Tag Archives: recovery

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.

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

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

Over My Head

Stepping into the rooms…

Walking through the doors…

Beginning the recovery journey…

If you’re anything like me, those words come with a lot of baggage. Emotions and anxiety are bound up in memories of what it was like to begin. The entire ordeal can be a little surreal; it’s overwhelming.

Right now, in an attempt to keep working my twelfth step, I’m serving as the secretary for my 12 step group. That means that all inquiries about the group come to me via email and telephone.

I am reminded time and time again how difficult it is to reach out – to be vulnerable – to be honest – to make an effort – to admit to myself, let alone others, that I have a problem, and this is it.

People with no experience are often scared and feel like they’re going through this all alone.

I remember the first time I walked into the rooms. I dressed in such a way as to make myself feel invisible. Hoodie. Ball cap pulled low on my face. Hood up over the cap. If I could exist in the shadows, maybe I din’t really exist at all.

I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t have an option. I wasn’t really given an option – at least, not one I was willing to live with.

I was thinking a lot of the things many of us probably experience at this point.
“What if somebody sees me? What if somebody recognizes me? What if I know someone there? What if I have to face them at work or school or church or at a sporting event?”

People tell me all the time, either directly or indirectly, that they have no idea how to go about doing this thing. I mean, that makes sense. When we’re just starting out, we don’t know anything. “Do I come alone? Do I have to register? Can my spouse or significant other come with me? Is there a place for them?”

“I’m just kind of lost on how to go about all this.”

Of course, those questions just morph when someone actually starts the program. “Who do I call? When do I call? When can I call? Will you call me? Why not? Do I need one of those books? What are the 12 steps? People keep talking about working the program, working the steps – what does that mean? How do I do that?”

“Will you be my sponsor? What even is a sponsor? What is a temporary sponsor? Why will you only be my temporary sponsor? How do I get a “real” sponsor, a full time sponsor?”

From the get go I was in over my head. Of course I was in over my head. If I weren’t in over my head, I wouldn’t be here in the first place.

That’s where trust comes into play. That’s where the experience, strength, and hope of others comes into play. That’s where we have to rely on and borrow from the faith and strength and prayers of others to get through another day, another hour, another moment of temptation.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times. This program is not about cessation. It’s not about stopping. It’s about starting. It’s about doing things differently. Change is less about letting go of certain behaviors and more about latching onto new ones.

The first step is the only step that talks directly about our disease. The first step mentions alcohol, or addiction, or lust, or whatever it is we struggle with, but that’s it. The rest of the steps teach us how to take on new behaviors.

In much the same manner, our literature pretty much universally says that  the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop, but then it goes on to say virtually nothing about stopping. The steps build on one another, and with each new step comes the challenge of facing or tackling some new task or thought or idea.

The trick to living life when you’re already drowning is learning how to not bite off more than you can chew. This is why we shouldn’t attempt to go through recovery alone. We walk together with accountability partners and sponsors and a home group and meetings and literature and phone meetings and treatment centers and a whole plethora of resources that are available if we’re willing to tap into them.

I’ve been walking recently with a kid in early recovery, and it hasn’t been easy.

First of all, I know this kid way too well. We’ve known one another for years, but this is different. I’m struggling. I want to do it for him, but I know I can’t.

He has to do the work.

He has to want it.

He has to own his part in all of this.

Watching him go from denial to what could potentially be rock bottom has been hard.

I’ve tried to force it. I’ve threatened him. But in the end I’ve been reminded time and time again by people who love me that his success is dependent upon his recognition and his willingness to do the work.

I’m trying.

I’m trying to just be here for him. I’m trying to let go and allow relationships to form which will help him in the way similar relationships have helped me.

My sobriety and my relationship with God are at their best when my program is the most active. When I have sponsees and others who desire to use me as a resource to impart wisdom and help hold them accountable, I am more likely to seek counsel and touch base with God and my sponsor as a result thereof.

I’m also working actively to get over my desire for strict definition of roles. My mind is quick to say that when I sponsor people, I am supposed to be the voice of knowledge or authority. The reality is that we’re just two people working our way through recovery. And when my sponsees take time to check on me rather than in with me, I should value that and take advantage of it rather than dismiss it as inappropriate. Instead of continuing to see the reciprocity of care as a blurring of boundary of roles, I am learning to let go of the lies that fear and pride tell me.

Today I’m still in over my head, but I’m not alone. No longer do I feel like I’m the only one who has ever struggled with this in this way. I know better. I know that life is difficult for everyone. I realize that everyone I bump into is just trudging through life, and some of us are lucky enough to be “trudging the road of happy destiny.”

My friends in 12 step fellowships are quickly beginning to outweigh the other friends in my life, and that’s okay because we’re all just people. And we’re all in this together.

We understand one another.

That’s what makes these rooms so invaluable.

