8-minute read time.
Recovery looks different for each and every person. I believe it is truly as unique as the addiction is – based on our own experiences, our own pain, and our own discomfort with ourselves and the world around us. And this fact is, in my opinion, why we are so far behind in helping those in need on the grander scale.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to healing, it just doesn’t work that way. It is much like our education system, where some get it and it works for them, but some really don’t, or even can’t. Yet, we continue to attempt jamming round pegs into square holes, and wonder why we aren’t making any progress.
Today’s recovery community is mostly dominated by an ‘abstinence-or-bust’ attitude, where success is deemed solely on the amount of days your can string together clean and sober. The more days you have, the more successful you look, and the more pats on the back you get. When you slip up and have to reset to day one again, not only are you deemed unsuccessful, but this fact alone stigmatizes you into feeling isolated from the real world and from the recovery community as well. You are no longer seen as a credible source of help or support, and therefore, there is a deep sense of shame that comes along with this. Of course if your ideal is to be abstinent, you are already disappointed with yourself. Adding stigmatism to the equation can be a truly deadly act.
We wonder why, in 12-Step communities, people don’t come back into the rooms after a slip or relapse – well this would be one reason. The shame and embarrassment, especially if you have been sharing about your successes throughout your process, are just too much for some. They would rather disappear into the world than walk back into a room of people and pick up another chip or tag that reads ’24-Hours sober’. The longer into sobriety you have gone before this, the greater the shames weight.
What if we changed that? Instead of it being all about days sober, it would be about the percentage of sobriety you achieved that year? Wouldn’t everyone agree that someone who was sober 30% of the previous year, who achieved 60% of the current year sober, be an incredible success? Clearly these individuals are working towards becoming better humans – a great challenge for anyone. Yet because you used last month, you are a ‘failure’ and have to start all over again. That seems incredibly ignorant, demeaning, and horribly detrimental to the continued progress for said individual.
The greatest question this brings up for me is – what does the figure of ‘success’ actually look like? I have certainly met some people in recovery that are 10+ years sober, yet are miserable, angry, and bitter people. That is not the definition of success I subscribe to. Comparably speaking, I have met some people that use a harm-reduction approach, who were former habitual and hardcore drug users, that are far happier than the 10+ year abstinent individual. So in my eyes, the definition of success can only be based on an individual-to-individual basis, and based solely on their quality of life.
Personally, I am an abstinence-based person. Yet I hold no judgement on those who choose a harm-reductionist approach. At Black & Gray Addiction Support, both myself and my partner are wholly client-centred. We focus on the lifestyle changes that the client wants, and not what we, or society, prefers. At the end of the day, forced change only lasts for so long. Getting sober for the boss, the parents, the partner, or the kids, just never lasts. Every one of us must want to make changes in our lives for ourselves, whatever those changes may be. Not everyone will agree, but that’s fine, it’s not everyones life to decide. It’s yours.
Furthermore, most people are not like me. Statistics prove that most drug users do not fall into the diagnosis of substance use disorder. Which begs the question – are the consequences these people face truly due to their addictions, or are they placed on them by others? The lost job, the broken home, the homelessness: were these direct consequences of their actions due to drug use, or are they the result of being judged by what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in the eyes of others. There is a great quote by Oscar Wilde that states: “Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live. And unselfishness is leaving other people’s lives alone, not interfering with them.” I am not implying that it always falls this way, but I can’t help to think there are many that do.
I ended up at an abstinence-based recovery only because for almost a decade I tried the harm reduction approach, and it just did not work for me. Every attempt failed, including switching from hard liquor to beer, from beer to wine, from 6 beer to only 3, to only drinking or using on the weekends, around certain people – the list goes on and on. I simply could never keep the habit to those parameters.
As much as I wanted to be able to drink normally, and be like ‘everyone else’, I just couldn’t. For the longest time I just did not want to believe I couldn’t, so I convinced myself that “this time would be different”. It never was. I can count on one hand how many times I was actually able to stop after a few beers or a couple lines, and that is out of the thousands of attempts.
