Another important idea in the world of addiction and recovery is that of “conscious growth.”
If you are not planning to achieve personal growth in your life then you may as well be headed for relapse.
There are only two real paths in any recovery: A path to relapse, or something else.
There are many different paths that will get you to “something other than relapse.” But in order to achieve those positive results you must take deliberate action.
This is a very important idea. You cannot just accidentally become clean and sober. That never happens. People don’t just drift away from alcoholism or serious drug addiction. That is known as “wishful thinking.”
At one point in my journey I believe I was guilty of making this logical error. My brain was justifying my addiction to myself by arguing “Well, it will probably just go away on its own at some point in the future when I get tired of it all.”
Um, no. Not really. Even when you reach the point of being “sick and tired of being sick and tired” you still have to make this enormous commitment to yourself. It is still a huge leap of faith to get sober, even if you truly feel like you have hit bottom and you are totally ready to change this time. Even then it is not an easy thing to do. It still takes a very conscious and deliberate decision on your part.
In short, you need a plan.
Or you are doomed to relapse.
Your plan in sobriety has to be deliberate or it will fail
The problem with alcoholism and drug addiction is that they are extremely pervasive conditions.
What I mean by that is the way that addiction takes a hold of your life. It is not like just one part of your life is slightly affected by your addiction.
Instead, alcoholism and drug addiction take over your entire being. Every part of your life is affected. Every part of your health is affected. Nothing is left untouched by an addiction that has come to dominate your life.
It is a mistake to underestimate this. It is a mistake to believe that you can compartmentalize your recovery.
What does that mean, to “compartmentalize your recovery?”
I tried to do this once. It doesn’t work. It will never work for anyone.
What I tried to do was that I tried to put my recovery into a compartment.
I’m talking about my life and my life situation.
So here I am, an alcoholic, and I decide that I should probably do something about my problem.
So I tried to treat my alcoholism the same way that you might treat a chipped tooth or something. Let’s just go to the right professional, give them our insurance card (or whatever), and let them fix the problem. Then I can be on my way, thank you very much. No, I don’t really want to learn about these new advanced brushing techniques or the leading toothpaste. Just fix the tooth and send me on my way.
And this is what I wanted to do with alcoholism. I wanted to patch it up very quickly and then move on with my life. This is how you attempt to compartmentalize something. You want to put your alcoholism into a neat little box and then find a perfect little solution that will fix the problem. But the solution has to be in this little box too and you don’t want it spilling over into other areas of your life. Just fix the problem and then let me get back to my “normal” life again, please.
Recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction does not work this way.
You can’t compartmentalize it, no matter how hard you try.
If you try to do so then you are setting yourself up for relapse.
And this is because of one simple fact: Addiction is holistic. It affects every part of your health and well being.
Addiction is not just a spiritual malady.
And it is not just a physical allergy either.
And it is not just a mental problem.
Nor is it an emotional problem.
Nor is it only about the relationships in your life and how it negatively impacts those.
No, it is all of those things and a whole lot more.
And therefore if you want to talk about the solution to an addiction, you are not going to fit it into this nice and neat little box. You can’t compartmentalize recovery from alcoholism. It doesn’t work that way. You can’t just leave alcohol behind and then “go back to normal,” because there is no normal anymore. Your disease destroyed that very thoroughly.
No, if you want to enjoy long term sobriety and find real happiness again in your life, you are going to have to rebuild your entire life from the ground up. You are going to have to learn how to take care of yourself in all of these ways again (not just spiritually and physically).
And for that, you need a plan.
If all you do is quit drinking and then try to wander back into your life without making major changes in every area, it is like walking through a minefield. Relapse can come at you from any direction.
I believe the saying is “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”
If you don’t have a plan in early recovery then you are going to relapse. Simple as that.
No one stumbles into sobriety through sheer luck without putting in a lot of hard work.
It takes lots of work. No way around that part. And so if you are going to put forth that hard work then you need a plan to do so first.
No plan, no hard work.
You need a plan.
You get to choose how you will achieve personal growth
There are plenty of people who try to help alcoholics and drug addicts who would be glad to get you started on a plan.
I recommend that you find such people and seek out there help.
