April 24th, 2015

I Had To Change Inside

This was the path to recovery from alcohol and drug addiction that retired baseball player Darryl Strawberry described in an inspirational talk at this year’s Tuerk Conference. As I listened to him, I was reminded that change and misery are often inextricably linked. For example, on the one hand, Gautama Buddha taught that much unhappiness can be traced to the refusal to accept the inevitability of change. Many addicts, on the other hand, struggle with pain resulting from their unwillingness to change.

Darryl Strawberry described this as his “defiance,” which he ultimately turned to his advantage. Dismissed by some as hopeless after several unsuccessful recovery attempts, he restated several times during his talk, in his deep baritone voice, “I‘m still here.”

When asked by a member of the audience about what had finally made the difference that led to his change, he quickly identified his wife’s refusal to have sex with him until he stopped using drugs. I have been impressed by how many different answers I have heard to that question; his was as good as any others. Although his wife’s intervention would not fit into the classic model of William Miller’s “Motivational Interviewing,” it appears to have been effective.

Change has been described as a multi-staged process rather than a discrete event. Having made the decision to change, a necessary step is then to figure out how to make this happen. Most addicts find, as Darryl Strawberry did, that “outside” changes are necessary but not sufficient. An internal psychological – and for some, spiritual – process must be navigated to reach a stable state of recovery and “sobriety.”

One of the most familiar tools adopted by those in 12-Step recovery programs is the “Serenity Prayer” attributed to the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr:

“God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Often repeated at the end of meetings, these 27 words have given comfort and direction to many along what Buddha might have called a “noble” path toward recovery.

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