While reading Jordan Peterson’s dissertation Maps of Meaning, I came across an idea that wasn’t encapsulated densely in a single quote. But the idea as Peterson explicated it struck me deeply. The idea went something like this:
An ancient metaphor for chaos in one’s life is a dragon. The longer you avoid the dragon, the bigger it gets. A bigger dragon has two consequences: (1) it’s harder to kill, and (2) it can wreak greater consequences on your life.
What is your dragon? We all have little dragons that we fail to slay that we can see with our eyes, and we come to avoid them. Dishes in the sink pile up, a little each day. Clothes on the floor pile up, a little each day. Weight on the scale goes up, a little each day. Body fat percentage goes up, a little each day. Alcohol intake goes up, a little each day.
What started as innocent neglect can easily wrap its tentacles around our necks and choke us to death slowly. That’s how my father died—an overdose of oxycodone and alcohol. I don’t think he intended to overdose. I think that he took a little more each day. And eventually, his dragon slayed him.
A lot of us younger guys tell ourselves that there isn’t any dragon too big to slay. We look at our vices—drinking, eating crap, being mean to our wives, being negligent and lazy with our bodies and with our work—and we think, “I can change any time I want.” And every day, it gets harder to do it. Every day, the dishes of your bad habits pile up higher and higher, until you can’t see your way out of it.
Soon enough, your excuse for not dealing with your issues is how big they’ve become. Now, you’ve accepted the dragon as part of your life. You’ve accepted slavery as your new identity. You’ve given up. And your death date just lurched forward 10 years. You just became a blip on death’s radar. You’ve become stuck in your own habits.
You can get out. You can get out. It takes one day at a time. One dish at a time. One sober night at a time, and the piles get smaller and smaller. The dragon gets smaller and smaller. Death is forestalled. Your kids and wife see you being happier, better, more alive, more intuitive, more empathetic, more human, more childlike.
But that reality will not manifest itself through wishful thinking. Slaying a dragon is never easy work. It takes one bloody day at a time, writhing in pain and withdrawal. Sitting in the itchy pins and needles of sobriety. Clenching your jaw through moments of hollow hunger. Pushing yourself through one more set of burning muscles. Pushing down your ego in the back of your head in the middle of a fight with your wife: “You do not get to destroy my marriage, ego. You do not get to destroy my marriage.”
My dragon is alcohol. I picked up a really bad habit in seminary. Everybody would drink all the time. Alcohol overuse was very normalized there. I saw it take my dad’s life, and I thought, “I’ll never let it take me.” But it did. And that’s a dragon I’m trying to slay right now.
What’s your dragon? What do you need to do? What’s the one thing? What’s the one dragon you wish you could slay? What’s the mothership controlling your life, holding you down, keeping you in a headlock? What’s your one part of you that hurts the people you love for which you are always making excuses?
Right now, you have the opportunity to change that. You can stop it right now. The only thing in the way is you. What does it look like for you to do the first dish in the sink today? What does it look like for you to step into battle with this dragon today? No more. No more negligence. No more ignoring. What does it look like for you to take your life back for good today? What will it take? Do you even have the courage to survive? Well, what will you do?