How secure are you in your recovery from alcoholism?
Are you confident in your ability to remain clean and sober for the rest of today?
What about tomorrow? Or for the next year, the next decade? (And are we even supposed to consider the future in this manner? We are told that we are not supposed to do this!).
I think it is important to evaluate where you are at in your recovery. I think it is important to question yourself on a somewhat regular basis.
I think the person who is doing this, who is questioning their own recovery, is almost completely immune to the threat of relapse. At least for that time period in which they are questioning themselves.
In other words, if you are worried about your recovery and that you may not be doing enough in order to remain sober, then you are probably not going to relapse that day. You are strong in your recovery due to the fact that you are questioning yourself.
I have watched evidence of this over and over again.
People who relapse are not questioning their recovery, they are not asking for help and advice, they are not worried about what positive actions they need to be taking.
No, people who relapse are more likely to be confident in what they are doing and closed off completely to new advice. They don’t want any help. This is because they have probably already relapsed emotionally, but they just haven’t picked up the drink yet.
My goal is to keep reinventing myself. That probably sounds like a cheesy cliche, to “reinvent yourself.” But I am serious when it comes to sobriety and how this phrase applies to your life. If you are not pushing yourself to explore and reinvent your life over and over again then I think it leaves you vulnerable to relapse.
And so it almost seems like there is a great paradox in all of this. The only way to have a secure sobriety is to be insecure about your sobriety! In order to remain sober you need to stay vigilant. In order to avoid relapse you have to worry about it all the time.
But is it really worry that is necessary? Or can we channel that vigilance into more positive action? I tend to think it is the latter.
Safety in daily AA meetings?
This is a very good question for anyone in recovery from alcoholism:
Is there safety in going to AA meetings every day?
If you frequent AA meetings then you will hear that this is a big part of the proposed solution. The theory is simple: Go to an AA meeting every single day of your life, and this will keep you “plugged in” to a lifeline that will certainly help you to stay sober.
The question is, does it actually make your sobriety safer?
Unfortunately I do not have a nice and neat answer to this question. The truth is that it is going to depend entirely on the individual.
This is evidenced by the fact that you can find people in sobriety who attend AA meetings every single day and they have an awesome life in recovery. I would not suggest to these people that they are wrong, or that they should quit going to meetings. I think that would be really bad advice.
On the other hand, if someone is new to sobriety and they want to know how they can best protect themselves from relapse, I would not necessarily tell that person that going to daily AA meetings is the only way to achieve this security.
The other side of the coin in this example are the countless alcoholics who I have watched relapse while attending daily meetings. So going to an AA meeting every single day is not a magic bullet for sobriety. I believe that for most people it is probably a good suggestion in early recovery as a way to build a foundation. But it is not a sure-fire cure and I don’t think that people with 3 years sober, 5 years sober, or 10 years sober are depending on daily meetings just for their continued sobriety.
If there is someone who is dependent on daily AA meetings for their sobriety, then that person is not done with their personal growth (just my opinion of course).
In other words, if you have to go to an AA meeting every single day in order to remain sober, that is fine for early recovery. I have no argument against that. Go to meetings every day. I did this myself for the first six months or so.
And there is nothing wrong with attending AA meetings for the rest of your life if you want to do so.
But what I am saying here is that you should not have multiple years sober and be depending on meetings for continued sobriety. That is not the point of AA. In the early days of AA, the program was based on the steps and a spiritual awakening, and daily meetings were not even an option. They maybe had one or two meetings each week in most places, if that. There was not even an option to go attend a meeting every single day of the year like we have today.
And this situation, I think, has changed the way in which people in recovery use these daily meetings. They were never meant to be a venting session, or a place to talk about your day and why you have first world problems.
So the person who depends on daily AA meetings still has some work to do in their recovery. They are substituting a daily meeting for personal growth. They are not doing the work in recovery because they are just showing up to a daily AA meeting to vent every day instead. It might keep them sober but it is not the quality of sobriety that the AA founders had envisioned for the struggling alcoholic. They should not be dependent on daily meetings.
