Holding Back the Tide: Part One

Slipping to the Bottom)

There is an engineering problem that is so difficult that it has become an idiom for any impossible task: pushing water uphill. All of us know that the tendency of water is to take the most immediate route downhill. It pauses when it comes to a level surface and pools up, but only until it is able to feel out another path downward.

Many times, living with an addiction can feel much like this problem of trying to keep water at the top of a hill. There are steeper edges on some side of the hill, where your temptations are strongest, and the tendency to fall is constant. Through sincerely working an addiction recovery program, one may start to shore up the steepest sides of the hill, putting up a bulwark to prevent themselves from slipping that way anymore, but what happens next? Well, if you deny water its usual route, it run along the length of the barricade until it finds whatever the next best route downward is. And this is the case with our addictive tendencies, too. Many the addict has momentarily rejoiced at having his addiction under control, only to slowly realize that he is losing control in another area of his life! One addiction is traded for another!

My Victory and Defeat)

This was the case with me when I began recovery work for my addiction to lust. I threw myself into a program with all my heart and will, determined to make any changes whatsoever until I had beaten this unacceptable behavior. And you know what? It really worked! I started accumulating some real sobriety, and it stuck! At last I felt I had solved the riddle that had stumped me for twenty years.

Then, a couple years into sobriety, I started to notice something annoying. When I had first started my campaign against lust I had started to live a more healthy lifestyle overall, resulting in me losing a good deal of weight. Now, though, the numbers on the scale were starting to go the wrong way again.

Okay, I thought, I got a little lazy with my exercise these past couple months. I just have to recommit to my routine of running and calorie counting. Things will get back into place in no time.

Except that they didn’t. Though I recommitted myself to being physically healthy (multiple times!) I just couldn’t make those changes stick. In fact, the more I tried to improve my behavior, the more I seemed to dive off the deep end instead. Now the overeating had my full attention, and I was horrified to recognize in it the same impulsive, stress-coping, habitual nature that had defined my addiction to lust.

But even realizing this fact was not enough to regain power over my appetite. Until recently, I was trying to approach my sedentary life and unhealthy diet as an addendum to the first addiction, an additional area to work on now that the main issue was under control. But this wasn’t an accurate portrayal at all. This wasn’t an addendum to the addiction, it was the full addiction itself. The same water, just pooled to a different part of the hill. I had pinned the dragon down in the cave, but it had snuck out under disguise and was razing the village once more!

You can’t keep the water in place by laying sandbags in one place. If you shore it up where it was running out, it will come spilling out of areas that were only somewhat a problem before. If you shore up those areas, then the water will start coming out of areas that weren’t a problem at all before. You have got to get the sandbags around the entire perimeter of the hill.

A Total Reformation)

Now I admit, I had allowed myself to get complacent in my recovery work. When I first started I was singularly focused on my addiction to lust, but soon learned that nothing short of an entire life restructure was going to suffice. This was why I had been able to make some headway on my physical health, as well as my social and financial health, too.

But after I finished my initial addiction recovery program I did not immediately get myself to a consistent twelve-step group. Just when I started to realize that I needed to, COVID shut down in-person meetings, and I took that as an excuse to still float adrift. By the time all the lockdowns had been lifted, I had stopped thinking about joining a group entirely. And through all of this I had maintained my singular focus on continuing sobriety from lust, but I had given up on the broader view of maintaining an entirely new lifestyle. My physical care was therefore in severe decline, as well as my social connections and my finances.

Half a year ago I started to right the ship. I joined a twelve-step group and have been attending diligently ever since, while also doing recovery homework. I have, as a result, seen the downward trends be halted, and some of them have started to turn back in the right direction. The journey seems to be slower this time than it was before, but maybe that’s just how it feels when you’re in the trenches.

Most importantly, I have become reconvinced that if I am not willing to change my entire life, then my life will not change in any significant way. I am trying to rebuild control and consistency, with the understanding that areas must be worked on. If I get my health and wellbeing back where I want them in just one area first, I won’t make the mistake of thinking that now I’m done and the other sectors of my life can be left to themselves.

Tomorrow I will discuss a little more of how I am trying to make changes in my life on a day-by-day basis. I’ll see you then.

