I came up with what I think is a good motto for my way of thinking last year, but I’ve only used it once or twice.
It’s on my coaching page, and I realized people may read it there and be confused, so I figured I’d explain it. The motto is “Stop Recovering, and Start Living!”
You may have noticed from how often I put quotes around the word “recovery” on this site that I don’t really like the word. To someone who’s uninitiated into the recovery culture this may seem odd. You may ask “what’s so bad about recovery”?
When you think of making a recovery, you think of solving and ending a problem, and the term is mostly associated with health problems. So for example, when you get a cold, you take some medicine, eat some chicken soup, drink some ginger ale, and get lots of rest. You are inconvenienced for a time, but you make a recovery, and you’re done. Then you can move on with your life, and get active again without having to spend every waking moment worried about the cold. That’s a recovery. When dealing with an addiction, we’d like to do the same thing – take the proper actions to deal with it, and then move on with our lives. When we seek help for our problems though, we’re taught something far different.
When the addiction industry/Rocovery Culture talks about “recovery” they’re talking about being engaged with addiction for the rest of your life – there is no endpoint, there is no completion, there is no chance of becoming “recovered”. There is only a life in which you are taught to think of yourself as perpetually being “in recovery”. “Recovery” is a never-ending process which they vaguely define, but which definitely includes the following:
- Believing that you are powerless over drugs and alcohol
- Belief in, and daily prayer to a “Higher Power” (god) to keep you from drinking and drugging
- Support group meeting attendance for the rest of your life (AA, NA, etc)
- Believing that you can only stay sober “one day at a time”, and therefore being afraid that you may always “relapse” tomorrow
- Watching out for your “triggers” or being focused on “coping with stress” – under threat of inevitable relapse if you don’t
- Believing that a single drink would send you into an extreme episode of substance use
- Building your identity around negative self-concepts such as “addict”, “alcoholic”, “codependent” etc.
- Dedicating your life to helping other “addicts and alcoholics”
When they define recovery, they will use vague terms about “spiritual well-being” and other nonsense. One would think that ceasing to use substances problematically would be enough to be considered “recover-ed”, but it’s not. If you don’t repeat and endorse the recovery culture’s ideas, and you don’t keep going to a lot of meetings, yet you stay completely abstinent – then you are given the label of “dry drunk” and it is proclaimed that you will relapse soon. Also, the recovery culture is completely intolerant of moderate use. You aren’t recovered or “in recovery” if you have even one drink a month and refuse to subscribe to the tenets listed above. But, if you engage in recovery activities and take on the beliefs and practices listed above, and also happen to have a weekly crack binge, then you are considered to be “in recovery”. Such logic turns the goals people actually have when they try to adjust their substance use problems (reducing problems in their life and finding a happier lifestyle) completely upside down. There is no acceptable level of moderation in the recovery culture, and since treatment programs are inextricably intertwined with the recovery culture (more than 90% involve the 12-steps), you’ll be hard pressed to find a treatment program which will endorse moderation. Most will teach you that it’s impossible.
So you want to get over a substance use problem and move on with your life. Substance use has become an obstacle in life, a chore, a bad habit that just doesn’t do the job anymore – but what you get when you embark on a life of recovery is much the same! You’re taught to struggle every day, be riddled with self-doubt, your greater goals in life must make way for your new addiction – going to meetings every night and doing 12-step work where you sacrifice everything to try to help others. Worst of all, you spend far too much time on NOT doing something. The recovery culture gives you what I like to call an “anti-goal” – which means that it’s a goal where you spend a lot of time and effort trying to not do a thing, in this case drinking and drugging. Ultimately, the obsession with substance use is replaced with the obsession of abstinence from substance use and adherence to the recovery lifestyle – you’re still wasting time and going through turmoil over a thing you’re no longer doing. What could be worse?
Now, back to my motto: Stop Recovering, and Start Living. NO ONE changes their substance use habits just for the sake of it, or to live the kind of life called “recovery”. Everyone who changes their substance use habits successfully, does so because they want a better life. They want to stop struggling. They want to stop feeling powerless. They want to feel empowered, alive, happy, and excited about life. They want to accomplish new goals and reach new heights of success. They want to really live. Recovering, is about struggling, living in self-doubt, and chasing an anti-goal. Please, stop recovering, and just start living.
I don’t spend a single day worrying about how to get through it without a drink or drug. I don’t spend a single moment thinking about it. I did, back when I was in the recovery culture. But then I started living – I started focusing on building the life I wanted. I haven’t achieved all of my goals, but I’ve stayed free of drug/alcohol use problems for 9 years now, and I’m a heck of a lot happier focusing on all my new interests rather than worrying about struggling with an imaginary disease. I am not “in recovery.” There is no reason or need for me to believe that I am powerless over substances, that I need a miracle to keep my from abusing substances, or that I should expect to spontaneously explode into addiction at any given moment. I refuse to struggle like that. I realized that all the drugs and booze weren’t providing me with what I really wanted out of life, I made a strong decision to change my habits, and committed to actively pursuing the life that truly satisfies me. I stopped recovering and started living my life. You can too.