How to spot a geographic cure

In recovery meetings, the topic of “geographic cures” (also called "geographics") comes up quite a lot. Simply put, geographics are attempts to change oneself by changing one’s environment. These are often thought of as an actual geographic move - e.g., everything will be different if I move to Wisconsin - but I think that changing jobs, changing relationships, or changing hair color count as well. The defining feature of a geographic is not the type of action, but the unlikely goal behind it. I’ll be more confident as a blonde. I’ll work harder at a different job. I’d drink less in a different relationship.

Here are a few examples of geographics I’ve pulled in my own life:

I’ll drink less if I get into graduate school.

I’ll be better at making friends if I move to a new city.

My eating disorder will go away if I only eat “whole foods.”

Don’t get me wrong: drinking less, making friends, and kicking an eating disorder are all noble goals. In fact, they’re so reasonable, so complex, that it’s actually quite a disservice to offer them such meager solutions. These were not simply problems of time or place. And my eating disorder was not caused by refined foods.

On some level, I think we know when we're barking up the wrong tree. With that in mind, why are geographics still so tempting?

For me, a geographic is a good indicator that I’m not ready to do the work. For example, if I’m still reaching for whole foods to cure disordered eating, it’s because I’m not ready to do the actual work of recovery. (Which could involve, for example: feeling uncomfortable in my own body, or accepting a higher body weight.) If I think my city is the problem when it comes to making new friends, chances are I'm protecting myself from a scarier truth. (I.e., is it my interpersonal patterns? My unwillingness to face rejection?)

And wouldn’t it be nice if my drinking had been context-dependent, simply caused by being in college? For some people, it is; for some people, this really is their “party phase.” For me, the word “phase” makes perhaps the least sense when applied to drinking. Drinking is the world’s most transferable skill, its most generalizable solution. Drinking is life’s little Z-pak. (Although I don't recommend combining the two.) Acknowledging that problematic drinking was not caused by being in college would require me to do some rather uncomfortable work. Why is it that consciousness itself needs an antidote? It’s a scary question.

Alcoholics are not the only people prone to pulling geographics. As a therapist, I felt alarmed whenever I heard the words: “Things will be different when...” Clients seldom concluded this sentence with “...when I’ve done the appropriate work on myself.” Rather, they'd say things like: "When I’ve got a new job." "When my partner starts going to therapy." "When my kid graduates high school."

Sharing the bad news was always tough. Things will be different when you are different. Change is an inside job.

In "On the Road Again," Willie Nelson better have a damn good reason.