I have received a few things that I would consider to be a “reality check” during my sobriety journey, and I was lucky enough to survive them all without a relapse.
So what exactly constitutes a reality check anyway?
In my experience, this is what happens when you believe that you are rock solid in some area of your life, and suddenly something happens that you had not anticipated that nearly knocks you completely off of your square.
I have a grand sponsor in recovery (meaning that this person is the sponsor of my NA sponsor) and he gave his own account of exactly what this means when you get a reality check, and how you can deal with it.
He gave this account based on a recent reality check that hit him in his own life journey which was far, far greater than what most people will ever experience. Something very traumatic happened in his world and it normally would have caused some people in recovery to run out and relapse immediately because it was so devastating.
So how did my grand sponsor avoid the fate of relapse in the face of a massive trauma in his life?
He explained that as we go through recovery, each of us works our program to the best of our ability. All of us basically show up in early recovery, we go to rehab, most of us go to AA meetings, and we start to take advice and suggestions from others. We are told what to do and how to do it. We are told to work these steps, to read this book, to open up to our therapist, to analyze our shortcomings and to make a plan to change for the better. We are taught to identify and eliminate our bad habits and to replace them with healthy habits. We are told to work at our recovery each and every day.
So there are times–my grand sponsor explained–when we are doing everything that we are supposed to be doing, when we are pushing ourselves to be open and honest, and we are heavily involved in the process of recovery.
And there are also times when every person in recovery drifts away from this core process. When they become stagnant. When they have stopped pushing themselves every day for personal growth. When they have become a bit more idle. The person is not necessarily screwing up or doing anything terrible, but they are just sort of “coasting” through their recovery, feeling comfortable, feeling fairly secure.
Now what we need to realize, my grand sponsor explained, is that life is chaotic and random.
Every single person who is living their life is going to run into traumatic events at some point. Every single human is going to get a “reality check” at various times throughout their life. This is not to be overly pessimistic, and it is not necessarily saying that everything is always gloom and doom, but this is simply pointing out that every person is going to have some good days and some great days, but also some bad days and some terrible days.
Sooner or later, every single person has a “terrible day.” Sooner or later, every single person gets a reality check. Eventually, every person experiences that moment that feels like a total slap in the face, where they realize suddenly that they had misled themselves all along, thinking that things were fine, when in fact the sky had been falling and things were definitely not okay.
So what can be done about this? What is the recommended course of action for a person in recovery, given that we are all likely to experience a “terrible day” at some point in our future?
My first suggestion to you would be to focus on your recovery today, and to take the steps today in order to build a strong recovery program for yourself.
To some extent, I think that you have to start “building a moat” around your sobriety, meaning that you need to not only get clean and sober, but then you must constantly seek self improvement so that you have farther to fall in order to arrive at relapse.
In other words, how many steps away from a drink are you right now? Not physically, but in terms of how close you are to mentally snapping and saying “screw everything” and taking a drink or a drug? How much chaos and unfortunate events would it take for that to happen?
The answer to that question has to do with what is going on in your day to day life, and what your daily practices look like. So if you have healthy relationships, if you are well connected spiritually, if you are in good physical health, if you are emotionally stable, if you have a strong support network–then you are several steps away from physically picking up alcohol and drinking it, or of taking a drug and putting it into your system for the purposes of self medicating.
Now the more of those elements that are missing from your life–the emotional stability, the support network, the sound physical health and fitness, and so on–the closer you are to reaching for your drug of choice as a “solution” if and when that reality check finally shows up.
In other words, working a strong recovery program–in all areas of your life–is like an insurance policy against the threat of relapse. If you want to protect yourself and your sobriety, then you need to take an active role in pursuing personal growth in all areas of your health, to include physical, mental, spiritual, social, and emotional. If you are taking care of yourself in all of those areas then your chances of relapsing will go down dramatically.
All of us are going to face a reality check sooner or later. When it hits, you want to be in a position where you have been taking very good care of yourself in recovery, and pushing yourself to grow and to learn in all sorts of different areas of your health. Slacking off or becoming complacent is really the number one enemy in long term recovery.
The truth is that we never know when that slap in the face is going to show itself, or when our world is going to get totally rocked. We cannot pick and choose what days we want to be prepared on. Therefore, the key is to stay vigilant and live our life in recovery as if each day may present a serious threat to our recovery. If we are doing this diligently then it will force us to engage in the kind of personal growth that will allow us to overcome all kinds of challenges. Pushing ourselves for personal growth is the key to our success in long term recovery.