Is it possible that even though you got clean and sober that you may be deceiving yourself in some way? This is certainly not an impossible occurrence in addiction recovery and people get stuck in denial all of the time.
Of course, prior to recovery, we are all in denial. That is the nature of addiction. We are fooling ourselves about what it means to be “happy,” and we tell ourselves that we are happiest when we are using our drug of choice, even though it makes us miserable in the long run. We lie to ourselves in order to keep our addiction going.
It is very hard to leave this tendency behind entirely when we get into recovery. It is so easy to slip back into our old behaviors and start to lie to ourselves again. And it doesn’t have to be about alcohol or drugs, it can be about anything. Anything where we would rather be comfortable and complacent rather than to face our fears head on. So we lie to ourselves about all sorts of things out of convenience and to minimize our fears and anxieties. Denial is easier than facing the truth.
How you can still be in denial once you get clean and sober
I have certainly been in denial during my sobriety. Even though it did not lead me all the way to relapse, it most certainly could have, and I believe if I had not worked through my denial then eventually I probably would have drank over it. So this is something that you need to be careful with.
For example, you can be in denial about a relationship. Maybe you have been in a relationship for a while now and you are fairly comfortable with it but it is really not very healthy for you. Perhaps it is no longer fulfilling and you would be better off to leave the relationship but you stay in it because it is familiar and comfortable. Leaving would mean facing your fears, being alone again, and having to take an honest look at your life without being able to point the finger at others. So you can stay put and be unhappy and comfortable, or you can leave the relationship and grow through the experience and find a better tomorrow. This is a classic example of a situation that breeds complacency. It is so much easier to just stay the course, even if you are very unhappy.
Another good example is with your job or your career. Maybe you are unhappy with the work that you do and you have been for a long time. If that is the case then at some point in your past you made a bad decision. Not necessarily a terrible decision because you wanted to do meaningful work and you were just trying to make a living, but you obviously got to a point where you did not like what you were doing any longer. Once you reach that point you owe it to yourself to get honest and change course.
Fear is what holds us back from these sort of decisions. It is so much easier to stay comfortable, to stay safe, to stick with the “known,” even if we are unhappy.
So this is one of the primary ways that we can deceive ourselves in our recovery. Instead of taking an honest look at our lives and making the hard changes, we are sometimes apt to live in fear and remain complacent and (potentially) unhappy.
The ultimate deception is complacency in long term sobriety
The greatest threat to your sobriety in long term recovery is complacency.
Most people think of complacency as being when someone gets lazy in their recovery program. They stop doing the things that they need to do in order to stay clean and sober. Maybe they stop going to AA meetings every day. Or maybe they stop pushing themselves to make positive changes. And eventually this might lead them to relapse.
The scary thing is that you cannot really identify complacency from the inside very well. It is very difficult to detect it in yourself. You are too close to the problem. And it is so easy to deceive yourself by assuring yourself that you are doing all of the right things. As in “I still go to AA meetings on a regular basis, so how could I be complacent?” But just because you are still doing a certain routine does not mean that you are immune to complacency. In fact, being stuck in a routine is one of the warning signs that you may, in fact, be complacent. Just going to AA meetings every day (or regularly) is no assurance of protection. Many people have relapsed while following such a routine, and they were still complacent.
No, the key has to do with personal growth. Are you making real progress? Are you challenging yourself to learn and to grow in life? Are you getting really honest with yourself and asking the tough questions and taking real action? Those are the questions that drive your long term success in recovery.
The problem is a bit like denial. If you happen to be stuck in denial then the last person to really know about it and acknowledge it is YOU. Because that is the nature of denial. You think you know the answers and you think that you know what is going on but you are actually kidding yourself.
The same is true with complacency. In fact, being complacent really means that you are in denial about your recovery efforts. You are telling yourself that you are making a decent effort in recovery, but you are really not. You tell yourself that you are taking positive action, but in reality your recovery effort has grown stale. You need to jump start your process again. You need to mix it up. You need to somehow re-engage with positive action.
So how do you do this? How do you fight complacency if you can’t even detect when it is a problem?