Life is, after all, nothing without relationships.

– Alex Walker

Q&A Part 4: From the Outside Looking In

Editor’s Note: Welcome to part four 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.

When is the appropriate time to seek healing in dealing with the recovery of a loved one? What can I do to help my loved one or friend as he/she goes through the pain associated with addiction and recovery?

Let’s start with the easy question here: When should I seek help? When should I seek healing? When is it appropriate to take care of myself?

The answer is simple, and it’s always the same: right now. There’s no better time than right now to experience the first day of the rest of your life. There’s no better time than right now to take care of yourself. There’s no better time than right now to realize and understand how impossible it is to be present for someone else if we don’t first figure out what our needs are and work diligently to meet them.

Addictions and compulsive behaviors do negatively affect the friends and family members of those whose lives are consumed by them. As a direct result thereof, loved ones often find themselves facing real loss and real pain. It’s not unusual for those close to addicts to experience financial, physical, mental, emotional and/or spiritual setbacks as a result of simply being in relationship with someone whose life is consumed by something outside of their control.

That’s why it’s important to seek help and healing even when the addict in your life is unwilling to do so. Twelve step groups, therapists, religious organisations, and other engaging environments are all means of receiving help and working toward a healthier life. It’s never too early to begin the process of claiming your life and escaping the grasp of chaos and rot that come with the entangled nature of an addictive life.

As for the extremely more difficult question, there is no simple answer. What can I do to help my loved one or friend as he/she goes through the pain associated with addiction and recovery? 

To begin with, recognize that recovery is both a journey and a process. It’s going to take time. We’re not talking about an overnight transportation. Think about how much time over how many years were dedicated to living into active addiction. There is no elixir or overnight remedy that’s going to make all of that go away such that everything is all better now. The addict in your life is going to have to invest a lot of time and energy into working on his/her sobriety. Let them do so. Give them time. Give them space (if they need it, or if you need it). And work on yourself.

Remember this: You didn’t get them drunk, and you can’t get them sober.

What you can do is learn to recognize what role you might be playing in their life. This is not a blame game; it’s merely an awareness that how we act and react to others in our life takes its toll. None of us exist in silos.

Here are just a few models for understanding the roles we might play in the life of an addict:

Al-anon talks about a Merry Go Round Named Denial which identifies four major (types of) players in every alcoholic relationship: the alcoholic, the enabler, the victim, and the provoker. “One person drinks too much and gets drunk and others react to her drinking and its consequences. The drinker responds to this reaction and drinks again. This sets up a Merry-Go-Round of blame and denial, a downward-spiral which characterizes alcoholism.”

“The Enabler is a person who feels he must not let the alcoholic suffer the consequences of her drinking when he can so easily prevent this by a simple rescue operation.” This person may have a savior complex and definitely qualifies as being classically codependent. Professional helpers, those driven by anxiety and guilt, and those in it to meet their own needs often find themselves in this role.

“The Victim is the person who is responsible for getting the work done, if the alcoholic is absent due to a hangover.” These individuals feel that they are helping by covering the ass of their friend time and time again. They are not. Facing real consequences can be a driving force to push people toward recovery.

The Provoker tends to be “the person with whom the alcoholic lives…Hurt and
upset by repeated drinking episodes, [sic] he holds the family together despite all the trouble caused by drinking…Also [sic] called the Adjuster; he is constantly adjusting to the crises and trouble caused by drinking.” This role might best be described as the scapegoat because all of the addict’s bad behaviors find their blame laid here. This person will attempt “to be nurse, doctor, and counselor” but will ultimately fail because doing so does little more than add undo stress to an already stressful situation.

Family systems theory is another model which helps us understand how we relate to the addict in our life. In addition to the addict, this model has five other major player labels within the family: the caretaker (chief enabler), the hero, the scapegoat, the lost child, and the mascot.

The Chief Enabler reduces tension in the family by smoothing things over and believes that he/she is simply being helpful and acting to hold the family together.

The Hero (aka the parental child, superstar or goody two shoes) is the source of family pride and often excels in academic or athletic pursuits, but their successes are driven by perfectionist tendencies rooted in an underlying need to make the family look good.

The Scapegoat tends toward rebellion and anti-social behavior to the point of mimicking the behaviors they identify with in the addict/alcoholic because of a perceived emotional bond with that individual. Often the object of misdirected frustration and rage, this is the person who both holds and voices anger and frustration on behalf of the family at large.

The Lost Child, seeking to avoid conflict, tends to come across as forgettable and shy. A follower not a leader, this person has few (if any) friends outside the family system and has a high likelihood of developing mental health issues.

The Mascot is likable and fun to be around. think of this person as the family clown and the one member of the family nobody has any real complaints about.

