This is the second installment in our series on the Seven Deadly Sins. The first we covered was envy, right before taking a short break to cover the difference between envy and jealousy. Now, our series continues with a discussion on sloth. This is one of many character defects to be covered in this series with which most addicts and alcoholics should be very well familiar. In fact, many of us could practically refer to it as a way of life.
Unfortunately, this does not always go away when we enter recovery. We are so accustomed to lacking responsibility that it can be hard to hit the ground running when we finally make the decision to return to the fold. If we do not learn to recognize the harm that sloth has done to our lives during active addiction, then we will have little motivation to undergo a necessary change. We will continue a lifestyle of laziness and procrastination until we inevitably wake up one day and find that we aren’t where we want to be in life. What’s worse, we have no idea how to get there anymore.
We have the opportunity to change this, to put aside our former life of sloth and become fully-fledged and functional human beings. And while we may do so begrudgingly at first, we will be thankful we decided to make this lifestyle change when we begin to discover how much easier it is to look ourselves in the mirror every day. Letting go of sloth and procrastination is about more than simply staying sober, although that is definitely a huge part of it. More than anything, it’s about being able to say that we are truly the people we want to be. For that, no effort we put forth should ever feel like a burden.
Defining Sloth as a Cardinal Sin
It’s worth noting that sloth actually has a few meanings as far as the Seven Deadly Sins are concerned. The first is common laziness, to such an extreme extent that one may suffer financially as a result of it. Inactivity will often result in boredom, and it will not be long before the addict or alcoholic is attempting to fill the silence with their substance of choice. For this reason, inactivity is to be avoided.
That said, there are also texts in which the word “sloth” is replaced by the word “dejection.” This is quite fitting, as those of us who fall into depression will not generally be at our most active. Maybe this is not laziness in its purest sense, but it can still be absolutely dangerous for those of us who frequently struggle with negative emotions. We will lose interest in all things, and it is at this point that we will begin to run out of reasons for staying sober. By this definition, sloth is almost more of an emotional experience than a mere character defect.
Aside from physical and emotional sloth, there is also spiritual sloth. This can be defined as a sense of sheer apathy toward our spiritual lives, or simply a tendency to procrastinate when it comes to spiritual growth. This is the sort of thing that should begin going away in early recovery, but it will definitely take much longer for some than it will for others. Note that sloth in this sense does not mean simply questioning your faith. This is normal. Spiritual sloth is more about refusing to make any progress, caring little for the notion of spiritual recovery.
In the end, it doesn’t matter which definition of sloth is currently causing you trouble. If you are able to recognize that inactivity, dejection, or spiritual apathy has gotten the better of you, then you have an obligation to fix the issue as soon as you possibly can. Putting it off and procrastinating will most certainly not be a solution. But before we get into the solutions to the above issues, we should talk a little bit about how sloth might affect you in active addiction. Hopefully, recognizing the harm that sloth has done will be a strong motivator to try and seek an immediate solution.
Sloth’s Role in Active Addiction
Sloth and addiction have something of a symbiotic relationship. As we drink or abuse drugs, we are prone to inactivity, apathy, and spiritual sloth as well. By the same token, our increasing tendencies to exhibit these forms of sloth will give us little reason to do more with our lives than drink them away and waste our time doing drugs. By the same token that substance abuse causes laziness and procrastination, so do laziness and procrastination frequently result in substance abuse. We have to break the cycle somewhere, or our lives will never change for the better.
Many of us break the cycle beginning with our substance abuse. Some may enter treatment, while others may simply begin attending AA or NA at the behest of a loved one. But after we leave treatment, we must stave off our tendency toward inactivity or else risk the cycle beginning right where it left off. Without a sense of purpose in our lives, we have no reason to get off our rear ends in the morning. And if addiction is good for one thing, it is leaving our lives bereft of any sense of purpose whatsoever.
Our apathy will often play a role in our active addiction as well. Emotional sloth has a tendency to dull our senses as to the extent that our actions have harmed others. Without this tie to our morals, values and ethics, we have little motivation to get sober. And while it is often said that we should improve for ourselves rather than for others, we still must be mindful of the effects that our actions have on those we love. If this sense of mindfulness does not come before our baser actions have been committed, there is a good chance that the pursuing guilt will do just as much damage as had been done by our apathy.
Given the importance of a spiritual remedy in recovery, it should come as no surprise that spiritual sloth can help fuel our addictions as well. Again, there is something of a symbiotic relationship here. Many have turned to drugs and alcohol after losing faith. Others have lost faith after turning to drugs and alcohol. No matter which came first, we must work to regain the drive and motivation that we have lost if we ever wish to enter true recovery and remain sober for the foreseeable future.
Overcoming Sloth in Recovery
Taking each form of sloth on its own, we may first cast our focus upon sheer inactivity. The answer to overcoming this form of sloth is simple—one must find activities to fill the day. If work and/or school will not do the trick, the next answer may be to find a few extra activities. Find something you enjoy, something you can do to feel as if you are treating yourself while perhaps making a few new friends in the process. We need to work while we are in recovery, but all work and no play will cause life to feel meaningless and dull. Find a way to have some healthy fun, and see if you can incorporate this into a sober routine.
Apathy should begin to go away on its own, but you should still find a few ways to work on it. The best option—and one with which many in recovery are quite familiar—is to perform some measure of service work. When you put yourself out there and begin helping people, be they other addicts or simply people in need, you will start to develop a real sense of empathy. Even better, you may find that this begins to get rid of your spiritual sloth as well.
It can be difficult to get rid of spiritual sloth when you are in a real funk, but the easiest answer is to begin embracing Step Two as well as the Second Tradition. Answers may often come to you when you aren’t searching; however, you can only go so long before accepting that this approach has failed to yield results. After a while, you must start trying to forge your own answers in regard to how you perceive spirituality. If you’re really stuck for answers, try asking other people in recovery. You may be surprised at some of the unique and open-minded responses you receive.
No matter what form of sloth is ailing you, the answer is not to wait for it to subside. This is simply feeding the same character defect of which you wish to rid yourself. You must be proactive, and in time you will find that drive and motivation have overcome laziness and procrastination completely. This will solidify your faith in recovery, not to mention your faith in yourself. It may not happen overnight, but effort alone is not enough to combat this defect. You must also embrace the ways of patience. Once you have done so, a fully functional life of virtue will await.