Seth Godin was taking about business, but this quote applies equally well to recovery:
“When you fall in love with a system, you lose the ability to grow.”
I have definitely seen this apply to recovery, especially when people become so infatuated with a recovery program that they elevate it to religious status. The program becomes more important than sobriety. The system becomes more important than living a good life. Priorities get mixed up.
Then, when addicts or alcoholics relapse, we don’t say that the system failed (because the system is perfect, remember?), we say that the addict failed. The addict failed to properly apply the system to their recovery.
“If they just would have worked the program, then they would not have relapsed,” we say.
This type of thinking is inaccurate, in my opinion. What is more precise is to say that if someone could have found a way to adapt the program to their life then they would not have relapsed. There is a big difference there.
The problem with precision
I realized this limitation with systems when trying to describe the creative theory of recovery more accurately. The problem is this: if you try to describe a perfect, step-by-step system for recovery, then you lose the ability to customize the program and tailor it to people’s specific needs.
Addiction is complicated. Recovery is necessarily complicated as well. People love to deny this all the time and claim that the solution is simple. It is not.
A simple solution would involve one step, not twelve. A simple solution would not need an entire book to explain it.
But the problem is not that these programs or systems of recovery are complicated. The problem is that they are too rigid in trying to be universal. Any program that helps everyone doesn’t really excel at helping anyone. Customization is necessary at the individual level.
Any system or program of recovery has the danger of leading the recovering addict into complacency. Any system of recovery that does not specifically address complacency as one of it’s central tenants is setting people up for possible failure. Complacency is when you get comfortable and stop growing.
Sometimes we might continue to use surface-level tactics in a recovery program and tell ourselves that we are still growing in our recovery when in fact we have gotten complacent. “Falling in love with the system” and elevating it to a religious perfection makes this phenomenon even more likely to occur.
If systems fail us, what, then, is the solution?
Less precision, less steps, but a broad framework that allows for customization and individualization. A push for overcoming complacency as a long term strategy.
Instead of a universal program that is complicated enough to solve any problem, we need a handful of core strategies that can guide us in our daily lives. We need a flexible approach that doesn’t have the rigidity of a system. And we need to push ourselves to grow in all areas of our lives in order to stave off complacency and ultimately avoid relapse.
In short, we need flexible strategies instead of a rigid system. The creative theory of recovery uses 3 simple strategies to meet this need:
1) Caring for self
2) Networking with others
3) Personal growth
Simple but effective. And, flexible enough to accommodate different approaches to recovery.