For more information on this system and the general qualities of codependency, check out this pdf for the signs, symptoms, and general characteristics of codependency. This document does a good job of helping people identify whether or not they might be codependent as well as speak to what codependency looks like as it progresses.

So, what you can do is recognize what roll you play in the life of your addict or simply in the live’s of the ones you love. Codependency is not limited to those tied to addicts or alcoholics. Codependency can exist all on its own. Let’s remember that the goal of recovery is holistic health for all parties involved, but the only person I can work on is me.

Do what you can, but understand that a lot of what we might be inclined to do is going to do more to keep someone sick than it is to urge them on toward health and healing. Sometimes the best thing that we can do for someone is nothing.

Life hurts.

God heals.

[God] said, “If you will obey me completely by doing what I consider right and by keeping my commands, I will not punish you with any of the diseases that I brought on the Egyptians. I am the Lord, the one who heals you.”

Exodus 15:26

– Alex Walker

Q&A Part 3: Boundaries and Codependency

Editor’s Note: Welcome to part three 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.

What are milestones or steps that should be in place to maintain boundaries and curtail codependency?

There are a couple of things I’d like to put on the table as a preface to the ensuing conversation. First of all, yes, this is intended to be a conversation. Please feel free to chime in at any time. For the most part, each of these posts consist of the thoughts and feelings of one individual and are not necessarily the beliefs and opinions of our ministry at large. We are not some behemoth whose words should be accepted as gospel truth; rather, we are fallible people with limited knowledge and information.

Second, if you or someone you love does currently or has ever struggled with an addiction issue, he or she is a bona fide codependent. No questions asked. Every alcoholic or addict of any kind also struggles with codependency. Not only that, but we pretty much lack healthy boundaries across the board. So, while this post may be primarily directed to friends and family members of those who struggle with addiction and compulsive behaviors, it is also applicable to all the addicts out there – active or otherwise.

Third, please realize that entire books have been dedicated to these topics. Tomes have been written just about codependency and just about boundaries, let alone the number of materials dedicated to both. This is not going to be a novel, a novella, or even a self-help book. Please allow me some grace and latitude as I paint with broad brush strokes. Also, do yourself a favor by picking up some of those texts for further reading.*

First things first:
Self-Care ≠ Selfish
Self-Care = Selfless

Everything else is going to stem from understanding that concept. There is nothing inherently wrong with taking care of yourself. There is nothing wrong with occasionally neglecting the needs of others or putting off their wants/desires to do what you need to do. If we don’t figure out how to take care of ourselves, we won’t be able to take care of others. No matter how well you’ve tended to the needs, wants and desires of others in the past, even your stellar service could’ve been improved upon had you been working from a full tank of gas rather than running on empty all the time.

People call my office all the time seeking help for a friend or family member. One of the first things out of my mouth is always an inquiry regarding what that individual is doing for him/herself. Are you part of a group? Are you going to meetings? Do you have a system of support? Even when the person in your life who is struggling can’t seem to get it through their thick skull that they need help, you know they need help. But are you aware that you also need help?

There are things you could be doing differently. There are people out there who’ve been where you are. People who are dying to share their experiences with you and have you share your story with them. Perhaps this looks like an Al-Anon meeting or a similar meeting attached to a different ‘anonymous’ group. It might be CoDa, Co-Dependents Anonymous, if you have one in your local area. Churches with recovery programs offer groups for codependency or for family members. Many of us have chosen to enter relationships in adulthood which mirror relationships we witnessed as children, so a number of us might benefit from attending ACoA meetings for adult children of alcoholics. There are therapy groups and individual counseling sessions and non-12-step based meetings and religious meetings and meditative retreats and…Taking care of yourself is one of the most important things you can do for yourself and for others.

So what does that look like on a practical level?

As is heard in the rooms on a regular basis, we have to keep our side of the street clean. At its most basic level, this simply means that we responsible and accountable for our own actions – and only our own actions. What that also, inherently, means is that we cannot and should not waste our time sweeping the other side of the street because we are not, cannot, and should not be responsible or accountable for the actions of others. That may seem like (and actually be) a vast oversimplification of things, but we must learn that we aren’t responsible for others, we’re responsible for ourselves. And as such, we can no longer blame others (or caring for, enabling, mending, fixing, cleaning up after others) for the way our lives are lived.

There’s a reason why they instruct us on an airplane to put our own oxygen mask on first in case of an emergency. But, hell, I bet most of us don’t even like that idea.

If you’re a doter – that is to say, if you are historically quite good at taking care of others – flip the script. No, I’m not saying that you should suddenly expect the person you’ve been caring for to suddenly drop everything to meet your every whim; rather, take a look in the mirror. Reflect on all of the things you’ve done for your daughter, your husband, your mother, your best friend. Think about all the ways you’ve lovingly nurtured the other, and do those things for yourself. It will feel awkward and uncomfortable, but you deserve it. And I think you’ll find that you appreciate it, as well.

