The Delusional Pursuit of an Unattainable Illusion

One of the great truths of the disease of addiction is the delusional thinking that accompanies it.

The handmaiden of delusion may well be illusion and for me I allowed one to convince me I was attaining the other. The delusional pursuit of an unattainable illusion in my relationships with others kept me lonely and unhappy. It created unrealistic expectations, fueled resentments, and denied the reality of human imperfection. Learning how to participate in an honest and “real” relationship with another person—working with others—is at the heart of my experience in recovery. In the past it was hard for me to be real or honest about myself or the other person.

The truth was evasive and when it did appear I often denied it.

When relationships become difficult, or my emotions painful, then I would disconnect from them through the fantasy world of my addiction. Unsurprisingly, until I become healthy I couldn’t successfully participate in a healthy relationship. I had to learn how to love and respect myself. Understanding and accepting my own flaws, learning how to “grow up” emotionally, allowed me to understand the imperfections of others and avoid the illusory vision of perfection in relationships. It opened the door for me to be able to participate realistically in relationships—which always includes a full range of experiences. I have learned that—within any relationship—to enjoy and sustain the “good” I must also be able to withstand the inevitable flaws, difficulties, doubts, fears and imperfections that are part of the journey.


(an excerpt from A Year of Days)



NOVEMBER 11 (from A Year of Days)

Taking responsibility for my own actions in life has been a ticket to freedom from the peculiar mental twists of my own addictive thinking.

Recovery has shown me in life that if I’m not the problem then I have no solution. For many years in addiction my childish thinking viewed the idea of personal responsibility as some sort of burden that life was trying to impose on me. In my mind I mocked those “normies” who conformed to the rules and were missing out on the excitement and full flavor of life.

The misplaced belief that I was superior, a crucial and implicit yet unconscious way of covering up my feelings of inadequacy, found a convenient home in the world of partying and addiction. Of course when everything went wrong either nothing was ever my fault, or it was all my fault—but rarely did I have the courage to face the core questions about who I was and how my own choices, my approach to life, were at the root of my problems.

The process of growing up emotionally that recovery has led me through has shown me how to be a man for my own sake and no one else’s. I have taken full ownership of my life and how I live it—no longer relying on a childlike disconnection from this core human responsibility.

I take the task of my own life somewhat seriously because I must. After all, I’m a grown man and no one else can, or will, do it for me—and if I don’t take myself seriously then how can I expect anyone else to?

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OK on Election Day


An entry from A Year of Days that I thought might be a nice read today…..

May 10

It has taken some time for me to learn how to be comfortable with being ok with being ok. I am reminded of those moments at the end of some period of struggle, a close call or achieving a difficult goal, and having that sort of “ok—what now?” feeling that was odd and deflating. I often suddenly felt a bit lost or purposeless. I think much of my life before addiction, and certainly during it, was framed in the constant pursuit of something. A nagging and searching effort or mission to achieve something that would validate who I was and prove that I was good enough—that I belonged. I would show the world and force my will upon it by exerting my power and efforts. Often when things didn’t work out and my efforts failed there was a feeling of powerlessness that I couldn’t accept and I quickly blamed others for my failure. My struggle would immediately continue again as I then moved onto to trying to control the next outcome. I was completely unable to accept myself or my place in life around me simply as it was. Recovery has shown me that my powerlessness is unavoidable and that the only relief from my desire to fight it is to accept it. I now realize that those moments of “what now” and of winning or failing are not a measurement of my self-worth or success in life. Acceptance of my powerlessness allows me to be ok with being ok. I can simply do my best in life and leave the outcome to my Higher Power who guides the direction of my thinking and efforts. I have found a tremendous freedom and liberation from this new perspective that allows me to always be “good enough.” By avoiding the things I know I shouldn’t do and doing the things I know I should—and by remaining in contact with my Higher Power and friends—I have become very comfortable with my powerlessness over the world around me. Today I understand the power that I do have within my own actions and thinking and I work to exert that power in healthy ways that are guided by the principles and morals I have found through doing the work of recovery.

