My addiction. Your addiction. Is our addiction really a thing? Is it just a label?
Photo by Slingshots + Meo Remalante
We have to claim ownership of the fact that we are addicts. It makes no sense to try to deny this or hide it from ourselves.
We have an addiction.
We are addicts.
No need to try and sugar coat it or cover it up in any way. Face the facts. Yes, they are labels. In some cases they might hold people back or be viewed by some as being very negative. But in the case of the recovering addict or alcoholic, I think it is important to be accurate when we assess ourselves. We are addicts and we should accept the label.
So what does this label mean for us? What all does it entail? Is it right to personify our addiction and say that it influences us to do certain things?
I believe that it can be useful to do so, especially if it helps us to outline solutions for recovery. If thinking about “our addiction” in a certain way helps show us the path to sobriety, then we should not hesitate to do so.
Here is what my addiction means to me, and the solutions that I have found:
1. My addiction tries to tell me that I am not an addict.
In early recovery (or before we even get clean and sober) we might experience some level of denial. This is when our addiction tries to convince us that we are not really addicts. We might be in a recovery program and start comparing ourselves to others. This is almost always a bad thing to do. We might start rationalizing and thinking things such as “I’m not like these other people who are addicted to drugs. I’m not as bad as they are,” and so on. If we fall into this trap then we are headed for trouble.
Solution: My addiction always tried to convince me that I did not belong among others in recovery. The only way to get past this is to fully accept your addiction for what it is and own it. Accept it as “my addiction” and realize that you do belong to a any group that attempts offer support in recovery. Such groups can help build the foundation of early recovery and if you can accept yourself as being part of this support from other addicts, then it can help you to break through this denial.
2. My addiction tells me that having just one is OK.
This is another, more subtle form of denial. Our addiction tries to convince us that we can get away with having just one of our drug of choice. What makes this so insidious is that our addiction is basically right (in the short run). For example, I had quit smoking cigarettes a long time ago and then slowly relapsed back into smoking full time. But the way it happened taught me a valuable lesson about just how crafty our addiction could be. What happened is that I took about 3 drags from a cigarette, got a little head rush, and then went an entire week without smoking again. A successful experiment? You bet it was! It worked so well that I tried it again the following week. You can see where this is going. Before long I was buying cartons again. Luckily I experienced this little lesson with nicotine and not with my drug of choice.
So in the short run, you actually can have just one. But this sets off a switch in your brain and within a few weeks, you are doomed to be back at your old level of consumption again.
Solution: It’s called the zero tolerance policy, and it works when other strategies fail. You make a deal with yourself that you will not use any amount of your drug of choice whatsoever, no matter what. The rest of your life must be set up to help you deal with this new policy. But the zero tolerance policy must come first. You simply do not allow yourself to go there. Period.
3. My addiction tells me that it was not really that bad.
Yet another form of denial. This happens to everyone who stays clean and sober, given enough time. It has to do with the way our brains our wired for happiness and pain avoidance. We tend to forget the bad things and remember the good things as a survival mechanism. So eventually, we will have subtle thoughts that say “our addiction was not really so bad.” But of course, it was that bad. Which is why we eventually got help and quit.
Solution: In the program, they say “play the tape all the way through.” This means you have to remember the bad times that inevitably always followed the good times in our active addiction. If you don’t “play the tape all the way through” then you are deluding yourself into thinking that you can use successfully again. Be realistic and never forget the misery that brought you into recovery. You might want to write it down so that you never forget it…..
4. My addiction wants me to stop growing.
Our addiction does not want us to grow and evolve and learn new things. In fact it wants us to stagnate in our growth so that we will revert back to what we know best: self medicating with drugs and alcohol. Our addiction knows that we will relapse if we are not pushing ourselves to keep growing as a person.
Solution: The solution is creation, of course. When we experience growth in our lives it is due to our own creative energy. We take action and learn something new or experience something new. We take action and we might succeed or we might fail, but we are almost always stronger for it. This is the creative process in action. Trial and error. Do things and see what works. Try things and see what is effective. Set goals and achieve them. Create something meaningful in our lives and get excited about living.
Don’t do these things = you stop growing as a person. This puts you in danger of relapse. (If nothing gets you excited in life, why would you not revert back to drugs and alcohol?)
5. My addiction wants me to isolate.
Our addiction knows that if it can get us alone for long enough that there is a good chance we will relapse. Why is this? Because we become vulnerable when left to our own devices for long enough, and our thinking can become obsessive if we do not interact with others in recovery on a regular basis.
There is a valid reason for this: we literally forget that we are drug addicts. Strange as that may seem, it is absolutely true. Even the smartest of us with the sharpest of memories will actually forget–for a split second–that we are recovering drug addicts. Of course, we remember again almost instantly, but the damage is done. We entertained the thought for just a moment, and now we sort of teased our mind with the prospect of using drugs again. Does this mean that we are going to run out and relapse immediately? Of course not. But it can wear you down over time. If you are not working with addicts on a regular basis, those occasional thoughts of using will be much more devastating to your recovery. The subtle thoughts of using will build up over time and the only way to get relief is to interact with others who are recovering.
Solution: Very obvious: work with others in recovery. Make a habit of helping other recovering addicts in some way on a regular basis. This is insurance against relapse.
