There is a difference between just “staying dry” in sobriety and actually thriving. Some people who stay dry for a while end up relapsing, but some recovering alcoholics just sort of stay stuck in limbo–or they coast along in their recovery and do just barely enough to keep themselves dry.
Obviously we want to avoid this kind of complacency. Nobody wants to just exist in their sobriety, or worse, to be completely miserable.
So how can we take steps to insure that we are able to thrive in the long run? What can we do to insure that we continue to progress?
There have definitely been times in my recovery in which I had drifted into complacency. I have definitely been through some periods that were not exactly “highly motivated.” Perhaps we all go through such cycles in our lives. I think to some extent we do need to recharge ourselves, take some down time every once in a while, and just relax.
But the key is that we need a stimulus to swing us back into positive action and personal growth.
The key is that we find a way to stay motivated, to hold ourselves accountable, to stay on a path of personal growth and positive change.
They used to believe, years ago, that the number one problem for recovering alcoholics and drug addicts was that of resentments. They argued that resentment causes people to relapse more than anything else, and therefore this is the number one threat to your recovery.
The truth is that after you have established yourself in recovery and you are living a clean and sober life, at some point you will have worked through your resentments and gotten past them. However, there is still a threat to your sobriety at that point, and the biggest threat for people in long term recovery is that of complacency. If you get lazy and you stop pushing yourself then you can very easily get into a pattern where you become vulnerable to relapse.
The threat of relapse is always going to be a lurking threat in our lives, and our disease of addiction is always looking for new ways to attack us.
This is a key point that you cannot afford to miss: Your addiction is constantly looking for new ways to get you to relapse. Your disease is always looking for an “in” to get you to drink or take drugs.
And because this threat is ever evolving, because the threat of relapse is ever present and ever changing, you need to be on constant alert against this threat. Which is another way of saying that you do not get the luxury of propping your feet up and coasting through your recovery journey. At no time is this acceptable–not after 1 year, not after 10 years, not after 25 years of continuous sobriety. At no time is it really safe for you to assume that “you got this” and that there is no chance of relapse ever again.
As real alcoholics and real drug addicts, we do not get let off the hook in this way. Ever. We are always going to be working a program of recovery and we are always going to have to be learning more and more about ourselves and about our addictive selves. You do not get the luxury of coasting through recovery, not ever.
We cannot stand still in our recovery journey. We are either moving closer to relapse or we are improving ourselves through personal growth.
Again, this is another key point, so let me hammer it home: You are either inching closer to a disastrous relapse, or you are working on self improvement. Period. There is no option that falls in between these two for an alcoholic or addict. If you think you found the middle ground, then what you are really doing is just coasting, and that means you are inching towards relapse.
No, the key to truly thriving in recovery is to be actively working on personal growth as a matter of day to day living. This has to become your routine. You must keep pushing yourself to improve your life and yourself.
So let’s break this down a bit: You have your life, and then you have yourself. You have your external situation such as your family life, your relationships, your career, your marriage, and so on.
But then you have yourself, meaning your dreams, your vision for the future, your shame and guilt and anger and resentments, and all of the emotions that are swirling around inside of you.
And somehow you have to work on all of this stuff in order to recover. And in order to truly thrive in the long run, you must continue working on all of it right up until you pass away.
So how does an alcoholic or an addict approach this monumental task? How do you prioritize personal growth in recovery?
My answer is this:
Start with rehab. Go to treatment and get yourself plugged in to a recovery program. Find the social support, start going to meetings, start doing therapy, IOP, group therapy–whatever the treatment professionals suggest that you do.
Do not use your own ideas when you have one week sober. Instead, listen to the treatment professionals. Do exactly what they suggest to you. Follow directions. This is how you build your foundation.
As you find your stable path in recovery, you will slowly transition from being a “newcomer” to being in long term recovery.
The key for me has been to look at my overall holistic health–meaning my physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual health–and made a concentrated effort to make progress in each of those areas.
So if I look at my life and ask the question: “Where am I weak right now in terms of growth and learning? What have I sort of neglected lately in terms of my overall health?”
The answer to those questions should dictate where I refocus my efforts.
If you never ask that question of yourself, if you never probe your life to see where it might be lacking, then you won’t ever take corrective action to put some more positive action where it is needed. And eventually this could lead to your downfall.
Recovery, then, has to do with balance as well. This is especially true in long term recovery. Really the key is that you do not want to go for too long a time period while completely neglecting one area of your health, such as spirituality. Or emotional balance. Or physical health and wellness.
So the key is to always be surveying yourself and your life to see where you might be slacking lately, and then to reapply and refocus yourself in those areas of weakness, thus restoring balance. This has always worked well for me and I believe that it can work well for you too. Good luck!