We are so bent towards self reliance. Isn’t self reliance a good thing? Isn’t this what we want in life? We tend to think of the needy person or the really dependent person as very dysfunctional. Visions of Bob Wiley in the movie, “What about Bob?” come to mind. We think that this is the really dysfunctional person. Yes, it is. But what about the extremely self reliant person. Aren’t they just as dysfunctional? Maybe there are, but you wouldn’t readily see it. The person who would rather take drugs, drink alcohol, look at porn, spend and eat excessively rather than call someone on the phone for help is dysfunctional. This person prides themselves in not leaning on anyone. They don’t want to burden anyone. But they have an imbalance of extreme independence. They are emotionally unavailable. You really wouldn’t know when they are angry, hurt or scared. They are the strong and silent type. Okay, this sounds like I am talking about the male addict. How does this look when a woman is self reliant?
She usually has been hurt growing up and couldn’t rely on her family for support. She is strong, takes care of everyone, except herself. She is there for her husband, for the kids, even her parents. But who does she lean on? If she has some good friends, this is a plus. But what if she doesn’t, then what? Well, drinking, eating and shopping may become her passion. Maybe her addiction is helping (fixing) others through codependency. Codependents are usually too independent. There is nothing depend about them other than they are needing someone to fix, to avoid their own feelings.
You see, the addiction, whatever it may be, becomes the “trusted source of comfort.” They may turn to people for help occasionally, but the real source of comfort they trust is the “drug” or behavior. How else does self reliance manifest itself?
The person who comes to me for help with an addiction, may come with the attitude of “just tell me what to do and I will just do it.” Sometimes, they don’t even want me to tell them what to do, they just want me to hear about what happened and what they are going to do about it. The phrase that is so often used in 12 step groups comes to mind, “your best thinking got you here, and your best thinking isn’t going to get you out of this mess.” If our best thinking got us here, what makes us think that our best thinking can help us now. We need to at this point to avoid self reliance. It is part of the problem and not the solution. Addiction causes us to hold on to two lies.
a) that we are not really addicts or alcoholics, and b) that we really can control it.
To admit that I am an addict and that I can’t control is flies in the face of what we have been taught at the core of our being. What does this mean? Give up. You mean, “I don’t have any choice?” Isn’t this a cop out. Isn’t this shirking responsibility. Shouldn’t I tell myself ‘I can do it?’ Shouldn’t my therapist leave me with the message that I can lick this? Isn’t that why I am here to get the skills to get over this and put it behind me?
Here are some things to consider.
1. If you could have quit using you drug/behavior of choice, why haven’t you stopped by now? If your answer is that you had to let it get really bad and bottom out, i.e. “hurt a lot of people you care about” before you would stop, what is that about? Isn’t it more likely that you can’t let go of this belief that you really can control your drinking/using?
2. It doesn’t look good for a therapist to say, you really can’t stop this. (This would be bad for business, right?) But listen more closely to what a counselor who specializes in addiction would say, and by the way, this is really important if you want to get over an addiction is to get a therapist that knows addiction recovery. Many well intentioned therapists, help people “try harder.” But what the recovery therapist would say is that, “you need to find something more than yourself to get you out of this.” You need a relationship with God and people around you, specifically, recovering people. You don’t need people to tell you to “try harder.” You did that and it didn’t work. Finding tools and steps that can be taken to help the person let go and trusting something greater is the direction that will lead the out of the desert of addiction and into the promised land of recovery.
3. Self reliance blocks you from getting the help you need. There might be something you don’t know. Maybe your know a lot, but then why are you still struggling? Struggling by the way is a sure sign that you haven’t let go and you are still trusting in yourself–your own power to fight this. Addiction recovery is paradoxical. That is the harder you try, the worse it gets. The more you try to feel better, the worse you may feel. You might not know about how your thinking, nutrition, the triggers, and the underlying dynamics of what makes an addict. Talking with someone else helps with that. Okay, it sounds like I am selling counseling here. I might be. But I am also sharing about a twelve step program which is free, except for a few dollars for some books and $1-$2 for rent at a meeting.
4. Self reliance causes our brains to become closed. When we are closed minded, we are typically fearful. It is a helpful feature of our design to not consider all the possibilities when attacked by a bear. We either fight or flee “without thinking about it.” When we are scared, our brains go binary. Digital. It is all or nothing. When we are relaxed and have an open mind the pre-fontal cortex has more blood flow to it. We can consider many possibilities. Like a dimmer switch. There are zillions of options between dark and light. We can see options. Another plug for counseling is that it usually is safe and supportive which helps people think better. Safety is what makes for more blood flow to the Prefrontal Cortex (PFC) which allows people to see the options. Consider the arguing couple at home that does so much better with a third person there. Why is this? Blood flow to the Pre-frontal cortex. They solve their own problems just by being calm.
5. Self reliance blocks ourrelationship with God. It presupposes that we are more than enough to handle things. “God gives grace to the humble, but he is opposed to the proud.” (Book of James) Maybe the addiction has a spiritual side to it. Perhaps there are spiritual forces (lower powers) that try to keep us hooked, where we, alone are not enough to combat it, but we need a power greater than ourselves to help us. We need group support. Why has AA worked for so many years, without a human organization or leader and with the need for money. God is their leader as expressed in the group conscience, they are just trusted servants. AA is not perfect, but it does something for recovering people. Also AA, doesn’t really run on money. How does that work for 70 years and works so well if people work the program. The secular courts and medical community encourage or force people to go to AA meetings. What is that about? There must be something to it.
6. Powerlessness does not mean helplessness. When we say goodbye to self reliance, we are not saying to get rid of everything, that there is nothing that can be done. It is to let go of the “me trying to fix it” problem. Actually, by reducing self reliance, we are reducing ego. Ego is also what fuels the addiction. Ego stands for Edging God Out. Too much ego is a person who thinks too well of themselves and at the same time thinking too poorly of themselves. The addict doesn’t know it, but usually they think too much and they think too much about themselves.
Holding on to self reliance is like Superman trying to embrace kryptonite and expecting to feel strong. Superman is smart enough to not fight kryptonite directly or be near it. He admits powerlessness over kryptonite and he avoids it. He works around it. When we let go, we experience a new found source of strength we didn’t know existed. When we say we don’t know, we might start to gain wisdom. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. (Proverbs) This doesn’t mean we should be afraid of God in the phobic sense. It is to have a healthy fear or reverence that he is the Creator of the universe and over all mankind and that we acknowledge that he knows everything we need to combat the addiction and that we don’t.
So, this is a good starting place in recovery. Avoid self reliance. It is a good think to remember in continuing recovery. That we didn’t do this. He did.
by God’s grace,
Erik Bohlin, M.A.