Sometimes when we are living our lives in addiction or alcoholism recovery we can get a bit off track. Sometimes we fall into a routine and we do not realize that we have become complacent, that our recovery has grown stale.
Believe it or not this is the number one threat in long term sobriety–even topping the threat of resentments and anger. If we get complacent in the long run then it can lead to relapse.
So we need a way to combat this. And if we are going to combat the problem we first have to be aware of the problem. Therefore this topic deserves a discussion.
Has your recovery grown stale?
The biggest problem with complacency is the simple denial that it exists in your life today.
Now the thing that you need to realize right now is that we are all, in some ways, becoming a little bit complacent all of the time.
This is not such a bad thing to realize, nor is it bad to assume this. In fact, this is a very healthy assumption for you to make.
That’s right–I am suggesting that you make this assumption every single day. Go ahead and assume that you are becoming complacent.
What then? What good is this assumption?
If you assume that you are complacent then you can take action. You can correct course. You can do something about the problem.
And what if you happen to be wrong? What if you make this assumption, but in reality you never really were complacent at all? Does that hurt you in some way?
Not in the least. This is one assumption that does not hurt you; it can only help you.
Essentially when you make this assumption you are saying to yourself: “I am not working hard enough on my recovery and I need to take more positive action in my life.”
So what if you happen to be wrong in this assumption? The result still helps you! Because you are assuming that you need to take more positive action in your life.
This can only lead to good things.
Now take the example of the person who is in denial. Maybe they are going to a few AA meetings every week, but they are not really working the steps into their daily life, they are not really reaching out to newcomers in recovery, they are not really doing the work in sobriety or doing the things that they need to do in order to remain clean and sober. They have fallen into a routine in their recovery and they are not really pushing themselves to make real growth.
So you try to convince this person that they might be complacent, and they get defensive. They are stuck in denial. They argue that they are still going to AA meetings on a regular basis, and that they are in fact doing what they need to do in order to remain sober. They won’t hear your argument about complacency. They are in denial.
And so the inevitable outcome of this situation is that the person eventually relapses. Or at the very least they become unhappy in their journey; a dry drunk of sorts. And the solution is to acknowledge the complacency and come up with a plan to fight it and spring into action. Positive action and personal growth are the solution.
In the end, recovery is personal growth. If you stop growing in your journey then you are complacent. And that is a dangerous situation. As soon as you stop learning and stop growing you give your addiction a chance to get its foot back in the door. You give relapse an opening when you become complacent. And therefore the topic of complacency in recovery is a very important one. In long term sobriety it is really the only thing that we need to focus on: Taking positive action and constantly reinventing ourselves. The idea in recovery is that you become a better version of yourself–over and over again. In this way you can keep moving forward with positive results, rather than sliding back towards the negative and towards relapse.
You are either working on your recovery, or you are working on a relapse. There is no coasting in recovery. If you start to coast then you are complacent and suddenly you are sliding backwards quickly. Therefore you are not neutral and “coasting,” you are falling back towards relapse and that is very dangerous. The only solution in sobriety is to move forward, to take positive action, to keep learning and continue to reinvent yourself over and over again. That may sound exhausting but it is also very rewarding and exciting. Life becomes an adventure again in recovery if you have the right attitude towards learning and personal growth.
Disrupting your routine with positive growth
So how do you refresh your life in recovery, and how do you convince yourself to take positive action after you have found yourself to be stuck in a rut, so to speak?
As mentioned above there are two parts to this problem of complacency. The first part is in getting past the denial and realizing that complacency is a significant problem that needs addressing. The second part is to take action and to spring back into personal growth, which is always going to be the solution in recovery. Personal growth is recovery, and vice versa.
The denial part has a pretty simple solution: Just assume that you are complacent. Done deal. Once you make this assumption, you can quickly move on to focusing on the solution, which is to take positive action. Making this assumption costs you nothing and only serves to bring more positive action to your life.
