Lessons learned from recovering addicts

Opinion: Columns

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By Tom Holmes

Reading this column will be a waste of your time if you are not addicted to sugar, alcohol or gambling;

if you are praying your phone vibrates in your pocket and you don't compulsively check who is calling and can let it go to voicemail;

if you don't compulsively eat in order to reduce stress; 

if you bring $30 to the casino and when it's gone, you go home; 

if the time you spend at work is not eroding your important relationships.

One definition of "addiction" is that it is when any substance or behavior is in control of you instead of you being in control of it. And, what keeps people enslaved by their obsession/compulsion is denial. One favorite declaration by alcoholics who are not in recovery is "I can quit any time I want."

Can you? Can you quit any time you want to?

What's more, back in 1984 author and psychotherapist Anne Wilson Schaef argued in "When Society Becomes an Addict" that whole cultures can be controlled by toxic thinking. This year author Arthur Brooks in "Love Your Enemies" contends that in this country "we have a cultural addiction to contempt."

"We have," he declares, "an insatiable craving for insults to the other side."

Let's look in the cultural mirror. Schaef wrote that signs of a whole society being an addict are dishonesty, self-centeredness, dependency and the need for control.

So, this column might be worth reading if you—individually or collectively—are looking in the mirror and are beginning to recognize that a substance or behavior is making your/our life worse instead of better.

Last week, I reported on a program for recovering alcoholics and addicts at the Way Back Inn (WBI) in Maywood, which has implications for all of us who are trying to live healthier lives.

Powerlessness

The very first step on the road to recovery from an addiction is to admit powerlessness. If recovery is going to happen, folks must admit that something is in control of them instead of them being in control of it.

Only men live at the Way Back Inn. Phil Schneeberger, who is an addictions counselor there, said that powerlessness is especially hard for men to accept.  

"Men like to feel powerful," he said. "We don't like powerlessness. It's very humbling."

Structure

Clients at Way Back Inn must submit to a very structured routine. They wake up at 6:30 a.m., make their bed and clean their room, must be downstairs by 8 a.m. for breakfast with the others in the house, be off to work or looking for a job by 9 a.m., attend a house meeting at 5 p.m., have a family-style dinner with the other clients at 5:30 p.m. and, from 6 till 9 p.m., participate in a clinical meeting three times a week. When not in a clinical, then they must attend a 12 Step meeting the other four days. Wake up the next the next morning at 6:30 a.m. and repeat.

Denise was a client and is presently a staff member at the Grateful House for recovering women, which is located in Oak Park but is under the Way Back Inn organizational umbrella.  

"The Way Back Inn is a step down program," she explained. "The first 90-120 days have a lot of structure, routine, rules, discipline, and requirements. The next step has less structure. Finally, independent status combines an increase in personal responsibility with still going to an individual counselor, group therapy and 12 step meetings. This is what worked for me"

Responsibility and Accountability

Accepting responsibility for how life has become unmanageable is not just an issue for addicts. Everyone wants to blame someone or something for the messes they find themselves in. You only have to observe the behavior of those at the very highest levels of government to see how common blaming is.

So, until clients own their own disease and the responsibility for recovery, healing will not happen.

Matt, a man who was a client and is now a staff member at the Way Back Inn, said, "The WBI is the only place I know of personally that really holds you accountable for your actions and will give you a hand up if you are willing to grab the help. It gave me my life, family and friends back to me." 

Surrender

In the 12 Step community, an admission of powerlessness is followed by a surrender to the reality that "a power greater than ourselves" is necessary if recovery is going to happen

At first, this may sound silly, but surrendering involves accepting that "we are not God." Schneeberger has observed that addicts tend to be very egocentric, with a thought process that sounds like, "I want what I want, when I want it, and I don't care if it endangers other people or myself to get it." 

"We spend a lot of time here," he said, "helping clients understand that the world doesn't revolve around them and [helping them] to begin adopting a lifestyle that includes other people."

The corollary, of course, is that if addictive systems include people who think they are God, the system also has enablers who let them get away with that illusion…for their own unhealthy reasons.

Not just for addicts and alcoholics

Listen to the radio ads for the weight loss program called Noom and you'll discover principles at work in the weight loss community which are very similar to the ones effective in addictions recovery.

The Army. A couple weeks ago Jake Marchetti, of Forest Park, started boot camp as the first step on his road to becoming an officer in the Army.  Structure! Surrender to a power greater than yourself! Losing the idea that you are the center of the universe!

Church. A bunch of screwed up sinners trying to admit their powerlessness and nurture their trust in a power greater than themselves. At our worst, of course, some of us in the institutional church are hypocrites, at least some of the time.  But at our best, we know what we're like when we are at our worst, confess that it's our own damn fault and acknowledge that we need a community to make progress on the road to recovery.

Reader Comments

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Anne Wilson Schaef from Boulder, Montana  

Posted: August 17th, 2019 3:01 PM

Thanks for quoting me, I agree with everything I said. And, I do think we need to look at these issues culturally.

Leah Ann Shapiro  

Posted: August 1st, 2019 12:18 PM

Interesting and informative article.

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