Author: Justin Mckibben
Working in the blogging and social media sector of the world-wide web you get to see a lot of differences of opinion on a lot of topics; from the most mainstream to the most infamously controversial. In fact, pretty much anyone with a Facebook or Twitter account has exposure on a regular basis to a variety of intense debates and collective views. Of course another thing the internet does is provide us with perspective and statistics, and some of those data inventories actually make a strong impact on our own opinions. However, some figures may miss the mark when it comes to truly all-inclusive data. This is especially true when it comes to the measure of success in recovery from addiction.
Some people claim that the majority of support groups and programs don’t have very impressive or even adequate rates of success in recovery. Others will go as far as to claim that these support groups and recovery programs hurt more than they help. If you dig deep enough, there are plenty of people claiming that nothing out there works for helping addicts and alcoholics who need help.
But is that accurate? Truthfully, I have more than enough reason to doubt these claims for a very simple reason…
Who is truly capable of quantifying someone else’s “success”?
Instead of asking if drug treatment is successful, maybe we should be asking the real question… what is the real measure of success in recovery?
Talking about Treatment
Back in 2013 TIME magazine wrote that because there is no standard definition or what “rehab” is, there is no standard metric for measuring their success. The therapeutic community at one point said they could only claim a 30% success rate. However, the source also indicated that they only count ‘success’ by those who complete the entire program, and between 70% and 80% of people drop out of aftercare around 3-6 months after treatment. To sum that up, some people just stop reporting on their progress, so their ‘success’ could not be confirmed.
Other treatment providers will measure their success rates on how many patients report being completely abstinent for an extended time after leaving treatment. However, as we discuss later in the article, abstinence is not the requirement in the definition of success.
The fact is, because there are various addiction treatment models, to measure the success of recovery based on the numbers even treatment providers themselves gather is actually inappropriate and ineffective.
Focusing on the Fallen
When was the last time you saw a story on the news about an overdose victim? These days if we go 24 hours without seeing one it is surprising, right?
Well… when was the last time you saw a story on the news about a recovered addict who owns their own business, or is working a 9-5 and volunteering in their community? When was the last time you saw a breaking report about the alcoholic who went home to be an amazing parent to their newborn child or started a foundation to help the less fortunate?
I thought so. But allow me to blow your mind… because these people do exist!
This is probably one of the greatest injustices dealt to the recovery community. I’ve written about this before, and about how changing the communities views means overcoming stigma. Media outlets are always itching to give a dramatic account of every drug overdose or crime committed by an addict. Thus, that is all the rest of the world sees. It should be no surprise that people claim the recovery programs and support groups are failing, because no one pats you on the back for being a decent person. The only time people seem to applaud recovering addicts in the media is when they’re a celebrity.
It is easy to claim that drug addiction treatment doesn’t work when someone only focuses on the overdose rates in their community. It is easy to point to the individuals who have fallen, who need another chance at getting healthy, and say they are proof that the institutions are broken. Raising awareness on all those who still need help is important, but it is counterproductive to use them as indication that no progress is being made.
One conflict with measuring success is with 12 Step programs, mainly because they are anonymous programs. As a member of a 12 Step program I am definitely not trying to discredit these methods. The reality is true success rates of 12 Step programs are such a matter of contention because the standard of anonymity. Many people will simply not wish to be involved in studies based on their desire to remain anonymous.
When trying to debate the success rates of 12 Step programs we have to take any statistics with a heaping serving of salt. Out of the pieces of data available, those numbers are not an all-encompassing assessment.
Also, the only data for success in recovery from 12 Step groups is ongoing sobriety percentages, measured by years. And just about any member will tell you time does not equate sobriety. And limited data means the programs may help people to find a meaningful life, but if they do not remain members then they are not included in those success rates.
Some will only measure their success in recovery on a 24 hour basis, because they take life a day at a time.
Even 12 Step literature will point out that they have no monopoly on spirituality or recovery. 12 Step literature acknowledges that some people reach a point where their drug abuse or drinking caused great physical, personal and professional damage, but after intervention and treatment some can turn their lives around without a 12 Step program. Of course abstinence is often suggested as the best course of action for most recovering addicts and alcoholics. Once drugs or drinking create enough devastation, turmoil and helplessness many people find it is far too late to ever go back. Yet, abstinence is not necessarily the requirement for “success in recovery”.
