Why Do Some Folks Live in Recovery and Others Don’t?

up-treeI listened to a podcast recently that triggered an issue I have often thought about over the years.  The podcast discussed a celebrity who died of a drug overdose.  The story told of the celebrity’s brilliance and compassion but their inability to deal with a deep pain.  The statement of another celebrity suggested that such special folks are so sensitive and brilliant that they just are unable to deal with life.

Note that my comments below are not meant to dismiss or diminish the tragic deaths of anyone from substance abuse.

The podcast raised a couple of points for me.  First, there is a certain romantacizing of the famous who overdose or commit suicide.  Some consider the dead club of the 27 year olds rock stars as an inherent result of the business or the talent of the individual, rather than untreated chemical dependency.  I ponder that my former colleague and blue-collar worker who put a gun to his head after several unsuccessful attempts at substance abuse treatment was simply considered a drunk bored with his life, nothing more exceptional than that.  If empathy and sensitivity to the suffering of others were good explanations for the celebrity overdoses, then certainly Mother Theresa types should not live into their senior years.

I ask myself the question – Why have I stayed sober for a bunch of years?  Why in my AA home group are there many compassionate and talented individuals who can tell horror stories from their past lives, but today are living into decades long periods of recovery?  And at the same time, why are there those in my AA home group who cannot put together more than 3 months of sobriety, but many keep coming back to try again?

I ask these questions and I don’t have all the answers.  My first day in detox nearly 30 years ago I made two very intentional decisions.  First, I was not going to lie to anyone in the treatment center.  I was not going to just tell the therapists what I thought they wanted to hear as I had done for years.  Second, I was going to do exactly what I was told to do in recovery.  Despite my delusions of grandeur, the horror stories of my familial dysfunction and abuse, I was a drunk like everyone else in the detox ward.

I know my decisions are part of the answer to my questions.  I know that I got sick and tired of being sick and tired.  I know that I recognized that my substance abuse got me to a point where I was physically, emotionally, and spiritually bankrupt.  But I also know that many folks in identical situations are not able to stay on a recovery road.

Regardless, a starting point in answering the questions remains the First Step of Alcoholics Anonymous – We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and our lives had become unmanageable.  With that recognition, the next question is: So what am I going to do about it? We all, rich and poor, whatever our occupation and personal histories, must answer that question.

 

2 thoughts on “Why Do Some Folks Live in Recovery and Others Don’t?

  1. You are asking questions that I ask many times, and I think your answers are right on. My own son struggles with addiction and has for years, but I don’t think he has made the conscious choices you made in rehab. i think he does feel “superior” to those struggling around him, and thinks he knows better than those trying to help him. He does say what he thinks others want to hear, and he lies about almost everything. But how does he get to the point where you were to make those conscious choices to do it diffferently this time.

    On the other hand, I’m becoming highly skeptical of AA/NA’s model. Did you really admit you were powerless when you made those conscious choices? Or did you take power, and make a conscious, clear choice? Maybe that first step is merely to prod people to have the humility to listen to others, to be receptive to good advice, to not separate ourselves from the herd, think we are more special, smarter, etc. I don’t know. Trying to understand all this. Glad I found and read your post today. Things to ponder.

    • Thanks very much for your comment. I remember my thought process when I chose to go into treatment like it was yesterday. I had been to an AA clubhouse about six months before. I sat at a table and talked with some folks that I just could not handle the alcohol anymore. I needed to stop drinking, but I could not. Then someone said something about a higher power and I immediately excused myself because I was not going to associate with a bunch of “Jesus Freaks.”

      Six months later I could not take it any more. Although I got drunk nearly every day, I would go for extensive binge periods of regular cycles of long-term blackouts. I was at work one night in the paper bag factory where I was employed. I had a feeling that when I left work that night I was going to go into one of those lengthy binge/black out periods and that I was somehow not going to get back. That night after work, instead of going home to drink or to a bar, I checked myself into a detox unit. My feeling was that I could no longer continue drinking and living, and that there was some reason for a hope that there could be solution. I knew of one person who had gone the AA route and they were doing well. It was my last or only hope that I knew. The only “power” I took was the decision to go to the detox unit rather than the bar. I really felt a complete sense of surrender – just tell me what to do – my way has not worked. So in that regard, yes, I completely admitted that I was powerless over alcohol and that my life had become unmanageable from the very start.

      I agree about not separating ourselves from the herd. I always wanted to play the risk – that somehow, I could drive 100 mph in my car and avoid tickets. Some people perhaps have, but another decision I made was to try and stay in the middle ground.

      Regarding the AA/NA model – I have been sober for 29 years. For the first year, I am certain I went to over 300 AA meetings. Between about years 7 – 15, I perhaps went to 2 or 3 meetings a year. Today, I go to about 4 meetings per month. Throughout the entire time, I have always been very open that I am a recovering alcoholic. I quit smoking about 15 years ago based on the 12-step approach. I deal with my eating disorder today through a 12-step perspective, but I don’t go to OA meetings (yet). I don’t think that a 12-step approach means necessarily going to x number of meetings per week. I view the 12-step program as like being a toolbox from which I can draw materials to aid my recovery. As you might guess if you review many of my blog posts, I consider myself pretty much to be an AA cliche – “progress not perfection” “process not an event” “one-day-at-a-time” and so forth. The bottom line for me is the 12-step program has been the absolute bedrock of my recovery. How I have “worked” the program has evolved through time and I am certain will continue to evolve in the future as well. I am not interested in people telling me that I am not doing something by the book, or that I should be doing something differently in my recovery. As I often say at meetings “I have not a complaint in the world today.” And I can say that to be true for a good number of years. Therefore the way I work the AA program works for me.

      Best wishes,

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