The Best Strategy for Avoiding Complacency in Long Term Sobriety

The Best Strategy for Avoiding Complacency in Long Term Sobriety

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In my experience, everyone needs some sort of plan for recovery.

Without a plan you have nothing. You are just hoping that things work out for the best with no real intentions to take positive action.

So everyone needs a plan. It is foolish not to have one.

This goes for early sobriety, of course, when you are trying to learn how to change your entire life.

But it also goes for other points in your recovery journey as well–including long term sobriety.

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You need a plan then, too.

But many people in long term recovery forget this. Or they figure that it is not so important, because they made it through early sobriety and they are relatively stable now. So they figure that they don’t really need a plan, that they can slack off a bit, get lazy.

Obviously you can tell where this is headed. Getting lazy in recovery is a recipe for disaster.

Complacency is a lack of personal growth

Complacency happens when a person in recovery stops making personal growth.

They stop learning about themselves.

They stop making positive changes.

And they stop pushing themselves to improve their life and their life situation.

I believe that you can easily get overwhelmed in recovery if you are not careful. If you try to make too many positive changes all at once it can get overwhelming.

The answer for this is focus.

But just because you focus on one major goal at a time does not mean that you can, upon reaching that goal, prop your feet up and be lazy again.

Instead, you need to adopt a new attitude. A new mindset.

And the direction is clear and simple. Here is what I did, and I suggest that you do the same thing.

1) First of all, get clean and sober. Get abstinent. Go to detox if you have to in order to accomplish this. You have to have a foundation if you want to make future changes. Without sobriety you have nothing.

2) Second of all, start to prioritize. You are in recovery now. You are staying clean and sober one day at a time. This is your number one priority. After a few weeks of sobriety you start to get a feel for things. You are getting more comfortable in your recovery journey. It is time to shake things up, to make another positive change.

3) Prioritize. Ask for feedback. I strongly urge you not to make this decision all by yourself. Instead, ask people that you trust in recovery to give you advice and direction. You don’t have to follow orders like a robot, though. You are free to listen to advice and then go seek a second opinion. In fact I would encourage you to do exactly that. Then base your decision on what you are hearing consistently from other.

For example, I did this in my early recovery when everyone was telling me to go back to school. If one person says it, then it might be something to look at. But if everyone is suggesting the same thing then you know it is probably decent advice. The advice is legitimized because different sources are all telling you the same thing.

So prioritize, then focus. Pick the biggest and most important goal and put all of your energy into tackling it. At one time your goal was “get clean and sober.” Now that you are in recovery you need to move on and find other goals. Try to choose the one that will have the greatest positive impact on your life.

4) Take action. Put the plan into action. You have a clear direction now, but do you know how to go about actually doing it? Let’s say that your next goal is to quit smoking cigarettes. So start asking people how they accomplished this (there will be many mentors for this in recovery circles by the way). Get advice from various people. You will probably get some conflicting ideas. That’s fine, choose what makes most sense to you and then apply it in your own situation. If it works, great. If it doesn’t work, go back to the drawing board. Seek more advice, try a new tactic. I had to do this several times during my recovery in order to quit smoking. I also had to do this at least twice in order to establish a healthier lifestyle involving regular exercise. And I am still on a journey of sorts to try to improve my nutrition. I am not making much progress yet on the nutrition goal but I am still working on it. Persistence is key. If you try to quit smoking and you fail, don’t just resign yourself to being a lifelong smoker. The same is true with any meaningful goal that you try to achieve. If you fail, take a step back, evaluate what went wrong, and start gathering new information.

5) Follow through. Seems obvious but it has to be said. How many people have started a new exercise program, only to be back on the couch less than a month later? It happens all the time. In the end, when you are making these difficult sort of lifestyle changes, all that really matters is persistence. If you can do the new change consistently for a long enough period of time then it becomes habit. It becomes routine. It becomes part of the new and healthier “you.” So if you fail to persist then it is back to the drawing board.