You Get to Choose, Even When it Seems Impossible: Summary

Capable but Powerless)

I began this journey by considering the conundrum of the addict who hates his addiction but lives it even so. The addict possesses the physical capability to change his behavior, and sufficient desire to cease his behavior, yet finds himself falling into it again and again. The missing piece, as we have discussed, is that the addict lacks the mental willpower to translate his desires to his actions, at least when in the face of powerful temptation. His prefrontal cortex has been eroded, which is responsible for all his higher mental functions. When the need for another hit arises, all feelings and rationality are numbed into silence, leaving the addict a slave to his base impulses.

Many of us felt that we had plenty of character. There was a tremendous urge to cease forever. Yet we found it impossible. This is the baffling feature of alcoholism as we know it – this utter inability to leave it alone, no matter how great the necessity or the wish. - Alcoholics Anonymous: The Big Book

This conundrum has led many the addict to despair. He feels that at some point earlier in life he must have forfeited his last chance at salvation. By the time he became really serious about wanting to change, it was already too late, and now he believes that he is doomed to do the very things he despises most for the rest of his life. This demoralizes the addict, is almost certain to cause him to enter a deep depression, and can even make him suicidal.

While I would certainly never encourage any suicidal notions in any person, reaching this moment of despair does suggest that the addict has finally reached the point where he can be totally honest with himself. Because he’s right, he can’t win this battle. Only by accepting this soul-crushing defeat can he begin the path to victory.

Other Paths)

When one door closes, another opens

For most addicts, it is only the total failure of their attempts to control their lives that will finally humble them enough to hear alternative methods. Inherent in all of us is the desire to fix ourselves by ourselves, so we have to try at that for a very long time, and to absolutely ruinous results, before we will start to look outside for help. And it is in this shift outwards, though, that we can actually find the success that has eluded us for so long.

Quite probably the single method that has brought the most hopeless-case addicts to true healing has been the twelve-step program invented by the Alcoholics Anonymous organization, and this program is entirely predicated upon the notion that the addict, though powerless by himself, can find the power to overcome his addiction through the strength of God and the recovery group that he binds himself to. Relying upon others goes absolutely in the face of our desire to be autonomous and self-powerful, but, paradoxically, it is also the only thing that will ever allow us to regain out autonomy and self-power.

In the course of this study, we examined how the addict who reaches out to a fellow brother or sister when facing temptation is inviting a working rational mind to the situation. The addict who calls for help is having his mind assaulted and numbed by an active temptation, but the person that he calls probably is not. The helper can provide the calm reasoning to the distressed addict, talking them down off the ledge and back into rational ways of thinking.

We also considered how uniting together for this good purpose gives us access to Christ’s promise that “where two or more are gathered in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20). Coming together as a group for a holy cause is one of the surest ways I know of to tap into the strength and willpower of the divine. And, in my experience, that strength and willpower is far more than enough to overcome every temptation that we might face. “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).

We also discussed personal practices that the addict can put in place to help shore up his defenses. These are in no way an alternative to calling upon the strength of our brothers and sisters and God, but an addendum to those resources.

The practices we described included recognizing and avoiding the sequence of events that typically precede our acting out. Often there are trigger events that come before the temptation, and much of our acting out can be avoided if we simply avoid the trigger event. Usually we are able to circumvent that trigger because our mind isn’t yet fogged over by temptation.

The other personal practice we discussed was finding the areas of life where our damaged prefrontal cortex and higher reasoning weren’t being entirely steamrolled by temptation. In those areas we make a conscious effort to act deliberately and conscientiously. I pointed out how when we deliberately do little things to improve our lives, even if they seem fairly inconsequential, we are exercising the regions of our brain needed to perform higher executive functions. Bit-by-bit we are increasing our willpower, mental strength, and conviction. Eventually we will have enough power to reclaim the fields taken by our addiction.

Hopelessness isn’t Hopeless)

Sometimes it isn’t the situation that is hopeless, it is the method that we are bringing to it. Each of us needs to give up on using the wrong tool so that we can start to use the right one.

If you have a genuine addiction, powering through on your own is doomed to failure, but that doesn’t mean that you are necessarily doomed to failure. After failing countless times over it is easy to become pessimistic and assume that nothing could ever work for you.

I’m here to give you the good news that this is not the case at all, though. You are not the first person to have felt this way, and you will not be the last person to find salvation even so. Leaving behind the methods that didn’t work, now embrace the methods that do. Learn to be shrewd in how you avoid temptation, build up strength of willpower through small wins, and tap into the strength of others and God.

