John MacDougall of Hazelden rightly points out that resentment is no longer the number one offender, as stated in the Big Book of AA, but complacency is.
Why is this, you ask? And how could the big book of AA possibly be wrong? Because the founders of AA who wrote the big book could only use the information they had at the time. In some ways, they had a limited perspective on things. One example of this is their relatively short term sobriety. Because they had not experienced long term sobriety, nor had they watched others in AA fall victim to complacency after long periods of abstinence, it seemed reasonable to them that resentment really was the number one offender. Today we know differently, now that we have seen many recovering alcoholics achieve long term sobriety.
Why resentment ceases to be a threat
It is true that many in AA or other recovery programs will struggle with resentments. They can indeed be the poison that leads people back to drinking or drugs. But anyone who is living a progressive life of recovery will inevitably make a shift in how they handle things. Either they will learn to deal with their anger, or they will not. This is part of the learning process of recovery, and is also addressed specifically in the 12 steps. Regardless of how a recovering alcoholic goes about it, they are going to have to learn to let go of their anger if they are to remain sober in the long run. If they cannot cross this “learning gap” and learn how to overcome their resentments, then they will inevitably drink or use drugs again some day.
Why complacency becomes the dominant threat
For those of us who make it past this initial stage of recovery, and work the steps and start dealing with life “on life’s terms,” resentment ceases to be such a major threat, and we now have a new problem to worry about: complacency. This is the true number one offender, and you can see evidence of this when you hear an alcoholic describe their relapse after a long period of sobriety. It’s not a specific resentment that got them in the end–instead, the person is usually so baffled that they can’t pin down why they drank, and only know that they had “drifted away from AA meetings” or started “letting up on their program of recovery.” In other words, they got complacent.
It’s not the big things that get us in long term sobriety (like a big juicy resentment), but the little things that slowly eat away at us if we happen to stop making spiritual progress.
Action items – What you can do:
1) Fight complacency by challenging yourself to keep growing spiritually. This might include empowering growth activities that fall outside of traditional “spiritual” roles, such as starting a new exercise program or maybe a commitment to volunteer and help out somewhere.
2) Fight complacency by working with other drug addicts and alcoholics. This is one of the most effective tools for defeating complacency in the long run. Helping other alcoholics practically ensures our continual progress. Make it a strong point in your recovery.