Recently I was talking with a friend in recovery that goes to SAL meetings and another group support meeting. He mentioned that someone in his other group told the entire group that they really shouldn’t label themselves as addicts and that it’s hurtful to their recovery.
My friend and I had this conversation a few days ago but these questions have been stuck in my head ever since:
“Is it a bad thing to admit to my fellows that I’m an addict?”
“Is labeling myself an addict indefinitely damaging to me and possibly others?”
Ironically, the day after our conversation I decided to formally start working on Step 1 again – by “formally” I mean doing reading from the different recovery materials, writing about how the reading applies to where I am today, and thinking about what I can do to work Step 1 in my day to day interactions.
Before I share what I found in my Step 1 study, I can honestly say that I had no agenda, I wasn’t looking for any evidence or proof that what this person had said about labeling or admitting addiction was wrong. I just started reading.
This was one of the first statements I found in the White Book, a book written by addicts for addicts:
“Living inside our illness, we were blind to [the addiction]. In recovery, the addiction begins to lose its hold over us, but it is necessary that we never forget what we really are.” (p. 29, bold added)
Talk about smacking me in the face with a big “DON’T EVER FORGET WHERE YOU’VE BEEN AND WHO YOU REALLY ARE!”
The comment about not calling myself an addict truly sparked some negative feelings in me. I didn’t want it to, but it did.
Is my reading in the White Book fueling that fire of negative emotion, or is it just reminding me what the truth really is about addiction recovery?
Ultimately, I feel it’s inspired this blog post to discuss the big question:
Should I call myself an addict for the rest of my life?
Is it a bad thing to admit I’m an addict? Is it terrible to “label myself” this way? Or does trying to sweep it under the rug, say I’m a “child of God” with some problems, just worsen the problem and push me ever inward?
One of the things that sticks out to me in the reading of Step 1 in the White Book is how an addict is defined:
“…tolerance, abstinence, and withdrawal. If someone has experienced these three phenomena in some area of his or her life, that person is generally regarded as being addicted. When we apply the test to ourselves, we identify as being addicted to lust, sex, relationships, or various combinations of these – for starters.” (p. 30)
These three components – tolerance, abstinence, and withdrawal – commonly identify addiction and shouldn’t be overlooked or brushed aside if one is really serious about recovery and healing.
What are signs of tolerance?
“Tolerance refers to the tendency to tolerate more of the drug or activity and get less from its use, hence the need for increasing dosage to maintain or recapture the desired effect.” (The White Book, p. 30)
With sexual addiction, this refers to the need for increased obsessive thinking, interaction, or activity with less and less effect. This means I resort to the drug more and more with less and less satisfaction.
In my research in the White Book, these are some self-imposed questions that helped me see how I’ve been attempting to tolerate more of my drug over the course of my life:
– How has my lust and/or sexual activity escalated over the years?
– How many lines have I crossed that I said I never would?
– What started as just thoughts or fantasies and turned into real actions?
– How did my addiction get worse with the introduction of the internet?
– How did my relationships with others, especially in regard to the physical side of relationships, worsen over time? Was I was really just in the relationship for the “hit” or the “chase,” not for real connection?
– How did I need more and more of my “drug?”
If I answer these questions honestly, tolerance has been at the core of my life since as early as 4 or 5 years old.
Maybe I wasn’t an addict yet, but I was planting the seeds, mixing the ingredients, or baiting the hook as a little boy without even knowing it.
The scariest thing for me, as a father to young boys, is how easily young people can now get access to pornography with the click of a button. And this pornography is not the Swimsuit Issue or JC Penny magazine kind of stuff that was the start of my addiction…
Who’s to say that a young person can’t be roped into the addictive cycle at a much earlier age than some may think?
To me, this escalates the tolerance tendency that much more rapidly.
How is abstinence a sign of addiction?
“Abstinence refers to the phenomenon where the typical addict tries to quit using the addictive agent or activity. Perhaps we should call it attempted abstinence. We swear off – again and again. Something inside tells us we should stop.” (The White Book, pp. 30-31)
Sound familiar? How many of us have stopped a thousand times or told ourselves, “Ok, that was the last time. I’m turning over a new leaf. I’m done for real…”?
These questions help me better see how I’ve practiced the abstinence tendency as an “addict-in-progress”:
– How many times did I say I had to stop?
– How many times did I actually try stopping?
– How many times did I go to an ecclesiastical leader and swear that this was the last time?
– How many times did I ever tell that leader the full history of my acting out?
– How many different leaders did I tell different things to?
– How many times did I cross a line with what I was looking at and say, “Dang, I’ll never go that far again…” only to go right back to that depth, maybe even the next day?
– How often did I “stop” every time I acted out?”
Any interaction with pornography is potentially addictive and destructive. Even an accidental encounter with it as a child.
To try to put a rating on how addicted one is or say that some exposure to pornography may not be addictive at all is absurd based on my experiences.
Would I let my little boys go to a wine testing exhibit or sample different shots of vodka as long as they didn’t drink a full glass of the stuff? I mean, one little drink probably won’t get them addicted, right?
How have I practiced withdrawal as an addict?
“Withdrawal is applied to the symptoms the addict may experience when deprived of the drug or activity…This gives rise to the deception and demand that we’ve got to have sex. But this is no different from the drug addict feeling he’ll die without his fix. It is simply not true; not feeding the hunger doesn’t kill us.” (The White Book, p. 31)
As an addict, once I’ve stopped the feeding of the addiction, it’s going to feel off for a time. It might even be painful.
Without my drug of choice – pornography and lust – I finally begin to feel what’s really going on inside. This adjustment, these new and uncomfortable feelings, takes time to work through, and the support of other addicts in the fellowship is vital to real recovery and healing.
Working with someone that has been there before and that can relate to the feelings of withdrawal I’m going through can help take the fear out of the process.
A few questions that can help me assess where I’m at in the withdrawal phase of addiction:
– Am I experiencing higher of highs and lower of lows now that I’m sober?
– How am I doing at reaching out to other fellows in recovery when these feelings come?
– What are the new ways I’m coping with the feelings I’m having through the withdrawal process?
– Are these new ways of coping healthy, or are they switching from one addiction to another?
I’m an addict.
Although I don’t know that I’ll ever print this on a t-shirt and wear it around town or get up at my church meeting and announce it at the pulpit, being an addict is part of who I am.
I’m also a father.
I’m a husband.
I’m a son.
I’m a softball player.
I’m a mountain biker.
I’m a New York Yankees fan.
I’m a sinner (the Yankees fan and sinner don’t necessarily go together 🙂 ).
I’m a sponsor.
I’m a sponsee.
I’m a work in progress.
All of these labels DO define me – they make me ME.
If I want to hide any of them, if I am ashamed to admit these things, what am I really doing?
For me, I’m “lying to myself and believing it” and this is not a healthy pattern at all.
I know too well where that will lead me and it’s not a good place.
Not taking accountability for who I am is not working a real Step 1 at all. And how can I truthfully do any of the other Steps and expect to see any lasting results in recovery if I brush over what I feel is the most important Step of all of them- Step 1?
I look forward to your feedback on the topic.