Picking Up the 500 Pound Telephone

One of the most important tools available to someone breaking the bonds of addictive behavior is the telephone. The "cunning, baffling and powerful" nature of addiction thrives in secrecy and shame, and open communication brings much-needed air and light into an addict's walled-off lifestyle. It's been noted many times that the first word of the "12 Steps" of addiction recovery is "we." And yet picking up a telephone and talking to another person is one of the hardest possible behaviors for a habitually secretive addict. This is the origin of the saying about the difficulty of "picking up the 500 pound telephone".

I encourage my clients who are struggling to stay sober to immediately start getting and using phone numbers of people they meet in 12 step meetings. I suggest they get in the habit of doing this before the need to do so is severe, because by then it's generally too late to make an initial call. I want my clients to get in the habit of making such "program calls" as soon as possible.

Often clients protest that they don't know what to say to another addict who they hardly know. I suggest simply saying their name, asking if it's a good time to "check in" and then talk about whatever is going on in their lives. Invariably the other person will listen, make a few supportive comments and then reciprocate. It is almost always the case that a person feels more "human" after one of these calls, and often gets some insight, tip or tool that will come in handy when a craving kicks in.

It is one of the paradoxes of recovery that a person who calls someone to share feelings is doing that other person a favor. Clients are often surprised how the people they phone thank them for calling them. Again, addiction thrives in isolation and the identification and shared support of this kind of active recovery is like fresh air in a dank and moldy room.

Many people tell me they are not the kind of person who can make these kinds of calls. In my experience almost no one is comfortable doing this at first. But addiction is a process that will threaten the loss of everything a person holds dear, and taking a deep breath while pushing some phone buttons is a small price to pay for another day above ground.

One of my great joys is watching a person gradually awake to themselves and others through an active recovery program. I've seen many people who used to go weeks without saying a meaningful word to anyone grow to the point that they delight in having a host of "program buddies" to rely on and share the thoughts, feelings and actions of the day. It's as if that 500 pound phone gets lighter and lighter until it lifts the person into a higher plane of being.

(This is only one of many tips and tools I suggest to women and men who are in addiction recovery, including people who are on the courageous journey of healing from sex addiction as well as those dealing with drug and alcohol issues.)  

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Bill Herring is a therapist in Atlanta who helps people gain their footing from all addictions, including sex and porn addiction.  He also provides individual and couples counseling for a wide variety of life difficulties.