What is the best way to live your life in recovery, such that you can avoid relapse on drugs or alcohol?
It is one thing to make the decision to sober up, go through inpatient treatment, and follow up with therapy and AA meetings. But it is another thing entirely to cross various milestones such as 1 year sober, 5 years sober, and beyond.
So what is the secret to maintaining our new level of success? How can we hang on to the enthusiasm that we originally used to get ourselves clean and sober in the first place?
I have a few suggestions that I can make, based on my own experience in addiction recovery as well as my observation of what is working for other people.
First of all, the suggestion of going through a full 28 day inpatient treatment program cannot be dismissed. This is what set me up for success and I am not sure that I ever would have found recovery without doing this first.
Second of all I would recommend to anyone who has attended inpatient treatment that they treat their aftercare recommendations as if they are life or death priorities. If they tell you to go to IOP 3 days each week, then do that. If they tell you to attend AA meetings, then go dive into the AA community and go to meetings every single day and get an AA sponsor immediately. Do not delay, do not make excuses, do not try to cut any corners. You have to realize that what they are telling you to do is what has worked for others in the past, and if you were able to take certain shortcuts and get away with it then they would let you know about those shortcuts. When you are in early recovery and you are looking for the easiest and softest path to success, simply listen to what the therapists and counselors are suggesting for you to do. That’s the easy path. The hard path is to ignore their advice and try to figure it all out on your own.
Another suggestion is that after you get out of rehab and you are somewhat stable in your early recovery, you need to start thinking about the various areas of your health in a holistic sense. So what I am suggesting is that you consider your physical health, your mental health, your emotional stability, your social circles, and your spirituality. Those are the 5 areas of your health that you need to consider when it comes to long term recovery.
Notice that in very early recover you can basically ignore most of that holistic stuff and just focus on two basic things:
1) Not taking a drink or a drug today, and
2) Developing a spiritual connection with a higher power.
That is the focus in early recovery with most programs, including AA, NA, and most religious based programs.
But in long term sobriety the story changes a bit. Things get a little different because suddenly you are no longer struggling to get through each day clean and sober. Suddenly you are able to figure out how to live your life in recovery without resorting to your drug of choice in the face of every problem.
However, that stability comes with a cost: Complacency.
Now that you are entering into long term recovery, you get the benefit of not having to worry about relapse every single minute of every day. But the downside of that is you are also much more vulnerable to slowly becoming complacent in your recovery program.
This complacency can snowball over a long period of time and eventually result in relapse. It won’t happen quickly; it will happen so slowly that you will never notice it. And it is easy to rationalize it away and get defensive about it. If someone accuses you of being lazy and complacent in your recovery, you can fire back at them “but I go to AA meetings, and I do this, and I do that, so I’m not complacent!” But the truth is, you just might be becoming complacent.
It’s not about our routines necessarily, or our habits. Those can help protect us, but they may not be a fool proof solution. This is because a person can be going to AA every day and even working with others in recovery first hand and still become complacent in their own personal growth journey.
In other words, you have certain things that you need to do in order to improve your life when you first get into recovery. So you get a sponsor and you get a therapist and you start to do the work.
But at 3 years sober, at 5 years sober, after 10 years sober…..are you still pushing yourself to learn, to grow, and to change yourself in positive ways?
Make no mistake about this: Complacency is a lack of personal growth. And it could ultimately cost you your recovery.
Therefore, the way to optimize your life in long term recovery is to adopt a mindset of personal growth and learning. You never want to dismiss the ideas and warnings of others by insisting that you are not vulnerable in certain ways that you actually might be.
Another way to look at this would be to imagine that every person that you meet has a lesson to teach you, if you are willing to hear that message. Every situation you encounter is an opportunity for you to learn and to grow.
Furthermore, rather than just spit balling your own ideas for goals for yourself, you should seek the feedback of others in terms of your own personal trouble spots in your life. In other words, we all have various things that we do that actually make things harder on ourselves. The problem is that we are often using these things as defense mechanisms and therefore we cannot see them for the pain points that they really are.
So in order to optimize your life for sobriety, first you must surrender, ask for help, and go to inpatient treatment. That is not the only course of action, but I believe it to be the optimal course of action. After finding stability in early recovery, you must then identify your pain points, generally with the help and insight of other people, to include counselors, therapists, and sponsors. In doing so you should be able to identify a number of pain points that are holding you back from peace, serenity, and freedom.
Find and fix those pain points. After you fix one, find the next one. There are always more layers to the onion. Keep digging to get at the core of who you really are.
Eventually you will reach a point in which you value your life and your self to the point that you will genuinely want to take care of yourself in order to be healthy. Then you can ask for advice from others who are already successful in recovery and find out what kinds of things that they do in order to take care of themselves. Remember that this goes for physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, and social health.
Rebuilding your life in this way, from the ground up, is the best way to optimize for a better life in recovery. Not only will your sobriety be rock solid in terms of avoiding relapse, but the life that you create and get to experience will be that much more amazing. Keep pushing yourself to get to that next level of personal growth, and always assume that complacency could be just around the corner. This is the best possible way to optimize for long term sobriety.