In learning to take care of yourself, you are more or less conquering a new concept or revitalizing one long dead. Remember that human beings are whole people, so it’s important to express the significance of holistic health. We need to be of firm body, mind, and soul, so we ought to address our physical health, mental and emotional health, and spiritual well-being.

Physical Health
This is going to sound extremely basic, but for those of us who’ve neglected our own needs on behalf of others, we need basic. These are the questions to ask yourself:
Are you sleeping? Frequently? Well? What other ways am I experiencing rest?
Do you exercise? There is no firm definition on what this means. Are you moving? Regularly?
Are you eating? How often? What? No, coffee is not a food group. Try to ensure well-balanced, nutritious diet. That doesn’t mean don’t splurge; it really means don’t neglect your needs for the needs of others.
When’s the last time you saw a doctor? Had a physical?

Mental & Emotional Health
Recovery is bound to open the door to a plethora of emotions, both positive and negative. We must remember that feelings (emotions) are just feelings, they are not facts. They are a reaction to reality, not reality itself.
What outlets do you have, creative and otherwise? Do you like to read or write?
When’s the last time you learned something new just for fun?
How do I feel? Do I know how I feel? What do I do with that?
Am I most comfortable working through that alone, with a sponsor, or with a professional?

Spiritual Health
Conscious contact with God is not some lofty idea of intellectualism only to be grasped and explored in some far away ivory tower of higher learning. Conscious contact with God simply means aware communication – something we should attempt to enter into daily.
Are you familiar with spiritual disciplines? Which do you practice? Which have you tried? Meditation? Prayer? Fasting? Study? Simplicity? Solitude? Submission? Service? Confession? Worship? Guidance? Celebration?
I like taking long walks in the woods. Some people like writing searching letters to their innermost self or to them from a different stage/phase of life. Others use daily devotions or reflections from others with similar struggles. Some paint or express their relationship with a higher power through other artistic endeavors. What begins as a practice which takes up a portion of our day may soon overtake our day and work its way into everything we do.

With regard to boundaries, we must begin by simply setting priorities and limits. While I feel this has already been somewhat addressed in the holistic health piece, it never hurts to be reminded that we should stop what we’re ding and address the issue if we are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired (H.A.L.T.). Any one of those four things can throw everything out of whack if we don’t tend to it when we should.

Setting limits for ourselves means that we must decide what we will or will not do or accept.
How late is too late to pick up the phone? When am I going to bed? When and why might I consider breaking or bending that rule?
What am I willing to do for this person? How far will I go? What will I allow them to do in my house? Around my children?
These are personal limits. They’ll be different for everyone because different people are willing to tolerate different things, but setting these limits gives us a firm framework to operate out of. That way, when a situation does arise in which we might not be thinking clearly, we’ve already established sensible parameters.

Unlike our feelings, however, these limits are facts. They are not a code of behavior by which we are to govern the actions of others. They are not threats. They are not a means of manipulating others into conforming to our wants and desires. They are facts. A limit says (to me, in my head), “I will take the children and leave for good if I catch you smoking crack in my house again.” A limit does not say, “I’d better not catch you smoking crack here” or “Promise me you won’t smack crack again.” The point is, the limit is for me, not for you. So don’t voice your limits unless you’re ready to follow through with them, and check your motives before sharing your limits with others. Limits are not meant to force others to change, rather they are a means of setting boundaries for ourselves.

And so long as we’re working on self, it’s time to reestablish (or perhaps simply establish) and build up our self-esteem. When you’ve lost yourself somewhere in the fray, chances are good that you, like I, have struggled with issues of low self-esteem. While many of us are driven there by outside sources, some of as have diligently driven our own self-esteem into the ground. So how do we go from feelings of inadequacy, self-hatred and unlovability to a place of at least marginal self-esteem? Recovery has the perfect, cliched answer for that. Fake it ’til you make it.

Do things to take care of yourself. Make the decision or choose the thing or take the action which has the best odds of building up your self-esteem. Just show up in places and scenarios that are supposed to make you feel better about yourself – that are supposed to be pampering and induce feelings of worthiness. Go to the dentist. Get your haircut. Have a bubble path or a mani/pedi or a massage/spa day. Go see that movie you’ve been wanting to see all by yourself at the matinee. It’s gonna feel downright awkward because your mind is going to be nagging you about where you should be or what you should be doing or who should be captivating your mental faculties, but that time is for you. And as those things become more comfortable, you’ll become more comfortable with who you are.

But wait, there’s more. There are people who accept and love you for who you are. Haven’t found them? Well get out there and meet them. As I mentioned previously, there are entire groups of people who already meet together who are just like you. They continue to meet together on a regular basis because sharing their experience with others give them hope. It gives them something to live for. It validates them as individuals. Find people to lean on who love you, and you’ll learn what it means to love yourself.

