An Old Cherokee Tale of Two Wolves

Written March 3, 2017

“One evening an old Cherokee Indian told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, ‘My son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all.One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.’ The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: ‘Which wolf wins?’ The old Cherokee simply replied, ‘The one you feed.’ “

This Old Cherokee parable speaks volumes. I first saw it on a T-shirt at a picnic/camping retreat that I was at some time ago. It was one of the prizes that was being given away in a raffle. I was the fortunate winner of this beautiful T-shirt. The camping retreat that I was at was for recovering addicts. It was this reason that I fell in love with it – because it reminded me of my own addiction and how it all started.

As a recovering addict I’ve learned and heard a whole bunch of things. Misinformation, myths, partial truths, and a whole lot of stigmatizations. “I’m(or my family member, loved one or friend is) not an addict. Addicts are dirty homeless bums living under a bridge with needles stuck in their arms.” Or,  “Addiction is a choice. You choose to drink/pop pills/snort/shoot up/gamble, etc.” These are just a couple of the many things I hear regarding addicts. To an extent those comments are true.

The first use or two of a drug, drink, lottery ticket , cigarette, etc could be considered a choice. We may choose to try something at first, but then we start to like it. Or, in the case of an injury or surgery, we want to get rid of the pain so we choose to take the pills that the doctor prescribes for us. Some people feel all woozy and/or icky when they use pain pills. Then there are others who feel all warm and tingly. Actually it’s our brain that says, “Hey, that felt good, I think I’ll try it again.” From there the brain takes over and we have no control over it. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine site(www.asam.org), the short definition of addiction is:

“…a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.

Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death.”

As you can see, addiction is a disease, not moral failing. Almost any addict you talk to will say they didn’t say, “When I grow up in want to be an addict.” That would be as insane as asking for a heart attack, stroke, cancer, diabetes, etc. There are a great many addicts who had hopes, goals and dreams for the future. However, all is not lost because when an addict chooses to get clean, he or she will have new hopes, dreams, and goals that can be achieved. Yes, perhaps the 1st or 2nd time is a choice, but the brain remembers the feeling of that 1st high and then seeks it out again and again and again until the addicts is in jail, institutionalized or dead.

Once an addict stops using, that doesn’t mean that all is well and we’re cured. We still wake up daily and have to decide which Wolf we’ll feed depending on our actions, reactions, thoughts or lack of any one of those. “Stuff” still happens in our lives and we have to choose which Wolf will get fed. The ,same kind of “stuff” that fueled the Evil Wolf, our addiction, still comes back to bother us. We consciously have to ask ourselves, “Is it worth getting high over this?” With any luck we say no for another day. Personally I’ve had stuff come up that typically gives an addict reason to use. Today, I persevere and tell myself I am going to stay clean in spite of this “thing” that bothers me. Death, finance, romance and other relationships – all of it has affected me in some way but I’ve chosen every time so far to feed the Good Wolf.

I think each and every one of us has these two wolves running around inside us – addict and non addict. We feed either the Evil Wolf or the Good Wolf daily by the choices we make with our thoughts and our actions. What you think about and dwell upon will in a sense appear in your life and influence your behavior.

Thought for the day: Every day we wake up we have a choice – feed the Good Wolf and it will show up in our character, habits and behavior positively. Or feed the Evil Wolf and our whole world will turn negative: like poison that will slowly eat away at our soul. The crucial question is “Which are you feeding today?

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