sobriety

Black and White choices in the Gray Zone of Recovery Living

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I have practiced recovery from addiction through the 12-steps for 34 years. I have worked through each step 10 different times. I utilize the steps every day of my life. That said, I know that recovery is not uniform. Some people I know who began recovery about the same time I did, no longer struggle with the cravings I do. I have listened to many who have testified about transforming their life in other ways than following the 12-steps. Some who met with me 30 years ago in 12-step groups disappeared and returned to acting out. I have had conversations with others who attended 12-step groups for a while and then stopped. They tell me that they got to a place where they no longer needed the steps to remain sober. They say they have not acted out in years. 

At times I wish that I was one of them. Yet, I am grateful for the serenity I have experienced through the diligent work I have done through the 12-steps. To be sure, recovery is a challenge for all, regardless of the path chosen. It is helpful to recognize that people choose different pathways to experience recovery. 

Through the years of my recovery, I have noticed that there is a certain gray zone about recovery. Every addict does the steps in different ways. Also, there are specific things that I can do and remain sober but you cannot. For example, some alcoholics could never have lunch in a bar without the overwhelming temptation to drink. Others report not experiencing overwhelming temptation while friends drink alcohol in their presence while they sip on a soft drink. Some porn addicts report they can watch a racy sex scene with their partner without acting out sexually while others advise that watching would constitute relapse. There would be no way the scene would be compatible with their sobriety. 

Many alcoholics in recovery remain dependent upon nicotine and smoke like a chimney. Nicotine kills more people in America than alcohol each year. Some sex addicts put the use of pornography in high-risk middle circle behavior, but not designated acting out. Some sex addicts in a committed relationship think of flirting with another person as high risk but not acting out. Sometimes addicts honestly have made these conclusions while at other times addicts are humoring addictive rationale. Often, seasoned therapists and veteran addicts in recovery can detect compromise and flirting with disaster that is presented by another addict. In 12-step meeting rooms there is a saying “If everywhere you go smells like shit, maybe it’s time to check your shoes”. There’s a lot of wisdom in phrases like this to guide addict behavior. 

However, there is also gray zone behavior that addicts must take personal responsibility to sift and sort to determine what makes sense in individual recovery. It’s true one size does not fit all. There is a myriad of questions that addicts must embrace with responsibility. Your answer may not be the same response as someone else. What constitutes acting out must be your own definition, not your sponsor’s, your wife’s, or anyone else. That said, how you define bottom-line behaviors is not the only behavioral list you will need to be accountable to. Your partner will have expectations that you will need to consider in order to preserve integrity in the relationship. The two lists will need to be considered as separate stand-alone lists. 

You will need to determine what you are willing to disclose to your partner and other accountability people about your history of acting out in your addiction. I am an advocate for full disclosure to partners. That said, where the rubber meets the road, it is seldom that a complete exhaustive disclosure is ever given. This sounds contradictory. Yet, many addicts don’t remember the thousands of behaviors they have committed, even though each is egregious and heartbreaking. 

How much you share or what your partner wants to hear lies in a gray zone. This means that disclosure is a dynamic and not a static share. Details that are important in disclosure for one partner may vary from what is important to be shared to another. Some addicts are incapable of telling the whole complete truth because they have damaged their brains with chemical abuse or other hurtful behavior. Sometimes addicts don’t share the whole truth because they are not ready to take recovery seriously. The same can be true for a partner. However, what must be considered in partner assessment is the overwhelming trauma triggered by addict behavior. Partner behavior is often a reaction to the trauma inflicted by addict behavior. These concerns lie in a gray zone and must be individually evaluated before making assumptions about what must be done for healing.

Here are a few considerations that can be helpful in determining your black-and-white response to gray zone recovery living.

1. When you are early in recovery, decide to do whatever your sponsor suggests. Your best thinking got you stuck where you are at in addiction. It’s time to practice humility and surrender your ego to recovery. In time, all of your decision-making will be handed back to you. But first, practice listening and doing what your sponsor and others who have more sobriety that you suggest.

2. Live in consultation. Addicts are self-absorbed and take up too much space. A first step toward long-term recovery is humbly admitting that you need help in all aspects of living. Develop the habit of consulting with other addicts in recovery. There is a saying in 12-step work that “If 8 people tell you that you have a tail, the least check your ass in the mirror!” The emphasis is don’t make important recovery or life decisions on your own without checking in with those who have been through what you are experiencing. The interchange will help you make black-and-white choices and establish your own limits in recovery.

3. Be accountable. People struggle with accountability. It’s one thing to ask for help and quite another to be accountable for the decision you made about the consult you sought. Manage uncertain gray zone recovery experience with accountability for your behavior. Your decision about recovery may be different than what I would do, but accountability brings black and whiteness to what you say is an important value to you. 

    People have black-and-white convictions about diet, exercise, and many other aspects of living. Life is complicated and the pathways to recovery are many. The gray zones in recovery require personalized black-and-white decisions. To live an empowered life in recovery you will need to make black and white decisions that express your values and remain true to your heart in the presence of gray zone experiences. This journey always depends upon consultation from others and accountability for the behaviors that you commit to in your heart.

    Wake Up Calls: The Reality of Relapse in Recovery

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    Thirty-four years ago I was a neophyte in the recovery world. Determined to overcome my addiction, I did everything my sponsor told me to do. I read every book I could get my hands on and listened to audio tapes that would help me stay sober. I did everything my therapist would suggest. I was all in. On one occasion, I engaged in regressive therapy to resolve painful past events. The therapist was a specialist in uncovering unresolved painful events in life.

    The session itself was very emotionally charged and plunged into significant past emotional trauma. When the session was over, I recall leaving the therapeutic setting feeling pretty raw emotionally. I was experiencing a lot of vulnerability. Even though I had established a significant length of time in sober living, I found myself in a kind of trance cruising and searching for a way to act out in my addiction. What I learned was that uncovering pain from past traumatic experiences creates increased vulnerability and a high risk toward relapse unless sufficient self-care is administered before and after trauma work. I learned to practice bookending my therapy sessions with connection and accountability with support people before and after therapy sessions. 

    For sure, relapse is not necessary for addicts in recovery. Yet, learning to address lapse or relapse behaviors is imperative toward building long-term recovery. There are high-risk zones and pitfalls in recovery that addicts must be alert to avoid the backsliding into old destructive behaviors that are common for many. 

