The other day I ran into a friend who is also in recovery. We started talking about the ever-elusive idea of a life in balance. We recognized our tendencies to go toward one extreme or the other, to see people and events as either all good or all bad. This phenomenon is sometimes referred to as black and white thinking and many people who are in recovery struggle with it. In a way, this cognitive style can be useful. It may provide us with a sense of certainty. If we see things happening in our lives that seem bad or if we have feelings that are negative, it can be comforting to proclaim, “life sucks”. At least we are sure of it. At least we know. When things are going well, we can think, “Life is great! I’ve finally figured it all out!” This strategy works well until life turns challenging again, setting us up for disappointment.

The discovery then, may be to choose neither extreme but instead to embrace a middle ground. My friend related this third choice to the color gray and the process of “white balance” in photography. Neither black nor white, gray is essential in the white balance process, which in turn is key to producing a photo with color that is realistic. She said that the photographer must choose the grayest color in the photo. She then uses that in the white balance process as a reference for all of the other colors in order to create a realistic image.

The white balance affects the entire picture. And it’s up to the photographer or digital retoucher to choose what they want the whole picture to convey. It will be awash in either true to life color or altered by their choice of white balance. Photographers Todd Porter and Diane Cu say “Your style can be calculating, precise and “real” or it can be artful and expressive or somewhere in between. That is for you to decide.” (

In the context of recovery, I like to think of my life as a photo and I decide my “style” as the photographer of my own life’s picture. I can swing into the extremes of black and white but then it affects my whole picture. I used to think of “balance”, “gray”, “neutral” as synonymous with the word “boring” and I refuse to have a boring life! However, I’m recognizing that the gray is not a place without color or vitality but a necessary reference point in order to have a true to life, full spectrum of color with which to live.