Again, this is not to day that a person in recovery should not go to AA every day. They certainly can. They just should not be dependent on those daily meetings for their sobriety.
And this analysis sort of gets at the heart of the question: “How secure is your sobriety?”
Recovery requires change. It requires action. We have to do something different in order to turn our lives around.
Once we establish sobriety we have to take care of ourselves. If we stop taking care of ourselves then this invites relapse back into our lives. This can happen on a number of different levels.
So the questions basically boil down to this:
Have you stopped drinking yet? Yes or no.
Have you turned your life around and established a baseline of sobriety yet? Yes or no. (I had to live in rehab to do this myself).
Are you on a path of personal growth in which you take care of yourself every day–physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and socially? Yes or no.
If you can answer “yes” to all three questions then I would say that you are as secure in your sobriety as you can really be.
We are taught over and over again that the security in our recovery is an illusion. As soon as you think that you are rock solid in your recovery then you have put yourself in danger of relapse. As soon as we stop being vigilant we are opening the door to problems.
So the question is, how can we remain vigilant?
And I think the most simple answer to this is “personal growth.” We have to keep reinventing ourselves.
Note that this can be done while being in AA and attending AA meetings every single day.
On the other hand, it is possible to go to AA meetings every single day and still become complacent and relapse. I have watched that happen many times as well.
So I am not bashing AA here, not at all. What I am suggesting is that your sobriety depends on personal growth, on reinventing yourself over and over again. You can do this both in or out of AA. You can do this with or without daily AA meetings. If the meetings are helping you then by all means, continue attending them. But just make sure you are not mistaking the daily meetings for a ticket to security in your sobriety. That security is an illusion, and the only way to really be “secure” is to keep challenging yourself. To keep reinventing yourself.
Your level of personal growth
In early recovery you have to take massive action in order to escape from addiction.
There is no other way around it. Your life is in turmoil and your addiction has disrupted so many different aspects of your being.
Alcoholism affects your physical health, your emotional stability, your relationships. It affects your spiritual connection. It screws up your whole life.
Therefore when you quit drinking you have to do a whole lot more than just stop drinking.
You have to rebuild your life from the ground up.
The first way to do this is with your health. Not only your physical health, but all of the aspects of your health (mental, emotional, social, spiritual, etc.).
And you have to do this every single day.
We all know what it is like to start taking care of ourselves, to start exercising for example, and then to give up after a few days.
We all know what it is like to put the booze down for a few days, but then to go back to the bottle after less than a week of being abstinent.
We all know what it is like to try to take care of ourselves, to resolve to be better or to live healthier, only to find ourselves back to our old habits shortly thereafter.
With early sobriety this same principle applies, only it is about a thousand times more important.
You must be consistent. You must not slip up. Any little “slip” in recovery can be counted as a full relapse, because 99 percent of the time this is what it turns into.
In that sense, recovery is entirely pass/fail. It is black and white. There is no grey area where an alcoholic can “sort of relapse.” That is not a possibility.
Either they are working on recovery, or they have completely relapsed. No in between.
This is an important concept when you consider what the solution for recovery really is.
There are many different programs for recovery. There are different strategies that you can use to overcome alcoholism. There is treatment, group therapy, meetings, counseling, and so on.
But none of these things are really the solution itself. The actual solution is two simple pieces that are often complicated to implement correctly:
1) Total abstinence from addictive drugs and alcohol.
2) Personal growth on a consistent basis. Constant reinvention of the self.
If you fail to do the first thing (total abstinence) then working on the second thing (personal growth) is a waste of time. Because you will just sabotage yourself and slide back into the chaos of addiction.
If you fail to do the second thing (personal growth) then you will also be defeating yourself. Without personal growth, you will eventually go back to your old behavior. Remember, self medicating is the default behavior of an alcoholic or a drug addict. That is what they will return to doing unless there is some other plan of action. The default is to relapse. We must work hard to overcome this default.