This is such a brief and incomplete survey of all things codependent. The basic outline and many of the main ideas of this post were borrowed from the “Taking Care of Ourselves” chapter in How Al-Anon Works. It is my prayer that this missive be the truth one person needs today.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

Psalm 139:23-24

*How Al-Anon Works for Families and Friends of Alcoholics by Al-Anon Family Groups
Codependent No More and Beyond Codependency both by Melody Beattie
Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend
Conquering Codependency workbook by Springle (to be completed with a sponsor or group)

New Year, New You

What…a load…of crock…

New Year, New You. All you have to do is look around. Do it. Look around. This phrase is everywhere. There are newspaper articles, health magazine write-ups, Pinterest boards, television news spots – even entire categories at bookstores and on cooking websties – devoted to those four words.

New Year, New You is all about the latest and greatest in the worlds of fitness, health, nutrition, organization, wellness, money management and more. That comes as no surprise given the propensity this time of year to manifest interest or rededicate time and effort toward achieving or striving toward goals founded in those categories.

According to a 2015 Nielsen study, these are the top ten New Year’s Resolutions as of 2015.

  • Stay fit and healthy
  • Lose weight
  • Enjoy life to the fullest
  • Spend less, save more
  • Spend more time with family and friends
  • Get organized
  • Will not make any resolutions
  • Learn something new/new hobby
  • Travel more
  • Read more

Let’s be brutally honest here. For the most part, these goals are at best broad, vague, and open to interpretation and at worst unrealistic and unlikely to be maintained. While statistics vary, of the minority of the population who set resolutions, approximately eighty percent will have failed at keeping their resolutions by February. Less than a month.

That’s why my favorite category up there is those who resolve not to make a resolution. It’s a lot harder to fail at that one. The odds of someone who has no intentions of making a resolution turning around and setting a major goal in the first month of the year are drastically less likely than the odds of someone who made a resolution dropping the ball.

But really, as arbitrary and nondescript as most of those resolutions are, they’re conceivably manageable, so why is the general propensity to simply not keep them? Why do we find ourselves year after year setting the same resolutions and forgetting about them completely by March?

Well, for starters, this New Year, New You phenomenon is nothing more than a watered down kick in the pants. The whole concept of a New Year’s Resolution is a fabricated sense of urgency designed to motivate us to be different based on nothing more than the number at the end of the year growing larger by one. January 1, 2018 is no different than any other Monday, unless of course you got the day off from work because it was a holiday.

There’s about as much motivation in becoming a new you in the new year as there is when your mother, father, sister, brother, significant other, friend, flight attendant or parole officer tells you that it’s time for a change. If you haven’t hit rock bottom, your habits, addictions, and compulsive behaviors are going to stay right where they are.

People who set New Year’s Resolutions often do so by first looking back over the previous year – or years. When we look back, things don’t always look so good. We’re unhappy with how we spent our time or our money, so we resolve to change that. But it’s hard not to keep living in the past. It’s hard to do something new – something different.

It’s also hard to stop living in those memories of the past. When we start thinking about how we’ve spent our time and our money, it’s easy to become convinced that changing that not only isn’t probable, it’s impossible. It becomes easy to look back at our shortcomings and deem them failures. And no sooner have we deemed our shortcomings failures than we extrapolate that sentiment and decide that we, ourselves, are failures. And if I’m a failure, then I certainly stand no chance at succeeding in carrying out these new endeavors I’ve resolved to complete.

But negative self-talk isn’t the only thing hampering our success. Many of us who set resolutions do so for the wrong reasons. We aren’t motivated to change because the impetus for setting these goals in the first place was effectively peer pressure. We jumped on the bandwagon. Oh, look, a new year is coming, and all of my friends are setting resolutions. I guess I should do that, too. I mean, after all, there are things in my life that need to change.

Guess what. That kind of motivation isn’t motivation at all. The only thing it’s motivating is the assurance that you’re going to jump off the bandwagon just as quickly as you jumped on. Yes, research does indicate that those persons who undertake a new endeavor and make it a habit are much more likely to continue that new habit at a higher sustained level than those who merely dabble, but the odds of your compulsive self being the one who pours time and effort into bettering yourself based on a new year’s resolution are slim to none.

It’s that very same research which supports the practice of going to 90 meetings in 90 days. As a matter of fact, that practice even serves more than one purpose. Not only does it generally solidify the habit of attending meetings, it also ensures that people are going to meetings regularly at a time when they are bound to struggle the most.

So that’s tip number one. If you really want to commit to making a life change, go all in. Don’t wait for some arbitrary date, like January 1, to decide that you’re going to get sober or stop eating everything you see. While special dates are easy to remember (Trust me, a guy in my home group celebrates his anniversary on Valentine’s Day. He doesn’t forget it, and neither does anyone else.), they aren’t necessarily motivating.

