Many of us who have spent time in 12-step or similar programs have come across the “martyr” personality. This person’s desire to clean up manifests itself in ways that are in fact deeply counter-productive. They replace the high of their addiction with the “high” of recovery, becoming dependent on the emotional stimulus of the recovery process itself. Their brains still crave dopamine, their flesh, adrenaline, and they managed to find their fix from a most unlikely source.

A healthy desire to repent becomes confused with what a confessor of mine calls “an egocentric obsession with transgression.” You become preoccupied with your own efforts, your own actions, along the road to recovery, and lose sight of repentance itself. The serpent of pride sneaks its way into even the most noble endeavors.

The more I thought about my cowardice and timidity, the more I became convinced that I suffered from a variation of this condition. What did I care about more: actually connecting with someone, or preserving my fragile ego? Was I more concerned about feeling vulnerable and exposed, or with actually trying to help someone in my own limited way? I didn’t like the answer I came to.

Yet, knowing what needs to be done and actually doing it are two very different things. To paraphrase Julius Caesar, it is easier to find a man willing to die for a cause he believes in than it is one willing to endure suffering with patience for it. The fact that my struggles were far more mundane just made me feel all the more pathetic.


I dumped the now cold coffee down the drain (which, incidentally, had been clogged for several weeks but I couldn’t muster the mental bandwidth to actually notify my landlord about it) and walked out the door before I had time to consider otherwise.

It was later in the day now, and the sun was just beginning to consider whether it should set or not. It was like when your body wants to go to sleep, but your brain isn’t willing to rest yet. You just lie there lamely, unable to check-out of this world and into the dreamlands beyond. The Earth had had enough of the sunlight on this particular day, but the Sun wasn’t ready to leave us alone yet.

It was in this melancholy twilight that I left my apartment and walked the several blocks to the coffeeshop. The urban decay to which I had become so accustomed had given way to gradual gentrification, breathing uncomfortable life into a place once so at peace with a fate it thought inescapable. Don’t get me wrong: I’m largely in favor of policies which can de-ghettoize a given American city, but the ugly cookie-cutter townhouses and storefronts are entirely the wrong approach to take. They are cheap, obviously fake imitations of a better era of genuine urbanism, a boomer’s late-in-life longing for the old-world architecture they so often demolished in their earlier years. They are the architectural equivalent of the little white lies we tell ourselves for comfort.

Like most modern conveniences, lying keeps us from having to look inward, to reflect on our life. It preserves our imagined versions of ourselves and keeps us from the realization that we are all fallen beings with work to do. It was, I suspect, at least partly the lies I told myself that delayed me from taking action for so long.

But I would fix this, you better believe it. When I rounded this last corner, I would be completely honest, completely vulnerable, and just calmly explain my anxiety and see what happens. I wouldn’t be Dostoevsky’s “underground man” any longer. My heart felt warm, my stomach was tingling with butterflies, and my spirits were high. I was perfectly at peace with the idea that I could be shot down, but at least I would have accomplished something. I rounded the corner…

And the coffeeshop was closed.

Who the fuck closes a coffee place at 8PM?


I have returned several times since, but opportunity never knocked on that particular door again. My friend was either never present, or too preoccupied for me to get in a word of quiet desperation.

I hate writing conclusions, but I think it would be poor form to leave without offering a final thought to the reader (assuming of course I ever have readers) in this case. My final caution to you is this: this moment, the exact second you are reading this, is the youngest you will ever be. The clock is ticking for all of us; our pilgrimage in this life will come to an end. Make the most of every moment you have, for we know neither the time not the hour in which the Father will call us home. Fill every day with meaningful, edifying activity, or at least contemplative thoughts. No one can control his circumstances beyond certain small limits. But we can make the most of every situation that life does present us with. As Tolkien said, “all we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”


For all installments of “The Sins We Remember Fondly,” click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Part 1
  2. Part 2
  3. Part 3