Detox the First Step in Recovery
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | October 31, 2019 (edited December 7, 2021)
Addiction is both biological and behavioral. Detox frees us from the binding chains of chemical addiction. Only then do we begin the real work of recovery.
Detox is not recovery. Blasphemy! Please, stick with me for a few paragraphs as I explain. When fettered by the menacing chains of addiction, detox looms—an insurmountable demon preventing escape. For the chemically imprisoned, all choices are designed to avoid dopesickness. No one wants to kick because it sucks. The rattling pain of withdrawal is so daunting that many never make it to the starting line. They plan but never act. The suffering of detox is only the entrance ticket to the awesome and challenging arena of recovery.
We can’t confuse putting on running shoes with completing a marathon. Making it through detox deserves a healthy pat on the back. By making it through detox, we earn the right to move forward and begin organizing the internal and external mess of our lives. Detox is no small task. The rush of anxiety, irritability, fever, chills, nausea, and confusion are formidable foes, making survival through this first battle significant and worthy of praise—but the work has just begun.
The rattling pain of withdrawal is so daunting that many never make it to the starting line. They plan but never act.
Addiction Recovery is a Process
Recovery is a process, often requiring several years of rebuilding. Sobriety is essential for this monumental task, preparing the body and brain for change. Addiction is more than biological state of craving. Addiction is a behavioral adaptation that provides a convenient escape from stress. Through addiction, normal pressures are avoided, and essential achievements missed, leading to a downward and destructive spiral—a storm that tears through our lives, destroying relationships, finances and mental stability.
When altered states of mind is a habitual escape, we constantly chase the next high, not just to sooth a biological craving but to avoid the reality of the devastation. With a shot of junk, a snoke or a gulp of curb juice, it all disappears in the hazy bliss of euphoria.
Escape isn’t a biological craving but a learned behavior—a habitual response to pressure. The reactive escape is embedded in the synaptic connections of the brain; an automatic ducking and dodging of the flying debris of life (see Any Old Excuse Will Do). The life building standards of honesty and responsibility are sacrificed at the altar of momentary rewards (whether these harmful attitudes are the symptom, or the cause doesn’t matter). These attitudes take residence in the brain and continue to exert influence, interrupting sustained sobriety.
Another common foe to prolonged sobriety is the human brain. We all create explanatory narratives (see Narratives that Heal). The human mind tells stories. Consciousness, essential for surviving in complexity, contains diseases that invite pathological responses to life. With narratives, we obscure reality and laud the unhealthy. The further we drift from normalcy and success, the more susceptible we are to the blinding lies concocted by a self-protecting brain. We justify, we deny, we forget.
Damage from Addiction
Lost in the fog of addiction, commitments are forgotten, and relationships destroyed; scamming others is second nature, part of the addict’s gig for survival. Recovery demands ceasing these harmful behaviors. Healthy recovery requires honoring commitments and building relationships. The scheming plots must be exchanged for openness and honesty. We must face past and present broken commitments with courage, willing to accept consequences.
Openness becomes a catalyst to our resolve. Choices will be swayed by the fear of contrite openness after stumbling, limiting our falls but also hastening support. Openness is frightening, requiring a lifting of our gaze beyond the immediate consequence. Breaking a commitment violates trust—not discovery of a broken commitment. We may scam, lie and deceive to postpone frightening confrontations and possible rejection, but deception only deepen divides and weaken ties that are necessary for support and security.
These noxious habits interfere with development and rebuilding. We can’t recover, when we continue to rely on the broken programming of the protective-addicted brain. Shortcuts of avoidance leave our lives in shambles. We need a new approach. We have to rebuild. We can’t afford the continual setbacks of delayed consequences of cheating and scheming.
The path back to normalcy is littered with reminders of the past. We must begin picking up the pieces by resolving warrants, debts, poor credit, and distrusting relationships. We have bridges to rebuild, and skills to develop. All these challenges remain, waiting just outside the doors of detoxification.
While detoxing is commendable, we must remain humble, fearful of the immense pull of addiction, not the biological cravings but the habitual escape. The blessing of clarity of mind shouldn’t be undermined with boasting of personal strength or impenetrable discipline. These brazen attitudes set the stage for a fall. We must not underestimate the challenge ahead. We cautiously move forward, avoiding dangerous encounters with the old life, while continually developing adaptive coping skills.
Insights come in chunks, each new revelation illuminating the path for a few more steps. Have faith, continue forward, holding hands with others traveling on the same journey, and please, above all, refrain from boasting of strength before the starting pistol has even fired. On your marks, get set, let’s do this!
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