Written by Chris Bennett
Photo Credit: Jonathan Evans
In our society we tend to look at extremes or things through a binary lens in which we think
there are only two options: healthy or unhealthy, right or wrong, clean or sober. The fact is, not only are there varying degrees of a spectrum for most every choice we make or situation we find ourselves in, as a culture and society, we often ignore anything that is not on one of the extreme ends of the spectrum. Not only is this dangerous because it creates an obvious “us versus them” mentality, but it also tricks us into thinking that anything on the spectrum that is not in agreement with our standpoint, falls into the other camp. For instance, if you are focused on sobriety, any version of substance use is going to be at odds with this singular choice of “sobriety.” The interesting thing about sobriety: none of us truly are.
Many of us in the recovery community have witnessed those who work on their sobriety and
turn to exercise or working long hours. Unfortunately, society applauds these areas of focus but what they miss, that many of us have seen or experienced, is that this is the same maladaptive behavior that we exhibit in our substance use manifested in a different addiction or area of focus. Many who turn to this type of recovery often stumble because they have kept the same behaviors with a new lens. This is akin to someone who is overweight putting on a looser shirt: they may feel and look better for the moment but underneath… the problem remains waiting to be uncovered.
The issue really comes into view when we see that everyone in society has maladaptive
behaviors often fueled by the need for escapism. What does this mean exactly? It means that society shows disgust for Substance Use Disorder but thinks nothing of the guy who religiously watches football every Sunday, ignoring his family for a seventh of the week. We will judge the woman going to a clean needle exchange but ignore the one who just maxed out her credit card for a luxury item she already has fifteen of. Therapy is stigmatized in our culture, but we praise the couple spending three hours a day in the gym on social media because they are afraid to admit to one another their deep feelings of inadequacy. Society can easily identify substance use as “evil” but overlook these behaviors that can stem from the exact same place and present in a very similar way as substance use if not fulfilled. Even those who live completely sober lives will often cling to their sobriety as a badge of honor that can quickly turn into its own form of addiction.
This is not to say we should not all have our hobbies or enjoyment because life is for living!
However, like with anything, moderation and control are key. While modern culture may be overly critical of substance use, the truth is the recovery community has a copyright on “rock bottom.” The middle-aged single parent swapping the kid for the weekend in a fast-food parking lot will often ask and wonder, “How did I get to the point?” In substance use, those who struggle can often point to a moment in their recovery where they undoubtedly knew things had gone off the rails. This can make recovery more approachable for them compared to the other maladaptive behaviors we ignore in society. Which football game was it that your wife decided she was leaving? Which shopping trip was the one that caused you to file for bankruptcy? Which rep in the gym did your soul finally realize it could no longer keep up with your body?
We often view addiction as a point on a timeline of our lives, but the truth is, it is often
manifesting for years. Whether it is shopping, football, working out, or substance use, we are often addressing a desire for escaping our lives because we are deeply unhappy. The best way to combat this is not a plan of being miserable for six months to earn a one-week vacation from your job: it is a weekly, daily, or hourly practice of ensuring that you are listening to what your heart, mind, body, and soul are craving. It is only then, acting on it in an appropriate and healthy way, we ensure that we are being fed in a holistic way with whatever we feel we truly need (not want).
Brianna West succinctly wraps up this idea beautifully, “True self-care is not salt baths and chocolate cake, it is making the choice to build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from.”
Chris Bennett is a faithful believer in Jesus Christ whose heart is to see folks go from point A to point B. Receiving his Bachelors Degree in Social Work this year, he will begin his Masters Degree venture this summer at Columbia University. He currently works as the Lead Case Manager at a homeless shelter. Chris felt drawn to contribute to the Writers Nook because “I think we really isolate people in recovery and sometimes it’s important to know we are all fighting battles in our own way”.