    Wake-up calls are life experiences that take addicts by the nap of the neck and shake them with the reality that they are facing major relapse unless something dramatically changes quickly. I hear wake-up stories all the time. It may be a sex addict in recovery who shared that he was on his way to acting out with an escort when his car broke down on the way. He decided to call his sponsor instead of following through with his destructive act out. As a result, he determined to re-engage his program. He was saved from the slippery slide of relapse by way of a wake-up call in a random mechanical failure. I have listened to alcoholics and drug addicts share similar near misses around relapse. For one getting lost trying to find the location of a dealer and the other who drove to her old neighborhood bar only to learn that it had closed because of a COVID outbreak, represented indelible near-miss wake up calls that are often shared in recovery circles.

    For sure, cravings for the dopamine hit that comes from addictive urges is an everyday possibility for addicts in recovery. Engaging in addictive act out can be like turning on a fire hose of dopamine to the brain of an addict, triggering euphoric response. The level of dopamine rises with anticipation and spikes when addicts act on their addictive urge. Living without the hit is tough. Usually, an addict will feel worse before he feels better. As a result, many addicts will live on the edge of their recovery program and bash boundaries around their addiction behavior. There is a certain rush just being near an addictive environment. Thus, the old adage “if you hang around the barbershop, you’re gonna get a haircut”. Inevitably, unattended high-risk behaviors will cascade you over the falls of addictive behavior. 

    Wake-up call experiences in life can be utilized to help get your attention before relapse.

    Here are a few considerations:

    1. Roll up the welcome mat to addictive behavior. If you don’t want to slip stay away from slippery places. Often I listen to sex addicts share that they are hit on constantly. One will tell me that I was minding my own business and she came up to me and began flirting and throwing herself at me. What was I to do? Or I have heard complaints like I was sitting alone and he just came to me with warmth and a smile so I had no choice but to be nice to him. It’s almost as if helplessly they are unable to prevent these high-risk people and situations from happening. It’s not as if sex addicts are the most drop-dead gorgeous people who have to tolerate being hit on. Most people don’t live a life where they are constantly badgered by sexual invites from others. Substance addicts complain the same way. Everywhere I go I am being offered a drink or asked if I want to score, some will say. The answer to these challenges can be unraveled by taking an attitude inventory. First, am I serious and committed to ending the addictive behavior? If so, then eliminate the high-risk behavior by rolling up the welcome mat. Stop communicating availability in terms of the environment you hang out, the conversations you have with others, and the energy about the addictive behavior that you communicate. Simply put, shut down the energy that you are available for sexual intrigue if you are a sex addict and turn away from addictive environments while spurning the encouragement of those who would invite you to use or sit in high-risk scenarios. When you eliminate slippery places you likely will not slip. 

    2. Decide you are going to be all in with recovery. Seriously embrace the AA saying “Half measure avail us nothing. We ask for his care with complete abandon”. Many addicts who attend 12-step meetings enjoy the community and gain from the insights shared. Fewer take the insights seriously toward life transformation. There is a difference between attending 12-step meetings and being all-in. Following through with boundaries, commitments, and program work requires an addict to abandon half-hearted attempts at recovery tasks. All in is a plunge experience. It is like cliff jumping. You put yourself into a position so that when you take the first step there is no turning back because of your complete abandonment to whatever it takes. When you compromise, make excuses, make commitments, and don’t follow through, you exemplify half-measures that never work. It’s like getting a prescription from your doctor and drinking the water while leaving the pills for treatment on the table. If you are blaming others for your downfall, keeping secrets about your thought and behavior life, and giving negative voices free rent in your head, this is the evidence that you are not willing to go to any lengths to create the sober life you want. In the presence of many new approaches and technology for healing, the only way to emotionally grow yourself up and address addiction will be through complete abandonment in your recovery program. 

    3. Wake-up calls are never heard when you are stubbornly stuck in refusing to accept life as it is in the present moment. Denying the reality of what is in your life is a setup for relapse even when there are wake-up calls ringing all around you. There are many experiences about recovery that are not pleasant. The discomfort of real consequences from addictive behavior can be an intrusive reality that is shoved in your face with no reprieve. Loss of job, family, and esteem can be repressive. The whirlwind of addictive behavior always includes unfair treatment and unfair judgment. Consequences and restrictions can seem overwhelming. Yet, you will not find peace and sobriety until you can accept the limitations and implications of your addiction behavior. “This too will pass” will only be true for you through surrender when you can concentrate less on what needs to be changed in the world around you, and more about what needs to be changed within you and your attitudes. Acceptance is an age-old process that paves the way toward long-term sobriety. Without it, the phone will ring off the wall and you will never answer the wake-up call in recovery.

    4. Wake-up calls are a reminder to understand the underlying conditions that come from unresolved family-of-origin issues that have been incompletely addressed. Questions like “After so much time in recovery sobriety, why did I so quickly reach for my addictive behavior”? “Why do I struggle so much with behavior and attitudes that sabotage closeness to people I love”? “Why do I procrastinate facing the fear of my childhood or addressing Step 4 work”?are all about the underlying conditions of unresolved family of origin issues. Relapse is about losing who you are and forfeiting your potential for who you are meant to be. Relapse gives you the opportunity to claim lessons from the past and to reclaim your truth. If those underlying conditions aren’t treated, the return of those symptoms may cause you intense discomfort that can trigger you to go back to using. That’s the primary reason there is such a high rate of relapse among people who have become dependent on addictive behavior. It has less to do with the addiction and more to do with the original causes that created the dependency. There is a wake-up call for each of us who are tempted to walk only to the first oasis in the desert and camp out for the rest of our days. The wake-up call is to go the distance all the way through the desert to the other side. That other side is the peace that comes to those courageous enough to address the unresolved family of origin issues that trigger the addiction.

    5. Wake-up calls require that you learn to bushwhack with accountability. Bushwhacking is a term that applies to a way of hiking in the wilderness. There is no trail. You just go—through thickets, over boulders, aimlessly moving into the adventure of the woods and great outdoors. It is a very uncomfortable way to travel. It may be a shortcut or may not be. What is involved is an adventure and exploration of the forest. Recovery growth engages a form of bushwhacking. Going deep always includes an uncharted course to follow that embraces getting out of your comfort zone. It calls for you to acknowledge your inconsistency. It requires that you own your incongruence. It demands that you admit your hypocrisy. It summons you to submit to the accountability of community to draw you back from these human frailties to be true to your heart. This is the wake-up call that curates relapse prevention and cultivates the character of long-term sobriety.  

