A lot of people use the term “demons” when they talk about their inner struggles, especially when it comes to alcoholism. It is almost as if there is a demon inside of them that is making them drink.
Of course they are just speaking symbolically, but we can examine this a little closer and perhaps learn something in the discussion. What does it really mean to battle our inner demons when it comes to recovery?
Let’s get specific.
When people refer to their inner demons they are usually referring to character defects
Everyone who mentions the battle with their inner demons really should pause for a moment and take a closer look at exactly what that battle is all about.
It is not fair to suggest that there is something that is totally beyond your control, inside of you, that is causing your life to be full of turmoil when it comes to alcoholism.
No, we did not choose our disease. No one signed up at birth to be an alcoholic. We did not want this, it just happened.
Acquiring the disease is not your fault.
But once you know that you have a problem, it is your responsibility to seek help for it. Ignorance is really no excuse. Most people have watched “Intervention” on television at some point. Or at the very least you have watched a few sitcoms that address the topic. There is help out there, the point is that you have to seek it out and do the work.
There is a solution. When you get clean and sober, the urge to drink does not necessarily magically fade away all by itself. You may have to put in some effort.
For example, when I got sober I was constantly feeling sorry for myself and filling up my own head with drama. This was a behavior that was left over from my addiction. I used that pity and drama to justify my outrageous alcohol and drug abuse. “If you have my problems you would drink like me too.”
So here I was, sober now and going to rehab, and yet I was still feeling sorry for myself. The self pity was very much out of place. I no longer needed to be doing that, because I had no more drinking that I needed to justify. My goal was to avoid drinking. So the self pity was useless.
You have to realize that every alcoholic and drug addict has something like this example–it may not be self pity but it might be some other defect that lives inside of their mind. Maybe they are prone to resentment and they have a lot of anger stirring within them. Maybe the person has a problem with shame and they feel terrible for the things that they have done in their life, and now they self medicate and drink over it.
These defects of character are never positive, obviously. It is always something negative: Shame, fear, guilt, anger, self pity, resentment, and so on. Those are the things that can get us into trouble in recovery.
Because no one wants to feel those negative emotions. No one wants to walk around feeling sad, or angry, or scared on a regular basis. We would prefer to block out those negative feelings and just be happy all the time. This is how addiction perpetuates itself. The mind decides that it wants to feel a certain way all the time.
You can choose what your reaction to an emotion is, but you cannot choose the emotion itself.
This is a really important distinction.
Example: Your dog dies suddenly. A tragic death. You loved your dog very much. What do you choose? How do you choose to react to this death?
I’ll tell you what you choose:
You don’t get to choose anything in this case! Your emotions come out of nowhere. You loved the dog so you are sad, most likely. There may even be some anger wrapped up in that sadness. Or maybe you will feel sorry for yourself a bit. And maybe you will feel guilty that you did not spend more time with your dog, or look after it better. Or whatever the case may be.
The emotions well up inside of you whether you want them or not.
There is no switch that will allow you to turn off this spigot of emotions that is rushing forth. There is no way to turn down the volume just because it makes you uncomfortable.
Unless you medicate.
You actually can turn down the intensity, and in fact you can turn those emotions off entirely if you use your drug of choice. That’s what our addiction is: a way to regulate unwanted feelings.
Bored today? Get drunk. Suddenly television is interesting again!
Are you afraid today? Anxiety? Get drunk. Suddenly your fears fade away and your anxiety is gone. You may even swing far in the other direction and get false courage and over confidence.
We medicate our emotions with our drug of choice.
Now a lot of alcoholics deny this. They don’t believe it. Or they simply want to argue that it is not true for them, that they drink for different reasons.
They will say things like “I drink because I want to have fun!”
Or “I drink because it helps me to relax.”
Or “I drink because it helps me be more social.”
But for the true alcoholic, this is all a bunch of denial and lies.
The true alcoholic is trying to escape from themselves. And not just from random thoughts, but from some very specific feelings.
