Clinical Perspective: EZ Does it

By Jeff Vircoe

Just as spiritual leaders like Emmet Fox and 12 Step laymen like Bill Wilson were quick to caution people to slow down and take it easy, experts in the field of addiction medicine stand solidly behind the Easy Does It mantra as well.

It seems there is plenty of therapeutic medicine to be digested in the saying.

In the 1500s, British writer John Heywood is widely saluted for coming up with the phrase “Rome wasn’t built in a day” as a translation from a French proverb. The idea is that anything of value requires patience and hard work to obtain.

At Edgewood Treatment Centre, the Romans are addicts and Easy Does It fits in with the old familiar ditty.

“One of the big things that helps them to stay grounded, especially when they’ve got a lot of personal things going on and it’s distracting them, is the Stay in Your Shoes keychain. I still give lots of those out,” says John Pynnaken, an addiction counselor who has been helping addicts for almost 22 years.

“Stay in Your Shoes is similar, it’s about focusing on where I am at presently, rather than focusing on everything else. So it’s very similar,” says Pynnaken.

When addicts in treatment are busy with outside issues, it interferes with the important work they are supposed to be doing on themselves, like learning to identify their feelings, getting and giving feedback, becoming responsible.

“It looks like they’re busy, they’re avoiding, or they’re hiding out,” says Pynnaken. “Or they’re so fixated on calling home, so busy outside of themselves. They’re getting caught up in other people’s craziness. In and outside of the treatment centre.”

Physician Gary Richardson concurs with the prescription of Easy Does It as well. With 15 years of helping addicts find their way back to health, Dr. Richardson is quick to understand the importance of some of the time-tested slogans of recovery. Easy Does It makes a lot of sense to him.

“Your addiction didn’t happen overnight,” says Richardson, “so, remember that we are dealing with a chronic illness. To expect everything to just turn around immediately is not realistic. I have used this [Easy Does It slogan] before … in terms of how long did it take you to get here? One is going to have to be patient. So, some of it, to me, means patience, but trusting that if you are doing the right things, with time, things are actually going to get better.”

To a person, all of the Edgewood staff questioned for this story felt that Easy Does It was an appropriate bit of advice for any addict trying to get healthy. Most were able to quickly name a behavior they see that could be helped by the slogan.

Joel Hughes is a counselor, as well as a business development director for the Edgewood Health Network. Working with addicts at Edgewood in inpatient and extended care since 2008, Hughes says he understands how the Easy Does It concept can be so hard for addicts to get their head around at first.

“It’s a little bit counter-intuitive,” says Hughes. “[For] a lot of things in life, we, especially in North American culture, are taught, ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.’ So try harder. Push harder. Work harder. Be stronger. Just keep putting more effort at it, more time into it.”

Going fast is not a good idea, he says.

“The idea of Easy Does It [means] sometimes you need to go slow to go fast. Making a whole lot of mistakes often means that you have to start over. But if you think you are in a hurry to achieve sobriety, you are probably going to have a hard time acquiring it.”

Richardson also agrees with Hughes’ assessment of what the opposite of Easy Does It can look like in a treatment centre.

“We often speak of ‘addict behavior’ and ‘alcoholic behavior’ and that definitely is not Easy Does It,” says Richardson. “What comes to mind when I hear that is that, normally for an addict, it’s that 0-10 thing – it’s at 10 all the time. It’s not about slowing things down and taking it easy, it’s all or nothing. So, Easy Does It is also learning to slow down and recalibrate things. It’s okay to actually function somewhere in the middle rather than at 10 all the time, type of thing.”

After almost 12 years working with extended care patients at Edgewood, another counselor says Easy Does It simply means don’t be superman – or super anyone.

“The capital mistake that I see most often, especially with, like, let’s say a new dad, is I see this guy be like, ‘I’ve been neglecting my family, so I’m going to go home and be super dad. I’m just going to jump in and do the family thing like 100 per cent,” says Bill Caldwell. “Then start to give himself permission, like, ‘Nah, maybe I won’t do a meeting this week because I’ve got to spend time with my kids.’ They’ll let their program slip, right? Or they’ll be like, ‘I’ve got to be the best employee in the world. I’ve got to go back to work and work 16 hour days.” Or they’ll be like, ‘I’ve got to be the best guy in recovery.’ So, they’ll go to four meetings a day and burn out quickly on it. So, for me, I think it’s about keeping balance, doing it slow – slow is going to get you through, but 100 percent is going to burn you out.”