I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is over self. – Aristotle
We have a collective understanding about “the addict” as a personality type. When someone says they know an addict or pronounces themselves to be one, an image instantly comes to mind. We think of someone who has lost control. Maybe we see someone disheveled and confused, or worse, a bleakly sinister character. When we think of the word addict, other words like irresponsible and selfish and manipulative come to mind. We think of someone who has given up. But as any recovering addict knows, addicts are some of the grittiest and oftentimes some of the wisest people around.
Recovery from Addiction Can Lead to Heightened Self-Awareness
The work of recovery, even in relapse, forces a kind of self-awareness no matter how long it may take us to eventually get clean. Once you’re wise to the fact that you have been in denial, it’s hard to become unaware of it. You begin to see this defense mechanism everywhere and in nearly everyone. Once you take your first personal inventory—really looking at the behaviors that have made you sick and really, truly owning them—it’s hard to blame anyone or anything else so easily again. (You will do it, of course; it just won’t be easy.)
You’ll start to notice things you hadn’t seen before, like the way your emotions can become a roller coaster whenever you expose yourself to certain people or places or things. You’ll notice the way other people react to things more strongly when they are tired, lonely, hungry or angry—and how you will too. You’ll become aware that you’re more likely to use at those times, and that it’s harder to stay centered then. You’ll begin to think—way in the back of your mind—that maybe there’s something you can do about this after all: like, say, eating regularly, getting enough sleep, keeping a good support system nearby (which involves giving and taking, not just taking, and not just giving). You’ll start to consider what all that anger is about really. How some of it, maybe all of it, is rooted in fear. You’ll ask yourself what it is you’ve always been so afraid of, and maybe you’ll start to get some answers. You’ll look around you at the people in your life—provided you still have any (addicts are expert relationship-destroyers)—and you’ll start to see that you’re really no different than anyone else. We are all craving, sometimes desperately craving. We’re a culture of over-eaters, heavy drinkers, workaholics, insatiable consumers—everyone’s addicted to something.
We all want to feel a little numb.
Overcoming Something Great
Once you’ve stepped a foot into the recovery river, you will never be the same again. You may still want to be numb, and you may in fact do a damned fine job of getting yourself there. But after those first moments of clarity, however brief, the ones that made you consider getting clean in the first place, you can never really go back.
Christopher Kennedy Lawford, author of What Addicts Know: 10 Lessons from Recovery to Benefit Everyone, quotes his uncle, the late president John F. Kennedy, “Everyone who achieves something great in this world overcomes something equally great.” Addicts, whether they come from good backgrounds and somehow lost their way, or whether they are people who experienced trauma that caused them to turn toward addiction, are people who may have temporarily lost control. They may be manipulative and irresponsible and sometimes terribly selfish. But all addicts are people with the potential to heal, and through healing, to become a kind of rough-around-the-edges bodhisattva. The healed become the healers, after all.
Go to any 12-step meeting and what do you find but a room of road-weary travelers offering love, compassion and non-judgment for one another. They know how bad it can be because they’ve been there. They know how good it can get because they’ve been there. Touch your toe in the river; don’t be shy. I’ll follow you in.