Tag: Addiction Recovery

There is meaning to life…no matter how bad it may get

When one is an addict, porn or otherwise, and hits rock bottom, some dark questions about mortality can emerge. Is there meaning to life? Yes, there is. But don’t try too hard to figure out the finer details. Like the concepts of infinity, the universe and God, I don’t believe the human mind is evolutionally equipped to understand the concept.

If there wasn’t a meaning to life, why wouldn’t more people try to kill themselves?

The suicide rates for the five-year periods between 1910-1915 and 1929-1934 were just over 16 people per 100,000. These are the highs of American history. Since 1945, it’s never gone much above 13 per 100,000…nor has it dipped below 10 according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

Based on that, it’s pretty safe to say that when you’re only talking about 10-16 people out of 100,000, you’re talking a tiny, tiny minority. Clearly, it’s not hard-wired into our DNA to kill ourselves. It doesn’t rise significantly during times of war, bad economies or poor leadership. Conversely, the rate doesn’t drop much during times of prosperity and great peace. It is what it is.

For those people who say there is a difference between a meaning to life and a survival instinct of a life, I think you’re wrong. If there was no meaning, there would be no survival instinct. Things will get better, things will get worse…yet only 10-16 people out of 100,000 will choose to end their life in a given year.

 

Why? Because life has meaning. Even if you’re an alcoholic who ran over a child or a drug addict with no job. You could have gambled away your life savings or eaten your way to 600 pounds. You’re still here. There’s a reason.

But it’s not exactly survival instinct. Our bodies know when to give up and stop working.  You can witness that in a hospital every day. Sure, we have so many cries for help, but so few actual cases of suicide. You’ve got to really, really be out on that ledge to make the jump. I like to believe that those people who do kill themselves were just as terminal as a cancer patient and knew there was no coming back.

I think people are actually asking a series of questions when they ask if there is meaning to life. I think it is more about wanting reassurance they are not a mistake, that they have value and a genuine concern how to make a difference in the time they are given.

While not all of us were part of our biological parents’ plans, you are not a mistake. Your female parent had many eggs over the years. Yours was a strong one. Your male parent had billions of sperm through the years. The one that made you was a fighter. The odds of that particular egg in that particular person meeting with that particular sperm in that particular person are not calculable…especially if one of your parents was a giant whore. Isn’t there meaning in simply beating those kinds of odds? It’s like winning a lottery of lotteries of lotteries. The math behind you simply being here is astonishing.

I don’t know if life is supposed to be about helping others or advancing humanity. For some it’s about wealth acquisition and the conquering of power. In a vacuum, neither is right or wrong.

I believe I’m here for some reason, but I don’t think I necessarily ever need to get the fortune cookie that tells me what it is. For a long time, I looked for definite answers, but I don’t think the meaning of my life needs one. Just the fact there is meaning…is meaning enough.

Facing Triggers Makes You Stronger

I hope this entry doesn’t trigger anyone, but I wanted to talk about triggers. So, it may be triggery. Prepare to be triggered. Is this a good enough trigger warning? Trigger.

I think it’s time in the mental health/addiction/abuse survivor communities that we talk a long, hard look at triggers and figure out – on an individual basis – what are actual debilitating triggers and what are excuses for us to not live our lives and face the challenges everyday life brings.

I was talking to a therapist recently, exchanging emails about my book, and they expressed something that I’ve often felt but never thought was safe to say: Some people use their mental illness, addiction or past abuse as a crutch and excuse to sit on the sidelines of life and “triggers” are the doctor’s note that excuses them from gym class. Sometimes, you actually can’t participate, but a lot of the time, you just don’t want to…it’s hard, it’s too much work, it makes you tired, you might not be good at, you don’t like it, people might laugh at you and you may just be lazy.

I was glad to hear this, because I agree. As somebody who is in recovery with a couple of addictions, was the victim of some childhood abuse and tries to keep a couple of diagnosed mental illness issues in check, I could easily throw myself on the floor and take a pass on living life. I know I could also easily create the kind of enablers who would let me.

