I received a rather angry email the other day:
“I found a link to your site on an AA forum. First of all, I’m sure you are excited about your rather “recent” recovery but honestly, your inaccurate information is liable to kill, rather than help people. You are clearly not qualified to speak to the topic of addiction and the arrogance you display is frightening. You are playing with fire (and lives) and that is way more power than you are entitled to. You are not spiritual at all, merely egotistical and incredibly self centered. If you had followed the Big Book, you would not be doing any of this, 3.5 million people will agree with that statement. Do not respond to this email, I would delete it upon receipt, you are not worthy.”
Wow! That is quite a bit of anger there. One of the therapists that I met in early recovery would have suggested that this person take a look at the primary emotion that is underlying that anger.
Anger is a secondary emotion. There is always a primary emotion that is causing the anger; something underneath it that fuels the anger. That primary emotion is almost always fear. Any time that I get angry, I can–if I am willing–take a look at the fear that is driving the anger and learn something about myself and about my situation.
So the question is, what is the fear that is driving this person’s angry email, and what can we learn from that fear?
This particular fear is based on our survival instinct, and therefore has to do with self-confidence. It boils down to this: an addict finds a method of recovery that seems to work good for them (such as the 12 step model, or AVRT, or cognitive therapy, etc.). Because of their success with the recovery program, they elevate it to the status of an “ultimate solution,” blocking out all other possibilities. Their particular chosen method of recovery becomes a perfection, much in the same way that a religious person would consider the bible to be a perfection.
When others fail to find success with their program, they fault the individual, never the program itself (because it works for them), saying that surely these failed newcomers must simply not be trying hard enough. It is not even a remote possibility that another program of recovery might work better for someone else, or that other types of programs could possibly treat addiction.
Notice that almost all of that thinking is rooted in fear. And it is all about that person’s own sobriety and the subtle threat to it. This threat comes from the idea that there might be paths to recovery other than their own. An even bigger threat in their mind is that there might be a better path to recovery than their own.
Do you see how limiting and destructive this type of thinking can be? Let’s consider why this type of fear-based thinking is so destructive:
1) It limits growth – because the person has an “ultimate solution,” they fail to look outside of that program’s dogmatic beliefs for new inspiration or new ways to grow.
2) It limits learning – Having such a rigid belief system is like only studying your math books in school while throwing all the other books out. Any recovery program is going to have a limited amount of material to learn. Expanding beyond that can bring new levels of awareness and spiritual growth.
3) It becomes dangerous – because you’re no longer exploring new learning experiences, it becomes easier for complacency to set in, and thus allow growth to stagnate.
Notice too that this fear based response uses a justification: the person is saying that open mindedness and exploring creative methods for recovery is killing alcoholics, because it’s not funneling people directly towards their solution for recovery.
This argument can be nothing more than self-righteous justification in light of the dismal success rates of pretty much all of the major recovery programs out there. My point in exploring the creative side of recovery is in finding what works for different people (sometimes from different recovery programs) and drawing out the similarities and parallels. I am pushing for a better solution for recovery, instead of merely arguing that those who fail in a program “just don’t want it bad enough.” I’m trying to push beyond that, to find ways to motivate and encourage the newcomer to embrace the creative life in recovery.
Saying that only one recovery program should be used for everyone with no level of customization is an example of old-fashioned thinking. I know we can do better because I have seen the positive results when addicts embrace the creative side of recovery and move beyond the chains of traditional dogma.
My hope for anyone is that they can honestly assess their own fear and see how it is limiting them. Find a way to push past this limiting style of thinking and embrace the creative life in recovery.