Until three months down the road, and you find yourself sobbing in a corner, relapsed, or considering it, and on the verge of quitting this recovery thing altogether.
See, recovery is a tricky topic. It’s one thing to decide that you want to get better, but quite another thing to follow through on that, and a separate thing altogether to actually see the process through to the end.
For anyone recovering from an addiction of any sort, self harm, eating disorder, or even mental illness, I’d like to share five reasons why we are inclined to quit recovery, and some tips, both for anyone struggling, and for those who help them.
1. Lack of Support.
This is the most important and my least favorite aspect of recovery. I can’t say this enough. Support is vital. God didn’t create us to live life alone. Heck, in the perfect world He created, the only thing He said was not good was “to be alone.” I’m far too independent and far too stubborn for my own good – as my friends will readily tell you – but people need other people. People who are struggling especially need other people. You need healthy people. People who will lift you up, hold you accountable, speak truth into your life, and point you towards God.
If you’re struggling, talk to your friends. Talk to a counselor. Talk to someone. Find someone. Find a community. I would love to think that I’m competent on my own, that somehow, I can independently handle my problems, but truth is, I’m not, and neither are you. Bottling it all up, holding it all in, only means it will come out in other, destructive ways.
If you’re friends with someone who is recovering, an important thing to remember is that, in recovery, they need your love and care and support and encouragement and understanding more than they did when they were sick! Now, instead of drowning or suppressing their sorrows, they’re trying to work through them, and they need extra support–not less. Talk to them about things other than their struggles, ask how they are, check up on them, make sure they know they’re wanted and not just put up with. “Better” doesn’t mean “well”, and too often while friends may not stop caring, they do stop expressing that care once they hear the word “recovery.”
Believe me, I know how taxing it can be to help someone who’s struggling, which is why my second point is essential.
2. Trying To Do It All In Your Own Strength
Along the lines of the previous reason, while we desperately need other people, we also desperately need God. We need His support, His promises, His steadfast and unfailing love, His shelter, and we need to run to Him for our refuge when life gets too overwhelming. The times I’ve become the most overwhelmed, and wanted to quit the most, were the times that I wasn’t relying on God, wasn’t talking to my friends, and generally, trying to go it alone.
Talk to God. As the Psalmist says, “pour out your heart before Him, for God is a refuge for us.” (Psalm 62…easily one of my favorite chapters ever, of all time). There will be times when people can’t be there for you. He always is. And the amazing thing about God, I’m learning, is that while people can’t always handle the depth of emotion we sometimes feel, He can. He’ll take it all – the anger, the fear, the hatred, the pain, the sadness. He can handle it. He takes it, and He holds me.
This goes for everyone, across the board – whether you’re recovering, or just friends with someone who is recovering. You can’t solve the other person’s problems. Talk to Jesus. I can’t solve my own problems. So I will talk to Jesus too, and He gives us the hope and strength to carry on. One of the most important things you can do for someone who is recovering, second only to just being there for them with love and compassion and understanding, is pointing them back to the true Healer, our only Refuge, who is Jesus.
3. You Didn’t Really Have A Breakthrough
I’ve had several ‘false starts’. At least, that’s what I call them. A false start is when your emotions are touched, but your heart really hasn’t changed. You emotionally decide that you should get better, but you don’t engage your will. Without a conscious decision to recover, and the willpower to see it through, recovery will forever remain an elusive phantom, taunting you, yet always out of reach.
As a good friend loves to remind me, it’s all about the choice. You must make the hard decision to recover. In one of my favorite musicals, Next to Normal, there’s a scene where the main character is discussing her life with her psychiatrist, and he tells her to “make up your mind you can live at last, make up your mind to be fully alive…make up your mind you are strong enough…make up your mind to be well!” You must choose.
Honestly, if you’re on the other end of this, and not the one choosing, I have little advice for you on this one apart from…pray. Pray that God would show his power, pray that they will make up their mind, and then consistently remind them that recovery is a choice, they can decide, they have the power to choose that this is not how their story will end.
4. The Environment Hasn’t Changed
Here I must make a caveat. It isn’t always possible for the environment to change, and I realize that. There are situations where, you must choose recovery, knowing that the situation won’t, in all likelihood, change, and the only thing different is you. Sometimes it is possible for the entire situation to change completely – which is incredible – but sometimes it isn’t.
However, there are always factors that are within your control. Don’t choose the bar as a place to meet up with friends. Throw away the lighters and blades. Toss the cigarettes. Pour the alcohol down the drain, and then shred your liquor store points cards. Make a meal plan and have people hold you accountable for eating. Take your medication. Talk to your counselor. Don’t hang out with negative influences, which might mean cutting some toxic people out of your life. There’s almost always something you can do, and it’s worth it in order to get well.
And for those who help? Sometimes, taking away the blade, knocking the cigarette or bottle out of someone’s hand, putting a plate of food in front of them and insisting that they eat…can make a much bigger difference than you realize. Sometimes just getting them out of their situation, if only for a few hours, can be one of the best things for them.
But sometimes, you need to get other people involved in order for the situation to change, and that person to get well. In some cases that’s calling CPS. In others, it’s telling someone who can either get that person professional help, or get them out of that situation, what’s really going on. This I say with the additional caveat that this is not to be used lightly, without much prayer, and only as a very last resort.
Last but not least, optimism kills. Now, I grew up on stories of people who prayed and were instantly healed, junkies who received the Holy Spirit and never even wanted drugs again, so I still struggle with this. I want to be better now, and it took me awhile to realize that, just because I’ve had my breakthrough doesn’t mean that life is going to be easy. Matter of fact, it’s gotten harder. Recovery isn’t easy, and it doesn’t happen overnight. And if you think that just because you’ve had your breakthrough, now you won’t struggle, then I’ve got news for you. Life doesn’t work that way. Recovery doesn’t work that way, but strength is built through struggle.
There are few things that kill the desire to recover quicker than the realization that recovery is about a thousand times harder than destroying yourself. If you don’t make the decision to recover with that in mind, then, you will quit. You need to be prepared for the hard times when they come – because they will come, and you will want to quit far more and often than you ever dreamed you would. Plus, if you’re naturally impatient like me, the fact that recovery is a journey and a process, not an overnight kind of a deal, will take some learning.
For the rest of you, much as I may have hated it at the time, I am deeply grateful to those who kept my feet on the ground, and reminded me that my breakthrough was, to borrow a war metaphor, the Battle of Saratoga, and not Yorktown. Encouragement is so important, but to allow someone you care about to fool themselves into believing that they’ve been cured overnight, or that recovery will be a snap, does more harm than good.
All that to say. This is in no way an exhaustive list, but if you, like me, want to quit recovery at times, or if you’re at a loss for what to do with a friend who has either relapsed, or given up altogether, then I hope this proves useful to you.
As Winston Churchill, a man who knew all too well how to fight against impossible odds, once said, “Never give in. Never. Never. Never.”
Never give in, never give up. Keep on keeping on. Keep fighting. Stay strong. Chin up. You got this, and, more importantly, God’s got you.
To quote C. S. Lewis, “Courage, child.” Both for the one in recovery, and the one helping, “you have chosen the roughest road, but it goes straight to the hilltops” (John Buchanan).
So never, ever, ever, under any circumstances, quit, give up, or lay down and die.