The key strength that you need to work on in addiction recovery, or sobriety, is that of personal growth.
I have watched a lot of people who attempted to recover from drug addiction and alcoholism, to include myself. I have watched many people fail and a few of us have been blessed enough to succeed.
When I was very early in recovery, because of the way my personality and brain is “wired,” I wanted to know the exact principles and concepts that would help to insure my success in recovery.
So I started asking questions, I started exploring various recovery methods, and I started to read quite a variety of literature on different theories of recovery.
I have come to the conclusion that, while the exact programming might matter a great deal for the newcomer, it is not as important for someone who is living in long term recovery. After the struggling addict or alcoholic makes it through “early recovery” and builds a foundation in their life, it is less about the exact programming and more about personal growth.
If there is a key strength in early recovery, it is that of surrender.
If there is a key strength in long term recovery, it is that of personal growth.
The threat in long term sobriety is different. You are no longer fighting by the skin of your teeth to make it through each day sober. And yet, people with several years in recovery still do relapse sometimes. Why is that?
People in long term recovery relapse for a different reason than the person who relapses who only had six months sober.
If the person with six months sober relapses, it is because they had not yet finished building their foundation, their new life, they failed to use the tools of the program and reach out for help and avoid the trigger situations.
When a person with 10 years relapses, it is because they got complacent. Period.
The person with ten years knew how to stay clean and sober. You don’t make it to ten years sober without having that strong foundation and the knowledge of how to navigate a life of recovery. The person with 10 years sober knew how to make it through a tough situation, they knew how to reach out for help, they know they could call their sponsor, or their peers in AA, or whatever. They had a solution and they knew what those solutions were.
They just didn’t use them.
Because they got complacent. They got lazy.
So the question is: What does it really mean to get lazy in recovery?
What does it mean to be complacent?
I can tell you what it means, because I have been studying this concept.
In long term recovery, complacency is a lack of personal growth. If you stop learning and you stop challenging yourself to become a better and better person, then you are headed on a path that might end with complacency.
This can be a very tricky thing because after 10 years sober, becoming complacent does not just happen overnight. It unwinds slowly, over time.
Many people believe that it has to do with AA meetings. You hear things like “And then they quit going to AA meetings every day, and before you know it, they were drinking again.”
But it’s not really about AA meeting attendance. That is not the secret to beating complacency.
The secret is in personal growth. The secret is to stay in the process, to keep working those steps continuously, to never declare yourself to be “done” or “cured” or “finished” with recovery.
This really doesn’t apply that much to early recovery, because in the beginning, you need to listen and learn and soak everything up like a sponge. You need to go to lots of meetings, attend inpatient treatment, go see a therapist, a counselor, a sponsor–tapping into every resource that you possibly can in order to get the help that you need.
But it should be fairly obvious that once a recovering alcoholic has 2, 5, or 10 years sober, that the answer should not be “do more of all that stuff.”
What works for the newcomer is not necessarily going to help the person who is well established in recovery. And yet both people can still be at risk for relapse.
The key is that you remain teachable, that you keep analyzing yourself and your life, so that you can keep making improvements to who you are as a person.
Life keeps showing up and happening to you. But you get to keep choosing your reactions, and part of the goal is to keep improving how we choose to react. If that is not changing over time then you are likely not learning anything, and therefore you will end repeating your mistakes. Not good.
The goal of recovery is to have higher and higher level mistakes! So that when you do make a mistake, the consequences of that mistake are far less detrimental.
When you first get into recovery, it is likely that you will start out at inpatient treatment. Then you might follow up with daily AA meetings, and hopefully get a sponsor.
In a very short period of time, you will go through all sorts of positive changes. It will feel awkward at times, and you may feel as if you are floundering, but people will comment and say to you “you are right where you need to be right now!” And it will be annoying to hear this, but one much later you will look back and realize that they were right. You cannot see the growth that you are making when you are struggling to get through it, because it feels bad sometimes. But that is where the real growth happens.
After a few months of strong recovery effort, the personal growth will slow down. You have built a foundation.
But instead of slipping into “maintenance mode,” my recommendation is that you get with a sponsor, a therapist, or a coach of some sort and push yourself further.
Keep pushing yourself. Now that you have a foundation, you can start to get much more deliberate in your personal growth. Improve your health, get into shape, work on your diet. Quit the cigarettes at some point.
And just keep going. Self improvement is an extension of your recovery. Improving yourself deliberately is how you extend your recovery and protect it for the future.
Self improvement and personal growth is the anti-complacency serum that you need.
It is when we stop growing, when we stop learning, when we stop pushing ourselves to improve in life that we become most vulnerable to relapse.
Again, this is an issue of timing. In early recovery, go to rehab, go to AA, and go real hard at taking every suggestion that you can.
After you have a foundation of sobriety, start to seek new ways to analyze your life and make improvements. Self improvements. Become that better version of yourself, the version that you were always meant to be.
Want to get started? Call a rehab center today if you are still stuck in addiction. It is the single best option to get started on this path of positive growth.