There are actually 2 major red flags to watch out for depending on where you are at in your sobriety journey.
The first red flag that I would caution you about is often addressed in AA meetings in early recovery, and that would be anger and resentment.
It is fairly obvious to most people in recovery that if you get extremely upset or angry at another person then it can put you at serious risk of relapse. This is also why there is such a large emphasis in early recovery on working through the 12 steps of AA, which attempt to help a person deal with resentments. It should be noted that some people in early recovery have not even identified their resentments and may not even be fully aware that they are “re-sending anger” to someone in their past.
One of the things that I recommend for people in early recovery is to try to get into some sort of counseling or therapy in addition to any AA or NA meetings they may be attending. Therapy and counseling are not the same as going to AA and you can definitely get some different benefits by going to both of these things. Your sponsor in AA will touch on things that your therapist does not address, and vice versa. Therefore I strongly urge people to explore both paths of personal growth in early recovery. If you skip the therapy or counseling route then you may be leaving serious issues on the table that may one day trigger a relapse.
Working through your resentments and anger is important in early recovery–no doubt about it. But what about the other red flag that can creep into someone’s life during long term recovery?
That second red flag I am cautioning you about today is that of complacency. This happens after you are well established in early recovery and you have already built a solid foundation of sobriety and you are fairly relaxed in your approach to sobriety at this point.
Complacency happens when you get a bit lazy in your approach to recovery. You believe that you have it figured out now, and that the threat of relapse is now diminished because you are so strong in your recovery.
What is complacency? At its core, complacency is a lack of personal growth. And the problem is that the recovering alcoholic or addict feels justified in slacking off a bit in their recovery efforts because they have accumulated a bit of clean time and they are basically doing well in their recovery so far.
A few important things to note here: There comes a point, in my experience, at which a recovering alcoholic cannot just “double down” on traditional early recovery techniques in order to get back on track.
What do I mean by this? In early recovery, there are typical suggestions such as “Go to an AA meeting every day” and “Call your sponsor every day” and things of that sort.
While those suggestions are certainly proven and helpful, they are not necessarily going to help someone who has already traversed early sobriety and is now floundering with complacency. There comes a point at which the recovering alcoholic has to move forward and work on their own personal growth and reach for their own goals, rather than to rely on daily meetings.
That probably sounds like a harsh criticism of meetings, and it is not meant to be. You can become complacent by attending meetings every day and relying on them to keep you sober. If that is all you are doing and there is no real growth or progress happening then yes, complacency can become an issue.
So how do we overcome this threat of complacency? What do you do if you discover that this red flag is present in your own recovery?
Increasing your awareness of the problem is the biggest thing. Complacency kills because people either deny it or they don’t even know about it. So knowing that you might be complacent and then creating a plan to fix it is over half of the battle in this case. In fact, it does not hurt for everyone to make the assumption that you have already become complacent, and therefore you need to create a plan to create more forward movement and personal growth. You can only benefit from making this assumption.
So the drive for change has to come from within, and you must make the decision that you are going to strive for personal growth. Once you have made this decision, you can then reach out and tap into various resources that can help you. AA sponsorship and therapists can be of help here because they can help you to identify potential areas for personal growth in your life.
In other words, you need to do something positive and make changes and move forward, but there are a million different ways that you could do this. So how do you know what positive changes to make?
One, you can prioritize this yourself to the best of your ability. Two, you can seek advice from your sponsor or therapist in finding areas of your life that could benefit from personal growth.
If you are prioritizing these positive changes for yourself then I would recommend that you look carefully at the various “pain points” in your life today. Figure out your biggest source of anxiety or stress, and then start asking for advice from people about how to eliminate or reduce that anxiety. This is going to be the biggest possible return that you can get in terms of your efforts when it comes to improving the quality of your life in recovery.
Sure, you can figure out what you want in life and strive to achieve your goals, but it is also important to look at what is affecting you negatively in your life right now and attempt to fix those problems too. I have found that the biggest leaps forward in freedom and happiness for me have been when I fixed something negative or reduced a source of my stress or anxiety. That is how I suggest you prioritize your initial personal growth efforts.
Next I suggest that you, again, seek out a therapist or a counselor who can help you to identify your own pain points in life, and they can also help you to discover opportunities for your own happiness and freedom. We cannot always see the problems or issues that are right under our own noses because we are living too close to the problem and have been for a long time. Therefore, having an objective party that can help us to identify these opportunities can be very helpful, especially in early recovery.
If you feel as if you are no longer really pushing yourself to grow in recovery then you have just identified the red flag that is complacency. You can kick start yourself back into taking positive action by seeking out advice and figuring out where your biggest “win” would be in terms of personal growth, then going after it. Good luck!