Individuals with the disease of addiction have accumulated a vast reservoir of pain and consequences resulting from their behaviors while in active addiction. Indeed, many use drugs or alcohol to numb the pain and avoid having to deal with the consequences of addiction. One of the paradoxical rewards of recovery from addiction is that the pain and consequences of addiction become a positive resource not only for the individual addict or alcoholic responsible for the pain and consequences, but also for those in the throes of active addiction or seeking to recover from addiction whom the addict or alcoholic seeks to help.
Thus, the recovering addict or alcoholic can use the painful past as an asset by tapping into his/her reservoir of pain and consequences in two basic ways: 1) To aid in self-diagnosis as an addict or alcoholic, and internalize the concepts of the first of the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, powerlessness and unmanageability; and 2) to help another alcoholic or addict to seek recovery using the twelve steps (the 12th Step, carrying the message). I will elaborate here on the first of these two ways in which the past is an asset in recovery. I will address the second way (use of the past to help others) in my next blog post, "How the Painful Past Is an Asset in Recovery, Part II."
1) Step One of the 12 Steps states: “we admitted we were powerless over alcohol” *** (AA), or “over our addiction *** (NA), and that “our lives had become unmanageable.” Basically, to successfully complete Step One and take the first, fundamental action that will begin recovery, that is, hopefully cessation of use of alcohol or other drugs, the individual must examine past use of his/her substances and the resulting pain and consequences to him/her and those around him/her, stemming from such use. This examination of the past, while painful, can help the individual to become willing to abstain from further drug or alcohol use and to begin the process of recovery using the remainder of the 12 Steps. Early recovery from addiction is exceedingly painful; individuals often feel overwhelmed with guilt, remorse, and shame, among other feelings. It can be helpful for the individual to be able to see how these “negative” feelings can in fact be used to reinforce ownership of the “powerlessness” required to complete Step One. Thus, as stated in the basic text of Alcoholics Anonymous, referring to how the past can be of aid to alcoholics and families of alcoholics:
"Henry Ford once made a wise remark to the effect that experience is the thing of supreme value in life. That is true only if one is willing to turn the past to good account. We grow by our willingness to face and rectify errors and convert them into assets. The alcoholic's past thus becomes the principal asset of the family and frequently it is almost the only one! (Alcoholics Anonymous, page 124).”
"How the Painful Past Is an Asset in Recovery, Part II", will be coming soon in another post. As always, comments are invited. Jan Edward Williams, www.alcoholdrugsos.com, 06/09/2014.