, attention, time and power to grow.


41 thoughts on “The gifts of time: Understanding and growth beyond addiction

  1. Annette Allen December 1, 2017 at 4:17 am #

    A very wise and beautiful post, beginning with the deep knowledge of indigenous peoples. I love that!

    Turning away from addiction, two years ago, and choosing to recover my mental health through a wonderful systemic therapy “Open Dialogue” (free via the NHS!), I took time to think and reflect over my birth family’s and my own family’s journeys through addiction. The common element was disconnection from our ancestral homes (Norway and Ireland), and a focus on the transient: stuff and high status jobs. My birth family all died too young from their addictions, and chose not to reconnect with the ancestral home.

    I did. It was the saving of me, along with choosing to quit drinking because of the deep impact it had on my lively, curious mind. It is a voyage of discovery – like the Inuits, and Vikings and all ancient peoples. We can all return home, mentally, physically, and spiritually.

    As you say, Time, Meaning and Connection is numinous and omnipresent, when we allow ourselves to be full and abundant as we are, right this moment.

    Blessings to you and all on the Voyage of Discovery.

    • Hildur Jonsdottir December 4, 2017 at 4:23 am #

      Thank you Annette. You point out a very important thing, when you are born and raised in patterns of addiction that can last generation after another and when the traumas and life choices of your ancestors can live on in their descendants. In my own journey I also had to understand where I came from and what I inherited, both immensely beautiful things but also sorrows and conflicts. In a way, they are all mine.

    • James December 10, 2017 at 9:43 am #

      My life is a lie
      The man I looked at as superhuman
      Perfect in every category
      Suddenly became human.
      And his internal monster was now visible
      Roaring yet oblivious
      Because he had hidden his other half so well.
      I tried to tame the beast
      Yet the beast was unwilling to be tamed.
      In vain I expended much effort to a lost cause,
      Yet I continue to try
      For I can still see a shadow of the man I thought I once knew
      And I want to free him.

  2. matt December 1, 2017 at 5:12 am #

    I love the tone of this post. It reminds me of why we all have such a unique experience in “recovery.” I like to think of it in terms of “apperception– that process by which we integrate all new experiences into our existing body of experience, and consolidate it into a unique, meaningful whole… a new ontology. This is why the notion of “recovery” doesn’t work for me. In fact, it doesn’t exist. I am struggling to extricate myself from an addiction to move away from it, to move forward and expand toward a fresh new freedom I never had… not seal myself into some new, arbitrary box of prescriptive experience called “recovery.”

    • Hildur Jonsdottir December 4, 2017 at 4:44 am #

      Now I have learned a wonderful new word – apperception, that fits perfectly into the ideas I was trying to convey (English is not my mother tongue). Every term carries a definition, and added to that there are these loads of associations and contexts. And words also become emptied of meaning. Your idea of “prescriptive experience called recovery” is brilliant. I have done a lot of thinking on the shortcomings of language in general in capturing the challenges of our growth after addiction and describing what we went through while addicted. I agree with you that the terminology of it all, that includes fixed ideas about these experiences can be very restraining – and in fact lead us astray. Thank you.

  3. Mark December 1, 2017 at 5:23 am #

    “Attention must be paid,” a mother declares to her son in Death of a Salesman. What she neglects to offer are the ways and means to build, strengthen and maintain that neurobiological capacity if it isn’t very developed in and by the people, places and things that surround us in our lives. There’s the rub.

    • Ursula December 1, 2017 at 6:37 am #

      That is well said! Especially when now relating to Canada’s own Reconciliation, with some Canadian-people saying “Just get over it”! Thank you all, for this great dialogue!

      • Cheryk December 4, 2017 at 6:44 am #

        The “Just get over it”saying has been said to me many times here in the USA also.

    • Mark December 1, 2017 at 1:09 pm #

      P.S. A good friend of mine died last month. Before she left, she researched and wrote this book: *Unbinding: The Grace Beyond Self.* It was officially released two days after she died. Definitely worth being included in the “addictions literature”:

      • Hildur December 5, 2017 at 4:31 am #

        Mark – I checked the title, and this is absolutely a book I want to read. Thank you.

  4. Candice December 1, 2017 at 5:58 am #

    Thank-you for this post! I’ve always had an issue with being labeled because somehow labels assume some kind of inability to change. I never considered ‘recovery’ to be yet another label AND one which assumes my past was somehow wrong or incorrect in any way. It just was what it was and I’m now exactly who I am meant to be in this moment. Great food for thought!

    • Cheryk December 4, 2017 at 6:48 am #

      Labels….I use ADD as a reason not to change. I interrupt people, finish their sentences and just say ” My Dr. Told me that’s part of ADD. Addict. Sometimes I use that label as an excuse to play the part. Saying, I am what I am.

