12 Concepts of Recovery That Have Stood the Test of Time

overcomefist1. Purpose. I emphasize natural recovery from addiction. In particular, I talked about quizzing a large audience of participants at the International Cannabis Business Conference about their smoking histories. From one half to two-thirds of the group who had ever smoked had quit, virtually none had quit a smoking addiction due to treatment or a support group. As I said, a larger percentage of those ever addicted to meth, heroin, and cocaine have quit their habits than smokers, most often on their own.

Why do I always return to this subject? Because it makes clear the most self-evident thing about quitting addictions, or avoiding them in the first place—that people have larger purposes that rule out the allure of drugs, or alcohol, or smoking, or shopping, or random sex. And what are these reasons? What do you think people in the audience tell me when I ask them why they have quit?

The answers are self-evident: “I was worried about my health,” “I started thinking how stupid and self-destructive I was being,” “I was pissing away money I should have been saving for a home, or retirement, or my kids.” I often tell the story of Uncle Ozzie, a rabid union activist, who quit smoking when somebody pointed out he was a sucker to the tobacco companies—big businesses that were his sworn enemy.

But the number one reason people quit is embodied by the young girl who says to her father, “Why are you killing yourself—don’t you love me?” It doesn’t work all the time. But it is the number one motive for recovery. More people quit addictions—heroin, alcohol, coffee, nicotine—when they or their spouses become pregnant, or their children near the age of awareness, than for any other reason under the sun. We will explicate the underlying dynamic at work here—love—as the last item on this list.

2. Empowerment. Uncle Ozzie had a disgusting habit he was ashamed of—smoking four packs of cigarettes daily, lighting one cigarette with another at his workbench at a time when that was permitted, until his fingers were stained with that horrible, pale orange of tobacco. What a weak-willed, enslaved, pathetic creature! Then he quit and everyone marveled at his self-control. In fact, Ozzie watched his diet and walked and swam for exercise and lived a vibrant life of over 90 years.

What gave Ozzie the ability to overcome his overwhelming habit? Not having been taught anything to the contrary, he decided he had the power to change his behavior. His assertion of self-control then enhanced this power: “Once I knew I could quit cigarettes, I felt I could do just about anything.” Anything that practices and engages the person’s self-control (as Roy Baumeister and John Tierney describe in their best-seller,Willpower) strengthens that ability.

Empowerment is, thus, a trainable, practicable skill. It is certainly nothing to be discouraged or disparaged.

3. Values. Ozzie had one thing he valued above all else—the workingman versus the capitalist lackeys who ran his plant. So Ozzie had a strong, central value in his life—a critical tool for licking an addiction. But where was that value for the quarter of a century—between the ages of 18 and 42—when Ozzie was smoking like a chimney? Sometimes people bury, forget or lose their values. And they fail to recognize how their addiction affects what they value.

The most-often utilized treatment today in the addiction field is motivational interviewing. The best way to describe the MI process is as a value-surfacing exercise, represented by questions like: “What is the most important thing in your life? How does your smoking, drinking, drug use, sexual acting out affect this concern (spouse, children, religion, health, self-respect)?” The value may be submerged but, as with Ozzie, it is there at the core of the person’s being, waiting to be reasserted.

4. Mindfulness. So what is mindfulness? It is both a psychological (a la Ellen Langer) and a Buddhist concept. In the former usage, mindfulness is being aware of the forces that determine your behavior. In Buddhism, mindfulness emphasizes the here and now of lived experience. The two definitions express two sides of your ongoing anti-addiction awareness.

There are various meditations and exercises that allow you to find your core values—the real you beneath the surface of your disruptive and addictive behaviors. Imagine yourself  diving beneath the tumultuous waves of your existence, into a peaceful place where you can slowly rotate your body and your consciousness to be your true, free self—the person you want to be. That’s the parent, the person with integrity, the person who does the right thing, the healthy human being—the person who respects others, the universe, God’s work, themselves.

That’s right, we’re talking about you. And, as with will power, practicing the visualization and realization of your true self improves your ability to be that person. This realization is, thus, both a divine gift and a pragmatic skill.