One of the best strategies for addiction recovery is to assume that you are complacent.
Most people believe that the biggest threat to their sobriety is the threat of resentment. The big book of AA tells us that this is most likely the case, that is resentment that kills recovering alcoholics by causing them to relapse.
But we have found that there is another, more insidious threat in long term sobriety. Perhaps resentment is extremely dangerous in early recovery, but in long term sobriety the game changes a bit. Once you accumulate several years in recovery and have done the work (so to speak), the threat of resentment drops away. You no longer walk around with a chip on your shoulder all the time. At least, this is the case if you actually do the work, such as by working through the 12 steps of AA. If you actually work through the AA program and use the principles every day then you should be free from resentment.
What, then, is the path to relapse? Complacency.
Becoming complacent is the way that people relapse in long term sobriety, long after they have walked away from their anger. Long after they have worked through their resentments. Long after they have learned how to do a daily inventory, and to forgive others on a daily basis if necessary (thus preventing new resentments from arising).
So once you get into that place in your recovery, the real threat is that you might get too comfortable, too complacent, and eventually this could lead to a dangerous path.
Therefore the best solution in long term sobriety is to just assume that you are, in fact, complacent right now.
Assume that you are being lazy, and that this might be dangerous for your recovery.
I am suggesting that you and everyone else in recovery should just naturally make this assumption all the time.
Wait…isn’t it wrong to make assumptions?
Normally I would agree with the idea that it is wrong to make assumptions in life.
But this is part of a strategy. This is part of a strategy and a philosophy of life that just might help spur you into positive action.
And really that is what this is all about. In order to recover you need to change the direction of your life. You need to find a way to motivate yourself to take positive action.
So this is just another trick of sorts. Maybe it will work for you and maybe it won’t.
Think of your life in addiction for a moment. It is a downward spiral if you are a true alcoholic or drug addict. Everything just keeps getting worse and worse over time. That is how the timeline of addiction plays out. The disease is progressive. So over time your tolerance to drugs and alcohol will change in ways that will become more and more destructive. For example, near the early start of your drinking career, you will likely go through a period of time where you drink greater and greater amounts of alcohol in order to get your required high. This increase in tolerance leads to greater and greater consequences that come along with the increased amounts of the drug (yes, alcohol is a drug).
At the end of your drinking career, your tolerance may shift again. This time it actually goes in the other direction, and it takes less and less alcohol in order to get the same effect as before. This is known as reverse tolerance, and it means that you have progressed even further in your disease. If you notice yourself getting to this point of reverse tolerance setting in then you really need to consider getting professional help because it means that the cycle is almost finished. After you reach reverse tolerance it means that your body simply cannot handle much more abuse. Your life is in serious danger so it is time to make a decision and take action.
So the downward spiral of addiction is pretty evident. Things get worse and worse until they reach a breaking point. As they say in the program, those breaking points are often going to be either jails, institutions, or death. If you do some serious thinking about those three options then you should arrive at the conclusion that “institutions” such as rehab are a much better choice than the other two. But if you continue to drink or abuse drugs then you don’t necessarily get to make the choice. Fate may make that choice for you unless you take back control and make a decision. And the only way to really do that is to surrender.
Your life is a downward spiral of negativity in addiction, so what does recovery demand of us? The exact opposite. And that means that you have to find a way in recovery to push yourself forward, to take positive action.
And this is exactly why we need a trick, some way to get ourselves motivated to take positive action in recovery. That is why we assume complacency.
So what would happen if I don’t assume that I am complacent?
You might do alright for a while. You may even stay clean and sober for years and years.
Think about the thought process here. If you do NOT assume that you are complacent, then you are essentially saying to yourself:
“I am not complacent today. I am doing everything that I need to do for my recovery. I am fine. I will not relapse.”
That is clearly not the best attitude.
Let’s shift the mindset a bit to something more like:
“I am assuming that I might be complacent today. Therefore I am going to make a list of 5 things I can do to improve my life, and 5 things to improve my life situation. I will practice gratitude, I will reach out to others in recovery, I will push myself to take better care of myself from a holistic standpoint. I will do more for my recovery today.”
