I recently saw a banner — set in place for Recovery Month — that read: “Recovery Happens.” My question is: “What is implied here?” Words have meaning, and when those words are demonstrative of a process to behavioral change, people either simply disregard, are motivated by, or are intimidated by what they perceive and think about the process. For this, I call for a Matter of Perspective.

Matter of Perspective: My Perspective
In the field of addiction, we all know that change is a process and not an event. With the advancement of the addiction field, today we have the Transtheoretical Model of Change outlining the process of change through stages (e.g., precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, et cetera). To facilitate this staged approach, we have Motivational Interviewing as an application to overcome the Mental Masturbation and vacillation that manifests ambivalence to change. Even so, there is something fundamentally missing. Missing is a perspective on change itself. From the most basic molecular structure, we are always changing. Substance and other abuse is the active participation in defiance to this natural process. Substance abuse and other abusive behaviors are counter to the human condition. Or are they?

Missing too is the appreciation of the human condition to seek, to need competence. It is this very human condition that outcomes addiction. No one embraces the experience of helplessness and hopelessness as they wallow in despair. In my 19 years of study and practice, I have never met a person who experiences competence in their life way of addiction. I have met hundreds who long for competence; a longing for competence to fill a selfless void.

In many cases, despair is the foundation to substance and other abuse. Even so, like the outcome of addictions, helplessness and hopelessness are outcomes to perceived failed attempts, or, as I suggest, “Sitting In The Shit.” For many, that is what they do; they Sit In The Shit, don’t drink, and wait, hope, and pray for “Recovery to Happen.” Recovery does not just happen; people have to roll up their sleeves, wipe themselves off, and discover what they are choosing, allowing to happen.

Discovery over Recovery
The reality is, at any given moment, whatever we experience, we allow to happen. Let’s get real: This implies choice. Within the recovery framework, there is no choice for those involved, as they are helpless. I do not like this perspective. It is choice, (actually the power thereof) which necessitates responsibility. Within the perspective of Discovery, it is the responsibility of those who seek change to discover a life not lived over a life once lived. With the perspective of Discovery over Recovery, the anchoring effect of looking at life lived through eyes of regret as manifest in self-defeated despair has no footing.

Because we are never satisfied and are driven toward maximizing competence, people of addiction run, hide, avoid, and escape through their actions and through their addictions. Many have labeled this motivational drive as guilt or shame. Regardless, it is a perspective of one’s self-defeat; it is a human construct. It is what a person thinks of an emotional response.

With the need to gain competence and control, people embrace the safety and comfort of Sitting In The Shit. Experience this enough and it becomes familiar; through familiarity comfort zones are established. Comfort zones are boundaries to expectations. Expectations not met are limitations, limitations to what a person “thinks” he or she can’t do. Self-imposed limitations debilitate the opportunity to maximize competence. Self-imposed limitations are platforms of defeat as experienced through a haunting void of purpose, direction, or substance. So, let’s call Sits In The Shit (SITS) the experience of substance-less.

Whenever a stage is reached (or, for that matter, contemplated) it is a person’s perspective of change that motivates. For example, “Recovery Happens.” For some, their perspective is, “If I don’t drink, I will experience recovery. After all, it just happens.” This is the wrong perspective. It is for this reason I rarely present to my clients the ideal of recovery. My clients rarely want to recover their lives; rather, they want to Discover and embrace the life not lived. Sure, there is a platform for recovery, and I suggest that platform ends when the substance is out of a person’s system. But in order to gain a healthy perspective for what once was — and through that perspective, separation — it is my opinion that the involved best serves him-or herself with a perspective of Discovery.

The point here is that humans are never satisfied, we are always wanting. The underpinning to our wanting is our innate drive to need competence. There is a challenge here, and that challenge is to convince me as to how continued growth can be achieved through the continuous recovery of what once was as one expects change to happen?

It matters little if the goal is to achieve interpersonal skills, overcome what I call the In-Group (e.g., In-security, In-adequacy, In-feriority, In-significance), or a fit from some anchored, haunting trauma. People need to embrace competence. Competence is the underpinning to all learning. With this, we all share a natural propensity to learn, and with that propensity Discover. Discover compliments that natural progress of change.

Think about it: How many people do you know and have helped who continue to struggle even though they have quit their addictions? For me, such clients are card-carrying members of the Grateful Dead. They are grateful for not drinking and will yell that from the rooftops, but when it comes to living well, comfortable, confident, and inspired by their life way, they are emotionally and interpersonally dead. This is not a good place to be. This is not a good mindset, for they are only one synaptic connection from relapse. Dishearteningly, I know of sponsors within 12-step programs who are of this sort and actually fulfill their need for competence through the power of control they experience over those who they think are “worse off;” kind of schadenfreudistic (i.e., getting off on other people’s misery). They, as many others, espouse and present themselves as the success stories to recovery. The only success they experience exists in their fanciful fictional impressions of change. For more interesting perspectives, check our www.MyDiscover.org

Author's Bio: 

Peter is an expert in the field of anger-based lost control, intimate partner violence, and addiction. Unlike students and practitioners of general counseling psychology, for the past 20 years, his study and practice has been specific to compensatory cycles of emotional and behavioral lost control. Beginning with his graduate research, he had as his case study the life-spans of individuals who committed intimate partner homicide in contrast to individuals who violently offended within their communities while under the influence of alcohol and other drugs of abuse. As a result of this in depth contrast study, he gained unprecedented and unparallel insight into the acquisition, actuation, and maintenance to cycles of emotional distress expressed through Anger-Based Aggression, Domestic Abuse, and Addictive Behaviors. Peter holds a Master of Arts Degree from Norwich University, Vermont. His concentration of study was Counseling Psychology specific to Addiction Theory and Intervention Applications. He is a Certified Personal Fitness Trainer specializing in stress management through the National Federation of Professional Trainers. He is a Certified Anger Resolution Therapist and Staff Consultant for the Anger Management Training Institute, and a Certified Addiction Specialist with the American Academy of Health Care Providers in the Addictive Disorders. In addition, Peter is Rostered by the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services as an Alternative Provider, member of the National Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors, the International Society for Mental Health Online, and CEO/President and Managing Director to MyDiscover, Inc., a New Hampshire based nonprofit organization, where he can be reached directly at: peterstone@MyDiscover.org.