When Recovery Becomes the Addiction

I’ve noticed something interesting in the halls of recovery: Some folks cling to their program so tightly that their addictive behavior latches on to the program itself. In my opinion, this can get unhealthy.

Mood music:

To find recovery in Overeater’s Anonymous (mine is a binge-eating addiction), the only requirement is to want to stop eating compulsively. It’s very simple. There is no “OA diet.” But there are a few different food plans people choose from. One is based on a “Dignity of Choice” pamphlet that outlines a few different plans. Then there’s the so-called “Grey Sheet” plan (included among the options in “Dignity of Choice”) a lot of recovering food addicts cling to like a passage from The Bible.

For them (not everyone, but quite a few people), there IS NO OTHER WAY. If you’re not following the food plan outlined there, you are not abstinent.

There’s also the mindset that you HAVE TO ABSTAIN FROM FLOUR AND SUGAR and have nothing in between meals to be abstinent. Eat an apple in between lunch and dinner and you break your abstinence and have to start over.

To me, this is an extreme that causes a lot of people to fail. In fairness, some people need the most rigid plan available to be well because their mental state demands the most brutal discipline to stay clean.

I get and respect that.

What I don’t get or respect is when someone following that plan tells someone they’re not being abstinent if they’re doing their own plan differently.

For the record, I don’t eat flour or sugar, and I don’t eat in between meals. I have to have it this way because the defect in my brain approaches anything in between as an invitation to binge. Flour and sugar, mixed together, had the same effect on me as heroin has on the more traditional junkie.

But not everyone can do it that way. There are many reasons for someone to do it differently. If you have diabetes, for example, following my exact food plan could be bad, maybe even lethal.

I also feel that if an apple between meals keeps you from binge eating, that’s what you do. If the more extreme among us tell you you’re not abstinent if you do that, they’re wrong.

In my view, folks who get that way become addicts of a different sort. The compulsive behavior centers around the program itself.

Don’t get me wrong. If doing it that way is what you have to do to stay away from the binges that made your life unmanageable, more power to you. It’s certainly better than the type of addictive behavior you displayed before finding the program.

What makes me uncomfortable is when that person tries to force their way onto everyone in the room.

There are also sponsors who insist you do your program exactly as they do, with no differences whatsoever. Even if another medical condition forbids you from eliminating all flour and sugar, these particular sponsors won’t work with you. That’s their choice, and they’re entitled to it. Some believe they’re not qualified to guide someone with a plan that’s different from their own. In some cases, that kind of sponsor comes off like someone on a power trip.

In some cases that’s true. In other cases, those folks are just afraid of breaking their own abstinence by letting a sponsee do something different. I understand that fear completely. Nobody wants to have a relapse. That’s the recovering addict’s biggest nightmare.

The problem is that when you give a sponsee no room to do it differently, you’re doing them more harm than good. Someone hungry for recovery gets turned off and walks away to resume their self-destructive behavior.

I sponsored four people at one point, and I eventually decided I had to take a break from it because I was worried that I wasn’t in the best position to tell these people what to do.

Call it the fear of making someone worse while trying to help them.

I decided to pull back and re-organize my own side of the street to prevent that sort of thing. 

It just goes to show that addictive minds never heal completely. When you put down the addiction that made you into a monster, you tend to redirect your compulsive nature onto other things — including the recovery plan itself.

This isn’t a criticism of people who are like that.

It’s just an acknowledgement of how hard and complicated recovery can be.


14 thoughts on “When Recovery Becomes the Addiction

  1. I am new here and just surfing a bit when your post caught my attention. For disclosure sake, I am not an addict but work in the field as a mental health professional, an addictions counselor and as a homeopath. Also was once married to an alcoholic.

    Whether it is the program, the religion, or the teacher, I definitely see this rigidity. In AA you can’t mention you are on ANY other drugs as mentioned. As a mental health professional other ways to reduce symptoms are given some time and attention but the primary focus is on medication. “My religion” and my new guru have the answers.

    I think it is a fear of free-falling of a sort. Since “I” have made mistakes both serious and costly I cannot trust my own instincts or logic, so must follow a plan. It is safe.

  2. Pingback: Even in Sobriety, Life Must Go On « THE OCD DIARIES

  3. I wanted to share a book about addiction I recently read. It’s called, Soaring Above Co-Addictions, by Lisa Espich.
    It’s helped me. Very much so, more than words can express. I’m not the best when it comes to writing, so all I can say, is check this out. Its an amazing book, that is full of countless tips, tools and tons of resources, that friends and family can use.
    I lost my zest for life, I felt broken, and this book lifted me up and inspired me. Made me want to share with everyone and anyone…

  4. well done for bringing this subject to life! i agree with you that this happens. i spent years relapsing in AA before being diagnosied with dual diagnosis i then couldnt tell anyone in AA i was on meds! for me its not about following someones program, no matter how many letters are behind their name, its about a quality of life and to start with harm reduction. everyone is different and being in a food program or AA is not any good for your soul if you live in fear of making a mistake on a daily basis. take in mind that their are some very sick people in the rooms of recovery and i find that recovery rooms that have facilitators work well as they keep the conversation in the room positive and can guide thing in the right direction, when they start to get a bit negative a good facilitator will advise a medical opinion when people talk about medication. just remember sick people feed of each others negitivity. im not saying everyone in recovery rooms are sick but that some are “old school” and not very open minded. i attend AA once a week as i have a lot of friends there and its a social as well as support group for me. god bless and stay well val

  5. This bleeds into AA in a way that can be dangerous. People take on the role of doctor and tell newcomers that if they take antidepressants, they’re not sober. Or if they take any type of psychiatric drugs, they’re not sober. This can lead to newcomers ditching their meds without talking to their doctors, which is dangerous beyond belief. In the Big Book, it clearly says that we get outside help where needed. For psychiatric and mood disorders, that’s the work of someone trained in psychiatry, not an armchair shrink with four years of sobriety who thinks they know everything. Thank you for this very thoughtful and insightful post.

  6. If you truly hold this belief, “It just goes to show that addictive minds never heal completely,” you are limiting yourself and you will never heal. Fortunately, for all of us, we have the ability to change the beliefs that create the *undesired* behavior in our lives.
    This should help make sense of what I’ve written: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2BCy2H4rQh0.
    Have a lovely day!

  7. Pingback: See? I Told You It’s a Real Addiction! « THE OCD DIARIES

  8. As a wise person once said, “there is no flour or sugar in organic peanut butter.” Or regular butter, for that matter.
    The person who said that was technically abstinent, but putting it back by eating globs of PB.

      • This comment came in through LinkedIn, but her points are so on the mark I needed to share here:

        I think that is well put and, in fact, I plan to share it. I have the same kinds of feelings about AA-I love it in that it works GREAT for some people, but I also hate it in that some people become so attached to the program that they allow it to interfear with the rest of their lives. “My Sponsor suggested I not go so I’m not, even though it will hurt people in my family” kinds of attitudes. Or they HAVE to do a meeting, so they don’t give aid to a friend in need. They often lose the line between “suggestion” and “requirement”.

        But Recovery (from whatever addiction) becomes a form of Religion, and like Religion, some people get confused about the fact that we were all created unique and individual, therfore having unique and individual needs. Thanks for sharing this in a way that is plesant and mindful.
        Posted by Taunta Beanie Taylor

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