Everything just keeps getting better in recovery.
Unless it doesn’t. Which in that case means that relapse is probably inevitable.
Recovery from addiction is a continuum–you are either working on your recovery or you are, as they say “working on a relapse.”
You can’t stand still though. If you try to stand still in recovery and stop making forward progress, then you start sliding backwards. It is impossible to be stagnant without also moving closer to relapse. So therefore you can’t really stall, because if you do then you are regressing towards a negative lifestyle.
The only way forward is to…..move forward. The only solution for recovery is to make forward progress.
The entire secret to relapse prevention is actually……personal growth.
Everything else is a distraction to this. If you are not making positive changes in your life then you are ever so slowly (or perhaps quickly in some cases) sliding back towards a relapse.
The only way forward is “up.” Make progress or you put your sobriety in danger.
This is a both a gift and a curse. The “curse” part of it is that you have to stay vigilant. You have to keep pushing yourself.
The gift part of it is that sobriety is a gift of continuous rewards. Your hard work will pay off in the long run. As they say: “It gets greater, later.”
Sobriety is a gift that keeps on giving
It may sound a bit cliche, but sobriety is a gift that keeps on giving.
And this is true. But it is not just that you keep getting the positive benefits of being sober. Instead, your life actually gets better and better over time.
For example, my life had already become a great deal better when I had six months sober. I was already light years ahead of where I was at when I was still drinking. My life was a whole lot better when I reached the six month point.
Fast forward another year, and guess what? My life was even better yet. One huge example of this is that the cravings and the obsession to drink completely left me during that time. This was a huge change for me. It was a huge gift. And I had not really received that gift yet when I just had a few months sober. I still dealt with the daily obsession to want to drink at that point. I thought it would never leave me, but it did eventually.
So then I had roughly 18 months sober, and my life was even better. So what happened next? Things had already come a long way, but they kept getting better. I got a job and a vehicle. I went back to college and finished up a degree.
Then I started to exercise. And I quit smoking cigarettes. These were all things that happened around years one through four or so. And these were not trivial things. I finished my bachelor’s degree. I was free from cigarettes (finally!). I became an avid runner and was running over 35 miles every week. These things had a huge impact on my happiness and quality of life. They were gifts. The rewards from these changes were gifts of sobriety.
And now I can look back and see just how powerful this chain reaction of events was. Because it was not just that I accomplished a few things and got rewarded for it–that is not it at all. Instead, the real miracle is that I accomplished some of these things, and then those accomplishments allowed me to build on top of them. Many of those early successes led me to future success in a similar area.
And this is why it “keeps getting better and better.”
It doesn’t just get better once in recovery. It keeps getting better. Continuously.
This is awesome. You absolutely have to try it if you have not done so already!
“It just keeps getting better and better”
So how do you achieve this level of personal growth? How do you live a life in which things just keep getting better?
There is probably more than one way to do it but I would suggest that any strong approach to this has to be holistic.
When I talk about “holistic health” or “holistic growth,” let me explain what I mean by that.
Holistic just means “whole,” as in you treat yourself and your recovery as a “whole person.”
Traditional recovery can sometimes ignore this idea, and they might focus in on one aspect of your overall health, such as your spirituality.
This is limiting and one dimensional.
A better approach in my opinion is to look at your whole person, your whole self, and every aspect of your life.
The idea is simple: You get clean and sober, and you start taking better care of yourself.
What is sobriety other than a decision to take better care of yourself? This starts with abstinence. You stop putting poison into your system.
But then you take it further. You start taking care of yourself in other ways.
Spirituality is the big one that they teach you in traditional recovery. So you stop being selfish and you start looking at your life and making positive changes. Instead of being all about “me me me” you start to think in terms of gratitude. Maybe you pray and meditate, or maybe not. But you start to shift your mindset to one where you are grateful for anything and everything. This is the practical side of spirituality. Appreciating existence itself allows you to also appreciate sobriety. And if you do not appreciate sobriety then you will drink again. Simple as that.
So you can take care of yourself physically and stop putting poison into your body, but you can also take care of yourself spiritually and start adopting this attitude of gratitude. What can you do beyond that? Is anything necessary beyond this?