    Feeling Like a Fraud — No One Wants to be an Imposter 

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    “All my friends thought I was a very happy human being. Because that’s how I acted- like a really happy human being. But all that pretending made me tired. If I acted the way I felt, then I doubt my friends would have really hung out with me. So the pretending wasn’t all bad. The pretending made me less lonely. But in another way, it made me more lonely because I felt like a fraud. I’ve always felt like a fake human being.” ― Benjamin Alire Saenz, Last Night I Sang to the Monster

    One of the common disclosures that I hear from addicts is the experience of feeling like a fraud. Living a fraudulent life is exhausting. The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde experience of addiction leaves an addict painfully lonely and hollow inside, feeling like an imposter. Of course, this would be true of anyone, not just addicts. The longing to be authentic to oneself is a common thirst and hunger among all. As Richard Rohr puts it, “We all would like to find the true shape of our own self.” Being who you are is healing and creates a sense of calm and empowerment within.

    There is always a struggle to separate your True Self from your False Self. The True Self is who you really are, that unrepeatable miracle of the universe. It is the divine DNA about you, your organic wholeness, which is manifested in your destiny. Whereas, the False Self is the image we put forward in impression management. It can be promoted by way of your vocation, what you wear, where you live, who you know, and/or how you live. It falls short of being the real genuine you. Yet, once you are connected with who you are on the inside, how you express yourself on the outside begins to reflect your True Self. It is in our False Self that we identify with the imposters of the world because when we are not our True Self, inside we feel fake. 

    It has been my experience that when you are genuine, you feel and even fit better in your skin. Like the velveteen rabbit—the “real” never rubs off. A False Self is never truly satisfying. It triggers addiction and the need to keep trying to be more to keep from being less. The False Self makes a person hyper-vigilant from a fear of not measuring up. It triggers the practice of impression management. When you ground yourself in your authentic True Self, you find your true identity.

    The greatest challenge to the True Self is living an incongruent life. When what you feel is different from what you say and what you do, you can get stuck with incongruent living. The truth is everyone is incongruent sometimes. But, when it happens over and again this spells trouble as you begin living a double life. An addict must unravel this dilemma in order to establish consistent long-term sobriety. When what an addict thinks and values is in tune with what he feels, this begins to harmonize with what he says and does resulting in sobriety and serenity. 

    To accomplish this mindset, you will need to manage paradox. While congruent living is the goal, the reality is that everyone is inconsistent, incongruent, and hypocritical in some ways. I have not known an addict in recovery who has always been consistent with every recovery task. The footprint of hypocrisy treads through everyone’s life. Sometimes the impact is major or at times less so. It underscores the human condition.

    Coming to terms with our limits, embracing brokenness, and shortcomings is the recipe for cultivating humility. Without humility, it is impossible to go deep into personal brilliance. People can find personal brilliance in the presence of arrogance, but they won’t go deep enough. Embracing the human condition with humility is the key to going deep so you’ll want to enlist some help.

    Managing incongruence, inconsistency and hypocritical behavior requires accountability. The strength of accountability keeps human weakness in check and cultivates humility. So, rather than impersonate sobriety or serenity, addicts are encouraged to humbly confess their shortcomings knowing that the power of accountability will call them back to a centered, congruent life. To preserve your True Self, it is necessary to practice telling on yourself.

    At a 12-Step meeting, once you tell everyone your deepest dark shameful secret which is received with support and acceptance from those attending. It is difficult to return and tell the same people that the behavior you committed to not doing— you did again. There is a fear of rejection and embarrassment even though you are in a room full of addicts. Then, if you have had weeks or years of sobriety, become a sponsor or a trusted servant in the meetings— there is even greater fear of rejection if you need to honestly disclose that you have been acting out against your values. It is difficult to tell on yourself. Yet, it is necessary to establish congruency. Not just the confession, but what is required is a commitment to self and to the group that you will do whatever it takes to get re-centered and live a sober life. This must be done to find your true authentic self. 

    Although being your True Self takes hard work, it is the only way to establish confidence toward building an authentic foundation for long-term recovery. When you are trying to be centered and sober, many distractions pull you away from focused living and back to your addiction.

    Here are a few suggestions to help address becoming stuck in your false self and how to anchor yourself in your authentic true self.

    1. Commit to loving yourself without the conditions of having to measure up to someone else’s standard. This is difficult for an addict who grew up in a family system that emphasized conditional love. Having to meet the standards of someone else will keep you stuck in your false self. You won’t know how to love and accept who you are while addressing hurtful, destructive behaviors. You will feel pressure to fake it in the presence of others who you surmise have learned to make it. Maya Angelou once said “I do not trust people who don’t love themselves and yet tell me, ‘I love you.’ There is an African saying which is: “Be careful when a naked person offers you a shirt.” Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all. Practice cocooning yourself with acceptance and love even when you feel valueless. It is especially important to treat yourself as valuable and to do the next right thing even when you do not meet the standard. It is not about making it ok to act out or to fail a desired standard, rather it is about finding your significance other than from performance. It is about embracing your sense of being and truly loving that. This will bring you back to your true authentic self.

    2. When you think of yourself on the outside of the bubble looking in you will need to blow a new bubble and put yourself in it – You will not be able to transform yourself from your false self to your true self without reframing your life experience regarding meeting other’s expectations. The power of reframing will help you to accept the reality of disappointing behavior while anchoring your reality to your true authentic self. There is no fraud in separating results, success, or failure from your true self. 

    3. Allow yourself to grieve disappointing behavior and failed results. Circularity is a part of the grieving process—languishing/lingering/going back to the dead carcass of what used to be—is all a part of grieving. There is a time to walk away and never turn back. Yet, many entertain an approach of out of sight out of mind and fail to embrace effective grieving. It is important to grieve the loss of your false self (your addictive behavior) to move forward in the development of your true authentic self.

    4. Remember the oyster: Value can be reclaimed from disappointment and irritating, devastating experiences. When a grain of sand penetrates an oyster’s shell, it irritates the oyster, making it distressed and annoyed. The oyster relieves the discomfort by coating the sand with a moist fluid. When the fluid hardens, a pearl is formed. The very process that healed the oyster creates a precious jewel of great value. Your frustration and failed experience do not need to end by remaining stuck in your false self. You can transform your false self into the pearl of being genuinely who you are by practicing telling on yourself and anchoring yourself to your authentic true self. This is the crucible experience which creates gold from failed attempts.

    Things We Need to Talk About But Don’t Touch

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    “We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we began and to know the place for the first time.” —T.S. Eliot

    This is true about recovery. It is such a repetitive cyclical experience in so many ways. There are many portals to explore and understand about addictive behavior. Open one door and it seems to lead to the next. You learned how to end your addictive behavior and stop the out-of-control train going down the track. Desperation opened the door to a belief in a Higher Power that restored you to sanity. Yet, stubborn willfulness blocked the decision to turn your will over to the care of that Higher Power. It brought you back to where you started with your addictive mindset dominating your behavior, and you repeated the same experience as before. Each time you repeat, the pattern becomes an opportunity to know yourself for the first time. 

