People just want to help, but when it comes to medical advice – which addiction recovery methods are – sometimes they miss the mark thinking that every nugget of wisdom is one-size-fits-all. I have found this to be particularly true of some of the members of the mental health community and those who are firmly entrenched in a 12-step program. A PhD or pocketful of sobriety chips doesn’t give you the keys to my recovery.
First allow me to say that I’m giving my opinion here, and that’s it. I’m not predicting these techniques will work or fail for you. I just know that with some of the advice I heard over time, if followed, would have sent me closer to relapse than recovery.
I’ve walked away from jobs because of hypocrisy. I left religion because of hypocrisy. I have a bullshit detector like few others and if I let the hypocrisy of some of the recovery methods and ideas get to me, I never would have got as far as I did.
I also want to say that whatever keeps you sober and in recovery is what you should do. If I disagree with a technique or mantra, it’s just because it rings hollow for me. If it works for you, jump in with both feet. Recovery is the goal.
I want to thank Rhys Pasimio, LPC, CADC II for the topic idea for this entry. Check out his blog HERE. He’s got some great stuff there and his explanation of addiction is spot on.
Rhys wrote an entry about how addicts are told one of the only ways to avoid relapse is to avoid one’s triggers. Check it out HERE. I wholeheartedly agree with him and am glad he finally said it because it’s something few seem to understand – you need to learn to cope with your triggers, not avoid them. Isn’t avoiding the problem what got you to this point in the first place?
If you’re an alcoholic and are told that you need to stay away from everywhere alcohol is served, how do you ever go to a restaurant or family holiday party again? You’re told you’re more susceptible to slipping up in that environment. You need to be empowered, not told you’ll likely fail. A porn addict is told to stay away from any sexual media or it’s a slippery slope back to watching XXX stuff on the computer. So, what you’re telling me is that I should never turn on the television or watch a movie ever again? I should never walk into a bookstore that has a magazine section? If I happen into the photography books section and there are nude studies books on the shelf, I’m doomed? They will fly out into my hands? I can’t just walk on by? Avoidance is setting someone up for failure, not helping them. Helping them is coming up with a plan to face their triggers directly.
If you want to hear 101 clichés, the recovery community is really for you. If not for alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, food and every other addiction you can imagine, the inspirational poster industry never would have got off the ground.
Clichés begin because they are true, but over time become more a saying of rote than of meaning. When somebody dies you tell their loved one: “They’re in a better place now.” Why? Because that’s what you say. But let’s be honest…you don’t know if there’s an afterlife. Nobody does. However, we go on saying this because it’s just what you say.
I find when you integrate clichés into the recovery community, they are usually nothing more than excuses for slipping, gray areas to allow the behavior to continue or bad advice that leads back to using.
Here are a few examples:
“Progress Not Perfection” – An oft-used phrase to make people who have relapsed feel better. If you read between the lines, it’s a Get Out of Jail Free card, like in Monopoly. To the newcomer, it basically says “try to wean yourself.” To the long-timer it says, “You were doing well until the incident, you can do well again.” This is advice is not OK for a heroin user. It’s not OK for somebody who gambles their children’s food money away. It’s not OK for the porn addict who has strayed into illegal territory. No…with some additions, perfection is required.
“Relapse is a Part of Recovery” — I understand why they say this…you don’t want the addict to continue on their relapse. So, trick them into thinking that they were supposed to relapse because it leads to sobriety? Wouldn’t a hug work just as well? Or maybe the solution is, “You made a mistake, let’s figure out why.” Relapse is not a part of recovery. It’s part of addiction. If you’re driving west, you can’t drive east to get where you’re going. You must continue to go west. Going east isn’t part of the journey. It’s doing the wrong thing.
In the famed original 12 steps for Alcoholics Anonymous created by Bill W. and Doctor Bob, Step 9 says: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
The idea is that whoever you hurt during your drinking – or whatever your addiction since this appears in just about every other 12-step program – you must own up and fix the issues…that is, unless they might be hurt. Does that mean physically hurt? Emotionally hurt? Who are “others”? Can others be me? What if I confess something to a person, but I think they’ll punch me? What if I tell my spouse something and I think she’ll freeze the bank account? What if I think my kids will leave me forever? That seems like financial and emotional harm to me.
Bill W. created an amazing program that helped millions…but he was also a well-documented womanizer in his later years. That James Woods-helmed biopic doesn’t really share that. Some hypothesize he just moved his addiction from alcohol to sex. I bet a lot of money he used the Step 9 loophole to not tell his wife about all of those other women.
“Keep Coming Back – It Works If You Work It” Ah, the sweet hand-holding cliché that means the end of another meeting. This idea is true because Alcoholics Anonymous tells people not to drink. Sex Addicts Anonymous tells people not to “act out.” If you don’t drink or screw around, it works. That’s a little too simple. The truth is, 12-step meetings don’t work for a lot of people. I found a lot to take from them early in recovery, but I think they’re more detrimental than helpful to me now. The idea of “Do things right and things will be right” is correct but it’s too simple for someone with a brain disease. Being unable to follow this mantra, especially early in recovery may lead to somebody not attending 12-step meetings because they feel like a failure.
Wrapping it up…
I can’t say for sure, because I’m not one of the average, normal people – but I get the feeling that clichés, platitudes and inspirational posters work for many of them, so they assume it will work for us. And like at the funeral, they find comfort in well-worn phrases like “At least he’s not suffering anymore.”
As for the 12-step mantras, it really is like religion. Some people find it, but most don’t. Those who do succeed think they’ve got the only answer, as do many people who have gone to school for years to treat addicts. All that does is set-up those who need a slightly different answer for failure.
I was never going to be successful if I continued to ask the question “How do I stop?” I couldn’t stop looking at porn, or drinking, or working 100 hours per week just like I couldn’t stop collecting baseball cards when I was 14 or playing video games when I was 21. I have an addictive personality. I don’t stop. I hop from addiction to addiction. The only way I was able to stop was to change the question from “How do I stop?” to “Why do I start?” Once I began the journey to answer that question, recovery has been a reality. The answers are often not pretty, but they are the answers that lead me to recovery, not the clichés that almost lead me to relapse.