A lot has been written about the accumulation of knowledge in recovery, about how each day is an opportunity for learning. But just what do you know about knowledge in recovery and how it can benefit you both short- and long-term?
Knowledge sounds like some esoteric concept, something that’s far removed from your everyday life, right? You might equate knowledge with getting a degree from college or a certificate you obtain after some period of study. Maybe knowledge is something you think you’re born with.
Dispelling some of the myths that many of us in recovery carry around with us about knowledge, or the lack of it, here are six things about knowledge in recovery you may not know.
Everyone Can Learn
Going back to the idea that knowledge seems like something that involves hard work, it’s easy to see how many people believe that knowledge is something for the other guy to get involved with. Maybe it doesn’t apply to you, you might think, since you don’t have all that much time to devote to learning new things. You’re too busy just keeping to your recovery schedule and trying to steer clear of situations where you’d be tempted to use.
Some of us are under the mistaken impression that you have to be young in order to learn, that after a certain age – and what that age is seems to float, depending on who you talk with – there’s no more learning possible. It just goes in one ear and out the other and nothing sticks.
The truth is that it doesn’t matter how young or old you are, whether you’re a child, a teen, a young adult, of middle age or a senior, everyone can learn.
It also doesn’t matter whether you’re male or female, whether you’re religious or not. The capability to learn is independent of political affiliation or social stature or physical condition. To put it simply, knowledge is an equal-opportunity endeavor. Everyone can learn.
Why, then, do we find it so hard to wrap our minds around the pursuit of knowledge? Is it that we’re using our objections to excuse our lack of ambition to learn something new? Is it that we might be afraid of venturing beyond our safe, relatively speaking, confines? Are we fearful of rocking the boat, of having others think we’re becoming high and mighty, losing sight of our responsibilities, growing beyond our loved ones and family members?
For now, just keep in mind that knowledge doesn’t have any barriers as to who can learn. If everyone can learn, it’s more a matter of them choosing to learn.
Knowledge Helps You Grow
When we’re born into this world, we arrive with a complete package. That is, we’re possessed of a physical body and endowed with a brain that’s capable of acquiring knowledge. We don’t come ready-made with knowledge. That’s something that we obtain along the way, in bits and pieces at first, and then more regular and scheduled once we start school or some form of regular training.
To say that knowledge helps you grow is not an understatement. Consider the fact that the newborn just lays in the crib, staring up at the world and his or her surroundings. The infant knows only instinctively when it is hungry or wet or has a tummy ache, without any real cause-and-effect realization of what’s going on. This takes time for the baby to learn, and the pace is rather rapid as the child is fed and bathed and cared for with love – or the lack of it. The baby soon learns that it can be attended to when it cries, and that affection may be showered upon it when it smiles or utters charming and nonsensical sounds. It is beginning to acquire the all-important ability to recognize and distinguish relationships and begin the process of socialization.
Fast-forward to the school-age years and you see the child learning all sorts of things, from how to dab paint on a blank piece of paper and create something unique to learning how to string letters together to make words and to understand the meaning of same, to what it takes to participate in a team sport. There’s also math and science and music and the whole learning curve of progressing from one grade to the next – or of being held back due to lack of initiative or progress.
But, just like the child eagerly absorbing knowledge at an early age, any time you learn something new you have the opportunity to grow. If you didn’t know how to ski downhill before, and take lessons and practice until you acquire a certain skill level, you’ve grown in both your knowledge and your expertise. You’re not the same person you were before you entered into the learning process. You have added to the special body of knowledge that you now carry around with you, part of you.
In recovery, there are so many things to learn, with more and more available every day. You start out only vaguely aware of the Twelve Steps and what living a life in sobriety means. But you gather facts and attempt to sort them out in some kind of relevant order, trying to see how they can benefit your new life in recovery.
If you have any doubt, just look at the most active and vibrant members of your group in the rooms of recovery. What do they have in common? Likely it is a zest for learning and the accumulation of knowledge that helps cement their recovery foundation.
Knowledge Enhances Your Life
Think back to the time when you first entered recovery. Did you have misgivings? Were you frightened of the unknown? Did you worry that you couldn’t possibly keep up with the schedules and daily to-do lists? Most of all, were you deathly afraid of relapse and what that would mean for you and your family?
Somehow, though, you managed to make it through the first few days and weeks and then months of early recovery. Instead of waking up dreading the day ahead, you began to look forward to what new things each day might bring.
You were eagerly looking forward to learning, whether or not you put the feeling into words. When you learned something new that helped make your sobriety less complicated or a little easier to understand, didn’t your life seem to be elevated a bit? Maybe the days of learning new things seemed to stretch together, without you taking a moment to recognize that you’d come a long way, but once you stood back and looked at the progress you’d made, you could see that you’d learned a great deal – and your life in recovery benefitted immensely because of it.