Self-forgiveness on the road to a Higher Power

One of the most compelling questions for me in early recovery was that of self-forgiveness. I remember being obsessively absorbed by the problem it presented. I seemed unable to get the answer I needed or a solution that resolved the question in a meaningful way.

People would ask me things like, “If your Higher Power forgives you then shouldn’t you?” Nothing seemed to really fit and I was often stuck in a sort of weird combination of self-pity, loathing, hate, hopelessness and despair. It was all very odd and uncomfortable. It kept me in a place of feeling that I wasn’t good enough, or was perhaps ineligible for success in recovery. A part of me clung to the comfortably uncomfortable shroud of my past deeds and bemoaned my seemingly fated inability to find any sense of self-forgiveness.

Today, those feelings are largely gone because I better understand the prideful futility of seeking a self-forgiveness that doesn’t exist. I have learned that self-forgiveness simply isn’t a very useful concept for me because it centers my thinking on and within me—a circular situation that provides no contact with outside reality.

“I never got better by telling myself I was OK.”

My only relief has come from the forgiveness of others and a willingness to seek the same in return—most importantly, by accepting the forgiveness of my Higher Power.

As I reflect back I see that letting go of my naive pursuit of self-forgiveness (which I found to be just another form of self-absorption and denial) and instead learning to find true forgiveness for others was a critical part of creating and deepening my spiritual connection to a Higher Power. I learned to find peace and forgiveness through open honest relations with others and it was this process that opened the door to a true relationship with my Higher Power.

I discovered that forgiveness is something that can never really exist in the singular—and so my fascination and obsession with some panacea of self-forgiveness was really just another symptom of my self-centered egomania that makes the entire world about me alone. Self-forgiveness was an illusory means to an end, a false dichotomy that hid an inability to truly face and let go of unsustainable justifications for my shameful past behaviors. And so the deeper question become one of better understanding the underlying dynamics of how to overcome shame and guilt.

By nature and definition forgiveness is something that happens between people and so the idea of self-forgiveness is a complicated one that typically masks other feelings and motives that I am struggling to see clearly.

The famous philosopher Hannah Arendt discusses forgiveness and notes that “No one can forgive himself and no one can feel bound by a promise made only to himself; forgiving and promising enacted in solitude or isolation remain without reality and can signify no more than a role played before one’s self,” she adds, “It [forgiveness] is the only reaction which does not merely re-act but also acts anew…  therefore freeing… both the one who forgives and the one who is forgiven.”¹ I had to learn to forgive others in order to truly receive forgiveness.

My struggle with self-forgiveness—while somewhat centered in guilt and shame—was more fundamentally tied to denial, self-indulgent remorseful self-pity, and a lack of acceptance. Until I truly gave up on the notion of somehow creating a better past I wasn’t able to fully accept my own. Only by truly accepting my past was I able to transcend its grip on my present. My Higher Power is always ready to forgive and encourage me to move forward—to live with love and kindness for myself and others. That peace that I sought through self-forgiveness could never be found alone—only through gently and carefully sharing myself with others.

I’ve slowly learned that the lessons of my past arrive in the toolbox of today only when I am willing to not only see my mistakes but then accept them by letting them go. It is this truth that released me from my self-indulgent pity party and pursuit of the myth of self-forgiveness and then opened the door to a true reliance upon, and relationship with, a Higher Power.

William Flynn


* This blog contains some content previously published in the book “A Year of Days.”

Follow me on twitter – @authorflynn  or at

¹ Arendt, Hannah. The Human Condition. Charles R. Walgreen Foundation Lectures. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958. P. 237, 241.




Feelings in Recovery – Fact, Fiction, and Faith.

Recently at a dinner meeting with some friends in recovery the topic of discussion centered on “Feelings.” Those emotional feelings that the newcomer is shocked to be experiencing again without the numbing relief of addiction or the ones that stem from the difficulties of life–such as work, relationships, or dealing with the “people problems” that always remain central to recovery. We discussed the idea that dealing with feelings in recovery, particularly early recovery, can be extremely difficult and dangerous to one’s sobriety. All of us in recovery are familiar, either personally or through working with others, how relapse can often be centered in an emotional response driven by those ever pesky “feelings.”


