What does progress mean in the eyes of a former alcoholic who strives to get his life back on track while resisting urges, cravings, stress, and the exposure to triggers? Is there a standardized method, a scale of 1 to 10 which we can use to measure it? I found myself asking the exact same question during the first moments after I got home from the rehab facility. To be honest, I wasn’t exactly sure how long I would be able to hold up and I was even less sure that I would be able to motivate myself to stay sober indefinitely.
Why is Progress So Difficult to Quantify?
Oh, you mean except the part in which progress in recovery means abstaining from something rather than actually performing a tangible task?
The catch is that – probably like in most sciences – you can’t really measure the absence of something. In other words, you can’t say to what degree a substance ISN’T present in an alloy, for example.
This conundrum also applies to the progress of a recovering addict. However, the good news is that there are in fact ways to determine the direction in which your recovery is going, whether you’re soon going to check right back into rehab or if you’re actually able to stay sober on your own.
The Large Picture Gives You a False Perspective
I realized that if I were to look at how my life was going as a whole, the rate of success would seem minuscule, negligible even. The large chunks of what I perceived as failures overshadowed my achievements; setting the bar too highly in the post-rehab period is likely to result in disappointment. No, I had to dissect these moments, study them individually, rearrange them as a whole and then try to determine their significance.
Progress only appears slow if you’re minimizing the importance of smaller achievements. Take me for instance. God (or the deity of your choice) only knows how hard I had to brace myself and clench my teeth to resist the initial cravings. Every time someone brought up the subject of alcohol, it sent shivers down my spine. But in the end, the battle was won and, from my perspective, it was no small feat.
What I’m trying to say here is that every milestone in the fight against relapse counts towards progress in recovery. If you need tangible evidence that you have overcome several important ones up to this point, then start a journal where you describe each battle – no matter how small – that you won against temptation. Come back to it every time you feel that you’re stagnating and you’ll be able to grasp the real fate of your “campaign” on alcohol.
I also want to point out the fact that recovery constitutes an ongoing process rather than a state. A former alcoholic is never truly recovered and cannot hope to re-learn how to drink in moderation; it’s just not feasible.
This is why it’s important to understand that you can never completely let your guard down, irrespective of how sure you are that alcohol no longer has a grip on you.