Last month, a guy who, like me, wrote a book on overcoming addictions, made a video aimed at me (and Dr. Peele who wrote the foreword to my book). He was upset that I wrote my book within my first five years of having quit drinking (among other addictions). Unlike me, however, this person supports Alcoholics Anonymous and that is where he undoubtedly adopted the idea that people in their early years of sobriety are incapable of thinking clearly enough to offer valuable healing advice to others suffering from addiction.
Although I have no doubt in my mind that is an incorrect assumption, I pondered the idea momentarily: Why would AA have people believing such a thing? Is there any truth to it?
My conclusion is that yes, there is some truth to the idea that a person is basically a marshmallow for the first five years of their sobriety—but only if the person believes that is true and, therefore, fulfills the prophecy.
It is a physical truth that after many years of ingesting drugs and alcohol the brain, nervous system and cellular functions are adversely affected and it can take long periods of time to heal from that. But it is not true that you cannot love deeply, think clearly, create brilliantly or express life in many other wonderful and talented ways within the first year (another AA target) or five years of giving up drugs and alcohol. You can. I can give a long list of some pretty wonderful things I accomplished within the first few months of having quit drinking—things that deeply touched and inspired others, things that I stand by today: writings, artwork, verbal communications.
AA and I differ in our approach (and success rate). However, in this case, it is not so much that one of us is right and the other is wrong, but that AA focuses on a different aspect of the recovery process than I do. Where AA focuses—fear and limitation—a person can never fully recover. Where I focused—on the joys of the healing process—led me to my fully recovered status of today.
There are two energies going on when a person quits drinking and using drugs: the energy of the painful process of giving up substances and the energy of the quite miraculous, even joyful process of healing. A person can concentrate on either when they quit drinking.
AA and the man who made the video both overlook the significance and the joys of the healing process; the joys of caring for yourself and, consequently, the joys of caring for others more fully. Instead, they choose to focus on the limitations a person might have in their early days of quitting drinking and drugging. AA’s technique is to use the negative aspects of recovery as a way to prevent relapse. My technique was to use the positive aspects of healing, which has proven to be a much stronger source of support for me than the alternative ever was—not once have I relapsed using my method.
It is not true that you are incapable of being brilliant within your first five years of sobriety. It is also not true that you must wait to enjoy anything or that you cannot encourage the healing process along by embracing the experience of healing. Healing, after all, is a positive event.