    The recovery experience invites you to talk about things that you don’t touch. There are secrets. You are invited to open your deepest darkest hidden experience and expose it to the light of day. You are encouraged to get emotionally naked about reality, often in the presence of people you don’t know that well or for that long. 

    The exploration doesn’t stop with the addictive behavior. The challenge is to explore all of our behaviors and our relationships. Some 12-step groups insist that you only relate to one identified addiction during your time to share. I have always found this limiting. Recovery is pervasive in its journey of research and examination. It requires that you turn over every stone and inquire, with curiosity, pathways you have not explored. Many in recovery choose not to open doors about intimacy and relationships. They limit their 12-step journey to remaining sober from their addiction. They know a lot about staying sober and less about intimacy and building relationships. 

    Addicts talk about things with their sponsors and others but often don’t open their hearts to their partners. They become good about sharing vulnerability with those who are distant. They give good advice about how to be emotionally open but remain closed and distant at home. There is so much that needs to be talked about that is never touched at home. 

    Feelings like stress, anxiety, and fear build on the inside. An addict becomes lonely and seeks escape from discomfort. H/She sits with a craving to escape through their drug of choice. It is powerful because it works for a while. The pain is so great and the relief is so powerful. 

    Your partner also has anxiety, stress, fear, and loneliness building within. They also want to escape. It could be through their addiction. It often takes the form of a cocktail of other experiences like busyness, electronic games, children’s activities, running errands, or exercise. The emptiness in the relationship builds as both partners avoid what needs to be talked about but is never touched. 

    An addict may talk about the experience in a 12-step community. Yet, if it is never discussed with your partner, the 12-step group becomes a lifelong partner of triangulation. You can avoid opening your heart to the partner you should be talking with by sharing instead with a third party. The void between you and that person grows as you lament to your 12-step group. This becomes particularly sad when that person is your romantic partner. 

    To stop the fantasy about your addiction you need to tell on yourself to your partner who, in turn,  needs to talk to you about how they try to escape from their discomfort. When partners do this with each other, the void between them shrinks and the feelings of discomfort give way to the richness of emotional intimacy.  No third-party relationship has ever been able to replace the richness of intimacy that is created when you touch what needs to be shared with your partner about the truth of who you are. Each time you talk about what you don’t want to touch in a relationship you will arrive where you began and know the place for the first time. 

    Hangovers

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    Fred has been a recovering sex addict for 5 years. Sexual acting out used to be an organizing principle in his life. He woke up everyday thinking of numbing out with porn and hooking up with whoever he could find on the internet. It nearly cost him his family, his job, and even his life. One day an escort and her pimp robbed him of everything he had. At gunpoint, they forced him to go to his bank and withdraw $10,000 from his account. He was told that there was a gun pointed at his head throughout the entire bank transaction and would be killed if he did not bring them the exact amount. This was hitting bottom for Fred. He promised that if he escaped this predicament, he would seek help and change his lifestyle. And he did. He sought out a certified sex addiction therapist. He began going to 12-step meetings, worked the steps, changed his life, and experienced healing within and in his marriage and family. That was 5 years ago! 

    Moving forward he managed sexual addiction cravings with the tools that he had learned in therapy and 12-step groups. Things were headed in the right direction. Then COVID hit. He was laid off from his work and had to scramble, doing anything to pay the bills. There was a lot of stress and anxiety that persisted throughout the 2 years since the COVID lockdown. Eventually fatigue, stress, and anxiety wore him down. One night while driving home he pulled into the parking lot of a strip club, drank, and paid for several lap dances. The next morning he woke up with a hangover not only from the alcohol but from the reality that he surrendered all the vestiges of meaningful sobriety and serenity that he had accumulated in his recovery program the 5 years before. He was sick to his stomach, dulled with brain fog, and profound loneliness and emptiness. The emotional pain was indescribable. Alone, he screamed in despair. He was suffering from the hangover of relapse behavior. 
    Hangovers suck! Hangovers always deliver what they promise—headaches, dizziness, fatigue, nausea, irritability, and other symptoms. Most people associate hangovers with drinking too much or other drug abuse. But, hangovers are the result of many behaviors. Other than its relationship to chemical abuse, the dictionary defines a hangover as something that remains from what is past. Its the letdown that follows great effort and excitement. Hangovers follow every act out and trigger further use of a substance or process.

    Every addict knows the pain of a hangover that follows an addictive behavior. Addicts who succumb to relapse are highly susceptible to repeating the destructive behavior until the old addictive lifestyle is once again in place. It happens amazingly fast! Hangovers play a significant role in the reconstitution of addiction. Surprised by the relapse, addicts fall victim to the power of shame and the staggering emotional pain that is part of the hangover aftermath. 

    Most addicts relapse in their attempts to gain control of their addiction. Listed below are suggestions to consider in working through the hangover that accompanies relapse behavior.

    1. Get out of harm’s way. You may have to drag yourself away but don’t let the bus of addiction run over you repeatedly with added relapse behavior. Call someone in recovery. The risk of further addictive behavior increases exponentially on the heels of a hangover. Loneliness, shame, depression, failure, etc are intense feelings that overwhelm and tempt you to medicate with addictive behavior. You must take the power away from the junkie worm with a radical behavioral pattern interruption. Examples include going to a 12-step meeting, calling a recovery friend (even in the middle of the night), throwing your keys down a storm sewer to keep you from driving under the influence, or whatever you need to do to remove yourself from harm’s way.

    2. Surround yourself with support. When you relapse, shame wants to force you into isolation. Rather than isolate, you must insulate yourself with people who you know love you, understand, and will support you no matter what. Addicts in recovery who engage in a 12-step meeting with openness and vulnerability create connections that are helpful during a time of crisis in their recovery. It is critical to reach out to other addicts in recovery when you face relapse. You will falter. Create a community that will be there and help you restore yourself to sanity and centered living.

    3. Practice sitting with the pain that accompanies relapse failure. No matter what you do after a relapse, you cannot escape the pain of the hangover. You can mitigate its effects with self-care and reconnecting with your program. That said, relapse always produces intense emotional pain and disappointment. Rather than try to escape, which might increase the possibility of relapse, practice accepting and leaning into the emotional pain. Leaning into the pain of relapse differs from choosing to wallow in the failure of relapse which quickly becomes a way to escape and avoid doing the next right thing in self-care. It hampers a mature response to failure. Leaning into the pain is accepting what happened and moving forward with the next right recovery steps toward re-centering yourself in a healthy life balance. The good news is that the hangover does wear off in time.