I feel that for some people, they will eventually reach that conclusion themselves. It is not up to me or anyone else to decide that for them. True recovery comes only with the deep conviction within yourself, admitted by yourself, and until you reach that point you will find a way to convince yourself otherwise. I finally did accept that I couldn’t use anything anymore, and things changed drastically for me afterwards.
I accepted that any form of drug or alcohol was just not going to work for me. Once it entered my blood stream, it was game over for a while. Once that decision was firmly set in my being, recovery became possible. There was no other choice. It was the only option left.
As I stated before though, recovery comes in many shapes and sizes. It took me a long time (and is still an ongoing process) of exactly what works for me in my ‘program’. In the last 33 months I have tried a myriad of different things that have worked for others. Some worked for a time, some not much, and still more didn’t work at all. But there have been staples that have worked from the beginning. These are at the core of my program of recovery.
The Core Principles
We all need a base. A place where you feel grounded, calm, serene, and focused. A place where you are at your best self, and a place where you can always come back to when you start to stray. Everyone has a base set of practices and principles that are unique to them, whether they know it or not. For me these are simplicity, balance, routine, education, connection, service and the Twelve Steps.
Simplicity & Balance
As someone with an addictive and/or obsessive personality, I tend to grab onto ideas and projects very quickly and submerse myself into them. I become enthralled, and over time these additions become overwhelming, frustrating, and burdensome. I get stressed out, tired, anxious, and eventually burnt out, giving myself no chance of defence against the quick relief of a drink. The answer for that is simplicity and balance.
Simplicity was never my forte. As a chef I was constantly creating new menus, new events, and brainstorming new ideas. Life was fast, full of adrenaline and anxiety. In order to stay relevant in the restaurant industry you must remain the ‘new shiny thing’. You must be constantly upgrading and innovating, while staying top quality. There was never time to rest on laurels and just be grateful of how far you have come. The hours were long, the diet was poor, and life was one big competition (at least for me). Honestly, that mindset and mentality got me pretty far in the external sense, but quickly tore me apart inside. I was in constant comparison with other chefs and restaurants not only locally, but internationally.
My food or restaurant was never good enough, never innovative enough, never doing enough. I was always living in the future, in the next event or the next menu. No matter what, I was never fully satisfied with the food I produced that day. There was always something I could do better next time, which is great for progress, but also comes with a continued mindset of ‘less than’. Imposter syndrome was always there in the background, laughing at me, telling me I was a fraud and that it would be proven I couldn’t cook soon enough. I lived a goal-oriented life, never finding moments of peace or happiness until the next menu was out, the next dinner event was over, or the next competition won. If those goals were actually reached, the short-lived high would quickly be taken over by the next thing. It was a fucking rat race.
It was no wonder I was constantly drinking. I couldn’t relax. Honestly, I am still feeling the affects of that lifestyle today. It is hard for me to not be on the hunt for the next thing, and I need to be very mindful of the projects I am taking on.
To put this in perspective, I consider myself to live a simple life these days. Yet this definition of simplicity includes running my own addiction recovery business, creating graphic design content and running social media accounts for three other companies, writing this bi-weekly blog, creating a weekly recovery-based newsletter, all while having three children under 10 years old. Yet life is balanced and simple now.
I’ve learned that focusing on what is truly essential, what you are truly passionate about, and subtracting everything else, is the key to a successful and quality life. The things I have mentioned are things I am deeply passionate about. They don’t seem like work to me (most days), but extensions of who I am. They bring me a level of satisfaction, purpose and meaning that the restaurant world never did. I can walk away from my desk after meeting with clients or creating content perfectly at peace. I can take my work hat off and walk downstairs to put my dad hat on and be with my family. That is what I mean by balance.
To have a life that may be ‘busy’, but busy because it is filled with things you truly enjoy, is to live a life worth living. You can be present, you can be satisfied. You can rest easy knowing you did what you could that day, and that is all you can do.
The simpler I make things, the happier I become.