Tag Archives: relapse

5 Common Misconceptions About Recovery

How much do people outside of the recovery community really know about what happens within the confines of programs and rehabs and therapy and meetings? Most of us are only exposed to perceptions of recovery which are displayed in media, unless someone in our circle of influence has personally dealt with addiction recovery. That means we’re faced with typified caricatures  in television and film or the latest tabloidization surrounding the Hollywood elite. While many myths abound regarding addiction and recovery, we’re taking this opportunity to dispel a few. If you have thoughts, questions, concerns, or ideas, we’d love to hear from you.

1) No one will understand me.
We have a tendency to believe, for some reason, that we are unique. Clearly it is an impossibility that anyone has experienced what I have experienced it the way I have experienced it. No other person has been through the same circumstances I have. In the program, we refer to this notion as being terminally unique. It’s called ‘terminal’ because, just like terminal cancer, this type of thinking will kill us. It keeps us sick. It convinces us that nobody understands, keeps us in denial, and pushes us right back into the outstretched arms of our addiction.

Typically presenting in completely dichotomous fashions, we tend to believe that others cannot help us because their circumstances are so vastly different than ours. This ‘all or nothing’ taking it to the extreme thinking is typical of addicts. We tend to either see ourselves as superior to others or inferior to them.

Superiority says that “I never went to jail, lost my home, lived under a bridge, etc. I’m a high-functioning alcoholic and successful businesswoman. What could I possibly learn from ‘those people?'” Inferiority, on the others hands says, “They’ve never been to jail, lost their home, lived under a bridge, etc. How could they possibly understand my situation or help me?”

The reality is that, for those of us in the rooms, our stories are the same. Seventy-five to eighty percent of our stories are universal. We have the same struggles. Our situations and circumstances may not be the same, but our problems are. Our brokenness and pain unite us in ways that nothing else can. And the healing that comes from walking the journey will only be heightened by the friendships we form along the way.

2) Substance abuse treatment is a quick fix for addiction.
First of all, I want to be clear that there isn’t necessarily a right or wrong way to recover so long as the method you choose works. I’m personally going to advocate for a Christian, 12-step model of recovery and aside from that promote 12-step models in general because of their religious nature, but other methods exist. If you need to explore them, please do so.

Likewise, there are different treatment centers and options available. Where you go might depend on your financial circumstances ans insurance situation, but real help can be found regardless of your present financial situation. Having said that, a highfalutin, luxury treatment center and a no-nonsense, free to you, work program treatment facility can both work for you, as could anything in between. The key to a successful treatment program is not the facility or the staff but you. Your willingness to learn, grow, and work will, more than anything else, determine your level of success or failure in treatment.

Treatment is not a quick fix for addiction and my not be a fix at all. Twenty-eight days is an insufficient amount of time to achieve sobriety. Sixty days is an insufficient time to achieve sobriety. Am I saying that you should spend 90 days or 6 months or a year or more in treatment. Yeah, maybe. Inpatient treatment is one option, and plenty of people need dedicated inpatient treatment for a longer period of time. There’s also intensive outpatient treatment and halfway houses and Oxford houses and sober living facilities and meetings, meetings, meetings.

Treatment is not the end all be all; it’s not even the end. Treatment is the beginning. That piece of paper they give you at the end for “completion” or “graduation” is nothing more than a sheet of paper. Treatment is the beginning. Treatment is an opportunity. Treatment is a great place to get clean short term and begin the journey into long-term sobriety.

It’s also important to understand that going to treatment, or sending someone to treatment, is not a guarantee that someone is going to be “successful” in achieving sobriety. Some people need to go back multiple times. Some people need to try other options. Some people die. This is the world we live in every day.

3) Addicts have to hit rock bottom before they can recover.
In a lot of ways, this goes back to media portrayals of addiction and the need to define a term. A lot of us are just confused about what it means to hit rock bottom. Rock bottom does not mean one thing which can be unilaterally applied to all addicts. Rock bottom is personal. Rock bottom is the place where and individual finally comes to the conclusion that he/she is sick and tired of being sick and tired. But that point is going to be different for everyone.

Popular depictions of rock bottom display people who have nothing to live for. These people have lost everything, and it took them realizing that to take the necessary steps to get help. While that’s true for some people, others have different bottom moments. Some people only hit rock bottom in a manner that leaves them six feet under. Others arrive at bottom after losing very little but simply realizing that they’re in trouble.

One struggle of popular portrayals of bottom is that these stereotypes actually lead some people deeper into their addiction. Some addicts won’t accept that they have a problem or that they need help because they feel like they haven’t suffered enough. Ultimately, it does seem that addicts tend to hit rock bottom before they recovery; rock bottom is just a different place for different people.

