As a Coach and Hypnotherapist specialising in Addictions, one of the most common questions I get from new clients is “How long does it take to end an addiction?” Whist this question can be a sincere one, the hidden question is often “When can I go back to being unconscious?”
An old friend of mine, who is known as White Bull (http://www.mankindkindman.org), asked me “If you had a kleptomaniac in your home, would you ever take your eyes off of them?” Of course, the answer is no, not for a second. If I were to do that, something precious may get stolen. Recovery is a commitment to not go back into unconsciousness. At least, not as a default operating system. If we do, our sobriety will be stolen.
Addiction recovery – A Path, Not A Destination
Recovery is an on-going process and I for one didn’t find an end – yet! I found an end to my drug use. I have the best part of 20 years of sobriety from cocaine and cannabis behind me. I don’t drink or smoke cigarettes either and, whilst I am grateful for these choices, recovery is about more than ending addictive behaviours.
Recovery Is More Than Ending Addictive Behaviours
Recovery is more than ending addictive behaviours. I want to emphasise this point because addicts tend to see things in either or, black and white, good and bad terms. This thinking leads to a tendency to seek a magic bullet that will end addiction once and for all. To my knowledge there is no such thing available. Addicts continue to seek it though, until their mind-set changes and they realise that recovery is a longer haul.
The hunt for the magic bullet is one trap. Once this mind-set shifts there is another trap waiting. This trap I see many people getting into is this. They stop acting out their addictions and feel more enthusiasm for life, sometimes feeling like they’ve been reborn. They approach each day full of curiosity and feel gratitude for choosing to leave their old ways behind. They pay attention to the important things in their lives, like work, family, relationships, health, hobbies, peer groups, and personal development. During this time they usually experience little or no desire to act out. Some attend support group meetings on a regular basis and immerse themselves in working a recovery programme.
After a period of time, usually a few weeks or months or maybe a year, the enthusiasm begins to wane. This is where complacency can come in. This doesn’t necessarily mean relapse, as they may have stable abstinence by this point. The complacency I’m speaking of is seeing a level of positive change and staying there.
Abstinence Alone Is Not Enough
Abstinence alone is not enough. Not in my experience! There may be a stage in early recovery where it feels like it is enough. This is understandable because there is a safety in abstinence, and one of our core needs in life is to feel safe. The last thing we want is to go back to our old way of life and the instability it creates. Abstinence is the beginning of the stability that is essential for healthy recovery.
Once recovery is stable, there is the potential for so much more than just abstinence. Once recovery is stable there is the possibility of finding some real meaning and purpose in this life. And yet for many people, this shift into creativity simply doesn’t happen. They have settled for a better life than before. An abstinent life is certainly better, but a better life doesn’t necessarily mean a fulfilling and meaningful life. In my experience, recovery could be summarised as a personal journey from a place of consumption, to creativity. So often I see people stop consuming, but not creating. When this happens, a part of us starves. I know because I’ve been there. The part of us that starves is that within us that longs to create.
Why Do We Get Stuck Recovery?
Why do we get stuck in recovery? There are many reasons that I see. A common one is that of recovery being developmentally lopsided. Someone follows a recovery programme, but doesn’t address the therapeutic needs that arise along the way. Someone might achieve good abstinence, but low self-esteem means that they don’t have the confidence or self-belief to create anything new for themselves. Some may be awaiting the spiritual awakening that is supposed to come as a result of a dedicated recovery. Some may think it is selfish to pursue one’s own interests.
The Need To Belong
Another reason could be because they love to feel like they belong and, in playing an active role in a recovery fellowship, they are a part of something bigger than themselves. The recovery community fulfils their previously unmet need for a family, or social group, and, in the comfort that comes from meeting that need, they have somehow gone to sleep to the full possibility of what recovery can be.
During my days of being a spiritual seeker (another addiction!) I spent a lot of time in India. Whilst on my quest for enlightenment, I visited various ashrams and sangas. I participated in a lot of retreats and met many people who were on the same journey as me. Some of them had been in India for many years and, having left their old way of life behind, had found a new life in spiritual seeking. Many had found comfort in belonging to something bigger than themselves – having finally found somewhere, a way of life, where they fitted in!
All of this is good positive stuff, but there seemed to be a common problem that many of them weren’t even consciously aware of. That being, that some of them had been seeking enlightenment for so long, they had even forgotten what it was that they were seeking. They had forgotten why they started seeking, and the reason they chose that path in the first place. Again, it seems to me that these people had seen a level of positive change in their lives and settled there.
The Full Possibility Of Recovery
If you want the whole of the potential that recovery offers, you are going to have to get really honest with yourself. You may need to change everything in your life many times, including the laziness that makes you settle for the comfortable and easy option. The choice is yours of course, and there’s nothing wrong with settling for a level of change if you feel genuinely contented there. I’m just trying to offer the full picture of what’s possible.
Be aware of this trap of finding a destination in recovery. I have often heard it said that, “The road to success is dotted with many tempting parking places”. Recovery is the path, not the destination. I’m still learning 20 years on and, as long as I’m alive, there will most likely be the possibility of evolution through taking the next step on the path. I look forward to seeing how it unfolds. I’m still a beginner at this. I’m still in beginners mind.
If you are feeling stuck in your recovery and want to leave your parking space, and continue on your path, contact me. I can help you take the next steps forward.