I have heard a lot of people in recovery say that you have to “follow your heart” if you want to succeed in staying clean and sober, instead of “following your head.” They usual argument here is that we addicts and alcoholics generally have pretty screwed up thinking, so if we rely on that thinking to stay clean and sober, it is going to get us into trouble. Therefore, they reason, we should “follow our heart.”
What I have found in my experience is that you actually need both approaches, depending on the situation at hand. If you abandon all logic and reason, you are going to get into trouble at some point. You need to have both a level head and a “seeking heart.”
The logical approach to recovery
There are some points in your recovery where the logical approach will tend to fail you. Very early recovery is one such time. We might also say that making the decision to stop drinking or using drugs in the first place is another time when logic fails us.
That’s because our thinking is so screwed up at these times. We are in heavy denial and cannot see past it. We know that we need to stop using drugs and alcohol but we really don’t want to, so we set up these levels of conflict in our minds. Part of us knows we are self destructing. The other part of us simply does not care. And then there is the part of our minds that cannot see a way out anyway….it has us convinced that we are unique and cannot recover through normal means. This shows the problem with using logic at certain points in our recovery. It doesn’t always work, because in some cases, our thinking process is so screwed up.
There is a saying that you hear at 12 step meetings: “Your best thinking got you here.” If you think about this statement it is absolutely true: our best ideas about how to live and be happy with ourselves almost got us killed due to drug and alcohol addiction. (Why would we use our worst ideas? We are always using our best ideas about how to live!). So our best thinking, our best logic, almost destroyed us. This is the state of mind with which we enter early recovery. This is the state of mind with which we choose to get clean. We are living in denial and clinging to false logic.
Following your heart
So in the beginning, it seems that we need a mechanism to get past our broken logic. We might say that we take a leap of faith in early recovery and follow our heart instead for once. This is basically what it feels like to break down, surrender, and give recovery a chance. It does not feel like a decision of the mind. Our logic has been removed from the equation when we choose to get clean. This is when we are following our heart.
A personal development guru named Steve Pavlina suggests that you should not just follow your heart, but follow your heartbreak. Whatever moves you to great sorrow is what you should focus on as your life purpose. So if you are devastated by child abuse, then you should work with abused children because doing so will give you the greatest potential for joy. If your heart truly goes out to those who struggle with drug and alcohol addiction, then you should focus on helping them in your recovery. And so on.
See where the greatest potential for sorrow is in your life, and that is also the place where you can find the most joy. Follow your heartbreak and you will see where you can really make a difference.
On the other hand, all sorts of outrageous nonsense has been justified by recovering addicts and alcoholics who said they were just “following their heart.” In most of these cases they were just acting on a whim and trying to justify it later. People who follow their heart and get into trouble because of it can also benefit from using a logical approach as well. The key is in knowing when you need to snap to attention and shift back into “thinking mode.”
Learning to use both approaches
We need both logic and heart to have a full recovery. If you abandon one approach or the other you are either going to miss out on great things in life or find yourself getting into big trouble. The key is in knowing when to apply logic and thinking. Here are my suggestions:
1) In very early recovery, defer to your heart. Your logic is broken at this point. Follow your heart if it is leading you to sobriety. You have proven to yourself that you don’t know how to live. Let other people tell you how to do so for a while. Follow your heart, but follow their logic. Take their suggestions.
2) As you stay clean and sober, start using your heart to “find your heartbreak.” What is your true life purpose? What are you meant to do with your life? Find the answer to this and you will unlock a huge key to your long term sobriety as well.
3) As you enter long term recovery, do not be afraid to use logic and reason. If you can’t think for yourself in recovery then obviously you have more learning to do! If you have grown in your recovery and gone through the typical learning process, then your mind has a lot to offer to the world. Don’t deny this or attempt to minimize your own thinking. You are no longer living in denial so do not take the stance that your thinking is broken (like so many in traditional recovery have done). Your experience and your logic become a tool that you can use to help others with.