Q&A Part 7: Why me? Why now?

Editor’s Note: Welcome to part six of our series, Questions & Answers. This series will attempt to cover topics and/or questions which have been raised by readers. Feel free to submit your own questions, and we’ll see what we can do about addressing them.

If I could have the world and all it owns
A thousand kingdoms, a thousand thrones
If all the earth were mine to hold
With wealth my only goal

I’d spend my gold on selfish things
Without the love that Your life brings
Just a little bit more is all I’d need
Till life was torn from me

I’d rather be in the palm of Your hand
Though rich or poor I may be
Faith can see right through the circumstance
Sees the forest in spite of the trees
Your grace provides for me

Why me? Why now? Those are the questions we ask when tragedy strikes. Why God? How could you let this happen? Did I do something wrong for you to do this to me? Why me? Why now?

It’s been a year since I wrote https://acceptinghardships.wordpress.com/2017/07/26/celebratebraddog/. I know it’s been a year not simply because my blog tells me when things were written but because my children turned one last week. And if my twins just celebrated their birthday, then it has also been one year since my friend Jason and his wife Amy lost their eldest child, Brad.

Why me? Why now? Why, on the very night that my children entered the world, were my friends struck by such unimaginable circumstances? Why do I get to hold my babies every night while they shed tears and laughter over memories of what was and what could have been? Why do we have to go through the ups and downs of life never knowing what tomorrow has in store? I don’t know.

That’s just part of it. I don’t have all the answers. Nobody else does, either. We can speculate and postulate until we’re blue in the face, but sometimes life just happens.

I’m tired of trying to explain everything. I’m tired of overthinking and second guessing and grasping at straws rather than trusting that God is in control. God’s got this. Does that mean that God wanted Bradley to die in a tragic accident? No, of course not. That’s not part of God’s plan. That’s not part of God’s justice. But God’s got this. God will provide. God will help us make the most of a lousy situation.

Why me? Why now? The questions make me sick to my stomach. Things happen in our lives that break our hearts. Sometimes we have to deal with the feeling on a recurring basis that our hearts are breaking over and over again. If we’re lucky, we realize that it’s a phase – it’s a season – we’ll get through it. But that’s hard. Knowing that God is in control makes it easier, but it doesn’t make it easy. We will get through it. Things will be better. If not now, eventually.

So we batten down the hatches. We weather the storm. We come to understand that even though things will be different on the other side, there is another side. We’re stuck now, but we’re not stuck here forever. Life goes on. We adjust to a new normal. We don’t have to like it, but we’re short on choices. And if it comes to trusting in God or relying on our own strength and abilities to get through, there’s really only one viable option.

My best thinking, my best laid plans, my desire to be in control, will be knocked down and thwarted every time. Temporary success is still doomed to failure if we aren’t willing or capable of turning things over to God. Why me? Why now? Cause that’s just the way it is, but everything in this life is temporary. Life with God is abundant and eternal.

Let’s stop asking why me and why now. Let’s start asking what’s next.

If I should walk the streets, no place to sleep
No faith in promises You keep
I’d have to way to buy my bread
With a bottle for my bed

But if I trust the one who died for me
Who shed his blood to set me free
If I live my life to trust in You
Your grace will see me through

I’d rather be in the palm of Your hand
Though rich or poor I may be
Faith can see right through the circumstance
Sees the forest in spite of the trees

If I could have the world…

– Alex Walker

Check it this post from our longtime friend, Chad. Sorry for not giving you anything new recently. Life get’s crazy sometimes.

Addicts are masters at lying. They are better at it than people who are not addicts not because non-addicts don’t lie (they do) but because addicts get more opportunities to practice their craft. And as the old adage goes, practice makes perfect. Why do we lie? Yesterday I read a post hosted by our […]

via The Lie about Lying — Desire Mercy

*Disclaimer – There is a chance that you may find this post to be anti-12 step philosophy. I ask you to set that aside and practice the principle in the familiar motto: take what you need, and leave the rest. Too much truth lives in this post for us to merely disregard it based on where the author was mentally at a certain point in his recovery journey.