Do these things and your mind will heal, your impulsive behaviors will fade, and self-control will return. You will become one of those of whom it has been said, “For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves” (Doctrine and Covenants 58:28).

I have seen it in myself and in numerous others. The brain can heal itself. Hope can be restored. The numbing forces can be numbed.

As I pointed out at the start of this post, the addict in the midst of despair can find himself entertaining thoughts of suicide. He is wrong to think he has no alternative but to end his life, however he is correct that a death of some sort must occur. That death, though, is the death of the ego. Only by denying himself, putting to death his pride and isolationism, can he be reborn through the baptism of fellowship in Christ. He must immerse himself in the brotherhood and sisterhood of fellow addicts in recovery, and when he does, he will feel Christ manifesting within himself. Then his new life truly begins.

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

A Pattern of Power)

I have been discussing ways that we can find the willpower to fight temptation, even when our brains have been damaged by our addictions. I have covered doing all that we can to avoid even encountering our temptations, but sooner or later they will find us even so, and then we must suddenly find strength and mental reasoning that we are incapable of providing for ourselves.

This immediately suggests that we must have a strength that is beyond our own. An external strength and reasoning that will slay the dragons that we fail to overcome by ourselves.

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. - Matthew 18:20

I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me - Philippians 4:13

These verses provide us a pattern for accessing just such an outer strength, a pattern that I have found most effective. In the first verse we are promised by Christ himself that when we gather together in his name, he will dwell among us. In the second verse we are told by Paul that Christ strengthens him to be able to do all things. Thus, gathering together invites Christ’s spirit, and Christ’s spirit lifts us to be able to do what we could not do on our own. This is a pattern that I have been able to make use of in my own life and I have come to value it greatly.

Group Strength)

The founders of Alcoholics Anonymous discovered that there was a special power when addicts came together as a group to lay down their burdens and encourage one another. A room full of individual failures could somehow churn out mass success. Ever since that realization, groups have sprung up all across the world and for all manner of different addiction recoveries. I, myself, regularly participate in a twelve-step group for pornography addiction, and I can attest that there really is a secret strength in numbers.

Mathematically, it doesn’t seem to make sense. As an analogy, imagine if our addiction was our debt and our resolve was our assets. Then an addict, by definition, is someone whose debt outweighs his assets, someone who is at a net negative. Now if you have ten such men, all with a net negative, and you combine them all together, what would you expect? Net negative of course! A negative plus a negative plus a negative plus a negative–and so on–can only result in a greater negative.

But, counter-intuitively, that’s just not how it works in practice. The men in my group bring all of their problems with them to the recovery group, yet somehow the group doesn’t feel weighed down by the shared burden. Instead, weight is collectively lifted up by the group and tossed aside.

The only conclusion that I can come to is that the scriptures cited above are true. When we gather together to do the holy work of refining our souls, Christ is there in our midst. We come with all our collective debts, but he has a wealth of assets, enough to compensate for all our shortcomings and more.

A Phone Call Away)

And this same strength can be called upon in moments of duress as well. We addicts have learned that we can recreate the spirit of the group with a simple phone call to another brother, right when we’re being faced by our temptation.

We might feel powerless in the face of the temptation when on our own. We might feel that we are doomed to give in. But if in that moment we can work up just enough resolve to make a phone call, then as soon as we start sharing our burden with a brother, that same unseen power starts rising within, enabling us to do the very thing we couldn’t just a few moments before.

In fact, we don’t even need to have decided to overcome our temptation when we first make the call. We can simply make the call without any commitment whether we will remain sober after we hang up or not. We only need to have the strength to dial the number, and then the strength to go the rest of the way will follow. If I can’t decide to be sober on my own, I can still decide to step out and get help. And when I chose to step out and get help, then I can decide to be sober, too.

The power that comes from reaching out to a fellow addict in the moment of temptation is twofold. On the one hand, we are currently having our mental willpower, our brain’s prefrontal cortex, overrun by our powerful temptation. Our mind isn’t working how it should, but in the fellow addict that we call there is still a properly functioning mind. Their prefrontal cortex isn’t currently being overrun like ours is. Thus, they are able to bring the higher reasoning and persuasion that our own mind cannot provide. Later, when they are the one being overrun by temptation and we are back to sure footing, then we are able to provide the same benefit to them.

