Recovery Workshop: Lesson Twelve

Recognizing Unhealthy Recovery Patterns

This lesson focuses on some of the common patterns seen in workshop participants, then looks at some unhealthy thought patterns and behaviours you will want to watch for as you continue on with your recovery.

Four Common Patterns Seen in Workshop Participants

1) The first group propels themselves through the first several weeks of the workshop on pure hope and enthusiasm...and as those emotions wane, they find themselves bored or frustrated that they are being asked to put forth effort...without receiving much in return. This is their perception, mind you...not the reality. But perception is all they are used to making decisions on, and so 'immediate gratification' gets the best of them, and they leave the workshop long before they ever truly commit themselves to applying any of the information.

Why do people in this group usually leave? The most common reasons have been that they joined the workshop to solidify an already advanced recovery — and it simply isn't worth all of the work that was required; they joined the workshop more out of a curiosity, than a sincere desire to change; they wanted to be taken through recovery, rather than being expected to participate. Or, they felt panic at the thought of truly ending their addictions, and found a way to rationalize quitting: either through one or two concepts that they disagreed with, a response from the community or their coach that pissed them off, etc.

2) The second group act similar to the first, with the key exception being that they often return to the workshop several weeks/months later with a renewed hope and enthusiasm. Unfortunately, those feelings also die out, and they find themselves in a relapse/recovery pattern that is frequently seen in 12-Step programs. Occasionally, a small percentage will break free from this pattern, and the principles involved with a healthy recovery will attach. The majority though, will continue skipping from recovery program to recovery program over the course of many years...and perhaps forever.

3) This third group tends to work through the lessons with sincerity and passion, taking breaks every now and then to deal with "life"...but they never seem to lose that initial commitment that they have made to themselves. If a lesson doesn't make sense, or they feel as if they have not put forth their best effort, they go the extra mile to ask questions, or to return to previous exercises and update them. Their initial enthusiasm with the workshop is transitioned into a developing confidence in their recovery...and this confidence then produces the motivation to continue with the lessons. At some point, an epiphany occurs, and they realize that it is not the workshop that is changing them, but their own decisions and actions. It is at that point that recovery becomes an inevitability in their life, rather than a dream. They will have begun to focus heavily on the lessons that apply to them, and passively skim over those which don't.

Some at this stage, feel that they no longer have the need to continue with the workshop, as they are anxious to "get on with their life"...and believe that they have laid the foundation for doing just that. Others remain not because they think they have to, but because they want to continue the momentum that they have built. Both approaches can be healthy. Finishing this workshop is not critical to your recovery. It will be what you do with the information that you gain from not only here, but all available resources that will determine your fate.

People in this group will recover. Whether they continue with the workshop or not...they will find a way to overcome their addiction. And, barring any major traumatic event, will remain relatively healthy throughout the remainder of their lives.

4) The fourth group is the one that I wish to focus on here, as it it the group that most of you will find yourselves in. Participants who have made it this far will usually share the following characteristics:

They will have completed the majority of exercises with sincerity and passion, but they tend to move on to the next without ever thinking much about what they have already learned.

They put forth the required amount of effort in their participation, but only rarely go that "extra mile". The one where they take the information and use it for their own benefit, in their own way. Establishing a private workbook, writing out (or just thinking about) additional personal ways that the information may pertain to them.

They tend to analyze the risk/reward benefits of what they are being asked to do, before making the decision to do it. At least later in the workshop.

Though they are sincere about wanting to recover, they keep the workshop separate from their "addictive identities" that, they intellectually try to understand what they are learning...and physically try to apply it to their lives, but only in appearance...not in substance. Several exercises where this can be seen would be in Day Seven, where they were instructed to take out their values list in between each urge/decision to act; Later in the workshop, when they are asked to keep a log of their time; and in the Advanced Topics area, where they are asked to complete an evaluation form for each time they acted out.

Those who find themselves in this final group, most often ignored the physical act of pulling out the list and reading it; most often thought about the actions they would have documented in the Time Management log...or spent one or two documentation sessions trying to remember days and days of information — rendering the exercise useless; most often ignored the instruction to complete the evaluation form for one of several reasons, or they completed it for less than 25% of the times that they have actually acted out.

This is not to say that they have been insincere or have failed...not at all. Only that such behavior is common with this group. And the reasons for the behavior...laziness, monotonous, boredom, "getting nothing tangible in return", incorrect anticipation of why the exercise is being requested...these are the wrinkles that will need to be identified and smoothed out before that final transition is made.

People in this group spend the majority of the workshop looking for proof that what they are doing is working, or that it will work — which prevents them from fully investing themselves in their recovery.

Why this last group is so important...

Because with very few exceptions, by the time groups one through three have reached the later stages of the workshop, their fates for a healthy recovery in the next year or so are already sealed. Groups one and two will not experience it. Group three will. But it is this fourth group that will be at a crossroads. They will be at a point where they will need to make decisions that will impact the remainder of their life...and they will need to make these decisions based on their desire of how they wish to live the remainder of their life: with stability and health; or with chaos. And the choice is not an easy people naturally prefer to remain in familiar situations: which in the case of addiction is chaos. It is the choice of stability and health that is the risk...

The remainder of this area will expand the focus of the participation styles within this workshop to the participation in general addiction recovery. Your goal will not be to select the category in which you fit, but to identify your own thoughts and behaviors in each of these relatively unhealthy categories. Remember that not every thought and/or behavior can be directly applied to each individual, as they must be seen in the context of the individual's life/recovery. But what you can be assured of, is that the general patterns that are identified are very real. And if you do happen to see many of your thoughts/behaviors listed in one of the unhealthy will need to make some decisions as to whether or not you want to explore the possibility of changing these thoughts/behaviors...or whether you want to take a chance on being one of the rare exceptions that display the patterns, but not the fate.