Keep It Simple

For some of us, overthinking things is easy. Getting caught up in our thoughts and living in our heads comes naturally. Besides, the longer I spend thinking about things, the more time I am able to dedicate to not taking action, not doing anything, not stepping into new/different/uncharted territory, not making a change.

I can, with very little effort, go around and around on something in my head for so long that what I’m pondering on could have been dealt with already. It could be behind me. I could be stepping outside my comfort zone and working toward a better life, but instead, I’m living in my head.

Part of the reason we live in our heads, part of the reason we refuse to take action, has to do with being comfortable. We’re comfortable in our chaos and confusion and poor choices. They are familiar. They might hurt us and they might hurt people around us, but it’s easier to continue living this miserable, comfortable life than it is to venture into the great unknown. There’s a reason we fear the unknown – it’s unknown.

Who in their right mind wants to journey into a place where nothing is familiar? Where life is uncertain? It’s a crapshoot. There are risks. But there are also rewards. We’ll never figure out what those rewards are, though, if we don’t take the risk of doing things differently.

And don’t tell me you don’t fear the unknown. Yes, I hear you. Some of you don’t fear the unfamiliar, per se. You’re perfectly fine taking a new job or moving to a new city or leaving your friends and support group behind, but the one thing that goes with you wherever you are is YOU.

Change your surroundings. Change your job. Change your people. Buy a new car or a new outfit or an entirely new wardrobe. Change every circumstance of your life if you want, but real transformation is never going to occur if you don’t change yourself. And that’s where fear of the unknown kicks into overdrive.

I don’t want to get better because I don’t know what I’ll be like without drugs. I don’t know how to go to work everyday without my liquid courage. I don’t know how to enter that boardroom and give my presentation without relieving the anxiety and the pressure before I step into the room. I don’t know how to watch the big game without knowing who I’m supposed to be rooting for based on they payout I might receive.

This crutch that I’ve lived with for so long helps me be who I am. It defines me (because I let it define me). I rely on that fix just to get through the day. How am I ever going to get through the day without it? How am I ever going to know who I am without it? How am I going to hang out with my “friends” if we’re not busy chasing the next hit? (You’re not! Sorry, not sorry). What do I do when I don’t recognize myself anymore?

These are valid questions. They have answers. Many of the answers will come only when we face life without our disease riding shotgun (or, more accurately, when we make it stop driving the car). Some of these answers will be found in the experience, strength, and hope of others who’ve gone before us. They’ve been giving us these answers in meetings, if we’ve been attending them. Chances are we just haven’t been hearing them because we weren’t yet ready to hear them.

One of the other big pushes for not addressing our own crap is that it’s so much easier to tackle the flaws which are SO apparent in others.

Jesus said it like this: “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a long in your own?…Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” – Matthew 7:3, 5

The Big Book says that, “we are there to sweep off our side of the street, realizing that nothing worth while can be accomplished until we do so, never trying to tell [another] what he should do.” – 77-78

What it ultimately boils down to is actually quite simple. There’s nothing we desire more than to be in control. Fear of the unknown is about control. Our inability to cope is about control. All of our addictive tendencies and our inability to give them up can be linked back to control. We want control, or at the very least, perceived control. But when we have the power, when we are in control, our lives go horribly wrong.

That’s when we need to turn to the steps and turn to God. I know it sounds crazy that the solution for getting control of our lives rests in giving control over to a higher power, but look at where you are now. You’ve given control to your addiction – to your disease – to something outside of yourself which isn’t capable of making you happy. Perhaps it’s time to give control to somebody who can make you happy.

And so we turn to the first three steps. If we fail to understand and achieve the first three steps, we will ultimately fail to master any of the subsequent steps. These steps are about coming to a place where we find peace with God through the disciplines of submission and conversion.

When we live into these steps we have the opportunity to move from powerlessness and brokenness into honesty. From self-reliance, doubt, and shame to dependence on a power greater than ourselves and hope for the future. From playing God in our lives and the lives of others to letting God be in charge of our lives and trusting that God is more than capable of making our lives better if we’ll let that happen.

