Fly Fishing & Recovery Work

Fly Fishing & Recovery Work

Fly fishing is a spectacular sport. When most of us think fly fishing, our minds go to picturesque mountain streams, guys elegantly throwing 50 feet of line, landing a fly just up stream from a rising fish. There is power, precision, timing and beauty to this sport. What you may not know about fly fishing is that what is described above is only one form of fly fishing—dry fly fishing. There is a different, grittier, uglier style of fly fishing called nymphing. Rather than landing a winged fly on top of the water, the fisher uses the under water form of the fly (larval, pupal, or nymphal life-stage). Not to get too technical, but the majority of a fly’s life is spent under the water. And therefore, a fish’s diet consists of far more wet flies than dry flies. Ergo, if you want to catch fish, you are better off nymphing than casting a dry fly. Here’s the thing…nymphing is infinitely more difficult than casting a dry fly. When you fish a dry fly, you land the fly on top of the water and the fish comes up and eats it. The fly is on a 2 dimensional plane. But when you nymph, you have to put it below the surface of the water, thus entering a 3 dimensional reality—not to mention it becomes much more difficult to see the nymph. Recovery work is like fly fishing. Many guys seem to get by in their recovery work by skimming the surface, at least initially. They engage their behavioral change with all of the style and flair of Brad Pitt’s casting in A River Runs Through It. From the outside it looks wonderful, elegant, and effective…and most wives tire of the show pretty quickly. A common joke seasoned fly fishers lob at newbies is, “You hoping to catch a fish in the air?” Meaning: The fish live in the water and no amount of fancy casting will catch fish unless you put your fly on the water. Fish only come to the surface when there are flies to eat. Given the life cycle of a fly is sporadic throughout the day, there might only be a couple hours in the morning and a couple hours in the evening when the flies are on the water and getting eaten by fish…and the conditions have to be just right. Wind, rain, mucky water, too much sun…all these can put down fish so they are uncatchable. Here’s what I’m trying to say: if the conditions are perfect, you can get some good fishing done using a dry fly. Otherwise, when the conditions are less that perfect, you’ll need to use a wet fly. And again, we get back to recovery work. Post betrayal, when are conditions ever “perfect” for you to do your recovery work? Never. It is never a perfect day. There are always triggers, pains, and the storms of life your betrayal created. Good, deep recovery work will figure out a way to endure hard times, and keep fishing for truth and heart change. Below are a few nudges to help you go deep, past the work of recovery and into the results of recovery.

Go Deep—Stop skimming the surface and start asking the deeper questions. “I don’t know why…” is no longer part of your vocabulary. Instead, “I don’t know” is an invitation into deeper work. It is the very place that your next journaling, counseling session, and exploration should go, diving below the surface to figure out why. Until you figure out why, you are bound to continue to make mistakes. If you are serious about wanting to change, you must figure out all of your why’s.

Share vulnerabilities—Johan Hari made a name for himself in chemical addiction circles with a TED talk and a book entitled “Chasing the Scream.” The most quoted and succinct line from his work is, “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.” This is so true. So much is gleaned when you are bold and honest with loved ones. There is risk here, big risk. But in boldly sharing the deepest and darkest parts of yourself, you might actually be accepted. This lack of feeling acceptance and belonging is often a primary driver of addiction.

Broaden your definition of accountability—Most accountabilities groups fail when their focus is behavioral. If the only prying question asked of you are whether or not you looked at pornography, your group is not going deep enough. If that is the depth of the group, then they are content fishing at the surface. They need to get gritty. They need to pry into your heart, your motivations, your intentions, your excuses, your rationalizations, etc. Good accountability’s goal will be heart/character change, not merely behavioral change. If your group is staying comfortable in the behavioral zone, it’s time for your to be bold and courageous and demand more for yourself and more from them.

In your recovery work, you might be flailing your line back and forth. You might master the cast of recovery work…engaging in groups, doing coaching/counseling, reading books, journaling, etc. But the purpose of recovery work is not doing work, just as the purpose of fly fishing is not casting. No, the purpose of fishing is catching fish. The purpose of recovery work is not the work. The purpose is the product of the work. Real recovery engages heart change. Real recovery work produces character change. 

Blog Post by: Nathaniel Gustafson (click here to see more about Nathaniel)

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