Everyone in addiction recovery is going to face temptation eventually.
Your job in early recovery is to learn the skills and build enough support so that when that temptation inevitably hits you, you will be able to handle it and get through it clean and sober.
But in order to do that you must put in a lot of work. You cannot work a passive program of recovery and expect to be successful at resisting any and all temptations in the future.
Sure, your recovery may be going smoothly today. Sure, you may have this recovery thing “locked down,” just for today. But you have to realize that even if you are going to take things one day at a time, there is going to come a day when the temptation to drink or get high is much, much more severe than it is right now in your life.
I am not saying this to be negative or overly pessimistic. Instead, this is being realistic. Everyone’s life goes through ups and downs, including people who are living in addiction recovery. Just because you got clean and sober does not mean all the drama in the world will avoid you from now on. You may be going through a period of peace and serenity right now, but eventually you are going to have to face turmoil, chaos, unwanted emotions, and trigger situations that cause you to want to relapse.
Life has ups and downs. Eventually every addict will experience some form of temptation–that’s a fact. The only question is when it will hit them, and how they will have prepared for it.
So let’s talk about preparation.
What can you do to prepare for the inevitable cravings that you are likely to get in your recovery journey?
For starters, you need to establish yourself in early recovery and start working a program. This is important because if you try to figure out everything on your own then you are very likely to relapse as a result of self sabotage. Part of this foundation in early recovery means that you need to listen to other people and do what they tell you to do.
This is about being humble so that you can actually listen and learn from people. If you are not willing to listen and change your behavior then you are not yet ready for recovery.
Now another thing that will happen in early recovery is that you will likely go to a treatment center, and there you will meet a group of peers in recovery that are on the same path that you are on. What you need to do is to establish some new friendships with people who are trying to be clean and sober, people who are working a recovery program, people who are willing to be part of your support system. There is going to come a time in which you need to reach out to another human being in order to keep yourself from taking a drink or a drug. When that time comes, if you do not have any peers in recovery that you interact with on a regular basis, it is going to feel far too awkward to reach out to them and try to get some help.
My suggestion in early recovery is to create this ongoing support by checking in with several peers every single day. Thanks to the smartphone you can simply text them or message your peers every day and see how they are doing. In return, they will be checking on you as well, and if you do not text them one day, they will find that strange and they will hunt you down and confront you.
This is what you want–you want a network of supportive peers in your recovery who actually care about your well being. You want people who will hold you accountable, who want to see that you are doing well. And you can create this by looking out for them, by checking in with them, by reaching out to them. Thanks to the ubiquity of the smartphone this is quite easy to arrange–go to a single AA meeting and ask people for phone numbers and they will give them to you to try to help you. If that doesn’t work go to another meeting and try it again. Do this with 5 meetings and you will have several dozen phone numbers of people who are trying to recover, and who will help you try to recover.
This is a preventative strategy. It doesn’t work unless you set it up in advance. You cannot just wait until you have a massive craving for drugs or alcohol and then suddenly start reaching out to people, because it will feel far too awkward. You need to go through the awkward part right now: Go to an AA meeting, ask for phone numbers, and start reaching out to people when things are going well. When there is no real crisis. That way, when the crisis hits, you will be able to reach out for help.
Now there will also be times in your recovery when reaching out and talking with others (or texting them) is not going to be enough. My recommendation is that you set up face to face interaction with people in recovery on a regular basis. So maybe you do coffee once a week with your sponsor, or you meet a group of your AA peers for breakfast every Saturday morning. You might also establish a home group, which is a recovery meeting that you agree to make a commitment to and go to every week. If you establish these routines now it will make your recovery stronger down the road.
When my biggest temptation hit me in my own recovery journey, I was somewhat isolated from my peers in recovery because I had drifted away from them momentarily. Why? Because I was in a new romantic relationship.
This is a very dangerous situation to be in. When the relationship ended (badly), I felt like I had no where to really turn to, because I was out of practice in terms of connecting with my support system. It felt too awkward because it had been too long. I had been focusing on other things, so when I really needed the support, I did not reach out for it.
Instead, I went running. Now I realize this may not work for everyone, but you could substitute seated meditation for what I am describing here.
Basically, because I had no one to really turn to, I went out and started running. I ran and I ran some more, because I was so emotionally upset, and I did not know what to do with myself. Normally I would have self medicated with drugs and alcohol. Instead, I exercised so vigorously that at the end of 12 miles of running I pretty much collapsed in a heap on the couch and had quite a nice rush of endorphins flowing through me. I was too worn out in that moment to be emotionally upset any longer. The exercise essentially “medicated” the negative emotions that I was experiencing. It effectively dampened those emotions and made them more tolerable.
But again, I could not just go out and run 12 miles on a whim–I had to already be in shape to be able to do that. And I was.
Which comes back to the idea of preparation. Start meditating now. Start exercising now. Start a weekly appointment with your AA sponsor today, and make it a standing appointment. Establish your home group now.
Do it now. So that when temptation strikes, you will be ready for it, and you can maintain sobriety.