Typically, recovery is thought of as recovery from drugs or alcohol. When we talk about addiction and recovery, I don’t believe we should limit ourselves to substances. To do so would be to limit our understanding of these very important concepts. These are big issues that will require big thought and big actions.
Many of my loved ones are recovering addicts in one form or another. I am a member of Al Anon, a division of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) that offers support to the families of alcoholics and addicts. At first, being in Al Anon is talking (and talking and talking) about that person’s (often referred to as your qualifier in Recoveryspeak) addiction has affected your life. As you gradually work your way through Al Anon, you learn that you are also in recovery, not just from the effects of the alcoholic or addict’s behavior, but from your own traumas as well (specifically the traumas that led you to enable alcoholic or addictive behavior).
With an addict or alcoholic, the addiction and recovery process is more obvious. For those of us who aren’t noble warriors, battling the dark forces of drug addiction and alcoholism, what we are addicted too or what we are recovering from is not always obvious to us. Drugs and alcohol are the most talked about addictions (and with good reason) but they a drop in a vast ocean.
It’s easy to laugh at the town drunk or feel superior to the junkie nodding off on the park bench. But what about examining our culture’s addiction to material things, chasing the dragon of the bigger house, the cooler sounding job, the newest smartphone, the nicer car, the younger and hotter wife, the richer husband? Addiction isn’t just powders, pills, needles, pipes, and bottles. We have an unhealthy attachment to more, bigger, better, and faster. I can’t get through a day without checking social media (often in conjunction with watching TV, being on the toilet, eating, and being stuck in traffic–I stop short of texting while driving). Robotically liking posts and scrolling through feeds is as habitual as brushing my teeth. The thought of being without my phone sends me into a sweaty panic. It’s such a phenomenon, we’ve coined the term ringxiety. My anxiety and depression keeps me dependent on fearful thoughts and melancholy behaviors. Too much sleeping in and Netflix, not enough nature and exercise. Even exercise is an addiction in our culture. There’s a a reason they have 24 hour gyms now. Gotta get that fitness fix until you get that perfect body.
Just because you aren’t a recovering alcoholic or addict, doesn’t mean you aren’t recovering from:
- Your family. Even in the most normal (whatever the fuck that means) family, nobody gets off scot-free. Many of us have toxic parents and siblings, have been physically, sexually, or verbally abused. We have misguided ideas about success or failure passed on to us as traditionally as the good china. Conditional and unconditional love have distorted our reality of who we really are or who we are not.
- Your broken relationship or marriage you stayed in for too long because you didn’t know or didn’t think you could do any better. Maybe you avoided relationships entirely and settled for casual sex because it’s the closest thing you’ll get to love.
- Broken self-esteem. Either we lost a connection with ourselves or never had one to begin with. People limited us with their hurtful words and actions and we believed them.
- Fears and failures we let define rather improve us. Specifically performance anxiety, fear of failure, fear of success, fear of commitment, fear of boredom and fear of change.
- Your ego and entitlement. You’re cultured, you went to a good school, got good grades, you’re smarter than you’re boss and you deserve to be paid as much, right? 😉 But what have you done? Who have you helped?
I don’t believe that old chestnut “everyone is an addict” that so many espouse in the 12-step universe. Logically, if all of us are addicts than none of are addicts. There is such a thing as a well-balanced life, even if we need the extreme to get there. Not everyone is an addict, but enough of us are. And yet, we shame our addicts, which means we shame our mothers, fathers, brothers, friends, significant others, and neighbors. There’s a reason that alcoholics anonymous is, well, anonymous. We see their addiction as a moral failure rather than a complex combination of mental, genetic and behavioral conditions. Worst of all, we criminalize those who mostly just guilty of being in deep pain and harming themselves. #stopshamingaddicts
I hope I see a world where rehab and serious addiction treatment is offered up before jail time, but the reality is since we’ve barely scratched the surface of understanding what we talk about when we talk about addiction (if we do talk about it at all) and what a successful recovery process looks like, the drug epidemic looks like it will become less of an epidemic and more of the status quo.