I don’t want this article to come off as cold or unfeeling. I understand we’re all at different phases of our recovery, but it feels like the more I become part of a recovery community, the more I meet people who have never had an identity in life until they became “addiction/abuse/mental health survivor.” It wholly consumes them and it just doesn’t seem healthy. They use “triggers” as excuses, crutches and ways to draw attention to themselves.

Why not look at triggers as challenges to our recovery – good challenges. Recovery means nothing if we’re not overcoming something. Those drug addicts sitting in prison are not in recovery. They are just being denied their addiction, and not by choice. Triggers allow us to use the tools we develop in recovery. Isn’t that why we learned them in the first place?

My alcohol triggers

I don’t want somebody to put alcohol in front of me and I don’t want to be around drunk people. I have had both happen to me since I stopped drinking almost four years ago and it comes with a combination of jealousy, anger and irritation. I haven’t always been able to immediately remove myself from the situation. When this first happened several years ago, it was that I wanted to drink. Now, it’s more about not being around the assholes that people turn into when they are drunk, because it reminds me of the kind of asshole I was. It’s still triggering of strong emotions, but they have evolved…and I don’t have to run from them. I think it’s actually better to sit with them and figure out what they are about.

I try to avoid alcohol. I don’t have any need to go down that aisle at the grocery store, I won’t buy it for other people if asked and I don’t keep any in my home. I could avoid family gatherings, where drinking happens and I could never go to a restaurant again to keep away from alcohol. That would reduce trigger-causing situations. It would also mean I don’t spend Christmas with my family or enjoy quality food made for me that I don’t know how to make at home.

My porn triggers

I have Cinemax and HBO and whatever other cable channels are part of the massive introductory package for DirecTV. They show plenty of late night skin. I use the Internet for my job as a freelancer writer. Nobody knows more than me just how much porn can be found on the Internet. Almost every convenience store has Playboy, Penthouse and other adult magazines. In the past, I turned on HBO specifically for the dirty stuff and went online with porn as the only item on the agenda.

Yeah, if I happen to be up at midnight and I’m cruising through the preview guide and see something like “Lust Island” on one of the pay channels, it piques my curiosity. I know my favorite porn sites are only a couple keystrokes away at any given moment and when I see a porno magazine as I’m buying gas or coffee with a particularly intriguing cover behind the counter, I wonder what that woman looks like naked on the inside.

And then I just keep going. I don’t watch the movie, look at the websites or purchase the magazine. Is it hard? Not nearly as much as it was when I first started addressing my porn addiction, but there are still times where I have to actually tell myself “No. Walk away.”

I could get rid of the cable channels with one phone call. I could find a job that never means I need to be on the Internet again. I could only buy gas or coffee at places that don’t have pornographic magazines.

If I did that though, I’d miss out on a lot of good, non-pornographic movies and shows. I’d have to turn my back on a career I’ve spent over 20 years building and I’d have to drive further for gas and coffee. Why would I want to deny myself these things and make my life even more complicated? Because of triggers?

My abuse triggers

As somebody who suffered from various forms of abuse from a non-family caregiver when I was a kid and has had to deal with all kinds of repressed memories surfacing in the last few years, I get how hard it can be if you’re an abuse victim and don’t have addictions.

For 25 years, I could drive by this babysitter’s house without even thinking about the amount of time I spent in terror in that home. When these memories started to be unlocked, I couldn’t ignore her home when I drove by. The proximity to my parents’ house makes it almost impossible to avoid, although I could drive 2-3 miles out of my way and get to their house from another route.

I probably had a visceral reaction to her home for over a year. I would bet that’s 100 times at least. I could say the positive is that I didn’t drive 200-300 miles out of my way, which isn’t cheap when it comes to gas. I drove by that house earlier today. I saw it, said to myself “there it is” and kept on driving. She’s dead. She hadn’t lived there in 10 years before she died. But if I went a different way, it’s like she won.

Summing Up

I think for real recovery, we need to face our triggers more than we do. We allow them to act as anchors, as hurdles and as impediments to a better life. We’re scared of the emotions we’ll feel or the actions we’ll take facing them, but if you can get through, you’re going to be stronger on the other side.