In other words, go to treatment and work with a therapist there and get yourself a treatment plan.
This treatment plan will likely have things on it that involve professional treatment services, such as rehab, outpatient meetings, group therapy, counseling, and so on.
And it will likely also have things on it that don’t depend directly on professional services. Things such as personal goals for yourself, fitness, AA meetings, sponsorship in the fellowship, and so on.
I think it is important to get a plan early in your recovery and start following it. Stick to it. Follow through. Do the work. Take action.
You could do much, much worse than this in early recovery.
In fact, I would venture that about 90 percent of people do exactly that….they do much worse than this. They might go to rehab and get this plan, and they might even leave treatment and initially start following this plan. But then ultimately their effort falls by the wayside, and they fail to follow through with their plan. And so they relapse.
The ten percent or so (rough estimates here, you can do your own research of course if you like) who actually follow through with their entire treatment plan will have a much higher rate of success in sobriety.
Show up to treatment, listen, do what you are told. Keep following through. Follow directions.
These are the simple principles that can help you to become sober. Not very exciting or enticing, but the concepts work.
As you evolve in your recovery, your plan will change.
I have over thirteen years sober now, and my plan today is vastly different than what it was at 2 weeks sober. My plan in recovery continues to change over time. And I continue to seek outside help and feedback to help me to modify my plan and make it better. But I think it is important to define our goals in recovery and to have a plan, because if we don’t do this, then the default plan will slowly creep back in.
Every alcoholic and drug addict has a default plan for the rest of their lives. And that default plan is to use drugs or alcohol. Period. The plan is always there, it is always going to be an option, and that option will never go away completely. So that is the backup plan, the default plan, the plan of last resort. The option will always be there. So in order to overcome this problem you have to create a different plan in life, a more positive plan, a plan of conscious growth.
And you get to decide what kind of growth you want to pursue. Maybe you don’t get into the spiritual side of recovery so much, but you really respond well to regular exercise and feel that it helps your recovery tremendously. Or maybe you don’t get along well in AA meetings but you find a religious organization that seems to click for you. Or maybe you find a therapist or a life coach or something that really helps to motivate you and put you on a path to serious growth.
There is no one path that is perfect and right for every person in recovery. Unfortunately there are people who will try to convince you that this is the case, that everyone should use their preferred method of recovery because it is the only true path that works. Don’t fall for that trap though and realize that the path to relapse prevention can be attained in many ways. Personal growth is the key but that can be achieved on several different paths in life.
Complacency is when you stop growing consciously. It is coasting
Notice the “conscious” part of the term “conscious growth.”
So in other words, what happens to a person in recovery when they stop making conscious growth? What does it really mean to be conscious anyway?
Without getting too deep here, I would suggest that if you are making conscious growth then it simply means that you are aware of your own goals and actions. Or that you are making a deliberate choice to raise your awareness of your own goals, progress, life situation, and so on.
This is really part of what the 12 steps in AA seek to do as well. You take an inventory, you figure out what your character flaws are, then you start working on them. Becoming ready to have them removed. That means doing the work, putting in footwork. That also means becoming aware of those issues to begin with. This is about self examination. You have to take a long, hard, honest look at your life in order to make such an assessment. The 12 steps and a sponsor in AA can walk you through this process.
I actually did most of this footwork outside of the 12 steps, but that is not really here or there. What is important is that I did the work, that I looked honestly at myself in early recovery, and I took corrective action. And that I had other people helping me through this process. I was not doing it alone.
And today I still try to do this process, to examine my life and figure out what I need to change, how I can improve myself, how I can be a more helpful person or a better person, and so on. It’s not easy. It is not comfortable to do this. It is not comfortable to ask other people to criticize you, to point out your biggest flaw, to tell you what needs to be changed. Who really wants to invite that kind of harsh feedback? But if you do it on a regular basis and you take action based on that feedback then your life will start to get better and better. This is known as “doing the work” in recovery. Most people don’t really want to do the work, me included!
So what is complacency then? It is when you get lazy and you stop doing the work.
