When I got sober the often unavoidable little AA quips and sayings drove me crazy. While some are true, I think there are others that foster myths and misconceptions about recovery and addiction. Many aren’t from AA but fall into the realm of addiction and recovery often they are fallacies about what an addict is. These phrases can often be off putting to a newcomer and can make them feel alienated and bar recovery from those who could benefit from it. Heres a list of what I feel are the most untrue myths that are spouted. Keep in mind these are only my thoughts, I don’t claim to be an expert on anything but my experience.
If you can’t control your cravings you’re just selfish and weak. If you exhibited just the slightest bit of willpower you could easily beat this thing. It would be awesome if we could easily control our baser craving and actions. The truth is we can’t, and that is part of what makes us human. The human brain is an amazing organ that we barely understand or have much control over. Many of our regular actions and emotions are controlled by base instincts and brain chemistry. Trying to control this is like trying to bend a spoon with your mind. I’m not trying to say that addiction is entirely not my fault and I am never in control of my mind or actions. This would be going completely the opposite the way and saying nothing is ever my fault. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. While there are many choices I have made willingly that led me down the path of addiction and being humble and recognizing my faults in recovery, lack of willpower is certainly not one of them. I did not enjoy or choose willingly to end up in the hospital twice due to drinking, I did not find it fun to blackout and have no memory of blocks of time or what I did each weekend. Addiction is a complicated problem caused by genetics and psychological issues, no one would willingly destroy their lives by choice or lack of willpower.
Hitting rock bottom is the only way to achieve successful recovery. I’m not a big fan of this one either. Everyone has a different bottom and it is not always a “rock bottom”. I saw where my life was heading and I was tired of it. I did not need the experience of “jails, institutions, or death” to want to get and stay sober. The “rock bottom” approach just furthers the false perception that all alcoholics and addicts are homeless winos that I myself had before coming to AA. My bottom was bad for me but I wouldn’t consider it a rock bottom. I had plenty of room to keep digging deeper. While it is true that others need the experience of hitting rock bottom to want it enough it is hardly the only way to get sober successfully. This could turn away a newcomer as they may think, well drinking has not caused me to be homeless or end up in jail, I must not be an alcoholic. This myth also goes hand in hand with “relapse is a part of recovery”
Relapse is a part of recovery and/or relapse is a failure. I detest both of these misconceptions. Relapse is not part of my story thankfully and it I don’t believe that relapse will make my recovery stronger. There are many old timers with 20+ years of sobriety with no relapse as part of their story. While this isn’t a common phrase I have heard it used often by speakers. I have come close to relapse because of a lapse in working my program, and have found wisdom in that experience but I have not had to experience a relapse as a part of recovery. On the flipside, and I do not think I am contradicting myself with this statement but I do not think relapse is a failure in recovery. I think you can gain great wisdom from relapse. If you can self reflect and examine what led to the relapse you can use it in your recovery. You can recognize the pre-lapse behaviors and stop them before they happen, you can know what you did wrong the last time and avoid it. Why do we fall off a horse, or in this case the wagon? So we can pick up and dust ourselves off. The reason why I don’t think this is a contradiction in my logic is because I don’t believe that to have a successful recovery you need to relapse, but relapse can be a valuable experience if examined properly. The only failure in relapse is if you do not make it back to recovery.
My worst day sober is better than my best day drinking. I can’t lie on this one. I really had some great days drinking with friends. There are some ridiculously fun nights and amazing adventures I will always remember. I also had some incredibly awful experiences I wish I could forget. Some days life really sucks and it can be exacerbated by not having the luxury of a crutch like alcohol and drugs. I do have the luxury of being able to finally face life on life terms. I know I will have some really great days and some really awful days. That is how life is. Now I no longer need to escape when something negative happens. I also do not need to lie through my teeth with this phrase to understand that I will have good days and bad days.
On the flipside here are two phrases that I value, even if they are a bit cliche.
You can’t think yourself into right action, you can only be in action and your thinking will follow or bring your body and your mind will follow. This is one I truly hated at first when I got sober. I was resistant to the fact that I was no longer the master of my thoughts. Its a hard thing to accept in the humbling process. I’m more often a thinker than a do-er, thats one of my character defects, I spend too much time stressing about doing something than just doing it, or I that I can think myself out of a bad mood. As much as I hated the phrase I started to do it after the program director of my treatment center sat me down and had a talk about taking action. As I started to take the next right indicated actions my thinking began to change. I started doing this more often even though it was tough and it became truer and truer. Trying to change my thinking was no longer working. I was amazed to find that just being in action my mental outlook would change. Depression and lethargy would cease if I just took that next action. This is a concept I value heavily in my recovery.
The recovery shuffle: two steps forward one step back, or sometimes two steps forward and only 1 step back. This one is very true for me and has helped an enormous amount in my recovery. Sometimes it feels like I am doing so poorly and I get down on myself. When I am feeling like this I always remind myself that it is part of the recovery shuffle, I take two steps forward then one back. This reminds me that this is just a part of being sober. Some days I feel like I am doing well then some I slip a little or fall back, sometimes I feel like I fall back more than I move forward. I use this phrase to remind myself that these things happen and as long as I move forward even a little bit I am ok.
I would like to hear from you, are there any cliches you dislike or like? I am a big proponent of whatever works for you in sobriety. Some may like the ones I do not like feel free to tell me why.
C.S. Bridger is an LA based writer and photographer trying to make sense of recovery