I don’t think I’ll ever get myself in a situation where somebody is pouring booze down my throat, holding my eyelids open to look at porn, or forcing me to tour that home and tell the stories of my abuse. So as long as I learn to control my own actions, triggers are actually little exercises in making me stronger over the long-term.

If you’re incapable of facing your triggers, I’m sorry. It must be horrible. But for every trigger you honestly can’t handle, are there one or two that you can but choose not to deal with? I could let all of my triggers run my life and make my decisions for me, but I don’t. I choose to be the one in control now. Ask yourself if there’s more control in your life by facing your triggers head-on and defeating them. I think you know the answer.

** Learn more about all phases of mental health therapy by clicking here **

Spoiler Alert: Relapse is NOT a Part of Recovery

I hope this doesn’t upset too many people, but I’m going to let you in on a little secret: Relapse is not a part of recovery. You’ll get professionals and others who care telling you it is, but that’s only so you don’t give up and get back up on that horse and keep going. Relapse is actually the opposite of recovery. Relapse is a break from recovery.

Once the relapse has started, I think people will tell you anything to get it to stop. I understand that. If the behavior doesn’t stop, it’s no longer a relapse. It’s called “using again” and I think we rationalize the relapse to the addict as a minor slip to get them back on the right path. At that point, I get it. But is there more we can do to not reach that point?

I wonder how many relapses would actually be preventable if “Progress Not Perfection” and “Relapse is a Part of Recovery” were not mantras I heard throughout rehabs, group therapies and 12-step groups.

While it’s technically illegal if you’re using a scheduled drug like heroin, relapse isn’t the kind of thing that you’ll be thrown in jail for in 99.9% of the cases. Yes, you may do something stupid while you’re in the midst of your addiction if it alters your behavior to the point you are violent, miss work or make other bad choices, but let’s be honest…except for the guilt of failing and resetting the clock, most people get through a relapse unscathed.

I was reading a well-written entry on a recovery forum I frequent earlier and a guy was talking about his relapse. He had certain phrases that struck me as:

  • Part of every addict’s journey to a new life is trial and error, aka relapse.
  • If you do find yourself using again; don’t give up, rather give yourself a pat on the back, you are just like everybody else that has successfully beat their addiction.
  • Realize that in order to relapse you must have been trying to stop, and that honestly is the biggest step in this battle.
  • Learn from each relapse…as long as you take something away from it then you are moving forward towards recovery.

This all just sounds like rationalization to me, and if you’ve ever met an addict, you’ve met someone who is not only a master manipulator and liar to those close to them, they’re able to convince themselves of anything.

Recovery is about not indulging in your addiction. It is not about indulging in your addiction only a few more times. Rationalizing that it’s OK because everybody does it and as long as you learn something from it was OK is dangerous.

One of my favorite concepts taught at my second rehab was the idea of the “prelapse.” It asserts that long before you actually indulge in your addiction, you’ve set the wheels in motion. As most addicts can tell you, there is a way of thinking and there is a way of behaving leading up to the relapse. It can be minutes, hours or days. In most cases, it’s all three.

I’m not talking about massive red flag triggers. Those should be easy enough to spot. I’m talking about things like having a bad day, seeing something that causes a certain change in thinking or slacking off from your usual recovery diligence. It’s just as important that recovering addicts understand the little, subtle things that lead them toward relapse than the massive things. We see the massive things coming a mile away.

There are rituals involved with addiction, prior to the substance or behavior actually happening that many addicts never recognize. I had to pour the Red Bull and Tequila a certain way. The conditions for looking at online porn had to be exactly as I wanted. I hadn’t started drinking or looking yet, but had I relapsed when I began preparing? In many ways, yes. I never recognized any of these routines until I entered treatment. Identifying them is a great way to stop dead in your tracks.

Knowing what’s going to happen before the relapse is the best tool for stopping it before it happens. You don’t just blink your eyes and suddenly you’re on a porn website, or sitting in your favorite chair with a tumbler of vodka, or standing at the roulette table or looking at an empty pint of ice cream you’ve devoured. There was a series of thoughts and actions that led you there.