These steps are the basis of a program of change, of transformation, of surrender. We work these steps not only to discover who God is and what role God can and should play in our lives but also to figure out who we are. And then, as we progress through the steps and work to live a new life, we reflect on these three steps in our morning meditation and whenever hardships arise. These three steps act as a simple reminder of the order life should take.

I can’t.
God can.
I think I’ll let him.

That’s it. In their simplest form, those are the first three steps. Those are words to live by.

Whenever life is overwhelming. Whenever you’re faced with more than you can handle. Whenever you don’t know what to do. These things will all happen – more frequently than any of us would desire. When they do, rather than turning back to unhealthy coping mechanisms and diseases which keep us wrapped up in a warped sense of reality, turn to that simple mantra.

It won’t fix everything. It’s not magical. But it is a good reminder that my own best thinking has been the bane of my existence, and it’s high time that I recognize my inability to effectively control and manage my life.

When life seems unmanageable or confusing, many of us unknowingly complicate matters even further by trying to anticipate everything that could go wrong, so that we will be prepared to respond. [Keep it simple] reminds us that we can’t control every possible outcome to ever situation and that trying to do so makes our lives more difficult and more stressful than they already are…We can relax and try to be more gentle with ourselves, trusting that by putting one foot in front of the other, we will eventually get where we are going. – How Al-Anon Works, 66

Never worry about anything. But in every situation let God know what you need in prayers and requests while giving thanks. Then God’s peace, which goes beyond anything we can imagine, will guard your thoughts and emotions through Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:6

I can’t.
God can.
I think I’ll let him.

– Alex Walker

Q&A Part 6: How Long?

Editor’s Note: Welcome to part six of our series, Questions & Answers. This series will attempt to cover topics and/or questions which have been raised by readers. Feel free to submit your own questions, and we’ll see what we can do about addressing them.

How long does it take?

O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
with sorrow in my heart every day?
How long will my enemy have the upper hand?

Turn and answer me, O Lord my God!”
Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.

Psalm 13:1-3

How long will I have to be in rehab? How long will it take me to get sober? How many meetings do I have to go to?

When faced with the prospect of sobriety, time suddenly becomes a priority. Out of nowhere, time miraculously becomes valuable to us like it never has before.

You see, in active addiction time was important, but it had a completely different value. All I wanted to know was how long I had to myself because knowing that would allow me to maximize my priorities and minimize my necessities. Let me explain.

In active addiction, my propensity for and proclivity toward procrastination paid off tenfold. I figured out how to wash dishes or do laundry or run errands as quickly and efficiently as possible so as to not raise suspicion and allot the most time possible for acting out. Everything was about how much time I had to feed my addiction. That was more important than anything, and it only mattered minimally to me what suffered as a result thereof.

My need to seek and gain approval from others helped to keep some of that caring in check, but it’s fair to say that most, if not all, of my ‘free time’ was consumed by addictive and compulsive behavior. It would be difficult for me to quantify the hours, days, weeks, or months (at least) of my life that I sacrificed at the altar of escape or gratification or seeking something different or self-pity or affirmation or whatever.

And then, all of a sudden, we find ourselves in a place where we’re seeking help. We want to change. We want to be different. Maybe someone gave us an ultimatum, or we watched one of our friends die, or we’ve lost everything. No matter how we got to that point, we find ourselves there – often wallowing in feelings of shame, guilt, doubt, and a milieu of other overwhelming emotions. And we want to know how long it’s going to take to get sober.

Never mind that time wasn’t a priority while I was getting high. Time wasn’t a priority when I was drinking to blackout on a regular basis. Time wasn’t a priority when I was neglecting my relationships, my job, my obligations, my health, and anything else in life that got in the way of my next hit.

No, all of a sudden my job matters more than my sobriety. My ability to hold onto a failing relationship or step into a new relationship matters more than my sobriety. My kids getting to bed at a reasonable hour or having me at home with them suddenly matters more than my sobriety, but it didn’t matter at all when I was out on a bender or running out to buy or bingeing until the sun came up. Can you imagine how far along in recovery we’d be if we spent nearly as much time and money and effort working on our recovery as we did working on getting that next fix?