  5. Jill Woodworth December 1, 2017 at 7:53 am #

    Apropos, especially in light of present day reality. I’ve struggled with the idea of recovery always being a carrot off in distance…how to integrate the vision of who we were when we acted as addicts in light of who we are now. The circular concept of time is a pressure relief valve. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Hildur Jonsdottir December 4, 2017 at 4:57 am #

      Recovery – and the idea of recovery being a carrot off in distance – carries another idea. That someone other than you has the power to decide: You are recovered! That the process has a beginning and an end. Which of course is nonsense.

  6. John Becker December 1, 2017 at 8:27 am #

    What a lovely and timely message, about paying attention. I went beyond recovery. I call it uncovery. Thank you Hildur and best wishes to all of us.

    • Hildur Jonsdottir December 4, 2017 at 5:01 am #

      Uncovery is a beautiful and useful word, we uncover what is in our history, past and present mindset, but we also continue to grow and create an enjoy freedom to do precisely that.

  7. William Abbott December 1, 2017 at 9:51 am #

    I dont like the term either but am afraid we are stuck with it – like some others eg addiction,

    however the thought expressed here of moving forward ( rather than returning to something that must have been flawed to start with , is the message I always try to convey

  8. Helen December 1, 2017 at 10:31 am #

    Thank you for the beautiful post. An unfolding life, one day at a time…

  9. Eric Nada December 1, 2017 at 10:35 am #

    Thank you for this thoughtful and meaningful post. I, too, long ago ceased to label myself as being “in recovery.” In the beginning I accepted that label as it was part of the paradigm that was working for me then, and I held onto it far longer than it was helpful to do so. Like a person who is in great mourning, I was a very wounded version of myself when I first became abstinent, and it served me, temporarily, to consider myself part of the tribe that was “in recovery.” But that changed over time and it has served me much better to leave that label and its associated identity behind now. I, too, did not “recover” an old version of navigating through life. The current version of myself is simply an extension of the person who’s search for meaning and contentment led them to seemingly hopeless addiction to heroin. I am still in search of the same things and have simply found meaningful and sustainable ways of both searching for and actually finding them. My addiction problems were just a misguided and unconscious attempt at dealing with my personal, then painful, experience of being human, and eventually helped to propel me into a healthier direction

    • Hildur Jonsdottir December 4, 2017 at 5:04 am #

      These are very wise words. Yes, it is about the experience of being human.

  10. Mike Johnson December 1, 2017 at 11:25 am #

    Dr. Marc:
    Break out the Ammonium Carbonate!!
    I am only partly engaging in black humor with this recommendation. Many of the above are not *sober people* whether they are using drugs on self medication programs (junkies) or not.
    It *may* be that this is the issue ( lack of true sobriety) in some cases. One path to addiction would be that upbringing (beyond trauma) has incentivized hopeless Romanticism of the type associated most often with the despicable Rousseau. Among the worst of these elements is a lost Garden of Eden denied by Human Sin through Civilization (Knowledge), the Noble Savages as the Adams and Eves that remained somehow unspoiled, and the notion that Nature is concerned with YOU and not completely indifferent in a truly infinite sense.
    Now let us refer to the personal narrative of Dr. Marc himself unless it has been re-narrated. Dr. Marc has said that he experienced a reactive depression upon being shipped off to boarding school and this was self treated through drug abuse from which he exited to a degree and became a great teacher. Whew, my point is that he has supplied a completely rational (non romantic) account which points directly to personally experience circumstances as the path to addiction.
    His problems as far as I know are not derived from Philosophy or a profoundly reactionary anti modern stance derived from some mythic late Middle Ages that, sadly, never existed.
    There will be no return to the Neolithic Age no matter how glorious it seems unless a large bolide drives Earth back 20,000 years or even the love of the Communes of the Middle Ages though 2,000 years of darkness.
    I am proposing a renewed Reality Therapy wherein the Physician/Metaphysician convinces the client to JOIN the 21st Century and abandon anti modernism root and branch and reconcile with Reality which is the sole task of the maturing mind through late adolescent neuronal pruning.
    Alternatively send people into ardent observation of something like Pentecostalism which will keep them at least partly engaged with the road forward we all share and allow them to make some sort of concrete contribution.