The problem is that we can fool ourselves into believing that we are still doing what we need to do in order to stay sober. For example, the person who continues to attend AA meetings on a regular basis but they have really stopped growing on a personal level. They tell themselves that they are still doing well because they continue to attend meetings, but in reality they are just sort of coasting through their recovery now. If you stop pedaling the bike for too long then eventually it will topple over. Complacency is when you stop pedaling.
So how do you fix this? How do you start pedaling the bike again in recovery?
There are lots of ways. It is important to realize that you fight complacency on a daily basis.
So you can’t say to yourself: “I think I am getting complacent. I should do something about that. I will schedule an appointment with myself next month to get back to work on my recovery.”
That is not how you attack complacency.
It is a little bit like overcoming procrastination in that regard. You can’t put off the solution! You have to do it now. Take action today.
And that is how you beat complacency. It is a daily practice. A daily struggle. You must take action against it every single day.
If you are not sure what your actions should be today then you might ask for help and guidance from someone you trust. Many people are willing to give advice and input into your situation. Your main question might be something like: “Given my current situation, what do you think I should focus on doing next in my life?”
Your life will work best in recovery if you are taking care of yourself from a holistic standpoint every single day.
So you might ask yourself right now: “How am I taking care of myself physically today? Emotionally? Spiritually? Mentally? Socially?”
And so you answer each one of these questions to yourself. And maybe you notice that even though you have done many good things for yourself today, that you have not interacted with another single human being. At all. You have been totally isolated today socially. So your social health, in this regard, is not doing well today.
So what if that happens every day? Eventually it could lead to relapse.
And that is why you must keep asking these questions of yourself. How did I take care of myself today in each of these ways?
And to some extent it is about finding the negative stuff. It is about finding the holes in your recovery program. Because if you have been neglecting one of those areas of your life then eventually it could cause you to relapse. It could even kill you in the end.
So you don’t want to neglect your health. Not just your physical health, but in all of those areas I listed above. You have to take care of yourself in all of those ways, every single day, in order to avoid complacency.
If you let one of those areas slip for too long then this leads to complacency. And that could lead to relapse.
The solution to this is conscious growth. Become aware of the problem, then take positive action to fix it. This requires an increase in consciousness. You must become aware of the problem before you can fix it.
Some people argue with this and say things like “But I don’t want to focus on the negative!” So they say they don’t want to examine their life and find the problem areas, or their weaknesses, or anything like that, because it is depressing and it is the “wrong attitude” to have.
I disagree strongly with this.
And AA principles disagree strongly with this. If you really want to stay sober then you need to take a long, hard, honest look at your life and become willing to correct the problems.
Think about that statement: “A long, hard, look at your life.” It is not an easy look at your life! Everyone would do that, no problem.
But it is difficult to do it. It is uncomfortable to examine our lives and to find our faults and our weaknesses. Of course we don’t really want to do these things.
But this is the path to conscious growth. This is the path to long term sobriety.
If you are sober and you want to protect your sobriety then there is only one way to do that: You have to keep digging at this stuff and doing the hard work. It is a continuous process that never really ends. Sure, you might coast for a while. But the only way to keep raising the defense against relapse is to keep doing the work.
Success builds on previous success. Your options expand after laying a foundation
One last thing to note about this approach is that it greatly affects your future growth possibilities.
Meaning that if you are willing to do the hard work that I am talking about in recovery then it will open up your world to you down the road.
Your success in recovery will build on itself eventually. This has to do with several factors that are difficult to describe.
I can illustrate with an example though. I quit alcohol and addictive drugs and checked into rehab. I started doing the work.
Later on I wanted to quit smoking cigarettes as well, but I could not seem to put them down. In order to do so I finally realized that I was going to have to use physical exercise in order to compensate for a lack of nicotine in my body.
In other words, I had to whip myself into shape before I could successfully give up the cigarettes.
And it worked. One success led to another. I later used this discipline that I had gained to achieve other goals that were seemingly non-related. But in retrospect I could look back and see that it all tied together. Each success in my journey had built on a previous success.
And so in this way you are building a foundation in early recovery for more success later on in your journey.
This is also why they say “It gets greater, later.” This phrase can be a bit annoying to the newcomer, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true!
What about you, have you been able to create your own path in sobriety? How much of it was conscious and how much of it was automatic? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!