What does it mean to be ‘recovered’?

In my recovery group we use basically two different terms to describe our recovery:  Recovering and recovered.  Is there a difference?

The term “recovered” was used by Bill Wilson, co-founder of AA to describe a person who has experienced a “spiritual awakening” after working the steps of the 12 Step program.  A “recovered” alcoholic had turned completely around – 180 degrees – and had simply stopped drinking.

Someone who was “recovered” no longer felt the overwhelming need to drink.  ‘Stinkin’ thinkin’’ was a thing of the past.  The recovered alcoholic was still an alcoholic, still vulnerable to the effects of alcohol, and still powerless over it’s controlled use.

The “recovered” alcoholic was restored to sanity.  Life was once again, manageable.  And the “recovered” alcoholic remained in active service to others who still suffered.  There was no escaping alcoholism.  Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic. But as long as alcohol was not part of his/her life, life would remain forever sane.

The word “recovering” denotes the continual working of the 12 Step program, the daily-ness of recovery work:  Progress, not perfection.  A recovering addict still continues to remain vigilant and to improve his/her conscious contact with God (Higher Power).

Recovering addicts don’t ever think that they are cured.  Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.  Unfortunately, the word “recovered” tends to imply that the sacred journey to recovery is over.  And some addicts who manage to enjoy an extended period of sobriety get cocky and are deluded into thinking that they are now in the clear.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

I prefer to call myself a “recovering” addict, reminding myself and others in the meeting that I have not arrived; I am still in recovery.  I make progress everyday that I remain in recovery – working the steps continually.

What do you mean, mental illness?

I suffer from a mental illness:  It’s called sex addiction.

I don’t like the term “mental illness.”  I would much rather refer to it as an “intimacy disorder” or “obsessive compulsive disorder.”  But it is what it is.

Consequently, I am not to blame for this illness any more than I am to blame for being a white male who happens to be a border-line diabetic.  I didn’t consciously choose to be an addict.  I didn’t wake up one day and say to myself, “I think I’ll become a sex addict.  Yep.  That really works for me.”

Like any addiction, I pretty much fell into it.  No amount of will power is enough to break its spell; it had me by the short and curly’s.  It took on a life of its own, and controlled me every day, all day.

But, really, do we need to refer to it as a mental illness?

I remember the problems this addiction caused in my psyche.  I became a pathological liar.  I lied about things that I didn’t need to lie about.  I lived a double life.  I felt paranoid most of the time.  I became clinically depressed – always anxious – and living in a black hole.  Sounds like mental illness, doesn’t it?

I used to beat myself up about my shameful behavior.  But I realize now that I don’t have to treat myself with such disdain and self-loathing.

Fortunately, I learned that I am worth a lot more than I thought.  And I learned that I am responsible for my own happiness.  That’s very different from feeling like I am to blame.  I may be powerless but I am not helpless.

There is an inner power within me that I can tap into in order to overcome the powerful pull of my addiction, and heal my mental illness.

 

Resistance

One reason we must practice mindfulness is due to our default setting: Resistance.

I’ll never forget the day I was standing at the check out in the Liquor Store. Suddenly, there was a huge scuffle at the front door. I heard a man shouting, “Stop resisting! Stop resisting! I am an officer of the law! Stop resisting!” I looked to see two men wrestling on the ground. Apparently, a young man in a trench coat was caught trying to leave the store with stolen alcohol concealed in his coat.

The man was putting up quite a fight, and took a real beating in the process. When he was finally secured in handcuffs, the undercover cop stood him to his feet. I could see blood dripping from his nose. I kept thinking that if he hadn’t resisted so hard he wouldn’t have taken such a beating.

Isn’t this what we all do to one degree or another? When we experience things in our lives that we don’t want, we resist. “How do I resist?” you ask. In several ways:

  • Dissipation: We try to push the painful experience out by using anger, crying, excessive talking, etc.
  • Blocking: We try to block the pain by shutting down, i.e. isolation and depression.
  • Distraction: We try to block or dissipate by using distractions such as drugs, alcohol, watching TV, sex, etc.

Why do we resist? We resist the things that push us over the edge. When we feel unsafe, we resist. When we feel overwhelm, we resist. Most of the time, resistance is done unconsciously. A good way to know you are resisting is to pay attention to your mood. Also, you can observe your emotions by identifying where in your body you feel it. Negative emotions can be felt in a specific part of the body; sometimes the throat, chest or stomach.

It is not necessary to resist. It’s just something we do without even noticing. That is why we must practice mindfulness. Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and without judgment.

Mindfulness is a way to overcome fear and resistance. Carl Jung once said, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” The way to stop resisting is by becoming more aware of it.

Resistance creates suffering. This is not to be confused with pain. Pain is physical; suffering is spiritual. Pain is necessary and real; suffering is not necessary and an illusion. Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.

We can avoid resistance and suffering by practicing mindfulness. Learning to accept ‘what is’ – the essence of mindfulness – will serve as a way to avoid suffering and stop resisting.

“Three magic words”

The practice of mindfulness has some very practical benefits.

Here are 12 good reasons to practice mindfulness:

  • Improve focus, concentration and precision
  • Enhance the quality of communication and relationships
  • Heighten the clarity of our thinking and intentions
  • Improve our self awareness
  • Deepen peace of mind and sense of flow
  • Master stress
  • Deepen insight and intuitive wisdom
  • Awaken more authenticity and caring in our lives
  • Increase resilience to change
  • Strengthen faith and self-confidence
  • Develop emotional stability
  • Increased flexibility and acceptance

Who wouldn’t benefit from better focus and concentration? I can get fairly unfocused very quickly just by allowing my mind to think randomly – and I get lost in my thoughts.

Are you having difficulty with a certain relationship? Do you want to try to improve this relationship but don’t know how? Problems of this kind are usually associated with a breakdown in communication.

Trying to get clear on something? Need to make a decision about something more important than what you’re going to have for lunch?

When you look in the mirror, what do you see? Our false beliefs about ourselves can often distort our sense of who we truly are.

Are you usually stressed out? Are you surrounded by other people and circumstances that trigger you? Part of learning how to handle stress is knowing where it comes from.

Intuition is not just a feminine quality. It is a skill that can be nurtured through daily practice. We all have this ability, and we can learn to trust our intuition.

Always trying to impress someone else? Learn to relax and just be who you are. There is no need to try to be someone else. You are perfect just the way you are.

No one enjoys change; the older we get, the less we like it. But we all can relate to the benefits of change. Have you never said to yourself, “I need to get away” or “ a change is as good as a rest”?

So what are the three magic words?

Are you overcome with fear of the unknown? Afraid to step out and risk failing? You can learn to believe in yourself and in the process.

Bill Wilson (co-founder of AA) spoke of something he referred to as ‘emotional sobriety.’ Are you looking for more emotional balance?

Central to mindfulness practice is the whole area of acceptance. Along with this notion is the practice of gratitude. Let go, let God, and stop resisting what is.

These are the 3 magic words: Accept what is.