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Is Enough Enough?

By William Moyers Modified: February 23, 2013 at 3:58 pm •  Published: February 23, 2013

A man from Minneapolis asked me the other day, "Can a person burn out on too many meetings?"

By "meetings," he meant the 12-step kind, where addicts and alcoholics regularly congregate to keep at bay the illness that drove them into isolation in the first place. For millions of people, such meetings work — and keep working.

But I've heard that question posed by some people whose recovery does not include the 12 steps. "Church got me clean, and I am grateful. It's just that I'm no longer enamored going every single Sunday morning and Wednesday night. I need a break. I'm tired," lamented a woman who had her "spiritual awakening" a few years ago when her preacher laid his hands on her at the depths of her despair under the influence of crack cocaine.

I know a man who trains and "runs for recovery" — his own — with 10k races and half-marathons. He's done scores of races since he committed to stop drinking, stop smoking cigarettes and lose 25 pounds a decade ago. "I'm tired of running," he wrote me. "Don't get me wrong; I have no interest in returning to my 'old' life. But there's got to be more to life than running through recovery."

And then there is my dear friend, a mother of two handsome boys. When she was about 20, she found sobriety in a 12-step meeting, and she has stayed that way for the past 30 years. I deeply admire her and respect her opinions, so I was taken aback when she spit this out the other day: "I'm tired of AA meetings. I'm tired of talking and working the steps. Isn't there something else to talk about?"

All of these people are alike. They're not alone, either.

What drives millions of us to stop using is when we realize the substances don't work anymore. What keeps us free and clear is whatever fills that void — formal 12-step meetings, church, exercise, hobbies, our kids, volunteer work at a nonprofit, a different career or simply a move to another neighborhood.

The key is to stay balanced.

Often addicts and alcoholics end up replacing the substances with too much of that good thing, at the expense of other priorities, ambitions or responsibilities, including our families. The day comes when we're worn-out to the point that we wonder, "Is enough enough?"

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