We don’t drink to calm or mind down or escape certain thoughts. We drink to escape from our feelings, from ourselves. Those negative feelings are your inner truth. Those are the demons that we seek to run from.
So in recovery we need a way to identify those negative emotions and figure out how to deal with them without self medicating.
Anyone can medicate their emotions away with alcohol. If you drink enough you will go into a coma and die. At that point your negative feelings are gone. You can probably stay alive (most times) and also medicate those emotions away. It is just not a very good solution. The side effects can be pretty drastic.
You are too important to die from drinking. If you can learn to overcome your disease then you have a powerful story with which to help others. Sobriety is worth the journey. You just have to convince yourself to do the work.
One way to conquer your inner turmoil is to work the 12 steps of AA
One way to “do the work” is to go to AA and work through the 12 steps.
Yes, this has to do with those negative emotions. The shame, guilt, fear, anger, and so on.
What you will do specifically is to make a very thorough inventory of what is going on in your life and inside your mind.
So you figure out what is causing your fear, your anger, your hurt. You identify those things when you do your moral inventory. You figure out why you are feeling bad, why you are driven to drink in order to medicate those negative emotions.
Then in the following steps of AA you start to work on eliminating those character defects from your life. Not just to become aware of them, but to actually work to eliminate them. The goal is to become a better person, to become the best possible version of yourself. A person with real integrity.
Note that there are other ways to do the work. There are other ways to release those inner demons. But in the end the various programs and different labels that we use all point towards the same solutions. In the end, you have to process the negative emotions and get them out. You have to identify them and then learn to avoid them, stop creating them, stop feeding the negative part of your soul. You can learn this from a 12 step program or you can learn it from other resources as well.
Another way to conquer your inner problems is through religion and faith based recovery
Many people who get sober without AA do it through religious based recovery programs.
This is an alternative to AA and NA. It works for some people, but obviously it is not the best fit for everyone.
And it is much the same sort of journey. For example, you essentially have a mentor, an ideal in terms of religion that is guiding your decisions in your day to day life. “What would Jesus do?” What would your faith say was the right choice to make? What would your religious community want for you in your recovery?
Furthermore–how can you do God’s will if you are falling down drunk every day? That is no way for a child of God to act. You have certain gifts, certain talents, the ability to help others and to carry a unique message. Most religions would want you to tap into that gift and do your part to make the world a better place. You were born to shine bright, not to live in despair.
In a sense this is not so different from the AA approach. But I am a firm believer that faith without works is dead. If you are not doing the work in addition to your faith then your recovery program is going to fall apart. The only way to overcome your demons is by taking positive action, and this goes for AA as well as religious based recovery.
In fact, every recovery program is essentially just a pointer–it is not the path itself, but it merely points towards the path.
The real path in sobriety is how someone in AA applies those principles in their daily life.
The real path in sobriety is how someone in a church or a specific faith uses the teachings to make a positive change in their life.
The real path in sobriety is unique, personal, fluid. It is ever changing. Many would like to objectify the recovery process as much as possible, but in the end each person has to interpret and apply the concepts to their own situation. No one’s recovery is exactly alike another’s. Religion is just another potential path, and it may work for some. Then again, keep in mind that NO path to recovery works for everyone. There is no universal solution. Just a glance at success rates can tell you this much.
A third solution: The holistic approach
Another way to gain mastery of your inner self is through the holistic approach to sobriety.
The holistic approach might be summarized like this:
1) Don’t drink no matter what.
2) Love yourself every day.
3) Through that love, take better care of yourself each day.
4) Take care of yourself in the following areas: Physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, spiritually.
That’s really it. If you love yourself and your life then you owe it to yourself to take better care of your health in those five areas.
Each one of those areas of your health are vital to sobriety.
For some reason they do not teach this in traditional recovery programs. They only tell you that spiritual health is vital to sobriety. But they expect for you to just assume that the other four categories are crucial as well.
I take some issue with this. I found a different path in my own recovery journey.
