Call me cynical, but I have learned not to trust what clients say about their commitment to recovery. News flash: addicts have been known to lie. In fact, you may have heard the old joke: “How can you tell if an addict is lying? His/her lips are moving.”
But I think that’s only part of the issue. Addicts aren’t simply trying to deceive you when they express commitment to change, but don’t follow through. They really believe – in that moment – that they are committed to change. But later, they will not be committed to change.
This drives spouses crazy. The most common question I hear from the spouses of sex addicts is this: “How can I trust that my husband is getting better?” Another way of phrasing that might be: “How can I trust that my husband is really serious about recovery?”
Conventional wisdom is that you can’t. You just have to hope that if your spouse expresses commitment to recovery, that this commitment will last. But it’s time to challenge conventional wisdom. Of course we can’t know anything with absolute certainty – we can’t predict the future. But there are two things we can look at to determine whether or not someone means what they say.
1. Calendars never lie
If you want to know what’s important to someone, look at how they spend their time. If you want to know whether recovery is important to someone, consider how much time they commit to recovery actions (going to support groups, doing recovery reading, making contacts with recovery friends, etc.). It’s as simple as that.
Recovery takes time. The pattern of addiction developed over years – even decades. Countless hours have been spent over the years in fantasy and various acting out behaviors. Habits were formed, neural pathways were forged. These processes will not be changed without diligent, ongoing effort.
If someone claims commitment to recovery, but isn’t willing to make time for it, they are not being honest with themselves or you. If someone claims commitment to recovery, and skips (or drops out of) their support groups, slacks off their recovery work, stops seeing their therapist after a few months, they are kidding themselves.
Recovery will take huge amounts of effort – read “time” – and during the first year it’s always too soon to take your foot off the gas pedal. There might be exceptions to this, but they would be exceedingly rare. In fact, I’m hard-pressed to think of anyone I have ever observed who went to too many meetings, made too many phone calls, or spent too much time doing recovery work during their first year. It just doesn’t happen.
So stop wondering if your husband “has what it takes” to recover. If you’re an addict, stop worrying about whether you’ve “hit bottom” or whether you’re “really ready” to recover. Just look at your calendar. How much time are you spending doing recovery work?
If you are not making enough time for recovery work, then change your commitments. Make sure you schedule the rest of your life around recovery, instead of scheduling recovery around the rest of your life. Put your recovery commitments in first, then build the rest of your schedule around them.
This might raise the question for someone: how much is “enough time” for recovery work?
That’s impossible to answer for a general audience. It depends on a host of factors. It’s best to talk this through with a counselor who knows about addiction, and/or someone who is further along in recovery than you.
Do not ask fellow group members who are struggling themselves with recovery whether or not it makes sense for you to back out of some recovery involvements because you are too busy or don’t need it anymore. They will most likely sympathize with you, remind you how busy you are, and commiserate with you about how hard recovery is to fit into our crowded lives. Talk instead with someone who has built significant, long term recovery.
2. Checkbooks never lie
If you want to know what someone values, see what they spend money on. If someone says they value recovery, but isn’t willing to pay for things they need to recover, who are they kidding?
I know, I know. It seems self-serving for me to write about this, because I offer programs for recovery that people pay for. Even so, I’m not going to dodge this issue, because it’s important. And I am not challenging people to do anything that I haven’t done myself.
Over the years I have spent thousands of dollars on therapy and recovery programs. In fact, my wife and I took out a second mortgage on our home to pay for me to go to a treatment center some years ago. In retrospect, I’m glad I made the choices I did, and invested the money in recovery. Those were the best dollars I ever spent.
Yes there are free recovery resources around, and by all means we should use them if they are helpful. But there are also many “resources” out there that are not only not helpful, but may actually make our problems worse. It only makes sense to find the best resources available to us that we can afford.
How much are you investing in your recovery? Recovery doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, but if helpful resources are available from people who are trained, skilled, and experienced in this field, why not work with them?
What does it say about someone’s commitment if they’re willing to spend money on all sorts of other things, but not on recovery? To use just one example, what does it say about someone’s commitment level if they will pay for cable TV – which gets them in trouble with their addiction – but aren’t willing to pay for recovery?
I’ve had the sad experience of watching people drop out of recovery programs because they were too expensive, only to relapse and lose their job or get divorced, and be really sunk financially. You might think I’m being dramatic, but it happens all the time.
So if someone is telling you that he or she is committed to recovery, and you wonder if you should believe them … stop listening to their words. Instead, look at their calendar and their checkbook.