Who am I to get all churchy?
There’s this idea in social psychology of “cognitive dissonance” where one discovers conflicting beliefs, values, emotions, philosophies, what-have-you within one’s self and seeks to resolve the conflict through rationalization, pretending the issue is not important, attempting to change the disruptive factors, etc. This is a very, very bad, very basic explanation of the theory, but I think you get the idea.
So, I’ve heard this term bandied about a lot recently. It’s an older idea (’50s, ’60s era psych), but I guess people are studying it recently because I’ve seen it come up in articles and in conversations as if it were all the rage. Perhaps as a people, we are beginning to see what the scientists were trying to prove back then. Perhaps we are becoming more self-aware… which, in turn, creates more “cognitive dissonance” within us.
As a drug addict in recovery, I am very, very, VERY familiar with the concept of “cognitive dissonance.” I call it my alcoholic brain. It’s often difficult for alcoholics to come to terms with the fact that they have a disease which is actively trying to convince them they don’t have a disease so that the disease can completely ruin their lives and kill them. Being an alcoholic is like having a malignant parasite like a tapeworm which takes all the good food you ingest and uses it for its own malicious intent. So that’s how I think of my disease – I have a little alcoholic who sits in my brain and actively tries to kill me.
Last night and earlier today, I was involved in conversations regarding the “alcoholic stigma.” As a recovering IV drug user, I definitely understand stigma. At the same time, when it was time for me to get sober, stigma be damned! If I hadn’t gotten help, I would have become a dead IV drug user very quickly. While people often do have a very negative image of what an alcoholic or a drug addict looks like, I can’t fathom any stigma against those people getting sober aside from drug dealers and bartenders who make their living off of the addiction. No, the only stigma associated with getting sober resides within the alcoholic himself.
This is where “cognitive dissonance” comes in and this is why so many people initially struggle with sobriety: they simply can’t grasp the first step – they cannot admit to their innermost self that they really are alcoholics of some sort, even without giving their permission.
When I hit my bottom – that big, big one that left me sobbing inconsolably for six hours – I was attempting to reconcile the image of me as a child, as a GT kid, as an active member of my church, as a stay-at-home-mom with this bag of bones covered in track marks with dark, lifeless eyes which met my own in my mirror. Yes, I fully understood the concept behind “cognitive dissonance.” The longer I’ve spent in recovery, though, the more I’ve come to find that “cognitive dissonance” is complete and utter bullshit. Or perhaps I should say it has a much more appropriate, shorter name. “Cognitive dissonance” in three letters spells EGO.
Ego is the enemy of God. Ego is false pride – that idea that “I am invincible!”, that “I know everything!” or even that “I am a worthless piece of shit.” Ego is the name of that stupid little addict I have up there in my brain trying to kill me. He (yes, my inner addict is a boy) tells me lies all the time: “you’re no good,” “you’re smarter than that idiot,” “you’re not an alcoholic, you can have just one,” “they’re all staring at you,” “God doesn’t want anything to do with you and neither does anyone else.”
Jesus, though, is “the Way, the Truth and the Life.” And who is He? Well, in my world, Jesus is the ideal I look to emulate. Jesus fully realized He was God’s own begotten Son. He didn’t live in “cognitive dissonance” because he fully understood his purpose in this world. He knew the things He was doing were going to really piss off the religious community, but He didn’t listen to the world telling Him he was wrong. He was not tempted to fall victim to the lies of the world because he had no little Ego sitting in his brain telling Him he wasn’t fitting in. He knew the Truth because he IS the Truth. There can be no “cognitive dissonance” where Truth resides because the Truth is all-encompassing, all-powerful, all-knowing and omnipresent.
Wow. That got a little churchy there for a minute.
As I embarked upon that fact-finding and fact-facing mission which is recovery, I discovered that while I may be this, that or the other, I am not defined by any of these bits and pieces. I am not the sum total of all my good and/or bad acts. I am a flawed, loved child of God. My Ego can say all it wants, but all I have to do is remember that there is a Power higher than me that knows the real Truth of things while I only have access to a little. When I am plugged into that Power, there is no “cognitive dissonance,” there is only the knowledge that I am but a servant to my fellow man. Just like the Servant I look to emulate, I must sometimes wash feet and sometimes overturn tables in the temple. Through it all, though, I must remain connected to the Truth and not allow this “dissonance” to overtake me.