6. My addiction wants me to resent others.
Our addiction loves resentment. It gives our minds something to do…..it’s another obsession that it can feed on if we are not giving it our drug of choice. And if we let our resentments run wild, completely unchecked, they will eventually get the better of us and drive us back to using drugs or alcohol. Our anger will eventually over ride our rationality if we let it get out of control.
Solution: Traditional recovery would suggest that you deal with your resentments directly by identifying them and then taking steps to correct them. Some even suggest that you pray for others who you feel anger towards. Traditional recovery also has us identify our own part in creating the situation and owning our part of the resentment. This is all well and good, but I have also experienced success with a more indirect approach to dealing with resentments. If you follow a creative strategy of recovery and work to help other recovering addicts in your life, then your resentments will take care of themselves. How does this happen? Part of it comes from the fact that you are generally helping others to work through their resentments, and doing so forces you to expose your own issues in this department. Working with others forces us to examine our own life and take corrective action.
7. My addiction wants me to feel sorry for myself.
Our addiction loves self pity. It is a favorite emotion of addicts because it is entirely self centered and allows us to be lazy. What happens is that we start playing a victim role, feel sorry for ourselves, and this justifies the idea that we do not have to take any action. We exempt ourselves from doing something about the problem. It as if we say to ourselves “we have been done wrong, and now there is nothing to be done about it. Now I will be sad for a while.” The unhealthy part of self pity is not that we are sad (for this is a normal, healthy emotion) but that we hang on to that sadness and turn it inward on ourselves and use it to justify our lack of action. Self pity is therefore a bit like a resentment pointed towards our self. As addicts, it feels good for us to feel sad sometimes. It is familiar. But it can be devastating when we engage in self pity because then we are not working through the problem or making growth of any kind.
Solution: The solution to self pity is made up of 3 parts. Prevention, action, and the zero tolerance policy. The key to prevention is to practice gratitude on a daily basis. If you are in the habit of being grateful then you will not be as prone to self pity. Enthusiastic gratitude tends to over ride self pity.
The zero tolerance policy is just a mindset that you need to adopt towards self pity. You have to increase your awareness of when you are going into “self pity mode” and simply not allow yourself to go there. You must make a pact with yourself that you ware not going to allow yourself the “luxury” of engaging in self pity at any time. If it starts up then you must shut it down immediately. You can do this if you keep an awareness about yourself. Remember that self pity is not a healthy emotion but instead it is an obsessive thought pattern. Recognize it for what it is and shut it down immediately.
You can shut it down quickly by taking action. This might be in the form of saying a prayer of gratitude, sitting down and writing out some things that you are grateful for, or talking with others in recovery about gratitude. You might also talk with others about how they get past self pity. These are all good actions to take in regards to overcoming self pity.
8. My addiction wants me to be bored and lazy.
After an addict has been clean for a while and conquered early recovery, there is only one thing that can trip them up: complacency. Because they have already learned how to stay clean and sober on a day to day basis, the only thing that can undo their success is if they get lazy enough to forget the lessons they have learned. This is known as complacency. If we stop growing or stop learning in recovery then this is what will happen eventually. It is the only threat in long term recovery because it encompasses all other possible threats. (i.e., if you are not complacent in recovery then you can easily deal with other threats to your sobriety).
Solution: The key to beating complacency is continuous growth. Some people will find this in a 12 step program and others will have to reach beyond the boundaries of traditional recovery in order to find continuous growth.
My personal recommendation to people is to go beyond traditional recovery and focus on holistic growth. This means that you should try to grow and learn new things in all areas of your life. Traditional recovery tends to focus exclusively on spiritual growth. This is a mistake in my opinion. Recovery is bigger than that. Your addiction affected you physically, spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and so on. It makes sense then that your solution for recovery should involve growth in all of those areas. Don’t limit yourself to a narrow field of growth in one area of your life.
9. My addiction wants me to believe that I am a victim.
Playing the role of the victim is a sure way to slide into a relapse. The reason this happens is because victim-hood leads to a lack of action. When we are playing a victim role, we are not typically engaged in a positive solution. Instead we are sitting around idle while we whine about our rotten luck. This needs to change if we are going to grow in our recovery.
Solution: Action, action, action. If you don’t take action in your life then you cannot expect results. Get involved with helping others in recovery and your own problems will start melting away. There are other actions you can take as well but that suggestion alone is powerful enough to change just about anyone’s life. If you don’t like your situation in life then it is your responsibility to change it. Don’t just sit around and wish that things were different. Change your life. Create something. Take positive action.
10. My addiction wants me to live in fear.
Our addiction ultimately wants us to live in fear, because that is when we will be most vulnerable to relapse. When fear is running our lives we will have a tendency to make poor decisions and possibly fall back on things that we know will comfort our fear, such as using drugs. In some cases fear is just another obsession for our addictive mind to play with, over and over again.
Solution: To move past fear you have to take a proactive approach to your recovery. The best solution is to do this by creating with real purpose in your life. If you are full of love for other people then fear will be forced to recede into the background. Again, if you reach out and work with others in recovery then this will strengthen your own recovery and create a new level of confidence for you. If you find passion and purpose in creating a new life for yourself then fear will fade away and you can live with real love in your life. When you genuinely care about others then the self centered fear that use to dominate your life will disappear.
Find a way to reach out and connect with others in recovery. Then, find a way to help them. If you can do this on a consistent basis then a lot of these problems that come from “your addiction” will be solved.