Many of us come into recovery with the idea in our heads that any habit can be broken in 21 days. That’s part of our sickness – the desire to find an easier, softer way. Well there isn’t one. 21 days is barely enough time to get clean, let alone sober.

The 21 day theory was first postulated in the mid-twentieth century by a plastic surgeon based on simple observation. First of all, what he actually said was that “it requires a mimimum of about 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to jell.¹” A new study indicates that it takes an average of 66 days for a new habit (or behavior) to be formed.

A) That’s an average. It took some people as little as 18 days and others as long as 254 days. B) We’re not really talking about breaking a habit. We’re talking about a lifetime journey. We’re talking about rewiring your brain, restructuring the way you think, reprogramming the wants and desires and neural pathways that take us back to our drug of choice time and time again. That’s not gonna happen overnight, it’s not gonna happen in 21 day, and it’s not gonna happen in any set amount or length of time.

How long does it take? It takes however long it takes. We are not cured or healed or changed significantly over a specific length of time. It takes time, but it also takes hard work and dedication. It takes a good network of support. It takes a relationship with our creator. It takes an understanding of self-worth – knowing that you matter, you have value, you are loved.

“Well, I don’t know. Will a 28 day stint in rehab get me sober?” No. If you’re lucky, you’re gonna come out of short-term treatment clean, but you won’t be sober. 28 days or 30 days or 60 days isn’t going to cut it. That’s the start; it’s just the beginning. That graduation certificate you received upon release from treatment is bunk. It means nothing. You finished a program. Good job. You worked hard, maybe. But you also had limited choices. You had limited options. You could either finish the program or drop out and continue making bad choices.

But how many among us go right back to using after a stint in treatment? How many people do we know who’ve been to treatment a half dozen times or more because they don’t really want to change? They’re just going to appease someone else. And they know all the right things to do – the right things to say – so they get through with flying colors only to come out and head straight to the liquor store or trap house.

It takes however long it takes. Courts and recovery programs recommend 90 meetings in 90 days because early recovery is a critical time for most people. Those meetings are places where we find support, hear our story from others, give of ourselves, celebrate early milestones, and instill recovery principles. Going to regular meetings also helps to foster the idea that meetings are a priority.

Just remember that you didn’t become an addict overnight. Getting sober takes time and effort and dedication. Most of us slip, stumble, and fall along the way. Do not be discouraged. Just don’t expect immediate results. Instant gratification is a huge part of what got us into this mess in the first place.

Patience. Patience is something a lot of us don’t have in spades, but it is a huge part of being successful in recovery. I understand as well as anyone that once you’ve made the decision to get sober, you want to do it right now. Take your time. Be responsible. Know that sobriety requires sacrifice. Sobriety is hard. The success rate is lousy. Some of us are still going to die.

But stepping into a new life. Being around for friends and family. Learning to love again. Discovering who you really are. That’s all worth it. Overcoming fear of the unknown is difficult, but it’s worth it. With the proper support group and spiritual grounding, it gets a lot easier over time.

How long does it take? I don’t know. But I do know that “if we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are halfway through.²” I know that we only accomplish any length of sobriety one day at a time. I know that if we spend less time focused on how long it will take and more time focused on doing the work, the work of the program will help us make progress. That’s all we’re shooting for: progress, not perfection.

So give it your best shot, stop worrying about time, and start stepping into the first day of the rest of your life.

– Alex Walker

1. https://sobernation.com/how-long-does-it-take-to-break-a-habit/
2. The Promises – AA

Trained Monkeys

It goes something like this: You’re browsing YouTube looking for clips of kitty-cats for your grandchild, catching up on the latest clips from late night or realty contest television, or trying to find instructions for how to actually operate your newest whatever when, all of the sudden, the video link you click on hits a dead end. Instead of laughing through Fallon’s lip-sync battle with JGL or Emma Watson, you’ve been hit by – you’ve been struck by – a 500 Internal Server Error.

The error message apologizes that something has not gone according to plan and goes on to inform you that “a team of highly trained monkeys has been dispatched to deal with this situation.” You chuckle at the cute message, curse your luck, and keep trying to access that one clip of cats responding to errant cucumbers until YouTube gets their act together or you get ticked off and move on to something else.

