There is an ancient Native American parable about a wise Cherokee Chief and his grandson. The wise chief tells the young boy:

“There is a fight raging inside each and every one of us, a terrible fight between two wolves. One wolf is Evil—he is greed, lust, anger, selfishness, resentment, self-pity, guilt, false pride, inferiority, and self-doubt. The other wolf is Good—he is love, happiness, joy, peace, kindness, faith, empathy, compassion, truth and serenity.”

The young boy asks, “Grandpa, which wolf will win?” To which the wise Chief replies, “The one you feed.”

Sobriety is uncomfortable. After years of blotting out negative feelings, desolation, and emptiness with synthetic substances, the recovering addict begins to feel again—and it is unpleasant. Damage caused to family, friends, or co-workers leads him to guilt and self-pity. Maybe he feels the world has wronged him, and he is angry or resentful. Or maybe she feels she has wasted much of her life, and feels inferior to those around her. What then?

The quick solution is usually to feed the ego. If the recovering alcoholic feels lonely and empty, she might jump from relationship to relationship looking for wholeness in the arms of many lovers. If he is feeling inferior or full of self-doubt, he might buy an expensive car or new clothes. All of these solutions will work to fill the void momentarily, but their effects do not last, and soon one must feed the Ego again to find relief. This leads to a cyclical orbit, marked by high points of elation and low points of desolation. It becomes harder and harder to achieve relief, and the addict is drawn to the “solution” they know to work: substance abuse.

Conversely, when feeling lonely and empty, the person in recovery can try to make an honest connection with another human being, maybe someone less fortunate. Or when feeling inferior, they can volunteer at a soup kitchen, or take the class they’ve always wanted to sign up for. Instead of sulking or making half-hearted apologies over past shameful acts, one can act proactively to try to set things right. With these actions, the addict begins to feel better. The process is slow and incremental, but it is genuine and enduring, and takes them further away from a drink or a drug. At the risk of sounding trite, the way to achieve honest and durable self-esteem is to do estimable things. Feed the Good Wolf and the Good Wolf will win.

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