The biggest risk to sobriety used to be the good old fashioned resentment.
But this was before people in addiction recovery had significant lengths of clean time under their belt. After experiencing long term sobriety, we now know that their is a bigger threat than resentments.
This new, bigger, badder threat is that of complacency.
Complacency happens when a person in recovery gets lazy and they stop pushing themselves to become a better person.
Complacency is when personal growth stalls.
You may still be attending AA meetings every single day and still become complacent. You may be talking with your sponsor or your therapist on a regular basis and still become complacent.
So how do we overcome this hidden threat in our addiction recovery journey? How do we avoid complacency when we never really notice it sneaking up on us? How do we break through denial when we are telling ourselves that we are not in denial?
Because that is one of the problems with complacency–we don’t think it is happening until it is too late. Denial is part of it; denial is baked into it. We pat ourselves on the back and tell ourselves that are doing well until suddenly we realize that this was all a big lie, and we aren’t doing so great.
Complacency is when our personal growth hits a slump. So we need to be on guard against the slumps. And we need a way to kick start personal growth again in a meaningful way.
How to best accomplish these things?
One, it definitely helps to stay “plugged in” to the program by attending meetings, seeing a therapist regularly, talking with a sponsor, and so on. But you can go beyond that by also working with newcomers in recovery on a regular basis and learning more about yourself when you attempt to challenge them. Because you will realize that every time you challenge a newcomer you are really challenging yourself as well. Or rather, when you attempt to challenge the newcomer, it forces you to “check yourself” and your own recovery program. In other words, “I am telling them to do this, but am I really living up to that advice myself?” This is why sponsoring newcomers can help to keep you in check and working your own recovery program diligently.
Second of all, you need to keep challenging yourself in various ways. You may ask your peers, your sponsor, and your therapist for feedback that helps to push you in the right direction. For example, you might ask people “What do you think my next move in life should be? What should I be working on?” And listen to the various responses that you get. Or try the even gutsier “What is one mistake that you see me making in my life today?” Ask that of ten different people that you trust and write down their answers. Then turn that list into action items with a way to fix each and every flaw that you detected.
This is how you take control of your own personal growth and push yourself forward.
Do not be passive in your recovery journey and expect for benefits and rewards to just fall right into your lap. You have to work for those rewards, and it can take real guts. So you may have to dig a bit, you may have to ask the tough questions, both of yourself and of others. And you need to be open to hearing the honest truth about where you are at in your life lately.
Each and every one of us has something that we can do to move forward, to improve ourselves, to become a better person. And each and every one of us has things that we are afraid to admit, afraid to look at more closely, afraid to push ourselves on. And it is those things that we fear, the things that make us uncomfortable, that will give us the greatest impact in terms of personal growth. That is, if we are willing to get honest with ourselves and really take a look at it, and agree to take action and fix it.
We like to believe that we can set positive goals in recovery and strive to make cool things happen and thus enjoy our lives in recovery. This may be true, but even more relevant is the idea that we have flaws, imperfections, fears, guilt, remorse, anger, and character defects that are holding us back from true freedom and happiness. If you work through the 12 steps of AA, really work through them fearlessly and thoroughly, then you can find those “pain points” in your life and start to eliminate them.
It is difficult to achieve anything like real happiness unless you face your fear, face your anxiety, face the pain points in your life and take action and fix them. This is the path to long term sobriety, and this is also how you overcome complacency. You need to be willing to do the work, to get honest with yourself and figure out what your next pain point to take action on is, and then be willing to dive into action. And you have to keep doing this over and over again if you want to beat the complacency demon.
There are people in AA and NA who have gone several decades and then suddenly relapsed, seemingly for no reason. The reason was that they got complacent. They stopped pushing themselves to transform, to become that better version of themselves.
When you stop growing you become vulnerable to relapse. Now if you look back at your recovery thus far you can probably detect times when you were heavily involved in personal growth, and also times when you were not pushing yourself that hard at all and you were just sort of coasting through recovery.
Now here is the tricky part: The times when you were coasting probably felt great, and the times of heavy personal growth felt bad. They felt uncomfortable. And therein lies the paradox of sobriety: In order to be really secure in your sobriety, you have to feel uncomfortable and push through some serious growth experiences. Those growth experiences will not all feel good. You will be uncomfortable for much of it. That is just part of the price that you pay for a better life in recovery.
It is a bit like the distance jogger who is smiling as they complete their fourteenth mile of the jog. It is only easy and carefree for them at this point because they have already suffered through the pain of training. They built up to this level when running is free and light and easy. But it took hard work.
And such it is with long term sobriety. One day you will look back with multiple years in sobriety and realize that all of that hard work, all of that personal growth that felt so uncomfortable, all of that struggle has paid off in a huge way. Your life will be so much better and so incredible and amazing and you will practically weep with tears of gratitude for where you are at. But you will also realize the pain and the struggle and the discomfort that it took to get there. I believe it was Rumi who said something about the same joy being bound by the depth of your sorrow. In other words, your capacity to feel joy is naturally capped by the anguish and sorrow you have felt. And so it goes with recovery: the rewards of sobriety are inversely proportional to the struggle that you experience as you go through personal growth experiences. No pain, no gain. You have to push yourself to dig deep, to find the pain points, and do the work to improve yourself, one agonizing day at a time. But oh, the rewards! Go get ’em.