self control

In active addiction, our loss of control becomes apparent to us sooner or later.  One helpful image is that of balancing a golf ball on top of a basketball.  Keep it on top and all is well.  Correct it immediately and with appropriate counter action, and a fall is avoided.  But once it gets a certain distance from the top, the action required to stop it from falling off is effectively superhuman.  This is precisely how addiction is experienced.  We are perfect storms of Obsession and Compulsion.  The thought of ‘doing it again’ takes root and grows (with our continued permission, it must be said) and fantasy gives way to subconscious ‘planning’ to do it, which eventually leads to ‘close calls’ or more often just going ahead with it.  And irony of ironies, having ‘done it again’, we look back in disbelief, wondering how it happened…  It’s as though our free will is eroded or better yet imprisoned or shackled, and to our shame, we have to admit that we have hidden the key from ourselves….  Self control is practically non-existent, and we have to admit complete and total powerlessness (step 1) to stop the behaviour…

As we grow in recovery, we gradually regain the self-control we lost.  Or better yet, we gain a new kind of self control.  Before we had attempted a kind of self control which was weakened by qualities such as entitlement, anger, blame and basically a thousand forms of fear.  Now, in recovery, the programme teaches us to stay away from the behaviour, and the “stinking thinking” that gets us doing it.  It’s not as though we get ‘cured’ and no longer want to do it, but rather the sobriety that comes with recovery gives us new eyes to see through the shoddy thinking and selfish justifications that accompanied our one-way trips to addictive behaviour.  We get street wise.  We safeguard ourselves.  To add an awkward addition to the ball metaphor above, it’s like we don’t even try to balance the golf ball on the basketball, but we grow wise enough to use a doughnut to keep the ball securely on top.  Without needing to do a ‘geographical’ to another job, marriage, town or country, we learn to ‘stay away’ from those places, venues, people or fantasies that we have continually allowed ourselves to be tripped up by.  In a Christian key, this sounds like Paul saying that when he is weak he is very strong.  This is self-control not from the flesh, but as a fruit of the Spirit who leads us into the wisdom we need to keep ourselves safe.

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meditation & action

Addiction is famously, and quite simply, characterised by cognitive obsession and behavioural compulsion.  We addicts are, through and through, obsessive-compulsive.  We think about, fantasize about, dream about, fear and otherwise obsess over the world, our problems, our frustrations, and how we would like to fix them.  And, sooner or later, we give way to an overwhelming urge, drive, push, or compulsion to act out, which is of course where all of our addictive obsession was pointing and heading all along.

Obsession and compulsion are the aggressive manifestations of thought and behaviour.  There are also passive extremes that we addicts can swing back and forth to and from.  We can mentally ‘check out’ and try to think about nothing.  Often this happens when we act out.  We also can physically ‘check out’ in terms of activity, where we sleep, freeze, veg, surf, or otherwise refrain from any constructive or meaningful actions.

Recovery prescribes the healthy middle-way between these addictive extremes.  Instead of mental obsession or absent-mindedness, we are told to practice meditation.  And meditation often has two phases, the mind-stilling (or apophatic) and the mind-filling (kataphatic).  We need, first, to empty our mind of the obsessions filling it.  We can do this through various contemplative techniques and practices.  Second, because to goal of meditation is not to think about nothing, but to redirect and refocus the mind, we meditate on something, or indeed on someone; and in the Christian tradition we meditate on such things as Scripture, God, Christ, Word, Spirit, etc.

Finally, instead of addictive compulsion or physical inactivity, recovery instructs us to get into action.  Recovery is not just about thinking the right things, but doing right things, and often, especially when we feel stuck, we need to “do the next right thing”.  Recovery is a “programme of action”.  I’ve heard it said that we don’t so much think our way into right acting, but we act our way into right thinking.