Thinking vs Behavior in Recovery

Often heard in Twelve Step meetings are a number of comments about how thinking can adversely impact recovery from drug or alcohol addiction,  such as:
“My best thinking got me here.” Beware of “stinking thinking.”

Like most sayings in Twelve Step recovery, these quotes need some interpretation. I’ll just say a few words about each of them.

“My best thinking got me here.” This statement can be a little puzzling. On its face, it sounds as if the individual uttering the phrase was wise enough to wake up one morning (or afternoon, more likely) and decide to attend 12 Step meetings to address his/her drug or alcohol addiction. In fact, it usually means that the distorted thinking of the addicted, toxic brain deluded the individual into continuing down the destructive path of addiction. The message seems to be that an individual in early recovery (or, at times, any stage of recovery) must not place too much reliance on his/her thinking. Doing so could lead to relapse into drug or alcohol use.

Similarly, “stinking thinking” refers to any of the myriad of types of denial that can lead to the individual deciding that, maybe, a drink or a drug would be ok. Some examples: “I didn’t lose a spouse, a job, end up in jail, etc.; maybe I’m not an addict or alcoholic.” Or, “I went to work every day, provided for my family, etc.; maybe I’ve been a little hasty diagnosing myself an addict or alcoholic.” Or, ” I’m too young, too old, too educated, etc.; I’m not like these people at 12 Step meetings. Maybe I don’t belong here.” Of course, this type of thinking can lead to relapse.

However, there are some sayings that put the emphasis on behavior, rather than thinking, and, if put into practice, are probably more conducive to helping to avoid the path of relapse:
“Bring the body and the mind will follow.” “Keep it simple, follow
directions: don’t drink or drug, go to meetings.” Don’t pick up even
if your posterior falls off.”

 

These sayings focus on simple (not easy), action based directives that mostly avoid thinking. “Bring the body and the mind will follow” simply suggests that the early recovery individual suspend thinking, and trust in the process that those with more time in recovery are urging. In other words, “Keep it simple, follow directions: don’t drink or drug, go to meetings” and “Don’t pick up even if your posterior falls off.”

Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, said it this way, many years ago: “You can’t think your way into right action, but you can act your way into right thinking.” Though disarmingly simple, a basic truth in regard to recovery from addiction is this: Regardless of what happens on any given day, a tragedy, a loss, a triumph, a  victory, if the alcoholic or addict does not pick up a drink or a drug, he/she will grow in recovery.

Not mentioned in this post, of course, is that a key element to long term recovery is development of the willingness to seek a relationship with a source of spiritual strength, a Higher Power. The process by which a recovering individual comes to believe in a source of spiritual strength can also be a straightforward one whereby he/she suspends intellectual arguments and performs daily actions that will lead to faith based on experience. But that process will be the subject of another post.

As always, comments are invites. Jan Edward Williams, 03/12/2018.

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