Recovery Reflections

By Ken Wells - 02/10/2023


Series Three: Blog Ninety-Three

Being in recovery from addiction for 32 years and listening to addicts share their journey of recovery has led to interesting observations and, for me, deeper truths about the world we live in. Today’s blog is about this reflection. You might contemplate your own musings about these thoughts from your recovery path.

Rules and regulations are helpful until they are not. Many of the great religious teachings and healing modalities of our times promote rituals, rules and regulations that serve as a machine that help to create the world we want to live in. People find comfort when there are rules that give jurisdiction that govern human behavior. For most of us, the idea of free-falling without knowing the end result is unnerving. So we create machines with rules that give oversight and control which lead to predictable end results that provide emotional safety.

Religions provide this safety and so do 12-step groups. You complete the 12-steps with a sponsor, attend the meetings, take the advice given and hopefully you will experience sobriety that leads to serenity. There are testimonies of thousands who support this kind of machine.

It’s a lot like religion. Orthodox Jews, fundamental Christians, Buddhist monks, etc all have certain behaviors, customs, disciplines which become machines that promote the same result. All have been amazingly helpful.

However, the rules and regulations of any entity can subtly shift its focus when the machine of rules and regulations becomes a way to make the world in our image. The Dalai Lama is attributed to have said “know the rules well so that you can effectively break them”.

How does this apply to recovery? Recovery is a virtuous experience that utilizes rules and regulations in powerful ways to promote healing. That said, at times the rules of 12-step meetings and the Steps themselves can get in the way of recovery. The rules and regulations of your recovery may no longer apply as they did during the beginnings of your recovery.

The world you live in is changing and you are evolving and having different experiences and behavior. You must relate to the expectations of life from a different context. Rigid and fixed literal applications of healing modalities, including religious regulations and behavioral expectations from a 12-step community that were once helpful for healing can become a problem for your continued growth. It doesn’t make the religious or 12-step experience a fallacy. It just means that you are evolving into different awarenesses. You do not have to throw the baby out with the bath water. Babies are valued and so is the bath water needed.  It’s simply that you adjust the use of the machine, which is the program and its rules and regulations, to serve you rather than be made in the machine’s image.

This is heresy to some. Old timers in 12-step groups insist that the protocols of how you do a meeting, address the Steps and go about recovery behavior, must be done a certain way with a defined reason. And they are right until they are not.

The Steps themselves are helpful until they are not. You must be the wise mind to carefully sift and sort your truth and its application.

People do this best in community support. There are times that virtue during one era of time in your life becomes the vice of another. Who would have thought that the use of ketamine, mushroom, LSD or other psychedelics could be helpful for addicts to stop using!

It has certainly been true for me when I consider my religious training and experience. Many religious truths that grounded and guided me at one point in my life have become counter-productive and will undermine my spiritual experience of today.

You will find this true in the recovery experience of a 12-step community. For example, you relapse into addiction. A sponsor tells you that it is imperative that you start all over with the 12-steps and go to 90 meetings in 90 days. Maybe that is exactly what you need to do or maybe not.

Often, this is what worked for your sponsor or what h/she has been told to tell sponcees to do in the culture of the 12-step community. However, if your relapse was triggered around not being able to let go and surrender, it may be more useful to work Step 3 and not start all over.

Upon reflection, if you attend 90 meetings in the same manner that you did your last meeting, you may be simply practicing bad habits of deceit and isolation even though you attend every day. You become like the golfer who practices a bad swing. It could be possible that you need to go to fewer, not more, meetings.

You are responsible to utilize your true consciousness. Many addicts in early recovery need the guidance of rules and regulations to remain sober. However, there will be a time in recovery where you will need to discard a particular rule/regulation in order to continue your personal growth.

Sometimes old timers in 12-step communities are rigid. They remind me of my earlier religious experiences. Old timers at church would lament “Give me that old time religion, it’s good enough for me”. Old timers in 12-step meetings can become equally rigid. They decry therapy and cutting edge interventions. They say all you need is to work the steps. So many addicts have put “a cork in the bottle” in a 12-step room and then returned home without being able to address personal intimacy in family relationships. They never unraveled their relational disability that fueled their addiction in the first place. It has a lot to do with why some remain stuck in what has traditionally been identified as a “dry drunk” mentality. It is important to not let the machine of recovery make you into its own image. Rather, use the machine to serve you in your personal development.

Hopefully, these words would challenge you not to be irresponsible with your recovery tools.  Sharpen your wise mind to the realization that the recovery requires that you transform and develop in the midst of an ever-evolving world.

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