When we first get sober, we may hear some paradoxes. These are slogans or phrases that might be heard in some recovery circles that may or may not make sense at the time. A paradox is a statement that seems contradictory. The phrases might seem cliche and perhaps even silly. But as time goes on, the messages behind these little nuggets of truth and wisdom will begin to become clearer. We will begin to understand their meaning and see how they apply to our lives in recovery. This article covers the four paradoxes in recovery.

We surrender to win

“We surrender to win” is the first paradox you may hear. It was the first one I heard, and it really helped me once it was explained to me. It’s the idea that in recovery I surrender to alcohol and/or drugs. I needed to raise the white flag of surrender as I had lost the fight. My drug of choice beat me down to the point where I was losing in the game of life and there was no way I could win the battle. I tried and tried for years to drink or drug like “normal” (non-addicted) people, but the result was always the same – pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization.

So we surrender and surrender and surrender. I need to surrender every day as I cannot begin to think that I have gained control over my addiction. For me, I surrender every morning when I say my morning prayers. That reminds me of who I am – an addicted person who cannot safely use alcohol or drugs.

We give it away to keep it

This paradox relates to the idea that we share our sobriety in order to stay sober ourselves. It’s the spiritual practice of “by helping others, we are helped.” This practice of one addicted person helping another has proven to be effective in helping many people to achieve long-term sobriety. It’s the primary purpose of 12-step meetings – to carry the message to those who are suffering from addiction. It can also be an important part of group therapy. By helping others, the addicted person becomes healed for that day. The addicted person forgets their own problems and focuses on the needs of others, receiving another day of sobriety.

a woman hugging another woman. By helping others we are helped is one of the four paradoxes in recovery.
Helping others to stay sober ourselves is the principle behind “We give it away to keep it”

We suffer to get well

I’ve heard the last two paradoxes less often in meetings; however, the meaning or concepts behind these paradoxes are commonly woven into many recovery meetings. “We suffer to get well” is the notion that the emotional pain we experience in sobriety will lead to us becoming mentally and emotionally healthier people. As a result of experiencing challenges or obstacles in life, we become stronger. Every living thing faces obstacles, and it’s these obstacles that help living things strengthen and become more resilient.

For many of us, the idea of character building (growing through adversity) was not a top priority in our addiction. Many of us preferred to run away from challenges or obstacles. In sobriety, instead of saying “F_ck Everything And Run (FEAR)”, we get to “Face Everything And Recovery” (FEAR). Through this process, we learn new and practical methods for navigating life’s ups and downs, and we develop positive coping skills that enable us to live sober, content lives.

We die to live

This paradox refers to the death of our old life in favor of choosing a new, healthier one. I had to get to a point where I was broken, utterly defeated before I was willing to change. The gift of desperation can create fertile soil in which a new life can take root. That soil is fertilized with willingness – a desire to do something other than what I had been doing for years. I was willing to take suggestions and try something different. Out of the ashes (or death) of my old life and addiction, a new life took root and began to grow in recovery. To continue the analogy, the new life grew into this beautiful garden – a life beyond what I could have imagined.

For people in recovery who rely on a Higher Power for strength, this paradox can also refer to the death of trying to live solely on self will and self propulsion. We can give up our old selfish ways and find new life in trying to align our will and lives with a Higher Power of our choosing. Many people in recovery who have developed a belief in a Higher Power have found the process transformative.

For people who are in early recovery, this idea of giving up the old life can seem scary and impossible. I know it was for me. But over time, I saw the lives that other people in recovery were living and developed a faith and trust that, if I took their advice and suggestions, I too could have a good sober life. I did that and it has made all the difference.

What is your experience with the four paradoxes? Share your thoughts with me, Steve W., at [email protected].

*Disclaimer: Content found in this blog does not necessarily reflect the teachings, practices, or policies of Health Care Alliance of North America or its treatment centers.

a seedling sprouting out of soil
A new life can take root and blossom out of the ashes of our old lives.

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