The Four Paradoxes in Addiction Recovery

Trudging a tough road to be free

Regaining awareness of and acting upon one’s genuine values is one of the most crucial tasks during recovery. 

What is the fundamental process of twelve-step recovery? A person who follows a good program can completely change who they are in a matter of months: Before receiving treatment, they might have identified as agnostic or atheistic, but afterwards, they might feel the presence of a higher power in everything they do. They now surround themselves with friends and family, even though they may have thought of themselves as loners and behaved accordingly. Even though they may have given up on everything, they now believe that good things are still ahead. 

People may observe in shock and think, “There’s no way that’s authentic,” as it’s a total 180° turn from their days of drug or alcohol abuse. They’re acting everything but honest.” 

However, they’re not: good Twelve Steppers have discovered a spiritual cure that helps them to believe again in everything, including the universe. They have adopted a new set of behaviours and beliefs that seem to address a wide range of issues, and they have found forgiveness and peace for their actions during their active addiction. 

And they’ve accepted the paradoxes of recovery, whether they know it or not. 

Photo by William Farlow on Unsplash

What are the Four Paradoxes in Recovery? 

A person starts two distinct processes at the same time, both equally crucial to their recovery from addiction when they check themselves into treatment for alcoholism or other drug abuse

  1. Abstinence from drug or alcohol abuse
  2. Restoring and strengthening a core system of beliefs

The first one is obvious and imperative: a person cannot recover from addiction if they continue to use alcohol or other drugs. There are some exceptions, like medication-assisted treatment and the use of Suboxone, but generally speaking, complete abstinence is mandatory.

However, what about the other process? Why is the restoration of a fundamental set of values necessary? A person who is actively addicted probably betrays their morals to satiate their compulsive cravings and addictive behaviours. It’s not a cause for shame because addiction is a disease. Regaining awareness of and acting upon one’s genuine values, however, is among the most significant tasks one can perform during recovery. 

It is within this process that the paradoxes appear: 

The First Paradox: Our Pain Preserves Our Health 

Addiction, according to some, is like living a different life: the need to use drugs or alcohol is unavoidable and constant, and the person with an addiction must constantly make plans for when to give in to their next craving. Their obsession overtakes their relationships, careers, financial and physical self-care. They are utterly alone with their addiction, even in a crowded room. And it’s just a matter of time until everything collapses. A person can only take so much before they lose it all. 

In Twelve Step meetings, this is referred to as “growing sick and tired of being sick and tired,” and everyone in recovery knows what this means on an instinctual level: addiction has made life miserable and unmanageable for the individual as well as for their relationships with friends and family. It’s a never-ending nightmare, but it’s also the power that can help someone get sober and, hopefully, stay sober. 

That suffering and the gift of desperation form the foundation for healing and hope. When someone learns how to work a Twelve Step programme and escape the suffering caused by addiction, they resolve never to go back to that utterly hopeless state so that suffering will always play a part in their recovery. By admitting defeat, they win.

The Second Paradox: We Give Up to Be Victorious 

Surrender is a typical instruction given to newcomers in addiction recovery persons, but it cannot be obvious. It’s interesting to note that Alcoholics Anonymous does not use the word surrender to describe the Twelve Steps, which makes learning how to surrender even more difficult. 

To be clear, giving up means overcoming life’s challenges and fighting. To follow the Twelve Steps, a person must dismantle all of the mental and emotional barriers they have erected: they must stop resisting the program. No more struggling to complete tasks by yourself. No more trying to control people and things. No more battling the past and Higher Powers. Leave things alone and allow life to flourish within. 

Giving up something allows other things to flourish and different belief systems to take root. Surrender is accepting that addiction has caused chaos and misery in one’s life. Accepting that there is an answer outside one’s head is surrender: “My best thinking got me here.” 

After that, a person can start living in the solution, make room for the Steps, and let go of self-defeating and selfish behaviour. 

The Third Paradox: Our Rebirth Occurs in Death 

Gestalt therapist Fritz Pearls once observed, “To suffer one’s death and be reborn is not easy.” For much the same reason, the road to recovery is also not easy—it is never simple to dismantle one’s addictive identity. An early Alcoholics Anonymous member made the statement that the Steps are a lifetime process of uncovering, discovering, and discarding.

People rapidly reiterate that they “leave claw marks” on everything they have to let go of in treatment facilities and Twelve Step gatherings worldwide. This may result from their fear of the unknown and attempting novel experiences. The new villain may be scarier than the well-known one. 

However, when an individual can let go of their addictive ego, fear will gradually give way to newfound confidence and the capacity to find beauty in everything, including the present moment and the rest of life. 

The Fourth Paradox: We Give Up to Keep It

Once an individual has completed the first nine Steps, they will get to the section of the program devoted to “recovery maintenance.” The guidelines for maintaining an honest lifestyle consist of steps 10 through 12:

  • Making nightly inventory
  • Talking to a higher power
  • Volunteering in the recovery community 

At this point, a person will hopefully reflect on their journey. If they examine closely enough, they will undoubtedly notice the thumbprints of innumerable people who were concerned enough to offer assistance: the competent and emphatic therapists, the welcoming Twelve Steppers who met each person at the door, and the caller during that late-night panic attack, who was the patient sponsor. 

Every recovery success has a debt: the individual owes the community to continue giving back to everyone. Furthermore, a person receives far more from this act of giving than they could have imagined: a full recovery and a lifetime of happiness. As the saying in AA goes, “You keep what you have by giving it away”.

Even though addiction is a life lived away from oneself, recovery is the process of returning to oneself. And in this paradox lies the beauty of recovery from addiction!

If you or your loved one is struggling with addiction, call Freephone at 0800 140 4044

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