By Rev. Solveig Nilsen-Goodin of the Wilderness Way Community in Portland, a team of Jesus-followers committed to “discovering wisdom for our time, healing for ourselves and our planet, and the power of untamable (resurrection!) life!” She and her partner Peter are also active participants with Eco Faith Recovery, a growing network of faith-based people and institutions within the Christian tradition, waking up to the enormity of the ecological-economic-spiritual crisis before us. Their children, Soren & Stig, recently interrupted our dinner conversation with chants of “We hate coal! We hate coal!” (above: the Nilsen-Goodin family)
The profound ecological degradation we are currently witnessing and the rise of addictive behaviors such as alcoholism and drug addiction are two sides of the same coin.
Waking up to the developing global ecological crisis is like moving from being a child in an alcoholic family to growing up and going into recovery.
In an alcoholic family, especially if the addict is “functional,” the addiction socially acceptable, or the majority of the damage successfully hidden from the public or the child’s eye, children often “know” that all is not well, feel that something is wrong, intuit that a crisis is coming, though they do not understand it and the severest consequences of the addiction are not yet fully manifest.
In the same way, though many in the developed world have yet to experience the severest consequences of climate change, and though most of us do not fully understand the root causes of what is happening and why, still there exists this nagging feeling, this intuitive sense, this pit-in-the-stomach-sort-of-but-not-quite-allowable-fear-and-recognition that all is not well, that something is terribly wrong, and that a crisis – a devastating crisis – is coming.
In an alcoholic family, when the spiral of addiction begins to spin, when that intuitive knowing that something is wrong can no longer be denied, children often respond by escaping: holing up in their rooms, obsessing about school, immersing themselves in activities, losing themselves in video games, anything, anything, anything to distract themselves from what is happening, numb themselves to the pain, attach themselves to something they can control.
Likewise, when the information is overwhelming and the evidence can no longer be denied:
when there is this drought and that hurricane and another enormous glacier breaking off into the sea;
when there is this toxin and that oil spill and another school of dead mutant fish;
when there is this friend and that loved one and another parishioner being diagnosed with cancer;
when there is this river dammed and that forest clear cut and another animal species becoming extinct,
we, too, often respond by escaping…getting very busy with our exceedingly important work, our children’s exceedingly important activities, our mountains of exceedingly important stuff.
We, too, often escape by making our worlds very small and our anxiety about them very big.
And, let’s admit it, we, too, often escape by numbing ourselves with prescription drugs and street drugs, with meaningless activity and mobile technology, with needles and smokes and bottles and bottles and bottles and bottles and bottles.
Or…we try to fix it. A child believes, “If I am good enough … if I just get straight A’s, if I just keep the house clean, if I just stay out of dad’s way, if I just make mom happy, if I just…, if I just…, if I just…THEN everything will be o.k., right?”
So we too believe…if we are good enough, smart enough, technologically savvy enough, we will be able to stop the catastrophic damage from climate change and go on with our lives as usual, and everything will be o.k.
If everyone just ate organic and composted…
if we all just drove Priuses or took public transportation…
if people would just bring their own bags instead of using paper or plastic…
if everyone would actually reduce before they reused or recycled…
and if fast food would just stop being so convenient…
and if people would just start using cloth napkins and cloth hankies and cloth diapers and cloth menstrual pads, and stop buying the 12-ply super-cushy-comfort-plus toilet paper, and stop taking so many squares of it while they’re at it…
and if we could just convince Wall Street to have the values of Main Street…
and if the Democrats and Republicans could just all get along…
and if those giant corporations would just stop being so damn greedy
THEN everything will be o.k. Right?
The air will be fit to breathe again, right?
My children can drink the water again, right?
The leaves of the trees will be for the healing of the nations again, right?
There will be trees, right?
“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.” The first step according to Alcoholics Anonymous.
“We admit that we are powerless over an addicted society, that our lives and all of life have become degraded.” The first step according to EcoFaith Recovery’s GreenSpirit 12-Steps.
A child grows up and finally realizes that all her desperate attempts to either numb or distract herself, to either deny the problems exist or fix the alcoholics in her family, have kept her on the same downward spiral of addiction she abhors. And so she takes the first step.
And when we finally see how all our desperate attempts to numb and distract, deny or fix, keep us on the same downward spiral of addiction that is destroying our planet, our selves, our future…we too take the first step.