I am and always have been a staunch believer that there is a very distinct difference between sobriety and recovery. Sobriety is just simply not using our drug of choice, which can be anything from drugs, alcohol, overeating and everything in between. In most cases sobriety often times leads from one *addiction to another addiction (cross addiction.) Below are the eleven criteria for addiction:
- Hazardous use: You've used the substance in ways that are dangerous to yourself and/or others, i.e., overdosed, driven while under the influence, or blacked out.
- Social or interpersonal problems related to use: Your substance use has caused relationship problems or conflicts with others.
- Neglected major roles to use: You've failed to meet your responsibilities at work, school, or home because of your substance use.
- Withdrawal: When you've stopped using the substance, you've experienced withdrawal symptoms.
- Tolerance: You've built up a tolerance to the substance so that you have to use more to get the same effect.
- Used larger amounts/longer: You've started to use larger amounts or use the substance for longer amounts of time.
- Repeated attempts to control use or quit: You've tried to cut back or quit entirely, but haven't been successful.
- Much time spent using: You spend a lot of your time using the substance.
- Physical or psychological problems related to use: Your substance use has led to physical health problems like liver damage or lung cancer, or psychological issues, such as depression or anxiety.
- Activities given up to use: You've skipped activities or stopped doing activities you once enjoyed in order to use the substance.
- Craving: You've experienced cravings for the substance.
If you are wondering if you are truly addicted to anything in your life, you should find the answer in the above list. Recovery on the other hand does include sobriety, however it is so much more than that. Recovery is where we gain a freedom and happiness we thought never possible to achieve. We discover the person God truly intended us to be. We resolve our legal matters once and for all. In many cases our families are fully restored to a level far beyond our wildest expectations.
In the Big Book of A.A. on the top of page 64 it makes it very clear as to how we can not only achieve sobriety, also how to achieve recovery. “Our liquor was but a symptom. So, we had to get down to causes and conditions.” In other words, we have to get out the gardening tools and start digging up all the weeds and roots of our underlying issues. Until we do so, true happiness and freedom is likely to escape our grasp. Author and addiction specialist Dr Gabor Mate says this: “The question is not why the addiction, but why the pain?” & “Addiction always originates in pain.” We must get to the root of our pain in order to fully recover or the pain will persist and sneak up on you when you least expect it.
There is a saying in the world of recovery; “Your addiction is in the corner of your world doing push-ups, getting stronger every day. It’s just waiting for the opportunity to pounce on you.” Here is the deal about addiction and relapse. When one relapses, we go right back to where we were when we enter recovery. In other words, if we were drinking a quart of Vodka a day, we will be right back at a quart and in many cases almost instantly. When this happens, the results can be seven times worse than what originally got us into recovery. Why you ask? It usually takes years to build up the tolerance to be able to drink a quart or more of liquor or a half gram or more of meth a day. When we relapse our tolerance no longer exist, therefore the results can be devastating and, in many cases, lead to death.
Matthew 12:43-45 explain this perfectly. “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. 45 Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”
In Richard Rohrs book, The Enneagram – A Christian Perspective1, the author reminds us of what Evagrius Ponticus, a Christian monk and an ascetic one. He was also one of the most influential theologians in the late fourth-century church a thinker, polished speaker, and gifted writer, had to say about this scripture. As I read Evagrius’s commentary on Matthew 12: 43-45, is strikingly similar to what happens to one when relapse occurs. According Evagrius the seven other evil spirits are: anger, pride, vanity or thirst for glory, sadness, envy, avarice (extreme greed for wealth or material gain,) lust, and laziness. However, Evagrius adds an eighth – gluttony.
So, one might be asking what does all of this have to do with sobriety? Everything! I often talk about the difference between sobriety and recovery and this is exactly where, in many cases, it comes into play. You get sober, you go to meetings. You get a sponsor and work the steps. You clean your house of your wrong doings and make your amends and go about your life feeling better about yourself. My mentor told me this, “Randy you must replace your defects of character with an asset or you will fill that void with old behaviors once again.” Herein lies the issue.
We’ve cleaned our house and our life seems to be back on the right track, except our house is now empty. The impure spirit (addiction) that left when you started on your recovery journey comes back and sees that while you cleaned your house, you have left it empty. The negative self-defeating voices have left you alone for some time. However, you have not replaced them with self-love and self-soothing talk, the voices of truth. The removal of your rage, pride, vanity, sadness, etc.… while appear to be gone, have left an empty space in your heart and mind.
Eventually your addiction or the impure spirit, you know the one that’s been in the corner doing push-ups, starts wearing you down. After returning, wearing you down, and seeing that your house is still empty, your thoughts are impure goes and recruits seven of his much stronger impure spirits to come with him and fill the voids you have left in your heart and mind. The feelings, emotions and situations are so overwhelming that the only way out that you can see, is to hit your default button. So, you return to your addiction to fill the void, only this time the consequences are seven times worse, if not more, than when you entered recovery originally. The defects of character you worked to remove come back with a vengeance. The amends and forgiveness you worked so hard on making and getting back are gone, perhaps to never be returned. As a result of your relapse you lose the job and promotion you work so hard to get. You lose your family, home, friends and you end up on the street. So then what is the solution?
I know that many people scoff at the sight or sound of the word God, I know I did, yet this is exactly where the answer lies. On page 45 of the Big Book of A.A., which is the grandfather of all recovery programs, it says this:
“Lack of power, that was our dilemma. We had to find a power by which we could live, and it had to be a Power greater than ourselves. Obviously. But where and how were we to find this Power?
Well, that's exactly what this book is about. Its main object is to enable you to find a Power greater than yourself which will solve your problem. That means we have written a book which we believe to be spiritual as well as moral. And it means, of course, that we are going to talk about God.”
Remember, there is One who has all power-that One is God. God the father, Yahweh, God the Creator. May you find Him now! If you want to find true peace, happiness, and freedom, you must surrender your will and life over to the one and only God. Only he can and will give you the courage, knowledge, strength, and wisdom to continue walking forward on this amazing journey we call recovery.
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well….” Matthew 6:33-34
*Addiction = Alcohol, Drugs, Pornography, Sex, Overeating, Gambling, Codependency, Etc.
1 The Enneagram – A Christian Perspective1. Spring Valley: NY, pg10, Cross Road Publishing