When most “addicts” or “alcoholics” make the decision to quit or moderate their substance usage, they usually define their newly minted selves as “a person in recovery.” Of course recovery can mean all kinds of things in Western culture. But in the case of the addiction world, it simply means the person has decided to quit (or moderate) and is now seeking out some type of support network to “stay sober.” This recovery network is created as a safety net that is intended to prop them up as they navigate life with their new adjusted level of consumption. What they do not realize is that this same system of recovery will also become an anchor that keeps them tethered to their past. By being a “person in recovery” you are saying that you need support to “recover from addiction.” That identity – “a person in recovery” – never truly allows you to grow past your identity as an “addict” or an “alcoholic”; recovery becomes the glue that keeps you tethered to your chaotic past. So what if you wanted to skip all that? What if you decided to just move on from your past habits? Is this possible?
The Answer is Yes – but Not without a Change in Perspective
Yes, you can move past an addiction, but to be fully free you’ll have to avoid the recovery trap. What is the recovery trap you ask? It’s a way of framing your new life after stopping heavy drug and alcohol use. Let me explain.
Because the disease of addiction myth is mainstream, most people do not know that addiction is not actually a disease at all. Rather, addiction is a personal preference for heavy, consistent substance use. But because people see their use as an incurable disease, they frame their addiction as something that afflicts them. People who once simply changed their preferences for heavy substance use, are now unable to do so because they believe their “disease” has them beat. This perspective conceals the fact that they have always chosen their heavy use while thinking their use is controlled by something “out there.” If a disease is the cause of someone’s use, then support of some kind is probably a good idea if the person wants to remain vigilant in their waged battle with the addiction affliction.
But in contrast, if they view their preference as a closely held personal choice, or series of choices, then they can control the reduction in use or the stopping of use if that is what they want to do. There is nothing “out there attacking them” – rather, they are making choices that have certain benefits and certain trade-offs.
The Two Views – Recovery or Choice
So there are two views here:
- There is the disease ideal which demands an external means of support to stay vigilant against the ever-present disease. This again, is called “recovery.” The need for recovery viewpoint cannot be held whole if the individual has any belief that they have a choice in their usage patterns. In short, recovery ideals trump choice – you can’t have both.
- There is the internal choice (or series of choices) ideal. In this viewpoint the individual prefers heavy use, moderate use, or no use at all. This view does not require support or recovery because there is nothing to recover from, and no battle is being waged here. Either you prefer to use heavily or you don’t. This view can only be had if the disease myth is fully debunked, and the individual realizes that choice trumps recovery – you can’t have both.
To move on from addiction without getting sucked into the recovery trap, you must choose the second perspective. Once you look at addiction (i.e. heavy substance use) as a repetitive choice/s based on personally held preferences, it is easy to move past recovery quite quickly. Someone once asked me, “Mark, how long does it take to get over an addiction?” I replied, “It can take a moment, or it can take an entire lifetime. The only difference between the two is how you view addiction – as a disease or as a closely held series of choices.”
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