Those Who Will Continue to Struggle With Relapse

General Behavioral Pattern: Individuals who attempt recovery yet continue to struggle with significant patterns of relapse that may last for years at a time. Often it is an "on again/off again" recovery pattern, with the "on again" phase being triggered by being caught engaging in unhealthy behavior.

Those who struggle with major relapse, tend to exhibit the following patterns:

They often feel forced into recovery (e.g. legal consequences, social expectations, treatment demands)

Their motivation for recovery comes from an attempt to appease others (e.g. to save a relationship; to deflect attention from the behaviors)

They minimize their behavior (e.g. "It's not how it seems"; "It's not that big of a deal.")

They actively prepare their environment for successful acting out by: setting a preliminary foundation for excuses/alibis; seeking out times/situations where they will be unaccountable to anyone but themselves; laying the foundation for the emotional manipulation of others who may pose a confrontational threat (e.g. their spouse), etc.

They believe that they are uniquely defective and/or damaged as human beings

They believe that they have suffered so many consequences from their compulsive behavior, that it will be impossible for them to reach their lifetime goals

They believe that what they are experiencing is their fate

They are inflexible in re-evaluating their lifetime goals (e.g. "Since I have failed so far at being a professional actor, athlete, writer, etc., I can't be successful at anything." "Since I cannot be around to raise my children, I will always remain unfulfilled as a parent.")

They suspect that they will never be able to overcome their urges, and so their goals are to establish the appearance of change, rather than to pursue actual change.

They find comfort in being able to use "powerlessness" as an excuse for continuing to engage in their behavior.

Relapse triggers are seen as opportunities to act out.

They often attempt to "prove" their sincerity to others through voicing dreams, sharing words and making promises, rather than through their actions.

They find comfort in knowing that they can play the "relapse card" should they ever be caught acting out

They often experience selfish thoughts when caught acting out (e.g. "Why didn't I see this coming?" "Why didn't I cover that up better?" "Why do I cause myself so much pain?")

They tend to be experienced by significant others across the entire emotional scale. Their emotional experiences are usually presented in their extreme: from shame and embarrassment, to aloofness, to placing their partner on the highest pedestal — the relationships tends to continue shifting between extremes. Which stage is currently being experienced by others will be directly related to the person's ability to manipulate others, how many times they will have been caught in contradicting behavior, and how willing/able the significant other is to leave the relationship.

Those Who Will Occasionally Struggle with Relapse

General Behavioral Pattern: Individuals who attempt recovery yet continue to struggle with occasional mild/moderate patterns of relapse. Quite often, it is the abstinence that can last for many years, with relapse coming in binges, rather than sustained patterns. Though it is also an "on again/off again" recovery pattern, the "on again" is most frequently triggered by their own guilt and shame for returning to the behaviors, rather than being caught engaging in such behavior.

Those who find relative success in recovery over the course of many, many years, tend to exhibit the following patterns:

They often jump from addiction to addiction, and are particularly susceptible to hyper-religiosity and hyper-recovery. They put out fires by refocusing on other areas of their life. When these areas involve compulsive behavior — their use of addiction to manage their lives continues.

They believe that they are suffering from a disease that is beyond their control, but not beyond all hope.

They believe that they are defective in the sense that their emotions, urges, impulses, etc. are experienced with much more intensity than "normal people". And this puts them at a disadvantage for living a "normal life".

They tend to confuse addiction recovery with general mental health issues — creating a hypersensitivity to all of the emotions that they experience. Depression, anxiety, anger — they are all tightly related to "recovery" and an imbalance in one often leads to an imbalance in the other.

They perceive "powerlessness" not as absolute powerlessness over their life, but a limited powerlessness over their urges.

They often attempt to convince others of their recovery by offering their "new identity" as proof. Again, most often seen with hyper-religiosity and hyper-recovery situations.

Relapse triggers are feared, and so their lives continue to be altered as a result of addiction.

They tend to focus on controlling past behavior, rather than learning new behavior.

They tend to see life in episodes — with beginnings and endings — rather than as a process.

They consistently measure the success of their recovery through abstinence, rather than emotional stability and personal satisfaction.

They often experience extreme emotions in relation to acting out — extreme guilt, extreme shame, depression, anger, hatred. Or, they experience very mild emotions — when it has become a pattern that they have resolved to accept as a part of their lives.

They tend to hyper analyze their actions, thoughts and feelings...and make the possibility of living a "normal" life all but impossible.

They continue to identify themselves with their addiction and cannot imagine a life without such an association.

Significant others tend to experience these individuals as exhausting. Capable of achieving anything they set their minds to...though unsure of what it is they will eventually settle their minds on. The relationships themselves tend to be selfish, focusing on the "addict", more so than the partnership. While love and admiration and long-term stability can still be achieved, it is often at the expense of the partner's individuality.

Keep in mind, the goal here is not to associate yourself with a particular label or category, but to take an objective look at your current thoughts and behaviors. And then to compare those behaviors to others who have thought similarly.

That you may identify with many thoughts/behaviors in the categories presented here (as opposed to the healthy patterns) does not mean that you are on the wrong track. Only that you will need to make some major decisions regarding what is in your best interests for your future. As a general rule: the earlier you make these decisions, the better.

Lesson 12 Exercise:

I. Identify those patterns that you currently recognize in yourself in relation to an unhealthy recovery. Post these observations into your Recovery Thread and/or Recovery Manager.

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