Yes it is necessary. You should not stop at just physical abstinence and the spiritual journey. That is a strong start but it is not the end game in sobriety. No, the end game is to ask yourself, every single day, if you are truly taking care of yourself in the following ways:
And then you have to look at each of those areas of your health and make a decision. Each day, ask yourself if you are taking good care of yourself in those areas. Yes or no. And if the answer is “no” then you need to take action. You need to make a plan. Because if you neglect, say, your social health for too long then this will isolate you and could lead to relapse.
If you neglect your physical health for too long then this can……you guessed it….lead to relapse.
If you neglect your emotional health and you become emotionally unstable then this can lead to relapse.
And so on.
Every single area of your health (the whole person, your holistic health) is a potential area for relapse.
You can prove this to yourself. Go to AA meetings every day for a few years (as I did in the beginning). Talk to people and listen to their stories. You will meet many people during that time that have relapsed. When they tell their story, figure out what area of their holistic health was compromised first and thus led to their eventual relapse.
I have met people who relapsed in all five of these different areas before.
I know a guy who injured his shoulder playing softball. (Physical health). He went to the ER and they gave him painkillers. He was a recovering alcoholic and knew nothing about addictive medications. Before you know it, he was craving alcohol again. He did not actually drink in this case but he was certainly getting a high from the medications.
I have watched that one happen a lot during my journey. Physical health or illness can easily lead to relapse. It happens a lot.
So you have to take care of yourself. Physically. Healthy food, nutrition, getting enough sleep every night, exercising, quitting smoking, and so on. It all adds up. It is all important. It can prevent a relapse directly if you are taking good care of yourself physically.
And we can go through and look at each of the five areas of your health. We can look at social health and I can give you examples of people who have relapsed because they isolated. We can talk about mental health and I can give you examples of people who have relapsed because they were not taking care of their mental condition. And so on.
Relapse is so tricky. Recovery from addiction is complicated because you cannot just follow a one dimensional approach as they suggest in traditional recovery. That is only part of the battle. Instead, you have to protect yourself from relapse in several different areas.
The disease is cunning, baffling, and powerful, right? That means it can attack in many different ways. It is not just a physical allergy. It is not just a spiritual malady. In fact, it is a holistic problem that can attack you in any of those five different areas of your health. And therefore you need to be pro-active in all five of those areas of your life on a regular basis. Let one area slide for too long and it could trip you up. The disease is sneaky and it will creep in where ever you leave an opening.
Therefore, some people relapse. Those who do not relapse are working on a more holistic form of personal growth. And that has amazing benefits.
How personal growth leads to accumulated benefits
Maybe you will start to exercise in your recovery. This happened to me after a few short years in early sobriety. I started to work out on a regular basis. I started this effort by jogging and distance running.
But it did not stop there. I made this commitment to myself that I was going to be a runner. I was going to run on a regular basis. So I started with that as my baseline. I was going to run consistently.
Believe it or not I was still smoking a pack of cigarettes every day when I started this running experiment. Crazy, right? But I was still a smoker. I had a few years sober under my belt but I was still smoking cigarettes. And actually, part of the reason that I took up running was that I thought it might help me to eventually put down the cigarettes. That was part of my plan.
It worked. I was eventually able to quit smoking based on the fact that I was running every single day. The “high” from running really helped to replace the high that I felt from cigarettes. It wasn’t a perfect replacement but it helped out a great deal. And it eventually allowed me to quit successfully.
Of course, when you are running six miles every day your body sort of starts to notice that the cigarettes are not exactly helping your cause.
So now that I had established this exercise routine, I noticed that it was improving my sleep.
To be honest I did not sleep well in the first few years of my recovery. My sleep habits were terrible. This was not necessarily by choice, I just couldn’t seem to sleep very well. It did not help matters that I took a job that had me working third shift two days out of each week. So I was flipping back and forth every few days and this was (in retrospect) not very healthy.
So the exercise (and eliminating the third shift job) really helped my sleeping habits. But the running six miles each day was a huge factor in this. It really helped me to sleep much more soundly.
