How does one measure sobriety?
In a program like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) or NA(Narcotics Anonymous) , sobriety is measured by giving up a specific substance. If you are not consuming alcohol or using drugs, you are sober.
It's a lot harder to know what where to begin in programs like CoDA (Codependents Anonymous), SLAA (Sex and Love Addiction Anonymous) and OA (Overeaters Anonymous).
How does a food addict measure sobriety? One can’t walk into an OA meeting claiming to have given up food! More subtly, one also needs love, friendship, and, arguably, sex, so how does someone in SLAA measure sobriety? And what is a codependent supposed to give up in order to move towards self-reliance and interdependence?
It’s widely accepted that there is a driving force that pushes an individual to self-defeating behaviors in first place. In AA, there are terms like “dry drunk” which describe someone who is sober but still not “working the program.” This shows that even within AA or NA, there is an awareness that simply giving up an addiction is only the beginning.
When we engage in addictive or obsessive behaviors, we are reacting to something from the past. This could be things that happened to us or things that were missing, in childhood. These ghosts of the past are painful to see, so we find ways to avoid looking at them - like over-eating, drinking or drugging, or focusing on others. By engaging in these behaviors we can make the whole world, including the problems of the past, go away for a while.
That's control, isn't it?
Eventually, we learn that this only makes us feel more out of control. We give up another little part of ourselves for that brief interlude of peace. By the time we realize it isn't worth it, it's very hard to figure out how to unravel the ties we've wrapped around ourselves.
The key is to identify those underlying behaviors which are “reactive” rather than “active”. I’ve said this before, and so was fascinated when I went to an ACoA meeting, last monday, and found that “my” theory was a foundational concept in that program. Their document, called “The Solution,” states:
When we release our parents from responsibility for our actions today, we become free to make healthful decisions as actors, not reactors.But how do we identify these underlying behaviors? Whether we are attending AlAnon meetings – and trying to understand why we allow another person’s addiction to control our lives – or have labeled ourselves as codependent, we must understand what the driving force is behind the harmful thoughts and actions that make our lives unmanageable.
And this brings me to what ignited my desire to write this post in the first place. At a website I frequent (Get to the Inside), Melissa Greene writes:
A bottom line behavior is a behavior that, when engaged in, leads to loss of self. Engaging in this behavior can prevent the addict from experiencing valid and necessary feelings of anger, grief, or even intimacy. The bottom line behavior is sometimes used as a smoke screen to avoid the uncomfortable feelings of anger, grief, or intimacy. Engaging in the bottom line behavior tends to bring an immediate relief, an ah-h-h-h feeling, at least in the early stages of addiction. As addiction progresses, an addict often has to engage in more of this behavior or more intense forms of it to achieve the "high."So, I challenge you. What do you do to avoid looking at what you most need to address? What is keeping you from being all you can be? What are your bottom line behaviors?
… If you are an addict trying to define your bottom line behaviors, ask yourself these questions, "What is the behavior that, if I stop doing it, I'm going to feel like I'm going crazy? What behavior, at the thought of no longer doing it, makes me almost panic? What behavior, when I stop doing it, is immediately going to send me into emotional withdrawal symptoms?" Whatever you answer to these questions-- that's your bottom line behavior.