Today’s guest post comes from a young man who has gone through addiction and come out the other side. But he writes today to remind us that sometimes the “other side” is not as clear-cut as we may believe. Complacency can creep up on a person in recovery without her even realizing it. It’s something we all need to watch out for, and I think that counts for people in any kind of recovery, not just addiction. Don’t get too comfortable, because that’s where relapse hides.
One thing I’d like to note is that I enjoy sharing posts from people from a range of perspectives. Mental illness and recovery are umbrellas that cover many different experiences and perspectives. Sometimes I may not fully agree with everything a guest blogger has written, and that’s okay. Respectful disagreement is part of what makes this world so fascinating.
I’m not making this disclaimer because I don’t agree with the subject of Parker’s article. But he does make some references to Twelve Step programs. Personally, I have a bit of a vendetta against Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous. Mostly because of their stance on medication (which is, essentially, don’t use it) but also because they pressure people to speak in religious or spiritual terms, to give up their own power over their recovery, and to permanently label themselves as “addicts.” But that’s just my opinion! If you think differently, I urge you to leave your thoughts in the comments.
Parker’s pragmatic, yet introspective take on substance abuse recovery bridges the gap between science and firsthand experience. He hopes to reach the struggling and the recovering addict where they are at through his writing and communication skills. Parker is currently the Digital Marketing Coordinator at Ambrosia in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.
Overcoming the Complacency Trap in Sobriety
Some of us in recovery are lucky enough to grow to the point that drugs and alcohol aren’t controlling our lives. That’s a great feeling, especially for someone who struggled for years with an out-of-control addiction. But those of us who have made our way out of the trenches know that the journey doesn’t stop there. Maintaining sobriety is a full-time job that requires constant growth.
While it’s tempting to be satisfied with the progress I’ve made and focus my time and effort on other things, complacency in recovery can spell disaster. It’s a common story. “I stopped going to meetings, stopped working on myself and eventually relapsed.” A slow retreat into old ways will eventually bring the strongest recovering addict or alcoholic back to the starting point.
So how can we avoid the trap of feeling too satisfied? Luckily, there is no limit to personal growth.
The gift of desperation is a blessing for many. It’s what gets us into recovery, and it makes us ready to do anything to avoid the misery of another run. But the enthusiasm fades quickly. Personally, as the comfort of my new life set in, I was satisfied with the strides I had made, but slowly became miserable, and didn’t know why. I went to work, went to meetings, and surrounded myself with people who were doing the same. I was taking every suggestion in the book, but my life felt like there was something missing. The answer, I found, was that I stopped growing in my recovery. Complacency set in and I forgot that what someone told me early on:
“You don’t have to change anything, you have to change everything.”
Constant change might sound daunting, but small, subtle growth adds up over time. The important part is that it’s not about achieving perfection, but just continuing to movs forward. A huge part of my recovery was realizing that recovery doesn’t have a finish line. After all, it’s about the journey, not the destination.
I had to do something different, re-double my efforts to get back on track.
The first change I made was to dive back into my 12-step meetings in a new way. I went to new meetings, reached out to new people, and put my hand up to share as much as possible. I surrounded myself with people I had never met before but who had something in common with me. Getting out of my comfort zone was key to my success, just as it was when I started my journey. It’s always easier said than done, so I had to get as innovative as possible.
Even if you don’t attend 12-step meetings, there are always opportunities to do something new. Recovery related growth helped me regain my gratitude, but that is just a small portion of my life. I looked to continue to advance in my personal life as well. I rediscovered an old hobby, playing the guitar. I couldn’t put it down. Finding a new passion in an old hobby helped me to develop in new ways I never thought possible. Sometimes I go out to open mic nights or small clubs and play in front of people. I didn’t think I would ever be comfortable enough to do something like that. It has increased my confidence and helped me overcome insecurities that held me back in the past.
Nothing changes if nothing changes.
Change is the only certainty in life. Throughout my sobriety, I have found that difficulties pop up at the most unexpected times. Being prepared for the next curveball life threw at me helped me cope with the inevitable struggles of life as a human. Being unprepared for problems, especially in early recovery, can lead to disaster.
A few months ago, one of my best friends died suddenly from a heroin overdose. It was tragic, and it made me completely rethink what I was doing for my recovery. We both went to the same meetings, hung out with the same sober people, and worked the same program. So why did he fall off the wagon? Why did he become a victim of his disease, rather than stay sober?
I realized months later what led him back to his drug of choice. He was so comfortable and content with his new life that he forgot to do routine maintenance. He forgot the reason he started walking this path in the first place, and he slacked off. He stopped calling his sponsor every day, and put his career in front of his recovery. He was happy with his results, but failed to realize that maintaining those results requires putting in work. He got complacent, and it led him right back to where he started.
The scariest part was that I made the same mistakes a little over a year ago, and I too went back to my old ways. Sometimes relapse is extremely subtle, and it can sneak up on you when you least expect it. I thank my higher power every day that I was lucky enough to get another chance. When that complacency sets in, I have to do everything in my power to get something new or novel in my life. When sobriety keeps me on my toes, I am in a better position to deal with anything that life throws my way.
Today, I know what it means when I feel too comfortable with my recovery–complacency is setting in
There is no worse feeling than being the car stuck in the mud, tires spinning but not moving forward. Every time I have been in this scenario, I have to regroup and find something new to be grateful for. Exercising my gratitude muscles, when all else fails, keeps me away from picking up drugs. It’s not that we can’t be happy with the gifts that sobriety is giving us. After all, what would be the point if we couldn’t enjoy our sober life? It’s just important not to forget about the things that brought us to seek recovery in the first place.
When I look back, there were some clear warning signs that I missed. The most obvious symptom was my lack of enthusiasm for my new life. The sense of purpose that I got from working with other alcoholics, attending meetings, and finding new friends grew stale. I knew something was up, but instead of addressing it, I ignored it, which made it even harder to get out of the slump. I was also in a miserable place spiritually, becoming irritable and easily frustrated by things that shouldn’t have bothered me. In my sobriety, there are ups and downs, but one of the easiest warning signs to spot is steady anger. When I am constantly overreacting, I know something needs to change.
A grateful addict or alcoholic never picks up a drink or a drug. Work is involved in maintaining a state of gratitude. Once the wheels of sobriety start spinning, it’s tempting just to hang on and enjoy the ride. For me, the ride quickly stops if I stop putting in the effort to advance in some aspect of my life. And just like a car, maintenance is essential. Even if nothing feels wrong, it never hurts to get a tune up.