WoW 103: On the Core Chaos Cycle, Recovery, part 11[Words of Wisdom]

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WoW 103: On the Core Chaos Cycle, Recovery, part 11


It's helpful to see the fundamental elements of things and how those elements interact. I do that today in discussing what I call the Chaos Cycle. This episode is part 11 in a series on addiction and recovery. To see the entire Recovery series, go ​here​.

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To understand recovery, you must understand addiction and what feeds the addictive behavior.

Today I will introduce what I call the Core Chaos Cycle. The Core Chaos Cycle is a systems view of addiction and trauma.

Let's reflect on addiction.

Typically when people think about addiction, all they think about is the specific addictive behavior. Whether a substance addiction like alcoholism, or a process addiction like sex addiction, the focus is on the behavior.

And the age-old question is, why don't addicts just decide to stop?

To understand addiction we need to have a systems thinking mindset.

To fully see the cunning, baffling, and powerful nature of addiction, we need to see not only the contributing elements of addictive behavior, but the ways those elements interact with each other and the compounding effect of those dynamics.

There are many different elements that comprise addiction.

But we cannot see them only as individual elements. We must understand them in their context, in relationship to one another.

To understand an addictive behavior, you must see it in the cycle of chaos that the addict is trapped in.

The Core Chaos Cycle is a description of the dynamics of chaotic living, and how that feeds specific physiological and psychological triggers to choose to setback. A setback is what I call choosing a behavior that goes against your values. This setback behavior feeds what we call ​the 5 Strongholds​.

Over time, repeatedly moving through this cycle of behavior grows into developing an addictive behavior. For example, occasional times of abusing alcohol, using marijuana, or hooking up doesn't make someone an addict. Addiction is about the compulsive nature of the behavior that has grown over months and years. Late stage addiction is indicated by the addictive behavior and the Core Chaos Cycle that feeds it, becoming the dominant dynamic of the person's life.

The Core Chaos Cycle

The Core Chaos Cycle is a way of seeing how these core elements of addiction feed each other.

I will explore all of these dynamics in greater detail. For today, consider the following practical steps to address each element of the Core Chaos Cycle:

First, use the ​3 Circles exercise​ (from Sex Addicts Anonymous) to reflect on and identify the chaotic behavior. In SAA this is called your middle circle behavior.

Second, identify the triggers that cue you to have the urge to engage in your addictive or setback behavior. Then seek to minimize your triggers.

Third, know your values, and what you are committed to so you are clear with yourself about what a setback behavior actually is.

Finally, develop a daily reflection practice to identify and let go of ​the 5 Strongholds​. The 5 strongholds are selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, fear, and distorted thinking.

The more deeply you understand and seek mastery over the fundamental elements that drive addiction, the more you will experience freedom and flourishing.


“I think most people can learn a lot more than they think they can. They sell themselves short without trying. One bit of advice: it is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree – make sure you understand the fundamental principles, i.e. the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to.”

Elon Musk, in a ​AMA on Reddit​.

"In every systematic inquiry (methodos) where there are first principles, or causes, or elements, knowledge and science result from acquiring knowledge of these; for we think we know something just in case we acquire knowledge of the primary causes, the primary first principles, all the way to the elements."

Aristotle, ​Physics​ 184a10–21


First, identify one setback or addictive behavior that goes against your values. It might help to think of the last time you relapsed or setback.

Then reflect on these questions:

In the days and hours before, what led up to you setting back or relapsing? What compromises in your values did you choose? What feelings did you experience in the hours before you setback? What physiological, or environmental triggers did you experience? What lies did you believe?

(Use these questions as a journal prompt and prayers this week)


Recovery is easy, all it costs you is everything.

Live wisely,


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