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Addiction is not so much defined by an addictive substance, such as drugs or alcohol, as it is by a pattern of behavior in relation to that substance. When we talk about being free from addiction, then, what we’re really talking about is being free from an addictive pattern of behavior … but how do you know when you’re free? What follow are three litmus tests that can help.
- You recognize the fragility of your recovery. Recognizing the fragility of your recovery—that you remain vulnerable to cravings and relapse—is one litmus test for knowing when you are free from addiction. This may sound paradoxical, but in a certain sense that’s the point. Those who have achieved freedom from addiction tend to have a deep and abiding humility about their capacity to stumble and relapse. They are often the first to acknowledge they could relapse at a moment’s notice, which is precisely why they are also generally less likely to be blindsided by cravings that could lead them back into the addiction cycle.Here’s another way to think about the same concept: it’s one thing to admit you have a problem (which is the necessary first step to getting help and treatment)… it’s a taller order to have the humility, self-discipline and accountability to keep admitting to yourself, to others and to your Higher Power that you have a problem that will require daily surrender and humble self-acceptance over the long term. Yet for these very reasons, it can be said that those who recognize the fragility of their recovery are, in essence, free from addiction.
- You face your emotions head-on. Facing your emotions head-on means that you don’t ignore them, by suppressing or denying them or trying to pretend they are not there. Running away from your emotions can also take the form of projecting your anger on to others with statements like, “Gee, why are you so angry at me?” You may be reading into others’ expressions what you are feeling on the inside (but not able to recognize).People who are free from addiction, in contrast, are very in tune with their emotions. They know how to identify what they are feeling and acknowledge what they are feeling without attaching shaming judgments to these emotions. Instead, like the mystic Rumi, in his poem, “Guest House,” they are able to greet any emotion as if they were “an unexpected visitor … sent as a guide from beyond.”If you’re not able to face your emotions, that can be a sign that you are engaging in the same old patterns of thought and behavior that constituted active addiction.
- You have a good sober network of relationships and actually use them. Attending 12-step meetings. Talking with your sponsor. Engaging in family and/or individual therapy sessions. Pursuing sober friendships. The size of your network of supportive relationships is one sign that you’re free from addiction—the other being how much you actually make use of these relationships, not just drawing what you need from them in order to stay sober, but also giving back to others.