You are very likely familiar with some of the obstacles to short term sobriety: Breaking through denial, lack of surrender, leaving treatment early, not going to AA meetings, not following through with aftercare, not changing people, places, and things, and so on.
However, there are also some obstacles to long term recovery that many people are not aware of.
Furthermore, when recovering addicts and alcoholics start to transition from early to long term recovery, and they begin to encounter these obstacles, they are often given the wrong advice, which is typically to double down on early recovery tactics such as meetings, reading recovery literature, or working the steps.
But long term recovery is different than short term sobriety in a couple of key ways.
No longer do you have the immediate problem of the constant threat of relapse in your face every day. At this point, in long term recovery, you have built a stable foundation and you are able to navigate through your life without the constant threat of relapse. However, just because you have found some basic stability in your recovery does not mean that you are forever immune to relapse.
I have observed and noticed several “obstacles to serenity” that people in long term recovery continue to wrestle with.
One of these issues is relationships. This is really one of the things that defines our life and the quality of our days in recovery. If you are surrounded by toxic people and you do not have many quality relationships in your life then none of the other fundamentals really matter: you could be attending AA every day and be taking care of yourself in almost every other way possible, but if you are surrounded by toxic people then it can still lead you down the path to eventual relapse.
Keep in mind that while relapse is always a threat in sobriety, it can be a long term play when it comes to long term recovery. Meaning that your life can slowly unravel over months or even years if you are not taking care of yourself in a holistic sense. Relationships are part of this holistic approach, just as is physical fitness, emotional wellness, spirituality, and so on.
However, relationships are something that I see people continue to struggle with. As such, you may need to take a proactive approach to improving the relationships in your life, even in long term sobriety.
This could take several different forms–for example, you could be seeing a therapist or a counselor who is helping you to work through your relationship issues. Or you could be working through the 12 steps with an AA sponsor and doing some relationship work that way. Or you might simply be learning how to say “no” to the toxic people in your life and practicing detachment from them.
Another key to this is in realizing that this is an area of your life that may need to be worked on. Again, therapy or talking with a sponsor could be critical for identifying this kind of problem.
So aside from the potential pitfall of toxic relationships, what other obstacles are there to long term recovery?
Perhaps one of the most dangerous and insidious threats is that of complacency.
If a recovering alcoholic or drug addict is able to successfully build a foundation for recovery, they eventually transition into “long term recovery.” So they are no longer depending on getting to, for example, an AA meeting every single day because they would supposedly relapse if they missed it. This is no longer the case and they have moved past that particular stage of early sobriety and they are more stable.
Now the threat has changed–now they are in long term recovery and, if they are to relapse, it will only be after their life has seemingly unraveled one bit at a time over a period of weeks or months or even years.
The new threat is one of complacency. If the recovering alcoholic or addict becomes too lazy or idle in their approach to recovery then they can–without even realizing it–witness their life becoming unraveled in such a way that it eventually leads to relapse.
Now you may be wondering, how exactly does a recovering alcoholic or addict’s life “become unraveled” in long term recovery? What does that look like?
And the answer is tricky: Complacency can strike us in many different forms.
For example, you can let yourself become complacent spiritually, in which you stop caring about others and you stop seeking the truth for yourself, and this leads to more and more selfishness.
Or you could let yourself become complacent physically, in which your health is compromised, you continue to smoke cigarettes, you don’t exercise, and you run the risk of becoming sick. I have watched people who were spiritually fit in recovery become physically ill and wore down by disease to the point that they relapsed as a result. Your physical health is one pillar of your recovery in that sense.
The same thing can happen emotionally. If you are constantly drained emotionally and you are sick and tired of your emotional state then eventually this could lead you to self medicating again. People tend to relapse spiritually first, then emotionally, and finally they pick up again.
So in long term recovery it is not so cut and dry like it is in early recovery. In early recovery you do everything that you can to avoid picking up. In long term recovery the game has changed and you must manage your overall health using a more holistic approach.
The complicated thing is that you must strive for personal growth concurrently and “parallel process” your recovery efforts. What this means is that you cannot just ignore your physical health for a few months while you focus on relationships, and then ignore your emotional balance for a while you work on spirituality. Instead, you have to work on improving all of this stuff all at once, and you should have started it all yesterday.
The key to success in long term recovery is to keep on a path of personal growth. However, you cannot neglect any of these key areas of your health and expect to maintain sobriety in the long run: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social health. You must make a concentrated effort to improve your life in all of those areas if you want to succeed in long term recovery. Good luck!