There are certainly many paths to recovery. But you’ll only take one. What’s the best choice for you? We don’t know. And you can never really know. You only get to live life once. However you live it, you won’t know how it would have gone had you lived it differently. Time runs in one direction. Scientific studies often tell us what happened on average to the people who got this or that treatment. We’ll cite some statistics in The Wisdom to Know the Difference. But at the end of the day you won’t have something happen to you on average. Something very particular will happen to you. The best measure—and we’ll emphasize this over and over again—is how your path to recovery is working in your own life. We’ll hold onto this practical theme throughout.
The substance of The Wisdom to Know the Difference is grounded in a model of psychotherapy called acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT from here on, which should be pronounced as a word rather than separate letters.) ACT is an application of a discipline in psychology called behavior analysis. Unless you have an interest in the study of psychology, the only thing we want you to take away from this fact is that we’re concerned here with your behavior, with what you do, far more than we are with what you think or who you “are” in some abstract sense. Rather than explain too much about how ACT works as a model of psychotherapy, we’d rather keep writing to you about the issue of addiction and recovery and let the details of the approach come out in the process, in a commonsense, storytelling way rather than a deliberately professional or scholarly- seeming way. We will offer that the principles of ACT are being evaluated on an ongoing basis in research facilities all over the world, and that, from its earliest days, ACT has been applied to substance-abuse issues with good results. While what follows isn’t science, it is of science.
This is important to us, and we hope it’s of some reassurance to you.
ACT as an Approach to Recovery
ACT is a behavioral treatment that has been shown to be useful with a wide variety of problems in living. There are clinical tests where ACT has been used with people who have problems with anxiety, depression, hallucinations, delusions, and chronic stress. ACT has been used with a lot of people struggling with different health problems like diabetes, chronic pain, obesity, and cancer. And, perhaps most important to you, ACT has been used successfully with a variety of addictions, including serious problems with multiple substances such as heroin, cocaine, and alcohol, with marijuana dependence, and with tobacco dependence. What’s more, ACT self-help books have shown very good results in scientific tests.
Does this matter to you? It might, but we doubt it. And honestly, we don’t think it should matter very much. Maybe you could be attracted to ACT’s roots in science. Maybe it’s appealing that the therapy has an expanding information base and practice community. Or maybe you’re drawn to the fact that ACT has been applied to problems in many areas of life, not just a few. In the end, we believe that what really matters is whether what ACT has to offer resonates with you. And rather than go on and on about what ACT does have to offer, we’ll put it all to you in one simple question:
In this very moment, will you accept the sad and the sweet, hold lightly stories about what is possible, and be the author of a life that has meaning and purpose for you, turning in kindness back to that life when you find yourself moving away from it?
From where we sit, this question, honestly and diligently answered, is the very heart of what ACT has to offer. It speaks to this very moment, to what is happening to you in your life, right here and right now. It asks you to accept that your life—everyone’s life—is inevitably colored by things that are lovely and things that are painful. It reminds you that how you see the world right now might not necessarily be how things actually are and certainly doesn’t determine how things might eventually become. It asks you what it is that you really want your life to be about and what you’re willing to do to make it be so. And, finally, it asks if you are willing to commit, moment after moment after moment, to turn back to those things you value and care about, even when you’ve strayed—as we all do more often than we would like.
We’ll have more to say about the particulars of ACT as we go along. For now, we invite you to sit for a moment with this question before reading on. It will matter a lot to the rest of the time you spend with us in this book.
So, now we begin our task. We invite you to give what we offer here a try. We’ll be asking you to do some kind of crazy stuff: odd exercises, activities, meditations, writing assignments, and other sorts of things. It’s our sincerest hope that you find things here that move you toward a life you can love.
Adapted from The Wisdom to Know the Difference: An Acceptance & Commitment Therapy Workbook by Kelly G. Wilson, PhD, and Troy DuFrene