Everyone who gets a taste of sobriety and recovery immediately wants to stay clean and sober “forever.” How can they make it last so that they never have to relapse? How can they insure continuous success?
How can the alcoholic truly be done forever?
They will tell you in recovery programs that the only thing that we really have is a “daily reprieve” based on the continuous maintenance of our spiritual condition. In short, they’re right–if you let yourself slide in terms of your recovery program then eventually you could relapse as a result.
Therefore, the only real constant in your life has to be continuous self improvement and personal growth. Anything less results in potential relapse.
The key to staying sober forever is to keep pushing yourself to learn and to grow forever.
How do you do this in a practical way in your recovery journey?
I think one of the most important things is that you need to consider your overall health in recovery. The decision to get clean and sober is also the decision to become a healthier person. In other words, you would not necessarily care to become clean and sober if you did not also value your own health and your own life. Sobriety is a function of self esteem. If you do not care about yourself and your own life then sobriety does not have any special value to you.
Therefore, if you are serious about recovery and sobriety then this also means that you are interested in living the best and healthiest life that you can. We did not get sober just to die young due to unhealthy living. If you have a purpose in recovery then part of that purpose should include being healthy enough to deliver a message of hope to other people, regardless of how you are going to deliver that message.
Your health in recovery is often broken down into one of two camps: Spiritual health and your physical health. But it is important to realize that there are a few other areas of your health as well, to include emotional health, mental health, and social health. If one of these areas becomes seriously compromised in your life journey then it can lead you to relapse very quickly. The key is that you need to pay attention to the whole picture, because you are a “whole person,” and thus this is a holistic approach to your health in recovery.
This means that you might become interested in working out and getting fit as part of your recovery program, because that will have a positive impact on many different areas of your recovery. But it also means that you might engage in some self care in order to take better care of yourself emotionally. Or it might mean that you need to take some self care time in terms of your mental health.
In other words, as you go through your recovery journey, you need to pause and make sure that you are taking proper care of your health in all of these different areas. If you get too stressed out emotionally then this could drive you to relapse. If you spin out of control mentally then this could also trip you up in your recovery efforts. If your physical health slides too far into the negative then it can complicate your recovery to the point of relapse.
I can remember being in the first year or two of my sobriety and watching my peers, many of whom relapsed. And I was noticing why they were relapsing and what was going wrong in their life that led them to that relapse. In some cases it was a relationship they were in that went badly, and this led them to relapse. In other cases it was that they became physically sick or diseased, and this dragged them down to the point that they eventually drank again. And I knew several people who suffered mental health issues that complicated their recovery and led them back to drinking because they were not taking good enough care of their mental health.
And so on. In many of these cases it was not necessarily a spiritual relapse that preceded a physical relapse, but instead it was a mental, emotional, social, or physical health related relapse that preceded the actual picking up of the bottle. So in other words, you can certainly relapse spiritually first, say “screw everything,” completely lose all gratitude in your life, and use that as justification for picking up the bottle. But you can also relapse mentally, socially, or emotionally first, and those avenues could also lead you back to the bottle. It is possible that any of these areas of your health could lead you back to a physical relapse.
So what can be done? How do you stay sober forever if there are so many different ways to become compromised in your recovery? How do you stay strong in 5 different areas of your health on a daily basis?
First of all I recommend that anyone who is struggling should begin their journey at an inpatient treatment facility. If you want to give yourself the best possible odds of remaining clean and sober then you should start out in a 28 day program if possible.
Second of all you will likely be introduced to a new social support system while you are in treatment. So now you have been detoxified physically from the drugs and the booze, and also you have a new peer group and a new support system that can help to replace those old toxic relationships in your life. In other words, stop hanging out with your old drinking buddies or drug contacts and start immersing yourself into AA or a religious based community.
While you are in treatment they will likely introduce you to groups, lectures, and techniques that will teach you how to deal with your emotions during early recovery. Everyone who relapses physically will generally relapse emotionally first, so we need tools in order to realize when we are “going off the deep end” emotionally. Then we need to use those tools to help ourselves avoid becoming so upset that we resort to relapse to self medicate. A big chunk of our efforts in early recovery have to do with tempering our emotional state so that we do not use it to justify a relapse.
One of the big trends in substance abuse treatment is the idea of dual diagnosis. Many addicts and alcoholics also struggle with mental illness of some kind, whether that be anxiety or depression or something else entirely. So it is important to treat that mental illness concurrently with the addiction if we are going to have a strong chance of overcoming our problems.
And finally, most addiction treatment will introduce people to either a religious solution or the 12 step based programs of AA and NA, such that we are learning some form of spirituality as part of our recovery. We need this spiritual component so that we have hope for a better future and the faith that we can achieve this new life of sobriety.
So you can see that going to inpatient treatment really allows a person to dive into this holistic approach much more so than if they were to, say, just detoxify themselves on their couch at home and then hit an AA meeting. While that may be a possible path in recovery, it certainly is not the safest choice, and it does not address all 5 areas of our holistic heath.