Complacency is the biggest pitfall in the pursuit of both long-term sobriety and recovery. It’s a point at which we stop growing, seeking new challenges, actively learning, and/or healing. To allow stagnation in our journey is not only self-limiting; it is to put our lives in jeopardy.
Change is an ongoing and inevitable part of both life and recovery. Both require ongoing adjustments. By allowing ourselves to reduce structure, support, and/or meaningful pursuits from our lives, we undermine not only what we have achieved, but also our potential to become something greater than we are. To safeguard against complacency, we must be accountable for making continuous investments in our development. We also need to make sure to avoid the following to maintain long-term recovery:
Any therapist, sponsor, or coach worth their salt can tell you that recovery is analogous to mountain climbing. Each piece of growth elevates us to a higher vantage point. Each of these are cause for celebration and for a brief period, we can rest and prepare for the next climb.
“Plateauing” is a term counselors use when a person has achieved growth, but has become reluctant to seeking further progress.
Our propensity for settling for less than we can have underscores the need for people in our lives who will challenge us and call us out. No one settles for less than they can have consciously or deliberately. We deceive ourselves into believing that this is all we are able to attain and/or that to want more than we have is wrong, selfish, or too risky to pursue.
So much of what we do is unintentionally selfish. We tend to pursue change and growth based on what it is we want as opposed to considering what our partners, children, and other loved ones need from us. If our needs are met, we can easily revel in our newfound freedom and overlook the wreckage we created while actively using.
Again, the most vital words to recovery are: responsibility and accountability. If we choose step work or any structured program, we become aware of the needs of others and we seek to fulfill them. Healthy relationships of every kind are vital to a satisfying life. Rebuilding partnerships and child/parent relations is a huge undertaking, but living in denial will fuel resentment, loneliness, and shame.
The Space Between
The more sober time we accumulate, the more we can be lulled into a false sense of security. Our disease wants us to believe that we’re okay now. Gradually and insidiously the thought comes that we may be able to return to using in moderation. Control is the number one character defect of any addict or alcoholic. Our sense of security, therefore, must be based in stability, manageability, and connection to others.
Do the Maintenance Work
Kurt Vonnegut wrote, “Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.” The day-to-day work of recovery can seem mundane. We all have times when exercise seems optional, meetings seem cumbersome, or continuing a spiritual practice seems unnecessary. It’s easy to overlook the fact that for most of us, holistic self-care and working a program are the foundation upon which our new lives were built.
Whenever I talk with folks who relapse after having attained long-term recovery, there is always a long list of things they stopped doing prior to returning to active addiction. We see clearly in retrospect what we failed to be accountable for.
Call a Spade a Spade
Most who have worked a program know better than to refer to relapse as a “slip” or as “falling off the wagon.” Slips and falls are things we don’t mean to do. A relapse is a conscious choice to do something unhealthy. More importantly, when we choose to speak in euphemisms, we are watering down the importance of an experience and our feelings about it.
The most important thing to do after relapse is to run, not walk back to the support systems we’ve distanced ourselves from. It’s very tempting to hide our mistakes, but to do so is to run a very high risk of continued use. The key to long-term recovery is to view ourselves as an unending work in progress.
Forgetting Where We Came From
Old adages ring true, “The only way to keep it is to give it away.” The best way to keep recovery at the forefront of our lives is to help the newcomer attain sobriety and recovery. Many in the halls of 12-step meetings will attest that the most important person they can encounter is the person who is struggling to get or remain sober. They help us to never forget what we have to lose.
Jim LaPierre LCSW, CCS, is a recovery ally, clinical therapist, and addictions counselor. He publishes weekly for the Recovery Rocks section for the Bangor Daily News and welcomes your questions and concerns via firstname.lastname@example.org.