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Can You Ever Have ‘Too Much’ Recovery From an Addiction?

Editor's Note

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction, the following post could be triggering. You can contact SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

You’ve made it into addiction recovery. Congratulations! Now comes the question, “How do I stay here?”

When grappling with this question, you are likely to find very one-sided information available to you. All information will point toward inundating you with recovery information: 12 steps; always aware; a day-by-day, minute-by-minute struggle. All things that truly are geared toward keeping you absolutely focused on staying in recovery.

This is all great information, and critical for getting to and remaining in recovery. But how much is too much? At what point do you put your addiction into that same brain-file that stores the information that describes the “Old You” and lock it away? You know, the same folder that stores the friend’s name in second grade who you rode bikes with, or the file that stores the you who used to love to watch “Sesame Street” after school. These are things you don’t think about every day, if you think of them at all. Sure, these examples are not memories that put you at risk of cratering your life, but there are other examples. Maybe you were so obsessed about watching every episode of “Lost” that you failed to prioritize other life priorities for weeks or months. You have filed these “Old You” symptoms away and you do not have to tell yourself every day that you can only watch one episode of Lost because you need to study for a test.

So, why is there so much material focused on bringing something to the forefront of your mind that you are desperately trying to move to the recesses of your mind? First, let’s point out the elephant int the room. Recovery is big business. Forbes reports that the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) estimated the market for addiction treatment is about $35 billion per year. So, there is real monetary value in keeping this information in front of us. But what about the value to us? At what point is it too much?

A similar topic came up during a state-mandated DWI course for convicted drunk drivers. There were approximately 60 students in the class and two of those students had chosen a path of abstinence for their future. The other 58 were grappling with questions like, “How do I make sure I don’t drink too much?” and “What will I do differently when I drink so that I am not tempted to drive?” Videos were shown depicting scenes that almost glamorized drinking. Admittedly those scenes usually transitioned to show the consequences of bad decisions, and the questions the students were dealing with are healthy even for those who are intent on abstinence. However, the entire course had an almost masochistic atmosphere for the abstainers who had to watch videos about drinking, write essays about “the next time I drink” and have discussions about “the right way” to drink.

People struggling with addiction generally know they are one drink, pill or needle away from slipping back into the deepest, darkest place they can imagine, and information is critical to avoiding that slope. It is dangerous to ever think you are not at risk or capable of being drawn back in. You must remain vigilant!

But it is also healthy to reach a point at which you don’t feel like missing the next recovery meeting will mean relapse.  There is a point at which it is mentally healthy to know you don’t need to be immersed in a recovery book every day in order to stay clean. There is value in recognizing that you are a “New You” and the “Old You” has been filed away as a memory and nothing else.

It can also be dangerous to become too engrossed in recovery literature once you have reached this place. When you can go weeks and months without contemplating your addiction even once, there is a real danger in flooding your mind with visions of what alcohol and drugs do to your body, how the addiction cycle triggers the “reward system” of your brain and make you feel good. There is a reason addicts became addicts: The addiction felt good! Before it wrecked their lives, they looked forward to that next fix because it rewarded their brain and let them forget the bad things in life for a moment. Even though the logical progression of facts make it obvious that this feeling is an illusion and only destruction follows, reminding yourself of “the good times” might not be the best thing to do after you have crossed this invisible line of recovery.

There will be those who say there is no invisible line of recovery — that there is never a time when you should let your guard down. That you should never have a mentality that says “I am not that person anymore.” And those people are absolutely right. This discussion is not to say any addict should ever convince themselves they are “cured.”

But caution and self-awareness should be taken into account. The question of “is addiction curable” will be discussed forever. Even the fourth edition of the “Big Book” says on its title page that it is “The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered From Alcoholism.”

The suggestion is simply this: Know yourself. If recovery material suddenly switches from useful education to a potential relapse trigger, find another way to be vigilant. But in the end: don’t give up! You can live addiction-free and the life you will live will be incredible.

Photo by Dustin Scarpitti on Unsplash

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