Hitting Rock Bottom

Diving Deep)

“Hitting rock bottom” is a common phrase in addiction recovery and twelve-step programs. Addicts will include it when describing the shocking depths they descended to before they were willing to wholly commit to recovery. They lost jobs, were imprisoned, lost their families, declared bankruptcy, were excommunicated from their church, lost their physical and mental health, and perhaps even found themselves on death’s doorstep. In short, they sunk as low as they possibly could, and then, having “hit rock bottom,” they finally started to look upward.

This pattern is so common that some addicts will attest that no one will ever find real recovery until they first hit rock bottom. It’s not that everyone’s rock bottom is the same, but they claim that one must hit their personal moment of absolute devastation before they can recover. Some will even tell newcomers who haven’t suffered enough hardship from the addiction that they aren’t possibly going to get better until they first get much worse.

I absolutely disagree with such claims. I think there is a real pattern being recognized, but extrapolating that pattern to say it is an absolute rule for each and every single individual is a terrible mistake. No one should ever be told that they cannot yet begin the process of getting better.

The Power of Fear)

But as I just said, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t a real pattern occurring here. I saw it in my initial recovery group of six members. We each had our own highs and lows, but only one of us totally stopped working the program. I have to say, from the very first meeting I had my doubts about his commitment. The most obvious difference between him and the rest of us was that he was still young, unmarried, and had relatively little to lose if he didn’t get better right away.

Well, that’s not true, we all had just as much to lose, but for some of us the losses were occurring in the present, whereas for him much of the potential losses were still in the future. Since that time, I have met other young addicts who were able to stick to a program, even without their feet being held to the fire by the threat of losing marriage and family, but they are a small demographic in our ranks.

Fear of real and dramatic loss is one of the greatest motivators for change. It isn’t the only motivator, and people can achieve recovery without it, but there will always be more scared and desperate individuals in recovery than cocky and sure.

Pivot Points)

Of course, fear does not properly account for the phenomenon of getting sober after “hitting rock bottom.” Fear is an emotion that comes from potential unpleasant outcomes. Fear is always looking forward to a future experience, usually one that may or may not even occur. But “hitting rock bottom” would mean that the thing you were afraid of has already occurred. The loss has happened, the relationship has ended, the freedom has been taken. Fear has already been replaced with reality. So what else is it about these moments that might inspire real change?

Well, these are pivot points. They are moments that force a huge reality check on us. Up until these moments we might have been in denial, finding other things to blame for our problems, but huge tragedies like these usually make us take a hard look inside. We finally see ourselves as we actually are, and having gained that perspective we get to make a choice whether we will accept what we see or not. We have a chance to say to ourselves “no, I cannot tolerate this. I cannot be this way. I will do whatever it takes to change.”

Each new low presents a new chance to have that introspection and to make that commitment to change. They are stations along the railway, and at each one we have the option to change trains if we want. There is a train station when you are caught the first time. There is a train station when you lose your marriage. There is a train station when you go to jail. One might take the first exit, another the second, another the third, and another might never get off the ride at all.

Thus, “hitting rock bottom” really means the time you reach the pivot point where you finally decide enough is enough. Each person has a different point where this occurs for them, and it is based entirely on their individual personality and choice. Many of us are too stubborn to choose to change until we have suffered great loss, but as I have said already, I do know others who made a real change far sooner on their journey. It’s entirely up to you.

You Get to Choose, Even When it Seems Impossible: Part Four

Impossible, but Temporarily So)

During the past few days, I have discussed the addict who has fallen to his temptations time and time again, yet still thinks that next time he’ll somehow pull through. I made the case that if we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that all of our desire and willpower combined are not enough to prevent us from doing the things we despair of. When we act out our addiction, our base and thoughtless impulses are bringing the whole self along for the ride, even if some of those parts are kicking and screaming against it!

I have also shared how this is in large part due to the stunted prefrontal cortex that develops in the mind of the addict. One who has given in to a harmful habit for an extended period of time literally has less mental willpower than one who has not. To adapt to this fact, we must consider techniques that will help us avoid our temptations, rather than trying to fight them head-on. But before I get into that, I do want to offer one word of encouragement in regard to facing temptation and overcoming it.