Which mindset do you think is safer in terms of relapse? I can assure you that the second mindset is the better choice.
Not only that, but let’s think for a minute about where you end up with each of these two mindsets:
1) “I am safe in recovery.”
2) “I might be complacent.”
If you think you are safe and secure in your sobriety, then you won’t be nearly as motivated to take action. You won’t push yourself in order to improve your life.
Let me tell you what I think the real process is here.
In order to improve your life, you sort of have to thrash around a bit in recovery. Let me explain that idea.
You don’t just walk a perfectly straight line in sobriety. Even if you have the best sponsor in the world, and the best team of therapists in the world working with you in early recovery, you still have to “thrash around a bit.” Meaning that you have to experiment a bit. You have to try different things in early recovery, see what works for you, see what actually helps you.
There is a mindset of fear, usually in traditional recovery programs, that says that there is one objective way to recover and that there is a distinct path to sobriety and that every person can achieve sobriety if they walk this narrow path and do exactly what they are told to do. This mindset is based out of fear. The person telling you about this path to recovery is actually afraid for their own sobriety.
But the real world doesn’t necessarily work like that. In the real world, sobriety can be a bit messy. You may have to thrash around a bit to find your path.
For example, someone told me to meditate in early recovery. They were very excited about meditation and they really believed that it was the secret to sobriety. Heck, step eleven in AA basically says that this is the case, that we all need to meditate in order to strengthen our recovery. So this person tried to get me to meditate. They thought that it was the big answer that I was looking for in my recovery journey.
So I tried it. I learned all about meditation. I got books on it. I researched different techniques online. And I practiced. I started by meditating in a seated position and thought that five minutes of real meditation felt like an eternity. I sat quietly with my eyes closed and I just tried to be still and have a still mind for as long as possible.
I know that I made some progress because at one point I worked my way up to a 40 minute long meditation session. I sat with my eyes closed for a full 40 minutes. That is a long time to meditate! And I could feel how that changed me, how it changed the way that I felt during the day later on.
I practiced this for several months. I stuck with it. I gave it a real chance.
And ultimately I rejected the practice. I decided that it wasn’t for me.
Is this the end of the world?
No it’s not! Of course it is not the end of the world. I tried it, I got some benefit from it, but ultimately I moved on to other things.
Later on I discovered distance running, and I really liked the way that this made me feel. In fact, I liked it a lot more than seated meditation. And I also realized that it carried many of the same benefits with it. In fact, it was almost identical in many important ways. Running six miles each day became my meditation session, and it helped me a great deal both mentally and emotionally. Even if there were no physical benefits to my jogging routine, I was getting a huge benefit from it emotionally. It was as if my brain took all of the emotional and mental stress that I might be going through and it processed it all while I ran.
So what is the point of the story?
I had to experiment. I had to take suggestions from people–I tried seated meditation and it was decent, but it wasn’t the answer for me. No harm done. Regroup and move on. Try something else. Get more advice, different suggestions. And eventually I took a suggestion to start exercising again, and that led to a daily routine of distance running. And it was that idea that sort of filled the role that meditation plays in everyone’s life.
So that was not a straight path to the answer. It was messy. I had to be willing to try different things. This is what life in recovery is like–not all of the answers can be given to you by your sponsor, or by a therapist. They can make suggestions, but ultimately you have to find what works for you. And the therapist and the sponsor are still valuable, because they can guide you, they can make suggestions, and they can help spur you into action. But you decide what actually works for you and what does not.
Now let’s consider the above process in light of complacency.
When you get complacent in recovery, guess what happens?
You stop engaging in the above process entirely. You no longer are willing to experiment. Because you think that you are safe in recovery, that you have found the right path, that you have all of the answers now.
Well guess what?
You don’t have all of the answers.
And you may be on a good path in sobriety, but it is always shifting a bit. It is always changing over time.
I can promise you that your disease is over there in the corner, doing push-ups (as they say), and trying to figure out a new avenue of attack.
