I would say that there are actually 2 common stumbling blocks that can lead a struggling alcoholic or addict to relapse.
The first is a lack of surrender. And the second would be complacency. I will even throw in a 3rd bonus which would be “new romantic relationships in early recovery,” simply because I witnessed so much of that first hand when I was going through early recovery.
So the first stumbling block is the biggest, and that is the “surrender line.” Either a struggling alcoholic has reached the point of total and complete surrender, or they have not. And if they haven’t then there is nothing that will ultimately save them in the end, save for their inevitable relapse followed by what is hopefully “total and complete surrender” the next time around.
Which is just another way of saying that many struggling alcoholics and drug addicts find themselves dabbling in recovery from time to time, but are they really serious? The issue of how serious they are is measured by their level of surrender, and by how thoroughly they have hit bottom due to their addiction.
I went to rehab 3 times in my particular journey and the third time I went I most definitely had surrendered fully, which is why I am still clean and sober over 16 years later. But the interesting thing is that the first two times I went to treatment there was no way for me to know that I was NOT in a state of surrender.
What does that mean? It means that my first 2 trips to rehab I was thinking “I don’t know, maybe I am really ready this time, maybe I am ready for a change, I can’t tell. How do you know for sure? How could anyone know for sure? Maybe I am ready to really recover this time. I don’t know.”
That was what my thought process looked like the first two trips to rehab.
Notice that I was unsure. I just had no way of knowing if I was truly ready. And the key point here is that I most definitely was not. I wished that my addiction was different, I wished that my addiction would magically go away, and I wished that my life was different. All of that was true.
But I did not have this deep conviction that I was totally and completely sick and tired of letting addiction created chaos and misery for me. I wasn’t thoroughly done with my disease. I was not at a breaking point.
The third time that I surrendered and went to rehab I was definitely at a breaking point. My thought process on that third time around was “If I don’t get clean and sober right now I am going to die.” And I was dead serious about that. I was at the turning point, I was on the edge of a virtual cliff, and I was either going to figure out sobriety or I was going to jump. I had finally had enough. I was done. And I could say this out loud to you at the time without any hesitation–I was very clear about my level of surrender. I had hit my bottom and I could go no lower. Going lower for me meant ending it all and erasing my existence, and I still had that tiny sliver of hope in me that maybe things could be different. And that was the moment that everything changed, when I finally surrendered completely, when I was able to turn everything around.
When I watch other people in addiction recovery and I see them struggling with relapse, I know that it is ultimately an issue of surrender. They had surrendered at some point but did they surrender fully and completely? The answer is that they did not yet–they were still holding on to some reservation, they were still trying to manipulate their world somehow, they were still trying to maintain some sort of control over things.
This is the big stumbling block because it is really the “entry fee” for success in recovery: If you haven’t surrendered fully then you won’t do all of the things that are necessary to remain clean and sober. Period. You are either “all in” with recovery, or you are not. There is no middle ground and anyone who attempts to find a middle ground is fooling themselves and will eventually relapse.
Now the other area that trips people up happens later in recovery, and that is the issue of complacency.
Let’s define complacency. This is what happens when a person gets a bit too comfortable and maybe a tiny bit lazy when it comes to their recovery program, and they are no longer striving to improve themselves in terms of personal growth.
Recovery is essentially personal growth. That’s it. You improve yourself and you improve your life, and as a result of those improvements you are able to stop drinking, stop abusing drugs, and turn your life around. If you want to remain clean and sober then you continue to work on personal growth and self improvement, and this forward progress helps to protect your recovery.
If you want to “build a moat of protection” around your recovery then you do it through continuous personal growth. If you become complacent and stagnant and you are not really working to better yourself or your life, then you become very vulnerable to relapse. The problem with being stagnant is that any little trigger then becomes a major threat to your recovery.
Some of this is based on self esteem and how much you value your life and your recovery. In other words, if you are doing a lot of work to improve yourself and your life then your life becomes more valuable to you. Good things are happening and you are making positive changes and therefore your self esteem goes up over time. This creates a positive feedback loop and your progress drives you to create more positive change, to set new goals, and so on. And there is of course an understanding that if you drink or use drugs that you will lose all of this progress, and everything will return to misery and chaos and negativity.
This is another way of saying that if you want to build a life in which you do not drink or use drugs, then you have to actually put in the work to build that new life. And this has to be a continuous process that never ends–you have to keep upgrading, you have to keep pushing yourself, you have to keep digging for deeper layers of truth.
Luckily there are many different areas of your life in which you can make progress and create healthy changes: Physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. If you are doing the work and willing to make positive changes then eventually you will tackle self improvement goals in each one of those areas of your life.
Neglecting any of those categories is what can lead to complacency. In other words, you might become complacent spiritually. Or you might neglect your relationships for a while. Or maybe you are neglecting your physical health and fitness, or your sleep and nutrition. And so if you allow yourself to slack off too much in one area then it can create a threat of complacency and possibly even relapse.
Those are the major roadblocks that I have found….hopefully you can avoid them!