Stupid Myths About Recovery

By Maer Roshan 04/07/11

Why willpower isn't always enough to persevere, and hitting rock bottom isn't the only road to sobriety.

Angels and Demons.
Photo via thinkstockphotos

For people caught in the clutches of active addiction, assinine adages about recovery can cause serious damage, by making treatment sound like a lame idea to the very people who might benefit from it most. So as a public service, an outfit called The Recovery Place in Fort Lauderdale recently compiled a list of misconceptions about alcoholism and addiction, along with some thoughtful responses from a panel of seasoned experts. We picked up three of the more prevalent cliches, while adding a bit of well-earned wisdom of our own.  "Most people live in a myth and grow violently angry if anyone dares to tell them the truth about themselves,” the Recovery Place waxed poetically as a prelude to its piece. Nice! Try using that on your alkie aunt if she gives you any guff about packing her bags for Betty Ford.

Myth #1: If you can't control your cravings you're just selfish and weak. If you exhibited just the slightest bit of willpower you could easily beat this thing. Sounds pretty reasonable, doesn't it? We'd all like to believe that we have control over our actions. But the truth is, most of our behavior in life is guided by factors beyond our control, which is why I think this well-worn maxim is one of the most destructive myths around. Think about it. Do you really enjoy waking up in a suburban Comfort Inn next to a married housewife who bears more than a remote resembelance to the handyman at work? Do you love waking up in a pool of your own vomit? Do you find it fun to black out six hours of your life every weekend?  As The Recovery Place notes: “No one would destroy their lives by a choice not influenced by some sort of psychological or physiological problem.” Addiction is caused by a complex set of genetic and psychological issues that nobody understands. All we know, really, is that addiction to anything—from Absolut to amphetamines, Subaxone to sex—is probably rooted in complex genetics. Also, it really sucks. And when cravings have actively got you in their grip, simple willpower usually doesn't stand a chance. 

Myth #2: Hitting rock bottom is the only way to achieve successful recovery. Bullshit, our experts retort.  It's true that some people need to hit rock bottom before they can be convinced to turn their lives around. But just as often, families intervene successfully, and convince their loved ones to trundle off to treatment with barely a whimper. But for most of us, the realization that we have a problem is a cumbersome and gradual process. No one wants to think of themselves as addicts or alcoholics. It's all so tawdry and gauche. But then there comes that day, after a 72-or 84-hour binge, when you finally wake up and realize that if you don't get help, you'll end up permanently losing your family, your job, and inevitably your life. That's when you may start to get your priorities straight, realize how little time you have left in this world; think about your anguished mom,  your angry boyfriend or your incredibly cute three-your-old nephew and decide how you'd like to spend the moments you have left.

Myth #3: If you relapse and drink or drug again, you give up all the gains you've made since you became sober and have to start all over again. Bullshit again! You're sure to risk many things in the course of your life—your hair, your credit rating, your dignity, and quite possibly your liver—but the one thing no one can steal take away from you is your experience. Nobody ever said that quitting drugs or alcohol would be easy.  But even if you suffer a few slips along the way, you never have to go back to square one, because you've already been there. Even a short stint of sobriety can provide you with a positive base on which you can build a new foundation, as well as friendships and a support group that you can rely on. Your past successes (and defeats) will provide you with a base of knowledge that can help you avoid future mistakes, and take you further along than you ever were before. We live in a world full of limitless possibilities. Giving up is the only thing that can keep you down.

Maer Roshan is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Fix. Previously he was Deputy Editor of New York Magazine, Editorial Director of Talk, Features Editor of Interview, and founder and Editor-in-Chief  of Radar Magazine and

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