Ask yourself this important question:
“Is your sobriety threatened from a lack of personal growth?”
Because if it is, then you have got some work to do. But don’t feel bad if you notice that you have not been pushing yourself much to make positive changes lately. It happens to all of us.
The solution is to turn it around, and start taking positive action. Let’s take a closer look at the common trap of complacency.
The common trap of complacency
Complacency actually happens to everyone in recovery, given enough time. It is not so much a question of “if” as it is “when.” But that does not mean that you can not prepare for it, and take preventative actions that will help you to overcome it.
In other words, we all get “stuck in a rut” at some point. The question is: “Do you have a sound strategy for getting out of ruts?”
This should be a focal point of long term sobriety. We have been told in AA at times that “resentment is the number one offender.” In truth, complacency is the greater threat to long term sobriety. Therefore we need a strategy to overcome the problem if and when it sets in.
Complacency is a common trap because it eventually happens to everyone, to at least some extent.
Why going to daily meetings is not enough
When I was in very early recovery I was told to go to AA and NA meetings every single day, which I did for approximately the first 3 to 6 months of my recovery. While I was doing this I would sometimes attend several meetings in a day, and I was also chairing an “H and I” meeting once a week. I got a good dose of exposure to the local AA and NA communities in my area.
What I noticed was that meeting makers would often not “make it,” as the saying went. They would often struggle. Many of them would relapse over and over again, yet continue to come back to the meetings, blaming only themselves for their relapse. I found this to be rather peculiar. I also started to wonder if the mantra of “daily meetings” was really the salvation that everyone was making it out to be. The message that I was getting from AA and NA was overwhelming: Go to meetings every day if you want to maintain sobriety. Yet I more and more often in my journey I was not seeing evidence of that.
The real trap that “chronic relapsers” were falling into was not really about the meetings at all, I decided at one point. Rather, the daily meetings were a distraction for them. They were projecting their recovery onto the idea that if they just keep going to meetings every day, then things should work out fine. This was obviously not the case and so the meetings almost became like an excuse; a distraction. People who relapsed would throw up their hands as if they did not know what they are doing wrong. The real problem in many cases is a lack of personal growth (complacency).
If I could ask each person who relapsed in AA if they had stopped taking positive action in their lives, I think the results of that would have been interesting. The real problem is a lack of growth, a lack of positive action, a certain kind of laziness.
If you bust your tail and take positive action every day then the chances of relapse slip down to near zero. Your only excuse in recovery is that you stopped doing what you needed to do in order to stay clean and sober. Do the work, stay clean. It really is that simple. When you stop doing the work, we label that as “complacency.”
If you go back and your research the foundations of the 12 step program, what I gather is that it was never really intended to be used as it frequently is in modern day society–where meetings become a daily venting session and people rely on them to stay sober. In fact, when AA first started, they would be lucky to have one or two meetings each week in an area! Now we take for granted that there are meetings every day for the most part, just about everywhere. This was not the intention of the founding fathers (based on my reading of the matter). They intended for the spiritual conversion to produce sobriety, and also that working with other alcoholics to be the foundation of sobriety. Not what we have today where people go to rehab for 28 days and then simply hit the regular pro-meeting circuit so that they can maintain their recovery without too much thought, commitment, or dedication.
No, if you wanted to stay sober back in the founding days of AA, you were put to work, you were guided through the steps (quickly), and you were thrust into a life of action. I am actually all for going back to a more “fundamentals” approach as described just now, provided the emphasis is on taking action and making positive changes. What we have today is people being lazy, showing up to a daily meeting as if it is a chore, not really getting much out of it and certainly not giving much back.
No, daily meetings as a “maintenance approach” does not really work, and it never did. Back in the day they had precious few meetings and people still managed to hustle up some recovery. It takes work, it takes action, it takes dedication.
Therefore you might take a look at your own recovery and see how driven you are to take positive action on a regular basis. If you have been slacking off lately, do NOT feel bad about it. Complacency can creep in and affect any of us, and eventually will. It is about waking up to this problem and then taking corrective action. It is about doing something positive with your life, and then feeling good about it. Rising self esteem is what maintains sobriety in the long run.
If a program inspires you to change, keep using it!
I want to point out that if the program of AA or NA is inspiring you to take positive action, then go with it! Keep using it, keep studying it, and keep working it as best you can. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this.
The only problem comes in when people rely entirely on their program of choice but find themselves complacent anyway. You can become complacent both inside or outside of a 12 step program. The program itself is just a framework for growth to occur, but it is not the growth itself.
Think about that for a moment: AA and NA are just frameworks in which you can pursue and achieve personal growth. But what really keeps you clean and sober? Is it the magical steps themselves (which are not really magical at all)? No, it is the positive action that you take on a regular basis.
