All Stages Of Recovery Bring Their Own Unique Circumstances
There is so much emphasis put on helping and celebrating those in early addiction recovery. Think about the out pour of support and encouragement when loved ones see that you are serious this time. Or the great amount of effort put into welcoming you (the "new comer") at the meetings. And of course the new awakening within your soul that recognizes the importance and necessity of fighting to stay sober each and every day. This is beautiful and an extremely beneficial part of the recovery journey.
But what happens when the newness starts to wear off? What happens when you've achieved 2-5 years of sobriety and your loved ones are no longer checking on you daily/weekly? What happens when you are no longer the new comer, but instead you're the sponsor? You're the one that others look up to, the one that inspires the group, the one that "made it." A lot of pressure can be felt at this stage of recovery. The every day stresses of responsible adult life can sometimes still be too much for a person in this stage of recovery. Guess what? That's okay. You're human. You have good days and bad days. You still have struggles and short comings. You are still very much a work in progress. It's wonderful that 2-5 years into recovery you have all the knowledge and tools necessary to be abstinent forever, but like any other human (especially one with an addiction history) your mind still sometimes whispers unhelpful and even harmful words of discouragement and temptation. Remember how you evicted those thoughts in the beginning. You can't let them live in your mind rent free now!
Furthermore, it is important to point out that while 2-5 years of sobriety is a significant period of time - it is still considered the maintenance stage of recovery. In this stage an individual still has to work very hard to prevent relapse. They must maintain the healthy lifestyle changes they've implemented such as getting adequate sleep, exercise, and nutrition. They must continue to place a priority on sober recreational activities, growing their relationship with God, maintaining healthy relationships with friends and family and avoiding toxic relationships. While they do not feel the urge to relapse as often as they once did, they are not out of the woods, per say. A high risk situation, a lapse in judgement, an emotional day, a particularly stressful event, or any combination of a multitude of possible circumstances can lead to a person with years of recovery choosing to relapse.
And Yes, At This Stage Of Recovery It Is Once Again A Choice
So how do you manage at this point of your recovery? First, don't lose focus of the fundamentals. Reflect on what got you started in your recovery and as the saying goes - if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
As a counselor that has lived with addiction my entire life and made a career out of working with people with addictions I can narrow the fundamentals down to one sentence:
Love God and Love People
If it was good enough for Jesus (how he summarized the 10 commandments) then it should be good enough for us! I recognize that this is far too simple of a sentence and needs some real life application specifically related to addiction recovery. So here are a few things that you do not want to lose sight of whether you have 1 day, 1 month, 1 year or 100 years of sobriety.
1. express your love for god through gratitude
Chances are that if you ever attended therapy, rehab, or a program to help you in the early stages of recovery you were encouraged to keep a gratitude journal. It is also likely that somewhere along the way you felt that was something you no longer needed to do. I'm here to tell you to pick that pen back up. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 tells us "Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." Psalm 118:24 says, "This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it."
A gratitude journal can be anything you want it to be. It can be as simple as listing five things you're grateful for each day. It can be letters to God expressing your gratitude or it can be searching for verses like the two we mentioned and writing them in your journal. What it can't be is - neglected. When we stop practicing gratitude it often ends up being replaced by self-centered thoughts. The opposite of gratitude could be described as pride. Perhaps we feel secure in our recovery and we start to believe that we really can have just one drink or only use on the weekends. We may even feel that after years of recovery we deserve to let loose. Or perhaps things are not going the way we hoped they would. Maybe several years into recovery you are wondering why everything in life isn't perfect. With the absence of gratitude it is possible to focus on what is going wrong instead of what is going right. We may even find ourselves feeling sorry for ourselves. I'm speaking to myself here, but I know I'm preaching to the choir - How can we look at any day sober as anything other than a miraculous gift from God. The audacity it takes to reflect on where we've been, what God has brought us through, and even consider ungratefully throwing it away by going back to what he so graciously brought us out of. Lord, forgive me.
The fact of the matter is, gratitude brings us closer to God in a way that few other things will. You will be hard pressed to find a grateful person contemplating relapse. Not to say that those thoughts won't occasionally cross our minds - they will. But when they do will you choose to reflect on the goodness of God or will you resort back to human nature? Run to God and run away from the temptations of this fallen world!
2. Love People through Prayer, Words, & Action
It is also likely that in early addiction recovery you heard something like "This is your time to be selfish." I'm not a fan of that phrase, but I do understand the intent. I prefer the saying "We can't pour from an empty cup." At least then we are considering that we must pour into others, but remembering that taking care of ourselves is an essential factor in facilitating our ability to love on others.
Regardless of how you get there and to what degree, just remember to practice this command from God in all stages of recovery - love your neighbor as yourself.
Ask yourself what that looks like in your practical daily life. Answer these questions:
- Who can I pray for today?
- What words of encouragement do I have for those around me?
- How can I serve someone today?
- When others look at my life do they see Jesus? Someone that is helpful, kind, full of integrity, slow to anger and quick to forgive? Lord, help me to be more like you. Help me to represent your kingdom well.
And remember the devil wants us to isolate. He wants us to feel alone. He wants us to think that we aren't needed, have nothing to offer, and only need to focus on our own selfish desires.
We are stronger together!
Find a Bible believing, gospel preaching church, plug into a small group, and see where you can serve. Can you be a greeter on Sunday morning? Can you clean up on Wednesday night? Can you direct traffic, work in the nursery, take meals to the elderly? Do they have a Celebrate Recovery program? If not, can you start one? There are an unlimited amount of needs and you have this special experience where you are able to relate to the hurting. Don't let your gifts sit on the shelf.
Relapse rates statistically decrease in proportion to the amount of time that a person has sober, but that does not mean you should ever let your guard down. Don't stop doing the fundamental things that helped you so much in early recovery. And most importantly continue to grow your relationship with God. There is a well known poem that I will link here. One line from the poem describes that your disease is waiting for you to come back. That's the truth. The devil comes to steal, kill, and destroy. Addiction is one of his tactics for sure. If you have given your life to Jesus please don't forget that "Greater is He who is in me than he who is in the world." There is no battle we face that can't be won through our faith in Christ. Though we may stumble, we will not stay down. I'll end with this:
"We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed." 2 Corinthians 4:8
If you enjoyed today's reading please tell someone about Your Praying Friend, but most importantly tell everyone about Jesus!
Substance Abuse Counselor