In order to make your sobriety last you need to work an active program of recovery.
Not only that, but your active program must be continuous and long term.
I think a lot of people make the mistake of believing that they can go to a short term treatment program, dry out, and then basically go back to living their life they way that they were before, without any real radical changes or intense personal growth.
This is wrong. You cannot simply remove the alcohol or drugs and expect for life to magically get better. No, long term recovery requires a significant investment into yourself and your own personal growth.
That is not to say that you should not attend a 28 day program, because you absolutely should do so, especially if you are struggling. But you must realize that a 28 day program is really only the beginning. It is not a solution by itself.
Going to short term rehab can build a very strong foundation for you in early recovery, but by itself it is not enough. You must do more than this. Most people follow up treatment with both counseling and some sort of social support, such AA or NA meetings. Once you are plugged into that social support network, hopefully you can start working through the 12 steps of AA.
If you go to enough meetings you are going to hear people say “the solution is in the steps.” Not in the book, not sitting around the tables at the meetings, not in a rehab, but in the steps. What they are talking about is doing the work that is necessary to remain clean and sober.
Every person on the planet–even people who are not addicted to drugs or alcohol–has a number of different “pain points” in their life. They have things such as fear, anger, resentment, self pity, guilt, shame, and so on. Every human has some of those things that they are dealing with, or other bits of negativity in their life that costs them peace and serenity and happiness. Every single human on the planet is dealing with at least something, usually a few things, from that list of negative elements.
Now if you happen to be in recovery from addiction then those pain points are of special interest to you. The reason that they are important are because those things can lead you to relapse if you are not careful.
One of the things that you must do in early recovery from addiction is to reorganize your life so that it supports being clean and sober. So you obviously don’t hang out at the bar every day, you don’t hang out with people who use drugs, and so on. But on the inside–in your thoughts, behaviors, and emotions–there are also pain points and triggers that can lead you to relapse. So you have to do the work that is necessary to overcome those internal demons, so that you can be free to live your life in recovery.
This process that I am outlining here, the idea that you need to do the work to overcome these negative pain points, is really something for early recovery. This is the “work” that you need to be doing in the first year or two of your recovery journey. Some people would argue that you should do it within the first month or two. If you don’t do this kind of work and identify all of those negative pain points and eliminate them, then they can cause you relapse before you really get started in your lifelong recovery journey.
After you have done much or all of that work and eliminated most or all of your major pain points, you will slowly move into the next phase of your recovery that might be simply labeled as “long term recovery.”
What is different about long term recovery as opposed to short term recovery?
In long term recovery you are not generally going to be desperately trying to make it through another day clean and sober….not the way that you may have been doing when you had 2 weeks sober. The immediate threat of relapse is now gone.
Does this mean you could never relapse again? Absolutely not. You can definitely still relapse in long term recovery, but now it is a bit different. Now it is a longer process that has to build up over weeks, months, or even years. Your sobriety is not hanging by a string when you have 10 years sober, but you could still eventually relapse again if you become too complacent.
And so this is really the next important thing that you must learn about how to make your recovery last: You must learn to avoid complacency.
What is the best way to do this? How can you make sure that you are not becoming lazy or complacent as you move into your long term recovery?
Part of the problem is that people who do become complacent are often in denial about that complacency.
Therefore, you cannot really rely on your peers to warn you about your potential complacency, because you would likely just deny it and become defensive and try to point out to them why and how you are not actually complacent. And yet you might still be complacent and that could still lead you to relapse.
So how do you avoid this trap? How do you deal with denial when it comes to the threat of complacency?
I have a very elegant and easy solution for you: Assume you are complacent.
Do it. Right now, in your head, make an assumption. Just assume that you are already complacent.
Now what? Now, because you are assuming that you are complacent, you know that in order to avoid relapse, you had better get to work on yourself.
Complacency happens when you get lazy and assume that you have your recovery all locked down, that you are immune to relapse, that no more work needs to be done in your life.
So, assume the opposite. Assume that you need to stop being lazy, that you need to work on your recovery, that relapse is a possibility, and that there are probably more pain points to uncover in your life.
In other words, if you assume that you are complacent then this should spur you into action. Call your sponsor, or your therapist, or a close peer in recovery, and start troubleshooting what could be a possible pain point in your life today. What is your source of stress, anger, fear, shame, guilt, frustration, or self pity? What negative energy exists in your life today?
Once you do the work to identify the pain point, then you can make a plan to eliminate it. This will take some work of course, and that is the whole point: You need to stay engaged in personal growth in order to insure that you do not relapse.
Personal growth is what recovery is all about. A total lack of personal growth indicates complacency.
Therefore, I want you to simply make the assumption that you are complacent, and therefore you need to get going in terms of your own personal growth. If you can motivate yourself to take action and do something positive in your life then it will help to insure that you remain clean and sober.
The fact is that, as you continue to live your life in long term recovery, the world is going to keep throwing new and unique challenges at you. That’s just the random nature of the world. You are going to face new challenges, period. And in order to make sure that you do not relapse as a result of these challenges, you need to keep finding new solutions.
Personal growth is all about finding new solutions. Identify the pain point, figure out what is really going on, and then take action to remedy the problem. If you want to solidify your sobriety and avoid relapse for the long run then you have to stay in the mode of personal growth and continuous learning. This is the best way to make your sobriety last, and it also leads you to make all sorts of positive improvements in your life as well.