Success in Recovery is Subjective: Speak Up
What truly transcends the debate over effective drug treatment is how we measure success in recovery in the first place. How do we decide someone is successful in life? Because isn’t that what recovery is; building a life that is happy and whole? So how do we calculate the extent of someone else’s transformation?
In essence, that is what we are talking about; discovering a fulfilled and meaningful shift that allows freedom to pursue happiness and connection. Given this description, success in recovery is definitively subjective. The meaning of recovery is more conjectural.
The measure of successful recovery should be a more fulfilled life.
Not just with material wealth, prestige or surface value but with connection, contribution and genuine gratitude. In the end, men and women who struggle with drug abuse or alcoholism recover in innumerable ways. Some turn to religious bodies, while others thrive on support groups. Some focus on physical fitness and mindfulness. There is no way to measure every success story, because they are life-long journeys through self-awareness. Each puzzle piece makes a different picture.
In order to show that there is hope, I hope more of us speak up about our experiences in recovery from alcoholism and addiction. There is so much emphasis on the bad, there is more of a need than ever to show the world something good. This means shattering the stigma that stands against us. People will never know we can succeed if we don’t try to show them how we already have. Recovery from addiction should be outspoken more often. Not because I think anonymity isn’t important; I have great respect for the traditions of 12 Step fellowships.
But… I do believe that if we don’t speak up for ourselves, stigma is going to keep speaking for us.
Every community, including yours, is filled with people who have empowering and inspiring success stories after overcoming drugs and alcohol. It all begins with a foundation. It is up to you to measure your success, but it’s also up to you to take action and make your success story possible. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free now.
CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135
Author: Justin Mckibben
Here we are going to discuss some expert opinion on the molecular neurobiological aspects of each of The 12 Step Program.
Understanding of the neuro-molecular biological keystones of The 12 Steps may actually be an important step toward sobriety for some, especially those who rely heavily on the tangible logic of scientific reasoning. To understand and embrace principles of molecular neurobiology could ultimately lead to a better quality of recovery from addiction.
Step 1- We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol-that our lives had become unmanageable.
There is science behind the “powerlessness” of the first step. Admitting personal powerlessness over addiction is actually supported by the mechanisms involved in the neurobiological circuits of our brain. Stress and the toxic-effects of the drugs themselves induce changes in brain functions such as:
These changes create:
So scientifically it is very true that the individual is powerless. The substances themselves continually short out the circuits in the brain that are meant to give people control. The recipe requires genetic predisposition and environmental elements, but everyone is technically susceptible depending on these variables.
Step 2- Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Breaking down the wording of the step one could infer:
- Sanity- sound judgment
- Insanity- repetitive behavior despite the harm
Poor judgment, or “insanity,” could be a cause of unusual substance seeking behavior despite risk of harm. These decisions are made worse by environmental factors including:
- Drug availability
- Non-nurturing parents
- Social-economic burdens
The individuals sanity also may be impacted by their relationship with a “power greater than themselves.”
In this case, let us look at relapse. The prefrontal cortex and cingulate gyrus are critical areas involved in relapse regulation. Impaired neurochemical functioning of these regions obstruct recovery and induce relapse, typically due to:
- Toxic substances
- Toxic behaviors
Understanding the molecular biology of the brain reward system highlights the importance of positive input from a fellowship such as the 12 Steps offer. Positive input from peers can offset unwanted gene expression. Ultimately, this can enable an individual to achieve a state of sanity and make right choices. The power greater than yourself can simply be the environmental element of your recovery.
Step 3- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.
Will-power is extremely difficult to regulate in individuals born with a compromised reward system and low levels of endorphins. Will-power is based on both the interplay of genes and environmental elements in society, such as stress or shock. Early stress can cause substance use disorders in adult life as seen with epigenetic effects on Glucocorticoid receptor express.
