Paradoxes in Addiction

Root of Paradoxes

A paradox is a statement that seems contradictory or absurd but may be true, or else a statement that is self-contradictory and therefore false. This gives a hint that the root of paradox is inadequacies in the language or models being used.

Language/concept assumptions A simple example is the question, “If God is all powerful, can God make a rock bigger than God can lift?” There is no answer to this question because the question itself is a paradox; it contains its own negation. The assumptions of the concept or model must be examined if we are to make anything useful out of a paradox. For example, in the question above, the critical points are not God’s capabilities, but your assumptions about the ability of human beings to understand God.

Paradoxes in Addiction

The reason we talk about paradoxes is that the world of addiction seems to invite paradox, and it leads to much confusion in recovery.

Surrender to win A phrase that is used often in recovery, “Surrender to win,” seems paradoxical. We assume that surrender means defeat. The key is that the war is within you, so unless you surrender you will inflict further damage on yourself. Surrender means accepting your disease and giving in to the process of recovery.

Give to receive You may also be told that you have to give to receive. Giving and receiving seem opposites, but in relationships both are aspects of caring. You receive satisfaction and joy when you give of yourself. In receiving, you provide others with the opportunity for the joy of giving.

Sponsor or sponsee Is sponsorship for the sponsor or the sponsee? Sponsorship is based on the simple idea that by helping others you help yourself. “To keep it you have to give it away.” Bill W’s first talk with Dr. Bob came about because Bill was fighting the urge to drink. Many had tried to help Dr. Bob, but it was important to Dr. Bob that Bill needed him, too.

Selfish program You may also hear someone say this is a selfish program. That sounds greedy, but if you understand it as meaning that you must take responsibility for your own recovery, it makes more sense. You must focus on yourself in recovery as you turn loose your self-centeredness.

What is the issue? Sometimes you will hear people say that alcohol or drugs or food or addictive behavior is not the issue, and other times that it is the issue. The truth is that in addiction, the addictive substance or behavior is an issue, but only part of the physical aspect of the disease.

Do it yourself? You will hear people say, “You have to do it yourself.” Others will say, “You can’t do it by yourself.” Actually, you can’t change yourself without help. Nor can you expect anyone else to do your legwork. And you certainly have no business trying to change or control someone else. Another way to say it is, “Only you can do it, but you can’t do it alone.”

Danger of Paradox

The danger of not recognizing and working around paradoxes is that you will get yourself confused and tied up in the language you or others are using.

Spiritual matters often invite paradox. Bill W. quoted a prayer in Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (p. 99) that ends with paradoxes. “For it is by self-forgetting that one finds. It is by forgiving that one is forgiven. It is by dying that one awakens to eternal life.”

Control the eating As long as you are trapped in the wrong questions, like “How can I get control of my eating?” you are not likely to find the solutions. Ask instead, “How can my eating be controlled?” and the answer is more obvious: by a Higher Power (or Program).


Paradoxes in addiction, see also: Affirmations, Beliefs, Control, Delusion, Dichotomous thinking, Disease concept, Mental aspects, Openmindedness, Priorities, Program, Sabotage of recovery, Serenity, Stinking thinking, Visualizations.

Updated 11 Sep 2015

Creative Commons License
Addictionary 2 by Jan & Judy Wilson

is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.