So you can see that there is a progression here. It is not just about making a single positive change in recovery. It is about building on each previous change. And obviously, every positive change that I have made in my recovery journey also builds on the fact that I got sober to begin with. It all goes back to that. Get sober, start taking better care of yourself, start making positive changes and building better health.
The crossover point in terms of happiness and contentment
There is a crossover point in terms of your happiness in recovery.
This doesn’t happen overnight. I know that no one wants to hear that, especially in very early recovery.
But it’s the truth. There is something that I like to think of as “the crossover point.”
When you were getting drunk or high you achieved a certain level of happiness. I realize that much of addiction is miserable but we were all chasing that happiness, right? You wanted to be happy and so you took drugs or alcohol in order to make yourself happy.
And then you finally surrender and you get to rehab and you are somewhat miserable during detox. Suddenly the drugs or the booze is gone and you can’t self medicate with it. You don’t have a way to get that “instant happiness” that you used to get when you got drunk or high.
And people are telling you that it gets better, and that you will someday know a joy in recovery that is better than any drunk or high that you ever felt.
Are the serious? Are the telling the truth? Can you really achieve this level of happiness while sober?
These were important questions for me when I was still struggling with my alcoholism. I wanted to be happy. I did not want to be sober and miserable.
Well I am here to let you know that every alcoholic or drug addict will eventually reach this mystical “crossover point” if they are willing to do the work.
So here is what the crossover point is:
A long time ago you started using drugs and alcohol and in the beginning it was really fun. Life was good. This was before it all turned to crap and chaos and misery.
Now when you first get clean and sober and you are in detox, you are suddenly stripped of your best friend, your drug of choice. The withdrawal symptoms are not pleasant and your ego is badly damaged (“I don’t know how to be happy or live my life”, this is the essence of surrender).
So in very early recovery you are definitely not jumping for joy yet. You are far from that peak happiness that you felt when you first started experimenting with drugs or alcohol.
But I am here to tell you that if you do the hard work in recovery then eventually you will reach that level of happiness again in recovery and you will surpass it.
It takes time. You start very slowly in early recovery. You are rebuilding your life with one positive change at a time. And it takes work, and discipline.
And it is holistic. So you have to take care of yourself on all of these different levels, and eventually those areas converge in the future. In other words, when you first start exercising, it may not lead you to instant happiness. It may not help your happiness at all in the beginning.
But if you are taking care of yourself in all of those critical areas, then at some point in the future this will lead to a much higher level of peace, contentment, and happiness. It is a holistic approach. You have to work on all of it, and that takes time. You must take care of your life in all of these different areas. And the rewards come very slowly at first, or not at all even. So you have to persevere. You have to have faith. And in the end, everything starts to work together. The positive benefits that you get in long term sobriety start falling towards you like dominoes. It starts slowly at first but it all comes together in the end. You just have to have that faith that it will all work out for the better in the future, if you stick it out and keep taking positive action.
Grinding through the hard work in order to reap the rewards later on
You cannot live passively and expect for this awesome new life in recovery to just fall into your lap.
It doesn’t work that way.
You cannot expect to live this great new life unless you are willing to put in a massive amount of effort.
Little changes are not going to add up to enough.
Early recovery and overcoming alcoholism or drug addiction is all about inertia. It is about momentum.
It is like running up this big hill. If you don’t make enough big changes then it is like not running hard enough to get up this hill.
And if you stop making changes, if you lose momentum, if you become stagnant…..then you slide back down the hill.
Recovery demands continuous growth.
Relapse prevention is, in a nutshell, personal growth.
You have to keep reinventing yourself in order to reap the long term benefits of recovery.
But this is a good thing. This is a gift.
Because when you live your life in this way, the rewards of sobriety just keep on coming. Things get better and better over time. Life gets really good again. And then it gets even better.
But you have to put in the effort. The consistent effort. And in order to sustain that effort, most people need some sort of faith or hope that things really will get better in the future.
And then eventually you hit this crossover point, where you realize that this stuff really does work. And that it is worth all of the effort.
What about you, have you hit this mystical crossover point in your recovery? Where you are happier now than you were when you were drinking or drugging? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!