While the idea of monkeys operating behind the scenes at Google to fix server issues at YouTube is a fun distraction when the site goes down while you’re trying to watch a video that will help you assemble your kid’s new bike at two in the morning on Christmas Day, it nonetheless plays into the ‘everything’s better with monkeys’ trope. And whether it means to or not, this television (and general visual media) trope serves as a reminder that monkeys can be trained.

Look no further than the other side of the world where the Chinese army has enlisted monkeys (you can’t make this stuff up) to work on at least one air force base in Beijing. Apparently, migratory birds have been incredibly problematic in the area, and the monkeys have been an odd, yet effective, last resort for destroying nests and scaring off birds. They work on command, walk on a leash, and only need an apple slice as an award for a job well done. Talk about low maintenance – just as long, of course, as you don’t mind cleaning up after your soldiers and dealing with their often unpredictable temperaments.

Of course, trained monkeys are also a key feature of that classic Americana production known as the circus. Under the shining lights of the big top, generations of circus goers have oohed and aahed in amazement as monkeys, elephants, lions, tigers, horses, seals, and many other animals have performed anthropomorphic tricks at the beck and call of their trainers. Of course, it’s come to light that the treatment of these animals has at times been far less than optimal, but the ability of the animals and trainers working together has resulted in some fantastic showmanship.

Those animals (we’ll stick with monkeys as a representative of the trained animal community) have spent countless hours under the direct supervision of what was most likely one human trainer. For better or worse, the monkeys have formed a bond with that trainer. They will respond to the visual and vocal cues of that individual. If someone else were to step in and try to run the show, chances are that he/she would fail miserable. Now, things may or may not go well were the monkeys simply left to their own devices, but that depends on how well they were trained and how well they know their routine.

Point being, the relationship which is established between a trainer and her monkeys forms a special bond. On some level, the give and take of relationship exists there. Even if the roots of the relationship rely on a system of punishments or rewards, there’s a certain level of trust which is necessary for those monkeys to be trained and to perform on command.

You or I would likely not walk into a circus tent and attempt to work with the monkeys, so why do we feel comfortable doing so when it comes to other peoples’ lives? I’m not comparing humans to trained monkeys, per se; however, it does seem to me that we often have trouble establishing and enforcing proper boundaries in our lives.

Attributed to being a Polish proverb is this phrase you may have heard before: “Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys.” I find myself saying it, out loud, on a fairly regular basis.

What does it mean? Well, let’s take that another route. What does it NOT mean? It does not mean that I am, in any way, shirking my responsibility. It does not mean that I am being a bad friend or colleague. It does not mean that I am calling anyone a monkey. It does not mean that I am dismissing the fact that there is a situation at hand which needs to be dealt with; I’m just not the right person to deal with it.

Just because someone has come to you – just because they want your help – does not mean that it’s appropriate for you to jump right in to start putting out fires. If it is your circus, if it is your monkeys, that’s a different story, but it’s not your responsibility to fix everyone or save everyone or jump into every sinking ship to try to bail the water out before it goes under.

Put simply, the phrase is a way to say that whatever situation has presented itself to you is not your problem. This is a way of saying that I am not the ringmaster here. I am not going to attempt to repair something that wasn’t mine in the first place. Besides, I have plenty of my own things to worry about.

I think this is especially true in situations where people want to be bailed out or find someone else to handle their problem. However you look at it, the phrase has great potential in serving as a reminder that I don’t have to get caught up in someone else’s drama. Regardless of whether they’re trying to suck me in or I’m overstepping my bounds and inserting myself into their junk, this idiom may be the way out.

Certified health coach Karen Ann Kennedy has come up with a great list of questions to help us figure out whether a situation truly requires our knowledge and expertise. She says, “When you find yourself getting sucked in to another person’s circus, stop and ask yourself this:

  1. Does this situation really involve me?
  2. If the situation doesn’t really involve me, what is my motivation for getting involved?
  3. What will it cost me to get involved? We’re talking time, money, stress, etc.
  4. Can I really bring something to the table that will help all parties get to a better resolution?
  5. What will happen if I decline to participate in this situation?”

