12 Steps, Addiction

An Honest Balance

Avoid the denial of your own ordinariness!

Anyone who struggled with the excesses of an addiction knows that the path to a life of balance is long and hard.  One moves from active addiction, through the torment of very early mental and physical withdraw.  One faces the frustration, or anger, or sadness, or terror, or… all of them, that threatens to overwhelm an admission to the addiction and a submission to a life of sobriety.  Yet, if one remains committed, white-knuckling when he or she has to, and remaining open, both introspective and sharing when needed, sobriety is possible.

Eventually, when some modicum of sobriety is achieved, and some small portion of time has elapsed, a new understanding of oneself emerges.  The addict can come to see how the addiction seeped into and affected every aspect of his or her life.  The addict comes to understand what it meant to live an addicted life, and comes to learn to understand and interpret his or her current actions in terms of the addition.  The advantage and importance of this stage in the addict’s growth must not be underestimated.  By seeing how his or her addiction has been so interwoven in every aspect of life, the addict can begin to untangle it.

By living his or her life in this way, and viewing his or her life in these terms the addict is in fact living a particular type of mindfulness.  The addict is endeavoring to stay in the moment and be present.  He or she is present for the thoughts, emotions, and ideas that may come, and this mindful addict  knows that these are like waves that wash over, but that they do not command, compel, or condone any action. They simply are.

As important and effective as this approach may be in achieving and maintaining sobriety, it is also potentially crippling.  It is a rare meeting in which a some member doesn’t describe some perfectly mundane problem and his or her reaction to it, laughingly explaining, “Well, me with my alcoholic mind….)  Or, that a member might describe an equally mundane problem but explain that it’s only a problem because he or she is an addict.

The danger here is that, having found this way of thinking and understanding to be so effective, it becomes the only way that he or she will see the world.  Eventually there is nothing in his or her life, and no thought or emotion that is not reducible to, “I’m and addict.”  Essentially we end up with: “I had to walk twenty feet to my mailbox today and you know what a problem that inconvenience is for us alcoholics.”

What is happening here is a failure to establish balance in one’s life, and it far too often plagues the member of 12 step communities.  Having, as said at the outset, lived in the extreme excesses of addiction and denial, he or she chases this new approach and understanding to its own extreme.  There they find a new kind of denial to embrace:  The denial of their own ordinariness.

The effects of this can be profound.  If everything is reducible to addiction, then the addict stands unique and apart from the lives of those who have never suffered through addiction.  In essence, the addict will feel that he and another may on the surface have the same problem, but that at its root the problem is fundamentally different.  In the addict’s mind, for you the problem is the walk to the mailbox, for him or her its “my addiction.”  In the end, it denies the commonality of all people by dividing the world into us and them, “addicts” and “normals.”  And of course, “normals” will never understand us “addicts.”

Additionally, to indulge in this extreme is to indulge in the highest melodrama.  No problem is too small, no issue is too minor, no obstacle is to readily overcome.  For the (now ex-) addict caught in this extreme the entire world, and his or her every waking moment is a life and death battle.  The height of romanticism, everything becomes about me because everything is seen through the lens of my addiction.

As a person who has experienced addiction I do understand the siren song of this extreme.  It is not an exaggeration to say the such an approach offers to make sense of EVERYTHING.  Plus, just as my active addiction made my life exciting (rarely in a good way, but emotionally exciting nonetheless)  this way of seeing myself and the world promises never a dull moment.  But attractive as it may be, it must be avoided.

A direct result of indulging this extreme is that any mindfulness that may have been sown when this approach and outlook was begun, is blown away by the tornado that is the delusion of myself as the lone warrior, apart from “normal” people, in a life and death struggle that wages for my very soul.  I no longer live in this moment, in this place – and I have  swapped my old addiction for this new one.

The real goal must, instead, be balance.  Both the extreme of my lifeas-addict and the extreme of life-defined-as-addict must be avoided.  I must avoid addiction, and I must avoid only being an addict.  I must avoid using, and I must avoid every action being nothing more than “not-using.”  Finally, I must find that middle way where my eighty-three problems are simply my eighty-three problems.  They are not the cause of addiction, nor the result of addiction.   They are simply ordinary.  As am I.



3 thoughts on “An Honest Balance

  1. This is excellent and very deep. I have often seen this type of mindset expressing itself also in people with certain kinds of disabilities (not just sobriety)If it comes from someone I care about, I see it happening, but really wouldnt have a clue how to help that person move away from that ‘pinhead’ view of the world. Gosh, I don’t think I could even describe it, but here you have done just that. Excellent post. I would enjoy more like this. 🙂

    Posted by midaevalmaiden | May 29, 2011, 9:47 pm
    • Thank you so much for your compliment and encouragement.

      I am especially encouraged by the fact that you see it as applying outside of the world of recovery. I believe is does as well, but was more comfortably speaking solely from this space.

      I also have difficulty addressing it with people, when I see it. Mostly, I try to express myself (as above, though more briefly), and try to model a different way.

      Thank you again for sharing here…

      Posted by The Habituated Buddhist | May 29, 2011, 9:56 pm
  2. Your post speaks to me about my current situation of difficulty managing bipolar symptoms. On the one hand, we need to own up to our problems: “Yes, I really am an addict. Yes, I really have a serious chronic illness. It’s not going away, and I have to manage it.”

    On the other hand, as Buddha says, “There is suffering.” It’s the human condition. We so limit ourselves when we start to feel that it’s our problems that make us special. Them’s that are wiser than me emphasize that cultivating compassion for others frees us from the pain of “terminal uniqueness.”

    I always enjoy your thoughtful posts.

    Posted by The Mindful Feast | June 12, 2011, 4:30 pm

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