So the first question here is “why?” Why would anyone in addiction recovery have a need to alter their routine at all?
If recovery is working for you, why would you change it? Wouldn’t that actually be a foolish thing to do, given that you are already living successfully clean and sober? Why change anything?
The reason is because of the nature of addiction and complacency.
You see, one of the biggest threats in long term sobriety is that of complacency. Most people do not see this threat until it is far too late, and at that point they have become so used to being complacent that they are defensive about it.
In other words, when a person in long term recovery becomes complacent in their journey for personal growth, they also are in denial about that complacency. This makes it extremely dangerous because no one can really give them the feedback that they need to hear because they are not receptive to that advice.
This brings us to a key insight about the recovery process: We have to stay humble and always be willing to listen to critical feedback. If someone is giving us advice, it is in our best interest to take that seriously and to see if perhaps that advice actually applies to our situation. The more that we believe that we have it all figured out on our own, the more dangerous of a position we are in.
The most obvious way that a routine can lead to complacency is when someone gets into early recovery and they begin attending AA or NA meetings on a regular basis. At first this is good because it provides them with all of the support that they need in order to make it through early recovery. However, as time goes on and they continue to attend those same meetings on a regular basis, they can potentially become complacent while also justifying to themselves that they are going to meetings regularly and therefore they believe that their recovery is well protected. This is the trap of complacency that many people in AA or NA fall into as they are transitioning out of early recovery: They believe that daily meeting attendance alone is enough to keep them sober.
The truth is, you are learning and changing and growing and evolving as you live your life in recovery, and life itself continues to change and evolve as well. Your circumstances change over time. Everything changes over time. So to believe that just by sitting in the same exact AA meetings every day that you are protected from the threat of relapse is, I think, a huge mistake.
Now this is not to say that you should not attend AA or NA meetings–that is not the point that I am making. The point is that you need to vary your routine and shake things up if you suspect that you may be stuck in a complacency rut.
And because of how sneaky complacency can be in recovery, I would suggest that you try to shake up your routine as a general rule, just because you know that the threat of complacency exists. In other words, be proactive about your personal growth in recovery and realize that you have to keep changing and evolving if you want to stay strong and sober.
So how exactly can we do this? How do we shake up our routine?
One way is by changing the meetings that we attend. Another way is by jumping fellowships, which is often frowned upon by people who do not realize the benefits of doing so. If you are in AA, switch it up and go to some NA meetings, or vice versa. Also, if you are in either fellowship, consider going to some Al-anon meetings for a while. Why?
Because Al-anon is relevant to your life now. If you are staying clean and sober in recovery and you are surrounding yourself with other people in recovery, then you can definitely benefit from the message and the teachings at an Al-anon meeting. The longer you remain clean and sober, the more and more relevant Al-anon becomes for you (in my opinion).
Another way to switch things up is to go see a therapist or a counselor one on one. Even if you feel as if you are relatively strong in your recovery and that you are not in danger of relapse, you could still benefit a great deal by seeing a therapist and getting some counseling sessions with that person. What they can do is to help you troubleshoot various areas of your life that may need some improvement. A therapist can see flaws in our thinking that we do not recognize immediately. A therapist can show us a strong path to take that would lead us to personal growth that we otherwise may have missed.
Let me give you an example of this. When I was in early recovery I believed that I needed to focus heavily on sponsorship and step work and attending AA meetings. My sponsor at the time also happened to be a substance abuse therapist, and he was urging me to go back to college, to get a job, and to quit smoking cigarettes. I questioned these suggestions and I thought that my sponsor was a bit misguided, because shouldn’t I be focusing more heavily on AA and the basics of recovery?
Well it turned out that my sponsor/therapist was right: I already had the basics down pretty well in early recovery, and I had a strong base in AA and attending meetings and digging through the step work. So he was pushing me to that next level, he was pushing me to shake things up and to keep moving forward. And he was right–I got a job, I went back to college, and I eventually quit the cigarettes as well. All things that boosted my success in recovery and led me to pursue even more personal growth.
Life in general is a struggle no matter what you do and no matter what happens. Life in recovery is the same: There are going to be struggles and there are going to be challenges no matter what you do or what approach you take. Given that there is always going to be struggle in your life, don’t you also want to get some benefit from that struggle?
In other words, if we have to expend energy on something, why don’t we expend our energy on personal growth, and projects that lead us to become stronger and more resilient in the future?
It can be difficult to see, when you are early in recovery, what actually keeps people clean and sober. It can be a bit of a mystery to figure that out when you are watching your peers, who all have different lengths of clean time. It can be difficult to know what the solution is, and what all that solution encompasses.
I can tell you that the real fundamental principle that makes sobriety work is that of personal growth. You may go to AA and engage in personal growth, or you may find other avenues of challenge and growth in your life. The key is that you shake things up so that you can keep moving forward and taking positive action. Because as soon as you stop pursuing personal growth, you fall into the complacency trap, and that can quickly lead to relapse. Good luck!