habit-making

In active addiction, we often wondered how we could continue doing things we didn’t want to do. Almost always, there was a back-story to how we got to this point.

Whatever our initial experiences or inclinations were, at some point, a pattern of behaviour began to develop. We would begin to drink alone, or to relieve stress, to wander into a fantasy world of lust, or what have you.. We began down the addictive path, taking tiny doses of a drug to feel better. The momentum was just barely beginning to build. The habits were just starting to form.

Habits of thinking and feeling, embodied into habits of behaviour, all combined into one progressively deepening addiction – or set of addictions.

Seen this way, whether we see addiction as something that pursued us, or something we pursued, we can all agree – painfully – that we participated with it. We gave in. We made the pattern develop worse or faster than it would have without our willing – or willful – assistance.

Habits cannot be changed instantly by brute willpower, at least not with consistency and finality. This is the admission of step 1. We can’t stop it.

What we can do, however, is to perform the surrendering action of admitting what we cannot do. This is a bit like jujitsu. We don’t attack the addiction head-on with arrogant or foolish power. We instead turn away from it and make ourselves busy with doing the work associated with this surrender to our own powerlessness. We thoroughly assert our need for God, take stock of our past, examine our defects, repair relationships as best we can and deepen our practice of a practical spirituality of humility and service.

By doing this, it’s not so much that we directly counter the old bad addictive habits, but we indirectly replace them with new good recovery habits.

There’s a particularly interesting paradox about these old and new habits.

In active addiction, we participated with the addiction in making it worse. We gave ourselves progressively to it. Our condition of losing in-the-moment choice and ‘automatic’ addictive behaviour was itself created by a long, consistent string of hundreds and thousands of small but important emotional, cognitive and behavioural choices.

By contrast, in recovery, we participate with God in regaining healthy action. We give ourselves progressively to recovery habits. Our growing experience of ‘naturally’, ‘automatically’ or ‘instinctively’ doing healthy things, thinking healthy thoughts, etc. is the result of an active, habit-forming partnership with a higher power.

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practicing change

As addicts, part of our experience of powerlessness was our inability to change ourselves. This failure to change, I believe, resulted from looking for change in the wrong places.

One place we looked for change was in powerful experiences. We would go on retreats, make large purchases, move house (or to another country), change our relationship status, go on an exotic and spiritual expedition, bring ourselves to the point of painful and emotional tears, put ourselves through extravagant therapeutic or other sensory treatments, and on and on. But we eventually found that, as the saying goes, wherever you go, there you are. We would eventually still take on the same addictive habitual behaviour…

Another place we sought transformation was in superstition. We would see ‘that person’ at just ‘that time’ or just ‘that place’, and felt the universe was giving us signals. We would seek to cease our addictive behaviour at particular dates, such as birthdays, new years, or such novelties as the 11th of the 11th month in 2011 (at 11:11pm, of course)! But these shallow coincidences masquerading as milestones turned out to have no power to bring any difference to our behaviour either…

Still another solution we looked for was in intellect. We would read books – even properly academic or scientific or theapeutic ones – on addiction. We would watch endless videos and documentaries online. We would usually share our vast new understandings of such things as neuroplasticity and brain chemistry with anyone who would listen. But once again, however valuable such knowledge was, and is, this information was not itself the same as formation…

Recovery, it turns out, is a programme of action. We had all kinds of bad habits. Habits of thinking, feeling and of course acting. In recovery we learn new habits that are life-giving. We practice honest and positive thinking. We practice paying attention to and sharing how we feel. We practice all kinds of good positive actions, like fellowship, confession, self-critique and service. This is why “it works if you work at it.”