Because the hard wiring of our brain’s reward circuitry is so difficult to override, it only makes sense the recovering addict seems obvious to look for reward outside of our genome. So in this step, the idea is to turn that focus away from drugs and toward something such as the fellowship or a spiritual path.
Step 4- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
Fearless moral inventory must include the drug of choice and other Reward Deficiency Syndrome (RDS) related behaviors. A particular drug or behavior is not the only element of an addiction, it includes a range of observable characteristics resulting from the interaction of its genotype with the environment..
However, the inventory cannot be labeled as “right” or “wrong” because it their own evaluation of self. To understand that there are genetic and environmental aspects to addict means to understand that blame and guilt are not conducive to true self-appraisal.
Step 5- Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
This step involves open reflection on our issues with using drugs. This includes the toxic effects of recurrent exposure to these substances on our minds and how that translates into our actions that impact others.
The damage of drugs on the brain’s reward networks is very physiological, and these physiological changes can result in psychological effects such as anxiety or aggression. By evaluating the inventory we have taken, we can consider the “nature of our wrongs” as being the psychological deterioration caused by drugs.
Step 6- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
Many would argue that technically our character is shaped by genetic (evolutionary) forces far outside our individual control. So in that mindset it is not necessarily within our ability to change who we are genetically speaking. So, wouldn’t it be up to something greater than us, be it a ‘God’ or our own evolution of perspective, to remove the character traits that do not serve us?
With that said, our environment may influence how we have developed our responses and attached meanings to circumstances. Achievement of step 6 requires:
- Deep character analysis
- Painful realization
- Ability to dissociate the present self from the past self
By rethinking in terms of the “wrong” or “right” of an individual act, we can leave behind our attachments to actions or behaviors and offer up our character defects to the province of a higher power.
Step 7- Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
Humility is accompanied with gratitude and grace. Spiritual faith and humility challenge someone to accept that good intentions and honest effort alone will not always be enough to succeed. This could lead to chronic depression and relapse, especially with genetic predisposition.
However, the 12 Steps and the 12 Traditions together ask the person to believe that evil, injustice and cruelty will not necessarily always win either.
Humility and faith are not necessarily synonyms for passivity. They actually support the belief that our shortcomings can be removed by our willingness to believe that things can work out. Positive feelings translate to positive epigenetics in the brain, enhancing the chances of removing our shortcomings by expressing more effective and positive genes.
Step 8- Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
Behind part of this step is the old saying “water seeks its own level,” because it may be an effect of a genetic association. People often seek friends who not only have similar characteristics, but similar genotypes.
So by making amends which may eliminate certain friends that would not be conducive to recovery, an individual is truly going against the genetic grain on a molecular neurobiological level.
A form of happiness is that people exist in comfortable networks of social collectives. So as we reach out to those we have hurt to amend our relationships and our character, we reconnect with a new source of happiness.
Step 9- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
In Step 9, the achievement of making amends is subject to correlations among:
Relationships and happiness are based on neuronal hard wiring. So overcoming relationship issues is both an arduous challenge and a clear answer to achieving healing.
The degree to which someone can make amends is crucial to a healthy recovery. This is partly because mending of relationships is a gateway to the attainment of happiness. Making amends can also activate a natural release of dopamine in reward centers of the brain.
Step 10- Take personal inventory and admit to being wrong
Step 10 is the maintenance for Steps 4 and 5. It continues the practice of taking personal inventory in the 12 Steps to evaluate the self. It is important that addicts realize that depending on their genetic risk taking inventory and feeling good about the self-appraisal is a temporarily “dopamine fix”.
Beyond just having the ability to keep yourself in check and have a positive impact, when addicts continue to “work the steps” on a daily basis it also gives them a primary source from which to replenish dopamine in the brain.
Step 11- Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
Meditation and prayer, as suggested in step 11, increases the release of dopamine at the synaptic level. Applying the process of step 11 on a daily basis will also offset the genetically induced “hypodopaminergic brain function” by continuing to release dopamine in the synapse.
Increased dopamine will result in a subsequent proliferation of dopamine receptors, even in those with the most sensitive predisposition. The increase in D2 receptors translates to enhanced dopamine function, which will ultimately promote:
- Greater confidence
- Better comprehension
- Stress resistance
Looking outside the 12 Steps, most who study spirituality know the positive effects of prayer and meditation on the brain.
