No, this is not going to be a post about New Year’s resolutions. I’ll give you a few more days before that. But in preparation, I wanted to mention Dr. Richard S. Sandor’s brilliant book “Thinking Simply About Addiction. Loyal readers know I’m not one for plugging authors on this blog, but after devouring this gem, and marking passages and pages throughout, I couldn’t resist.
And by the way, this book isn’t just for those with addictions to drugs or alcohol. There’s some wisdom in here that’s applicable to anyone trying to start fresh and resist falling into old patterns of behavior.
Dr. Sandor is a psychiatrist who’s worked with drug addicts and alcoholics for more than 25 years. He believes addiction is a disease, but not in the way you’d expect. It makes an unhealthy or compulsive behavior automatic — an automatism is the word he uses. This can’t be cured or reversed — if you find that once you start doing a behavior you can’t stop, that won’t change. But it can be made dormant, if you put the work in– and don’t start up again. It’s a two-part recovery.
The big picture is this. Long after stopping, long after withdrawal and craving have faded, something is still there ready and waiting to be awakened if it’s given the opportunity. An addiction never goes away. Even after years of abstinence, the automatism is still there. The solution is not starting again and that belongs in the realm of choice….”
So Sandor suggests being honest with yourself. There are two reasons people relapse (and these, I might add are applicable to many kinds of destructive behavior) : 1. They have forgotten the pain and costs, and 2. They have gotten into such a state of emotional distress that they don’t care.
Sound familiar? It should, as all sorts of risky behaviors can and do exert that pull on many of us. Sandor believes the answer must be found in a spiritual awakening so that no matter how your life is going you retain the humility not to revert to old ways. Yes, he acknowledges this is tough in our society, where the “capacity to quickly and effectively escape” feelings of pain, fear, boredom and other negative emotions “has never been greater. And not just through drugs and alcohol — gambling, eating, sex, exercise, gaming, shopping, thrill-seeking, stealing, etc. — all these can blot out feelings.
But change is possible. The key, and an idea I like, is the importance of accepting that suffering is part of the human experience and that it has meaning. Setbacks can make you stronger, wiser and a better person. As Sandor notes, attempts to avoid suffering are at best a short-term fix. “Like it or not, suffering really is inescapable and in time, what was at first an easy way out stops working. When you begin to understand that suffering is not only inevitable, says Sandor, “but essential for discovering the purpose of human life and consciousness,” then you’ve “begun to move forward from mere abstinence (not engaging in the negative behavior) to true recovery.”
Thoughts? Comments? Anyone have a strategy that’s helped you stay on a positive path?