Your first day is going to be the day you’re done. For me, I was done lying. More than anything else, that’s what I gave up. That doesn’t mean I don’t lie anymore, but it does mean that I’m not constantly working to cover my tracks. That was the ultimate motivation I needed. You’ll know what it is you’re ready to be done doing.

And as for being successful, most people don’t get sober right away. It’s a process. During the height of my disease, there were several times when I merely white-knuckled it. I knew that I had control. I knew that I could quit whenever I wanted to. But those months were some of the crappiest months of my life. And, of course, I went right back to it.

Then, a time came when I entered recovery. I began the recovery process. Now I realize this is different for everyone, but I definitely started the program and didn’t get sober right away. I struggled with white-knuckling. I struggled with turning things over to God. I still struggle with that today. I had lapses and relapses. That’s pretty common. It’s also tip number two.

Don’t beat yourself up, and don’t quit just because you’ve had a relapse. Relapse isn’t failure. For almost everyone it’s just part of the process – especially the early phases and stages. If you can forgive yourself for relapses early in the program, I think you’ll have much better odds of getting back on the horse and attending to the program rather than returning to your disease because you’ve branded yourself a failure.

The bottom line is that wherever you go, there you are. That may seem a bit obvious, but it matters. That means that the me I take to rehab is still me. The me I take into a new marriage is still me. The me I take to a new state to get away from a bad relationship or to keep from hanging around a bad crowd is still me. You take you with you everywhere. The only person you have the ability to influence and change, then, is you.

You don’t need a new year to affect change and bring about a new you. What you need is the desire to be somebody different – a desire to do things differently – a desire to be different. If a new years resolution spurs you toward real life change, great. Good for you. You are the exception to the rule.

The rest of us will just keep waiting until there’s nothing left to do but get better or die.

– Alex Walker


I don’t know if it’s true for everyone, but once in a while as I’m reading recovery literature my eyes see the words on a page and my mind goes, “What the hell does that mean?”

I think this happens to many of us, especially early on in our recovery during our first read through of material. If we’re in a healthy relationship with a sponsor or accountability partners, we might ask questions. The rest of us would suffer through our ignorance if not for a lovely little thing called the world wide web. I don’t trust everything out there, but it can definitely be a valuable resource.

One of the phrases that can be found in many of the basic texts for multiple anonymous groups goes something like this: if we are disturbed, there is always something wrong with us.

So, what they’re saying is essentially that if someone makes me angry or pisses me off or shares something that I find to be triggering, it’s not their fault.

Well, no. Not exactly.

Just as “we can no longer blame people, places and things for our addiction,” we can also no longer blame people, places, and things for our reactions. While it’s easy to blame someone else for the way I feel, I’m making a choice in each of those situations and circumstances.

It may not always seem like that, but it’s true. Someone explained it to me recently like this: instead of responding like an adult, I am responding to a person or situation or stimulus like a child.

Now that makes a lot of sense because, in many ways, our addictions and compulsive behaviors have allowed us to become trapped in our childhoods or adolescence. We kept aging physically, but our emotional capacity and faculties were suspended when we began acting out. In recovery – in true sobriety – we are picking up where we left off and learning how to react and interact on a level more equitable with our physical development.

We are slowly but surely maturing. We are becoming real adults.

And adults take responsibility for their actions and reactions rather than blaming others.

The White Book of Sexaholics Anonymous quotes and expounds on the 12&12 by saying that “no matter what wrong the other party has done, if we are disturbed, there is always something wrong with us. Especially in the area of attitude.”

That in no way absolves the other person(s) of their wrong, but we have to come to a place where we realize and understand that nobody else is responsible for the way we act. The onus for my attitude, unfortunately, rests squarely on my shoulders.

I’m reminded of the old cliche that says something along the lines of ‘whenever you point a finger at someone else, there are three fingers pointing back at you.’ We want to deflect. We want to redirect. We want to blame and manipulate and control and manage. But growing in recovery requires that “we must face our problems and our feelings.”

My attitude, my demeanor, can definitely be influenced by others. If you know me at all, you know that I have a tendency (and perhaps an inability not to) wear my emotions on my sleeve. If I am disturbed, it’s hard for me to keep that in check. and I don’t always think to call my sponsor, give it up to God, or share it with someone so it’s out in the open. Sometimes I just wear it – proudly even – practically daring people to knock the chip off my shoulder.

But what I should do is recognize that I’m disturbed, address it, and move on.

It’s the 12& 12 which tells us that our role in our disturbances is a spiritual axiom, but the Big Book does a phenomenal job of explaining what it looks like to come to a place of acceptance.

When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation – some fact of my life – unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.

Dang, that hits hard. “I can find no serenity until…” Isn’t that kind of the whole point? Don’t we say that Serenity Prayer at every meeting and countless times in between?