Step 12- Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
Here it says that working all the steps can allow an individual to have spiritual awakening. For some, one of the most fulfilling experiences they can have is sharing emotions with others. This experience itself and the impact may be decided by the synthesis and release of the brain chemical oxytocin.
Oxytocin is an important human bonding neuropeptide. However, independent of personal genetic makeup, alcohol and opiates significantly impair the synthesis and release of this chemical. So it is important to take advantage of this opportunity to create positive emotions while establishing connections.
So, by carrying the message and sharing experience we can bond further in our recovery, which helps us to rewire the brain with expressions of positive genes while also letting us detach from old meanings and produce more dopamine. All in all the 12 Steps have a pretty decent formula for working with the science of the brain to recover from a pattern of destruction.
The 12 Steps and similar programs of recovery are all very powerful tools. A holistic treatment program like Palm Partners respects the science of addiction, and many seek help here in order to establish a strong footing to move forward. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free now.
CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135
Matt Williams, Palm Partner Alumni
Author: Shernide Delva
Matt Williams is a Palm Partners alumni with over 6.5 years of sobriety under his belt. After going through treatment at Palm Partners, Williams was hired as an admissions counselor where he dedicated himself to helping others struggling with the disease of addiction obtain the same opportunity that he was given. Now, Williams plans to use his passion for exercise to further spread the message of recovery.
In the past, we have published many articles related to how beneficial exercise is in recovery. William exemplifies how incredible exercise can be for both physical and personal growth. In fact, Williams plans to check one major feat off of his list: completing the New York City Marathon.
Matt Williams Needs Your Support!
In memory of his father, and to spread awareness of addiction , Williams has dedicated himself to completing the upcoming 2016 New York City Marathon. He created a video for Foot Locker and ASICS’ “REAL LIVES. REAL RUNNERS.” campaign, which will give three finalists the chance to have their spot air nationally during the live television broadcast of the 2016 TCS New York City Marathon on Sunday, November 6th.
Voting ends today, October 20, so please vote in for one of our own Palm Partners Alumni. Just scroll down until you see the “second chances video.” Your support could help Williams in achieving an amazing opportunity to further spread the message of recovery.
Williams has an incredible story. We had the pleasure of interviewing him and hope you enjoy reading about his journey.
What was it like getting sober?
It was one of the most humbling experiences I had ever encountered because the way I had been living was like living two different lives. Getting sober allowed me to feel comfortable with who I am, learn how to live a sober life and process the way I had been living in the past. One of the best changes in my life.
What attracted you to running in the first place? Why do you think you originally gravitated towards it in treatment?
I had always run, exercised and tried to maintain a healthy lifestyle. All my hard work would be a waste as I would go on binges and engage in destructive behavior for my health and lifestyle. When I got sober running allowed me to push myself as far as I could, start each morning clearing my head and getting myself motivated for the day.
At what point did you finally decide to seek treatment?
I sought treatment immediately following a car wreck in 2010. I finished up the school year as I was an educator and had one month left until summer and in that time researched treatment facilities and had a dear childhood friend help me get into Palm Partners.
How did Palm Partners play an impact in your recovery?
Attending Palm Partners was essential to my recovery as I had begun a 12 step fellowship program and then was fortunate enough to check into Palm after being sober a month. I had a lot of unresolved issues and struggles that I needed professional help with. Palm and the scheduled structure and routine kept me focused and on track to creating a sober lifestyle.
Tell us a bit about your upbringing. Did addiction affect your life growing up?
I had an incredibly amazing upbringing in NY. I am the only one in my family affected by addiction. My parents were incredible and gave me every opportunity to study, play sports, do after school activities and travel to places around the world. My family has always been supportive of me and even more so when I was in treatment.
You competed in your first marathon in 2010. How have you trained differently since then?
When I left treatment, I had been running so much and had lost weight that I felt I could run the Miami marathon because I had run long distances and thought it was attainable. My body broke down around mile 18, and it took a lot for me to finish the race, but I did. This time around I hired a professional coach who runs and coaches people to run marathons. One of the best decisions I made as there was so much I didn’t know for the training process.