Relapse sucks, but it doesn’t happen to everybody (it actually doesn’t happen with about 40% of people) and it doesn’t have to happen multiple times. Giving ourselves permission to slip up is the surest way of reintroducing addiction back to our lives. Stay vigilant.

 

Check out my feature story in ‘Recovery Today’ magazine

I was honored and excited to write a story for this month’s issue of Recovery Today magazine that dropped on March 1. Whether you have alcoholism, drug issues, an eating disorder, sex addiction, gambling addiction, etc., this magazine is a great read. I highly urge you to visit the App Store or Google Play to get it.

If you’d like to see the entire issue, click Recovery Today Latest Isssue for a PDF.

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God’s Confusing Role in My Recovery

I’m going to be totally up front here, and I really hope that I don’t unintentionally or ignorantly say something that offends, but I’ve got to say that since entering the world of blogging, I’m more confused than ever the role God plays in recovery and my life.

I was raised Catholic but left the church because of what I saw as a lot of hypocrisy. I found that too many people brought their politics into the church and twisted the Bible to fit their worldview. The “social justice and peace” group at church comprised of people I would never call fair nor kind. I was also discouraged by the number of people who carried an invisible moral superiority entitlement badge, yet were horrible people and by the number of people who refused to answer my questions, yet seemed like smart people outside of church.

I liked the ideas of Jesus, but felt like most people twisted what the meaning of what he said and what he did while on Earth to match their agenda. The Bible is open to interpretation and I don’t think they could see other angles than ones that already fed into their biases, stereotypes and superstitions. I think that someone with no ties to religion at all would look at the Bible and tell you that Jesus was the kind of liberal that is too liberal for most liberals. But that angle isn’t one that a lot of followers can accept.

So, I walked away. I even started calling myself an atheist for a decade or so. I actually called myself a “non-practicing atheist” because even most atheist people got on my nerves. Whether it’s an atheist, Christian, scientist, politician or my parents, I’ve never liked it when people tried to tell me they had the answers for me. Nobody has all the answers and I’ve always felt the best way you can try to have all the answers is to understand all sides of an issue. That’s not a position many in our society, regardless of socioeconomic or religious background, take. Social media and a 24-hour news cycle has fueled the fire of the need that every person is correct in their beliefs and everybody else is wrong.

It was while I was writing my book in jail (The Addiction Nobody Will Talk About – seriously, I need some sales this week – go buy it) that I realized in looking back over the last 20 years that I’m actually one of the most faith-filled people I know. I not only believe things are going to turn out the way they should, I believe things are going to turn out for the best. When they don’t, I’m disappointed, but can move on pretty fast because disappointment usually makes sense down the road, even if I can’t see it now.

What I also realized when I was writing the book (again, it’s call The Addiction Nobody Will Talk About – for some reason, Amazon is selling it for 6 cents off the cover price, act now!) is that I do believe in a higher power, but I’ve been calling it “The Universe” since I left the church. My higher power isn’t really an active, take-sides kind of ruler. Mine is just a stabilizing energy that makes sure things stay in order. There’s something maintaining the balance and providing me with what I need – or don’t need – in this world.

I don’t think the human mind is supposed to understand a lot of things and I think that forces us to take the dual tracks of science and religion. Both exist to codify our existence. I love quantum physics because I think it’s the closest marriage of science and religion, but again, feel like our mind doesn’t really have the capacity to comprehend ideas like eternity and infinity.

As I was writing the book (you know the title) I started to feel this calling to talk about my experience. This feeling came over me that now it was my turn to help others who were pornography addicts and perhaps even more importantly, to inform the world about pornography addiction. It doesn’t take a PhD in statistics to look at the numbers and recognize it’s going to be a major health crisis in this country.

So, I started this blog about four months before my book (the title escapes me at the moment) was released and was so wonderfully surprised how many people responded positively. There were those who had either porn addiction, other forms of addiction or mental health issues in their lives, or lives of their loved ones who could relate, but there was also a lot of people who just wanted to learn. It was invigorating, and made me want to share my story even more.

