Nourishing and Toxic Attitudes in Recovery

Recovery capital is a relatively new concept in the field of recovery.

Let’s define this concept.

Our recovery capital is determined by the number of external and internal assets that we have which support recovery. External assets are things like having a home group that we attend regularly, or a good connection with our sponsor, or the support of our family, etc.  Legal problems can also be an external asset because they provide a certain level of motivation to change. A few examples of internal assets are our level of commitment to recovery, the degree to which we have accepted our devastating weakness, our attitude towards our problems and our attitude towards ourselves and others.

It’s important to note that external assets are much more fragile and fickle than internal assets. Therefore we want to ensure that we are more heavily invested in internal assets to support our recovery.

To increase our internal assets, we need to cultivate attitudes that nourish and support our efforts in recovery.  These include attitudes towards our problems and towards ourselves. Nourishing attitudes will add to or increase our internal recovery capital while toxic attitudes will sabotage or subtract from our recovery capital.

Answer the following question: “What attitude do I have towards my problem with alcohol and other drugs?” Most of us, at one time, were quite ashamed that we had a problem. Period. In one sense it didn’t matter the nature of our problem; the real issue was that we shouldn’t have any problems whatsoever. Admitting that we were or are powerless over our addiction and that our lives had become unmanageable was a tall order and nearly impossible. As Bill Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous noted, our natural instincts cry out against the idea that we are powerless. What makes it so hard for us to accept ourselves as we are?

Here is what happens that interferes with us admitting to and surrendering to Step One. At some point in our development we shifted our energies away from self-actualization to actualizing a concept of who we should be. We abandoned our true-selves in favor of becoming who we thought we should be. This creates quite a dilemma for us. As the noted psychiatrist Fritz Perls stated, “The one who wants to actualize a concept attempts the impossible.” We can realize who we are but we can never actualize a concept. And, the concept that we have adopted does not have any room in it for being powerless. In fact, our concept is based on the idea that we can control ourselves and how other people relate to us. So our concept is grounded in power.

It follows that admitting we have a limitation is difficult because it does not fit with the concept we have of who we think we should be. We mistakenly believe that having a limitation means that we are defective, that we are less human. This attitude is quite toxic, both for our recovery and for our self-actualization. This belief makes it hard for us to own who we really are - a flawed, imperfect being. But no change can occur until we own who we are. This is the paradoxical theory of change. We know change occurs by owning who we are and does not occur when we try to be something we are not.

As we learn to challenge the concept of who we think we should be, we begin to change our view of ourselves and our problems. We are able to turn a weakness into a strength. We eventually come to see that owning our limitation is something that adds to who we are rather than subtracting from us. It helps us actualize the self that we truly are and helps ground our efforts in recovery in the possible. This is the path to creating a stable recovery. So, question all of your attitudes. Ask yourself, “Is this attitude that I have toxic or does it nourish me?” Keep what nourishes you and discard the rest. Remember recovery is about uncovering, discovering and discarding.   

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