    • Hildur December 2, 2017 at 9:12 am #

      Some months ago there was a discussion here, following a post from Marc, about metaphors with a useful and powerful potential for us to apply in contemplation on our path forward with our lives. I could truthfully have mentioned that as an inspiration to my post above. I wish to believe that my ideas are not about returning to medieval, romantic or premodern thinking, away from current realities in life and societies. It is about the power of ideas. The power of concepts, language and current belief systems, also about addiction and recovery (to use that awful word). Ideas and concepts that permeate our culture and therefore our thinking, whether inherited from ages ago or recently invented. The slate is never clean. And about what I belive to be a human need in all times, the need to feel rooted – have a sense of belonging and constructive relationship with others.
      Addiction either prevented us from gaining power in our lives or took away the power we had. I think that many could agree, that maybe the strongest power in our lives was the power to abuse and destruct, ourselves, families, relationships. Claiming power, I agree, is about facing reality. Our mindsets are a part of that reality.

      • Carlton December 7, 2017 at 8:52 am #

        Notions and ideas like this can become eclipsed when a persons passion, love, and attention are eclipsed by an addiction, making a person feel “rooted” in the addictive life.

        But freedom from the addiction, (i.e. recovery), is when notions and ideas of this nature become “unecliped”, due to struggle with an addiction.

        A person can feel rooted in life itself again, despite the exhilarating and horrendous experiences that continue to occur during their lifetime.

  11. Carlton December 1, 2017 at 12:07 pm #

    Very effective and clear, and your paragraph here describes an experience that exists, and can be looked forward to by people currently struggling with an addiction;

    “The impact of this on my thinking and my relationship with my past is profound. Nothing in my life, in my traumas and experiences, in my relations to people, is ever going away. Nothing is lost and nothing is forgotten. I have nothing to “get over.” Everything is there, intact, ready to be added to, interpreted and reinterpreted, constructed, deconstructed and reconstructed.”

    And agreed, “Recovery” is not an accurate description, so I am currently trying out “Realization”.

    For instance, a person can experience profound and important life-changing “Realizations” about a Marriage, friend, career, activity, etc.

    And in the same way a person can have “Realizations” about an addiction.

    Terms like “eradicating ” or curing “, are disease-medical terms, but “realizations” are human-experience terms, and they can be just as significant.

    Your “Beyond Addiction” post here offers a valuable insight from the “outside.” These are rare and difficult things to describe in words, but they are important and valuable for people struggling with an addiction to hear, and it has a beautiful “tone” too, as Matt described it 🙂


  12. Denis December 1, 2017 at 4:01 pm #

    Keep it simple, keep it simple, keep it simple…It wasn’t till i “REALISED” that the regular alcohol hit i’d grown to use over 50 years had become an addiction, I was then able to instantly eliminate alcohol and get on with my journey, with more meaning and contentment (after clearing my head ! ) I am continually learning, especially now from our 15 month grandchild.I have gratefully come a full circle, a 70yr granddad learning from a 15mth grandchild, what a joy and a saviour. Lastly if i may ,something i read somewhere ; To succeed in life we need 3 things ; A Wishbone, A Backbone, And a Funnybone

  13. Heather December 1, 2017 at 4:31 pm #

    This is so true. Sometimes it feels like we want to chuck the past and all our regrets when we are healing but that’s like throwing out the baby with the bathwater. These are all the things that got us to the point where we want to change and evolve. It is a cumulative effect and once we take stock of that it isn’t necessarily interpreted as “bad”.
    This is a wonderful perspective on the wholeness of life. xo

  14. LouAnn Jones December 2, 2017 at 9:04 am #

    Just DON’T Drink, ASK for HELP (TALK to another RECOVERING Alcholic), and continue to Go To MEETINGS!!!!! The rest will fall into place. Please Take
    Your time. Please Don’t Rush your recovery. It will unfold as it unfolds! And you’ll be the Better for it! God Bless!!!

    • matt December 6, 2017 at 6:28 am #

      HI LouAnn

      All this is great advice, but I always had a problem with the “Just Don’t Drink” part. It sets the criterion for failure way too low. That was my specialty and why I drank to begin with. There has to be a reason more than blind faith, and less than changing the world. I guess that’s the meaning of being “right-sized”. It’s determined by the individual in relation to the group, not by the group. May sound subtle, but little things can make a big difference— especially when your life and why you’re living it is at stake.

  15. Gary December 4, 2017 at 6:48 am #

    I entered detox back in 1988, actually August 17th at around 2:30pm on a Wednesday afternoon following a four day drunk. Prior to this event I had never ever reached out for help or ever belonged to any type of support group other than a group of drinking buddies etc. It was all very new to me but it was also extremely enlightening as well, especially the “recovery” language. However, in no time at all I became an A.A. member and felt well rooted in the whole process. The one thing I struggled with, back then, was “recovery” in that I didn’t want to recover to a point where I was prior to my drinking nor, for the life of me, could I recover that which I had never attained but soon I “Discovered” a new way of thinking, a new way of being that went beyond recovery as though my soul was an explorer on a journey deep within myself. There! in that place, I discovered things I never ever knew before which also allowed me to see that letting go of the self-help group was also very important for my continued growth. “Discovery” is the numinous wonder of life, which, in many respects, allows one to access their own sacred warrior of love, peace and harmony.