4) Relapse is a normal part of recovery.
Unfortunately, this myth is one that we as a recovery community have taken to perpetuating. We give this advice readily to newcomers not because we see it as an easier, softer way but because for many, relapse is a reality. But relapse doesn’t have to be part of recovery. What some people hear when we tell them that relapse is normal is that they now have permission to relapse because that’s just part of the process.

The truth is that some people relapse early in the program and go on to enjoy long-term sobriety, whereas others somehow manage to find and maintain sobriety without relapse being a stop along the journey.

In the same vein, relapse is not the end of the world. It’s nothing more than an opportunity to learn from a mistake and move on. Don’t see every relapse as a chance to deconstruct everything that led up to it; instead, use it to once again admit your powerlessness and remember how important it is to stay away form that first drink just for today. The potential for growth is not found in falling but rather in getting back up.

5) Recovery is boring.
How could I ever have fun sober? Well, have you tried it? Maybe you haven’t, or maybe you don’t remember the last time you were operating without your addiction or compulsion of choice. Let me ask you a better question. Are you having fun now? Do you actually enjoy your life as it is, or are you too busy chasing the next high to know what’s happening around you?

If the primary goal of recovery is sobriety, we aren’t supposed to merely achieve and maintain sobriety but rather meant to enjoy sobriety. The amount of free time recovery uncovers which used to be consumed with chasing the next high and acting out is full of endless possibilities. Try new things. Figure out what your passionate about. Explore the potential opportunities presented by friends and family and program people and life in general. In recover it’s almost like there are suddenly more hours in a day.

There’s also this idea that I’ll never be able to go out with people anymore. I can’t be around alcohol anymore. Certain people, places and things are simply off limits. While that may be helpful for a while, and it is important to avoid anything that might be a stumbling block; we don’t actually have to give up going places where liquor is served or stop hanging out with people who do drink. Remember that it’s not our surroundings or circumstances which cause us to act out but something internal.

As such, it is the recommendation of AA “not to avoid a place where there is drinking, if we have a legitimate reason for being there” (Big Book, 101-102). The Big Book goes on to say that before entering into a scenario which might be somehow questionable we should ask ourselves this question: “Have I any good social, business, or personal reason for gong to this place?” Our social lives don’t have to be crippled by the errors of our past as long as we have a firm spiritual foundation and are capable of sussing out our motivations before entering new, different, or murky waters.

– Alex Walker

 

New Year, New You

What…a load…of crock…

New Year, New You. All you have to do is look around. Do it. Look around. This phrase is everywhere. There are newspaper articles, health magazine write-ups, Pinterest boards, television news spots – even entire categories at bookstores and on cooking websties – devoted to those four words.

New Year, New You is all about the latest and greatest in the worlds of fitness, health, nutrition, organization, wellness, money management and more. That comes as no surprise given the propensity this time of year to manifest interest or rededicate time and effort toward achieving or striving toward goals founded in those categories.

According to a 2015 Nielsen study, these are the top ten New Year’s Resolutions as of 2015.

  • Stay fit and healthy
  • Lose weight
  • Enjoy life to the fullest
  • Spend less, save more
  • Spend more time with family and friends
  • Get organized
  • Will not make any resolutions
  • Learn something new/new hobby
  • Travel more
  • Read more

Let’s be brutally honest here. For the most part, these goals are at best broad, vague, and open to interpretation and at worst unrealistic and unlikely to be maintained. While statistics vary, of the minority of the population who set resolutions, approximately eighty percent will have failed at keeping their resolutions by February. Less than a month.

That’s why my favorite category up there is those who resolve not to make a resolution. It’s a lot harder to fail at that one. The odds of someone who has no intentions of making a resolution turning around and setting a major goal in the first month of the year are drastically less likely than the odds of someone who made a resolution dropping the ball.

But really, as arbitrary and nondescript as most of those resolutions are, they’re conceivably manageable, so why is the general propensity to simply not keep them? Why do we find ourselves year after year setting the same resolutions and forgetting about them completely by March?

Well, for starters, this New Year, New You phenomenon is nothing more than a watered down kick in the pants. The whole concept of a New Year’s Resolution is a fabricated sense of urgency designed to motivate us to be different based on nothing more than the number at the end of the year growing larger by one. January 1, 2018 is no different than any other Monday, unless of course you got the day off from work because it was a holiday.

There’s about as much motivation in becoming a new you in the new year as there is when your mother, father, sister, brother, significant other, friend, flight attendant or parole officer tells you that it’s time for a change. If you haven’t hit rock bottom, your habits, addictions, and compulsive behaviors are going to stay right where they are.

People who set New Year’s Resolutions often do so by first looking back over the previous year – or years. When we look back, things don’t always look so good. We’re unhappy with how we spent our time or our money, so we resolve to change that. But it’s hard not to keep living in the past. It’s hard to do something new – something different.

