There will be times in your addiction recovery journey when you will be tested.
Key point: Do not ever seek this out for yourself. Don’t ever try to test yourself and “prove” that you are strong in your sobriety.
Because one, many people have unwittingly relapsed attempting to do this before, and there is no reason for you to take the risk.
Two, you are certain to be tested eventually anyway, simply based on the random nature of the universe. It is only a question of when it will happen.
For example, you may find yourself all alone, maybe even secluded for an entire weekend or an entire day, or maybe just for a few hours even, and you will stumble upon your drug of choice. And suddenly it will flash in your mind that you could take that drug, right here and now, and the only human that would ever know about it would be you.
That is one way that you might be tested eventually. However, it is important to realize that there are a million and one ways that the universe might end up testing the limits of your recovery program, your willpower, and your commitment to sobriety.
Most recovery programs would argue that it isn’t about willpower, that you cannot win the fight with willpower alone, and I would tend to agree with that idea. However, I still believe that willpower is part of the equation. Perhaps “willpower” is not the most accurate term, but the recovering alcoholic or drug addict has to have fierce determination and commitment in order to build the sort of life in recovery that is resistant to relapse.
And this should really become your number one defense against relapse and enticing situations that attempt to persuade you to drink or take drugs. Your key defense is to live the sort of life in recovery that you are no longer willing to throw away on a relapse.
In other words, the best defense is a good offense. And in the world of addiction recovery, that means that you need to do the work in order to build an awesome and amazing life of positive action, such that you value your sobriety so much that you would never risk losing it on a can of beer or a drag from a joint.
There are plenty of people in recovery who will explain to you how to “play defense” when it comes to recovery and relapse. For example, they will tell you to go to an AA meeting every single day of your life without fail. If you are traveling abroad then you simply do your homework in advance and you plot out where you will hit various meetings. So no matter what is happening in a given day you know that you can reach out for help when you are at that daily AA meeting. This is your traveling crutch, if you will, because there are AA and NA meetings everywhere.
Or they might advise for you to call your sponsor in AA or NA every single day. Often a sponsor will have you do this anyway, at least for the first 30 days in many cases, so that you get into the habit of reaching out and making contact and make it less awkward. In other words, if you get a sponsor but you never call that person, then what is going to happen when you are feeling the urge to drink or take drugs and it suddenly feels like the phone weighs a ton? How are you going to get past that awkward moment where you just call someone out of the blue and say “hey….um…..I really want to drink right now.”
You won’t do that unless you are already in the habit of doing so, possibly even doing so on a daily basis. So this is one of the defensive recovery plans: Reach out and call that sponsor every day, or at least very frequently, so that you will not feel weird if you have to call them in the critical moment.
And some people in the fellowship of recovery have taken to using cell phones to communicate with each other throughout the day, checking in here and there, seeing how things are going, seeing what meetings they might hit later, and so on. This is neither good nor bad necessarily; it is just another tool that people in recovery can use to connect with each other and help support each other. In that sense it is a good thing.
But some people do use this kind of communication for “defense” if you will. Meaning that their main plan in the moment of temptation is going to be to reach out to their peers via their smartphone and to ask for help and support so that they do not relapse. And if that works for you then that is great, by all means, build up this kind of support and these kinds of connections in your life.
But again, I believe that even though it may be good and even wise to have these defensive options in your pocket during recovery, it is even better to be on the offensive and creating that amazing new life for yourself that you do not want to lose for anything.
In my moments of great temptation over the last 16 years I was able to defend my sobriety because I had invested so much energy and positive action into building a healthy new life for myself, one in which the benefits just continued to mount up in a way that they were really building on each other.
What do I mean by this? I mean that I started out slowly in early recovery, quit drinking, started going to meetings, made lots of new friends in recovery, and then started to take positive action in my life. I got a job that had some meaning for me, then I went back to college to finish up a degree. I started exercising and I quit smoking cigarettes. My sleep improved vastly. My relationships completely changed for the better and they continued to evolve and improve for all of those 16 years. I became a new person, and I can look back now and agree that I am a better version of myself than when I started the journey. I got healthier and healthier in a lot of different ways over the years, and all of it was made possible by the fact that I was in recovery from addiction.
I have also been lucky enough to work in the field of addiction recovery and substance abuse treatment, and therefore I can see firsthand the devastating effects of a relapse. I can see how quickly all personal growth gets reset when someone relapses or uses. All of their progress just gets instantly wiped out.
So if you really want to defend your sobriety then I would suggest that you need to take a huge step back and think about the overall philosophy of your recovery, and not just focus on defensive plays such as “calling your sponsor.” Not that you should ignore defensive tactics, but if you really want to insure success in the long run then you have to do this recovery thing right. You have to go “all in.” And that means that you need to dedicate your life to a program of positive change and a lifetime of personal growth.
Are you at least a tiny bit better in some way than you were last month? If not, why are you not pursuing some sort of personal growth project for yourself right now? Ask your therapist, your sponsor, or your counselor to help direct you to the project that you most need to attend to in your life today. Start fixing issues and building a positive life for yourself, and this will help to protect you from relapse in the long run.