Recovery Identity: The Surprising Link Between Pickles and Substance Abuse

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Learning to embrace your addiction recovery identity

By: Rick Fannin

Accepting Your Recovery Identity

Do you like pickles? I sure do! Pickles start as cucumbers, and no matter how much they may try, a pickle can never go back to being a cucumber. Instead of struggling with becoming a cucumber again, it would be a better use of time for the pickle to figure out how to be the best pickle it can be.

When I heard this analogy the other day, it reminded me of addiction.  God knows that I drank and used enough to pickle anyone. Once I became a pickle (a person with an addiction problem), I struggled for so long with trying to get back to being a cucumber (the version of me before addiction ever started).

A cucumber (a person without an addiction problem) can have one or two drinks and stop, and they can take prescription pain medication and actually follow the doctor’s medical instructions. Pickles (people with addiction) are thirsty, and enough is never enough.  This pickle fought for so long to get back to being able to drink or use like a cucumber again, but once this pickle had just one, then enough was never enough.  It made me angry, frustrated, and sad.  Look at how much fun cucumbers get to have.  Oh, how I missed being a cucumber.  And on top of that, I was the only pickle in my family of cucumbers, and I felt incredible toxic shame.  I hated myself for becoming a pickle.

In talking with other pickles (persons in recovery), I learned that there is no shame about being a pickle and that it is possible to build a wonderful life in the pickle jar (recovery). I discovered that pickles have a bit of a Zing to them, and I learned that I liked pickles. I started to surround myself with others who didn’t shame me for being a pickle, but instead, they gave this pickle hope.

I observed these former cucumbers thriving as a pickle.  I learned to accept being a pickle (person in recovery) and accepted all of the things associated with being a pickle (person in recovery). And as page 417 of the A.A. Big Book states, I discovered that:

“Acceptance is the answer to all my problems today.”

It took me some time, but I learned to be the best pickle (person in recovery) that I could be and make the most out of my new life in the pickle jar (recovery community). Sometimes it is hard to get the pickle jar open, but I learned the importance and value of hanging out with and opening up to other pickles. I learned how much joy comes from being of service to the new pickles and helping them to learn to swim in the pickle jar. There are tremendous benefits from building a strong sober support system and being part of a support system for others.

Caroline Knapp

Drinking -A Love Story

“…… Most alcoholics (not all) sooner or later have to grapple with the idea that they have a disease. Some people drink in wildly alcoholic the first time they ever taste the stuff….But those of us who have experienced more gradual and insidious descents into alcoholism have to turn the disease concept over and over in our minds, to learn over long periods to believe and accept it….until I got sober, alcoholism seemed more like a moral issue than a physical one. This is one of our culture’s most basic assumptions about the disease, and one of its most destructive: we figure that drinking too much is a sign of weakness and lack of self-restraint; that it’s bad; that it can be overcome by will…..”

When I finally went to rehab, I learned that addiction to either drugs or alcohol has physiological roots. Addiction rewires how your brain works. Your brain’s ability to manufacture the stuff you need to feel good is compromised when you use drugs or drink a lot routinely. However, the brain is amazing, and if you abstain, the brain can repair and restore balance to the hormones that produce pleasure and control emotions. However, those neurological reward circuits have extremely long and powerful memories. Once the simple message-alcohol or message-drug equals pleasure gets imprinted into the brain, it may stay there indefinitely, perhaps for a lifetime.

Environmental cues such as the sight of a neon sign, a walk past a favorite bar, a piece of aluminum foil, or running into an old “friend” can trigger a wish to drink or use in a heartbeat. By focusing on these wishes caused by my external triggers, such as driving by where I used to buy drugs, would create an intense craving to “just stop in and see how my “friends” are doing.” Likewise, internal triggers such as toxic shame, anger, and self-resentments would create intense cravings to numb these painful emotions. In recovery, I learned how to initially avoid some of the risky triggers and develop healthy coping skills to navigate both internal and external without risking a relapse.

Over time, the triggering became less frequent and the cravings less intense. The quote that “Time heals all things” is not valid regarding addiction.  At 363 days clean and sober, I felt like “I Got This!”. This pickle bought into the cunning, baffling, and powerful lies of addiction.  I believed that “I can have just one,” “I just want to see if I am really an alcoholic and addict,” “no one will ever know,” “it will be fun,” “it will be different this time,” “I will do it just this once.” I completely believed that with 363 days under my belt, and all of these new tools in my toolbox, I finally have control over drugs or alcohol.

Seriously, who relapses two days away from getting your one-year coin?  (This pickle raising his hand). This pickle believed he could be a cucumber again. I am so grateful for my relapse at 363 days, as it taught me things that are the most valuable to me now in my recovery and my life. That relapse helped me to build a daily recovery routine that is the foundation of my relapse prevention plan.

Once you have crossed that line into addiction, there appears to be no safe way to drink or use again, no way to return to normal, social, controlled drinking or controlled using. Pickles cannot become a cucumber, and persons with addiction cannot return to the ability to self-regulate and control drug or alcohol consumption.

Have you ever seen a pickumber; part cucumber, and part pickle? No? Me either. However, I observe this struggle with persons in recovery all of the time, and I have struggled with it myself. They can see how opioids have damaged their life. They have accepted that they have lost the ability to use opioids again safely. However, they see other substances such as alcohol or marijuana as being OK because “it’s not my drug of choice.”

I get the line all the time that “marijuana is not addictive.” I agree unless you are addicted to marijuana, which many people are.  There are plenty of people who drink alcohol in moderation, but they are not an alcoholic. You could even look at how “food is not addictive,” but do you know someone addicted to food?  Shopping is not addictive, but do you know a shopaholic?

The point is that addiction is a definite physiological phenomenon, just like diabetes or other chronic illnesses, and either you have it, or you do not. If you have a genetic predisposition, you can either abstain from addictive substances or not. If, however, your brain has the dopamine dysregulation of an addicted individual, then even the use of non-drugs of choice addictive substances should be avoided.

In my experience working with others attempting to recovery from drugs or alcohol, trying other addictive substances or addictive behaviors turns out badly and leads people back to their drug of choice.

There is no shame in being a pickle, and there is no shame in being a person with addiction in recovery. There is a beautiful joy that can be found as a person in recovery that can far surpass the life before addiction. Accept the wholeness of your new identity and learn to discover the blessing obtained from living a recovery program. Form connections with and talking to others in recovery and connecting to their story of what it was like, what happened, and what it is like now will help you overcome the shame and stigma of being an alcoholic or addict and discover how wonderful it can be to be a pickle.

An attitude of gratitude is very beneficial in recovery.  I am so grateful to be a pickle, and honestly, I am kind of sad for the cucumbers. I wish that everyone could experience the serenity that comes from working the 12-steps and the joy of service to others, and the incredible peace that comes when “we practice these principles in all our affairs.” Sincerely,

Pickle Rick

P.S. For any Rick and Morty fans, check out season 3, where Rick turns himself into a pickle and ends up in family counseling.


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