It’s also hard to stop living in those memories of the past. When we start thinking about how we’ve spent our time and our money, it’s easy to become convinced that changing that not only isn’t probable, it’s impossible. It becomes easy to look back at our shortcomings and deem them failures. And no sooner have we deemed our shortcomings failures than we extrapolate that sentiment and decide that we, ourselves, are failures. And if I’m a failure, then I certainly stand no chance at succeeding in carrying out these new endeavors I’ve resolved to complete.

But negative self-talk isn’t the only thing hampering our success. Many of us who set resolutions do so for the wrong reasons. We aren’t motivated to change because the impetus for setting these goals in the first place was effectively peer pressure. We jumped on the bandwagon. Oh, look, a new year is coming, and all of my friends are setting resolutions. I guess I should do that, too. I mean, after all, there are things in my life that need to change.

Guess what. That kind of motivation isn’t motivation at all. The only thing it’s motivating is the assurance that you’re going to jump off the bandwagon just as quickly as you jumped on. Yes, research does indicate that those persons who undertake a new endeavor and make it a habit are much more likely to continue that new habit at a higher sustained level than those who merely dabble, but the odds of your compulsive self being the one who pours time and effort into bettering yourself based on a new year’s resolution are slim to none.

It’s that very same research which supports the practice of going to 90 meetings in 90 days. As a matter of fact, that practice even serves more than one purpose. Not only does it generally solidify the habit of attending meetings, it also ensures that people are going to meetings regularly at a time when they are bound to struggle the most.

So that’s tip number one. If you really want to commit to making a life change, go all in. Don’t wait for some arbitrary date, like January 1, to decide that you’re going to get sober or stop eating everything you see. While special dates are easy to remember (Trust me, a guy in my home group celebrates his anniversary on Valentine’s Day. He doesn’t forget it, and neither does anyone else.), they aren’t necessarily motivating.

Your first day is going to be the day you’re done. For me, I was done lying. More than anything else, that’s what I gave up. That doesn’t mean I don’t lie anymore, but it does mean that I’m not constantly working to cover my tracks. That was the ultimate motivation I needed. You’ll know what it is you’re ready to be done doing.

And as for being successful, most people don’t get sober right away. It’s a process. During the height of my disease, there were several times when I merely white-knuckled it. I knew that I had control. I knew that I could quit whenever I wanted to. But those months were some of the crappiest months of my life. And, of course, I went right back to it.

Then, a time came when I entered recovery. I began the recovery process. Now I realize this is different for everyone, but I definitely started the program and didn’t get sober right away. I struggled with white-knuckling. I struggled with turning things over to God. I still struggle with that today. I had lapses and relapses. That’s pretty common. It’s also tip number two.

Don’t beat yourself up, and don’t quit just because you’ve had a relapse. Relapse isn’t failure. For almost everyone it’s just part of the process – especially the early phases and stages. If you can forgive yourself for relapses early in the program, I think you’ll have much better odds of getting back on the horse and attending to the program rather than returning to your disease because you’ve branded yourself a failure.

The bottom line is that wherever you go, there you are. That may seem a bit obvious, but it matters. That means that the me I take to rehab is still me. The me I take into a new marriage is still me. The me I take to a new state to get away from a bad relationship or to keep from hanging around a bad crowd is still me. You take you with you everywhere. The only person you have the ability to influence and change, then, is you.

You don’t need a new year to affect change and bring about a new you. What you need is the desire to be somebody different – a desire to do things differently – a desire to be different. If a new years resolution spurs you toward real life change, great. Good for you. You are the exception to the rule.

The rest of us will just keep waiting until there’s nothing left to do but get better or die.

– Alex Walker

Roar!

“Your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” – 1 Peter 5:8


Do you know what I left out?

I’m not even sure I was fully aware what I’d left out. That verse is incomplete. That verse up there is 1 Peter 5:8b from the New International Version. The first part of that verse says, “Be alert and of sober mind.”

To be of sober mind is like being physically sober, only in a more metaphorical sense. So, to be sober originally meant that someone was “completely unaffected by wine” (TDNT IV, 936). That’s a lot like how we use the term sobriety today in recovery. It means that we are not under the influence of our drug of choice.

Being of sober mind, then, implies “the unequivocal and immediately self-evident antithesis to all kinds of mental fuzziness” (IV, 937). In other words, we should be clear headed. The passages just before this in Peter’s  letter talk about putting off pride in favor of humility and letting God take anxious feelings from us. We have the ability and the opportunity to let go and let God, but we resist doing so because we feel like we should be able to do it ourselves. We’re too proud to ask for help. We’ve been taught to be self-reliant or pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.

Some of us don’t even have our own bootstraps. We don’t have our own boots. We lost them because they weren’t as important to us as finding the next fix.