6) Evaluation. So you finally met your goal. Good deal. So you have to ask yourself at this point: “What’s next?” You may take some time to reflect. You may bask in your victory for a while. But eventually you have to evaluate again. Look at your overall life. Look at the goals that you have achieved so far, and figure out how those goals have benefited you. Given all of that information, what makes sense for your next actions? How can you build on your previous success?

And perhaps most importantly, if you don’t come up with any good answers to these questions, you need to ask others to help you evaluate. Ask them to help give you guidance and direction. What would they do if they were in your shoes right now? As far as health? Education and career? Exercise? Spiritual development? And so on.

Take a step back (possibly with another person’s feedback involved) and look at your overall life situation. What is lacking? Where are your current pain points? What do you still fear? Can you somehow attack those pain points or confront your fears in a positive way? This is how you prioritize after multiple years of sobriety. How can you move forward, take more positive action, change your life in a meaningful way?

The holistic strategy of recovery that leads to personal growth and a daily practice

My belief is that recovery should be holistic.

Most people (without realizing it) actually disagree with this idea. Most people believe that recovery should be spiritual.

My solution is bigger than that. I think that everyone’s recovery program should be based on the pursuit of holistic health.

So in other words, are you taking care of yourself every day in terms of your physical health? Your emotional health? Your social health? Your spiritual health? And your mental health?

My belief is that you need to check off those five boxes every single day. This is what it means to use a holistic strategy for recovery. You are treating the “whole” person by taking care of yourself in all of these different ways.

It is not enough to just focus exclusively on spiritual health. People who are successful in recovery who have a spiritual focus are actually using more of a holistic approach (they just don’t give credit to the holistic idea, generally). Instead they believe that the solution is entirely spiritual.

Spirituality may guide them a great deal, and it may open up their world to a lot of positive change. But it is not the only dimension that we can grow in. There are other areas of your health in recovery that are just as important to your sobriety.

For example, physical health is a really big potential trigger for people in recovery. I have watched evidence of this over and over again when I look back at my journey. So many of my peers fell victim to relapse based on physical problems, getting sick, becoming worn down, and so on. It is not that they were weak spiritually. Some of these examples in mind were people that I looked up to in terms of spiritual health. But because they neglected their physical health in some way (not enough exercise, overweight, smoking, etc.) they ended up getting sick at some point and this often led them to relapse.

This is a really common theme in recovery. If you go to AA meetings for a few years straight you will see many, many examples of what I am talking about here. Someone has a fairly solid recovery program based on spirituality and the AA principles, yet they get sick or injured for whatever reason and this can (and sometimes does) lead to relapse. It happens.

And because it happens, you need a strategy that addresses this.

And you need a strategy that addresses other problems that are similar to this. Physical health is one thing, but sometimes people relapse based on emotional health. Or based on mental health. Or based on a spiritual failing. Or whatever the case may be.

We have all of these aspects of our health (not just spirituality) and we have to take care of all of them.

This is how you take care of yourself. In all of these different ways.

If you neglect one area of your holistic health then it can get you in trouble. It can lead to relapse.

So the only strategy that makes sense for relapse prevention is one in which you are constantly pushing yourself to improve from a holistic standpoint. If you focus exclusively on spirituality then you leave the door open to relapse. Likewise, if you focus exclusively on nutrition and exercise, you leave the door open to relapse.

You cannot just focus on one area of your overall health and expect this to keep you sober forever. It may work for a while but in the long run you have to use a holistic approach.

It is like your recovery is a castle with five sides to it and relapse is trying to attack you. If you want to protect your castle then you need to protect each of those five walls. If you leave one wall wide open then eventually that can lead to relapse. And the five walls are these five areas of your holistic health: Physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual.

Experimenting to find your daily practice

At this point you almost have a complete guide to overcoming addiction but you need to know what your daily routine is going to be.