The second power is, of course, the light of Christ that I have already been discussing. For when a brother reaches out to me to help, I really do feel that it is more than my own mental faculty that I am able to bring to bear on the matter. I have felt an external love and wisdom flow into me, helping me to say and share the things that will speak directly to the soul of my brother. And I have felt the exact same divine presence shared with me when I have called for help, too.

Growing Ranks)

I don’t know why the power of Christ comes to us in this way, but it just does. I have tried many times to pray in isolation for his power and I have been very disappointed in the results. On the other hand, I have never gone to a recovery group meeting without feeling Christ’s power overflowing me. I have never reached out to a brother in recovery without feeling the strength to do what I couldn’t before. It seems to me that this is just how he wants it. He wants me to reach out to others, and he gave his instructions in the verse from Matthew so that I would know that I needed to do it.

At this point I’ve discussed how we can find self-control through preventative measures, and how we can access the strength of Christ and a larger group. I have also explained how exercising our willpower in daily tasks can increase our resolve over time. This brings me to the end of all the techniques that I wanted to share with you. Tomorrow, we’ll review them all together. I’ll see you there.

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.

The Trouble with Statistics in Recovery: Part Three

Statistics Criteria)

Over the last two posts I’ve examined the nature of statistics, and why they shouldn’t be used to predict one’s personal journey in recovery. I’ve spent time explaining that statistics are meant as a measurement of external uncertainty, and to model a group, but how they cannot represent your internal, individual state.

There is also one other limitation of statistics that makes them a poor crystal ball into your personal future. This is that every statistical survey has to clearly define the criteria that it is measuring for. Success and failure are described in clear, binary terms, which often fail to perfectly capture our nuanced, complicated world.

As an example, most surveys related to addiction seem to define success as simply not having another slip or relapse. People in recovery are surveyed, they answer if they have had a relapse since starting recovery, and that becomes the statistic of recovery. And even if the survey is more in-depth, it tends to only be this narrow, easily digestible slice that gets represented in web articles and everyday conversation.

And as the data shows, it turns out that most addicts who enter recovery will slip at some point in their first year. So, in conclusion, most addicts will fail their recovery and never get better.

Recovery vs Sobriety)

Well, no. It’s not as simple as that. Anyone that has been in close proximity to an addiction recovery program will be very familiar with the statement that “relapse is part of the journey.” Which is to say, that yes, almost everyone will relapse, but no, that doesn’t mean that their recovery journey is a failure.

Recovery is a process, and in most addicts, it means following the program, failing in a moment of weakness, and then recommitting to the program. Over time, rather than all at once, the addict pries off the grip of vice until he finally he can live free of it. Then, at last, he will be sober. When we fixate our surveys on the number of addicts who remain sober in the first year, we seem to be suggesting that sobriety doesn’t come at all unless it comes in that first twelve months.

So, are there addicts who at some point or another quit and never turn back? Yes. In my experience, if addicts are sincere and committed, then many, if not all, will achieve this state. It’s just that the point in the recovery program where this freedom is won is different for every addict. Thus, defining success as who quits cold turkey as soon as they start the program is an arbitrary and unhelpful goal.

Of course, I want to be sensitive to the fact that addicts want to stop acting out immediately. Their spouses want them to stop acting out immediately. Everyone who knows what’s going on with them wants them to stop acting out immediately. So, of course, at the outset everyone is going to want the addict to be in the small percentage who really do stop acting out as soon as they start the program. The problem is that if the addict “fails” at that goal, then the discouragement might make him give up the program entirely, when he would have eventually achieved success if he had kept with it. What is it that really matters? Immediate success, or just success?

What I am hopefully making clear is the difference between sobriety and recovery. Recovery is working the program faithfully and consistently, bit-by-bit freeing the captive soul. Sobriety is the desired fruit of all that labor, which ripens sooner in some lives and later in others, but all can achieve it if they keep working at their recovery.

One Day at a Time)

It is only natural to wonder what one’s chances of obtaining sobriety are but putting too much stock in the reported statistics is not only discouraging, it is deceiving. Immediate sobriety is not the one, true metric of an addict recovering.

If one wants to know if they will be successful in recovery, they have only to ask themselves if they are going to work the program of recovery for this one day. If their answer is yes, and they actually follow through on that, then yes, they are being successful in recovery. And if they can say and do the same tomorrow, then yes, they are in recovery for that day, too.

