Chris DeLine

Cedar Rapids, IA

Replacement Therapy

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Within the context of recovery, the word “renunciation” is a new phrase for me. In Refuge Recovery it’s explained as “the practice of abstaining from harmful behaviors.” Similarly, the term’s Wiki article pins it as “the act of rejecting something, especially if it is something that the renouncer has previously enjoyed or endorsed.” In looking back on my own life, some fifteen years or experimenting with binge drinking is probably as fine an endorsement of alcohol as any.

Through my own path of recovery there has been firm use of renunciation when it comes to alcohol, as abstinence has proven the only viable solution for me in moving beyond it in search of improved well-being. Removal of a vice isn’t removal of the feelings or emotions that feed the craving however, which is where the concept of replacement therapy takes form: the trading of one destructive habit or pattern for another. In lieu of having the option to use alcohol (or drugs, or sex, or whatever that primary vice might be) to mask feelings or modify a mood, the same drive for pleasure or desire to escape negative feelings, begins to breathe through other mediums in search of the same result.

For some the trade-off seems harmless, but for myself the same behaviors and feelings are simply manifesting themselves in different forms of self-harm. Now abstinent from alcohol for the better part of three years, little has been done to curb or even address the abuse of food and pornography which are now used to gain the very same relief that alcohol once delivered me.

“Renunciation alone is not recovery, however,” continues Refuge Recovery. “It is only the beginning. Those who maintain abstinence but fail to examine the underlying causes and conditions are not on a path to recovery. They are simply stopping the surface manifestations of addition, which will inevitably resurface in other ways.”

Renunciation alone is not recovery. The absence of harm is not to be mistaken for the presence of health. Today is not the beginning, but another step in a process.