The thing about addiction is that there’s no real way to permanently succeed over it. There is no door to shut in addiction’s face, no way to declare immunity from it, no way to tell an addiction that there’s absolutely no chance it’ll reclaim any part of your life. In fact, theoretically, as a free person, you have the right to relapse any second you choose to.
It’s the fact that you choose not to that signifies your constant struggle – the essence of recovery isn’t that you “succeed” in it, but rather, that you strive not to fail. And even in cases of failure – when stress, turmoil or trauma pushes you over the edge and back towards one more bad case of addiction – the only way forward is as it’s always been, away from addiction through struggle.
We all look towards inconvenience with an extremely negative lens, but there’s a great power in being inconvenienced. When we’re too comfortable, that’s when we’re most vulnerable – vulnerable to being taken aback by life’s many unexpected curveballs. Yet there’s a difference between seeking improvement and a state of constant war. The struggle isn’t meant to consume you, or define you. Recovery is a lifelong process, but it shouldn’t be your life. There must be more to you than just the will to fight your addiction – there must be reasons for fighting.
Recovery, especially in the early stages, can be all-consuming of your time and energy. Many methods for recovery, from outpatient treatment centers to specific hospitalization programs, dedicate themselves to filling your schedule up and helping you manage time in a way that puts fighting addiction in the front, back and center of your life.
But at a certain point, when you’re living life, it’s important to live it for much more than just the will to be sober. You should have a life to live, past the job, past the name and the meetings. You should have friends, interests, passions, and maybe even a family – a full-blown support system.
Recovery is defined by struggle. Your life, however, shouldn’t be. How you define your life is up to you – some define it by commitment, others by joy, or by dedication to some cause. We all have our own way of seeing what matters most to us, and no one can declare what’s most important for anyone else. Finding that is something we all do on our own time – and it’s important to take the time to figure that out for yourself, especially when you’re struggling with recovery and looking for a way to define yourself in sobriety, without the addiction.
The power of struggle and the satisfaction of hitting a goal, only to set a loftier goal, is very potent in recovery – but that doesn’t mean that recovery is a journey of pure individualism.
Helping Doesn’t Equate to Stealing
In many philosophies that dedicate themselves to painting a bright picture for the power of struggling and will, helping others is often seen to rob them of the ability to take care of their own problems, pitting them in a situation they’re not equipped to handle because of your interference.
That’s not a healthy approach to addiction recovery. Pure individualism will hurt your recovery, rather than improve it. No one can carry you through recovery – there is no way someone can hoist you onto their shoulders and walk the path of recovery for you. In the same way, helping others achieve their goals in recovery won’t lessen their achievement. Even if it makes their struggle a little easier, that’s not a bad thing. You should strive to get better, not make your recovery as hard as possible for the sake of gritty struggle – and helping others as well greatly improves your own motivation.
It is possible to attach yourself emotionally to someone to such a degree that losing that attachment – such as through a breakup with a new relationship or through the tragic loss of a friend – can destroy you. But that’s a risk we take with every relationship, and one we should live with whenever we fall in love, or meet someone who eventually becomes a good friend.
That Sense of Achievement
We like to be challenged. It’s a psychological trick of the mind – a seed planted deep in the subconscious of every human being, the yearning for accomplishment and fulfillment. When we’re denied something, we yearn for it even more – hide a secret from humanity, and it’ll clamor to the bitter end to discover what it is. That’s a powerful drive, the drive to struggle through to get that sense of satisfaction from overcoming the odds.
But it’s not a drive that we all share equally. We all have our breaking points, moments where we decide not to step further, lines we draw in our own minds to determine how far we’ll go before a challenge becomes misery, a plague on our own mind.
Yet to those who struggle against addiction, challenge may be the perfect way to fight the need for release through drugs and/or alcohol. By struggling, fighting and achieving achievable goals, we continuously reward ourselves for our efforts, and begin to find a sense of self, a sense of pride in our accomplishments, a sense of security in our ability to keep going despite bad odds or dire circumstances.
Whether it’s entering a competition for a new hobby of yours, achieving a lofty fitness goal, or working towards the best academic score for our pet dissertation, there are countless worthwhile challenges in life that, if embraced, can offer tremendous value to us, regardless of their outcome.
Because in the end, especially for someone looking for a way to overcome an addiction, the goal itself doesn’t matter quite as much as the struggle does. If you achieve a goal, then your next step isn’t to hunker down and gloat in your achievement – it’s to look towards the next chapter, the next project, the next goal. Without goals to reach for, we become depressed. We hit our wall. We reach a point where we’re no longer sure what to do with ourselves, because it isn’t so much the goal that makes us happy but the fact that we fought our way to it.
That’s why struggle is important, and an integral part of recovery. Sobriety, for example, it’s the badge that says you’ve been clean and sober for a year. It isn’t the cross on the calendar that indicates your first anniversary. It’s the continuous struggle against overt stress and addiction, against anything that might lure you back into that abyss, and against the negativity that dragged you, and everything and everyone you loved into a bad, bad place.