The Poisoned Arrow

According to a famous Buddhist teaching, one of the monks was troubled because the Buddha didn’t address existential questions such as “Is there a God, what happens when we die, and is the universe infinite.” (Some Buddhist sects do approach such questions, but that was added later.)

Anyway, the monk was kvetching, so the Buddha asked him, “Suppose you were shot with a poisoned arrow. Would you refuse to have it removed until the poison was analyzed and you were given the results? Would you want to know what kind of wood it was made of, what sort of feathers were used for fletching the arrow, the maker and strength of the bow and the name and clan of the archer?”

His student answered, “No! Of course not!”

The Buddha said to him, “I teach about the here and now.”

Whether or not that rings any bells for you, I can’t help but think about our program of recovery and the way I first approached it. I drank, drugged and did other stuff. I wanted to quit. Some folks showed me how and supported me until I could move forward on my own. They told me how they stayed sober.

But I, like the monk, wanted to know everything there was to know instead of just doing the work. I started doing the work, but I got so wrapped up in my head that for some years I missed seeing the forest because I wanted to know the name, genus and species of every tree, along with the underbrush that surrounded it. Learning all that stuff made me sound good, but it didn’t help my sobriety much (although it’s possible it may have helped some other folks a little).

When it came down to the path through the forest, all that book learning was pretty much useless. In the end, it was all about a simple map: the Steps, One Day At A Time, help another addict, make phone calls, get back to meetings, do service–all the stuff I’d been hearing from day one. That poisoned arrow (ego) did a number on me, and for a long time I didn’t even notice. Others did, but I had the poison in my system and wasn’t able to see it myself. Eventually the arrow was yanked out–painfully–and I began to get somewhere. Sometimes I’m still not sure where, but at least I’m headed the right way down the path.

Think about that. Poison bothering you? Want the arrow removed so you can start to live again? You already know the name of the archer.

2 thoughts on “The Poisoned Arrow

  1. Bill Post author

    Sometimes we have to prioritize. If you can’t afford treatment, then AA is absolutely your best hope. If you drinking is as bad as you state, it most likely will affect your employment in the near future anyway, and it is surely affecting your life now. Is staying alive less important than the job?

    Also, I don’t understand why the “nature of the job” precludes AA. There are meetings virtually everywhere if the traveling is the issue. If it’s the nature of the job in terms of your working in a field where you believe knowledge of your attendance would be an issue, get over it. Just about every industry and profession has a plethora of recovering people, and the stigma is in NOT recovering! After all, who wants a drunk employee in a position of responsibility of any kind?

    I was third in command of a police department when I started going to AA. It was over a year before I saw anyone associated with my job. When I finally did run across one, it was the mayor of the town where I worked!

    Don’t tell yourself that “if you lose your job, you’ll lose everything.” If you did lose it (and are good at it) you’ll find another–perhaps not paying as much, but just think of all the money you’ll be saving on booze. If you don’t believe me, sit down and figure it out. A $10.00 bottle of cheap vodka a day is $3,650.00 a year, and if you figure out the cost of drinks at a bar, it becomes astronomical. A nice raise if you keep the job, and a great expense-cutter if you don’t.

    Finally, there are other fellowships and organizations apart from AA. Google “recovery groups” and find out what the other options may be in your area. I believe in best-case scenarios, which to me means AA because of its ubiquity if nothing else (I also believe it the best bet for a number of other reasons.)

    Stop making excuses. If you want to save your life, get sober. THAT’s the bottom line.

    Best of luck,


  2. soakedthrough

    I’ve written to you before and I have that poison arrow deeply embedded within me. I’ve reached crisis point with my drinking and I am so frightened of what it’s doing to me and the disasters is causing me. I’m frightened of not being able to give the evil stuff up ‘alcohol’. I’m a binge drinker and it’s escalating out of control. I’m in an utter crisis and I think I need to go into a clinic, but I just can’t afford one privately. I’m in a very depressing job which is adding to urges for drinking. Also in order to do this work I have to live away for a few weeks at a time. I’m homesick.
    How do I say right enough is enough!! But I just fall again and again. I’m out of control. Can you help me somehow. Going to AA is not possible for me at present because of the nature of the job! I’m quite desperate.


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