In classes I teach, one of my favorite ways to start is to tell the class about a frog sitting on a lily pad that decided to jump to another lily pad one day. They look at me, usually, like I’ve lost my mind. But then, I then follow-up the statement with, “Did the frog jump?”
Most, if not all, of the class will nod their heads in affirmation of the frog’s jumping from one lily pad to another. Once they are certain, I then say, “No where in my statement did I say that the frog jumped. What I said was that the frog decided to jump. Deciding to do something isn’t the same thing as doing something.”
I use this quick story to illustrate a point: In recovery, as in any growth-related endeavor, there’s always a decision involved to get clean and sober. But that decision, alone, will not bring about any healthy change. For example, I can decide to run the Phoenix half-marathon, but unless I train and register and show up in Phoenix on the day of the race, my decision will be meaningless.
There are steps to take to get clean. The first usually involves detoxing from the substance of abuse. This first step, while difficult, can be managed such that the pain involved is tolerated even a little bit better. For many, though, the detox is the main reason to fear recovery. And it’s not just because of the physical pain involved; most people who abuse substances come to regard their substance as their friend and most stable relationship. Especially for opiate abusers: Heroin and other opiates provide relief from the pain of many people’s existence. Using opiates is a quick means of escaping the drudgery and frustration that life presents. Really, the only way I’ve known someone to even decide to give them up is when he or she recognizes that continuing to use actually is harder than living his or her life clean. The circumstances surrounding opiate abuse usually involve financial ruin, violence and trauma, and constant fear of withdrawal. Many times, there’s also issues involving the courts, either civil or criminal or both. When those circumstances present a life that is too much to take, someone will decide to give up opiates.
But they won’t actually give them up right away. Because opiates are highly addictive, there’s little chance that the withdrawal fear will diminish simply because of the decision to get clean. One of the many things I hear myself repeating over and over again is: It takes time for someone to get clean. The length of time varies, but real recovery takes time and focus and energy. There’s no magic elixir that can take away an addiction over night. I really wish there was, though. I could take that elixir and hand it to hundreds of people and take away their addictions. Here in the real world though, that elixir is non-existent. The truth will always remain that recovery takes daily effort and constant recognition of the payoff that a sober life provides.
Deciding to do something isn’t doing it. In order to make any change, we need to have a goal, meet the goal, celebrate the goal being met, and then set a new goal. Constantly. There are no shortcuts, but there is hope: Eventually, once the frog decides to jump, he usually does.