As I observe people “in recovery,” I am aware of an enormous amount of self-inflicted suffering. There are several kinds: the self-critical voice that keeps telling the individual that he’s not enough, the lack of awareness of limits, which keeps the person working past exhaustion, the willingness to sacrifice oneself for some external “good.” These are by no means the only sources of suffering; I mention them simply to show how horribly easy it is for an addict or a co-dependent to sink into suffering.
There is a moment in a person’s recovery, if he or she is very fortunate, when the realization hits: it’s the suffering that locks me into the disease. If I don’t abuse myself, I don’t need relief.
I know a man in recovery, who loves to go to his property in the mountains. It’s a very large property, with acres of woodland that need tending, streams that need clearing, high grasses that need mowing. A rather sedentary person throughout the week, he will get up and out early on a Sunday morning, with his chainsaw and his pruner, and go to work. He seldom asks for help. He usually reaches that point of exhaustion where he no longer notices how tired he is, until he finally stops. And then he wants a drink. When he is at his lowest, he must fight that powerful urge. He has long ago passed his reasonable physical limit; he may even have stirred up some angina. What a marvelous excuse for a drink!
Why does a person push himself beyond reason? When this individual talks about himself, you would never suspect that he doesn’t think he’s worth very much. But what do his actions say? In fact, he’s treating himself like a worthless old shoe, that you wear and wear and wear until it’s falling off your foot. And then you throw it away. He’s throwing himself away, which is excruciatingly painful. He NEEDS relief.
And the cycle continues. In recovery, avoiding the substance or the action that creates the “high” interrupts the addictive cycle. Without this interruption recovery cannot happen. But it doesn’t address that part of the cycle that still seems “good.” Work is “good.” Self-denial is “good.” Putting the Other first is “good.” Selfishness, on the other hand, is “bad.” Stopping work before a job is done is “lazy.”