Abstinence - Does It Make the Heart Grow Fonder?
Alan J Butler
Saying ‘abstinence’ to a recovering addict is like saying ‘celibacy’ to a hot blooded male. In my years working on the Ovis Farm Project, the concept of Abstinence was one of the difficult principles to get across. It wasn’t that your recovering addict didn’t understand the word, it was just too difficult to see "how it applies to me."
Abstinence was OK for everybody else, but "I will be able to control my drinking or drug taking as long as I have a short break." Moderation seemed the best and logical option. Like, abstinence means forever! A lifetime without a drink was too much to contemplate. The very idea of a life after rehab without their drug of choice was enough to derail them and send them running up the track to the nearest bar.
I realize that Abstinence is a big thing to ask your regular addict. You are asking him to give up the one thing that has made his life
livable, the only thing that can get him through a day. This is not an easy option.
Let’s get this straight. Abstinence is not ‘recovery’. Abstinence is a pre-condition of recovery. Recovery is about overcoming addictive thinking. Abraham J Twerski,
in his book, ‘Addictive Thinking’ suggests the formula:
Recovery = Abstinence + Change
He then makes the following observation, “When we try to convince addicts of the fallacy of their thinking, it is like telling someone that his or her belief in the law of gravity is a delusion. It is the height of futility to expect an addictive thinker to abandon their concept of reality and accept ours instead.”
Perhaps timing is an important factor. In the early stages of recovery how can you make a lifetime commitment, when taking a day at a time is all you can do? “Please don’t mention the ‘A’ word until I’ve been dry for six months and then some”
When a recovering person is six months into his program, he can start to see a different horizon. He can start looking forward to make short and medium term goals. Indeed, a significant goal may have already been achieved by making it through six months. So what about abstinence then? If there is so much as a shadow of a doubt about abstinence, our recovering person is due for a fall. It may come in a month, it may come in a week, but generally it happens the day you walk out of the rehab gate. Stay with the program until you can make a heartfelt decision for abstinence.
Why should you go for abstinence? – You will have experienced many traumas in your life as an addict. You will probably have lost your job, lost your family, spent time in prison, and attended too many funerals to
remember. You have a life-controlling problem.
The only sure way not to repeat the previous 10 or 20 years is to have a commitment to abstinence. Decide never to use again. Abstinence is a choice you can make when you have been clean for a while, it is extremely difficult to make choices when you are still using. You may need help. Do another program, live a ‘day at a time’ even try harm reduction – but make a commitment to abstinence.
You may be ready right now to take this step. You are sick and tired of being sick and tired. You have had enough of letting your past dictate your future. You will know that it is the right time. There is a right time for some things.
Here are some steps to help you get into the right frame of mind:-
1. A commitment to abstinence is not a commitment to perfection.
2. Understand how your body and your mind works – get to know your triggers and find alternatives to your thinking patterns and your habits.
3. Remember that a lapse does not need to lead to a relapse – don’t beat yourself up when you slip – it’s a mistake, not the end of the world. Get help’
4. When was the last time you managed to moderate your drinking or drug taking? When did you last go out and have one beer then go home? Have you tried moderation a number of times and it didn’t work? Maybe that will help you decide.
Learn different coping mechanisms. If someone tempts you with a drink, say. “I don’t drink,” not, “I’m trying to give up.” Think like a non-drinker. If emotional issues arise, deal with them – don’t use them as an excuse to derail your recovery. You are on the ‘no-excuses’ track now.
Be totally committed to your future, Remember why you are making the new choices. That old way of life is in the past where it needs to stay. You can start a new life. Clear your head to focus on your goals. Be ever watchful but don’t be consumed by the old life. Forgive yourself and move on.
About the Author: Alan Butler is a Recovery Coach having worked for the last 10 years with men recovering from addiction. Three years of this were invested as a House Parent on site at the Christian run Ovis Farm Project in Devon, England. He has a Diploma in Coaching and Mentoring from the Institute of
Counseling, Glasgow. He is currently taking time out with his children and
grandchildren in Australia but would welcome comment through
Abstinence - Does It Make the Heart Grow Fonder?
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Licensed Psychologist Ph.D. Candidate
(Health and Geriatric Psychologist)