To be clear: Everyone who is recovering from drug or alcohol addiction should just assume that they are becoming complacent. Every day you should make this assumption, then act accordingly. So you are basically saying to yourself every day: “I am worried that I might be slacking off in my recovery efforts. What can I do today that will push me to dive deeper into recovery, to take more positive action, to learn something new about myself, to reach out to others in a positive and helpful way, to reinvent myself into the person that I was meant to be?” That is the assumption that we all should be making every single day. If you do decide to make this simple assumption then you completely eliminate and sidestep the problem of denial. You can’t be in denial about it because you have already assumed that you have this problem of being complacent.
Then you must take action. Assume complacency, then take positive action to correct it. It is as simple as that. This is how you can build strength in long term sobriety. This is how you can shake up your life and get on a better path.
Assuming complacency can spur you into action
So how do you take positive action? How does a person prioritize this? How do you know what to do?
If you go to an AA meeting and ask for advice, you will hear a lot of different suggestions. Some of these will be more helpful than others. Some of them will be more relevant to you and your own personal situation, while other suggestions will not.
My advice is to ask for help, ask for direction, ask for advice–and then put it into action. Listen. Take the feedback and run with it.
You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
When you are clean and sober in recovery you are operating from a position of power because you can learn as you go along. When you are stuck in addiction you don’t get this benefit–you just crash through life from one crisis to the next without really learning anything.
Recovery is different. You get to learn, you get to evolve, you get to become that increasingly better version of yourself. This is “continuous reinvention of the self.” At one point in my own recovery journey I took a suggestion to start exercising on a regular basis. Actually, the first time I heard that I ignored it. But I kept hearing this advice and eventually I tried to put it into practice.
And I failed at first. I tried and failed. I knew that regular physical exercise was likely an important part of my overall health in recovery, but I still couldn’t quite “get there.” I tried. I tried to work out, I tried to walk, I tried to jog, I tried a few different things. Nothing stuck for me. Nothing clicked. It was a lot like when I was struggling to quit drinking. Nothing worked. The idea just didn’t take off for me.
And then suddenly it worked. Suddenly, for reasons that I may never understand, the idea of regular exercise just clicked for me. I started running every day. I started working out, and it felt good. It no longer hurt for some reason. I used to hate jogging. I hated every second of it. But I kept revisiting this idea because the feedback in my life was pointing me in this direction.
If you keep hearing the same advice then you might want to take a look at it. Even if you have already tried to apply that advice and failed repeatedly.
This is what happened to me with alcoholism. They told me to go to rehab, they told me to go to meetings, they told me to quit drinking and get the help that I needed. And I even tried a few times, and I failed.
But I kept hearing that same message in my life, and I could no longer ignore it. And so eventually it worked. Eventually, my brain decided to listen, to do something different, to follow directions.
Life is all about following directions. Sometimes we just are too stubborn to listen to what the universe is telling us though. This is why I banged my head into the wall for so many years while drinking and using drugs, trying to self medicate my way to happiness. And it just wasn’t getting me anywhere and I was becoming more and more miserable. Eventually I hit a bottom and everything changed for me….because I was finally willing to listen.
This works if you have one day sober or if you have ten years sober. Asking for help and advice and feedback and direction is almost never a mistake. There is always useful insight and feedback that you can hear.
I mentioned that you are operating from a place of power when you are sober. This is because you will realize that you are still in control of your choices, even after you surrender. Let me explain that a bit further because it is an important concept.
I was afraid when I first got sober that if I surrendered completely and listened to others tell me how to live my life that I would become like the hole in a donut. I was afraid.
My fears were unfounded. It turned out that I surrendered anyway, because I was so incredibly miserable. I was so miserable from drinking and drug use that I was almost suicidal. I was at the end of my rope. I just wanted the pain to end. I wanted to be happy again and I had no idea how to achieve that. I did not believe it was even possible for me to be happy any more.
So I surrendered. They told me to go to rehab. They told me to go to AA meetings. They told me to live in long term rehab for 6 months to two years. They told me to do all of these things and I was finally ready to listen. Because my way had not worked. Doing my own thing in addiction was making me so miserable that I wanted to die. So I had to do something different. I had to try a different path. I needed some ideas that were not of my own making. Hence, surrender.