How do you think you will feel crossing the finish line this time around? What will it mean to you?
Crossing the finish line in NYC will be a most triumphant feeling in that I grew up NY and still have a great deal of family and friends that live there. I have been a spectator at the marathon in the past, and the energy is incredible.
We saw in the video that you are running this race in memory of your father. Can you elaborate on that?
The project I worked on this summer was to tell my story and why I run. They asked a lot of personal questions and got into how addiction and my father passing affected me. He passed away ten years ago, and when he did, he never saw me sober. Through getting sober, I have been able to honor him with a living amends and think of him daily.
Why do you think many addicts gravitate towards exercise in recovery? Have you experienced “runner’s high?”
Exercise allows for your body to feel good naturally and work hard at achieving goals. There are times when I struggle to run, but after my body starts moving and gets into a good stride, I have experienced the runners high. Working out allows for you to push and feel good each and every day.
What’s it been like staying sober? What is your life like now, and what do you seek to accomplish in the future?
Getting sober and staying sober have been amazing. I have my bad days, but they are far better than when I was out using. Sobriety has changed my life and allowed me to get married, start my own businesses, work with others and help them achieve their goals and so much more. I seek to grow my business that I work in with my wife, give back to those who ask for help and support the awareness of addiction and putting a positive light on those that can and do recover.
What will winning the partnership with Foot Locker mean to you?
Whatever the outcome of the Foot Locker campaign, the outpouring of support and love have been amazing. The fact so many people have shared the link and have spoken up has been amazing. That’s what it’s all about, people helping people.
Williams story shows how anyone can make a change, at any point of their addiction. It is never too late to turn it all around. Williams was able to turn his life around and you can do. Please vote for him today to help him obtain this amazing opportunity. Furthermore, if you are struggling in your journey, we can help. Call toll-free today.
CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135
Author: Justin Mckibben
As hard as it is to admit, that’s the first step.
Once upon a time the forces of evil gave us this great conspiracy that we are separate; the truth is we never were. We have been lied to long enough that we are defined by our differences. We were told the borders mankind created for each other are valid reasons to hate and hurt one another. They said the shades in our skin and the climates and economic categories we live in made some of us better or worse… and the greatest tragedy is- we believed it.
The 12 Steps and the ‘anonymous fellowship’ model of recovery are actively used all over the world for those looking to recover from drug or alcohol addiction. There are even other addictions such as gambling or over-eating that people use the 12 Steps’ strategies to overcome. Anonymous support groups meet to work with one another to fight the obsessions that rule over their lives.
While some debate the effectiveness of groups like AA or NA, thousands upon thousands of people in over 150 countries all over the world have found their salvation from substance abuse through 12 Steps.
So, the question is… will it work for racism?
Some would insist that to even suggest racism is still a reality in America is to contribute to the race-baiting that drives division. However, the truth is no matter how far we like to think we have come- racism is still real. Now, Racists Anonymous (RA) aims to help those struggling with their own prejudices to overcome them.
Racism in America
While it may be hard in a politically-correct America to understand the gravity of it, racism is not extinct. No one likes to admit they are racist, especially in the modern society that preaches tolerance and acceptance. It is probably much easier for some to admit to their innermost self they’re an alcoholic or an addict than it is to admit they suffer from a serious racial bias.
Today we are still bombarded with police-related shootings involving young black men and women in the media. Meanwhile, we have the biggest protest by Native Americans in our history happening right now, and the brutality being inflicted on these people is truly deplorable.
Regardless of whether or not you believe that race is responsible for these injustices, the nature of these events leads some to think discrimination is the only explanation. The way these events are shown impacts the country, also driving a wedge between its people, inspiring even more division. Tragically, despite having an African American president, many insist this is the most racially divided we have been in decades.
One pastor in Sunnyvale, California is so concerned with the status of stigma and racial tension he is taking the unlikely step of offering a 12-step program for people who wish to heal from racism.
Pastor Ron Buford of the Congregational Community Church knows well that the first step of basically every recovery fellowship is to acknowledging the problem. He stated,
“That is something that we as Americans don’t want to do. We all swim in this culture of racism. It’s impossible to not be racist to some degree.”
