time takes time

Sorry to tell you this, but time takes time.

We addicts love our instant gratification, and one of the places it really shows up is in our seeming conviction that we ought to get better right away.

(c) DigitalZen — used with permission

Let’s face it: with virtually no exceptions, we spent months (at the least) and years (far more likely) using alcohol and other drugs. We took all that time to mess up our brains and bodies to the point that we were miserable enough to decide to do something about it. Then we got clean, and suddenly we were amazed that we still felt like crap, and that our minds were still running off in all directions at once.

For goodness sake, why wouldn’t they be? We aren’t addicted to substances, per se, we’re addicted to the changes they make in our brains. Doesn’t it make sense that those changes, created over months or years, should take a while to repair themselves? Of course we continue to think about our drugs. Of course we feel like crap. Of course our bodies — suffering from malnutrition and who knows what other problems — take six months to a year to get back to something like normal. If we took a bulldozer to our house  we wouldn't expect to put it back together into livable condition right away, with minimal effort and attention, would we?

We think in the short term: how long until the next chance to have a drink, shoot up, meet with the guy on the corner, pop that pill. We’re used to doing our thing and feeling more or less instant results. Changing that way of thinking around, accepting that not everything we want comes exactly when we want it, takes time.  Time takes time.

Left to our own devices, we’ll try to find short-term solutions. There aren’t any. Recovery is physical and mental healing, and doesn’t happen overnight. If we don’t take our time and put in the work, if we give in to that short-term addict thinking again, we’re not going to make it.

That’s why we need programs, folks. That’s why we need the guidance of others. We’re in no condition to figure these things out for ourselves.

Something Similar — Straight Talk About Going Home

The comedian Dave Gardner used to remark, “Folks are always saying, ‘Let’s do this again!’  But friends, you can’t do anything again!  You can do something similar!”

I think about Gardner's bit of wisdom when I hear people in early recovery talking about returning to their families and friends and “making it up to them.”  (This also brings to mind the idea of pushing toothpaste back into the tube.)  We say these things with the idea that we will be able to return things to the way they were “before” — if there ever really was a before.

Credit: closetartist – flickr

That’s a lovely idea, but it’s not the way reality works.  We can’t recreate the past in the present.  We can’t  make others feel the way we want them to feel, or make them forget the things we’d like them to forget.  If we return to our friends and families thinking that those things will happen, we are most likely setting ourselves up for terrific, ongoing disappointment and stress.

Stress often triggers relapse.

I’m not trying to shoot down anyone’s hopes and dreams here.  What I want to do is give people in early recovery a realistic view of the past, and what can be done about it.

 First of all, we need to understand that our perception of what happened is not the same as that of our loved ones, and that their perception is what counts.  We can’t change the feelings involved, either: the resentments, the memories of promises not kept, opportunities missed and so forth, and a lot of anger.  We can’t “do it again,” because the people are different now, and we can’t fix them.

If we expect to be welcomed with open arms and step right back into the role of father, mother, son or whatever, without any friction — well, it ain’t gonna happen.  People take on different roles when there is an addict in the family, and sometimes they don’t care to give the power up.  I mean, c’mon!  What reason is there for them to think that we won’t blow it again?  We need to convince them by our actions, because our word became meaningless a long time ago.

When we accept these facts, we are a good part of the way to where we need to be.  All we can do is show them that we are different now, one day at a time.  We need to be willing to accept their right to feel as they do.  We need to demonstrate our reliability, our honesty, and our commitment to sobriety.  We need to be able to admit to ourselves that the forgiveness will have to be earned.  We also need to realize that time is on our side.  These people want to trust us, believe in us, love us again.  We just can’t choose when it will happen.

You see, they’re scared to death.  They’ve heard innumerable promises.  We need to start keeping them.  They’ve had myriad disappointments.  We need to do our best not to disappoint them.  They’ve relied on us in the past, and we didn’t perform.  We need to show that we are reliable.  We'd like to be respected again, and we have to earn that, too.  They love us, but we need to behave in such a way that they won’t be afraid to show that love.

When we say the Serenity Prayer, we ask for “courage to change the things I can” and “wisdom to know the difference.”  We can’t change other people; we can only change ourselves.  We need the wisdom and patience to keep on doing that until others can see that we have changed, and until they begin to believe that we will remain the person that we are becoming.  Even when that happens, we won’t be able to do it all over again and get it right.

But we can do something similar.