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