    • Cheryk December 4, 2017 at 6:56 am #

      For me, AA has not been the way I wish to live. Another label “Anonymous” People say, “oh, your one of those.” I tried it for years. It helped, then it nauseated me. After a yr I can go to a meeting and the same people are telling the same stories. Each of us must find our path.

      • Gary December 4, 2017 at 7:10 am #

        Hi Cheryk…
        Just for clarification purposes, I wasn’t and had no intent, whatsoever, in suggesting that A.A. wasn’t helpful. It was extremely helpful in raising my own awareness and for that I will forever be grateful. However, as Jiddu Krishnamurti says “Be A Light Unto Yourself”!~

        Belonging to groups or perhaps trying on new ideas, is like trying on a suit. Sometimes they fit and sometimes they don’t, but for the ones that don’t fit, criticizing is pointless. That! was part of my own “Discovery” as well!~

  16. Fred December 7, 2017 at 7:07 pm #

    This post brings to mind one of AA’s 9th step promises: “we do not regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it.”

  17. Carlton December 8, 2017 at 11:17 am #

    You mentioned how how word “recovery” implies that there once was a wholeness that was shattered through addiction that needs to be recovered.

    To add to that point, and this may sound harsh, but, no longer being under the effect and influence of the addiction…. is the bare-bones about what occurs.

    A person still may end homeless on a park bench… the freedom from the addiction is a separate thing, and they would have there competence and ability unobstructed by the addiction.

    Once when facilitating SMART meeting I put this out:

    “If a professional back robber came to a recovery meeting very upset and concerned that his drinking was effecting his competence and ability to rob banks, what should the recovery group do to help?

    It resulted in humor in the long run, but there is alot to be considered with that.

  18. Carlton December 12, 2017 at 10:10 am #

    Hildur, you wrote:

    “I have toyed with the word restoration, but likewise, often there is little to restore.”

    For many, rather than restoring, recovering or returning to a past life, the freedom from an addiction is more about the direct rapport one has with life again, despite its condition.

    I don’t think this has been extensively documented or studied yet, but although a percentage of ex-addicts take life a day at a time, it seems there is a percentage of ex-addicts the don’t return to an addiction because it seems to “gets in the way” rather than “fit like and old glove”, when they try it again at some point in their lives.

    As an example:

    Although many people fall back in love with someone years after breaking up, there is also a big percentage of people that find the want and desire to fall back in love, no longer present.

  19. Carlton December 13, 2017 at 7:04 am #

    This 8 minute radio program titled:

    “Why Language Matters When It Comes to Addiction”, aired yesterday on WNYC ;

    It mentions an ADDICTIONARY and recommends switching “drug abuser” to “substance use disorder”, etc,.

    (Marc, Interesting how “willfull misconduct” ) seems to be seen as “choice”.)

  20. Carlton December 13, 2017 at 8:11 am #

    And here is a link to the ADDICTION-ARY mentioned in that broadcast:


  21. Kumar Cidambi December 18, 2017 at 8:04 am #

    Everyone should quit the addiction because when we are getting addicted to bad things it would be better to quit it rather than continuing it because at the end it is going to harmful to you!!! You can read more stories on

  22. Mark December 21, 2017 at 7:46 am #

    An insightful recent interview with Gabor Mate on everything from addiction to Donald Trump to American culture …

  23. April Wilson Smith December 26, 2017 at 6:05 pm #

    What a beautiful post! I love your explanation of the concept of time! This is honestly one of the first truly original things I’ve read on “recovery” in a long, long time, and I write and research professionally on it so I read everything.

    This is also very helpful to me personally. At the holidays, even as I enjoy calm, quiet time with my family and friends outside of the grip of addiction, I feel profound sadness over the holidays I missed or ruined or otherwise wasn’t myself for due to my addiction. This post really helped me embrace the peace I feel when I let go of regret, and to allow myself to feel that peace instead of banging myself in the head with the metaphorical frying pan of “If only…”

    A happy New Year to you and yours, and I hope to read more of your work soon? Do you have a blog or publish regularly anywhere?

    Much respect,

    • Hildur Jónsdóttir January 9, 2018 at 5:55 am #

      Thank you so much April and a happy New Year to you too. No, I am not writing on a regular basis, this is the first blog I have ever written. I have read the blogs here for some years, found them very inspiring and just thought I might have something to share. I will look you up.
      Kind regards

  24. Mark Andersch March 4, 2018 at 9:17 am #

    Very inspiring and uplifting. I really enjoy visiting and I am extremely grateful. Thank you all for allowing me to listen.

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