The Gift of Desperation Leads to Recovery from Addiction

There’s a great deal about Recovery that doesn’t make sense to the uninitiated. Why do we hope for people to hit bottom? Why would we wish desperation on anyone? Well, because that’s when people change. We are very stubborn (scared) people. As long as we can tolerate the costs of addiction, we will.

“We generally change ourselves for one of two reasons: inspiration or desperation.” – Jim Rohn

Desperation creates a window of opportunity.  For each of us there comes a time when our lives are either going to get a whole lot better or a whole lot worse. It’s inspiring and heartbreaking to watch a person choose between these two very black and white options.

We resist Change because we Fear. We fight losing battles to control the uncontrollable. We realize that what we’re fighting is ourselves and our addiction and that neither of these battles can be won. It’s counter intuitive but we came to believe that the only way to win was to surrender.

We do not surrender to our disease nor to any person. We surrender to a Higher Power (for many of us, G.O.D. = Group of Drunks). We invest in self help because the power of those groups is far greater than anything a person can do alone. In the context of addiction, to be alone is to be drowning while clinging to a heavy weight. Because we are afraid, we are likely to push away those who would guide us toward safety. Because we are ashamed we  believe ourselves unworthy of a better life.

He sits on my couch trembling. There’s no color to his skin. He’s been clean 7 days and he’s through the worst of withdrawals but he knows this is only the beginning. He’s been in and out of Sobriety many times but he has never experienced Recovery. I explain to him that white knuckling never works. He asks me what to do. I tell him the truth – no program, no professional, no approach has more success in helping people overcome addiction and change their lives than the programs of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. Nobody even comes close.

He tells me he’s socially anxious and that he has “trust issues.” I congratulate him on being the 47th person this week to tell me they have difficulty trusting. How would we ever trust others when we do not trust ourselves? We need perspective. It doesn’t take a lot of trust to just shut up and listen to folks in a meeting and to discover that millions of people struggle in the same ways. Social anxiety is unavoidable for the addict – when you’re scared shitless, people are scary.

Here’s the problem – he’s a Smart Guy and there’s a great deal about Recovery that seems way too Simple. We believe ourselves to be complicated people with complex problems. Then someone tells us, “Don’t drink/use. Don’t think. Go to meetings. Reach out.” We just stare and them and if we’re defiant we ask, “Yeah, and what else?” For now, nothing else. This is the foundation upon which a healthy and manageable life is built for those in Recovery. Once you have the foundation you can accept, “We found the only thing we needed to change was everything.”

There are a lot of misconceptions about Recovery that make it seem unattainable and undesirable. People get hung up on the idea of abstaining “forever.” The concept of “one day at a time” is too small for them. We have lived at the extremes. It’s all or nothing. It’s once and for all or it’s never. Truth – focusing on today and keeping things simple leads to a healthy perspective and a manageable life.

What we learn is that Truth exists independently of how we feel about it but where we’re at emotionally determines what Truth we’re willing to accept. Shame, Fear, and Pain prevent us from seeing things as they really are. It’s counter intuitive that allowing folks to help you helps them, but it’s true. In the midst of our insanity we forget that many others travelled this road before us. Not only do we have the opportunity to learn from them; it is essential that we do so.

Desperation is beautiful because it is the admission that I can’t. I can’t live this way anymore. I can’t hide from this anymore. I can’t numb this pain anymore. I can’t stand who I’ve become. This is the moment. This is where we choose Life or Death. As my friend Bill Osgood explains, we enter Recovery when the Pain of our current existence outweighs the Fear of Change. Recovery makes having a Life possible 24 hours at a time.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.