    4. Divorce yourself from the behavior. You are not your behavior. You will have to condition yourself during this moment of discouragement and shame. Put the shame on the behavior and not your sense of self. Separating the behavior from your personhood will help you nurture compassion for yourself and those you hurt with your destructive behavior. There is no greater prevention for further relapse than compassion and empathy.

    5. Learn from every relapse failure. While you are not a failure, you can learn something about yourself that can cement future sobriety in every failed experience. The lessons you glean from your failed experience are the gold you create to fulfill your recovery destiny. Allow yourself to be a mistake-making person. Take away the treasure of wisdom from each mistake before you throw away the rind of failed behavior.

    The loneliness and emptiness that is core to the experience of relapse hangover paralyze many addicts who have relapsed. The way through the hangover is to fix your eyes on re-centering your vision of recovery. Move through relapse behavior by anchoring your heart with actions of recovery practice. The hangover will wear off provided you do the necessary self-care. 

    The Secret Life of Long-Term Sobriety, Part 1

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    For many in recovery sobriety is a mystery.  A 12-step group usually starts with a prayer and often ends with clasped hands in a circle repeating in unison “It works if you work it and you’re worth it”. Over the years I have heard many addicts testify that in those same meetings, after all the good-declared intention, they acted out before they got home and sometimes even before they left the parking lot.

    There is a great divide in reality at 12-step meetings. There are the haves and have-nots. Those who have sobriety and those who don’t. For many, sobriety is elusive. At times, after working hard to achieve sobriety, it can slip through the fingers in the blink of an eye, or so it seems. How are some able to achieve and maintain long-term sobriety while others cannot?

    Over the next two blogs, I want to propose 11 keys that are vital to creating long-term sobriety:

    1. A decision to stop no matter what it takes. This, like the ten other keys, seems like a no-brainer. Yet, through observance of the meetings I attend and the addicts I counsel, this key is often missing. I ask many addicts who come to do work at PCS if they are done with their addiction. I often get the reply “I’m here, aren’t I?” It’s almost as if somehow showing up to the PCS building would be magical and that the building and all the therapists will transform him or her from a raging addict to zen-like sobriety. Addicts can make a great therapist look inept or an average therapist into a rockstar. It all depends upon the attitude that he or she chooses. I recall my wife Eileen and I saying to each other that “we would hock our socks” to get healthy. That was about the reality that we had no funds for treatment. The decision was to do whatever it takes. Many addicts come to a 12-step meeting without a “white hot” intensity to transform their lives. They look for someone to give them something or to take care of them. It is common for some addicts to show up with an attitude of entitlement. Long-term sobriety requires something very simple: You must want to stop more than anything else in the world.

    2. Be humble. You would think that an addict’s life of frustration and failure would result in humility. Yet, often this is not the case. Addicts present most frequently with arrogance. Some are full of conceit and presumption while others seem demure on the surface, but underneath are full of disdain and hubris. The truth is that practicing humility is a lifelong challenge. It requires charting a recovery course that includes holding your attitude and spirit accountable to group members. It demands that you put people in your life who role model humility. It is common for addicts in recovery to assume they won’t need to practice humility and lose their hunger for it. Often, addicts fall into a trap that they have done this work for so long that they do not need to embrace this fundamental component of recovery. This is where you fall into lapse or relapse behavior. You might not act out but for sure you will stop growing deep without humility.

    3. Be coachable. I will never forget my earliest days in 12-step recovery. I would question the purpose of each step and present as cynical of the overall process. My sponsor, Chip, who was for the most part mild-mannered, cleared his throat and said “Ken, I think it would be in your best interest to shut up and just do what you were told to do”. This admonition hurt my feelings and was used to save my own life. It is rare to find an addict who is hungry to take guidance. Most of us think we can do this by ourselves. You can be inspired by others who testify about reaching out, but most of us don’t do this very well. This is true even though your best thoughts and actions got you into the addict-behavior mess you are in. With stubborn inflexibility, many addicts refuse to listen or take action from what they hear in a 12-step meeting. The doctor can write the prescription, but you have to take the medicine.

    4. Live your recovery in consultation with accountability. There is an oft-repeated saying around 12-step groups, “If 8 or 9 people tell you that you have a tail . . .check your ass in the mirror!” Though humorous, there is important recovery wisdom here. Addicts don’t want anyone telling them what to do. They bristle with direct feedback. Yet there is no other way to establish long-term sobriety. It requires a shift in spirit and attitude. The reason a sponsor tells a sponsee to call them every day is to create the habit of living in consultation. Most addicts won’t do this. It contributes to shortsighted relapse. There is a difference between consultation and dependence. Recovery becomes a paradox. You are taught to consult, and in the end, every action you take in your life is about your choice and decision. Be accountable. Live in consultation with others. It cements long-term sobriety.

    5. Don’t just do the steps. Learn to live them in commonplace experience. Addicts get overwhelmed trying to do the steps. Perfectionism is a contributing reason why some addicts stop before completing all the steps. Step 4 is particularly difficult. More addicts get stuck in Step 4 than any other step. Addicts think they have to do this monumental undertaking. It’s as if you must walk through burning coals and stay there until your sponsor permits you to step out. Step 4 is difficult. We don’t have to make it harder than it is. A thorough Step 4 is never complete. So, address a character flaw, even a few. Sit with it. Learn what you can in the moment of focus and then move on. It is important in recovery to understand we don’t do the 12 steps but we learn to embrace and apply them in the common places of everyday living. 

    What Can Be Learned From Those Who Do Not Make It

    READ IT TO ME: Click play to listen to this post.

    Every blog post I have ever written addresses tools to help addicts avoid relapse, rebuild their lives, and deepen intimacy with themselves and others. I have worked in the field of addiction recovery for 28 years. There have been many inspirational success stories. There were some I thought would maintain long-term sobriety for years but left the program and went dark. There were others who I swore didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell to maintain sobriety, who became a source of inspiration for healing in the world they live. It’s impossible to know who will stick to a recovery program and who will not. 

    Today’s post is about those who didn’t make it.  If you work in the field of addiction recovery you become conditioned to know that some addicts seeking recovery will respond and others won’t. It is tough when someone does respond and makes solid progress, then tragically goes back to old destructive behaviors. They disappear from group attendance and you don’t hear from them again.  It’s disappointing! Once you were close in communication and knew more about their life than anyone else on the planet. Then suddenly they’re gone, never to be heard from again. The situations that are most difficult are those who lost their lives in the fight against their demons.  It is difficult to let go of these tragedies. Over time there have been many in my professional life I never forget those whom I have worked with who lost their lives to their drug of choice.  I want to dedicate this blog to those who lost their battle with addiction and their lives. Part of me left this world with them when they lost the fight. I would like to share a few stories about those who tragically lost their battle against addiction. Of course, I have changed the names to protect their anonymity. 

