Series Two: Blog Two
“So often we make a commitment to change our ways, but stall in the face of old reflexes as new situations arise.”— Mark Nepo
Living in sobriety requires a willingness to make adjustments. We tend to cling to old patterns of living. We are creatures of habit. There is comfort in doing things the same way we have always done them. It’s true for us all. Yet, growth and transition creates the need for change. Adaptability is an overlooked quality in recovery. There are common threads that connect all of us in recovery. When we uncover the common threads there is relief and acceptance among those who know addiction. There is safety in routine and predictability that is necessary to create calm from a life of chaos.
Leaving the addictive life behind demands great courage and humility. For many of us, it took many steps forward and backward before we finally turned the page to a new life totally separate from the old ways of addiction. Most of us recall the loneliness, awkwardness and struggle experienced during the course of making these changes. It took a great deal of effort to leave old digs, watering holes, and other experiences in addictive behavior. Many of us wrestled with euphoric recall and endured painful user dreams about past moments of addiction. The culture of addiction felt like a warm hug, it was so familiar.
Reminiscing the first time you ever stepped across the threshold of a 12-step meeting was so scary and unraveling, who will I see that knows me? What will I have to say? Can’t wait just to get back to the safety of my car after the meeting was over. It took a long time before a 12-step room became a safe place. Even longer to feel like you belonged. There were painful disclosure and humble admission of character flaws. Learning to let go was and is a painful struggle. Over time, the 12-step meeting became a refuge, a place to become emotionally naked with people you once dreaded to face.
In time the recovery culture replaced the neighborhood of addiction. Some old acting-out friends disappeared while other relationships became redefined. Gradually, recovery behavior, relationships and life style replaced the addictive culture so that today the old life of addiction would be as awkwardly experienced as once was the new life in recovery. Finally, the evolution of recovery had transpired!
Once settled and established, life has a way of underscoring impermanence. Back in the day, Bob Dylan was correct when he wrote and sang “the times they are a changin”. In community, relationships change. People move or die. Family configurations require adjustment. An environment that was once predictable experiences the threat of change. Uncertainty is part of the flow of life. The passage of life creates the need for adjustment. We have to practice letting go in new ways about relationship dynamics we mistakenly thought were permanent.
This part of recovery life is difficult. There is resistance to ongoing adjustments and adaptations during life transition. Once you have stretched and strained from the life of an addict and settled in recovery, now considering continual life adjustments can feel overwhelming and too much to ask of yourself. The late M. Scott Peck in his book, The Road Less Travelled, likened life journey to the metaphor of traveling through the desert. Many come to the first oasis in the desert and settle there, deciding to camp for the rest of life and never completing the journey through the desert. The oasis is comfortable, so why continue?
Recovery life beckons to press on toward continued growth with its accompanying need for adjustment and willingness to embrace change. The temptation is to hover around old recovery times and digs that can no longer be sustained because of the impermanence of life. Essentially, nothing remains the same. There is need to change and move forward. However, change generates fear and anxiety.
Typically, when facing the need for change we want to hold on to what has always been. When there is fear of the unknown, we grip tightly to what we know and have experienced, even if it no longer applies to times we live and might be hurtful. In a parable in the New Testament, Jesus referred to the need for change as being like putting old wine into new wineskins. This metaphor for change emphasizes the idea that the new cloth had not yet shrunk, so that using new cloth to patch older clothing would result in a tear as it began to shrink. Similarly, old wineskins had been “stretched to the limit” or become brittle as wine had fermented inside them; using them again therefore risked bursting them. There comes a time for change when what used to be true and applicable needs to be adjusted. When we refuse to adjust we become inflexible and more likely to tear or break. Transitions in life though hard suggest that it is time to move on to new truths, relationships and understandings about life. Yet we tend to clutch and hold on to what we know when we are fearful of changes that usher us into the unknown.
Growth in recovery requires that you let go of preconceptions and expectations that have accumulated from past relationships and experiences. Recovery is a life of continual recreating yourself in spirit. Some have said that life in recovery is about becoming an unencumbered being. It demands that you release and let die the mentality of the past. Do you know the mentality that you need to let die within you? Is it the drive that you have always lived for? Is it your need to control things/people/possessions/power/position/environments/money? Sobriety brings us to spaces in our life where we need to change our entire way of life. Dropping the way, we have done life will mean that you do this one drop at a time. The drastic changes that occur at the inception of recovery underscores the way we are to live our lives moving forward–whether beginner or old timer. Soren Kierkegaard has written that “life is meant to be lived forward but can only be understood backward”. Living forward and looking backward are both difficult. Understanding can be sleuthed through past reflection but will require rigorous openness and honesty. Fear can be an obstacle to living forward. Letting go of what we know and embracing the unknown is a faith proposition that scares the hell out of most of us. Yet, for those who press forward, what emerges is the peace of becoming an unencumbered being.
Subscribe to receive the latest stories, thought leadership, and growth strategies from PCS therapists.