There are a couple of different resources in addiction treatment that can have a certain amount of overlap. For example, the sponsor in AA, the therapist that you visit one on one each week at IOP, and the recovery coach can all play some very similar roles in your recovery journey.
Now each of them specializes in slightly different things, but there is definitely some overlap.
That said, I would first make the argument that if you are in your first year or two of recovery and you are not using a sponsor, a therapist, or a recovery coach and you are just, for example, attending AA meetings in order to maintain your sobriety, then you are missing out on a huge opportunity for personal growth.
Now this is not to say that it is impossible to remain sober without some form of therapy, counseling, or coaching–just that it is going to cost you a lot of positive opportunity and benefits in your life.
When I was in very early recovery I was living in a long term recovery program that was run by a therapist. As such, I got the benefit of seeing a therapist on a regular basis. I also got a sponsor in the 12 step program and started to work through the 12 steps with that sponsor.
On top of this, I unofficially had some recovery coaching going on in my life as well. So I had a lot of people weighing in on my decisions and telling me what they thought I should do.
As such, I had to have a certain amount of willingness to listen to other people and to take their advice. And really I think this is the stumbling block that prevents so many people from being successful in sobriety. You have either surrendered completely to a new solution in your life, or you are still wrestling and fighting for control of things. If you are still hanging on to some bit of denial then you are not going to be able to make the leap into recovery.
The foundation is important because if you do not have a foundation of abstinence and sobriety then any attempts at coaching or counseling will be futile.
I experienced this myself when I was still struggling with alcoholism and drug addiction, because my family had convinced me to see a therapist once a week. So I would go talk with a therapist and I would try to be honest with that therapist about my substance abuse issues. The real problem with this is that I was simply not ready to surrender fully, and I had no intention of quitting drinking at the time. Therefore I could not really make any sort of progress when it came to therapy or counseling because I essentially “erased all progress” every night when I would get intoxicated again.
Later on in my journey I reached a point of “total and complete surrender” and was able to realize that I had been fooling myself all along, by going to see a counselor and thinking that I was moving forward towards conquering addiction. That was all a total lie–going to see a therapist or a coach while you are still abusing substances is self delusion. There is no point to seeing a therapist because you are constantly reverting back to your drug of choice and throwing any and all positive progress out of the window.
And this is why the foundation is so important if counseling or coaching is going to be effective for you.
Now once you build your foundation in early recovery–whether that is by going to inpatient treatment, hitting meetings, or whatever the case may be–you need to transition to long term recovery in a way that allows you to maintain sobriety.
This is where a lot of recovering addicts and alcoholics can lose their footing. They have gone to rehab, or maybe they just went to AA meetings, and they have made a start in building a new life for themselves in recovery. However, they drop the ball at some point and get distracted from their new pursuit in recovery. And once they get distracted, all it takes is one trigger situation for the opportunity for relapse to present itself.
There is a difference between short term and long term recovery.
In short term recovery, things are fairly cut and dry: You go to rehab, you plug yourself into AA or another recovery program, and you basically eat, sleep, and breathe recovery all day, every day. Completely dedicating your life to staying clean and sober is really the only way to succeed in the first few months of your recovery journey. People who surrender at a certain level can and will do these things, and they will follow through with the period of short term recovery.
However, some of those same people who “make it” through short term recovery do not exactly transition into long term sobriety very well. At some point, you have to live your life again. This does not mean that you have to stop going to AA, or that you can not have a therapist or a recovery coach, because you most certainly can. The problem is that some people get stuck in the mindset of early recovery, and they believe that if they are failing to transition into long term sobriety that this just means that they should double down on early recovery tactics, such as AA meetings or reading recovery literature.
That is not necessarily the solution for long term sobriety. Just going to more and more meetings will not necessarily insure that you make it to 10, 20, or 30 years sober.
In order to thrive in long term sobriety you have to start pushing yourself on a path of personal growth.
In essence, recovery itself is positive change. Those positive changes can be thought of as being personal growth. If you are not moving forward in your life and making positive progress then you are likely inching your way closer and closer to relapse.
The one truth in recovery is that we can never, never stand still. If you believe you are at a standstill then you are actually sliding down a hill towards relapse. Either you make forward progress or you slide backwards–no in between. You cannot call a “time out” on your recovery journey and just coast for a while. If you coast then you run the risk of relapse. Complacency kills, and for the person in long term recovery, complacency is a bigger threat than resentments.
So in order to thrive in long term recovery you need to find a way to challenge yourself. If you are not moving forward then you are slipping into a trouble zone. Working with newcomers in recovery is a great way to keep yourself moving forward and making progress in your life. The lessons that you teach to newcomers will need to be reinforced through your own actions as well, or it won’t feel genuine. This helps to keep you healthy in long term sobriety.