Pastor Buford, who is himself an African American, makes no effort to point the finger and say this is a problem unique to one race or another. Back in 2015 Pastor Buford began to host meetings of the newly formed Racists Anonymous in what he says was a response to the police shootings all over America, exacerbated by the shooting rampage of Dylan Roof at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Slowly but surely the fellowship of Racists Anonymous did actually grow! Since its conception, at least a dozen people regularly attend the weekly Racists Anonymous meetings. The RA meetings host a majority of Caucasian members, but also various other races are adamant attendants. Seems like having members who would not normally mix is a big understatement here.
Still, the Racists Anonymous fellowship follows the path set out by the original 12 Steps. For example:
- Making a list of people they have harmed
- Making amends to those they have hurt
- Taking personal inventory
- Admitting and recognizing racist behaviors
RA meetings also include sharing experiences and feelings regarding race.
One thing very different about RA from most 12 Step fellowships is these meetings is the mediator. RA meetings have someone working to directly confront members with scenarios. The mediator, typically Pastor Buford, then challenges members to explore their attitudes and actions concerning other races. This kind of mediation is not the norm for many 12 Step meetings. What many might call “cross-talking” seems to be acceptable in the RA format.
Expanding the Fellowship
Beyond the reach of Congregational Community Church, over 30 other churches across the country are in the process of establishing Racists Anonymous groups. Buford says he hopes to make RA just as available as AA or NA all over the U.S. of A. Still there are many hurdles to overcome before this fellowship can hope to grow.
A large obstacle is that not many people are willing to admit they are racist to a group of strangers. Reverend Nathan King of the Trinity United Church of Christ in Concord, North Carolina, introduced the meetings to a mostly white congregation. Reverend King said,
“People are in different places. Some say, ‘I’m a racist.’ Or they say, ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I’m not sure.’”
Some would protest the comparison between alcoholics and racists. One might say that one is a choice and the other is a disease. But then again, some people still claim alcoholism or addiction is a choice, but anyone who has been there or been on the frontlines in fighting addiction knows better than that. So, is it fair to say that the idea of supporting people in recovering from racism is not a worthy task?
Stephen Mosier, a 74-year-old RA member is a retired college administrator who stated,
“We have all got some residual racism in us no matter how good we think we are at it,”
Pastor Buford believes that racism could very well be a lifelong issue one struggles with. Whether you believe people choose racism or not, the hope is to eliminate the spread of racism for future generations. Either way, this seems like as good a reason as any to try and make a change.
Racism is an Addiction
In the end if we are all as introspective as we can be, we will see that as imperfect people we have a tendency to make assumptions or misconceptions based on the ideas we were conditioned with throughout life. In a combination of our environment and the more drastic experiences we have, we can subconsciously create stereotypes or expectations, and our culture may only feed these beliefs. But it is our responsibility to fight back and grow out of these lies.
We become addicted to these stereotypes and presumptions. We may even realize we are wrong, but somehow we cannot let go of the crutch of our conditioning. The truth is, no one is born racist. Racism is taught. So love and tolerance must be learned in order to escape these archaic lessons. RA may not be the only way to teach love, but it’s an interesting take on an old way of working for an awakening.
While many are far from able to take that first step, others who have fought to overcome drugs and alcohol already know just how difficult of a step that can be. Having that clarity isn’t always easy, but once you see the problem for what it is you have a window of opportunity to get the help you truly need to change. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call now!
CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135
Author: Justin Mckibben
First thing is first- I whole-heartedly admit that I’m about as close to perfect as I am to finding a million dollars in Spanish doubloons… on Mars. I have no business being judgmental… yet, here we are! Not to say I judge everyone (out loud), but it is a natural inclination as a breathing person to form opinions based on assumptions. When it comes to clichés in recovery, I am especially picky.
It’s weird though, because even saying that clichés drive me crazy, I cannot in good conscience suggest that I myself do not use them. Some are just too catchy to pass up for that ‘right place, right time’ moment. Sometimes I cringe even after I say it, or preface it with “as much as I hate clichés…” in some lame attempt to sound more original than the last person I heard say it.
