Important Addiction Recovery Tool: Play the Tape
When most people enter recovery, they freeze in dramatic emotions like grief, self-pity, hate, fear, grief, and victimization. They may not know how to articulate it, but this sentence sums it up: “There are two things I despise the most, change and the way things are.” Frozen solid.
What happens for most people is that the love, acceptance, and identification in the 12-step rooms begin to unfreeze them. They may start to become soft and malleable enough to listen to new ideas and ways of thinking. They are then told that they only have to change one thing, but that’s it!
Alcoholics and addicts of all stripes have one thing in common: shortsightedness, which seeks instant gratification. There’s a running joke in 12-step rooms about how you can recognize her social drinker when she says something like “let’s save some of this (alcohol or drugs or cake) for later.” The recovering alcoholics in the room just laugh at this strange thought. In the mind of an active addict, there is no ‘after’. It’s just the unbearable NOW. And in recovery, this begins to change, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly.
One great tool that all newcomers should have been given for their recovery toolkit is the phrase, “Play the tape to the end.” We are not talking here about replacing the negative tape with the positive tape, but about playing the tape to the end and discovering the end of the story.
For the non-alcoholics or addicts, let me explain what this means. Almost all alcoholics remember using, usually very early in their drinking career, the euphoria: “Six feet tall and bulletproof,” “the prettiest girl in the room,” “I can dance,” “I’m beloved”, “I belong to the Universe”, “I am not a mistake”, etc. It is that euphoric memory that keeps the addict picking up again and again, looking for that moment. It is usually strongly related to the sound of a beer being opened, or the clink of the ice cube in the glass when the first fresh drink is poured, the successful transaction with the distributor, or opening that pack of new cigarettes and folding the aluminum foil. .. This is the moment that people new to recovery are playing with in their heads: that split second between the anticipation and the execution of the first puff, drink or hit. And a fraction of a second is, because that moment of euphoria is so fleeting that it no longer exists more than in that fraction of a second of delirium in the addict’s mind. But this is where the newcomer will stop the tape. Right in that split second, and play it over and over again, anticipation, satisfying the craving or desire, over and over again.
The tool given to newcomers, “Play the tape to the end”, means don’t hit the pause button, rewind, let it play. What happens after that first glass of wine? A second glass? Third, fourth, fifth, bottle after bottle? Drinking and driving, the look on kids’ faces when they realize you’ve relapsed? The dark alleys, the crack houses and the jail cells? The hangover from work on Monday morning, the shakes, the sickness, the shame and remorse, and even worse, the realization that you’re stuck in active addiction again and can’t stop. Play the tape to the end.
We don’t use this tool very often, except in this particular situation, because it’s a one-day-at-a-time program, and we try to stay out of the past and out of the future. We try to stay in the moment. But this is one of the most powerful tools for the newcomer who can get caught up in a euphoric memory.