I surrendered and went to rehab for the third time in my life. And I threw up my hands and said “I don’t know how to live, please show me.” I got out of my own way, totally and completely. My brain wanted to go get drunk every day and seek happiness, but that path was a failure. It did not work. And so I gave up on that path. I gave up on my own brain, which just tried to make itself happy, and had proven to be no good at it any more. Addiction had failed me. Time to try something else.
I listened to the people in treatment. I listened to the therapists and the counselors. I listened when they told me to go to long term rehab. I listened when they told me to get a sponsor, to go to AA, to work the steps, to write in a journal.
I was giving my life over completely, surrendering all of my freedom. Or so I thought.
So you may be wondering, how does this create any sort of power in your life? How do you operate from a place of power when you surrender completely to others like this? How is that powerful?
I am here to tell you:
It is powerful. Your life will become so much better, you will be happy again, you will experience real joy and personal growth and excitement in your life again. You just have to surrender first. You have to get out of your own way and listen to other people who will tell you what to do.
Here is what I did:
I surrendered completely. I asked for help.
They said “go to detox and quit drinking. Stop taking drugs.”
I did that.
They told me “Listen to this therapist, get a sponsor, work the steps. Go to AA. Live in long term rehab.”
I did those things too.
I kept taking suggestions and I continued to do what people told me to do.
And after a few months, sometime during my first year of sobriety, I had a striking revelation. It almost knocked me off my feet. I was amazed.
I suddenly looked at my life, and realized that I was free again. I thought I had enslaved myself by listening to others, by taking advice, by surrendering to the AA program. And surrendering to other things like a therapist and a sponsor and a suggestion to meditate or pray or jog or do yoga. Or write in a journal. Or write out a fourth step. And so on.
I did all of these things and they were not my own ideas, they were someone else’s ideas.
But it worked. I suddenly realized that I was happy, and I was free.
A miracle had occurred when I wasn’t even watching. I was clean and sober, had been clean and sober for a few months now, and I wasn’t miserable. I was actually…..happy.
And I was taking direction. I was taking advice. I was following the suggestions of other people.
And my life was getting better and better. As if by magic.
And I smiled inwardly with this as if it were a secret. I could improve my life, I could be happy, I could have freedom. And all I had to do was listen, obey, follow advice. And things got better and better.
And I smiled inwardly too, because I knew something else:
I was still in control.
Even though I had surrendered, I was really still in control. For example, I tried seated meditation for awhile at the suggestion of others. And it worked a bit. It was OK. But later I found distance running, and this replaced the meditation for me. It had more benefit for me. It was better for me, a better fit.
So I ditched the seated meditation. Maybe some day I will go back to it, or need it again due to new circumstances. But for now I prefer distance running, and I get many meditative benefits from a nice long jog along the countryside.
I am still in control. I am still me, I still get to decide. I am still in control of my recovery.
And yet I still benefit greatly from the suggestions of others. I can still “borrow their wisdom” and apply it to my own life, see if it works for me.
And this is what I want you to learn. This is the piece of advice that I want you to take away today from this:
Listen to others in recovery. Hear their advice, hear their suggestions, and find out what worked for them. Then apply it to your own life, give the ideas a fair chance, give it a fair trial. Some of the things will work great for you too. Other suggestions may fizzle out and fall by the wayside.
Who cares though? Some suggestions will be duds. Some ideas won’t pan out for you.
Big deal. Try them anyway. Try them all. Take advice, take suggestions, and experiment in your own life. They even say this advice in AA meetings, they say “Take what you need and leave the rest.” Do that. Take all of the advice and suggestions and ideas that you hear, and give each one a fair chance if you can. Then evaluate the idea and see if it helps you. If not, ditch it and move on.
This is how you reinvent yourself in recovery, over and over again. This is how you refresh your life–by testing out new ideas and seeing how they work out for you. If you are too afraid to fail, if you are too afraid to try something new that might fizzle out, then you’ll never try anything great. You have to be willing to experiment, to try some new things, to take some advice.
This is what has worked for me in my own recovery journey. What works for you? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!