My answer is simple:
Assume that you are complacent.
Right now, today, make the assumption. Assume that you have become complacent in your recovery. That you are not taking enough positive action, that you are not getting honest enough with yourself about various things in your life, that you are slowly but surely drifting towards relapse.
If you assume that this is the case, what happens?
What happens is that you have a plan of attack. You are inspired to take positive action. You will hopefully be inspired to get honest with yourself about what is really going on inside and to deal with it.
This is how you snap yourself out of denial, out of complacency. Assume that the problem exists! Assume that you are complacent right now.
Let’s do a quick thought experiment:
What do you lose if you are wrong about this assumption? How does it hurt you?
Let’s say you were not really complacent, but you assumed that you were. So you got honest with yourself, you assessed your life, and you made some plans to take positive action anyway and fix some things that you thought you should work on in your life. But you were never really complacent in the first place. You just assumed that you were.
Does this wrong assumption hurt you in any way? No, it doesn’t. Not even a little bit. It only helps you. It only pushes you to take positive action and to improve yourself and your life.
You lose nothing by assuming that you are complacent.
Look at someone who has been sober for 10 years (or any significant length of time really). Every person in recovery has their ups and downs. Every person who stays sober in the long run moves through cycles. Their recovery ebbs and flows to some degree. Sometimes it is stronger and sometimes it is weaker. Your strength in sobriety is not this constant, fixed, straight line. It goes up and down a bit.
So you have to deal with that cycle, and realize that your strength in recovery will wax and wane a bit.
So, plan for this. Assume that your recovery will be weaker at times, and that you may even be complacent. You may fall away from personal growth. You may get lazy at times. And this could be potentially dangerous.
So in order to deal with that possibility (inevitability?) you should have a plan. And to do that you need to make an assumption.
And actually it is no longer an assumption, it is a 100 percent true prediction for everyone in recovery:
At some point in your recovery journey you will be more complacent than what you are right now. That’s a fact. Our conviction will ebb and flow to some degree. It is not static.
Therefore you have a decision to make. Do you want to just take your chances, knowing that you will almost certainly become complacent to some degree in the future, or do you want to make this assumption that could protect you?
The assumption is to say “I am complacent.” And then act accordingly. Push yourself to grow, to learn, to get honest with yourself.
One more way to look at it:
Flip it around. Make the counter-assumption which is:
“I am never complacent.”
What if you said that every single day for the next 20 years? Would you remain sober?
I don’t think you would! Just ask people in AA who have decades of sobriety. Ask them if they ever got complacent, if they ever had to get honest with themselves during their recovery and correct course, get serious, start taking positive action again. We all drift a bit. So you are going to have to correct at some point.
Therefore, just assume that the correction is needed. Assume that you will drift. Assume you are complacent.
This is one way to promote personal growth and insure that you are not getting too lazy.
Most personal growth is a result of intense self honesty
How do you make personal growth anyway? What is the process?
In my opinion it starts with listening. Listen to the inner mind, figure out what the anxiety is. Find your fears, your anger, your shame, your guilt, your anxiety. Then work on them. Identify them and then figure out how to eliminate them.
This is internal growth. You are working on the inner part of your recovery. Very important. If you don’t do this work then those inner demons could drive you to relapse one day. Working through the 12 steps of AA is one way to identify and work on these inner problems. It takes a lot of self honesty to do this sort of work. It’s not comfortable.
There is personal growth in the external world as well. Maybe you are out of shape and you are beating yourself up over it. So you might make the decision that you want to eat better and start exercising regularly. Those are tough lifestyle changes but they can make a huge difference in how healthy you are and how you feel about yourself. And you have to get honest with yourself in order to tackle such changes.
The relationship problem is a good example too. That is an external problem that you might have to confront in yourself some day. Are you really happy in that current relationship? If not, then you have some soul searching to do. Facing your fears is never easy. Self honesty takes an act of courage. You have to feel your feelings and probably experience some real discomfort in order to get to the truth. But this is how you grow.