She goes on to say that the bottom line is this: “If getting involved causes you to lose your peace of mind, step away. I guarantee you there are other ringleaders out there who would be happy to jump in and take your place.”

It’s okay to say no. Take the hard pass. If you need permission, you have it. Let people figure out their own junk. Chances are good that if a third party is actually needed and you don’t jump in, someone else will. Don’t feel bad about it. There’s more than enough on your plate already. Focus on your circus, your monkeys.

Ask [God] in your morning meditation what you can do each day for the man who is still sick. The answers will come, if your own house is in order. But obviously you cannot transmit something you haven’t got. See to it that your relationship with [God] is right, and great events will come to pass for you and countless others.

Big Book p.164

As for what’s going on over there – not my circus, not my monkeys.

– Alex Walker
Nie mój cyrk, nie moje małpy 

5 Common Misconceptions About Recovery

How much do people outside of the recovery community really know about what happens within the confines of programs and rehabs and therapy and meetings? Most of us are only exposed to perceptions of recovery which are displayed in media, unless someone in our circle of influence has personally dealt with addiction recovery. That means we’re faced with typified caricatures  in television and film or the latest tabloidization surrounding the Hollywood elite. While many myths abound regarding addiction and recovery, we’re taking this opportunity to dispel a few. If you have thoughts, questions, concerns, or ideas, we’d love to hear from you.

1) No one will understand me.
We have a tendency to believe, for some reason, that we are unique. Clearly it is an impossibility that anyone has experienced what I have experienced it the way I have experienced it. No other person has been through the same circumstances I have. In the program, we refer to this notion as being terminally unique. It’s called ‘terminal’ because, just like terminal cancer, this type of thinking will kill us. It keeps us sick. It convinces us that nobody understands, keeps us in denial, and pushes us right back into the outstretched arms of our addiction.

Typically presenting in completely dichotomous fashions, we tend to believe that others cannot help us because their circumstances are so vastly different than ours. This ‘all or nothing’ taking it to the extreme thinking is typical of addicts. We tend to either see ourselves as superior to others or inferior to them.

Superiority says that “I never went to jail, lost my home, lived under a bridge, etc. I’m a high-functioning alcoholic and successful businesswoman. What could I possibly learn from ‘those people?'” Inferiority, on the others hands says, “They’ve never been to jail, lost their home, lived under a bridge, etc. How could they possibly understand my situation or help me?”

The reality is that, for those of us in the rooms, our stories are the same. Seventy-five to eighty percent of our stories are universal. We have the same struggles. Our situations and circumstances may not be the same, but our problems are. Our brokenness and pain unite us in ways that nothing else can. And the healing that comes from walking the journey will only be heightened by the friendships we form along the way.

2) Substance abuse treatment is a quick fix for addiction.
First of all, I want to be clear that there isn’t necessarily a right or wrong way to recover so long as the method you choose works. I’m personally going to advocate for a Christian, 12-step model of recovery and aside from that promote 12-step models in general because of their religious nature, but other methods exist. If you need to explore them, please do so.

Likewise, there are different treatment centers and options available. Where you go might depend on your financial circumstances ans insurance situation, but real help can be found regardless of your present financial situation. Having said that, a highfalutin, luxury treatment center and a no-nonsense, free to you, work program treatment facility can both work for you, as could anything in between. The key to a successful treatment program is not the facility or the staff but you. Your willingness to learn, grow, and work will, more than anything else, determine your level of success or failure in treatment.

Treatment is not a quick fix for addiction and my not be a fix at all. Twenty-eight days is an insufficient amount of time to achieve sobriety. Sixty days is an insufficient time to achieve sobriety. Am I saying that you should spend 90 days or 6 months or a year or more in treatment. Yeah, maybe. Inpatient treatment is one option, and plenty of people need dedicated inpatient treatment for a longer period of time. There’s also intensive outpatient treatment and halfway houses and Oxford houses and sober living facilities and meetings, meetings, meetings.

