In this post, I want to contrast two huge differences between the lifestyle of addiction, and that of recovery and sobriety.
Complexity v. Simplicity
First, the addictive way of being is riddled with excessive complexity. Sometimes, this complexity has to do with how we handle our memories of our behaviour; how we talk about it, either to others or within ourselves. Whether we gently minimize, tell half-truths, or outright lies, we expend ungodly amounts of energy with complex ‘bookkeeping’. “It was only that once, so it’s OK.” “I only do [x] sometimes.” or “I was feeling an unusual amount of pressure at work that day, so that explains why I did [y].” In the light of sobriety, we are finally able to cut through these dishonest, inaccurate, self-protecting and complex ways of remembering our behaviour, and we are able to view our behaviour with (often painful!) simplicity and accuracy. “Whatever may have been part of why I felt like doing that, I still chose to do it, and I could have chose not to.” “This is not just an isolated occurrence, it’s part of a pattern, that I’m powerless to stop. I need to ask for help.”
Other times, the complexity has to do with the seemingly infinite and complex variety of ‘solutions’ we tried in order to stop. “I’ll put a picture of [loved one] in my wallet to remind me.” “If my new sobriety date is memorable, that will keep me from acting out again.” “If I read up on how addiction ‘works’ in terms of brain chemistry and neural activity, I’ll be able to out-smart my addiction.” Sobriety, on the other hand, is incredibly simple. “I just can’t go there.” “Other people may be able to [x], but not me, and I’m ‘OK’ with that.” “What’s the ‘next right thing’ I need to do instead of [y]?”
Thought v. Action
Secondly, addiction can be accompanied by a lot of thought, which almost never stops us (or even hinders us) from acting out. Whether it is ‘stinking thinking’ or coldly logical observations, we can distract ourselves with an endless stream of excessive rationality (or irrationality). “Oh my goodness, I am so crazy right now, I can feel the neural pathways buzzing with energy.” “Whatever I end up doing, I am sure that God still loves me.” “I really have to stop this eventually… I’m taking advantage of God’s love… this is the last time… I really mean it this time…” However much such thinking may reflect truth (or not), we are not going to think our way to being sober. Recovery is a ‘programme of action‘. “Right, time to stop and pray.” “OK, time to get up off this couch and make myself a cup of coffee.” “I’m going to journal these thoughts and feelings so I can ‘right size’ them.” “Time to ring somebody… anybody!”
In summary, then, in addiction we were like caged rats, flailing about trying to get somewhere on our spinning wheels. No matter how fast the wheel spun or what our technique was, we got nowhere, and only were more exhausted from the effort. In recovery, we stop talking about getting sober and simply do the things necessary for us to get there.