The 12&12 teaches us that “pride lures us into making demands upon ourselves or upon others which cannot be met without perverting or misusing our God-given instincts” (49). There are a couple of important things here. One is that we have God-given instincts. God has provided us with something to fall back on. Our sense of right and wrong is innate. We just have to figure out how to tap into it.

Another is that we should not be making demands of ourselves or others. We aren’t in the right frame of mind. We are confused by our stinkin’ thinkin’. Our own best thinking got us here in the first place. How clear could our heads possibly be? We’re neither sober in body or mind.

God called his people to be vigilant through Peter’s letter by using imagery common to the people of the day. Whether it’s obvious or not, there was a real likelihood for the first century Palestinian shepherd that a lion might stalk and attack their sheep. Just as a shepherd who is supposed to be guarding his sheep should work diligently to remain awake and of sound mind, so, too, should we remain watchful and aware of our surroundings.

Let’s be real for a minute. There aren’t a lot of lions roaming around in our lives. But just as the lion hides among the thicket, crouching and ready to pounce on her prey, our disease of addiction is “cunning, baffling, powerful! Without help it is too much for us” (AA, 10). Temptation lies around many corners and often appears in unexpected places.

Have you shown up to a high school reunion lately? All sorts of emotions and anxieties we haven’t experienced in decades can come rushing back to us in an instant. Additionally, some of the people we used to act out with are now staring us in the face expecting us to be the same person we were as teenagers. It’s a perfect storm.

That’s why we have to be prepared. That’s why we need to have a plan. That’s why it’s so important to have a support system in place. That’s why working the program is a daily part of our lives.

That way, when the unexpected rears its head, we aren’t overcome and overwhelmed by the desire to fall back into our old roles and habits.

But don’t fall into the trap that it’s just old haunts and triggers that will push us over the edge. It’s usually not one thing that leads us to a place where we momentarily set aside our newly acquired values, give into temptation, and experience a relapse. Relapse is the result of an unfortunate series of events that were not properly dealt with along the way.

We tend to have a lapse before we have a relapse. We tend to forgo talking to our sponsors or others who we know will hold us accountable. We experience a disturbance and convince ourselves that we can handle it instead of dealing with it as a top shelf issue. In reality, there’s not great difference between a newcomer white knuckling through months or years of sobriety and an old-timer taking on a disturbance alone.

To do so is to forget that “every time we are disturbed, no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with us” (12&12, 90). But it’s so easy not to ask the question, “Where am I in this?” that we bypass that step and move on as though nothing of significance has happened. What we fail to recognize is that not addressing what part we play takes us to an unhealthy head space which in turn has the potential to snowball back into unmanageability.

What is truly cunning, baffling and powerful within the disease of addiction is that it’s a spiritual disease, and as such, what we’re really battling is the oppressive enemy, Satan. That’s why we claim Jesus Christ as our Higher Power: the only possible victorious solution to defeat an enemy who “comes only to steal and kill and destroy” is a God who come to Earth that we “may have life, and have it to the full” (Jn 10:10).

So while our enemy might be like a lion hunting it’s prey, we don’t have to be like the warthog in the above video. We don’t have to succumb to spiritual death or physical death any longer. The White Book says that we have been “dying of guilt, fear, and loneliness” (2). Well we don’t have to live that way anymore.

If we can learn to keep and open mind and attempt living life differently, we might find that there are all sorts of things we’re capable of accomplishing which never seemed possible before. But for that to be the case, we must submit to the authority of God and the wisdom of those who have gone before us.

That’s not to say that everyone who has experience knows what they’re talking about, but the collective wisdom of those with some sober time under their belts is a heck of a lot better than the decisions one person has been making in a vacuum.

It boils down to this: if we want to live the best lives possible, we have to find ways to exist in a place and space of right thinking and right action. One might come easier than the other, and that’s okay. This is a process. It’s not going to happen overnight, and no two people will get there the exact same way.

But with God as our guide, we should find that our desire to do the next right thing grows as our relationship with God becomes stronger and more solidified.

Dear God, I’m sorry about the mess I’ve made of my life. I want to turn away from all the wrong things I’ve ever done and all the wrong things I’ve ever been. Please forgive me for it all. I know you have the power to change my life and can turn me into a winner. Thank you, God, for getting my attention long enough to interest me in trying it your way. God, please take over management of my life and everything about me. I am making this conscious decision to turn my will and my life over to your care and am asking you to please take over all parts of my life. Please, God, move into my heart. However you do it is your business, but make yourself real inside me and fill my awful emptiness. Fill me with your love and Holy Spirit and me me know your will for me. And now, God, help yourself to me and keep on doing it. I’m not sure I want you to, but do it anyhow. I rejoice that I am now a part of your people, that my uncertainty is gone forever, and that you now have control of my will and my life. Thank you and I praise your name. Amen

3rd Step Prayer, Dr. Bob

– Alex Walker