As the conversation turned, some of the more commonly heard points were made. It was argued that “feelings aren’t real” and so they shouldn’t be a concern. Another point of view was that feelings, as represented by the notion of emotional extremes, can be dangerous to recovery and that it is important to maintain a fairly stable and evenly balanced equilibrium —and that the classic reference to “emotional sobriety” is about limits and avoiding extremes. The philosophical questions about feelings being real or not was also discussed as it was proposed that “feelings aren’t facts.”


One of the more experienced members of the group noted that feelings are emotions. And that while certainly it is a fact that we all experience feelings, and that the experience is quite real, the point worth noting is that feelings, being expressions of emotions, aren’t permanent. We can’t medically “treat” our emotions or feelings unless they are persistent and prolonged, for instance in the case of someone who is suffering from depression.


I was enjoying the conversation and shared my own experience that in very early recovery I loved feelings when they were positive and found the negative feelings to be frequently and profoundly difficult and challenging to my sobriety. More than once I claimed that someone or something “made me” feel a certain way and so what else was I to have done other than go drink/use about it?  What was clear from the conversation was that this problem with feelings was an experience that is a common conundrum in recovery and there seemed to be no direct answer.


For me, in active addiction, my ability to deal with feelings was limited and immature. In recovery I have learned that one of the great joys and freedoms to be gained is the ability to live life on life’s terms and that includes not only being open to my feelings but also having the ability to fully experience them in ways that connect to their deeper meanings. Recovery has allowed me to parse away some of the reactive emotional responses that strong feelings engender and move towards the place of accepting the joy of feelings–be they “good or bad”.


Today the ability to have compassion and stand with others in their pain is part of the joy of being a full human sharing common space with others. Similar to joy, it is really the connectedness that I celebrate–that undergirds the experience. Perhaps a part of this reality, this connectedness that grounds the circuit of feeling, is what enables the somewhat counterintuitive ability to “match calamity with serenity.”  To some degree or another, my experience with the powerful nature of those emotions and feelings–that stir responses that are rooted in active addiction–take place today against the backdrop of a life that is lived within the framework of a spiritual awakening.


The goal and role of a spiritual awakening (or spiritual experience), that is the central element of classic 12-step recovery, surely must operate in the world of my feelings. The fact that my feelings are real is worth confirming. That there are emotional responses involved is clear. However, what is fundamentally changed is that I have a different response to life today. Two results of this new response are clear. First is that I experience completely new feelings and emotions that are part of the never ending process of growing and improving my conscious contact with a sense of spirituality. These new experiences are the spiritual gold-dust of a new way of living that shows me on a daily basis how life holds much more than I can ever fully know. Secondly, I am able experience older feelings and emotions in new way that alleviates resentment and agitation and places me into the “sunlight and “realm of the spirit.” My ‘todays’ are no longer held hostage by negative feelings and emotional restlessness rooted in the unresolved guilt and shame of my past or fear of my future.


In recovery, as a result of gaining some measure of emotional wellbeing and balance, I have learned to trust my feelings. I am developing and improving an intuitive understanding that is trustworthy. I do not run from feelings and emotions in fear nor allow them to overwhelm me. I don’t try to excessively contain them and limit my humanity to a narrow band of experience. Instead I can welcome them and embrace myself within them. I can learn how to experience them in a way that is deep and meaningful without becoming lost and untethered to my sense of reality–the integrity of who I am today–not who I was in the past. Feelings and emotions are always part and parcel of the love that is central to the human condition and an acceptance and understanding of my participation with them is the actualization of my faith.


William Flynn


(A Year of Days — Posts / Blog / Book).


Book Release – Available Now.

I am so pleased to be able to announce the arrival of the book, A Year of Days!   It has been a wonderful journey over the past few years as what began as simple text messages has grown into an online community with thousands of people in dozens of countries around the world. Thank you all so very much for your support, kind words, and love.

Here is the link the book on Amazon.

With love from the path of recovery,