There are lots of possible emotional barriers we can place as obstacles to our recovery. Our inner addict, after all, looks for any ruse to give us an excuse to use again. Ruses that work best are ones that create difficult emotions or that disconnect us from feeling and understanding our emotions. Let’s take a look at the latter – the ones that serve to block emotions, namely cynicism and arrogance. Oh, you’re familiar? Yeah, me too. If you’ve met a few old-timers in treatment or through a 12-step group, you will have noticed the quality of humility somewhere along the way. It’s a kind of graceful unpretentiousness that lets you know, “I’ve been there,” and “we can be friends.” Humility is a comforting characteristic. What you may not have realized is that these folks didn’t start out with humility. Oh, no. Trust me—they were just like you and me. They were jerks when they were actively using and as newly recovering addicts, they were just as up and down, just as easily confused. They were probably a little cynical. Maybe they were a lot cynical.
Cynicism and the Recovering Addict
Here’s what cynicism does: It separates you from others. By convincing yourself you can’t trust others’ motivations or intentions, you are not only projecting your untrustworthy former self onto them, but creating a world in which intimacy is rarely possible, thus disappointment is no big deal. You are too weak to handle disappointment, after all, and you know how you get. Sad. Hopeless. Despairing. Nope, we can’t have that. Better to think that everyone is just in it for themselves and not to trust people in the first place. That way your expectations never get out of hand.
Arrogance and the Recovering Addict
Another quality you may have noticed in yourself and other recovering addicts (who me?) is occasional (or regular) arrogance. We’ve got it all figured out, don’t we? It’s true that we’ve probably been there and done that, but our experience isn’t necessarily a measure of confidence, which is very different from arrogance. Confidence doesn’t have to convince anyone, but arrogance insists we know best. Addicts and recovering addicts can get caught in an arrogant mindset because it more easily allows for denial, and denial more easily allows for relapse. It’s as simple as that. Your inner addict sets you up to feel superior just so it can pull the rug out, then it gives you back your addiction as a place to land.
Changing Our Minds/Our Recovery
Remember those old-timers? They’ve been through all this. They’ve walked into recovery feeling the cynicism from years of addiction, and worn the mask of arrogance in order to hide feelings of shame (or feelings of anything) from themselves because, just like you, they weren’t ready to hack it. But cynicism keeps us closed-minded, and not being open-minded means we’re less likely to be a) aware of what’s going on in and around us and b) happy. This isn’t some Pollyanna call to be positive! It’s a reminder that staying open can be life changing – sometimes life-saving – and it’s very different than cynicism. Cynicism prevents us from seeing clearly. (And it isn’t as smart as is thinks it is.) Arrogance is another kind of blindfold. It allows us to feel smart (like cynicism) and prevents us from seeing or having to feel our own or others’ uncomfortable emotions. Pretending we’re better than others prevents us from experiencing empathy. And as every truly recovering person knows, empathy is the addict’s best friend. We need it to survive in recovery; we need compassion for our past and present selves and empathy for others in our lives, or we’re just not going to last this out. This is what we see on the faces of those old-timers – not just humility, but empathy and compassion. And it feels good to know that eventually, if we stick this out, our faces may shine like theirs do: aware but not unkind, caring but without pity. Hey, maybe if we dig deep, we can find these traits inside us now.