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!
I had a moment yesterday.
I don’t know about anyone else, but the challenge for me in writing this blog is finding the balance between honesty and scaring the crap out of people. For the addicts and alcoholics reading this blog, I would give every salacious detail in my struggles with anything addictive, except for the fact that I have many non-addict readers, and I am afraid they would go running for the hills if they knew every thought in my head on any given day. So I do the best I can to share, if not every specific detail, at least the raw emotions that accompany the details.
Back to yesterday. I am currently 15 months and 4 days sober, and I can honestly say that yesterday was the first real and true experience with temptation. It lasted, in real-time, about 10 seconds. But those 10 seconds stayed with me for the rest of yesterday, and it was not pretty.
Again, with respect to the general population, it went something like this… “wouldn’t it be nice if…” followed quickly by, “are you fucking nuts?!?” Really, that was the nuts and bolts of the incident itself… pondering the possibility, then discarding it. So the mental anguish I suffered had nothing to do with the 10-second incident. Rather, I was beside myself (and I mean it, really, really upset) that I considered it at all.
So what happened next? Well, in the moments directly following, I was in the company of people, so I plowed through those interactions as best I could, trying as much as possible to stay present. Afterwards, I had someone at my house, and again, gave it my best shot to listen to her life struggles. In retrospect, I believe I did a decent job being there for her. I considered breaking down and sharing my mental anguish with her, but I did not, for two reasons:
a. she is going through something herself, and
b. she is not an alcoholic/addict, and I was afraid she would not understand.
After about an hour, I finally said to her, “I’m sorry to do this, but I need to get to a meeting” (and never have I meant those words more than I did yesterday). So etiquette be damned, get out of my house, because I’ve got to deal with these feelings.
Off I went, and at the first opportunity, I shared my story (all details included for that audience). I did this because it is what I’ve been taught to do in AA… you have a thought about drinking/using, you get it out of your head immediately, if not sooner, and that is how you get rid of the feeling. The real struggle for me yesterday was the absolute and complete disappointment I felt in myself… why, why why, would I ever entertain that thought, even if it was for 10 seconds? So I cried, and I shared (and to make the humiliation complete… I was the only woman at a meeting full of men).
Here’s how it helped. First, absolutely no judgment… I shared a humiliating, painful truth, and all I got back was compassion and understanding. That alone would have been enough, but there was so much more. Next, every person in the meeting was able to share a similar story, and each ended with something along these lines: “Wow, what a concept, you are an alcoholic and you thought of taking a drink? DUH! Of course you did, it would have been stranger if you did not, that is why you are an alcoholic!” It’s like the V-8 commercial, I almost did hit myself in the head after listening to these men speak to me. Some of their stories had me laughing by the end of it, and what kind of a miracle is that… to go from crying to laughing within an hour’s time?
But the best gift I received from this meeting: the chairperson said to me, “Are you giving yourself credit for actually coming to a meeting and sharing about it?” And it hit me… this is the honest-to-God first time I ever did that… resisted a temptation and shared about the raw feelings that accompany it, in the present. I am doing what I have been taught, and it is working, because I really felt better when I left the meeting. So much so that I went back to the person whom I kicked out of the house, apologized, and shared the entire experience with her. My fear that she would judge me was completely unfounded… she told me she has an even deeper respect for me because I shared this painful truth. The miracles just keep on coming!
Today’s miracle is the gratitude I have for being 15 months and 4 days sober.