We’re commonly told the process of addiction recovery is individualized, meaning that the journey to an improved way of living that’s addiction free is unique for everyone. However, few people share a journey that is unique and because of that, we’re left with the same unchallenged dogmatic approaches recited over and over. It makes sense with the limited information from free thinkers that’s out there why the 12 steps and cognitive behavioral therapy seem like the only way to recover even though those two approaches had shortcomings in my experience. Sharing our diverse paths is the only way to show the many roads to addiction recovery increasing the likelihood that an active addict can resonate with some of the many messages of recovery.
The purpose of this article is to share my path to recovery and is not meant to be taken as medical advice. Everything should be taken with a grain of salt as nothing is absolute, take what you may benefit from out of my experience and leave the rest. I am not captain recovery, I don’t have all the answers, the more I learn about addiction the less I know, and I’m not guaranteed I won’t undergo another relapse.
The Shortcomings of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) in My Addiction Recovery:
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is an approach used by most any drug addiction rehab facility, I have been in inpatient rehab two times for 30 days and attended outpatient three times a week for 3-hour group sessions along with a weekly individual therapist session for six months and while it helped it didn’t lead me to a sustained lifestyle of addiction recovery. Looking back, the reason it was limited in its ability to help me is therapists are trained to challenge negative patterns of thought to replace them with positive ones. While I can see how this may benefit others, my problem was simply that I think too much whether it be negative or positive, I talk to myself in my mind and it never makes sense. It’s like seeing a person who talks to themselves verbally, I question “why are they talking to themselves? Surely they know what they’re going to say before they say it.” Whether their verbal dialogue is positive or negative I would react the same way. But truth be told, I talk to myself in my head – how is it any different?
My mind races, when good things are happening it’s filled with positive self-talk. I will be excited about a circumstance and will obsess about it until it stops bringing a sense of wellbeing then move on to the next thing. When I have a painful circumstance I will obsess about it and take it with me everywhere I go. Regardless if this dialogue in my head is positive or negative, it’s really quite pointless. It keeps me awake at night. It robs me of the ability to be present. It makes it harder to listen to someone else speak to me because I will get lost in thought in the middle of their sentence. I get absorbed in my thoughts almost like an addiction, the only point of them is to take a reality I can’t control and turn it to a mental world where I get a delusional sense of control.
“Many people are addicted to all kinds of things. One of the greatest addictions never written about in the papers because the ones who are addicted to it don’t know it is the addiction to thinking.” – Eckhart Tolle
To recover I needed to learn to stop thinking altogether. A cognitive-behavioral therapist tries to make me think in a more positive way, the sessions are focused on thinking with homework assignments to make me think more than I already am. I needed to learn to think less than I already do so I can find peace and in that peaceful state of being I can observe my thoughts and work through them in a deliberate way understanding that most of them need to be removed so I can be present. Because of this, a zen master and meditation retreats were far more beneficial to my personal recovery than cognitive behavioral therapy and rehab.
Where the 12 Step Program Confused me
The 12 Step program is great for many people and I think overall the community aspect has benefited me more than therapy, that being said the dogmatic presentation of the program kept me from seeing the truth in ways.
The program focuses on finding a power greater than ourselves and having a relationship with that power in order to overcome addiction. That being said, the distinction of self is rarely made. I assumed this “greater power” couldn’t be anything that I would find in my humanity, for my humanity is my “self” and it took me forever to realize that’s far from the truth.
My self is my thoughts, emotions, the content of my life, my physical body, and everything I identify with outside the core of humanity. At our core, we are conscious beings and that consciousness is greater than our minds. The Latin philosopher Rene Descartes said “I think, therefore I am” and I use to fall for that, I agree that myself is my thoughts and feelings, once I had that clear interpretation of self I was looking for a power greater than my mind and emotions. But that power wasn’t outside of me, it was in the last place I would ever look which is within.
“There is nothing more important to true growth than realizing that you are not the voice of the mind – you are the one who hears it.” – Michael A Singer
The 12 steps don’t make this distinction of self, I had to discover it on my own. The way I processed it logically was understanding my awareness and how it impacts both the way I think and the way I feel. If I were to win the lottery but wasn’t aware of it then it wouldn’t affect me but the second I am aware of this occurrence I would be happy. Winning the lottery didn’t change the chemistry of my brain, my awareness of this event triggered a dopamine rush in the brain. If something horrible were to happen, it wouldn’t hurt me until I became aware. The commonality is awareness, our awareness is greater than our feelings because it dictates our feelings.
With my awareness, I can change the way I think or perceive reality. If I were to ask you to say “hello” five times in your head, you would be able to do so. If this was written in a language you didn’t understand, you wouldn’t do this right now. That goes to show you that just because you were aware that you were asked to do something your awareness was able to dictate your thoughts. On top of controlling the dialogue in our heads, our awareness can also help us to stop thinking excessively through meditation. Our awareness is greater than our thoughts because it’s able to control our thoughts and by doing so it can change our perception of self and our reality.
I realize now that addiction is placing way too much awareness outside of myself in things I can’t control. My thoughts and feelings are dictated by the outside world because I choose to be hyper-aware of everything. While this serves a purpose of survival, I took it too far. Being stressed about starting a new job isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it means I will dress and behave appropriately on my first day, but constantly thinking about the first day and feeling anxious for a month prior serves no tangible purpose. Eventually, I want to escape my thoughts and don’t know how to do so other than numbing the mind by either distracting myself through some behavior or using drugs.
“We must go beyond the constant clamor of ego, beyond the tools of logic and reason, to the still, calm place within us: the realm of the soul. “ – Deepak Chopra
Recovery came when I realized if I focus my awareness on the present moment and being alive understanding I will think and feel when it serves a purpose but not let my thoughts and feelings harm me by placing too much power in them. I started building a relationship by placing more emphasis on this power of consciousness than I do my surroundings, thoughts, and feelings. It’s a practice and some days I do better than others, but overall I am progressing. If the 12 step program shared more on finding this power within even if done so briefly I probably would have resonated with the program better, instead I had to discover other spiritual paths through authors like Michael A Singer and Eckhart Tolle who discuss this methodology.
Recovery is Individualized
To each their own, in conclusion, I figured I’d share my path and encourage other people to do so as well. Others may have struggled with thinking too little or not being stressed enough to engage in society and in that case I imagine their recovery would look very different from mine. We are all unique and that’s what makes recovery beautiful. Recovery isn’t about abstinence, that’s a symptom of finding the beauty in our unique nature and sharing it with others.
Philip Markoff (Associate of Science) is an online influencer and thought leader on addiction education; he is known as his alias “CG Kid” who’s obtained a large audience primarily on YouTube as a vlogger and journalist. His current sobriety date from polysubstance chemical dependency is June 9th, 2013.