If you experience any kind of breakthrough in personal growth then it was almost certainly preceded by a moment of intense self honesty. You got honest with yourself about something and this is what allowed you to make a breakthrough. The only real deception is self deception. Ultimately you grow in life when you break through denial and discover the truth about yourself.
How to check yourself and stay honest about your path in recovery
There are at least two ways that I can recommend for you to “check yourself” in recovery in terms of deceiving yourself:
1) Assume you are deceived. Assume you are complacent. Act accordingly. This promotes growth.
2) Ask others for feedback. Talk to people and ask them how you are fooling yourself. They will tell you.
Other people will tell you if you ask them in the right way.
It is easy for us to see the faults and flaws in others, but difficult to see them in ourselves.
We all know this is true. So, take advantage of it. You can’t see all of your own faults. You are blind to at least some of them. Therefore you need outside input in order to become aware of them.
No one likes criticism. No one likes to be told what they are doing wrong. No one likes to hear about their flaws and their problems.
But this is where the growth is at. This is how you get honest with yourself. You need to reach out to others and become vulnerable so that they can help you to find the path.
This is traditionally what happens in AA with the sponsorship relationship. You get a sponsor and you share where you are at with them. They offer feedback and insight as to how you can best proceed. But they obviously cannot help you if you don’t get honest with them first.
The same is true of counseling or therapy. You have to expose yourself to some degree if you want to get help with your situation. You have to put yourself out there and take that risk if people are going to be able to give you guidance and direction.
What to do if you realize that you are stuck in some form of denial
If you realize that you are deceiving yourself in some way, or that you are in denial or that you are complacent, then you have already won about half of the battle.
The other half of the battle is to take action.
You either know what action to take or you do not. The earlier you are in your recovery journey, the more you should assume that you do NOT know what the best action to take is.
In that case you should ask for help.
Ask for guidance, advice, feedback, insight. Go to AA meetings and ask for advice from the table. One person might steer you wrong, but an entire group will probably get you pretty close to the truth. Especially since that group has many people who have already walked your path in some form or another.
That’s the nice thing about groups of people like an AA meeting. They are not all going to be wrong, and most will be right or at least very close to the truth. Therefore it is helpful for getting to the root of your denial. Because nearly every person in that meeting can see where you are going wrong, and thus offer advice to fix it.
You don’t lose anything by listening to advice like this. We always think that we lose something if we were to go an AA meeting and ask for help and then listen to all of the opinions around the tables. What do you lose? You lose nothing by listening to such advice.
On the other hand, what do you lose if you are deceiving yourself? What do you lose if you are stuck in denial, or if you are complacent?
You can lose everything. You could relapse and die, just like that.
And it is so easy to see this when you are on the outside looking in. When you see someone else who is hopelessly stuck in denial, and their life is headed for a complete train wreck, and you just want to shake them and tell them to wake up, but they just can’t see it.
Well, we are all that person, that life that is headed for a complete train wreck.
Even in sobriety when you have ten years sober or more, you are that person who is headed for that total train wreck.
And maybe that is not reality every single day but remember that your strength in sobriety will ebb and flow. It is not constant.
So it is a very wise assumption to make, that you are that person, that you are slowly becoming complacent, and that your life is headed for a total train wreck.
You lose nothing by making this assumption. It costs you nothing. The ramifications of believing this assumption are all benefits to you: You get more honest with yourself, you start digging and soul searching, you make the tough decisions, you start to take more positive action.
If you assume that you are going to relapse then the solution is to work hard to prevent relapse. That is what you “lose” when you assume you are complacent. You force yourself to take positive action and get healthier. You force yourself to be honest with yourself. You force yourself to do the work.
Or you can take your chances. Be comfortable, feel safe, don’t rock the boat. Assume that you have recovery all figured out. This is dangerous or even deadly. It leads to stagnation. Why work hard on recovery if it is going so well? You have nothing to fear, right? No worries.
It is far safer to assume that you are complacent.
The only way to NOT deceive yourself is to assume that you are deceiving yourself. How strange is that?
But it works.
What about you, have you found a way to battle complacency and get honest with yourself? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!