We should all embrace the need to stand up for ourselves when necessary.
There are many different types of addicts and alcoholics. Many outsiders picture the substance abuser as someone who has trouble controlling their anger. They picture us as people who, with lowered inhibitions, will speak harshly or even commit acts of violence. They imagine that, compared to us, the Tasmanian Devil is the poster child for calm and rational behavior. But there is another type of addict for whom anger management is not the primary issue. Some of us simply do not know how to stand up for ourselves. Our drinking and drug abuse does not fuel our anger, but rather allows us to pretend we simply do not feel anger in the first place.
The ability to stand up for ourselves is very important to our survival in recovery. Let us turn to what may be a rather unexpected analogy—the movie Independence Day. The sequel is to be released this weekend, and it appears that the aliens are back to their landmark-destroying ways. This sequel would not be possible, however, if the first film had presented us as a society that did not know how to stand up for ourselves. The aliens would have won, and it would have been the worst America-themed movie ever.
Perhaps addicts and alcoholics are not facing a threat from another world. Nonetheless, we are combating a disease which in many ways feels quite alien to us. How can we have free will to make decisions, yet still be powerless over drugs and alcohol? It seems wrong, yet those who have lived it know that it is true. Even worse, our drug of choice is far from the only thing over which we lack control. Below, we will talk about the ability to stand up for ourselves both in recovery and in daily interactions. It is our hope that this discussion will teach our patients how to discover the true strength of sobriety.
Standing Up for Ourselves Against Addiction
Letting our health fall by the wayside for the sake of another fix is against our very survival instinct as human beings. Nonetheless, some of us are so resigned to our fate as addicts and alcoholics that we do just this. We practically embrace the concept of an early death, because we feel so beaten down by life itself. We allow drugs and alcohol to get the better of us, feeling that we are not strong enough to fight our urges. This tendency to believe that we are weak and incapable will only lead to tragedy in the end.
We may relate the story of one man who took such a path. He did not believe that he was strong enough to overcome his addiction. But he would not accept help, and so he resigned himself to his fate. After years of drinking, his kidneys gave out. He fell into a coma for one week. At the end of this week, he woke up feeling better than ever. Unfortunately, the damage was already done. Two days after he woke from his coma, he passed away in his sleep.
This story may seem unrelated to our need to stand up for ourselves, but it is not. Addiction is a terrible foe. It manipulates our minds just as badly as it manipulates our bodies. We become convinced that there is no way out, and so we travel ever further into the darkness. In doing so, we move closer and closer toward our end. At the end of the day, we have two choices—death or recovery. If we are willing to stand up for ourselves and fight against our disease, we will inevitably choose the latter.
When we make this decision we our standing up for many things. Our health. Our free will. Our right to experience life to its fullest, rather than give in to our crippling urges. Some may wonder how Step Three—the decision to give up our reliance on self-will—is compatible with standing up for ourselves. The answer is simple. By relying on something greater, be it our Higher Power or the strength of our support network, we are taking the weight of the world off our shoulders. Once we have done this, we will find that we actually command more strength than we ever did before.
Standing Up for Ourselves Against Others
People can be difficult. We get mad at someone because they showed us disrespect. We get mad at a train because we got stuck at the tracks while we were driving. In these cases, we do not need to stand up for ourselves so much as we need to learn the benefits of patience. At other times, however, we will be wronged. If we do not learn how to deal with this in a healthy manner, we will bottle our anger until we are at risk of exploding. By allowing this to happen, we will hurt ourselves in addition to those we love.
The biggest danger is that our inability to stand up for ourselves can lead to resentments. Our article on “How It Works” notes that this can be like poison to addicts and alcoholics. The longer we hold a grudge against others, the more their actions are able to affect us. In some cases, we simply need to get over it. In other cases, we need to make our feelings heard. It can sometimes be hard to tell the difference between these two instances, but those of us with some time in recovery should be able to manage.
In our article on whether or not we all have a dark side, we used a humorous example of those who become violently angry because someone forgot to flush the toilet. This may have seemed funny, but it is also an issue worth confronting. The question becomes whether or not we can confront things in a healthy manner. If our anger gets the best of us, then we cannot proclaim to have control over our emotions. Losing control is a bad way to stand up for ourselves. Instead, we must accept that other people have flaws, as do we. If we feel that their flaws are getting in the way of our quality of life, we must address this. At the same time, we must learn to do this respectfully.
We will always be surprised at how far respect can get us when standing up for ourselves. When director Kevin Smith learned that one of his films was being protested by Westboro Baptist Church, he took an unusual tact. Instead of fighting the protest, he decided to work with them. He gave them free tickets to his film, so that they would at least know what they were protesting. They did not change their minds about his work, but they at least resigned to sit through the film respectfully. Even when they decided to walk out in the middle of it, they were respectful and apologetic in doing so. He convinced a group known for their strident views to be respectful, primarily because he respected them in return. This is the best way to stand up for ourselves. It is a matter of honey versus vinegar. Honey almost always wins.
Learning to Stand Up for Ourselves in Treatment
When we enter addiction treatment, we meet many addicts and alcoholics who do not share our views. Some may respond by convincing ourselves that we are better than our fellow addicts. This leads our personalities to clash. We must then decide whether or not we are truly standing up for ourselves or simply acting out of belligerence. For those of us who are new to recovery, it can be hard to tell the difference.
Over time, however, it will become easier. Through individual and group therapy, we will learn more about our triggers. Not just the triggers that lead us to substance abuse, but those which lead us to anger as well. These are just as important, for emotional disturbance often paves a pathway toward relapse. If we can learn to stand up for ourselves without succumbing to rage and pettiness, then we can ultimately learn to avoid emotional disturbance. This is something which must be accomplished if we wish to remain sober.
What we are saying is that, as with all things in sobriety, there is a need for balance. Yes, we must stand up for ourselves. But we must also learn the value of empathy. We must learn to see that those who offend us, whether intentionally or not, are suffering from their own spiritual ills. We must also learn that we are not always right. Learning to tell the difference between the times in which we must stand up for ourselves and those in which we must accept that we are wrong is a difficult task.
These are things that we learn through our interactions in treatment. We can also learn them in sober living facilities, in which we must continue our sobriety while sharing a close living space with other people of differing beliefs. Nonetheless, we must learn them for the sake of our own sanity. For more information on the social aspects of recovery, contact Amethyst to learn more about our programs. In the meantime, simply try and remember that the need to stand up for ourselves is vital. But only as vital as the need to develop a sense of understanding with others. One without the other is incomplete.