Does this seem silly to you? That your addiction might be trying to figure out a new way to attack you and get you to relapse?
It may seem silly but it is a very useful philosophy. I suggest that you take it seriously, that you believe that this is really the case.
Because what happens over time is that your life is essentially random. New stuff happens to you, things that can never predict.
A recovering alcoholic with over 20 years of sobriety injures his arm playing softball at a church event. He goes to the ER because it hurts so badly and they give him narcotic pain medication. He has never had a problem with pain medicine in the past so he thinks nothing of it. But he suddenly finds himself taking more and more of the pills each day.
Do you see where that scenario is headed? Our addiction is tricky, and it can find new avenues of attack. It may not even be drugs or booze, it might be gambling, sex, food, video games, or something else entirely. Our addiction can surface in many different areas of our lives.
You may be wondering, how can someone possibly fight back against this kind of enemy? The answer is in a strategy, in a philosophy of living.
The 12 steps of AA are one such strategy. If you actually work those steps as designed and implement them into your daily life then you can overcome the kind of thing I am talking about here. Even though your addiction may be cunning and tricky, if you properly work the steps you can still overcome the disease.
However, anyone can become complacent. And that means that you stop working the steps, or that you stop implementing them into your everyday life.
And it is easy to do that if you are not careful. It is easy to get lulled into a false sense of security, because the weeks go by, then the years go by, and it seems like you are immune to relapse.
But you are not immune. And the disease is going to keep trying. Therefore you need to fight back, every day of your life, until you are gone.
In order to fight back, you need a strategy.
And that strategy is “personal growth.”
If you assume that you might be complacent, then there is only one answer for that particular problem.
Complacency is stagnation.
Complacency is a lack of personal growth.
What is the answer then?
The answer is to push yourself to make more personal growth. To improve yourself and your life every day.
This is the only way to stay one step ahead of your addiction.
They say that you can never be cured, that you can never really defeat your addiction entirely.
Of course they are correct in this. But you can stay one step ahead of your addiction. And that requires action. It requires vigilance.
Staying vigilant about personal growth
There are many ways to stay vigilant about personal growth in recovery.
One way is through the 12 steps of AA. This may or may not work for everyone.
AA is one path to sobriety. It is not the only path. And you can still become complacent in AA, so be careful.
But if you work the steps and you are reaching out and working with others (such as by sponsoring newcomers, chairing AA meetings, etc.) then you help yourself to stay motivated.
If you work with newcomers, this is especially powerful. Because it reminds you of where you came from, what you could go back to if you are not careful.
There are other ways to remain vigilant. You might have a few close friends in recovery, or maybe they are not even in recovery, but they have a similar philosophy and strategy like you do. They want to challenge themselves to keep moving forward, to keep making progress, to make important changes. And so you can find people in your life, even outside of programs like AA, that can help to hold you accountable. And in turn you might be able to encourage and inspire other people to take positive action.
Or you might find a therapist or a professional who can help you to work through your issues, who can help to guide you in making positive changes.
Very few of us are going to be entirely self motivated in recovery. In fact, this might be impossible, I am not sure. And perhaps most importantly, we all need other people in our lives to bounce ideas off of. We all need to look around and see what is working for others so that we can get inspired to take action ourselves.
Once you see the benefits of sobriety start to roll in, hopefully it will excite you to take more action in your life. This happened for me around the 6 month point of my sobriety. Somewhere around the six month to one year point of sobriety I got really excited. I was like “hey, I am not miserable any more, and I can actually accomplish things and set real goals in my life now, and I can work towards things and achieve them.” This was an amazing revelation.
Challenge yourself to keep learning and growing in recovery
In order to move forward and take positive action, I think you have to challenge yourself a bit.
Not every change that you make in your sobriety journey should be easy, safe, and comfortable for you.
If that is the case then you are on the wrong path. You have to experiment. You have to “thrash around a bit.” You have to be willing to put yourself out there, take some suggestions, and try some new things.
And in doing so you will find what actually works for you in recovery.
And that will be amazing….
What about you, have you found a way to motivate yourself for positive change every day? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!