But then I started hitting the strong religious types. I have no problem with them and try not to judge them, but will admit I do have a problem not judging people who I feel are judging me. Maybe it’s a PTSD thing back to being a kid in the church, but certain things make me feel like I’m having a physical reaction. I get really worked up at some basic stuff and I don’t know exactly where it’s coming from. I could give examples but don’t want to offend anybody because I have nothing against you or your beliefs. I’ve actually enjoyed getting to know most through this site and share many of your beliefs, I just take a different path to the same solution.

When the book (the title is…no, never mind) came out in January, I started doing a lot of promotion, which I continue with today. This process of telling my story again and again has been amazing and absolutely drives home the point that I want to help. I want to be a source of information and support. I want to bring the concept to people that anybody can be a porn addict and that the addiction can lead to some horrible places.

When I step back, I recognize that I sound like someone who is joining the ministry. I know what the devout Christian would say. God has chosen me to deliver this message and is using me as his vessel. He put me through these trials because I have a greater purpose than the life porn addiction took away from me. The real hardcores would throw a Bible verse or two my way to drive their point home, and that’s where I’d start to curl into the fetal position.

I’m now at a place where I’m putting together two presentations – ironically both title “The Addiction Nobody Will Talk About.” A version of one of the presentations is geared toward a Christian audience. Despite their telepathic link with God, Christians have higher rates of porn use and porn addiction than secular types. Let’s not debate why today.

I want to stand in front of church groups and talk about this issue. It’s important. But I can’t quote Scripture and I can’t tell them if their invisible friend is going to help the kick their porn habits or not, and that scares me, because I think that’s what religious people want to hear. I have an invisible friend, too. And I know he helped. I’m just not sure it’s the same invisible friend. I’m a big believer in doing what you need to quit any addiction, but I don’t know why God chose you to have it nor do I know if he’ll help solve the problem. If you think he will, that’s important. Faith is huge in recovery.

When I was a kid, nobody at church ever abused me, yet my religious upbringing has somehow traumatized me. Blogging about porn addiction, and now trying to spread my message, is bringing up a lot of hard-to-explain feelings. I don’t know if it’s God. I don’t know if it’s religion. I don’t know if it’s people who practice. I can’t put my finger on it yet, but I know it’s not just when I log-in. It’s bleeding into real life now.

I share what’s happening to me not to get any answers, be preached at or be given any kind of great advice, but just really to remind everyone that faith, belief and the role of God differs in many people’s lives. It doesn’t make any of us better or worse, chosen or cast away. Some of us feel like we have all of the answers and some of us know that we’ll never have any. Some absolutely need to believe in God to function and others don’t give it a second thought. It’s OK. It’s all OK.

Now go buy my stinkin’ book.

Recovery began by dropping resentments

“I could never forgive/am still upset with X for doing Y.” I’m sure you have plenty of X’s and Y’s. I try not to anymore. One of the biggest pieces of my recovery has been learning to drop grudges and squash resentments before they start. Letting things go feels like releasing oxygen; refusing to feels like suffocation.

I remember it was only a few days into my first in-patient rehab when we were tasked to write a letter to someone we held a resentment against. At the end of the exercise, we put them through the shredder, so it wasn’t like it was going to ever be seen by them. It was more just about a cathartic release.

On the surface, I thought it was one of the stupidest things I’d heard. In the past, my way of dealing with resentment was to either stifle and move forward or angrily confront the person, usually just making things worse in the process. This exercise sounded like hippie, touchy-feely crap. Then I did it.

The first person I could think of was one of the people I co-owned a couple of companies with prior to being arrested. They, like most of my business partners, were once someone I considered a close friend, but had distanced themselves from me a few months earlier and I was still framing it like an abandonment.

Once I started writing, I focused on the small things this person did that irked me over the years. You know, the kind of stuff that gets under your skin in the moment and you look back and think “That wasn’t cool.”

It was little things, like saying they’d help with something I thought was major, but backing out at the last minute. In retrospect, it wasn’t major, they had a decent reason, and my Plan B was just fine. Or needing them to step out of their comfort zone to deal with somebody, but them not being able to overcome their anxiety. I have anxiety too, so I get it. I just wish they could have faced it.

