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The Red Shoes

The Big Book states, “We are like men who have lost their legs. We can never grow new ones.” In many ways, that sentence brings to mind the frightening fairy tale, The Red Shoes by Hans Christian Anderson.

In the story, a young, destitute girl is given a pair of red shoes. Much to the townsfolk’s consternation, the young girl, dressed in rags, wears the shoes to her mother’s funeral, and a rich woman sees her and adopts her. The woman burns the shoes, along with the girl’s old tattered clothing. Later on, the girl sees a young princess wearing red shoes, and she became obsessed with owning a pair. When she is older and about to confirm at Church, the woman has new clothing made for her at a tailor. The girl picks out a pair of red shoes on display, knowing full well that her guardian has horrible eyesight and is practically colorblind.

When the woman finds out from members of the congregation that her adopted daughter wore red shoes to her confirmation, she becomes upset. She tells the girl that she cannot wear red shoes anymore and has to wear black ones instead. The following Sunday, the girl disobeys and wears red shoes. A soldier sees the red shoes, taps them with his fingers, and says, “Look! Lovely dancing shoes! Stick tight when you dance!” And after that, it is as if the shoes become possessed, and the girl starts dancing and dancing until she kicks her guardian in the shins, and a coachman pulls the shoes off. The shoes are locked away in a cupboard, and the young girl can’t keep her eyes off of them. No matter how horrible those shoes turned out to be, the girl is obsessed with the idea of wearing them again.

Her guardian becomes very ill. The girl puts on the shoes, rationalizing that her guardian is dying, so who cares if she puts the shoes on or not? (That kind of selfish thinking is very similar to an addict’s egocentric logic).

Once again, the shoes cause her to dance and dance. Except for this time, she can’t remove the shoes. They are stuck on her feet. The girl dances in the fields, in a graveyard, and on the highways. The shoes control her completely. The red shoes that she once loved turn on her. She dances and dances, day and night, without any rest or food.

One day, the girl dances by her house, and inside, she hears singing and realizes that her guardian has died, but thanks to the shoes, she can’t stop to say goodbye to a woman who cared for her like a mother.

Finally, the girl begs an executioner to cut off her feet. But even with wooden feet and crutches, which the executioner makes for her, the red shoes and feet stalk her. Wherever she goes, the cursed shoes follow! Finally, she asks God for help, and the red shoes disappear, and finally, the poor girl finds peace.

In many ways, the relentless red shoes are a metaphor for drug addiction and alcoholism. At first, the girl can take the shoes off, but the shoes become glued to her feet later on. Addicts also become cemented to their drugs of choice. And then, the shoes began to dance nonstop, and the girl lost control. Like the girl who can’t stop dancing, an addict can’t stop using or drinking. But even when the shoes and her feet are cut off, she is still in a living hell. It’s the same thing with alcoholism and drug addiction. It must be treated, even when a person stops drinking or using.

Drug addiction and alcoholism require comprehensive primary care, which we offer at Cycles of Change.

We provide a strong 12-step approach, along with evidence-based practices and holistic therapies that will heal your body, spirit, and mind. You will learn how to “walk” again on the path of recovery. This path leads to a new life, a life that provides peace, possibility, and hope.


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