    Max was a truck driver. He was tough, burly, and an all-or-nothing type of thinker. He meant what he said and with determination would follow through with his recovery commitments. His weakness was gin and tonic. His wife Martha loved him and codependently tried to please him. When Max wasn’t drinking he was great. When he drank he was mean, unpredictable, and volatile. He was also bipolar and when he drank gin and tonic he would stop taking his medication.  Max routinely worked a 12-step program and credited a new-found faith in God for deepening his commitment to program work. All went well for Max during the many months I worked with him to overcome his addiction. However, throughout the course of time tension grew between Max and his wife. He began to struggle with the long over-the-road hours that his job demanded. He shut down communication with his wife and pulled away from others who had been helpful. 

    He complained that the trucking company he worked for cheated him of his earnings.  He was resentful and angry that they reprimanded him for inaccurately documenting driving hours while on the road. His backslide was shockingly rampant. He became sporadic with his program. My contact with him became more crisis-focused around fights with his wife and less focused on vulnerability toward addictive cravings.  He stopped taking his meds and became more combative in our conversations. Then, one night his wife called me and said that Max had gone off the deep end. She said he holed himself up in a hotel with a couple of bottles of gin and tonic and a gun. She wanted me to call him so I did. Though Max was glad I called, he was very reactive and agitated. Someone had called the police because of erratic behavior witnessed by others at the hotel. When the police arrived they knocked on his door and he panicked.  He began screaming obscenities with irrational thoughts about his wife and the world around him. The police entered the room with a management key. Instantly Max picked up his gun pulled the trigger and shot himself in the head. I will never forget walking down the concrete corridor of the morgue at the hospital with his wife to identify his body. When they pulled the curtain back from the window in the room where his body lay, screams from his wife echoed throughout the concrete corridor of that hospital. Max was a dear man. Without the meds, he lost his reasoning. Without the support community, he lost his way, his self, and his life. I often wonder how many like Max remain in the bubble of self-destruction unable to tame their demons of addiction.

    Steve was a medical professional, a family man, and a sex addict. He struggled with perfectionism trying to please his wife Wendy. When he failed to do so, which was often, he responded by shutting down with denial, half-truths, and lies by omission. Shame dogged him like a pack of wolves chasing him relentlessly through the woods. He just couldn’t handle the failure. He tried to beat himself up to a better place, and that never works.   His public persona was quiet and even keel. However, inwardly he was deeply troubled with visceral turmoil. His inner struggle began to explode at home. I worked with him and his wife for a season of time. There were many hours that I walked alongside while Steve languished in turbulence and unrest about his defensiveness and deceit. During that time he made good progress but would chronically relapse. He sought support through a 12-step recovery and made a few connections. He worked hard and demonstrated hope for healing. However, over time his gains faded into failure and he wallowed in shame and guilt. He began to isolate himself with bitter disappointment. Slowly, he began to cut out most of his therapy and 12-step support. The relationship with his wife that he prized and hoped would heal ended in divorce. He spiraled into uncontrollable depression and defeat. Shame ate away at his core self till nothing was left to build on. He lost sight of hope and help. He made one last effort in treatment with failed results. Steve wallowed in immense emotional pain.  In desperation to escape the pain and emotional struggle, he took his life while in close proximity to others who were trying to help him fan the flame of hope and resilience.  Overwhelmed with shame, misery, and mental illness that accompanied his compulsive sexual behavior, hope was snuffed out once and for all. Steve was a sensitive soul. He was not a hardened playboy with a long resume of sexual infidelity. He simply was unable to stop masturbating to porn and find a way to forgive himself. The hounds of shame had cornered him, and suicide was his only way out. 

    Why is it that some people face the adversity of addiction and seem to transform their lives while others are unable to get back on their feet and even perish from the same challenge? Here are a few considerations gleaned from the stories of Max and Steve.

    1. Shame dominated both men.  A rigid embrace of sobriety is not sustainable. Both men were clear about their bottom-line behaviors that indicated acting out. Neither knew how to bring themselves back to the center when lapse or relapse behavior occurred. They struggled with being stuck in the mud of shame and self-criticism. Staying stuck in shame without knowing how to crawl out of the muck and mire of failure distorts perspective and increases the mistaken belief that you can never recover right. Both men were perfectionists which is like throwing gasoline onto a fire of dry tinder. Many addicts in recovery never learn to stalk their shame in order to separate their behavior from their sense of self. So, if they do shitty behavior it means they are a piece of shit. Ultimately, if an addict stays stuck in a mistaken belief, h/she will produce results to support the distorted belief. Max always contended that he was not normal and would not be able to measure up to others. Steve was mired in perfectionism from day one. The harder they tried to get out of their own way, the deeper the hole they dug striving to do recovery perfectly. It was a major force that influenced their demise.

    2. Both ignored developing self-parenting skills.  Recovery is about successfully learning to do self-care. The term “self-parenting” fits because subconsciously addicts try to fulfill parental needs, that were not met in childhood, through significant relationships in the present. Yet, what happens is that when you try to fulfill individual wholeness from a partner, the opposite occurs. It’s the old adage that 1/2 x 1/2 = 1/4 when you thought it would make a whole. To fulfill your quest for happiness and safety, it is required that you take responsibility for making yourself whole by addressing your own childhood neediness. The only way to become whole is to practice being your own parent. When Max came home physically and mentally exhausted because of his cross-country truck run, he expected Martha to fill his empty cup with attention and care. Martha ran around like a chicken with her head cut off trying to make Max comfortable and glad to be home. But, Max was a perfectionist and when he was needy no one on this side of heaven would possibly be able to fulfill his needs in the way he wanted. Steve was determined to do things just right to get the smile of approval from his wife. But in his mind, he always screwed up. To cover his shortcomings, he thought he needed to minimize hurt or lie about what seemed unsatisfactory. Both men’s attempts to rely on their partners for approval and self-care had a short shelf life. They were destined to fail and they did.

    3. Both men wanted their partners to be emotionally close and then pulled away in isolation. Both Max and Steve were intimacy-disabled which is the essence of addiction. Each had plans to approach their partner with open hearts. We talk about different strategies to make it happen. Yet, mired in perfectionism, each was stymied. when the results did not turn out exactly as they had hoped. Max was disappointed after surprising Martha with dinner at a favorite restaurant. Martha was exhausted from cleaning and preparing the house for his return home from the road  She was too tired to be sexual after dinner. Max pouted and thought he screwed up and withdrew. The next day they fought about something small and silly cementing isolation between the two. Steve was under pressure the entire week with numerous surgeries in succession every day. His wife engaged a ladies’ night out on Thursday. By then Steve was totally exhausted, functioning on fumes. He decided to go to bed early. While checking his email, he gave in to the urge to look at porn and ended up masturbating. The next day when his wife asked how he did with his sobriety he lied and denied any challenges. Locked with shame he left for work isolated and lonely. He began to think he could not stop the porn, the masturbation, and the lies. Both shrunk from open-hearted confession with their 12-step groups. In the end, both were alone, isolated from themselves, their partners, their support, and their world. It drove both men to the edge and over. 

