When I mustered up every ounce of courage I had and walked into my first 12 step meeting, I was under the impression that 12 weeks later I was going to leave the program cured of my addiction. Somehow they were going to say a few magic words and I was going to be fixed. My decades of addiction were going to be undone.
That was several years ago and I am still going to meetings. Now, I serve as Support Group Leader over several Stakes (a group of LDS congregations) and I’ve never been told any magic words or found a wand to wave around to fix addiction. It’s a lifelong process, and there are a few things I have to keep in mind.
First, being in recovery doesn’t mean you will never have cravings. Second, recovery doesn’t mean you have moved beyond being tempted. Third, it also doesn’t mean depriving yourself of what you really want.
The truth is I might have cravings for my addictions for the rest of my life. I realize that now. As a child, I never learned good ways to cope with the emotional needs that we all have. Instead, I learned how to bury those feelings, mask them, escape from them. I wired my brain toward addiction each time I indulged in unhealthy behavior that brought me pleasure, or relief, or distraction from whatever was causing me distress. By the time I was an adolescent, the hooks of addiction were firmly set, and I hadn’t learned any other coping skills to deal with the everyday stresses of life. It took many years for my addictions to form. It was silly to think I could get rid of them in a few short weeks.
It took me a long time to forgive myself for feeling tempted. I finally realize there is no reason to feel guilty for being tempted. Jesus Christ was perfect and sinless, and he was tempted. There is no sin in temptation, only in sin itself. Living in recovery is not about being free from temptation.
And recovery isn’t about denying yourself of what you are craving. It is about discovering what you are REALLY craving. All addicts began using as a way to deal with life or escape. One thing that almost all addicts share is a disconnect from their emotions. An addict will say “I feel like a drink” or “I am still hungry” or “I want to look at porn” or “I really need a pill”. In the same situation, a healthy person might say, “I am angry” or “I need to talk to someone” or “I need to take a walk and clear my head” or “I need to go let off some steam”.
Addicts are usually perceived as very selfish people. But in reality addicts usually never give their body or mind what it is really needing. Instead, they just mask those feelings with unhealthy substitutes and the real needs continue to build. Addicts are in a constant state of neglecting their emotional and physical needs.
Being in recovery is a process of discovering what your cravings are telling you. Try to find out what the real need is, and then look for a healthy way to satisfy it. Eventually, your goal becomes to learn how to read your own signals and to take care of yourself physically and emotionally BEFORE you feel cravings.
But I will probably always have cravings during times of Hunger, Anger, Loneliness, Tiredness, or Stress (H.A.L.T.S). Those are the hardest times for addicts.
Wow, this post has been really disjointed and rambling. Sorry about that. I just really wanted to dispel a few myths about what it is like to be a recovering addict. I’ve seen too many addicts going along fine in their recovery and then get down on themselves when they get tempted, or use, and they start to wonder if there is any hope for them.
I told my Bishop a couple of weeks ago that I struggle every single day. But I’m going to keep fighting.
One day at a time, right?