So maybe you are clean and sober now and you are living in recovery and things are fairly status quo.
I have been at this point a great deal because today I have over 17 years of continuous sobriety.
However, in looking back over that 17 years of recovery, was all of it rock solid for me? Every single moment of it?
Or were there periods in which I slacked off a bit? And other times when I pushed really hard for personal growth?
The answer is that everyone, including me, goes through periods of their recovery in which they are drifting away from their central purpose, from their life mission.
And let’s face it: In recovery, your life mission is based on personal growth. Sure, it may be more specific than that. But anyone who is in recovery from substance abuse has one simple choice every day: Make progress, or not. Move forward, or not. Get healthier, or not.
In the end, complacency will kill you. In the end, we have people in AA and NA who have multiple decades of sobriety, and some of them relapse because they got complacent. They got lazy. They let their foot off the gas pedal, and that gas pedal is really “personal growth.” You are either making progress on improving yourself, or you are not. And if you are not, you are in danger of relapse.
So when we talk about taking your sobriety game up a notch, what we are really talking about is your active plan to overcome complacency.
Ask yourself right now: What am I working on in terms of personal growth today?
If your answer is vague, such as “I am going to AA meetings and trying to remain sober” then I would argue you that you could, in fact, do some work to take your game up a notch.
Yes of course you are working on sobriety. Of course you are trying to remain clean and sober. Honestly, at some point that has to become a given in your life. If it doesn’t then you are doing something wrong in early recovery–such as not being dedicated enough, not surrendering fully, not committing fully to treatment and aftercare, and so on.
But after a while in recovery you get to a point in which it feels fairly “normal” to be clean and sober. This will come in time for anyone who is working a recovery program. At some point, you get used to sobriety. That will happen. Again, if it doesn’t, then you missed out on the basics. Go back to rehab, treatment, meetings, IOP, group therapy, peer support, and so on.
But in long term recovery, we are used to being clean and sober, which means that if we get too comfortable with it then we could be in danger of relapse. In other words, sobriety becomes so easy for us that it actually becomes dangerous again.
So first of all you need to make a decision. That decision is to acknowledge that complacency is a real threat, and not only that, but it is the main threat that you now have to worry about moving forward. You are already clean and sober, and you know how to do it. You know what works, and you are living successfully in recovery. So far, you got this.
Now you just have to keep it. And that means that you need to find a way to avoid the complacency trap.
Also, notice how defensive people get when you accuse them of being lazy or complacent in their recovery. Just try it! They will argue that they are not, and here is why.
So in some cases the person that we accuse of being complacent will actually be working really hard on personal growth, and they are not actually complacent. In other cases they are complacent, and they could stand to “take their recovery game up a notch” and work a bit harder.
So really think about this: There are going to be times in every person’s recovery journey, if they are sober for years or decades, in which they are both complacent and not complacent. If we fast forward your recovery journey, we could find stretches of time in which you are not really pushing yourself very hard. And in those moments, if someone accused you of being complacent, you would likely get defensive.
So here is my suggestion: Drop the defensiveness.
Make an assumption, right now, and every day going forward, that maybe–just maybe–you are complacent right now in your recovery.
That is a very smart and helpful assumption to be making.
If we make this assumption then the solution is to double down on personal growth, to seek out advice and feedback from our mentors, to take positive action and to make healthy changes in our lives.
That is the solution for complacency.
And what if we are wrong? What if we assume complacency and we are not, in fact, actually complacent at the time?
In that case we simply double down on personal growth, push ourselves to make healthy choices, and strive even harder to improve ourselves and our lives.
Normally I would argue that we should not be making assumptions. Ever.
But in this case, how does the assumption hurt you? I really don’t think it does.
So I try to ask myself daily: “How am I being complacent today? In what ways am I being lazy in my life right now?”
When you dig for the answers to those questions you are creating a task list for yourself that leads to personal growth and self improvement.
At one point I was still smoking cigarettes in my recovery journey. At one point I was not doing anything for physical exercise. At one point I was not doing any writing about addiction or recovery. At one point I was not back in college yet, I did not have a job yet, I did not have a strong relationship with a higher power yet, and so on.
In each of those cases, I asked myself–in spite of the fact that my recovery was going along pretty decent–if I might be complacent in some way.
We have to keep doing this, as people who are recovering from drug addiction and alcoholism. We have to keep pushing ourselves to find the weak spot in our lives.
It is a little bit like plugging holes on a leaky boat. If you are not actively seeking out those holes to plug, then eventually you will relapse. And just because you feel as if you have all of the holes plugged up for the moment, that doesn’t mean you can sail along for the rest of your life with no problems or issues.
Life is chaotic and it is certain that you will face new challenges in the future. That is certain.
One of those challenges in your future has the potential to cause a relapse. Maybe several of the challenges have that potential.
You cannot predict what those problems and issues are going to be. Therefore, your only defense against this ever evolving threat is to stay on offense yourself. Keep moving forward. Keep improving yourself and your life. That is really the only way to insure that you maintain sobriety. Taking your game up a notch means that you keep playing the game, that you keep pushing yourself to improve, that you are always seeking that next level of self improvement.