Sunday, July 11, 2010


“A life of reaction is a life of slavery, intellectually and spiritually. One must fight for a life of action not reaction.” Rita Mae Brown

As the old saying goes, “for every action, there is a reaction.” How true this is! Just pay attention the next time you approach an intersection; if the light turn’s red, my guess is you react by placing your foot on the brake to slow down and avoid an accident. Or, for example, if the water that is boiling on the stove starts to boil over, you react by cutting the stove off and moving the pan. A life without action or reaction is the life of a statue. This is not what we are meant to be!

However, there is wisdom in differentiating between action and reaction. defines action as, “an act that one consciously wills and that may be characterized by physical or mental activity.” To act is to be alive. Action is using our intellect and our will to move about in space and time. It is a gift and a responsibility.

In a seemingly similar, but different, fashion we often experience reaction. The same site defines the word reaction as, “action in response to some influence, event, etc.” What a subtle but important distinction. When we react, it is always in response to some external source (e.g. a co-workers attitude) or internal source (e.g. attacking a co-worker with a stapler due to your anger at the co-workers aforementioned attitude). Our reactions often get us into trouble especially in the area of substance abuse and recovery.

In recovery, addicts are literally recovering from a life of reaction. Out-of-control emotions such as anger, fear, boredom, apathy, rage, and jealousy caused them to medicate through substance abuse. The tyranny of other people’s opinions often ravaged their self-worth leaving them no seemingly better action than to react with substances. It is a vicious cycle. That is why it is important to learn the skill of action instead of relying on the knee-jerk, life-destroying incompetence of reaction.

So, how does one move from reaction to action? Very slowly! Breaking a habit takes time. People don’t become addicted overnight; neither do they learn to take right actions in the same timeframe. Therefore, it is wise to learn how to work the Steps and apply the wisdom of your sponsor. In addition, it is helpful to learn how to live and act right in a community of like-minded individuals such as those in A.A. and N.A. It is in community that we break isolation and experience personal accountability, two key components to right action.

The good news is that this can be done! The 9th Step promises state, “Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations that used to baffle us” (Alcoholics Anonymous, p.84). What an awesome set of promises…to be able to be free to do the next right thing and forget about doing the next wrong thing! You’ll know you are starting to get somewhere when you start thinking, “action not reaction!”

Chris Newcomb – Aftercare Coordinator

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