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“True Recovery” by Michele Downey RN, MAC, LMFT

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True Recovery
Article published in 12 step magazine Dec 2016 issue on recovery involving every aspect not just a few aspects of recovery.

Step 12 Magazine – December 2016 (p. 40)
“True Recovery”

When I first worked in the hospital as a nursing assistant, they asked me if I would go to the new CARE alcohol unit they were starting. I knew it was a new adventure because nobody knew if this would even work in a hospital. I also knew nobody volunteered to do it because they were scared. I went. It worked out. So I began my long and fruitful journey studying and working in the treatment and addiction field. Along the way, I had the director of a treatment program who told me that a requirement to be in the job I had to go to Al-Anon and have a sponsor. Since I was working with these alcoholics 5 days a week, 8 hours a day, I would be spending more time with them than their families. If the family needed treatment, so did I. (Of course, today he couldn’t get away with that kind of direction but that Eskimo saved my personal and professional life).

It was years later that I was able to introduce Dr. Anne Wilson-Schaef to a group of professionals as their main speaker (after she had just gotten off the plane from spending months with the aboriginal elders in Australia). She had coined the famous “process” vs. “substance” addictions.  Dr. Schaef had gone on to identify organizations as having addictive processes and not just individuals and families but the work place. Suddenly, this addiction thing became much bigger than the alcoholism treatment I had started with.

The disease I was told was cunning, powerful, baffling and patient. I didn’t know how true those words were not only in my life, but in my patient’s lives. Much like the topic of cross-addiction, we were educating people that the type of drug didn’t matter. This was controversial. Once the disease was activated, this “X” factor had begun the physical, mental and spiritual components of destruction. We were teaching it didn’t matter if you huffed it, puffed it, injected it or drank it, it was only changing forms and just as deadly. It was hard enough convincing the little old lady on Valium (back in the day) from her physician that her disease was just as powerful as the prison guy on heroin. The disease could care less if it was legal or illegal. Especially hard was to convince the high rolling executive that his DUI was just as deadly as the other 2 types of people because this disease was an “equal opportunity destroyer”.

That was difficult enough but then to tell them about the other addictions of process and substance was just like cross-addiction with the chemicals, it was horrifying. Substance addictions we were taught were just the ones we were familiar with in treatment with drugs, alcohol and pills and/or the eating disorders of anorexia, bulimia and compulsive overeating. But the hardest ones to see were the ones our society rewards well. Shopping, gambling, religious, work, sex and love (people) addictions were really everywhere. I once remember Pia Melody speak at an ACA convention where she said that when she was a certain weight (overweight) her eating disorder kicked in and when she was another weight (underweight) her sex and love addiction kicked in. I had seen in my own experience out of every 25 kids that went through a treatment center 1 or 2 would be completed suicides, 1 or 2 would be clean, and the rest would be out on alcohol or their eating disorders. We were at the height of the meth addiction when we were the crystal capital of the world in the 80’s. I would see the kids come back and they would have ballooned out in weight. I could see the substitution. I finally understood why no treatment center would do follow up studies especially 2 years or more. Because of the dismal statistics, no one would want to go to their treatment center. It was scary!

I also was told that over time, these switches in addiction would occur because they weren’t dealing with their feelings. They were medicating them with shopping or work or sex or any of the other convenient addictions. Who could blame someone who was worrying about a loved one (love addiction) or worked hard (work addiction) or wanted to do a little shopping (shopping addiction)? Especially the religious addictions were the hardest to identify because they were “doing” what the church had told them to. Everything was done in secret and they were in pain as much as they were when they were in their drug and alcohol addiction.

But when I heard the solution was “spiritual”, everything started to make sense. When they accepted and loved their “spirit”, their feelings (and what to do with them) and “found a power that they could do business with”, I saw that the addiction process wasn’t necessary any longer. I saw that it could be truly healed as long as they were vigilant. As long as they were aware that each new “thing” (working, shopping, internet, man, woman, food) had the potential to addict, then they had as much hope as someone who recovered from alcohol knew to stay away from pills and drugs. If they got this “spiritual” thing, recovered their “spirit”, understood their feelings, then they could maintain their true recovery one day at a time.

I’ve had to painfully experience the truth of this, not only in my life, and the lives of my loved ones, but in my patients and clients lives for over 30 years.

I am grateful for that “Eskimo” who started me out on the road to humility by looking at myself first through the 12 steps of Al-Anon. Eventually and with continuous mentorship, practice and grace, I have been able to recover and see how true recovery is possible. It may be that the dis-ease is cunning, powerful, baffling and patient but then so much more is my recovery cunning, baffling powerful and patient.



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