So next time you’re stuck in traffic behind someone going 25 in a 45, God bless ’em, you have the opportunity to choose whether to curse them out and raise your blood pressure or to say a little prayer and move on with life. For that matter, ask yourself why you’ve only allowed just enough time to get from point A to point B. You could build in commute time. I promise. It’s possible.

Next time your coworker uses that same pat phrase or plays with his stapler or blows her nose or uses their pencils as drumsticks, you don’t have to react. You can respond. You can let them know that you find their behavior obnoxious or annoying or unprofessional. Or you can choose to ignore them. You can choose not to get angry. You can choose to tune them out or turn on some tunes to drown them out.

Life comes in a series of moments. Those are what we live in. They’re known as the here and now. We don’t have the luxury of living in the past or languishing in the what if’s of the future. We get to live right now, and right now we must learn to accept that, even though things aren’t exactly as we might like them to be, we don’t have to allow that to get us down.

In the Grapevine in 1958 Bill W. wrote an article on emotional sobriety. In said article he stated that “if we examine every disturbance we have, great or small, we will find at the root of it some unhealthy dependency and its consequent unhealthy demand.”

This leads me to the question I think we should spend a great deal more time asking ourselves – what is ymotivation? I think we should ask ourselves this question time and time again in practically every situation, but this query is an important one when we’re disturbed. Or more accurately, when we react to a disturbance.

But when we learn to examine our disturbances in such a way that we are led to identify our defects, only then can we ask God to do something about them, and only then can we make the conscious choice to knowingly do things differently.

One final thought, and it almost seems silly to address it at this point, but I never talked specifically about what it means to be disturbed. I guess, perhaps, that’s because we all understand, in our own way, what it means when we are disturbed just as we understand what it means when we are triggered. In much the same way as triggers, disturbances can be positive, negative, or neutral.

So, when you find yourself reacting, recognize that what you’re reacting to is some sort of disturbance. Identify it. Put it in the light. And make a choice. You can choose to keep reacting just as you always have. Or you can choose instead to respond.

– Alex Walker

Oh, because you’ve gotten this far and it’s such a wonderful cover, here’s Disturbed singing Sounds of Silence.

Q&A Part 1: Whose fault is it?

Editor’s Note: This is the first entry in a series called 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.

“Hi, my name is Bill, and I’m an alcoholic.”

“Hi, Bill. We’re glad you’re here.”

“I’ve been drinking pretty much every day since I was twelve years old. I remember that first sip of beer. It was awful – tasted like stale horse piss, but the feeling it gave me before I threw up was incredible. I’d finally found a way to escape the way I felt, the way he made me feel. He used to come into my room at night whenever he spent the night with my brother. I knew it was wrong because it didn’t feel right, but he threatened to kill my dog if I told anyone about it. While I used to thank God that boy drove me to drink, drinking has caused me more grief than he ever did. That’s really as much as I want to get into right now. Thanks for being here, and thanks for letting me share.”

“Thanks for sharing, Bill.”
“You’re in the right place.”
“Keep coming back.”

This is a familiar script for those of us in recovery. We introduce ourselves. We share our story. We step back to let someone else take the spotlight.

We don’t dive too deep right out of the gate, and we don’t dawdle. The more time we spend sharing, the longer the focus is on us. The longer the focus is on us, the less comfortable we get because we’re more likely to share real truth and real brokenness if we keep talking.

But as we sit and listen to other people share their experiences, we hear our stories. We come to realize that we are not alone. There are others like us. We are not terminally unique. As a matter of fact, we are so alike in some ways it’s uncanny.

For instance, we all have a desire, and therefore a tendency, to blame. You see, my drinking or drugging or acting out in whatever manner I see fit is clearly not my fault. I will latch onto anything or anyone in order to place blame squarely outside my realm of responsibility.

Unlike a lot of other games, the blame game is not something we play for fun. It’s something we play to survive. It’s something we play in a desperate attempt to cling to our sanity. It’s something we play to make sense of decisions we’ve made which would otherwise be inexplicable without some sort of excuse.

It’s natural to place blame. It’s natural to want to place blame. But that doesn’t make it healthy.

While there are plenty of things we could (and have) blamed for our addictions, there are only a few risk factors which are commonly accepted as actually to blame (so to speak) for the addictions in our lives:

  • Genetic predisposition to addictive/compulsive behavior
  • Early exposure to/use of maladaptive coping mechanisms (drugs, alcohol, pornography, sex, relationships, etc.)
  • Social environment (the culture one was educated or lives in & the people/institutions with whom they interact)
  • Mental illness (conditions affecting thinking, feeling, mood)
  • Childhood trauma (or a traumatic experience later in life)

Embracing the above issues as risk factors requires a certain level of acceptance in the disease model of addiction. According to WHO, “a risk factor is any attribute, characteristic or exposure of an individual that increases the likelihood of developing a disease.”

