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Addiction and Recovery: A Gratitude for the Movie “Flight”

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March 14, 2013 by Dr. Bob Weathers

I just had opportunity to view the 2012 film, “Flight,” for the second time this past week.  It’s no accident that I’ve seen it twice.  It is one of the most powerful, and inspiring, movies I have yet to see addressing addiction and recovery.

Actor Denzel Washington plays an airline pilot whose secret life of alcohol and drug abuse finally catches up with him.  On the heels of a terrible airline crash, which he not only survives but performs heroically, we witness the rapid erosion of a self-possessed, if addicted, individual as he descends into the vicious spiral of substance abuse in the extreme.

The plot takes us through his harrowing scrapes with the medical and justice systems — along the way, exposing the enabling of addiction that can occur in such large, impersonal institutions every bit as much as within our closer-at-hand family relationships.

Surely the climax of the movie is one of the more inspiring examples — truly in all film — of integrity, against all odds, winning out.  Though, as in real life, such honesty with oneself does not obviate having to deal with the “wreckage” of one’s past (well-described in the 12-step program).

In this, my second viewing of the movie, I was even more struck by how each unfolding within the storyline serves as an “everyman’s” metaphor for addiction: from sheer and obvious (to everyone except oneself) denial to increasingly desperate excess and total loss of control; through willful (if arrogant) attempts at sobering up only to realize the profound hopelessness at hand; and finally, at least for the lucky ones, a naked letting go of pretense or illusions about being able to “fix” what’s not fixable, at least from the vantage of the same self that got one into its current straits of addictively spiraling downward.

I’m quite sure I’ve never seen a film so powerfully depict the immense paradox at the heart of recovery from addiction.  As in Alcoholics Anonymous, it is only when we admit to ourselves, and others, the nature of our dilemma — our absolute powerlessness in the face of addiction’s self-destructive compulsions — that we are given a possible opening into the grace of hard-won self-forgiveness and a “dark night of the soul” path toward spiritual liberation.  Jesus put it this way: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”  Denzel Washington’s character depicts the depths of this “blessed” transformation which lies within the reach of every one of us, addicted or not.

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