Needless to say, clichés in the rooms of 12 Step Fellowships of recovery are so popular because they make so much sense. Curse you logic! Metaphors and idioms are a useful tool of language, and in recovery our clichés can drive home a life-or-death ideal with subtle and subliminal accuracy.
So, as much as I hate to admit I like them, here are my 4 favorite recovery clichés.
“Not matter where I go, there I am”
This one seems pretty obvious, and the first time I heard it I didn’t understand. Still, coming out of a fog of drugs and drinking I thought, “thanks, Confucius!”
However, the longer I looked at it in early recovery the sentence made a lot more sense. I had spent a lot of time in active addiction trying to change my circumstances and outcomes by changing my surroundings. I tried different people, places and parties but found the same demoralization every single time. But I cannot out-run my problems! I have to let them teach my about myself and change from there.
It was in recovery when I started facing my personal flaws and patterns of destructive behavior that I realized it wasn’t about a location or other people. I discovered that it meant if I could not change my mind, I would only understand the world from an alcoholic perspective. No matter what place I’m in physically, I am still me and that is what I have to develop for my life to be any better.
“Everyone got the manual for life but me”
This is probably the one that I related to most in early recovery. Despite not having spent much time in the rooms, as soon as I heard this it made sense. My whole life had felt like a misinformed trial run. Any minute I was expecting a director to step in and call a cut to let me start over with a better script.
When I heard it at a 12 Step meeting I was instantly relieved to know I was not the only one who lived like that. It was an incredible catharsis to finally be given the gift of knowing I wasn’t the only one who has next to nothing figured out!
Thankfully, knowing this gave me some freedom to allow myself some mistakes while figuring out sobriety, and life.
“Comparing my insides to your outsides”
I actually have a lot of love for this one. It goes hand in hand with the last one on the list, but I like to single this aspect out an elaborate on it. When I was early in recovery I was constantly focused on the way people appeared to be. I didn’t put any energy into trying to understand what they may be going through or what they had to overcome to get there. I essentially assumed that anyone who had cleaned up nice was feeling good all the time.
This kind of thinking puts us in a position to be relentlessly critical of our own growth. We try to compare the struggles we are going through to someone who may look like they have their life together. It’s easy to think all these healthy and happy people could never understand your pain if you don’t even consider their insides too.
After a few years I know that even when someone looks pristine, they can be on the verge of falling to pieces. I’ve seen that guy. I’ve even been that guy. Sometimes I still am that guy. Recovery continues to teach me the book truly can’t be judged by the cover. If you won’t bother to skim the story, don’t make a synopsis.
“The first step is the only step you have to do 100%”
The first step can draw a line in the sand that the sense of self isn’t willing to cross. There is so much ego, fear and stigma in the way people are afraid to find out what it means to stand on the other side. Admitting to being an alcoholic/addict frightens some because it means they have to commit to an image they don’t fully understand. That goes hand in hand with the second part of step one- admitting that life has become unmanageable.
I love this cliché because of the undeniable truth behind it. It lets me know I may fall short with other tasks when working the 12 steps. In recovery, I may try honestly and thoroughly to rid myself of character defects or resentments, but if I fail to do so perfectly am I doomed? This cliché tells me no.
As long as I am willing to admit that I am who I am; that once I start drinking or using I cannot stop; that running my life on my rules of ego, fear and self-will run riot will not serve my sobriety… I have an opportunity for a better life. As long as I keep in mind that there is work to be done, I have a chance to do the work. This cliché tells me that even when I forget my other responsibilities, if I can remember this first step I have hope. I fall short all the time. Luckily, I was given the perspective that I’m allowed to.
So when I judge you for using every cliché in the “recycled insight” catalog, we both have to accept that we aren’t perfect anyway.
The 12 Steps are a guideline for how to live life as a better person. It’s about being a positive contribution and growing as an individual. In these fellowships we hear clichés, and many of them are like everything else in 12 Step Fellowships- taught from experience. For many, part of the experience begins with effective treatment. If you or someone you love is struggling from substance abuse or addiction, we’re here to help, 24/7.
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