If you are already successfully living in alcoholism or drug addiction recovery, the question you might want to ask yourself is this:
“Am I limiting my potential growth in some way?”
That might sound like a unique question to be asking yourself, but once you understand that the most common form of relapse in long term recovery is actually complacency, you begin to see why the question makes sense.
Let’s break that down a bit.
When a newcomer in recovery relapses, it might be because their boyfriend broke up with them, or because they were fired from their job, or because they got injured at softball and started popping Vicodin’s. There are a million and one reasons why a newcomer in recovery might relapse.
But when someone who is established in long term recovery relapses, there is really only one possible explanation, regardless of what their excuse may be: They got lazy.
They got complacent. They stopped doing the work of recovery. And this is what led them to relapse.
Sure, there may have been a specific trigger incident. Maybe something happened and it set them off and they used that as their excuse to self medicate.
But the truth is, if they were already established in long term recovery, then they knew how to overcome that trigger situation. They had to know how, in order to make it to long term sobriety, because in early recovery we have a lot of excuses that pile up on us, and we have to figure out solutions for all of them.
Therefore, the real culprit is always complacency. We can try to obscure this simple fact and point to other excuses, but the real truth is that none of those excuses should have the power to make anyone relapse.
But what exactly is complacency, and how do we prevent it from happening?
The solution to the problem of addiction is actually personal growth. If a person is improving themselves and their life then they have a reasonable expectation of being able to stay clean and sober. It is only through self improvement that we can sustain our recovery from addiction. As soon as we stop learning, stop growing, and stop improving ourselves, we somehow open the door to relapse again.
If you are clean and sober and you feel good about yourself, and you feel good about your life and your life situation, is there any reason to throw everything away and relapse?
No, not really. Therefore, the solution in recovery is to build this successful life.
Now you may be conjuring up all sorts of different things when you hear the term “successful life.” But really, all we mean by that is being reasonably content, clean and sober, and making forward progress. Improving yourself and your life, one day at a time, over and over again.
The nice thing about addiction recovery is that the benefits of sobriety are cumulative. That means that, even though things start to get better immediately, those benefits that you get from staying clean are going to start compounding like crazy as you continue to remain clean and sober. So long as you continue to do the work, to seek new avenues of growth, and to challenge yourself to learn more and more about yourself–the benefits of sobriety will grow like crazy.
The problem comes in when certain people in long term recovery stop doing that–they stop learning, they stop growing, and therefore they stop accumulating the benefits of addiction recovery. At that point they are complacent and they are in danger of relapse.
Such people are setting a limit on their own personal growth, simply because they feel like they have it “all figured out.” They are over confident in their recovery and therefore they have stopped pushing themselves.
But life is always throwing us curve balls. We are always going to face new problems that are unique in life; things that we have never dealt with before. In order to deal with these new challenges we are going to have to be in “learning mode,” which means that we cannot afford to be complacent. We must remain humble and teachable.
So how do we do that? How do we stay in gear for personal growth when it is so easy to get comfortable in our sobriety?
A few suggestions.
One is that you should find a way (or several ways) to keep working with newcomers in recovery. If you force yourself to keep teaching newcomers about recovery then it will force your brain to keep reinforcing those vital lessons. This is one of the strongest ways to prevent relapse–to keep teaching others how to recover for themselves.
Second, I would recommend that you have mentors and teachers in your life, people that you look up to and learn from. A sponsor in AA is a good example of this. Having a sponsor or mentor is important because they can see opportunities for growth that we simply gloss over, and may not think are important for us at all. I know that my own sponsor (and my therapist) had a few suggestions that I initially thought were pretty stupid, but ended up being real game changers for me in the long run. So I think the idea of modeling is very important when it comes to making progress in early recovery. We need other people to challenge us in certain ways in order to avoid getting too comfortable in our recovery.
Third, I would recommend writing in a journal on a regular basis. Why? Because it forces us to organize our thoughts and then put them down on paper in front of us, where it becomes much more difficult to avoid a simple truth that is staring us in the face. Writing in a journal has helped me to process certain things and bring them to light in a way that I may have missed if I had not been writing freely in a journal format. Another reason that I find journal writing to be powerful is because when you write down your anxieties you give your mind “permission” to stop worrying about them for a while, because you documented them on paper. Definitely worth a try.
Finally, I would recommend that some form of meditative practice can enlighten a person who may have slipped into complacency. Why meditation? Because we get in touch with ourselves in a way that exposes the truth to us. So if we have become slack or lazy in our recovery then that will potentially surface while we are meditating.
Give one or all of these techniques a try, I am sure you will be pleased with the results, and you will help to protect your recovery too. Good luck.