This, of course, brings us to the famous twelve step mantra “one day at a time.” The idea is that focusing on lengths of time past one’s immediate control is a fruitless effort. Long-term sobriety is not the result of mustering up the courage to be sober for an entire decade, but by mustering up the courage for a single day, one after another. Thus, ironically, most addicts who achieve ten years of sobriety do it by not worrying about the decade. If the addict is to consider months and years and decades, he does it in retrospect, looking backward upon the mountain of sobriety that was raised, almost by accident, one grain of sand at a time.

The odds of success in your recovery are not determined by what other people did in their first year of recovery. That doesn’t matter to you in the least. All that really matters is the decisions that you make for yourself this very day. This is the only metric of success, and in that field no survey has been conducted. You are the one that will record the numbers for yourself, you are the one who will create your own, personal statistics of success, and you are the one who will define what your fate is to be. In the end, success or failure is entirely up to you.

The Trouble with Statistics in Recovery: Part Two

Yesterday I discussed the use of statistics to predict how likely a person in recovery is to maintain sobriety. These sorts of statistics can be discouraging, as they often make it seem like the addict is unlikely to ever obtain lasting sobriety.

I made the case, however, that statistics have their time and place, but cannot be applied in every situation. They are useful for representing the level of uncertainty in the observer, but not for describing the actual state of the observed. Thus, a coin that is covered only exists in one state (heads or tails), but the uncertainty of the observer is divided between two (heads and tails).

Today I want to consider another fact of statistics which makes it unhelpful in determining what your personal future entails. That fact is that statistics are a tool for measuring groups, but not individuals.

The Sad Case of Sally Clark)

There is a tragic real-life example of how the misapplication of a broad statistic to a single individual is both in appropriate and dangerous. Sally Clark was an English woman who lost one son to SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) in 1996, and then lost a second son as well in 1998. This was terrible enough, but then it was made worse when Clark was tried for murder. One SIDS death in the family was believable, but two?

As it turned out, there was no concrete evidence to show that Sally Clark had killed either of her two children, but the prosecution brought in Professor Sir Roy Meadow to describe the statistical probability that this mother would have lost two sons to the same rare cause.

Professor Meadow argued that the odds of such an occurrence would be 1 in 73 million, an event so improbable that it could be rejected as a virtual impossibility. Mathematically, he said, Sally Clark had to be a murderer. The jury was convinced, and Sally Clark was sentenced to life in prison.

Four years later, though, it was discovered that the lab reports on the deceased children had omitted clear evidence of the two sons’ deaths being due to natural causes. Clark’s conviction was overturned, and she was released. At this point, though, she had already slipped into a terrible depression, and died shortly thereafter of alcohol poisoning.

Professor Meadow’s application of statistics was torn apart by other mathematicians and statisticians. The numbers he arrived at were simplistic and faulty and he never considered calculating what the likelihood for a mother committing double infanticide is, about 4.5-to-9 times more unlikely than double-SIDS as it turns out! Perhaps most importantly, though, he had made the critical mistake of applying group statistics to an individual.

Consider this, if the odds of a double-SIDS family were genuinely 1 in 73 million, then that would mean for every 73 million mothers you would expect at least one to have lost two children to the phenomenon. 1 in 73 million does not mean that the event does not occur, it means that it does, and you will start seeing multiple occurrences once your population pool is large enough. 73 million is large, but it is not unfathomable for a population. It was inevitable that someone would show up with this situation at some point or another.

By Professor Meadow’s logic we could look at every mother on earth, one at a time, and for each individual conclude that it is too improbable to believe she has lost two children to SIDS. And thus, we would go through the entire population, believing none of them could have suffered that ordeal, when by Meadow’s own statistics there would have been over a hundred women who actually did.

It is the same with addiction recovery. Statistics can define the pattern for a group of addicts, as every group will inherently have a certain likelihood for certain behaviors. But when we apply those likelihoods to the individual we make the subtle, but damning mistake of saying that if something is improbable for everyone, then it is improbable for anyone.

Groups Within Groups)

Statistics can model the group, but they cannot model you. And they especially cannot model you when you consider that inside every group there are more specific subgroups, each with their own accompanying statistics.

By this I mean that most statistics on recovery cover a very broad spectrum of addicts. The odds of sobriety that they give tend to include individuals who have been working a 12-step program for twenty years, and individuals who showed up for the first time today. It includes those that have come of their own volition and those who came only because a judge ordered them to. Clearly not everyone in this broad group is as likely to remain sober as every other.

