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Stage II Recovery: Life Beyond Addiction

Stage II Recovery: Life Beyond Addiction

by Earnie Larsen

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Sustained abstinence from an addiction is only the first stage of recovery; real recovery begins with Stage II--the rebuilding of the life that was saved in Stage I.


Sustained abstinence from an addiction is only the first stage of recovery; real recovery begins with Stage II--the rebuilding of the life that was saved in Stage I.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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As you read these words, imagine how many Twelve Step meetings are in progress. In your own town, how many "friends of Bill W." are gathering around the Big Book, fellowship, and the Twelve Steps to bring order out of the chaos of their lives? And I'm not just talking about Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.). How many AI-Anon groups are meeting right now? How many groups of any of the other 200 Twelve Step programs-like Overeaters Anonymous or Gamblers Anonymous-are gathering at this moment? After all, addiction to alcohol is only one of the many ways people lose control of their lives.

Let your mind fly to all those meetings in church basements, homes, clubs, hotel suites, motels, restaurants, or treatment centers. Smell the coffee. See the Twelve Steps hanging on banners. Read the slogans on the placards. Hear the opening words, "Welcome, we are a fellowship."

Look into the faces at those meetings. See the craggy faces of those who have traveled rough roads, the smooth faces of the very young, the faces of the affluent and the penniless. Some of these people are still toying with their problems and therefore with recovery from those problems. Some are brand new. They have arrived with the same soul-searing questions that you, perhaps, first brought to your program. They have the same doubts, feel the same hurts, and suffer the same near despair that so many others have experienced. Notice the old-timers. They have chaired countless meetings, perhaps know much of the Big Book by heart, and for certain know the Twelve Steps forward and backward.

Listen to the age-old comments:

• "I can't stop gambling andit's ruining my life."

• "I am as addicted to food as any drug addict is to a chemical. I can't stop, yet I hate myself whenever I go on an eating binge."

• "If I don't stop smoking, it will finish me off. It's already making me sick, but I just can't stop for good."

• "My emotions are out of control. I can't go to the store to buy five things because I'm afraid I'll get the wrong five. I just sit home worrying that someone will find me."

• "Hi, I'm George. I'm a sex addict. I've tried to kill myself a dozen times. Life isn't worth living like this -hiding, running, in terrible fear all the time that 'they might find out.' This is my last stop for help. If this can't do it, I give up."

Millions of our brothers and sisters are meeting in big groups and in small ones, in fancy places and in dingy rooms, in well-established orderly meetings and in catch-as-catch-can meetings. What's more, for every meeting of the "afflicted" there are perhaps three meetings of the "affected"the loved ones of the dependent person. These people have come to believe (or are coming to believe) that living in close association with a dependent person leaves its own scars and produces its own dysfunctional living patterns. Listen in. They, too, like their loved ones, have tales of desperation to tell:

• "I know I am as crazy as he is. Driving around at four in the morning checking out bar parking lots. That's crazy."

• "Somehow, I don't know how, I always end up taking the blame and feeling responsible for, her insane behavior. I am so full of guilt, I don't even want to go out of the house anymore."

• "I keep doing things to help him, but it seems like the more I do, the worse I feel and the more that's expected of me."

• "I'm past caring. I'd kill the son of a bitch if I could. That's how out of control my life is."

• "All I do is sit home and cry. I don't even know what about anymore. I just cry."

Countless meetings. Untold hopes and sorrows. Words so real, coming from people pushed to the very edge of existence. Some come in desperation, some in hope, some just lose and are looking for more-but all -the afflicted and the affected-meet in the name of one great cause: recovery.


What is recovery? What is the goal or destination this army of seekers is marching toward? What is happening at all these meetings?

Breaking any addiction-to a drug, a destructive relationship, overeating, smoking, gambling, or anything else-is enormously difficult. Breaking that primary addiction-getting sober-is what I call Stage I Recovery. The struggle is the stuff of heroism.

If you ask me what Stage II Recovery means, I would say, "What happens after sobriety? Is sobriety the same thing as full recovery?" Many people find themselves on the other side of their addictive behaviors, better off, to be sure, but certainly not enjoying the happiness they hoped for. Their victory didn't pay off the way they thought it would.

As a counselor, I have dealt with addicted people and chemically dependent/co-dependent relationships for nearly twenty years. And for nearly that long I have been a faithful practitioner of a Twelve Step program myself For the past eight years or so, I've been hearing more and more comments like these:

• "I'm clean as a whistle and miserable as hell."

• "I've been sober for seventeen years. That isn't the problem anymore. My question is, When do I get happy?"

• "I swear to God my wife has a black belt in Al- Anon. I hate it when she tells me I'm on a dry drunk. I'm not even sure I know what a dry drunk is. If it means not doing very well and hating it, I guess I am."

• "I'm a closet white-knuckler. I go to all the meetings, but I just never got over looking back and thinking about the good times I gave up. I know many recovering people who seem to be happy and have it together. I don't want to seem like a cloud over their parade, so I never tell them how I feel. But it's true-sometimes I get real thirsty."

Meet the Author

Earnie Larsen has been intimately invloved with people in Twelve Step programs for twenty years. He has degrees in counceling, education, and theology, and he lectures, counsels, and conducts workshops and seminars nationally on improving interpersonal relationships. He is the author of thirty books.

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