Recognizing and identifying risk factors is NOT a means of placing blame. Recognizing and identifying risk factors provides an opportunity to better understand who I am and what contributes to who I’ve become. People who experience that exact same risk factors are likely to come through them differently. But these underlying risk factors must be addressed if someone wants to gain and maintain sobriety.

How is this different from playing the blame game?

The blame game is an attempt to pass the buck. The blame game offers an opportunity to make excuses, whereas identifying the root causes of our addictions, compulsions, and destructive behaviors highlights the things in our lives which need to be addressed. These are the places we need to work, and oftentimes, we need to work on these things and/or identify them with the help of a professional. It pays off in the long run to recognize that there are simply things we cannot do without the proper education and training. All the personal experience in the world is not enough to plumb the depths of someone else’s underlying issues (which may include but are not limited to depression, anxiety, and trauma).

In life we make choices. I hope we see and understand now that those choices can be influenced by a myriad of unseen and often unrecognized factors. But we also have to recognize that if we’re living out an addictive lifestyle, we’ve made some bad choices along the way. And instead of recognizing and addressing those initial poor decisions, we perpetuated them until we found ourselves here.

But blaming ourselves isn’t going to make us better any faster either. If anything, self-blame may lead us deeper into the spiral of addiction by re-initiating the cycle of guilt and shame. That’s why those of us who struggle need to recognize our roles in acting out and, rather than blaming ourselves, accept responsibility for our actions. Only then are we presented with the opportunity to move forward as a result of our rigorous honesty.

There’s another side of this blame game. No person goes through life alone. Our actions and decisions affect those around us, whether we choose to believe that or not. And it’s easy for those of us whose loved ones struggle with addictions or compulsive behaviors to take that blame and place it squarely on ourselves. This is even more true when the person(s) in our life who struggles is a spouse or a child. We’re supposed to have some responsibility to and authority over those people in our lives. At the very least, they are in our immediate circle of influence. How could their struggles not be my fault?

You didn’t get them drunk, and you can’t get them sober.
Your loved one’s addiction is the result of a myriad of factors colliding, but you did not cause their addiction and indeed are not capable of doing so. Unless you were in some way abusive toward them, chances are you’re not even a contributing factor to their current behavior and mindset. Feeling guilty and responsible won’t make them better; it’ll only make you worse. And with regard to making them better, the only one with that power is them. They might need rehab or accountability or therapy or jail or any combination thereof, but they won’t change until they’re ready.

Alright, what can I do?

Recognize that rock bottom is a bit of an ambiguous term.
Most addicts have to hit rock bottom before they find the path toward recovery, but that looks different for everyone. Just because something happens in their life that you would like to identify as their bottom doesn’t mean that they’ll see it that way. You can’t force it.

Use love appropriately.
Love is not a bargaining chip. If you try to leverage your love for them as collateral for sobriety, you’re going to end up without them. Love them unconditionally; just don’t allow love to lead you into the trap of taking care of them. (which leads us to our next point)

Don’t bail them out.
They will get in trouble. Maintaining an addictive or compulsive lifestyle always leads to headaches and problems. Your loved one will undoubtedly participate in behavior you never would’ve imagined and might not even believe possible. When they do, let them suffer the consequences. Perhaps letting them take responsibility for their actions rather than enabling them will be an enlightening experience (for all parties involved).

Take care of yourself.
Self-care is not selfish – it’s necessary, it’s healthy, and it’s vastly underutilized. The best thing you can do for your loved one is ensure your own emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual health. Go to meetings. Pursue hobbies. Have lunch with friends. Do what you need to do to make sure that when everything hits the fan, you have the skills and abilities to deal with that in an appropriate manner.

Don’t give up hope.
“Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.” – Deuteronomy 31:8

Well I know everyone that there’s no need to know in this city
I watch them all walk over one another
But we all day it so there’s no one to blame
I mastered myself. I found out all there was to find out
And if I didn’t have bad health I’d have none at all
And maybe we were supposed to be somewhere else
I don’t believe in anything that doesn’t wear itself out unnaturally
I’m falling down the stairs to the beat of second guessing
I can pick it up halfway down on any street and take it home with me
I’m falling fast
I’m low and I’m guilty

No One To Blame
Cheap Girls

“In all these situations we need self-restraint, honest analysis of what is involved, a willingness to admit when the fault is ours, and an equal willingness to forgive when the fault is elsewhere. We need not be discouraged when we fall into the error of our old ways, for these disciplines are not easy. We shall look for progress, not for perfection.” – Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p.91 Step Ten

“For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord – who is the Spirit – makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.” – 2 Corinthians 17-18

And so, together, we move away from a place of blame and into the freedom of peace which comes from a relationship with our higher power, Jesus.

– Alex Walker