Series Three: Blog Fourteen
I have practiced recovery from addiction through the 12-steps for 32 years. I have worked through each step ten different times. I utilize the steps every day of my life. That said, I know that recovery is not uniform. Some people I know who began recovery about the same time I did, no longer struggle with the cravings I do. I have listened to many who have testified about transforming their life in other ways than following the 12-steps. Some who met with me 30 years ago in 12-step groups disappeared and returned to acting out. I have had conversations with others who attended 12-step groups for a while and then stopped. They tell me that they got to a place where they no longer needed the steps to remain sober. They say they have not acted out in years.
At times I wish that I was one of them. Yet, I am grateful for the serenity I have experienced through the diligent work I have done through the 12-steps. To be sure, recovery is a challenge for all, regardless of the path chosen. It is helpful to recognize that people choose different pathways to experience recovery.
Through the years of my recovery I have noticed that there is a certain gray zone about recovery. Every addict doesn’t do the steps in the same way. Also, there are specific things that I can do and remain sober but you cannot. For example, some alcoholics could never have lunch in a bar without overwhelming temptation to drink. Others report not experiencing overwhelming temptation while friends drink alcohol in their presence while they sip on a soft drink. Some porn addicts report they can watch a racy sex scene with their partner without acting out sexually while others advise that watching would constitute relapse. There would be no way the scene would be compatible with their sobriety.
Many alcoholics in recovery remain dependent upon nicotine and smoke like a chimney. Nicotine kills more people in America than alcohol each year. Some sex addicts put the use of pornography in high-risk middle-circle behavior, but not designated acting out. Some sex addicts in a committed relationship think of flirting with another person as high risk but not acting out. Sometimes addicts honestly have made these conclusions while at other times addicts are humoring addictive rationale. Often, seasoned therapists and veteran addicts in recovery can detect compromise and flirting with disaster that is presented by another addict. In 12-step meeting rooms there is a saying “If everywhere you go smells like shit, maybe it’s time to check your shoes”. There’s a lot of wisdom in phrases like this to guide addict behavior.
However, there is also gray zone behavior that addicts must take personal responsibility to sift and sort to determine what makes sense in individual recovery. It’s true one size does not fit all. There is a myriad of questions that addicts must embrace with responsibility. Your answer may not be the same response as someone else. What constitutes acting out must be your own definition, not your sponsor’s, your wife’s or anyone else. That said, how you define bottom line behaviors is not the only behavioral list you will need to be accountable to. Your partner will have expectations that you will need to consider in order to preserve integrity in the relationship. The two lists will need to be considered as separate stand-alone lists.
You will need to determine what you are willing to disclose to your partner and other accountability people about your history of acting out in your addiction. I am an advocate of a full disclosure to partners. That said, where the rubber meets the road, it is seldom that a complete exhaustive disclosure is ever given. This sounds contradictory. Yet, many addicts don’t remember the thousands of behaviors they have committed, even though each is egregious and heart breaking.
How much you share or what your partner wants to hear lies in a gray zone. This means that disclosure is a dynamic and not a static share. Details that are important in disclosure for one partner may vary from what is important to be shared to another. Some addicts are incapable of telling the complete truth because they have damaged their brains with chemical abuse or other hurtful behavior. Sometimes addicts don’t share the whole truth because they are not ready to take recovery seriously. The same can be true for a partner. However, what must be considered in partner assessment is the overwhelming trauma triggered by addict behavior. Partner behavior is often a reaction to the trauma inflicted by addict behavior. These concerns lie in a gray zone and must be individually evaluated before making assumptions about what must be done for healing.
People have black and white convictions about diet, exercise and many other aspects of living. Life is complicated and the pathways to recovery are many. The gray zones in recovery require personalized black and white decisions. To live an empowered life in recovery you will need to make black and white decisions that express your values in the and remain true to your heart in the presence of gray zone experiences. This journey always depends upon consultation from others and accountability for the behaviors that you commit to in your heart.
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