Every time you take the next step in recovery, you come into a new subgroup, which is represented by better and better odds. Maybe 1-in-10 of all addicts will stick with recovery, but just by returning for the second week you might now belong to a group with a 1-in-9.5 success rate. Do your “step 4 inventory” with another member of your program and you come into another subgroup with even higher levels of recovery. Earn your one-month chip and enter yet another higher-recovery subgroup.

Not to suggest that you are improving your own odds, only that the group statistics are converging more and more to who you actually are. Or at least they would be if the research were conducted down to such granular levels. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Start going to recovery programs for any sustained amount of time and you will quickly see that there is a clear correlation between amount of time working on recovery and length of sobriety.

You Are You)

Hearing discouraging statistics might make you feel like you don’t have a chance of recovery. But never forget that in order to even define the odds researchers must first find a number of successes. They couldn’t say 1-in-10, or 1-in-100, or 1-in-anything until they had found that 1. Never mind what the group pattern might be, the fact remains that there are people who do achieve sobriety, and whatever their methods to get there, it’s safe to assume that they weren’t putting too much stock in “what their odds” were. They got better because they got better. They weren’t 1 in a group, they were 1 in themself, and they decided for themself what that themself was going to be.

Governing your life by statistics is not only a misunderstanding of the science, but also a dangerous game of self-fulfilling prophecy, one that can ironically change the statistics on the subject. There is no statistics on you as an individual. There are statistics on the group, and they are useful for understanding the group, but the group is not you. The group can be documented, but to quote Lawrence of Arabia, for you as an individual “nothing is written.”

The Trouble with Statistics in Recovery: Part One

In addiction recovery it is natural to wonder what one’s chance of success is. If you’re like me, then shortly after you start a program, you’ll be googling something like “what percent of addicts relapse?” I’ll just tell you right now, the results are not encouraging. Depending on your personal flavor of addiction, your chance of never slipping again might be as low as the single digits. This can be a very discouraging realization, both for the addict and for any loved ones that are involved. It can be enough to make one feel that “once an addict, always an addict.”

But I am here to tell you that statistics like these are next to useless when it comes to predicting what your personal story will be. Something about them rang false to me when I first started recovery, and after walking the journey for several years, I gradually came to understand the reasons why.

Statistics of Uncertainty)

Let’s suppose I hold out a coin in front of you, heads-up, and ask you what the chances are that it is heads-up.

“Well it is heads-up,” you might say. “So 100%.”

“But there are two sides, aren’t there? So isn’t it a 50/50 chance?”

“No, I can see it. It’s 100% heads-up, and 0% tails.”

And you’d be right.

Now suppose I cover the coin with my other hand, but I do not rotate it. Still 100% heads?

“Of course,” you say, “it may be covered, but I still know what state it is in. 100% heads up.”

But now suppose I call our friend in, I show him my closed hands, and I tell him there is a coin underneath. I ask him what is the chance that it is heads.

“50%” he says, “and 50% tails.”

And he is right. But you still know it is 100% heads and you are also right.

You are both right because when we talk percentages and statistics we are not talking about the actual state of the coin, we are talking about the state of our own uncertainty. With your inside knowledge you are 100% certain of what the coin is and our friend, without that knowledge, is 50% certain. The numbers you give represent a state of your own selves and not the coin.

And what of the coin? It just is what it is. It isn’t 25% something, or 50%, or even 100%. It just is heads-up or it isn’t, and no matter of ignorant guessing is going to change what it is, even when that guessing is based on statistically sound principles. And not only is the coin what it is, it is also going to be what it is going to be. The mystery and uncertainty of what a flipping coin will land on is only a side-effect of how we view only a narrow slice of time, moving forward at a gradual rate.

The Statistics of You)

And as much as the coin just is what it is, you just are what you are, too. And as much as the coin is just going to be what it is going to be, you are just going to be what you are going to be as well. When you decide to go to recovery, you don’t split off a hundred separate universes and spin a cosmic roulette wheel, hoping it lands on one of the ten realities where you happen to stay sober. When you decide to go to recovery you just are going to see it through, or you just aren’t.

Outsiders may remain uncertain of whether you will maintain sobriety or not. They are ignorant of your inner state, so the best they can do is estimate your chances as a percentage. But you are not an ignorant outsider. You know what your state is and what it isn’t. If you’re honest with yourself, you probably already know whether you’re going to be acting out later this week or not.