I have made the case that the addict has some situations where he will give into temptation, even if he doesn’t want to. We don’t like that fact, but it is a fact, nonetheless. I want to reiterate a fact that I shared just yesterday, though, which is that it doesn’t have to always be that way. Absolutely we can strengthen the prefrontal cortex, build up moral fortitude, break habits, and get to the point where the same temptations that would have overwhelmed us can now be rejected entirely. Many former addicts have healed their minds and their souls in just this way, and we can, too, but in order to survive long enough to do so, we will need to employ these more preventative tactics that I am about to discuss.

If and Then)

Let us suppose that at last we are able to admit that we are not in such control of ourselves as we would like to think. Let us suppose that we have accepted that given certain situations we will give in to temptation. This does not have to be a statement of hopelessness. It can instead be the first part of an if-then rule that preserves our safety.

If I cannot browse the internet late at night by myself without viewing pornography, then I will not browse the internet late at night by myself. If I cannot walk by the pub without going in for a drink, then I will not walk by the pub. If I cannot go to that restaurant without ordering the chocolate cake, then I won’t go to that restaurant anymore.

If I’m serious about my recovery, then I’m not going to put myself into the same position of failure that I have succumbed to time and time again. I’m not going to make the mistake of thinking that I’ll just defeat temptation in battle, I’m going to secure victory by preventing the battle from ever occurring.

By understanding the parameters and preconditions of our acting out, we can stop worrying about how we will face temptation and instead focus our efforts further upstream. If you’ve let it get to the point that you’re alone in your office with your hands hovering over the keyboard, or sitting on the stool talking to the barkeep, or roving your eyes over the menu, you’ve probably already lost. The time to fight was when you first started going to the place of temptation. You may currently lack the resolve to resist the tantalizing ad on your computer, the smell of the beer, the atmosphere of the restaurant, but you probably did have the resolve thirty minutes earlier to say, “I’m going to bring my laptop out into the family room where everyone can see me,” or “I’m going to see if my friends want to play golf instead,” or “I’m going to try that other restaurant today.”

This is true, because even though the prefrontal cortex of the addict brain has been diminished, it has not died completely. The addict still is capable of higher reasoning, just not when they are not in the face of great temptation. By exercising their reason at a time when the distasteful appetite is sleeping, they can avoid waking the beast entirely.

The Lever)

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

One of the most basic components of engineering is the lever. It is a simple machine whereby a relatively small force in one place can be magnified into a multiplied force somewhere else. One may not have enough strength to move a heavy rock directly, but through the magnification of a lever, their strength can end up indirectly moving the rock even so.

Does it matter if you don’t have the willpower to turn down temptation if you do have the willpower to avoid the temptation in the first place? In either case, haven’t you effectively overcome your addiction in that moment? A choice, only made indirectly made through another choice, is still your choice.

It takes some time an observation, but if you examine your life and your addiction behaviors, you will notice that there are certain situations and events that tend to be precursors to those actions. With a little thoughtful effort, you can circumvent those situations and events, and will already make great progress towards sobriety.

But of course, even this is not a complete solution. If we circumvent every opening for the addiction, soon we will experience the symptoms of withdrawal. Cravings will arise, even without our usual triggers to set them off. Sooner or later, we’ve got to deal with that matter of resolve in the face of temptation. And I’ll tell you right now, there will never be an easy win here. It is always going to be a difficult, uphill battle. But at least we’ve cornered the enemy to this one place. So next we will examine how we rely on a willpower other than our own in such moments. We’ll dive into that topic tomorrow.

You Get to Choose, Even When it Seems Impossible: Part One

An Unfixable Flaw)

For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. - Romans 7:19

The universal paradox that every addict faces is the notion that they must stop acting out, but they can’t. They have tried to stop so many times before only to repeatedly let themselves down. They are overcome with a terrible sense of powerlessness, a belief that they are forever destined to do the very things that they cannot accept.

And what makes this situation even more frustrating is that part of them still insists that they really could stop. Certainly they possess the physical capability to not do the troubling behavior. None of us are physically required to do any of the things that we wish we didn’t do. It’s just that we can’t work up the self-will to control ourselves.

Except for when we do. I was once speaking to a man who received a powerful insight from his therapist. The addict had been bemoaning that he kept returning to pornography because he had no power to resist. The therapist then asked him what would happen if he was viewing pornography in his room and heard the footsteps of someone coming down the hall. Well, in that case, all of a sudden, this “powerless” man would suddenly find untold reserves of willpower as he frantically ALT-TABBED away from the offensive window! Thus, it was clear that the man could exercise the willpower to turn from his addiction, at least when sufficiently motivated by the fear of being found out!

