Recently I was reminded of a statement I heard years ago: “If you’re not recovering, you are relapsing.” Although this statement often applies to those who have had issues with addiction of some kind, whether drugs, alcohol, food or any other substance, I believe it also applies to many other things we struggle to change in our lives. It might be relationships with other people. It might be aspects of your spiritual walk or relationship with God. Whatever it is, we can all relate to having things we want or need to change.
This summer, I will have been in “recovery” from an eating disorder for 25 years. I say recovery because for the most part, I have been extremely successful. That being said, there have also been relapses here and there along the way. Even recently, it reared its ugly head and manifested itself in an entirely new way I would have never expected. I was caught completely off guard, though it eventually started becoming clear what triggered the downward progression. Like most people who don’t want to admit something has gotten the better of them – even if only momentarily – I initially denied, then rationalized my behavior. “But I’m not doing it the same way most people do,” I said. “I am in complete control and know full-well what the risks are. I’m not stupid!” I kept saying it to others, and to myself, but eventually it reached a point where I could no longer deny it and started making serious steps to get a handle on it once again.
My experience with this made me think about all the other mindsets and ways of thinking we all have about things in our lives. It might be an actual addiction to a substance or it might be an addiction to a particular behavior or routine. Sometimes our addictions involve the old tapes playing in our heads that are easier to leave playing than to make an effort to turn them off. We get used to the familiar even if we know it is bad for us. We gravitate to old coping mechanisms and techniques even though we know the end result will actually make it more difficult for us to actually cope!
We all have these ways of thinking and if someone tries to tell you they have never been touched by “addiction,” they are lying. It may not look like what many people think of when they hear that word, but an addiction is defined by Webster’s dictionary as “a strong and harmful need to regularly have something or do something.” Maybe you overeat or under-eat because you are doing it out of emotion. Maybe you constantly gravitate to people who do not treat you well because you’ve been convinced you don’t deserve anything better. We spend money we don’t have or over commit to projects or people because it’s been beaten into our heads that saying “no” somehow makes us bad or selfish. We go to church because someone told us that God will be mad at us if we don’t. We wear elaborate masks because we think it’s easier than looking in the mirror and facing the truth. We turn over a new leaf and make a commitment to ourselves (and even to those around us) that we are going to change but eventually find ourselves right back in the same boat again and again.
We relapse! Yes…I said “WE” relapse…all of us. Sometimes we relapse because we are lazy. Sometimes we relapse because we become too confident in ourselves or our abilities. Sometimes we relapse simply because we are human. We are imperfect people in an imperfect world. That fact does NOT excuse us or our behaviors, but I have learned that it doesn’t do any good to beat ourselves up when we fail. We have a God who loves us and forgives us completely when we simply ask. Are there consequences of our behaviors? Most certainly, but He has even promised to give us the grace and strength to endure the consequences as long as we lean on Him and trust Him to do so. That is where our recovery begins.
Recovery is not easy…not from any behavior we seem to struggle with. New habits are hard to form, and we are impatient creatures! Recovery is sometimes very slow and methodical even though we want things to change right now! Once we truly realize how warped our thinking or behavior is, we want it to be different but we don’t want to spend the time (and sometimes pain) it takes to get there. Unfortunately things do not just happen on their own! It takes effort. It takes us being continually aware and making conscious choices to do things differently. It is a life-long “recovery” process!
It’s been said that life is all about how we move forward. I like to think of that a little differently. I believe life is all about how we move forward AFTER we have fallen backwards. If I am continually striving for perfection, I will continually be a failure in my own mind. If I believe I am a failure when I stumble in life, then I will become fearful of getting back up. And when I believe it is safer or easier to just stay where I am than to get up and risk falling at some point in the future, then I am choosing to become a slave to “relapse.” I am choosing to give control of my future to the very things or people that want nothing more than to steal that future from me. On the other hand, if I believe life is all about an ebb and flow, falling and soaring, then I know it is possible that success may lie in the very next step that I take forward. That is what drives me on toward the next breath sometimes when I am struggling under the weight of my all-too-familiar weaknesses or faulty thinking. Recovery is a choice. It is believing that falling does not make me a failure and stumbling doesn’t mean I will never succeed in changing the things I want to change. It isn’t about sitting on the shore to avoid being knocked down by the waves; it is about learning to recognize the tide so that when we lose our footing and fall down, we are not pulled into the depths of the sea.
Relapse or recovery? Whichever you find yourself in today, or at this time in your life, take heart in knowing you are not alone. We are all moving one direction or the other when it comes to our “addictions.” No matter how big or small the change you are trying to make may be, just remember this: If you are not moving away from those negative things or behavior, then you are moving toward them. The beautiful reality of it all is that every breath is a new beginning and every heartbeat is a chance to start again. That is what life is all about.