by Joshua Hoe
No matter how many times people say it.
No matter how many times you feel it.
You are not a moral failure for being an addict!
You are not a moral failure for relapsing!
You are morally responsible for anything bad you do in the throes of addiction, but your addiction is not a moral failing.
The Power of Self Talk
So, a few days ago, I talked about doing the hard work on your triggers.
But, you also have to work on all the behaviors that start after you are triggered.
Obviously, the best tool (IMHO) is making a call.
But, one of the most valuable tools I have learned to use in recovery is self-talk.
What used to be a monolog is now a critical dialog.
Once I learned that I was the observer of the voice in my head, that it did not “speak for me” things really started to change.
Obviously, the problem is different for all of us.
For me, it is sex addiction.
Years ago, if I was staring at a girl, the voice in my head would justify it an egg me on.
Now, when that voice eggs me on, I talk back, I say no. I think through all the reasons why it is bad to objectify people. I work on considering every person as a person, not a body.
That was substantial progress for me.
For many addicts the struggle is a substance of a different behavior, and yes, I have seen this work for people, even in the moment of struggle.
But whatever your substance or behavior is, you can talk back to your addict.
In the process of intervening in your cycle, you can start to change your relationship to your cycle.
But, What Does That Have To Do With After I Act Out?
Self-talk, in my experience, works in almost every phase of the cycle.
My addict voice has told me so many crazy things that I used to just accept uncritically (If you have read my book, I call him Worm in reference to the character in the movie Rounders).
I know some people believe that the real answer is being cruel to addicts in these situations, to make them feel even worse, that piling guilt and shame on the problem will somehow make them transform into recovery.
This seems insane to me.
When we buy in to the conventional wisdom, when we start accepting the idea that addiction is a moral (not a medical) failing we add fuel to the fire of our addiction.
Most everything I have ever read by any expert suggests that shame and isolation are at the core of the problem.
Hard to imagine shame and isolation could fix the problem.
When I feel like:
Like nobody loves or likes me
like I am a horrible person
Like my addiction brands me inherently unlovable
I start a process of honest appraisal. If I did something awful to someone, I should feel bad and make amends.
But I talk to myself either way, I tell myself everything I have learned in recovery.
I refuse to accept that addiction is morally wrong, that by being an addict, something is “wrong” with me in the moral sense.
That is like saying someone with Diabetes is marked by the devil.
Addiction is not a moral failing.
But Isn’t That Enabling Bad Behaviors?
Before I say anything else about this I want to make one thing 100% clear,
Being drenched in shame, guilt, and feeling awful about yourself is enabling too.
If you believe in progressive victory, you have to start out doing things that are likely to move you towards recovery.
Same and guilt are major triggers and red flags IMHO.
I contend that the logic used by the “tough love” forces doesn’t follow.
I would also suggest that statistics bear that out, tough love solutions do not “cure” addicts.
But, it is possible to believe that you should try to do good in the world and at the same time accept that you are an addict.
Nobody in the world is 100% successful at navigating the struggles of life.
You just try to make as much progress as you can. When you are wrong acknowledge it, learn from it as much as you can, make amends when necessary.
We are all in a constant process of trying to be better, and that process is rarely linear.
You often will make improvements and then take two steps back, hopefully followed by some big steps forward.
You have to embrace progress not perfection and you have to understand that the proper evaluation of progress comes from a long-view perspective.
How do you engage in self-talk? What tools do you use to confront the different stages in your addictive cycle? I would love to hear your perspective, leave a comment!