    It is uncommon for most addicts who relapse to become so profoundly stuck that their only choice is to take themselves out. That said, it occurs more frequently than most realize. For sure, every addict who is stuck in the muck and mire of shame, who fails to practice healthy self-care and is isolated from support is destined to relapse. Without addressing these key areas of recovery you will not create long-term sobriety. It is important to learn from the pitfalls and failures of those who have hurt themselves and did not make it.

    Perfect is Never Part of the Plan

    READ IT TO ME: Click play to listen to this post.

    “She’s not perfect. You aren’t either, and the two of you will never be. But if she can make you laugh at least once, cause you to think twice, and admits to being human and making mistakes, hold onto her and give her the most you can. She isn’t going to quote poetry or think about you every moment, but she will give you a part of her that she knows you could break. Don’t hurt her, don’t change her, and don’t expect more than she can give. Don’t analyze. Smile when she makes you happy, yell when she makes you mad, and miss her when she’s not there. Love hard when there is love to be had. Because perfect people don’t exist, but there’s always one person that is perfect for you.” ― Bob Marley

    When addicts come to recovery, there is always a desire to do it perfectly. On the one hand,  their ego tells them they can. “Twelve steps, twelve days, knock it down, what’s next!” I’ve heard it more than once.  On the other hand, “failure, missing the mark is so painful I don’t want to get up and try one more time” is a common lament from many.  More than one addict can testify that they have a drawer full of chips reminding them of commitments made and broken. Why try if I can never reach the mark, never measure up?  Recovery becomes like the life they have always lived. Somehow I should be able to do this perfectly and I cannot because I am woefully imperfect. 

    Baseball great Mickey Mantle once reflected on the average experience of his Hall of Fame baseball career. He said, “During my 18 years of major league baseball I came to bat almost 10,000 times. I struck out about 1,700 times and walked another 1,800 times. You figure a ball player will have about 500 at-bats a season. That means I played seven years without ever hitting the ball.”

    The average experience of a baseball player is making an out, not getting a hit. In the presence of striving for success, even for someone as great as Mickey Mantle, there is a compelling story of difficulty and strife to share. Mantle’s authentic willingness to connect with his intimate battle with failure forced him to practice the fundamental basics of self-care. As a result, these common-place experiences of struggle enabled him to look back at his Hall of Fame career and understand how to put imperfection in its proper perspective. No matter who you are, transforming meaningfulness from mundane moments of struggle and failure requires accepting imperfection. It is necessary to embrace the benefits of average commonplace struggles.

    When you don’t measure up to what you expect, you then scale down your expectations of achievement which can be helpful or disastrous. Moving acting out behavior from your inner circle to your middle circle and denying that it is any longer acting out but just high-risk behavior is disastrous for sobriety. You just practice old destructive behaviors you did before recovery with a different label. In your attempt to be perfect, you end up accelerating more shame. No one ever beats themselves up to a better place.

    However, when you fail to measure up to what you intended, it is important to adjust the way you treat yourself. Rather than criticize and judge your failed behavior, it is transformative to recognize the mistake and then focus on the next right behavior which always anchors being centered. Centered living involves grounding yourself in your values. When you blow it, either by relapsing into addictive behavior or falling short of treating yourself and others with respect and dignity, you will need to practice ignoring the inner critical voice, bring yourself back to the center, and anchor yourself to your values. You will feel hypocritical, discouraged, and dejected because of your failed behavior. You will need to embrace your imperfect behavior by positively affirming who you are. This takes practice and everyday conditioning. You will need to create healing affirmations that you engage in as frequently as you brush your teeth before they consistently transform your imperfect behavior into empowerment.  Slowly your new relationship with imperfection will emerge. Being able to bring yourself back to center is more important than never having left center in the first place. 

    Imperfection contains the secret message the universe would like you to have to live life in harmony. Striving to be perfect deafens your inner ear to the message of the universe. When you persist toward perfection, you will hide inevitable shortcomings and run from the message they have for you. Managing imperfection requires that you listen to the pain of failure and shortcomings. For example, as an addict when you crave a fix from your drug of choice, after you take yourself out of harm’s way, listen to the legitimate need that must be met with healthy self-parenting. Your imperfect craving will contain a message from the universe to take care of yourself in this extremely needy moment. Perfection will try to deny the craving and thus miss the message from the universe. By embracing your imperfection you will transform the curse of craving into a blessing of personal care and intimacy. Imperfection teaches you to listen to your feelings and become present in the present moment. 

    Managing imperfection means that you will need to recognize when you have handed the reins of control over to the small child within. As a child, you become emotionally stuck around the needs that did not get met and are fueled by neglect and abandonment. When that perception is triggered as an adult, the inner child seizes the moment and flees or freezes with fear. At that moment, you give power to the little boy or little girl to address an adult decision and you render your powerful wise-mind adult inoperative. The results of this interaction are dismal. Perfection denies or becomes overwhelmed with the failure. Managing imperfect moments means that you take the reins respectfully from the child and assert your adult-wise mind to address the need or situation. This, too, will require training and practice. Again, perfect is never part of the plan.

    Managing imperfection requires that you cultivate the concept of Velvet Steel. This recovery skill is an art form. Most addicts are hard or harsh (steel) where they need to be gentle, and soft (velvet) where they need to be steel. The misapplication fuels addictive behavior. In striving for perfection you will miss cultivating velvet steel. Likely, you will become stoic and stern in your endeavor to live a sober life.  

    Managing imperfection requires learning when to apply the strict letter of the law about your behavior and when to be gentle. Parents must learn this as they guide children through the stages of life. Rigidity around failure and imperfection is a breeding ground for shame. 

    You will develop the art of living when you learn to make imperfection your teacher.  Allow your difficulties to become your learning and source for growth. Set recovery goals that challenge rather than defeat you before you begin. Be realistic. Accept imperfection and stretch yourself from there. Your imperfect feelings will help you grow in self-care and understanding toward others. 

    Your choice in recovery is not whether to use affirmations. We’ve been affirming thoughts and beliefs since we were old enough to speak. The choice in recovery is what we want to affirm. Whatever thoughts you give energy to, empower you. Are you willing to release, or let go of, negative thought patterns and replace them with positive ones? Will you choose to affirm imperfection and make it good? Remember, perfect is never part of the plan. 