Treatment is not the end all be all; it’s not even the end. Treatment is the beginning. That piece of paper they give you at the end for “completion” or “graduation” is nothing more than a sheet of paper. Treatment is the beginning. Treatment is an opportunity. Treatment is a great place to get clean short term and begin the journey into long-term sobriety.

It’s also important to understand that going to treatment, or sending someone to treatment, is not a guarantee that someone is going to be “successful” in achieving sobriety. Some people need to go back multiple times. Some people need to try other options. Some people die. This is the world we live in every day.

3) Addicts have to hit rock bottom before they can recover.
In a lot of ways, this goes back to media portrayals of addiction and the need to define a term. A lot of us are just confused about what it means to hit rock bottom. Rock bottom does not mean one thing which can be unilaterally applied to all addicts. Rock bottom is personal. Rock bottom is the place where and individual finally comes to the conclusion that he/she is sick and tired of being sick and tired. But that point is going to be different for everyone.

Popular depictions of rock bottom display people who have nothing to live for. These people have lost everything, and it took them realizing that to take the necessary steps to get help. While that’s true for some people, others have different bottom moments. Some people only hit rock bottom in a manner that leaves them six feet under. Others arrive at bottom after losing very little but simply realizing that they’re in trouble.

One struggle of popular portrayals of bottom is that these stereotypes actually lead some people deeper into their addiction. Some addicts won’t accept that they have a problem or that they need help because they feel like they haven’t suffered enough. Ultimately, it does seem that addicts tend to hit rock bottom before they recovery; rock bottom is just a different place for different people.

4) Relapse is a normal part of recovery.
Unfortunately, this myth is one that we as a recovery community have taken to perpetuating. We give this advice readily to newcomers not because we see it as an easier, softer way but because for many, relapse is a reality. But relapse doesn’t have to be part of recovery. What some people hear when we tell them that relapse is normal is that they now have permission to relapse because that’s just part of the process.

The truth is that some people relapse early in the program and go on to enjoy long-term sobriety, whereas others somehow manage to find and maintain sobriety without relapse being a stop along the journey.

In the same vein, relapse is not the end of the world. It’s nothing more than an opportunity to learn from a mistake and move on. Don’t see every relapse as a chance to deconstruct everything that led up to it; instead, use it to once again admit your powerlessness and remember how important it is to stay away form that first drink just for today. The potential for growth is not found in falling but rather in getting back up.

5) Recovery is boring.
How could I ever have fun sober? Well, have you tried it? Maybe you haven’t, or maybe you don’t remember the last time you were operating without your addiction or compulsion of choice. Let me ask you a better question. Are you having fun now? Do you actually enjoy your life as it is, or are you too busy chasing the next high to know what’s happening around you?

If the primary goal of recovery is sobriety, we aren’t supposed to merely achieve and maintain sobriety but rather meant to enjoy sobriety. The amount of free time recovery uncovers which used to be consumed with chasing the next high and acting out is full of endless possibilities. Try new things. Figure out what your passionate about. Explore the potential opportunities presented by friends and family and program people and life in general. In recover it’s almost like there are suddenly more hours in a day.

There’s also this idea that I’ll never be able to go out with people anymore. I can’t be around alcohol anymore. Certain people, places and things are simply off limits. While that may be helpful for a while, and it is important to avoid anything that might be a stumbling block; we don’t actually have to give up going places where liquor is served or stop hanging out with people who do drink. Remember that it’s not our surroundings or circumstances which cause us to act out but something internal.

As such, it is the recommendation of AA “not to avoid a place where there is drinking, if we have a legitimate reason for being there” (Big Book, 101-102). The Big Book goes on to say that before entering into a scenario which might be somehow questionable we should ask ourselves this question: “Have I any good social, business, or personal reason for gong to this place?” Our social lives don’t have to be crippled by the errors of our past as long as we have a firm spiritual foundation and are capable of sussing out our motivations before entering new, different, or murky waters.

– Alex Walker


Q&A Part 5: Once an Addict…

Editor’s Note: Welcome to part five of our series, Questions & Answers. This series will attempt to cover topics and/or questions which have been raised by readers. Feel free to submit your own questions, and we’ll see what we can do about addressing them.

Is the common adage “Once an addict, always an addict” an absolute?

