In my personal experience there is really only one key element that you must master when you are in long term addiction recovery, and that is essentially the “growth mindset” as opposed to having a bad attitude towards life.
Things are going to happen. Random events are going to befall you, as they do everyone. We don’t always get to choose what happens to us in life. Sometimes we get served a lump of coal rather than what we ordered out of life, and if we are not careful, this can become our excuse for relapse.
In every life situation you have a choice: You can complain and be salty towards the world, or you can be grateful and use everything as an opportunity to learn something.
If you think back to your early recovery journey, everything that you are doing is centered around learning and growing as a person. The first 90 days of your recovery journey are characterized by intense learning and growth. Everything is new to you because you are dealing with the world on completely different terms now that you are in sobriety. Instead of running and hiding from your problems you are facing them head on.
There are several benefits to living with a growth oriented mindset in your recovery. First and foremost, it helps you to remain clean and sober. If you blame everything and everyone else rather than actually trying to learn from your problems, then you are creating a situation in which relapse becomes much more likely. If you are constantly the victim and the world keeps “doing you wrong” then eventually you are going to argue that you “deserve a drink” or a drug. Obviously we want to avoid that outcome.
But the other huge benefit that you get from living this way is that you get to improve your life. Continuously.
Over time, this has a compounding effect, because all of the different areas of your life continue to get better and better. Then the various benefits of those improvements begin to overlap and enhance each other, and things really take off.
Let me give you an example. At one point in my recovery journey I decided that I needed to quit smoking cigarettes. I made a few feeble attempts to do so and I failed. But I kept trying and I knew that some day I needed to become an ex-smoker.
My problem was that when I would try to quit cigarettes I would have intense cravings that led me to relapse. I needed to find a way to overcome those cravings in order to remain nicotine free.
Later in my recovery journey, for unrelated reasons, it was suggested to me that I start exercising. My therapist told me that I needed to get into shape. So I started working out and I started jogging on a regular basis.
I noticed that after I would jog, I would naturally not even think about smoking cigarettes for at least an hour or two. I realized then that exercise could be a huge key to quitting smoking. It turned out that this was the case for me. I became an avid jogger and I also was able to quit the cigarettes entirely because of this. The fact that I was running every other day allowed me to overcome the cravings for nicotine.
This was a pleasant discovery–that personal growth in one area of my life–exercise and getting into shape–could positively influence another area of my recovery: Quitting smoking.
I later noticed that this could manifest itself in other ways as well. At one point I decided that I wanted to run a marathon, which required a great deal of training. Through that process I developed a great deal of grit, and I realized later on that I used this level of training and grit to accomplish goals in other areas of my life as well–such as in bootstrapping a business. I could see how the training and the grit from the marathon experience had translated into another area of my life.
Because we cannot always predict how our personal growth experiences are going to influence and interact with each other, it pays off for us to take a holistic approach to our recovery. Don’t be put off by the term “holistic,” it just refers to the “whole person” in terms of their overall health.
So what that means is that you should look at your life in recovery as being made up of physical health, emotional health, mental health, social health, and spiritual health. What you really want to do is to assess your life and make sure that you are making an effort to take care of yourself in all 5 of those areas.
A therapist, a sponsor, or a mentor can help you with some of this. You may be focusing very narrowly on what you think that you need to do in order to recover. But a sponsor or a therapist might be able to see the bigger picture, and they can give you insight and suggestions that will uncover a path of personal growth that you had not seen for yourself.
I can remember this happened in my own recovery journey when my sponsor was suggesting to me that I go back to school. I thought at the time that I needed to focus exclusively on AA and NA meetings, while my sponsor had a bigger perspective and could see that I was missing out on a growth opportunity. He also encouraged me to start dating when I thought that I needed to focus only on myself, and he was right again with that suggestion.
This is why we need to seek out mentors and teachers in our recovery journey, because they have additional perspective that we lack, and they can see certain opportunities and insight that we may be overlooking at the time.
After a recovering addict or alcoholic has reached a certain point in their recovery journey, the challenge is no longer “how do I make it through this day sober” and more “how do I stay engaged in personal growth so that I do not start the slow and dangerous slide towards complacency.”
That is a very, very important point when it comes to long term sobriety. The number one killer is complacency, not resentments. If you ask alcoholics who have relapsed after significant clean time, the reason is that they got complacent.
Personal growth is the antidote to complacency. Personal growth is the cure that you need to maintain long term sobriety.
So the question for all of us should become: How do we stay motivated to keep seeking new growth experiences? How do we stay engaged with a learning and growth mindset?
The answer to that will be unique for you, and it is ultimately your responsibility to find that answer. Go figure out what you need to do in order to keep pushing yourself forward, and then keep doing that. This is how you maintain long term sobriety.