The Virtue of Patience, Part II
This is the final installment in a two-part series that focuses on applying the virtue of patience in recovery from addiction. The first column focused on patience as a vital ingredient in the overall recovery process. This column deals with the value of patience in our ongoing quest to integrate a wellness lifestyle in our recovery.
The toxic lifestyle patterns adopted over the course of addiction to alcohol and other drugs are fully ingrained and consequently quite difficult to change. Examples that immediately come to mind include the abysmal diets of most alcoholics and addicts, together with their nicotine addiction.
Conquering Nicotine Addiction
Between 70 and 85 percent of practicing alcoholics and addicts are also addicted to nicotine. Many are heavy smokers and the majority carry their nicotine addiction over to their recovery. Nicotine dependence is an insidious addiction and is the leading cause of death among people in recovery. Indeed, both founders of AA died as a consequence of their nicotine addiction.
I know from personal experience that heavy doses of determination and patience, together with unflagging persistence, are essential in successfully quitting smoking. Indeed, the average smoker quits five to eight times before kicking the habit for good.
Many former addicts swear that nicotine is a harder drug to kick than heroin. Unfortunately, after several failed attempts at quitting, many smokers convince themselves that they are unable to quit and stop trying. Again, mega doses of both patience and perseverance are required to successfully quit for good. Fortunately, state health departments throughout the country have now made available stop smoking quit lines staffed by trained counselors; these programs often provide free-of-charge nicotine replacement therapy as well. Nicotine Anonymous and stop smoking classes/support groups, sponsored by both the American Cancer Society and American Lung Association, provide valuable support to persons struggling with quitting.
Other examples of disruptions in our lives that require persistent application of patience to overcome include overly sedentary lifestyles, food addictions, eating disorders, lack of harmony in our relationships, and lack of a grounded spiritual focus in our lives.
While many younger alcoholics/addicts manage to remain physically active while in the throes of their addiction, this is often not the case with older chemically dependent persons. Indeed, when one’s lifestyle revolves around sheer survival and feeding his or her addiction, concern with taking care of oneself falls by the wayside. Sound nutrition takes a back seat, as does caring for our bodies. Adding a healthy dose of regular exercise to our lives once we have initiated sobriety requires a strong desire to take care of ourselves, together with consistent application of patience and persistence.
Likewise, tackling food addictions that often emerge in early recovery—including addiction to sugar and overeating—or dealing with serious eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia requires courage and persistence, combined with an abundance of patience.
Problems involving lack of harmony in our relations with others are a hallmark of the addictive lifestyle, and these problems frequently carry over into the early and middle stages of recovery. Many if not most newly recovering alcoholic/addicts experience considerable difficulty in detaching from former peers whose presence threatens to pull them back into their addiction. Consequently they experience considerable anxiety in attempting to form meaningful relationships with people who are clean and sober. In particular, women in recovery often remain addicted to forming relationships with abusive men. Extricating ourselves from alliances with others who pose a threat to our sobriety, while attempting to reach out to wholesome potential friends and acquaintances, most definitely requires continued determination and persistence. While we are undergoing this major transition in our social supports, we must be patient with ourselves concerning our sometimes faltering attempts to connect with others who will not pull us down.
As the absence of a grounded spiritual focus draws us into addictive use of alcohol, drugs, and other destructive behaviors (nature abhors a vacuum), forming a relationship with a higher power is a basic cornerstone of all Twelve Step programs. We need to learn to turn to a beneficent higher power for continual guidance in walking the path of recovery. This is particularly true as most of us are overly hard on both ourselves and others, and need to accept the consolation and guidance freely offered by a beneficent power greater than ourselves. In addition, deepening our connection to our higher power is extremely important in cultivating the patience and serenity needed to confront life’s problems head on without falling back on alcohol and drugs.
Coping with Illness
We are all confronted with illness at many points in our lives. Many of these episodes are relatively mild, such as a routine cold or minor athletic injury. Other manifestations of illness, including chronic illnesses such as arthritis, diabetes, and hypertension—together with more serious debilitating illnesses, such as heart disease, HIV, and the many forms of cancer—tend to pose a heavy toll on both our bodies and our psyches.
An unrelenting flare-up of arthritis or a serious physical injury can throw our lives completely out of balance, triggering uncomfortable feelings of loss of control, helplessness, and despair. In addition to these feelings, a truly threatening illness, such as a major heart attack or late stage cancer, provides a very frightening confrontation with our own mortality.
Strong qualities of faith and patience are essential in learning to live with any form of chronic illness without letting it take control of our lives. When forced to face the consequences of a truly devastating illness, I believe that we are best served by the qualities of patience and perseverance that enable us to maintain and practice a strong sense of faith in a beneficent higher power, while embracing the admonitions set forth in the Serenity Prayer “to accept the things we cannot change” while manifesting “the courage to change the things we can” and “the wisdom to know the difference.” It is extremely important during these times to consciously savor the many wonderful things we have already experienced in our lives, while focusing on our hopes for the future, particularly our hopes concerning those whom we hold near and dear to our hearts. As we tend to attract what our minds choose to focus on, when faced with a devastating illness we are challenged to become “incurable optimists” concerning our body’s God-given healing potential, while at the same time placing the ultimate outcome squarely in the hands of our higher power.
For anyone seeking a fuller treatment concerning the application of faith, patience, and perseverance in dealing with devastating illness I would highly recommend Love, Medicine, and Miracles by Bernie Siegel, MD, published in 1998.
Please feel free to share these reflections with your clients or anyone else who might benefit from the message. I would be happy to hear from you concerning your own experiences in applying the virtue of patience in integrating a wellness lifestyle in your recovery. I can be reached at [email protected]