Congruence: The Hard Work of Recovery

By Ken Wells - 05/27/2022


Series Three: Blog Thirty-Three

It is my experience as a recovering addict and professional who has treated
addiction for 28 years, congruent living is difficult. Everyone is inconsistent,
hypocritical and incongruent in some area of their life. Addicts in recovery struggle
to be consistent with word and action. They clash with saying one thing and doing
another. Double life living is a daily conflict that most addicts battle to overcome.
That said, it is not as if we should give up and make excuses for these flaws in
human behavior.

Congruence is the pathway to connection which is a key part of the foundation for
spirituality. St. John of the Cross, a Spanish mystic, poet and Catholic priest once
said that “the virtuous soul that is alone and without community, is like a lone
burning coal; it will grow colder rather than hotter”. Congruence is cultivated in
the context of community. Typically, it remains elusive without accountability.
Here is a common example for an addict who struggles with congruence. In group,
h/she may announce with conviction that they need to end a romantic or friendship
relationship that is destructive. However, relational decisions require dynamic
sensitivity and not rigid black and white conclusions. Add to the mix that an addict
begins to feel emotionally needy and then begins to rationalize that the absolute
relational cut off announced to group was too much. What should be done? Often,
an addict will make a decision to renew the connection without being accountable
to the support community. It could be that they wanted to avoid the conflict with
others or the embarrassment of walking back the decision that was previously
announced. At any rate, they live incongruently to their values and their word by
acting opposite to what was rigorously declared.

With sexual addiction there are a myriad of examples that underscore incongruity.
An addict decides alone that masturbation, porn, or getting massages is now
healthy without checking in with their support community. When they do check in
they either talk about their behaviors with vagueness or they announce with
defensiveness and clarity that the decision they have made is resolute and right.
They indicate there is no room for discussion!

Many addicts fear that in recovery they cannot make their own decision about what
they want to do. They worry that they must ask for permission in order to do whatever they would like. They tend to enter recovery circles with shares that do not tell the whole picture. They paint the picture they want others to see in fear that someone will tell them what they have done or decisions they have made were wrong.

Even addicts in recovery who are not acting out, continue to live with a root attitude of “I want what I want when I want it”. Many have not surrendered to living in consultation with a support community. Others surround themselves with those who do not confront current recovery issues with themselves or others. Consequently, these addicts proverbially “put a cork in the bottle” of addictive behavior but continue with manipulation in decision-making that leave them incongruent to their values.

Congruency is the pathway for the brave. It is difficult for addicts to look themselves in the mirror and tell the truth about a choice or decision when there is resistance to that reality. One of the most difficult points of maturity to attain is to be honest about a deep emotional issue. It is difficult to admit to yourself and others that you simply do not want nor intend to stop a particular destructive behavior. It is uncomfortable to confess that you depend upon that destructive behavior to get you through difficulty. You are able to make grandiose declarations about other areas of life that are less threatening. However, congruency requires that you go deep and face what you don’t want to do and be honest and accountable with yourself right there! Embrace your unwillingness, failure and desperation. This challenge is not only true for addicts but it is true for everyone. Think about your world. Maybe, there is someone you won’t seek forgiveness and reconciliation because you are afraid to face the ugly resentment that breeds distance between you and that person. You tell yourself that you made an initial reasonable effort toward forgiveness in the beginning with an unsatisfactory response. You reason that there are others who do appreciate and love you. You wonder why should you go further. Yet, the truth is that you need to address your feelings of resentment that are growing deep within you. Congruence requires that you be brave and honest with yourself, even when it is not noticeable to others.
Recovery requires that you tell on yourself to others in your support community. This is difficult. Without this practice, congruence is impossible. When you meet with your sponsor or support community, it is important to begin your share with the last thing you want these people to know about you, and that is the first thing you lead with! Why? It is the practice of congruent living. I have noticed when my son Sam goes kayaking that one of the first things he does when he jumps in his kayak is to immediately roll the kayak and submerge his entire body in the ice cold water. It seems to be a ritual of preparation for the water to come. I believe that is what we do in our recovery community. We jump right in with the deepest truth-telling. It takes a commitment to practice telling on yourself in this radical way. Congruency requires that you establish clarity and commitment to your concrete values about life. You will never be congruent if you are not clear about what you believe. Addicts struggle with this. For an addict, what has been valued is anything in the moment that helps them get what they want. You can stop acting out in your addiction but still live life with this mindset. You won’t be congruent until you do a deeper dive into what values matter most to you. Likely, you will need time, and a mentor (sponsor, spiritual guide, etc) to create these deeper values. Do the hard work. Go deep and hammer out what you believe, cherish and value. Only then, do you have the necessary framework to practice congruency.

Finally, congruence requires that you embrace the defeated moments, moments of paranoia and fear, and that you lean into counterintuitive behavior. This, too, is difficult. First, defeat hurts and carries shame with it. The human tendency is to run from shame and minimize the defeat experience. These are moments that are juicy for congruence. These are times to know yourself best. Being honest in defeat is a mark of maturity and congruence. Wisdom and life lessons can only come from this space. Paranoia and fear are common experiences on the journey of recovery. Sometimes recovery feels like free falling, as if you are totally not in control. It’s true. Things can go wrong and you get paranoid, waiting for the next shoe to drop. Congruence requires that you sit with these difficult experience and practice
counterintuitive behaviors. With congruence, you learn to let go when you desperately want to hang on! You learn to die to what you don’t need in order to live! You learn to win by losing what you recognize is no longer important! You practice embracing what you don’t know that leads to be settled with what you do know.

Congruence is a core paradox that is fundamental to the recovery journey. The
only way to find peace in your unsettled world is through grasping the thin air of
congruent living in the context of accountability and community support.

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