It is one thing to tell someone that they have to take care of themselves in all five of these different areas. But then what does that person actually do each day? How do they behave based on this information? Isn’t it a little overwhelming?

Well in early recovery you are going to get some suggestions. And many of these suggestions will be for daily actions. So your first order of business is to start experimenting and trying these things out. I would argue that every experiment needs at least 30 days and some of them need 90 days to six months in order to determine their usefulness.

For example, they typically suggest that you go to 90 AA meetings for the first 90 days of your recovery (after you leave rehab).

Good suggestion. Do it just for the consistency of it. Do it just to build discipline.

And do it because it is taking care of yourself socially. There may be some overlap in other areas of your health, but going to 90 AA meetings in a row is definitely taking care of your social health in recovery. It is definitely a step in the right direction.

But don’t stop there. Take more suggestions. Maybe someone suggests that you get a sponsor and work through the steps. So maybe you do that and now you are taking care of yourself from a spiritual standpoint.

And perhaps you consider your physical health. You quit drinking and taking drugs, what else can you do? Can you improve your sleep habits? Eat healthier? Quit smoking? Don’t overwhelm yourself with changes, of course, just take one thing at a time. Lock in your victories before you move on to the next challenge. It is easy to get ahead of yourself when it comes to this sort of thing. On the other hand, you don’t want to get so lazy that you are not making any progress at all. Find the balance. Use a sponsor or a therapist to help pace yourself. Get feedback!

Over time you will fall into a rhythm. Your day will start to look pretty consistent. And so you have to evaluate your day and figure out if it is getting you the results that you want. Start projecting: If you keep doing this every day for the next year, will that get you to where you want to be? What about five years?

Then you can refine your daily practice. Add to it. Or perhaps even more importantly, subtract from it. What can you eliminate from your daily routine? What can you remove, and will that make you happier?

What we don’t realize (frequently) is that when we simplify our lives and remove things from our routine it opens up more room for peace, contentment, and happiness. Sometimes subtraction is greater than addition. Another angle to consider.

Staying open to new ideas and suggestions in long term sobriety

It can be difficult to stay open to new ideas in long term sobriety. The problem after several years it that you have basically figured much of it out.

But you will never be 100 percent done with your recovery. You will never be done learning. If you somehow finish learning things then that is when you are most vulnerable to relapse.

So we have to stay humble. We must realize that more is always being revealed. We must realize that there is always more for us to learn, if we are willing to become open to the lessons that are in front of us.

There are “teachers” everywhere in recovery. We just have to be open to the new experience that may be staring us in the face.

And we have to keep practicing gratitude every day in order to learn these new lessons. Without gratitude we will miss out on many new lessons that otherwise would have caught our attention. If you are not grateful for anything then you will not be as likely to learn as much. There is therefore this connection between gratitude and humility that most people do not grasp at first. In order to be truly humble and open to learn new things you must also be grateful as well.

And gratitude takes practice.

How to keep pushing yourself towards personal growth

For me the turning point comes after I achieve a new goal in life. I need to remind myself to reflect for a moment and then evaluate again.

Take a step back and look at your life in recovery. What are your pain points and what are your fears?

Once you identify your pain points (or any negativity) then you have a direction.

After you find your direction you need to get a plan. You may come up with a plan on your own, or you might need help and guidance in order to form a plan.

So you might talk to various people and get feedback and advice.

Once you have a clear direction and a plan outlined, you need to execute. You need to take action.

After you start taking action it is very often the case that you need to persist. You need to follow through. I have failed many times at this point (quitting smoking, trying to exercise, etc.).

So you may have to regroup several times and then try again until you can learn to persist.

Another tip: If you fail to persist in meeting a goal then you might try to back up and learn the discipline part first. This is how I eventually quit smoking–I had to become a distance runner first. I used the discipline that I gained from running to finally overcome my cigarette addiction. I could not put the cigarettes down until I experienced a greater level of discipline in my life.

What about you? What are your best strategies for maintaining sobriety and overcoming complacency? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!

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