Many people pursue recovery as a quest for knowledge. They judge the value of a seminar, book, or meeting based on how much new information they picked up. If they don’t “hear anything new,” they tend to feel let down, as though it wasn’t worth their time.
The implicit assumption is that learning leads to progress: the accumulation of new knowledge brings you further along the path. Being exposed to a new concepts is often seen as learning something … if we can understand and grasp these new ideas, we feel like we’re moving forward.
What really matters is the process of translating that concept into tangible action. The “learning” of recovery involves not just storing more facts in our heads … it means acquiring new knowledge that changes who we are (including how we live).
As is often stated in recovery meetings, “this is a program of action.” The problem we must overcome in recovery is not new knowledge acquisition … it is execution. Our problem is not that we don’t know enough … the problem is that we don’t act on what we know.
This is manifest in the tendency we have to learn new things about recovery, start to apply them, and then shortly thereafter, move on to some other new insights, some other new approach, and start acting on those ideas. Meanwhile, we stop doing the things we had started to do at first, because we’ve jumped to a new set of priorities and actions.
When people get “slippery” in their behaviors and/or have slips, it pretty much always come down to this: they have stopped doing the fundamentals. They drift away from key practices that they identified as key positive steps to help them in their recovery (going to meetings, making calls, engaging in open conversations with their spouse, engaging in spiritual practices, etc). Alongside of this, they have likely started compromising some of the “middle circle” behaviors — things that are not necessarily breaking sobriety, but are unhealthy and feed our addictive tendencies (surfing around on the computer, isolating, harboring resentment, engaging in ‘harmless’ flirting, etc.).
Put very simply the issue is this: our problems in recovery usually don’t stem from things we don’t know … our problems stem from things we already know, but aren’t putting into action. Therefore the solution is probably not learning more stuff (going to workshops, seminars, counselors, and reading books and blogs … looking for new and novel ideas about recovery). The solution is putting our knowledge – however limited – into action. So we do the things mentioned above (the workshops, books, etc) with the hope that they will motivate and inspire us to act on what we already know.