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Abstinence – just for today

When considering taking an abstinence-based approach to recovery from addiction, people are often beset with anxiety and a number of questions may swirl around their minds.

It is entirely understandable. Giving up and letting go is one of the hardest things for human beings to do, let alone addicted people. If you have had a psycho-physiologically dependent attachment to a substance and behaviour for some time, in spite of the harm it is doing to you and others close to you, the prospect of giving it up may fill the person with fear; dread even.

It is fear of the unknown. It is fear of what will fill the space currently occupied by addiction-related activity in all its dimensions. It is fear about identity. It is fear about how they will cope despite the fact that there is abundant evidence that they are not presently coping, which may indeed be the thing that has led them to seek help from a place like Clinic Les Alpes in the first place.

Very often they would like to reserve to themselves the possibility of using the substance or engaging in the behaviour at some time in the future. It is a kind of emotional insurance policy; something to hold onto, a comfort blanket of a thought.

So we hear anxiety-fuelled questions like, “Are you telling me I can never/ will never be able to drink, use, etc. again?”

The first thing to say is we are not telling anyone not to do this or that when they leave our care. They will always have a choice to exercise. Our aim is that the choices they make should be thoroughly informed by a hugely improved understanding of addiction and recovery.

We are asking them to look at the effects and consequences of what they have been doing up to now and see what conclusions are to be drawn from them to help keep themselves safe and develop a fulfilling future.

We aim for them to be able to recognise how addiction seeks to undermine recovery at every turn. This can often be seen in thoughts that emerge, seemingly innocent in character but which hold a malign intent. Addiction would much rather the person wasted their precious time on such questions than get on with saving their lives.

The question quoted above needs to be looked at in a different light. With the right kind of help the person can be supported to come to an understanding as to how they might be approaching recovery in a way which will not serve them well.

We may therefore invite them to shift their focus away from “not doing” and onto the creative and positive endeavour that is the building of a well-founded recovery for themselves.

We might suggest that they let go of the concern as to whether they can ever engage in a particular behaviour again in the future and each day while they are with us commit to abstinence “just for today”. See what it is like and talk to others about this. They can then experience the benefits for themselves as the days accumulate almost without being noticed.

As recovery takes on a momentum of its own, many people find the question cited above no longer has any relevance and see wrestling with it a distraction to the purpose of recovery.

It comes as a great relief to give up the struggle of trying to find a way to hold onto something that is destroying them. They gain a sense of freedom.

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