Can’t vs Won’t)

So, what is it? We seem to be going back-and-forth as to whether the addict can suddenly stop his problematic behavior or not. After some time, I have concluded that the seeming paradox goes away just as soon as we change one, little word. Instead of saying that the addict “can’t” stop their behavior, it is far more truthful to say that they “won’t.”

Now I don’t mean “won’t” in the sense that the addict will defiantly refuse, only that the addict has presented copious amounts of evidence that when subjected to certain situations and triggers they will act out and they will not stop themself, even though they otherwise possess the desire and physical capability to reject the behavior. This is an observable, consistent pattern which we all need to come to terms with sooner or later.

The first truth that every addict must accept is that “if I am alone, by myself, under these particular circumstances…I am going to act out.” That doesn’t mean that you don’t want to resist, or that you won’t try to resist, or that you’re faking your efforts to be sober. Indeed, the defining trait of the addict is that he really, truly, sincerely does want to stop himself…but he just won’t.

The only logical conclusion is that part of the addict is holding the rest of himself as a slave. There is the part that would live soberly, but there is the other part that won’t let him.

Surrender)

This is a simple concept, but it is extremely difficult to accept. We are loathe to admit that we are not as in control of our own selves as we pretend. We say that we aren’t beholden to anyone or anything, that we are our own master, that all it takes for us to do something is to choose to do it.

But that is demonstrably false. That we are the masters of our own fate is a motivating and happy thought, but it is a complete lie. And living a lie is to remain living a pattern of life that simply cannot work. So long as you insist on this mentality of being your own master you’re going to keep living as a slave to your lusts, insisting through it all that you’re a free man.

I would like to tell you that waving the white flag and admitting that you are a slave to your appetites isn’t necessary. I have tried to find my way around this surrender myself. I have tried to deny my fundamental powerlessness. I have tried to find the external evils that forced me to do wrong against my self will.

But the simple fact of the matter is that if I live the same patterns of life that I have lived before, I will give in to my temptations again and again. Not because anyone or anything external forced me, not because I wanted to, but because I am enslaved to a tyrant of my own making. And I have to accept that fact, and then accept it again and again, anytime my ego starts to think that I can fully trust myself in the driver’s seat, only to be proven wrong yet again.

Now I do have more to say on the matter, including more hopeful messages for the addict, but first and foremost we have to come to accept this sense of powerlessness. This is the first step of any twelve-step program, to finally accept that we will not do what we wish we would do under every circumstance. Let’s let this notion settle in for today, and then move on to next things tomorrow. I’ll see you then.

Discussing Spiritual Differences- Matthew 10:16-17, 22-23; 1 Samuel 8:7

Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.
But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues;
And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.
But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.

And the Lord said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.

COMMENTARY

They will deliver you up to the councils, and ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake
But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another

Jesus did not mince words when he told his disciples what to expect when carrying his message into the world. And one of the points that he stressed in particular was that they were going to be rejected…a lot. Though the disciples would work miracles, though they would speak with power, though they would dedicate their lives to this work, though they would convince many of the truth, there would always remain those who would not accept their message.
Recall that even the master orator Paul, after he had borne a masterful testimony to King Agrippa, was only able to elicit a response of “almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.”

For they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me
But is it any wonder that the disciples would be rejected when their master was as well? Jesus was turned away from cities, disputed against in the synagogues, and given up to death by his own people. Was it just because he didn’t know the right words to say, because he fumbled in his delivery, because he wasn’t skilled enough in the preaching his own message.
No, of course not. He and his disciples faced rejection for the simple reason that people have their freedom of choice, and some just choose to reject the gospel message and that’s all there is to it. It doesn’t have to be that the one proselyting did anything wrong. They might have said exactly what they needed to, but the person hearing the message just didn’t want to receive it.
And that is an important truth for us to remember whenever we try to champion the right. I have known those who believe that if they can just find the right, magical words they will be able to unlock anybody’s heart and that simply isn’t true. No one has to accept what you to say. Anyone is able to turn you down, no matter how perfect your reasoning is. If you feel that you spoke with the words that were given you, that the point was made, that the truth was evident to any who would see, then you have done your part. Anything after that, acceptance or rejection, is out of your control. Whatever the outcome is, you must just accept it and move along.

Discussing Spiritual Differences- 2 Nephi 2:8, 2 Nephi 2:27

Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise.

Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.

