The recovery community has a metaphor for everything: “Bumper sticker-ese” is everywhere to help guide people who might feel overwhelmed to use again as they try to get and stay clean. But in one case, a member of a recovery skills support group was using a metaphor to his disadvantage — and putting his well-being at risk. A few months into recovery from abusing many substances, this man said there were times when, even after a day or so of sobriety, he’d “make a reservation” to use again. He rationalized this because he’d been clean for a little while, so it wouldn’t be a big deal to indulge in something besides his drug of choice. Predictably, he relapsed repeatedly. He admitted to the group that on some level he knew where his decisions were leading, but he didn’t have the tenacity to keep himself on the path of sobriety.
What If You Could Never Use Again?
To him, like many others in treatment, the idea of never using again seemed unfathomable. He’d only consider giving up substances temporarily because they met needs he didn’t know how to satisfy otherwise: They helped him socialize and relieve stress, especially during sex. He admitted that he’d never had sober sex and was frightened by the idea of it. But waking up in an intensive care unit attached to wires and machines turned out to be far more frightening for him. When he was discharged, he quit all substances. He engaged fully in his treatment as well as regular Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. As many people with addictions do, he admitted to having an occasional fantasy about using. He even dreamed he’d picked up again, but he woke up relieved to discover that he hadn’t relapsed.
Surrendering and Taking Flight
How can you likewise escape the nightmare of fearing you can’t escape an addiction? Surrendering is a key principle to dropping substances or behaviors you might feel unable to function without. Think of surrender as giving over rather than giving up. It’s a sign of strength and resilience, not of weakness and vulnerability. Ask yourself:
- What does surrendering mean to me?
- If I were to surrender, how might my life change?
- Do I have role models for successful surrender?
- Do I trust that if I let go of the addiction I’ll land safely?
Changing your life requires a willingness to veer from routine. Imagine yourself as a trapeze artist: You’ve had your hands grasped around one bar and another’s in front of you. You can keep holding on or you can take flight. Remember you have a safety net of sober supports such as sponsors or therapists. Knowing someone would catch you if you fall, could you trust and let go?
Planning for Sobriety Success
Another factor in recovery is emotional awareness. Feelings come and go like waves: Managing emotions might seem as difficult as taming an ocean would be. But when you learn to ride feelings instead of being swept away by them, compulsions to use again are easier to resist. Anticipating possible emotional reactions can help, too. A young man who was quick to anger would often say, “If this happens, I’ll be pissed.” Someone reminded him that assuming his anger was inevitable sabotaged him in three ways:
- It made a negative outcome likelier.
- It put him into anger mode, which hindered his ability to handle those feelings constructively.
- It put his body into a state of high alert.
Think of how much more constructive it would be for him to be in the moment instead, even while planning for how he’ll deal with angry feelings as they emerge. He could make his path of sobriety easier by anticipating solutions to roadblocks ahead of time. It’s through trust, support and preparedness that you’ll “make a reservation” for an easier, safer recovery adventure. By Edie Weinstein, LSW Follow Edie on Twitter at @EdieWeinstein1