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‘Restoration of sanity’ an important step in recovery

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There’s a phrase in the recovery lexicon that has to do with the restoration of sanity, and a lot of addicts and alcoholics out there don’t like the connotations.

“After all,” they think, “I might be a drunk, but I’m not crazy.”

“I might have a crack cocaine problem, but I’m not insane … not like that.”

So let’s see if we can refine the definition and make it more understandable.

The chronic pot smoker says, “I smoke because I like it and I’m bored. … I don’t know what else to do.”

In reality, he’s aimless, unfocused and emotionally regressed because he smokes pot. He’s got it entirely backward. He doesn’t really know who he is and stands his ground firmly in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Personally, I think that looks mentally unbalanced.

Let’s take the alcoholic after a big night out who wakes up hung over and remorseful the next morning. She swears she’ll “handle the problem,” which means she’ll only drink in the garage or she’ll have only six or she’ll hide it better so she doesn’t get caught. She then explains that she feels ashamed and that she let everybody down again. She leads us all to believe her problem is shame, and if we treated her with the respect she doesn’t deserve, she wouldn’t feel the need to over-indulge.

This line of thinking is nonsense. First, she’s unable to control her drinking, so strategies to handle the problem are obvious red herrings. Secondly, she wouldn’t feel ashamed if she didn’t lie about her drinking, drink too much and then rationalize the whole thing.

In all fairness, she may be unable to see her own lack of control and elaborate rationalization system that is sadly more evidence of the sort of insanity that comes with addictive problems.

A more straightforward type of insanity associated with addictive difficulties is the notion that “this time I can handle it.” This one thought, along with “It really wasn’t that bad,” buys the alcoholic the next drink, and, unfortunately for an alcoholic, it’s not the second, third, fifth or 10th drink that got him drunk, it’s the first.

Addiction is smart and has subtle ways of creeping into the thoughts of problem drinkers and whispering ideas whose end result is “things would be better if I were drunk or drugged.”

That sounds crazy to me, and this is why recovering people talk openly about this form of insanity, recognize it and help each other with it. If alcoholics or drug addicts start to spend too much time in their own head, they are likely to start to believe some of those “crazy” ideas.

For those interested in recovery, remember, “Your mind is like a bad neighborhood. Don’t go in there alone.”

• Richard Atwater is a licensed clinical professional counselor. He can reached by email by visiting

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