How can we fight complacency in AA and ultimately avoid relapse?
This is the second post in a series. Here is the first one about triggers and urges in case you missed it.
When I was in early sobriety, I imagined that there must be a certain point that people reach in recovery where they are now going to “make it.” A certain length of clean time where people are protected against the threat of relapse.
Turns out this simply isn’t true. In fact, the statistics for long term sobriety are quite frightening–the drop off rate of relapsing addicts and alcoholics doesn’t really slow down much as your length of sobriety increases.
So what causes a person to relapse after experiencing a genuine sobriety? The answer is complacency.
Complacency sets in when we get too comfortable in our recovery and stop pushing ourselves to grow. Obviously, we want to stay vigilant and fight complacency so that we can remain sober over the long haul. What are some ways to fight complacency?
Working with others
Based on my experience, this is the number one thing that will help you to avoid relapse. Working with newcomers in recovery also directly confronts any complacency you might have. This happens because working with newcomers in recovery will do the following things:
1. Reminds you of where you were – the newcomer reminds us of the misery we experienced in the final days of our active addiction.
2. Throws our own character defects back in our face – working with newcomers exposes our own character defects that we see mirrored in ourselves. We try to help the newcomer by telling them what needs to change in their lives, and then we realize that we need to clean our own house as well. In this way, working with newcomers keeps us vigilant.
3. Keeps us plugged into a social network of recovering people – it’s easier to grow as a person if you are surrounded by like minded people who are also trying to push themselves. Working with others and trying to push them to grow will have the effect of pushing back on ourselves. Recovering addicts and alcoholics can help each other to grow together.
Overcoming complacency is about pushing yourself. If you are stuck, you need to find the spark to motivate yourself to take real ACTION. It is positive action that truly boosts our self esteem.
1. Challenge yourself physically – this can be a huge part of recovery that so many people dismiss or completely miss out on. Getting into an active lifestyle and exercising regularly can really boost your spirits in a number of ways. It’s also very effective at fighting depression, which many addicts and alcoholics suffer from. Physical exercise can be meditative and stress-relieving as well. A lot of times, if you can push yourself physically, you’ll find the energy to start pushing yourself in other ways as well. Physical exercise becomes a springboard to motivate yourself for other things. Don’t make the mistake of dismissing physical activity as being unimportant to your recovery. It can make a huge difference in overcoming depression.
2. Make a commitment – to work with others in recovery. This can be as simple as signing up to chair a meeting every week, or sponsoring a couple of newcomers and having regular sponsorship meetings with them (or getting together regularly with your own sponsor). If these are too much for you, you could also make a simple commitment to a home group, and agree to attend a specific AA meeting each week. Pushing yourself to work with others in recovery will pay great dividends for your own recovery.
3. Push yourself to grow in other ways – such as by going back to school or looking for a better job. Expand your horizons a bit and explore the world outside of 12 step recovery. Start using the program of recovery “in the real world.” Take action.
Complacency sneaks up on us. Overcoming it is all about action:
“Be mindful of the link between present action and desired future outcome. Ask yourself: if I repeat today’s actions 365 times, will I be where I want to be in a year?” (Roz Savage)
This is an excellent question to ask ourselves. Where do I want to be (spiritually) in a year? Then get specific: what do we mean by “spiritually?” Does it mean living what you preach at AA meetings? Does it mean being mindful, meditating daily, praying for friends (and enemies), reaching out to newcomers, helping people outside of AA….what are your action goals? If we just say “I want to grow spiritually,” that is almost meaningless without defining our terms. We need actionable goals that we can move towards. Therefore, defining spirituality and exactly what it means to us is important.
Make sure you check back next week for an article about how to live a spiritual life, and how to sharpen our definition of what spirituality means to us in order to better reach that goal. If you’d like, you can subscribe via RSS or sign up to receive new posts through email if you don’t want to miss it.