It surprised me how good it felt to understand their side of things. When I stopped being the center of the universe, it’s easier to understand other people’s issues.

*** Decided it’s time to seek help but not sure how to locate a therapist near you? Check out this article that can help you navigate those waters. Click HERE ***

Then I moved onto the bigger things. This person had spoken ill of me to quite a few people. I don’t know why they didn’t think it wouldn’t get back to me. I realized just how much this person and I did that to others when we were on the same page. Should it be any great surprise they would do that me? Maybe it’s my journalism roots – or why I got into journalism in the first place – but I used to really enjoy gossiping and this person and I had earned PhDs in the science.

I was collapsing in on myself like a black hole, but they weren’t. Their behavior was boorish, just like mine was when I did the same thing, but they were still behaving naturally.

When it came to them “abandoning” me as I flamed out and crashed like a satellite entering the earth’s atmosphere (What’s with all the space references today?) that wound was still very fresh when I wrote the letter, but I was able to take a breath and recognize it was not abandonment. It was pulling away from a bad situation by someone who was looking out for themselves. People shut themselves off to others as a form of self-preservation. This is what they were doing. Through an objective lens, it honestly made sense.

I read the letter out loud to the group and put it through the shredder. Writing down that I forgave the person and then saying it out loud was powerful. That night, as I went to sleep, I noticed I felt a lot better. I thought about some of my other business partners and other people who had made it onto my list of resentments. Once I got that first person out of the way, it was so much easier to just let things go with everybody else.

Asking myself why I was holding onto things actually made me feel kind of dumb in a way. What did I think would change or come out of negative thoughts or energy? Nothing could change what happened in the past and I wasn’t looking for anything to really change in the future. Did I expect them to grovel at my feet begging forgiveness? Even if they did, I’d have been angry for them causing a scene to make me look like the bad guy. Those kinds of lasting bad feelings weren’t going to be mended, because they couldn’t, so why carry it with me?

Letting go isn’t saying they were right or wrong. It’s not saying I was right or wrong. It’s saying that the energy in taking a side isn’t worth the outcome, especially when the outcome is negative emotions. I don’t have to admit defeat because there is no winning side in resentment.

I talked with my wife every night while I was at that rehab on the telephone. She and I were in very similar places of resentment against many of the same people when I left. When she’d voice anger toward someone, I realized mine was either gone or had dissipated greatly. Somehow, I was learning to let things go.

Now, nearly four years after that happened, I look back at the angry person I was and feel bad for that guy. Sure, he may have been more successful on the surface, but he carried too much spite inside. I think my wife has released a lot of it, but I know there are still people who carry resentments for me and carry resentments against me that they’ll probably never let go of. I feel sad for both groups. It’s just not worth it.

Let your resentments go. You have nothing to gain by maintaining them.

Your Path to Addiction Recovery Doesn’t Need to be Everyone Else’s

I don’t know if it has to do with the general political divisiveness that has been growing in America over the last two decades or just a natural tendency to need to be proven correct, but I really hope this trend I’m seeing of “The only path to successful recovery is the one that I took” rhetoric doesn’t continue. It’s not going to help anybody.

I’m two months away from being able to say I’m alcohol and porn free for four years. By all accounts, I’ve had a successful recovery.

I don’t want addicts – and I don’t really think the substance or behavior matters for this discussion – to get clean the way I did. It involves police, jail, shaming in the media, embarrassing my family, spending tens of thousands of dollars, etc. I’m so grateful my recovery has taken root and I have a new, healthier life I never could have imagined, but one of the big reasons I wrote my book is so other people could learn from my story and figure out a different way.

The 12-Steps

I met some of the coolest people in my life at 12-step meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous and Sex Addicts Anonymous. The Tuesday Night men’s meeting at a small church I attended while I was staying in Palm Springs, California, probably did as much to make me feel like I could conquer this thing as anything else has. I am grateful I found it. These men found a program, and fellowship, that works for them. Nobody is castigated if they stumble and the dogma plays a back seat to the peer support.

