Calling bullshit on a contrived motivational message – I was never broken, and neither were you.

Someone shared this on Facebook. I am not going to name her or reply to her because that won’t achieve anything useful… better to respond out of that forum, over here.

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This is one of those motivational messages that appears inspiring at first glance, but it has problems in the deeper message it delivers, so I don’t like it. You might say that my arguments below are an overreaction and are not all relevant to the shared message, but this message should not be considered in isolation; it’s part of a pattern of belief, and I’m responding to it and other religious/spiritual messages that share the pattern. Of course, this response is also in the context of recovery from addiction, because the person who shared it is a recovering addict. But the key word that I don’t like is “broken”, especially when it comes from someone who posts religious messages. (On the bright side, it didn’t include “type Amen”.)

I will not deny that losing everything as I did through addiction was a life-changing experience for me. Losing everything, swallowing my pride and going to rehab was a humbling experience. But I never bought into the idea that I needed to “practice powerlessness” and ask some god to fix me because of being broken. I simply needed to be in a safe place, away from the temptation of choosing to use drugs for a while. Picking up the pieces and sorting out my life such that I was able to rebuild my possessions and relationships after finding myself in rehab with nothing, was a wonderful experience.

As sad as it was to lose everything that I had, and I lost a lot, including possessions that could not be replaced, like books and hundreds of classic comics from my father… like thousands of CDs and records and DVDs that I’d collected for over twenty years… losing them all helped me realize that they were just objects, and that my attachments to them were purely sentimental. Yes, I am still sad that some of them are gone, but rebuilding my life after losing my attachments to mostly meaningless things was empowering. It helped teach me what is really important to me. And that’s people and relationships, those whom I love and care for, not possessions, and certainly not money.

But I was never broken.
I made some horrendously poor choices, and learned not to make them anymore.

But I did not rebuild my life from nothing; I did not start all over again. I went into a rehab with my morals and pride intact, then had to listen to a lot of nonsense. Nonsense that told me on the one hand that addicts are “not bad people”, and on the other that we are incapable of staying away from drugs on our own. Nonsense about having a disease that can never be cured (or detected), one that must be treated with a spiritual program. Whenever anybody brought up the issue of choices, they were told to shut up and “surrender” or that they were in denial. So I had to pretend to take their nonsense seriously; otherwise I would have been accused of not being serious about my recovery and having my family told that I wasn’t ready to leave the rehab. So I played their game. I was fortunate in that I recognized, in my first three days while detoxing from meth and spending my time in a half-asleep daze, that recovery is a culture. It’s a culture based upon years of nonsense that is accepted at face value and repeated without a moment of critical thought, rooted in the born-again Christian idea that we need to be saved. It’s a culture of woo presented in a way that tells us what we want to hear, then dooms us to never actually being recovered. It is a culture that is not and never was for me. Not everybody there saw through the façade and many took it all too seriously, to their peril I imagine. Either it doesn’t work at all, or you spend your entire life indoctrinated into believing bullshit, working the same worthless steps over and over again ad nauseam.

I cannot emphasize enough how much I hated that place. The fact is, my morals and values were fine, and I was perfectly able to lead a normal life. All I needed was time to continue and pick myself up from where I was, time to prove to myself and others that I was OK and be forgiven for my mistakes, and time to work and earn enough money so that I could have material things again. Rehab was, to a large extent, a place where I was judged as inferior while being told that I wasn’t, and being taught that only god could fix the broken person that I was.

If you believe that you are broken, then you believe that you need to be saved. And that’s bullshit. It’s not only a matter of false belief and a delusion of help by some imaginary being, the underlying sentiment that you are broken, that you need to ask a god for forgiveness and saving, also leaves you with the message that your poor choices were ultimately not your responsibility. Expecting prayer to work is one thing, but the failure to take personal accountability for your failures means that you never fully move on. So by all means, build yourself up again, stronger than ever, but never think that you were broken, because you never were.

If you take nothing else out of this, remember this: We are accountable for both the bad and the good. We make mistakes, and those mistakes are our fault. It doesn’t mean that we were broken. Likewise, when we learn to stop making those mistakes and make amends where possible, we are accountable for rebuilding our lives, for making a success of our lives. So we are accountable for the bad, and are equally accountable for the good. (No god, saving or fixing is required.) We were not broken, we did not get saved or fixed, and all accountability lies with us. So don’t thank god for your good fortune any more than you would blame god for the bad (which theists don’t do anyway, an ironic twist). It was all you.

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About Jerome

I am a senior C# developer in Johannesburg, South Africa. I am also a recovering addict, who spent nearly eight years using methamphetamine. I write on my recovery blog about my lessons learned and sometimes give advice to others who have made similar mistakes, often from my viewpoint as an atheist, and I also write some C# programming articles on my programming blog.
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