I know, that’s a really bold statement! I also know that as little as 2 weeks ago I would have said the exact opposite. I am one of those blessed people who entered a twelve-step program and never returned to the addiction portion of the emotional illness. So, I would have said; “recovery was totally possible without relapse!” Because, 5896 days later I am still gambling free, never placing a bet, not once.
The first step in most twelve-step programs is the following: “We admitted we are powerless over (insert addiction of choice) and that our lives had become unmanageable. Now, I am a person who believes that the addiction you choose is a symptom of greater things. I did not choose gambling as an addiction, I chose gambling to turn off my brain and numb the pain. From conversations that I have had with addicts in recovery always have a variation of these words “they wanted to secretly want to destroy themselves through their addiction.” Or some variation of those words.
So in my opinion we may need a Step 1.5 and it could read “We also admitted we were powerless over our emotions, feelings and thoughts and our lives had become unmanageable!” Once the addict makes it to the first meeting, therapist appointment or outreach program I can say with almost certainty that they have never started out by saying I am worthy of love, I am worthy of kindness, I am worthy of respect or just plan I am worthy. More likely it is “what have I done?” “I am such a horrible person!” Or also highly likely “I wished I was dead!”
As for recovery and relapse, my relapses were emotional relapses. I did not think I was worthy! I did not think I had much value! I thought that people were crazy for wanting to be around me. These are some of the same thoughts I had while I was in action.
As an addict in action we are not only are capable of shitty behaviour, we also accept shitty behaviour against us from ourselves and from others. This is no different in emotional relapse, we start to go down a path and we know that our physical addiction has been arrested and we don’t want to go back to it, so we start to do the next best thing without the drugs, booze, eating, shopping, sex or whatever. We start to systematically destroy ourselves emotionally with the same emotions we avoided while using the substance or behaviour to numb. We start to accept unacceptable behaviour from ourselves and from others.
There was a term growing up in our household, “Dry Drunk.” I grew up in a twelve-step program house, and this term was used to describe an addict who stopped drinking but still kept all the wonderful behaviours of a practicing alcoholic. Dry drunk is kind of catchy too; a dry gambler, or a dry addict just does not have the same ring or relay the same message. Now it can be debated that as a dry drunk you never got recovery, you are still living in the world of your addiction. So relapse is questionable, if you think removing the substance or action is all you have to do then well I guess that is recovery to you! However, if there is more to recovery and all you did was remove the substance but you did not remove the behaviours, the thoughts, or the feelings the it could be argued you never even had recovery.
Looking back over the 16 years of my recovery, I can count three major, and a whole bunch of minor times where the work I was doing was limited or non-existent. Talking with addicts and from my personal experience these are the times that one of three things can happen. 1) You relapse back into the addiction that you came from. 2) You can spiral into emotional depression; your words or actions become not who you are at your essence. 3) You pick up another addiction.
Picking up another addiction is another interesting paradigm; in some of the rooms I attend people talk about multi addictions, like they are separate. You hear statements like “I was always drinking, I went to a twelve step program and I have that addiction arrested. Gambling came out of nowhere!” I think we have to understand that we are addicts and if we are not doing the correct work and we are not looking at the root cause we will find ways to numb the pain through other substances or actions. We need to stop separating addiction by type; this puts the blame on the substance or the action. We need to see that we are addicts and unless we are dealing with the emotions, thoughts, or feelings (root causes) then we never really left the addiction to begin with.
Remember, keep chasing those cars, I know I will.
With Love, Respect and Admiration