That “hard work” is to reinvent yourself. To find new ways to take care of yourself, to improve your health in a million different ways. To challenge yourself to improve your life and your life situation.
You can do this in AA. You can do this outside of AA. But the point is that your sobriety is only as strong as this “work” that I am talking about.
Some people use the 12 steps of AA to guide them in doing this work. That is fine if it works for you. Work hard, be honest with yourself, and find a sponsor who can guide you through the process. That is one approach and it is a very valid one. Of course it doesn’t work that way for everyone.
On the other hand you don’t necessarily need a program at all in order to maintain sobriety. But you do have to put in the work and make changes in your life. And you have to keep pushing yourself to make positive changes, even after years or decades of successful sobriety. Because if you stop making those positive changes then eventually you will revert back to the default, which is to self medicate. That default never goes away, it is what makes alcoholism and addiction a lifelong disease.
Are you internally motivated or externally motivated?
Some people are internally motivated. I believe that I certainly fall into this category. After about a year or of 12 step involvement, I basically drifted away from it and have been living sober in recovery now for over 13 years.
Some people need the external motivation more than others. There is nothing wrong with that, because there is no shortage of help in the recovery community. What is important is that you know yourself and know what you need to remain sober. If you know that you need external motivation and extra accountability then seek it out and set that up for yourself. Find a sponsor and work with that person to keep yourself motivated.
I tend to be internally motivated so I found that I did not need a strong social component when it came to my sobriety. Of course in very early recovery I think everyone can benefit from getting professional help, and that is always going to contain a social element to it. You go to treatment and you have peers, you are exposed to AA meetings, there is group therapy, and so on. I am not necessarily against those things, especially when it comes to early sobriety. I think they are important at that stage.
But you can also evaluate how much you need this social element in your recovery when you have a few months or a few years sober. How much are you going to depend on other people to motivate you in sobriety? This is not necessarily a weakness as I sometimes make it out to be. As I said there is no shortage of help in the recovery community. And it is far more important that you are realistic with yourself and that you do what it necessary to remain sober.
In other words, if you need lots of peer interaction in recovery then don’t be afraid to seek that out.
Put your sobriety first, in front of everything. Put it in front of my ideas and suggestions too! Do whatever is necessary to remain sober and then build from that foundation. If you are dependent on daily meetings or sponsorship or group therapy or all of the above, who really cares if this is what leads you to lasting sobriety? I am not saying to avoid these things, I am merely saying that you should know yourself and determine what it is that you really need. Some people are externally motivated and there is nothing wrong with that. There is no shortage of help in the recovery community.
What is your plan for the future to engage in personal growth? How will you change?
I think that everyone should have a plan for personal growth. It should be baked into your recovery journey.
If you are not moving forward in recovery then by default you are moving backwards. There is no standing still on this journey. It is either forward or backward. If you think you are standing still then it is likely that you are sliding down the hill towards a relapse!
Therefore we should plan for growth. We should assume that we need to keep making progress in order to stay afloat.
I think it is helpful in recovery to look at your life in two different ways:
1) Your internal self and any problems that you might have inside, such as fear, anger, resentment, guilt, shame, self pity, etc.
2) Your external self and your life situation. Your relationships, career, physical health, daily routines, etc.
That is how I tend to separate things in my own mind, between the internal and the external.
But it is important to realize that you need to make positive changes in both of these areas.
That you need to “do the work” both internally and externally.
There are positive changes that you could be making in both of those areas that would lead you to a more secure sobriety.
And after you make those changes, you can then sit back and evaluate and say “what next? What other thing can I do in my life to improve my overall health? How else can I take better care of myself or others?”
And then you are always moving forward. Always trying to reinvent yourself.
And I believe that this is the only way to really be secure in your recovery. To keep challenging yourself to improve your life, to improve your situation, to take better care of yourself and to help others.
And that this is a daily process, something that you keep doing each day, keep improving upon.
And that you do it consistently, and commit to this process as a way of life. As a means of personal growth.
As a sober way of life.