    Step 2: The Step That Creates Humility in the Presence of Willful Self Destruction

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    “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” 

    “It belongs to the imperfection of everything human that man can only attain his desire by passing through its opposite.” Soren Kierkegaard

    In 12-step addiction recovery, the phrase “self will run riot” is cataloged and documented in our first step focuses on the out-of-control and unmanaged behavior that dominates our lives. Step 2 is an invitation to step back, take a deep breath, and examine the carnage that you created through the eyes of your spirit. 

    In recovery, spirituality is a very difficult concept to embrace. It asks of you to consider opposites. So, in order to win it encourages you to lose; to be in control, it asks that you let go, to know is to humbly embrace what you don’t know. At times, it seems like trying to nail jelly to a tree. You talk about your spiritual experience in a support community. At the time, it seems so meaningful and then later it seems so difficult to make sense from what was then helpful. The worthwhile dialogue gets fuzzy in your head. Wisdom and learning can be this way.

    Examining what I need to relinquish in order to gain sobriety and serenity requires introspection and deep honesty with self. Letting go of what I cannot control demands courage and integrity to the values that go deeper than the grip of what I am afraid to lose. Embracing what you do not know requires that you be willing to sit with uncertainty and the insecurity that comes from things around you being impermanent. There are no cookbook recipes or formulas that are universal for you or anyone else to do in life. You have to figure it out yourself. Kurtz and Ketcham in their book, The Spirituality of Imperfection, compared spirituality to the mortar that holds a fireplace together. The metaphor invokes that you consider what it is that you are truly counting on to hold your life together. Upon reflection, as a Christian, I knew the appropriate response would be Jesus. Yet, spirituality required me to go deeper with honesty. Careful examination revealed that what I really depended upon when cornered by life’s demands, is that I would work my ass off. Then I would dress it up with religious words. Nothing wrong with working hard. Nonetheless, spirituality beckoned me, to be honest with self. This is the heart of spirituality. 

    Spirituality can be unnerving. Some identify their spirituality with a relationship with God. Others think it to be Jesus. Some even re-work the steps and put Jesus’ name in many of the steps. Others think spirituality centers around Buddha, Allah, Jehovah, the Great Spirit, Pachamama, Mother Nature, higher power, higher self, unknown creative force, life force energy of the universe, and even the tree in the backyard. Annie Parisse said, “One man’s cult is another man’s religion.” Spirituality wraps around and through all of these concepts. Even, the word itself is limited. It is just a vocabulary word which does rankle some. Atheists do not believe in God and many are bothered by the very word spirituality. Surely, with the thousands of words in our vocabulary, there can be another word to embrace this dynamic. Spirituality does require vulnerability—looking at yourself from the inside/out. It implores you to become emotionally naked to yourself and amazingly expands when you share this with others. Why others? Others mirror back to you your own bullshit. Seeing your own bullshit in others becomes an invite to a deeper, more clear spirituality within.

    Spirituality is found in the wound of human failure. Entangled with the wound is the powerful shackle of shame that wraps itself around the spirit like an infectious worm. Defeat and desolation from addictive acts become compost for cultivating humility, a cardinal component of spirituality. It is by fertilizing Step 2 and nourishing your spirit that later in Step 9 we make amends from the compassion for others spawned from Step 2. Spirituality is the ingredient that forms an antibiotic for conceit and arrogance. It combats self-sufficiency, self-centeredness, and the pride that denies need which is the root of all our struggles. In a strange turn of events, the Step 2 process takes the broken condition of addiction and connects it to every other human tribulation. We are all one. Through this epiphany, we look to a greater spiritual dynamic to address the limiting “crack” so common to us all. I have often queried addicts about which part of their destructive behavior is the most difficult to face—the consequences, the realness of a loved one’s painful screams, etc. Once identified, I suggest this to be the place to set up shop and cultivate spirituality—in the wound. It is in the scrubbing of shame (the wound) in this most painful place that spirituality is fostered and nourished.

    Spirituality is about oneness and unity. It is about a relationship between equals. It is about recognizing the shared life force within all living things. We are one: Catholic, Jew, Pentecostal, fundamentalist, atheist, animal and plant—we are all one. Differences for sure. Yet, connected with like-kindness so often obscured. Spirituality creates compassion for yourself in the midst of destructive behavior which cultivates compassion for the weakness of others. You become one with every “sinner”.  So the victim of destructive addictive behavior is one with the perpetrator because we are all one in common shared weakness. Essentially, we all offend and this common thread of paradox creates spirituality. Spirituality becomes a necessary ingredient for accountability. If we all offend, not just the addict, then it stands to reason that holding each other accountable is necessary to create safety in community. It becomes the glue that holds the parts of recovery together.

    Spirituality is a pilgrimage, not a destination. It always encompasses the terrain of personal struggle and failure. Spirituality does not travel the same line that a crow flies. It takes a very circuitous journey. It includes winding, up and down, backtracking, getting lost, criss crossed paths and starting all over. Spirituality looks like a picture of a labyrinth that a kindergartener has scribbled all over. Spirituality finds meaningfulness in the experiences of each day versus the amount of growth or “distance” gained. Joseph Campbell states “When you’re on a journey, and the end keeps getting further and further away, then you realize that the real end is the journey”. In recovery, it is not the days counted as “success” or those experienced as “failure” but rather it is the journey that we take that is underscored as being spiritual, not the desired destination. 

    Spirituality is about community. St. John of the Cross, a mystic, said that the soul who exists outside of community is like a lone coal away from the fire which soon grows cold. You are a social creature that needs connection for spirituality to thrive. Spirituality helps to adapt and to learn flexibility. You will learn to hold fast to what is in the “now” for you never know where your spirituality might take you. In your recovery life, you will notice that it is not a pilgrimage that marches straight ahead because we always have many twists and turns, ups and downs. Those who seek to do it perfectly either fail miserably or become so wound tight that eventually, they explode. Learning to accept your own recovery failure and get up and keep going is the perspective that anchors spirituality. How far you have come pales in comparison to how far you have yet to go. Spirituality gives birth to hope when you face the unknown in that you know that you are not alone in this struggle or in facing your human failure. Your struggle is exactly what someone else will need to do the next right thing and their failure is exactly what you will need to give you hope in knowing that you are not alone. This is reality spirituality.

    In truth, spirituality does not lead to all the answers. It helps to embrace and engage the questions with genuine honesty. It promotes a beginner’s mind and will help you to become teachable. Step 2 fosters spirituality through the embrace of paradox in the contest of everyday common places of life.