Avoiding the Complacency Trap in Addiction Recovery

Avoiding the Complacency Trap in Addiction Recovery


In order to avoid the trap of complacency in addiction or alcoholism recovery you need to have a proactive plan.

What does this mean exactly, to have a “proactive plan?”

It means that you are making a deliberate plan, right now today, in order to fight against the threat of complacency in the future. It means that you will do much more than just to react to whatever curve balls life keeps throwing at you, and instead you will make a plan to become stronger as a person before those curve balls are ever thrown your way.

That was a bit of a wonky analogy so let’s break this down into detail.

What happens to most people in addiction recovery is that they go to treatment and start going to AA meetings. At first they put forth a fairly decent effort and the push themselves to learn this new way of sober living. This works for a while and they do well in the short run but then something screws up eventually. At some point, they drift away from the important stuff. At some point, they stop doing the things that they need to do for their recovery. At some point they become lazy, complacent, and discontent. As a result of this complacency they eventually relapse, though when they are going through this complacency it is impossible to predict exactly how they might stumble and relapse on their drug of choice.

In other words, when you get complacent, there is no apparent threat to your sobriety. Everything seems fine and the person remains confident. What they don’t realize is that life is random and chaotic and new triggers and potential traps are coming towards them from the future. You cannot predict the challenges that you will face and the things that might eventually trigger you to relapse. Therefore you have two options: One is to wait and react, essentially doing nothing. The other is to be proactive and to try to grow stronger in the various areas of your life.

For example, some people relapse emotionally before they relapse physically. Other people relapse spiritually before they relapse physically–maybe becoming selfish rather than grateful after they forget to put their higher power first in life. Whatever the case may be, many people relapse in some other area of their life (emotionally, mentally, spiritually, socially) before they relapse physically and actually take a drink or a drug.

Given that, it would seem that the proactive solution to recovery would indicate that you need to be pursuing positive change and personal growth in all of the following areas of your life: mentally, emotionally, socially, spiritually, and physically. In other words, you need to take deliberate action every day in order to become stronger in all of those areas. This is a relapse prevention plan, if you will. It is how you become a stronger person while your disease is also getting stronger in the background. If you are not “doing your push ups” every day, then your disease will eventually grow stronger than you are. We “do our push ups” in recovery by taking better care of ourselves and pursuing personal growth in all of those different areas of our life.

Now here is the pitfall that many people miss out on: You cannot neglect those areas of your life either. You cannot, for example, zero in on spiritual growth only, to the exclusion of all the other areas, and expect to do well in long term sobriety. It doesn’t work that way, because the threat of relapse can come from nearly any direction.

So again, let’s go back to our example. The alcoholic goes to inpatient treatment, the get sobered up, then they start attending AA meetings every day. After a while they slowly stop going to meetings, and before you know it they have relapsed. What went wrong?

It isn’t just that they quit going to meetings. That is but one symptom of the complacency. The real problem is that they stopped learning and growing in their recovery. They stopped taking positive action. They stopped reinventing themselves.

At any given point in your recovery journey, there is a “next level” out there that you would like to strive for and eventually achieve. Getting to this next level requires that you become a better version of yourself. So whatever that next level is, it is not so vital that you get to that place in order to stay clean and sober. Rather, it is vital that you are always in the process of striving and pushing yourself to that next level, to be in the process of personal growth–and that is what will really keep you grounded in recovery.

Personal growth doesn’t feel good all the time. Usually it feels awkward, scary, uncomfortable. This is normal. You have to push through some awkward feelings if you want to grow as a person in recovery. You have to have courage, maybe take some risks, put yourself out there a bit. You have to make yourself vulnerable if other people are going to help you get through some stuff. That can be scary.
It is also necessary though if you want to overcome complacency. If you want to keep moving forward in a positive way then you need to push yourself to keep learning, to keep moving forward, to keep meeting new goals. Just quitting AA meetings is not really a reason to relapse, but it is often a warning sign.

One way to avoid the complacency trap is to get a therapist, a counselor, or a sponsor in early recovery and to start working very closely with that person. Get their advice on a regular basis and put it into action. This is going to feel like a leap of faith and a loss of control on your part. After all, if you take their advice and do what they suggest, then you are automatically ignoring your own ideas about how to live your life. This can feel scary. It can feel like you are making a huge leap of faith, because what if you take their advice and end up miserable as a result? What then?

Well, I am advising you right now to test it out. Give it a 30 day trial. Get a therapist or a sponsor in recovery, someone you can trust, and start living by their advice every single day. Really follow through. Actually ask them what you should do each day, and then do it. In other words, their will be done, not yours. Let go. Surrender. Let go absolutely and take their advice and really follow it.
Then, watch what happens. Give it at least 30 days. After 30 days, if you find yourself to be miserable, then go ahead and take your own will back and start making your own decisions again. But what do you have to lose? If you are miserable in your addiction then the answer is nothing, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by doing this 30 day experiment.

I was shocked when I did this in my own life, because I was convinced that if I followed someone else and their advice that I would be miserable. And that turned out to be the best 30 days of my life, and it kicked off the last 15 years of my sobriety. And now I can look back and realize that I could have taken advice from nearly anyone. I was the problem, and listening was my solution.