What do you want to hear first: the good news or the bad news?
If you’re like me, you want to get the bad news out of the way, so here it is: addiction is a chronic, progressive, incurable disease. Once diagnosed, you are never healed.
Alright, bad news dispensed, here’s the good, no, scratch that, the great news: the methods employed for managing the disease of addiction are ridiculously inexpensive (read: free), easily accessible, and can be utilized by anyone suffering from it. If used properly and consistently, not only will the addict keep his or her disease in remission permanently, the rest of his or her life will improve dramatically. How many other diseases can make that claim?
So the question for people like myself, with more than a year of recovery, how do you keep on keepin’ on? How can you ensure that you are maintaining your recovery?
As a regular participant in 12-step recovery, nothing scares me more than to hear stories of people with significant sober time come back after a relapse. Sadly, it happens more than one would like to think. I have seen people with 20 years of sobriety “go out,” and come back and report what we all know to be true: it never gets better. Twenty minutes, twenty days, twenty years; pick up a drink or drug, and you have fallen back down the rabbit hole.
Every time I hear that tale, the person says the same thing: “I picked up (meaning either drank again or used a drug again), but the relapse happened well before that.”
And that’s the part that terrifies this addict. Because I can say, with certainty, for today, that I am not tempted to ingest a mind-altering substance. But what worries me is am I heading towards it? Because, as we say in AA, everything you do either takes you toward a drink, or away from it, and the steps towards relapse are small and inconsequential at first…. so have I taken them without realizing it?
Here’s how I’ve solved that problem, for myself anyway, and I figured I could write it out in case it would help anyone else. I’ve developed a checklist to make sure I am staying on track when it comes to my recovery. The list is in reverse order for a reason, for each question that I can respond in the affirmative, I feel that much better.
- Have I maintained my sobriety date?
- Do I wish to pick up a drink or a drug?
- Am I confident that I can refrain from ingesting mind-altering substances just for today?
- Have I prayed today?
- Am I regularly participating in 12-step meetings?
- How is my mental state? If bad, has it been consistently bad? Has there been a pattern of negative thinking?
- When life becomes stressful, do I react in healthy, sober ways, or do I revert to old patterns of behavior?
- Am I maintaining my new, sober healthy behaviors and daily structure, or am I letting things slip?
- Have I been talking about what’s going on with me, or have I been keeping things bottled up?
- Have I been sharing with other people in recovery?
- Have I been giving back (12th step work)?
- Gut check: do I believe that I could pick up, just once, and it would be okay?
I would love to hear what people would add to this list, or how they would modify it!
That I can read this list, and feel pride that I am a grateful, recovering alcoholic/addict!
My favorite AA meeting occurs every Friday morning. It is 30 minutes earlier than my normal weekday meetings, and the location is a bit further from my house, so during the summer, it can be tricky to make it on time. Today was such day, and I realized that I would be late, but that I could arrive early at a different meeting that started a little later. I considered it, but decided that because it is my favorite meeting, and it is only once a week, I would rather be late to it than early for another meeting.
AA etiquette dictates that if you are late to a meeting, you should refrain from sharing. This is not a hard and fast rule, but I was not feeling any burning desire to share, so I figured I would respect it. However, because attendance was so low, it quickly came down to basically only me who did not speak, so I figured it would be more important to participate than to adhere to etiquette, and I shared my thoughts. I prefaced my comments by admitting that since I have not started the steps (the topic of the meeting was about step 7), I don’t feel like I have a lot of personal insight, and in the course of my speaking I mentioned that my sponsor would like me to wait until I have 6 months sober before I begin my step work.
As soon as the meeting ended, someone with whom I have a passing acquaintance approached and asked me why my sponsor was having me wait for 6 months to begin step work. An interesting question that I have asked myself numerous times, but have ultimately decided that I would follow her lead. I answered him honestly, and he gave me another way to look at it, a way that made quite a bit of sense. He wanted to introduce me to his friend at the meeting, because his friend’s wife is a long time member of the fellowship and often takes women through the steps. I looked over and the man to whom he was referring is someone I know very well, whom I have been inspired by since my first week in recovery, and whose AA words I hang on to every time he speaks. I know his wife by reputation, as she is very well-known in the various meetings I attend, but have never had the privilege to meet her.
My concern was that while I would love to go through the steps with someone experienced, as this woman obviously is, I would never want to hurt my sponsor in any way, since she has been an absolute godsend to me. Both understood my concern, they are both sponsors themselves, but explained that many people choose to go this route, working steps with one person, and yet having your sponsor for all other matters. I did not understand that was a common practice, and was elated… this was the perfect solution to a dilemma I have been mulling over for some time now, and I did not realize the solution existed!
I left that meeting amazed once again at how life works, feeling as if I turned a corner in my recovery, and filled with anticipation for the new chapter that I am about to start. It gives me a feeling not only of gratitude, but also of hope, and it is even more exciting to relive it by sharing with you!