COMMENTARY

Wherefore, men are free; and all things are given them which are expedient. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, or to choose captivity and death
Many of us spend a good portion of our lives avoiding any serious considering of what sort of person we’re going to be. As a child I would have phrased it as simply deciding whether to be the “good guy” or the “bad guy.” Today I might describe it as deciding whether to “meet my divine potential” or to “give in to my baser nature.”
Instead of facing this question we tell ourselves “yeah, I’m a pretty good person,” and then never commit to a life of greater purpose. But that is not taking ownership of our souls and we will remain stunted for so long as we won’t face the decision in sincerity. At some point we need to have a deeper, more sincere examination of who we really are now, and who we really want to be moving forward.
And it is not healthy for us to put off this decision. Making this determination must come before our great story can really take off. To just make this choice is the very reason why God put us on this Earth to begin with. Here, left to our own heart and reason, we are meant to decide who we ultimately want to be, and whether we will work to become that person. It is the single, most important decision we can ever make, and we each owe it to ourselves to face it.

Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth
When we do make the choice, though, and when our choice is to truly meet our divine potential, then we realize how important it is for everyone else to do the same. We look around and see people trundling along only half-alive and we want to wake them fully. This is why those that have been “born again” feel such a fire to proselyte to others, to show them the depth and breadth and beauty that is possible in life after one has fully chosen who they are going to be.
Indeed, it is more than a desire to proselyte, it becomes an obligation. One cannot be good to his fellow-man and still leave him to walk around half-dead. Not when one knows that there is a life that is so much better. Though it may be a difficult and touchy subject, though there is a great chance of being misunderstood, though the bold words may cause offense, though one’s very life may be threatened for proselyting, still one must speak forth.

The Epic Life- Doctrine and Covenants 58:27-28, John 14:2

Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;
For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.

In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.

COMMENTARY

Men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will. For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves.
Tied in with our desire for a life that is epic and meaningful is a desire for a life that is independent. We want to be an agent unto ourselves, not to be someone else’s pawn. And to be clear, freely electing to be a servant to my God is not at all the same as being some manually-controlled pawn. I can choose to be a servant and still retain my individuality.
And as we see in this verse, God’s intent is for us to have that independence. He wants us to freely choose many good works for ourselves. Our deepest spiritual joy does not come from sitting back and just idly thinking about God, it comes from receiving a charter and giving our all to to fulfill it!

In my Father’s house are many mansions
The world would try to convince us that being God’s servant is restrictive, destroys individuality, and turns us all into identical robots. But nothing could be further from the truth. There are many mansions in heaven, many different domains of good, many paths within His garden. The ways to champion God’s will are legion, and He intends for us to freely choose our own corner of the field to work in. Thus my great adventure of good works is very distinct and unique from your own, but both of them are still good. And when we find the good path that uniquely calls to us and give ourselves to it with all the power we have, then we find ourselves walking the truly epic life.

Calloused Hearts- 1 Nephi 2:16

And it came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers.

COMMENTARY

I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe
Yesterday I examined how our fallen, stony hearts are remade into something more alive and spiritual by divine interaction. That idea is further supported in this passage, where Nephi finds his own soul softened by heavenly ministrations.
Nephi opened the way but he did not change his own heart by himself. He had to let God do that for him. But there is a lot of significance in that “letting.” Nephi could have not reached out and not had his heart made soft, and things would have been very different if he hadn’t. It was a choice and an action on his part, but the transformation that followed was God’s.

Calloused Hearts- James 2:17-18, 26

Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.
For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

COMMENTARY

Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone
For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also
Yesterday I shared how we can only be made alive through Christ, and that means we need to be a part of Christ, and that means we are actively striving to live a Christ-like life every day. There are other factors, of course, such as the all-important role of grace, but our personal striving is a very real piece of the puzzle.
Which James further emphasizes in today’s verses: faith without works is dead.
We can and should pray to God for a fire to be lit in our hearts. We should show our faith by inviting Him to plant an active desire to do good within us. We should trust that He can remake us so that choosing the right becomes an easy and pleasant experience.
But in my life it seems that He often does not often pour that spiritual fire into my heart right away. He usually takes that prayer of faith and responds by giving me a small choice. Perhaps a twinge of conscience for something simple and good to do right then and there. And I’m sorry to say that sometimes I haven’t taken the invitation. The simple good action I am being offered seems disconnected from the greater good I was asking for the strength to do, and so I overlook it. And then my faith is separated from my works and my heart is left feeling dead.