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  The Experience of Deprivation and Loss in Early Recovery From Addiction
Is the Non-Addicted Life Worth Living?
Floyd P. Garrett, M.D.
 
 

The early stage of recovery from a serious addiction such as alcoholism is usually experienced by the addict, not as recovery, but instead as loss, deprivation or even punishment. For the addict, the un-addicted life rarely seems worth living. And the prospect of a life without his addiction often seems to him like a cruel jest when it is dignified with what to him is the ridiculous name of recovery.

Although the addicted individual is in reality beginning to move in the direction of health and sanity by separating from his addiction, he is seldom able at the outset to feel good or optimistic about this separation. And because such separation is seldom altogether voluntary but often comes about because of some kind of external pressure(spouse, job, health, legal) the individual commonly feels misunderstood, unfairly treated, put upon, and prodded to do something šstopping his addiction- that he is not quite ready to do. Resentment at circumstances and self-pity for his present and also future state of deprivation are exceedingly common and can endanger the continuation of recovery.

For the addict still in the clutches of his addiction, the prospect of having to live the rest of his life deprived of his substance or process of choice often seems quite literally a fate worse than death. It is not surprising, therefore, that many addicts prefer to continue their addiction even though they realize it may kill them prematurely š for their vision of the unaddicted life is one of perpetual, unremitting, hopeless deprivation.

Considered in this context the seemingly self-destructive and even suicidal behavior of active addicts and alcoholics begins to make more sense: the addict is merely choosing what to him seems obviously the lesser of two evils, a difficult and very likely foreshortened existence with his addiction as opposed to a longer, smoother but infinitely(as he sees it) more miserable and hopeless existence deprived of it. The addict may be perfectly aware that his addiction is killing him yet able to rationalize this knowledge as a kind of ¤quality of life issueË in which a brief life that includes his addiction is preferable to a longer one that is deprived of it. For to the addict in pre- or early recovery, the un-addicted life seldom seems worth living.

A serious nicotine(cigarette) addict, confronted by a concerned family member with the obvious irrationality of continuing to smoke in the face of the worsening health consequences of smoking, may respond defiantly and indignantly by saying ¤Smoking is the only real pleasure I get in my life. I know it is bad for me, but it╠s my choice. I╠m not hurting anyone but myself.Ë The attitude here is ¤How dare you or anyone else try to interfere with my freedom to manage my unhappy life the best way I can?Ë For it is surely an unhappy life if the only real pleasure one enjoys is smoking cigarettes!

The drinking alcoholic who is similarly challenged about his heavy drinking by someone concerned about him may respond in just the same scandalized way out of a mindset of martyrdom and deprivation. The addict typically believes that life is already difficult enough for him even with what he experiences as the consolation and relief of his addiction, hence that the suggestion that he relinquish the one thing šhis addiction- that has made life even halfway bearable is unfeeling and unreasonable. The very idea that he should now be asked to forego his addiction after all he has had to put up with in life through no fault of his own strikes him as both outrageous and preposterous, like adding insult to injury.

If you had an X like I do you would Y too is the formula for this exceedingly common kind of addictive rationalization. X stands for anything that in the mind of the addict justifies his addiction, e.g. marriage, job, difficult childhood, finances, health problems, life trauma, troubled relationships; Y refers to alcohol, drugs, or addictive processes such as food, sex, spending and gambling.

The addiction is thus both a means of coping with life and also a kind of special bonus and reparation for the injustices the addict has had to put up with. It validates the addict╠s grievances and acknowledges his special status as sufferer to whom relief is due. To suggest that he give it up is therefore a double injury: first, to his ability to obtain relief from his sufferings and second to his sense of fairness and justice. For he secretly believed that he is owed his addiction by virtue of the difficulties and injustices he has had to endure, hence that to deprive him of it is to deny him justice.

The addict who is beginning to separate from his addiction usually experiences negative feelings from several sources at once: (1) the acute life crisis that has caused him even to consider recovery from his addiction, (2) the physical and psychological effects of withdrawal from his substance or process of choice, (3) the challenge of managing feelings without resort to his addiction, and (4) the fear and despair that result from his vision of perpetual suffering and deprivation over the loss of his addiction.

Formidable as all of the above obstacles to recovery certainly are, they by no means exhaust the challenges frequently faced by serious addicts at the critical and pivotal stage of early recovery. There is a still deeper and more daunting loss to be faced, that of the addict╠s very self. For lasting and rewarding recovery from serious and advanced addiction is seldom obtained without a profound transformation of personal identity that involves the loss, even the death of the old, addicted, sick and false self, and its replacement by the new, non-addicted, healthy and authentic self.

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Original Papers

The Addict's Dilemna

Addiction, Lies and Relationships

Addiction and the Mechanisms of Defense

Alcohol Addiction

Drug Therapy of Alcohol Dependence

Excuses Alcoholics Make

The Female Partner of the Male Alcoholic

Getting Away With Addiction? 

Intervention for Alcohol and Drug Dependence

Obstacles to Recovery from Addiction

Prescription Drug Abuse

Prolegomenon to the Metaphysics of Recovery

What is Recovery?

Why is Recovery So Hard?

Worried Sick About His Drinking?

Your First AA Meeting: An Unofficial Guide for the Perplexed

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