The reason why the statistics didn’t feel like an appropriate fit to me when I started recovery was because I knew my own state. Outsiders didn’t know, but I did. I knew some of my group were only there because their wives made them come, but I wasn’t. I knew some were just going through the motions, but I wasn’t. I knew I was going to faithfully be at my recovery group every Tuesday night, and I knew that I was going to be doing my recovery work every other night of the week. I knew that my commitment was real, and I knew that my intentions were serious.

Now you may not be so certain of yourself over the next month and year and decade, but it is possible to be certain of the now. And unlike flipping a coin multiple times, your behavior in the future is affected your behavior in the past. What you choose today weights you more towards one side for the next day. If you are certain of sobriety today, and you follow through with that, then you will be that much more likely of sobriety tomorrow as well.

The Scope of Statistics)

Statistics have their place in the world. They help in defining the probabilities of what is unknowable, and they are useful for modelling large groups. But you are knowable, at least to yourself, and you are an individual, not a group. We’ve spoken to the first of those points today and we’ll examine the other one tomorrow.

Never forget the wonderful fact that you are a person who has free will. You get to choose. You are not a spinning roulette wheel. You are the card that draws itself, and the coin that turns itself. You get to decide your own outcome.

Next Steps

I have just finished my study of Genesis. Over the past week, as I’ve been approaching this milestone, I’ve been thinking about what it is I want to do next. I could move on to a study of Exodus, or I could go back to doing topical studies, or I could try something else.

And as I’ve thought about it, I feel that I would like to be more open about my personal journey. I’d like to share about the spiritual journey I’ve taken thus far in life, and where I am trying to go with it now. I want to talk about the principles and practices that mean a great deal to me, and which ones I am still working on. I want to discuss how I have felt my soul saved by Christ, and how I have tried to become a genuine disciple as a result.

In order to explain my journey, it will be necessary to explain more of who I am and who I was before Christ rescued me. That means shining a light on private areas of my life, such as my wounds and shame. I don’t intend to go into excessive detail about every thing that I regret in life, but I do think it is important to admit at least their general nature, in order to provide hope to others who can relate to those experiences.

As such, these next episodes are going to put me in quite a vulnerable position, and I hope that you will receive what I share with compassion. I’m going to first lay out a little groundwork, though. Tomorrow I will give the roadmap for what the next several days will cover. Thank you, and I’ll see you then.

All or Nothing- Revelation 3:15-17

I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.
So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.
Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:

COMMENTARY

Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked
I had a desperate time where I felt afraid of losing all that I had: family, community, God, even myself. It took a while, but eventually came the day where I was motivated enough to start working on my heart, no matter the cost. I opened up about my struggles, and started attending group therapy for addiction recovery. There I met others in the exact same desperate situation. Each of us knew that we had nothing, and were willing to do whatever it took to get clean.
Well, most of us, that is.
There was one person who adamantly maintained that he didn’t have a real problem. Maybe just a little one, but nothing really serious, and so he was only here to appease the people that had made him come. He did not last long.
There was another who knew he had a real problem, but he also had very little to lose because of it. He was young, and still comfortable in his parents home, with no meaningful relationships being damaged, no bills stacking up, and not in danger of losing a job. Unlike the rest of us, he did not see the gates of Hell opening wide beneath his feet. He did not last long either.
When these two discussed their situation, it was evident that they were just as spiritually wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked as the rest of us. But they weren’t ready to face the music, because, like the scripture says, they told themselves “I have need of nothing.” Perhaps they will be back when they finally feel the heat.

I would thou wert cold or hot
As I said, I was afraid that I might lose my family, my fellowman, my God, and even my own self. And in that moment of terror, God was able to work with that because I was all in.
It’s been a couple years now, and I have not only seen a light at the end of the tunnel, I have started to drink deeply of it. I have feel so much more happy now, and I have a passion to care for my soul, to show love to my family, to support my fellowman, and to follow my God. Obviously, God is able to work with that, too, because I am still all in.
To “have need of nothing” is the greatest possible curse. If we are lukewarm, sitting on the fence, neither coming nor going, no skin in the game, got nothing to lose, not a care in the world…then our journey is over before it began. We are consigned to the ranks of the forever mediocre.
Get cold or get hot. Get desperate or get rapturous. Give a damn so you can get a taste of heaven.