For what seemed like a long time (about 18 months) I was following the traditional path. I was working exclusively on my spiritual health in recovery. I was all about spirituality. I was praying and meditating and reading books about spirituality and discussing spiritual principles with my peers and so on.
And then something happened. One of my peers in recovery who was more spiritual than I was ended up relapsing.
And I said “huh.”
Why did that person relapse? They were so incredibly spiritual! Or so I thought? Could I have been wrong about their faith?
But then I realized that I wasn’t wrong about that person’s faith or conviction. I was wrong about the model.
Everyone is wrong about the model of recovery.
And I thought to myself: “That’s absurd! How could everyone else be wrong except for me, and I am the only person who realizes that spirituality is only one tiny part of recovery, and there are these other areas of your health that are important too, such as mental health, physical health, emotional health, and social health?” How could I be the only person in AA who gets that?
And yet I decided to go with. I decided to explore this idea, that recovery is not spiritual, but is actually holistic.
And that is when things started to make sense for me.
I got into shape. I started eating healthy foods. I reduced my stress level and smoothed out my emotions. I eliminated toxic relationships from my life. I started helping others and practicing gratitude. And so on.
And I quit going to meetings, and I stopped buying into the idea that spirituality is the way to salvation. Instead, I decided that holistic health was the key. Taking care of yourself, all of yourself (not just the spiritual side) was the key to recovery.
And that is when things started to take off and get really good for me. My life transformed, in ways that I never could have predicted.
This is because the various benefits of holistic growth were all starting to play off of each other.
Let me give you an example. I quit smoking cigarettes. But in order to do that successfully, I had to start exercising first. And once I started exercising every day (I chose distance running for this) I started to sleep much better and more consistently at night. And as a result of all of these changes my emotions stopped being on such a roller coaster. This happens when you run six miles per day–you start to be able to handle just about anything in life. Plus you get about an hour to think, to just be, to run and to meditate. Exercise can be a great release.
So all of these things started to work together. Then I started to write more and I felt like I had more energy. I started to reach out to try to help people in sobriety, because I had found some ideas that worked for me.
All of these positive actions started to slowly yield incredible benefits. And the reason that those benefits were incredible was because they were interacting with each other. There is a name for this in science, it is called “synergy.”
Sure, if you go exercise as a new habit you will get benefit from it and notice a positive change. Everyone probably realizes that.
But you cannot predict what will happen in your life if you do all of it. If you pursue health in all 5 of those categories, and you push yourself to make positive changes in all of those areas, amazing things start to happen. I can’t explain exactly how this will unfold in your life because it will be unique to your situation and to the actions that you take. But you will be amazed by the results because they will delight you and be completely unpredictable.
Who wouldn’t want that?
And can you see how that might help to protect you from relapse? When you are delighted and amazed by how much better your life is getting in sobriety? That is exciting stuff, and I personally think it makes it pretty easy to avoid alcohol and drugs. This is relapse prevention in action.
If you deconstruct successful recovery programs, you find this sort of personal growth at the heart of them. Without positive change, what have you really got? Not recovery.
These demons are in their corner, doing jumping jacks….
If we want to keep with the analogy of internal demons, then realize this:
Even when you are sober, those demons of yours are doing jumping jacks, every day, trying to get stronger.
Eventually they will get strong enough to cause you to relapse.
Unless you can become stronger too. Unless you are doing jumping jacks every day to fight back against the demons.
And how do you do this? How can you fight back against the disease of alcoholism, which can grow stronger even while you are sober?
Holistic health is the direction. Taking positive action means that you are making a judgement. This is good. I went for a jog, that was good. I quit smoking cigarettes, that was good. You need to keep making these judgments and keep seeking out the truth about yourself. You need to find out how to take care of yourself, every day, in every possible way.
You have to learn how to love yourself.
This is the essence of recovery: You stop self destructing and you replace that with self love.
Who could possibly refute that? And why would you ever want to choose hate over self love anyway?
Have you conquered your inner demons yet? Or do you still struggle with it?
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