4 Paradoxes in Addiction Recovery

Recovery Originally Posted September 21, 2017 | BY: Paul Anderson

Recovery is built on the foundation of prolonged suffering

Recovery—from alcohol or other drugs, or from addictive relationships—is characterized by words like “serenity,” “reconciliation,” “forgiveness,” and “healing,” to name a few. Achieving and making peace with this serenity or reconciliation is a direct result of deciding every day to grow along spiritual lines.

Twelve Step programs allow us to take the suffering of our illness and enter into an experience that becomes paradoxical in nature. It is by looking back at our journey that we begin to see more clearly the transformation that has occurred in our lives.

In following the Steps that the first 100 members of Alcoholics Anonymous took to recover from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body, there are a few paradoxical relationships we experience:

1. We suffer to get well.

I’ve heard it said that addiction is a life lived elsewhere. Many that endure the perils and destructiveness of the disease of addiction will agree with this assertion. If we are lucky, we reach a point where we can no longer take the cunning, baffling and powerful nature of our powerlessness.

We see clearly the impact our illness has had on ourselves and those who love us. Some call this “the gift of desperation.” Yet, unless this gift is accompanied by the clarity of truth—the truth that I can’t safely use and I can’t stop using—the gift of desperation is only more desperation.

Recovery is built on the foundation of prolonged suffering, which the Alcoholics Anonymous basic text refers to as “Being beaten into a state of reasonableness through the continual dynamic of not being able to use safely” (48), coupled with not being able to refrain from the source of our misery. When we reach for a power-greater-than-ourselves in Step Two, we have a workable solution to our lack-of-power in Step One.

Here our suffering becomes the necessity for the desire to change. We go from a state of utter hopelessness to a hope-filled journey. This desperation becomes a moment of truth, which leads us to an honest admission of powerlessness, which in turn gives us the power to change.

2. We surrender to win.

I think the word “surrender” is a very confusing concept for most people in recovery. I have heard countless descriptions of what surrender is and means and it remains a word closely connected to Step Three by many recovering people.

Interestingly, “surrender” is not a word that the Alcoholics Anonymous text uses at all in our relationship to the Steps. The text does, however, refer to our need to stop fighting. I think most of us have a clearer idea of “not fighting.” The Steps open us up to a relationship, based on a decision we make in Step Three, to follow a program of action in Steps Four through Nine.

In this commitment to action, we inherently continue to turn from the isolation of our Step One to find the support of others and a sense of a greater community, fellowship, that we have a connection to. Through inventorying, we understand that recovery is more than just not drinking or drugging; it becomes a process of removing those things that had been blocking us—things that had been blocking us from personality changes necessary to experience life on life’s terms.

As we let go of selfish, self-centered behavior, it becomes addition by subtraction. Without it, we have improved relationships and greater peace of mind.

3. We die to live.

Fritz Pearls, the founder of Gestalt Therapy, said, “To suffer one’s death and be reborn is not easy.”

The path of recovery is very much like this idea. The deconstruction of our addicted ego is never an easy task. An early member of Alcoholics Anonymous said the Steps take us through an exercise—one of uncovering, discovering, and discarding—which takes place over the entirety of our life.

I heard someone say in a meeting that anything they had ever let go of in their life “had claw marks on it.”

The Steps allow us to let go of old ideas and face the fear of the unknown. Fear is replaced by confidence and the ability to see the beauty in even the smallest of things.

The lessening of our ego creates an availability to the present—precisely the only place living and life can be found.

4. We give away to keep.

My sponsor told me that I may be the only version of The Big Book, Alcoholics Anonymous some people will ever see, so I should work hard to make it a good copy.

Steps Ten through Twelve become our spiritual way of life and enable us to be of value to others and the world around us.

It’s hard to put into words all we have been given in our new lives. Often what leaves the most lasting impression is a life lived by love and compassion. Our path seems to unfold in many directions; yet, when we look back at it, our footsteps follow a straight line. The journey is one of getting what we need in our time of need; the people we’ve needed have appeared at the time we’ve needed them. We also carry hope and healing into others’ lives through our reflection of the Twelve Steps’ spiritual principles.

In this act of giving we also receive—often much more than anything that we freely offered.

Addiction is a life lived elsewhere. Our recovery is a journey of coming home to who we are.


Paul Anderson is the manager of programs and spiritual care at the Dan Anderson Renewal Center. He has worked in the field of addiction for 30 years, sharing his deep passion for helping people recover from the damaging effects of active addiction. The lessening of our ego creates an availability to the present—precisely the only place living and life can be found.

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