Let’s begin with some definitions. It’s not fair to assess the validity of a statement without first breaking it down to ensure that we understand its parts.

To be absolute is to be universally valid. In other words, something absolute would hold true as the ultimate reality. So the question at hand is whether or not this phrase (principle) is true for all people and in all circumstances.

Likewise, to label the turn of phrase an adage means that a certain amount of veracity is already being ascribed to it as a short statement expressing a general truth.

But I think the heart of the matter rests not in how the phrase itself is described but rather how it is defined, and I’m afraid there may be no simple agreement as to the exact meaning of the phrase – intended or otherwise.

To some, the phrase is a pessimistic doormat over which every addict will continuously stumble for the remainder of his/her life. For those who read it this way (some might say misinterpret), there’s an underlying message that the addict – or the addict in your life – will never get better. These readers are convinced the phrase means that the addict will always be addicted – to something.

Along the same lines of thinking is the perception that the addict will always be just as susceptible to relapse as they were upon first beginning the recovery journey.

Another issue some people are going to take with this turn of phrase is that it comes with a label. It makes the addict wear the proverbial mark of Cain. “Hi. My name is Joe, and I’m an addict.” A lot of people get caught up in the negative connotations associated with such language. That’s why some of us in the rooms have morphed our language. We say that we’re ‘recovering addicts’ or ‘grateful recovering addicts’ or (in some ultra-progressive, perhaps detrimental, that’s a conversation for another day but we’re kind of already having it) ‘recovered addicts’. But you will notice that even those who describe themselves as “recovered” still ascribe to the ‘addict’ label as well.

Of course, you will find people who “used to be addicts,” and I can’t definitively say whether or not they’re at greater risk for relapse. That really depends on how much work they’ve done and whether they’re in denial or consciously aware of their past.

That’s where this phrase comes into play: “Once an addict, always an addict.”

To be fair, I don’t think the phrase is intended to discourage people in recovery. I’m biased. I own that.

The other side of this coin is less about whether one’s identity is found or wrapped up in the term addict and more about existing as a gentle reminder of how things used to be. We’re supposed to learn from our past, not live in it, but it’s impossible to learn form something if you ignore it.

Recovery is about developing tools and relationships that help us deal with the things in life which baffle us. When stress and turmoil strike, we should be able to lean on those tools and people and higher powers to overcome life’s challenges instead of falling back on the detrimental coping mechanisms we used to rely on. Through our recovery journey, we should be addressing the psychological, spiritual, emotional, and physical wounds which underlie our desire to act out.

What recovery does not and cannot guarantee is that we will always use and rely on the tools and relationships that were forged throughout the process. There’s a reason that we work diligently to “live one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time.” Stepping actively into today pushes us to strive for living in the moment rather than stressing over the past or the future, but it also reminds us that most of us cannot and should not drink again or take another hit or make another bet, etc., etc., etc.

Some people may never have the desire to act out again. Some people may have been delivered from their addictions, and that’s Awesome. It’s just not normative. But even those people who haven’t had or desired a fix in over thirty years know that just one could be more than enough to push them over the edge. Too many times have I seen someone with long-term sobriety or someone who was convinced they were cured go back to acting out. The lucky ones end up in jail; the rest end up in the ground.

One final thing I’d like to say about that phrase and the label that comes with it is that it’s rare for those who are struggling to find a great deal of help or solace from somebody who hasn’t been there. I’m not saying we need to wear the title like a badge of honor or forfeit our anonymity, but the 12th Step calls us to spread the good news to those who still suffer.

And if there’s one thing I know, it’s that being a missionary or evangelist requires stepping out of our comfort zones.

I’m an addict. It’s not a label that I wear. It’s simply a part of me. It does not define me. I accept that I am an addict, not that I was an addict. It is this acceptance that set me free. It is this acceptance that allows me to continue to deal with my junk. It is this acceptance that liberated me and provides me the opportunity to help others find their own freedom.

So, is “once an addict, always an addict” absolute? I guess that depends, but at least now you have a few more thoughts to help you think for yourself about it.

So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.

2 Corinthians 12:7b-9

– Alex Walker