I would never try to steer someone away from the 12 step program if they are getting lots of benefit from it, and using it as a platform for growth. The same is true of working with a sponsor. If you are making progress, then keep it up! This is a healthy path to recovery.
The key is to be honest with yourself in terms of becoming “stuck in a rut.” At some point it happens to all of us in one way or another. So you need to be perceptive enough and be aware enough to be able to catch it when it happens. The other part of that strategy is to always be using a pro-active strategy to prevent complacency (continuous personal growth, separated by periods of reflection).
Using feedback from others to gauge your level of growth
One way that you can be hyper vigilant about the threat of complacency is to rely on others to keep you in check. They have a saying in NA: “We are each others eyes and ears.” You should have people in your life who are close enough to you that they can tell when you have fallen on to the wrong path. If you do not have such people in your life then you should seek them out, either through your peer group or through sponsorship in the programs.
I personally could not see some of the choices that were in front of my in my early recovery. For example, the choice to go back to college and finish up a degree. Someone had to point that opportunity out to me, as I just was not seeing it for myself. So I took the advice and went, and was glad that I did.
Another choice that I could not see on my own was to get into shape. I had to have several people make this suggestion to me before I would really sit up and take notice of it. I was sort of saying to everyone “yeah, my recovery is going pretty good, I don’t really need that exercise stuff in it.” But then the day came when I was ready, when I wanted to be healthier, and when I realized that I was going to need to do something physical in order to overcome nicotine addiction.
So I took action based on other people’s recommendations for me. It was not really my own idea to get into shape or become a distance runner. I had no intention of doing that on my own. It was only because other people examined my recovery, saw something missing, and urged me into action. In the end I was really glad that I did this, and it was a tremendous benefit to my recovery.
I don’t think that you have to rely on other people’s feedback in order to grow. But you should probably incorporate some of that. I think there is a line of what is reasonable, and relying on your sponsor for everything does not make sense–it only creates a dependency. But if you can take some advice early in your recovery and really act on it, then your results can (and will) be incredible. Just by experimenting and doing what other people suggest that you do.
I also believe that timing is important in all of this. The key to good timing (in my experience anyway) was to take lots of suggestions and act on the advice early in my recovery. Later on in my recovery, I am still willing to seek feedback, but it is not as important these days. Now some people will jump on that statement and suggest that it is dangerous, but here me out.
In your first few years of recovery, you are fixing your life. If you don’t fix your life in early recovery, you basically end up relapsing. So if you want to be successful in long term sobriety then you have to fix the major problems in your life, many of which are directly or indirectly related to your addiction. I realize that your addiction is a primary disease and it stands on its own, but if you don’t make major changes in your life and your lifestyle then it will eventually lead you back to your drug of choice. I have witnessed this among my peers over and over again. No action, no positive changes, no long term recovery.
Now I am not necessarily suggesting that after the first few years in recovery you can sit back and relax and never pursue any growth again–I am not suggesting that at all. But the critical time to make lots of changes is when you first get clean and sober, and to be honest you will NOT know what those important changes are by yourself. Therefore you need help, you need advice, you need feedback and direction. Always keep this in mind as you are building your new life in recovery.
Taking positive action every day accumulates great benefits in the long run
Everyone has the same gift and opportunity in recovery:
The gift of daily growth.
You can make progress each and every day in your life, and over time this adds up to tremendous changes.
Each day thus becomes a multiplier of your success. Each day is a new opportunity to make incremental progress towards a better life.
If you take consistent, positive action each and every day, your life is certain to get better and better over time.
If you think about it, this is the opposite of addiction–in which your life got incrementally worse as time went on. But now in recovery you have a chance to reverse this trend, and to focus on positive growth instead of slowly self destructing.
If you are not making this incremental growth in your daily actions then you are missing out on a huge opportunity in recovery.
In fact I believe this to be the entire secret of recovery in some ways–that each day you take a bit more positive action, improving your life and your life situation that much more. This moves you further and further away from relapse.
Therefore if you do not have daily personal growth as one of your objectives in recovery then I believe you are on shaky ground. You can achieve this daily growth either in or out of 12 step programs–either way will work. But obviously you have to take positive action and you have to be consistent about it.
Your recovery is only as strong as your ongoing efforts at growth and change
The strength of your recovery can be measured by how much ongoing effort you make towards positive changes and personal growth. As soon as you stop the growth process in your life then you open the door to the possibility of relapse. But your ongoing effort to improve your life, your health, and your life situation is an insurance policy against relapse. The more you push for personal growth the more protected you will be against the threat of complacency.
Ask yourself: Has your sobriety been threatened lately due to a lack of action? Could you be stronger in your recovery if you started taking positive action on a daily basis again?