Some people erroneously believe that every single addict or alcoholic is going to eventually relapse.
It is important to realize that this is not the case. Without realizing this, the newcomer would have little hope in actually pursuing and attaining long term sobriety for themselves.
As evidence, if you go to an AA or NA meeting, you will meet dozens of people who have multiple years clean and sober. There is nothing stating that these people have to relapse, or that they are destined to relapse at some point. Many of them just go on to keep stacking up months and years of sobriety.
Some people say “relapse is part of recovery” but that is, for some, just an excuse. It is something that they say out loud in order to make themselves feel better about the fact that they relapsed, or that they are going to. Relapse does not have to be a part of YOUR recovery. It is definitely optional.
In order to reinforce this point with yourself, you may want to do some work in terms of your own program and personal growth, such that you are protecting yourself from relapse. Once you get clean and sober and establish yourself in recovery, the rest is really just about relapse prevention. In order to do well in long term sobriety, you need to build the sort of life for yourself that will allow you to be successful. This involves at least three things in my opinion:
1) Getting a clean break from your old pattern of drug or alcohol abuse, preferably by attending an inpatient treatment center for 28 days.
2) Surrendering completely to the fact that you are a real addict or alcoholic and that you need help; you need someone else to show you how to live and what to do.
3) You follow through with treatment, counseling, meetings, everything that is suggested to you as you begin to rebuild your life with positive action while maintaining total abstinence.
These are the key points of early recovery to get you started, and they are also what is needed to keep you going and prevent relapse. Of course there are exceptions out there: People who are sober today who did not attend rehab, people in recovery who do not attend 12 step meetings, and so on. There are always exceptions to the rule. But if you want to get good results and avoid relapse then you should consider the fact that you might want to follow the guidelines that people are setting out for you. That means going to rehab, going to AA or NA, and doing what your therapist and sponsor instruct for you to do.
The key to overcome the threat of relapse is different in early recovery than it is in long term sobriety.
In early recovery you need to take massive action and really push yourself in order to overcome the escape velocity that is needed to outrun your addiction. In other words, if you do not make a serious enough effort in early recovery then you are going to fail. For example, someone who agrees to go to AA but refuses to attend in patient rehab. Or someone who agrees to see a therapist once a week but they won’t do meetings or rehab when it looks like they clearly need more help. In order to succeed in early recovery you have to dedicate your entire life to the mission of staying clean and sober. For the first year of your recovery you pretty much have to prioritize sobriety over everything else if you want to succeed. Many people who relapse do so because they are not immersing themselves fully into their new recovery program.
Now in long term recovery the game is a bit different. After you have established yourself in long term recovery the challenges that you face on a day to day basis are going to be a bit different. Remember that in early recovery you were likely struggling to get through one craving at a time, going to meetings every day, and using every type of support that you could access.
In long term recovery you have already established your sobriety and you are fairly stable. The threat is no longer that of immediate relapse. Instead, the threat in long term recovery is that you slowly become complacent over time, all while denying that you are complacent, until you reach a point in which you say “screw it” and you relapse. Again, it is not an immediate threat of relapse, but a long drawn out threat of complacency.
Now in order to combat this threat of complacency you need to be proactive. That means that you need to make an assumption right now that this could become a problem, and take steps to counter the problem before it exists. This is important because if someone becomes complacent they are often in denial about that complacency, and this can lead to relapse.
Therefore, you need a strategy to deal with the long term threat of complacency. One strategy is that of personal growth, but the question is, how do you implement this? One way is by having a sponsor or a therapist who is working with you on a regular basis, and they can challenge you to find that next level of personal growth.
Your addiction is always going to be looking for new ways to trip you up. Therefore, in order to overcome complacency, you have to constantly be looking for new ways to beat your addiction. So you need to be proactive about your recovery, and look for new ways to improve yourself and your life all the time. It is through this process of continuous self improvement that you can protect yourself from complacency and make sure that you do not relapse.
There are a million different directions that you can take a new project of personal growth in your life. There are many different ways that you can improve yourself, work on the various aspects of your health, and generally become a better person. If you cannot figure any of these out for yourself then simply ask for help. Ask your therapist, ask your sponsor, ask your peers in AA or NA to tell you what they think you need to work on next in your life.
You might ask yourself: “What is the biggest issue that I have right now?” Or “What is the most upsetting thing that I deal with on a regular basis lately?” These are your pain points, the things that you can work on eliminating to create big gains in your serenity. If you get rid of the big issues that cause negative emotions then you are left with peace and serenity.
Just because someone else relapsed in their recovery journey does not mean that you are going relapse yourself, or that you are destined to fail. Every individual in recovery has the ability to carve their own path, to create their own success. If you truly want sobriety and a new way of life then you can take the steps that are necessary to build that for yourself.