On the flip side, I met some of the most closeminded people who walk this earth at 12-step meetings as well. I’ve seen people get yelled at for whispering something to the person next to them. I’ve seen people who fell off the wagon and stumbled into a meeting to sober up tossed out and I’ve heard people say the words “You are going to fail” to another in recovery because they are not hardcore in following the 12-step doctrine.

There are certain familiar passages in the AA Big Book that bother me a little bit, like the message, “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program…”

Some in 12-step rooms take that to mean their program is the only way. It may have been the only way for them, but taking a look at the real world shows there are other paths.

The Religion Road

I rediscovered, or better yet, finally defined my spirituality in the recovery process. My self-labeling as an atheist was more about running from the church my parents raised me in than it was about turning my back on a higher power. They forced me to worship a concept I couldn’t get on board with called “God” so I just started believing in the power of “The Universe.”

As my buddy Kevin, who gave me the wake-up call to this fact just before SAA one day said, “Isn’t this really just a matter of semantics?”

In running over the events of my life, I recognized that I’m one of the most faith-filled people who exists. When you’re able to push things to the edge and take calculated risks – both good and bad – and believe you’re going to always end up OK because something is watching out for you…that’s faith.

I know that my faith and my belief in God (and I’m cool calling it God again) is different than other people. My God is a balancing force of energy in the universe that comes from a place of love. In other words, my God makes sure what is supposed to happen, does. When our free will goes awry, God puts its finger on the scale to even things out.

That concept is present in one form or another in most religions and I’m cool with however people want to interpret their spiritual beliefs. I have no problem with them being different than mine. Most people’s preferences toward music, interior design and politics are different than mine, so why shouldn’t their spirituality be? I actually think it’s our differences that make us stronger as a society than our commonalities.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who practice a religion, or have developed beliefs that shun other points of view. If you’re not on board with them, you’re going down the wrong path. I can even tolerate that narrow view, but what makes my heart ache is when their belief system is passive aggressively used to demean other people’s experiences and situations, especially with recovery.

I’m seeing this with a segment of the religious recovery community and it’s making me a little concerned. There is a TON of “religion = recovery” material out there. Some days it feels harder to find secular recovery stories and support than spiritual-based.

That’s OK, because I know many people lean on their religion for support in their recovery and it’s OK if somebody is particularly rigid with their religious doctrine. My fear becomes when their doctrine, often in the realm of “This is the only way to be” is transferred over to “This is the only way to recover.” I have actually seen some who have gone as far as to say without their specific religious doctrine, recovery is impossible.

What’s really important

That person, much like the militant one in the 12-step group, is confusing their recovery with everybody’s recovery. And I don’t mean to cast shade on 12-step groups or religion. There are people who have tried neither who also believe whatever method their recovery took is the only successful one that exists.

Recovery shouldn’t be looked at through those eyes. If one person got sober because of a 24/7 plant diet, yoga three times a day and reading nothing but nature poetry, fantastic. If another person got sober attending three 12-step meetings and a church service every day and only reads The Bible, fantastic.

Statistically, most people don’t get recovery right the first time. They also try a variety of methods. Take smoking cigarettes… you can chew gum, get the patch, try hypnosis, go cold turkey, move to vaping, use medicine, attempt to wean, listen to motivational tapes, and so on. The reason that there are so many ways to quit smoking is because they don’t all work for the same person.

I worry about the person who tries the 12-step meeting or follows the religious doctrine and fails at recovery. I’m not talking about falling down once and trying again. I’m talking about that method of recovery just not being the right fit. What happens when they are told – and believe – that their only way to recover doesn’t work for them? Why stop being an addict at that point?

Isn’t it better, and more important to that person’s survival, for them to try another method of recovery? Or is it that their failure with that method confirms what a fragile thing recovery actually is? Does it show that you were lucky – not guaranteed – to get it right with what worked for you? Is it confirmation that YOUR WAY is not THE WAY…it’s just ANOTHER WAY?

It’s fantastic that your way worked. My way worked, too. We’re both lucky, but what we need to do is encourage others to continue in recovery. Picking a different route to recovery does not mean they are wrong. It doesn’t mean there isn’t value in your experiences and opinions. It just means that there is space in this world to reach the same place in many different ways, and nobody should be discouraged from finding THEIR WAY.

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