Groundhog Day Recovery

 © Darren Walker | Dreamstime.com

© Darren Walker | Dreamstime.com

In the movie, Groundhog Day, Phil Connors (Bill Murray’s character) is sitting in a bar drinking with two guys, Ralph and Gus. He had just discovered that he is reliving the same day—Groundhog Day—over and over and over again. So Phil asked them: “What would you do if you were stuck in one place? And nothing you did seemed to matter?” Ralph, who was clearly drunk said: That about sums it up for me.” This and other scenes have led me to see the movie as having several allegorical scenes to addiction and recovery.

Later, after they leave the bar with Phil driving, he asked Ralph and Gus what they would do if there was no tomorrow. Gus’s answer was: “That would mean there was no hangover. We could do whatever we want.” This led to a car chase scene that ended with the three of them surrounded by the local police. There is a great moment in the scene, where Phil drove the car onto railroad tracks directly at an oncoming train. He said: “I’m betting he’s going to swerve first.” Again, this is a scene familiar to addicts and alcoholics. Putting yourself in insane situations that end with being arrested.

The hopeless repetition of the same thing over and over is an integral part of the addictive lifestyle as well as the movie. Another scene shows where Phil is trying to convince Andi McDowell’s character, Rita, that he is caught in a repetitive time loop of Groundhog Day. He tells her personal things about herself that Phil Connors, outside of the Groundhog Day time loop, wouldn’t know. Rita wonders how he’s doing this and he tells her: “ I told you. I wake up every day right here … and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

The opportunity to do whatever you want without consequences eventually turned dark for Phil. Like the addict or alcoholic, Phil misperceived what was causing his time loop and tried unsuccessfully to stop it. He said: “There is no way this winter is ever going to end as long as this groundhog keeps seeing his shadow. I don’t see any other way out. He’s got to be stopped. And I have to stop him.”

Phil then stole the groundhog and drove off the edge of a quarry. He took a bath with a toaster. He stepped in front of a car. He dived off of a building. At one point he said: “I have been stabbed, shot, poisoned, frozen, hung electrocuted and burned. . . . and every morning I wake up without a scratch on me, not a dent in the fender… I am an immortal. . . . I killed my self so many time I don’t exist anymore.”

On one of his “dry drunk” days, he sounded like some people who have railed against the perceived hypocrisy of Twelve Steppers. As he gave the introduction to the time of the groundhog’s moment of  “prognostication,” Phil sounded off about his life in Groundhog Day:

This is pitiful. A thousand people freezing their butts off waiting to worship a rat. What a hype. Groundhog Day used to mean something in this town. They used to pull the hog out, and they used to eat it. You’re hypocrites, all of you!

Eventually, Phil started to see that he was powerless to change his circumstances and tried to make the best of them, often without success. He repeatedly caught a kid that fell out of a tree, but the kid always ran away without thanking him. He fed and gave money to a homeless man. He even took him to a local hospital, but the man always died. When a nurse said that sometimes people just die, Phil responded: “Not today.” And yet the man died despite Phil’s best efforts.

He repeatedly attempted to present himself in a way that would spark a romantic interest in Rita, but always ended with her slapping him. Not only was Phil powerless to change his own circumstances, he could not change those of other people—regardless of how much he may have wanted to do so.

Yet he did save Buster, the Groundhog Day emcee, from choking. He saved a young couple from breaking off their engagement And he learned to play the piano. He saw that he could make a difference if he was alert to what happened around him and used the opportunities available to him, as he took his life “one day at a time.” Even with “Needlenose Ned” Ryerson, the insurance salesman who was the bane of his existence during Groundhog Day, Phil was eventually able make it the best day of Ned’s life.

At one point in his efforts to woo Rita, he seems to have surrendered to the fact that he was not God; that he needed to live one day at a time, even if it was within his time loop. He had done an ice sculptor of Rita’s face and she told him that it was beautiful. In response, Phil said: “Whatever happens tomorrow, or for the rest of my life, I’m happy now.”  When he stopped trying to manipulate the circumstances of the time loop, Rita did notice him, returned his affection and the time loop stopped. Here I was reminded of the Third Step: “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand Him.”

Many of the things in the movie actually do exist within the festivities of Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney. There is a Groundhog Ball. The officials at the ceremony do wear top hats. Phil (the groundhog) supposedly speaks in “Groundhogese” to the president of the Inner Circle, who then translates whether or not he predicted six more weeks of winter. Check the Punxsutawney Groundhog Day Club website for the schedule of events. You can even watch a live webcast of the festivities if you can’t get to Punxsutawney on February 2nd. Oh, and try to see the movie, even if you’re not interested in its parallels to recovery. We all need to learn to live just one day at a time.

(A blog rerun in honor of Groundhog Day)