When you know, because you’ve studied and learned it, that you can come to grips with cravings and urges, that you can deal with deadlines and stresses at work and at home, your life in recovery is enhanced. It may not be easy, but it is easier to manage. That’s certainly a plus.
And it all begins with a willingness to get out there and learn something new. Open your mind to the possibility that life can be better for you in recovery. It’s not all drudgery and boring meetings and endless tasks to endure. If you want something truly satisfying and life-changing, all you need is to begin on the path of learning, of obtaining knowledge in some area that is worthwhile to you and your recovery.
You Can Share What You Know With Others
Passing on what we have learned so that it may benefit others may not be high on your list of things you know about knowledge, but maybe it should be. Why keep what you’ve learned to yourself when it can help someone else? This is especially pertinent when it comes to recovery.
Think back to the day you first walked through the doors of the 12-step group. Remember how scared you were, how vulnerable you felt, how confused, maybe a little angry and frustrated? You walked into a room full of strangers, but didn’t people extend their hands in friendship and greet you with a few kind words and a smile?
You may have not known anyone, but soon you were no longer a stranger. As you kept coming to the meetings, you began to learn a little bit more each time about how this whole recovery thing works. You got a sponsor and learned a great deal about the Twelve Steps and tentatively began working on them. Gradually, you found that you’d made some recognizable progress toward the goals that you set for yourself in recovery.
Didn’t that feel good? Along the way, you accumulated knowledge about coping strategies that worked, about how to reduce tension and stress, about the best way to organize your day so that you accomplish what’s most important without becoming frustrated over not getting everything done.
With all the knowledge that you’ve learned since your first day in the rooms of recovery, surely there’s something that you can share with the newcomer who’s just now entering this community of individuals. Maybe you can think about what you can give back, in the form of stretching out your own hand in friendship and support to this newly sober person who’s looking for a little help and encouragement as he or she starts on the recovery journey.
Learning and Knowledge Have No Expiration Date
Did you ever hear anyone say that they unlearned how to drive or how to bake a cake or how to climb a tree? Is it possible to unlearn knowledge you’ve worked so hard to acquire? Perhaps in extreme cases, such as a medical condition or Alzheimer’s, but, in general, once you learn something, you’ve acquired the knowledge. There’s no expiration date that applies.
This does not mean, however, that you might not get a little rusty with lack of use. If you don’t apply the knowledge, or stuff it back in the far corners of your mind and never use it, you might need a little brushing up and practice to get your mind working that knowledge appropriately again. But it isn’t lost. It’s still there, ready and waiting for you to call upon it again.
The beauty of the human mind is that it can store millions of bits of information simultaneously. We have the ability to compartmentalize certain knowledge, to store creative items here and decision-making processes there, and so on.
The shelf-life, so to speak, of knowledge and learning is one of its most attractive attributes. Where else could you find such an eternally fresh fount of knowledge but the mind? Books don’t count. They are physical repositories of data, of detail, all of which helps you fill the shelves of your mind with information. But knowledge requires conscious thought, considering how this information works, how it applies, what it all means.
In recovery, what you learned early on about how to take good care of yourself, about what is most important for your sobriety and how to prioritize and organize and make sound decisions may have taken a back seat to some later items on your to-do list. But the knowledge you worked so hard to acquire is always there at your fingertips – or, rather, in your mind – ready to assist you in your ongoing recovery efforts.
Learning is Fun
Looking at your children, or someone else’s children, if you don’t have any, do you ever wonder what makes them laugh and smile and seem to be having so much fun? Remember earlier the discussion about how infants are born and immediately begin to soak up knowledge? Little children know that learning is fun. It’s amazing how such a simple concept can get all fuzzy and misunderstood as we grow up.
Instead of looking forward to what new thing we can learn today, don’t we often find ourselves wishing we didn’t have to go to that lecture or read the class assignment or participate in the meeting at work? If it involves hard work and study, do we tend to shy away and find all kinds of excuses for why we’re not available?
In recovery, we should know better. After all, there’s a lot we don’t know, right? That means there’s a lot that we can learn. And, since we already know that everyone can learn, that there’s no expiration date on learning and knowledge, and that knowledge helps us grow and enhances our life, we should be eager to fill our minds with every bit of knowledge we can get.
There’s really no downside to knowledge in recovery. If we don’t need the particular information today, it may very well serve our purposes another time. We should know that knowledge is a building-block process, much like scaling a ladder. We start at the bottom – or the beginning, as it were – and make slow and steady progress upward. We become more confident in our abilities, stronger in our recovery foundation, better able to make sound decisions, and ultimately find that there’s a great deal of satisfaction, happiness and joy in all that we have learned.