Complacency is one of the most dangerous feelings a recovering addict can encounter on their journey towards a better life. It’s the silent whisper that lures many addicts astray. Leading them directly towards a relapse and inevitably, their own destruction and/or death. Addicts work as hard as, if not harder, than the larger majority of people ever will, all to maintain their using. The exact same amount of effort is required to maintain sobriety, if not more.
I’ve been to many, many meetings in my life and I’ve always loved the speakers who have real fire and desire behind their message. The drive they have to get and stay clean, work steps, and better their life truly inspires me, even more so the longer I’m clean. That fire and drive is born of desperation. It’s common among addicts to talk about “the gift of desperation”; to outsiders, that may seem utterly counterintuitive. How can a feeling as awful as desperation be considered a gift?
Because it brings addicts to their knees.
Utter desperation is the first stepping stone that leads addicts to try something new and get clean. What this desperation becomes is fuel for the journey. The pain of using becomes greater than the fear of living clean. So (if they’re like me) they go to their first meeting. They’re afraid, angry, alienated, possibly dope sick, and in desperate need of help and hope. That desperation keeps them coming back; praying that maybe these meetings, with their step work, stories, and mud-like coffee, can help them. The longer they stay, the more they learn. They hear the hope from other addicts, if they’re open to it. They get advice from other people who have been there; not a doctor who learned about addiction in a textbook. And slowly, that desperation starts to transform. Much like an ember being slowly stoked, getting hotter and brighter, until it bursts into flames. Flames of hope.
That hope is what leads the addict to try new things; like getting a home group, not using, getting (and using) a sponsor, and working steps. So this feeling, this hope, born of desperation brought on by unimaginable pain, becomes what gives them the drive and will to live their lives in recovery. It keeps them open-minded and willing. It helps them be honest and to put down the mask they’ve been hiding behind for years. For only when we’re honest, can real help be offered.
That is the experience most people have when they first get clean. That desperation turned hope drives us to work hard for our lives and get another day clean. But what do we do when the pain and desperation of using dissipates? What happens when our “rock bottom” becomes a distant memory? What becomes of us after we have experienced the hope that recovery offers and life still throws it’s curveballs? What happens once recovery has given us these amazing lives that are so full that we start missing meetings and not calling our sponsors?
Once the pain isn’t as fresh, and the desperation has worn off, we only have hope, faith, and the program to keep us clean. We get comfortable, and sometimes, we get complacent. We start missing a meeting or two, then maybe two or three; until we’re only making our home groups (if any meetings at all). We mean to call our sponsors but we get busy, we forget, we procrastinate, we just don’t. We realize it’s been a week or more since we talked to them. We get wrapped up in work, in significant others, in children, in fun, and any other number of things. Recovery gets put on the back burner because “I have a little time”, “It’ll be okay”, and “I’ve got this.” That fire that once burned so bright starts to die down. We fall into “relapse mode“; the warning signals blaring before the storm.
Recovery isn’t something that you “have” simply by not using drugs; that’s called abstinence. Recovery is something you have to work for. Learning to live life honestly, responsibly, with principles. Undoing all the knots you’ve tied in your mind, body, and spirit.
n. pl. re·cov·er·ies
1. The act, process, duration, or an instance of recovering.
2. A return to a normal or healthy condition.
3. The act of obtaining usable substances from unusable sources.
Idiom: in recovery
In the process of participating in a group or program providing treatment and support for a longstanding psychological or behavioral problem, such as abuse, addiction, grief, or trauma.
Notice how recovery is defined as “the act of” or being “in the process of participating in” something. That’s because recovery is an action word. It’s something that you actively do and work for; not something you merely obtain because you stopped abusing drugs. Many people have stopped using and became “abstinent and crazy”. You take the drugs away and all the character defects, bad habits, and insane thought processes are still there. The obsession and compulsion are still there. Now, maybe they’re just focused on something different, such as gambling, sex, or shopping. When we start working a program we start healing those sick parts of us that addiction infected. We do this so the real person underneath them can start to recover. But much like cancer, if we stop our treatment, the disease and all the side effects of it will return full force, if not worse than before. That is why being an active participant in our own recovery is so important. That is why complacency is the most dangerous feeling for an addict. Complacency is just one chisel in the disease of addiction’s toolbox, meant to chip away at all the hard work and time we invested. It will make you feel comfortable and satisfied. It will deprive you of that drive that the gift of desperation granted you. You will get lazy and stop fighting for your recovery. Life will slowly creep in while your defenses are down and soon enough, using may not seem like such a bad idea after all.
If you’re lucky, you’ll have involved enough recovering addicts in your life that when you start slipping they’ll pull you up, call you on your shit, and drag you to meetings. This very thing has saved many people’s lives. It has saved my life. Many people struggle to keep that same drive they had in the beginning over the course of years. However, it is possible to maintain and regain it. Through being an active participant in your recovery community and program, you protect that drive. The fire is stoked and it’s much harder for complacency to settle in.
No one is ever immune. Our disease is always waiting in the background to take hold, if we give it an in. Our commitment to recovery is what makes this less likely to happen. In the past I’ve relapsed because I became complacent and thought that yesterday’s recovery would keep me clean today. I slowly started working or playing more and recovering less. I would miss meetings and not call my sponsor. Eventually, I used. Then it took me years to get back the desperation necessary for me to get clean again. Sometimes I still struggle with the balance of recovery and outside life, and almost instantaneously, I feel and see it. When this happens I immediately recommit myself by hitting more meetings, calling my support network and sponsor more, and working my steps.
The reason I’ve stayed clean longer this time around than any other is because I don’t let complacency find a home in my life. Because I fight to put and keep my recovery first. Because I commit myself to living this way of life and I’ve renewed that commitment whenever I started to fall short. I’ve watched too many people I love go from thinking “I’ve got this” to “Maybe I don’t need meetings anymore” and eventually, those thoughts led to using and destroying their lives, again. Some of them never made it back for a second chance.
So for anyone today who is clean, or who’s using but still alive, use the desperation that using brought to your life to fuel your recovery. Never get cocky, never get complacent. I’m confident in my recovery today, but only because I work for it. This post isn’t meant to make me sound like the perfect recovering addict or like my recovery is superior to anyone else’s, because trust me, I’m not and it’s not. But if reading this gives one addict a little self awareness and possibly saves their life, then it has served the highest purpose.
Over the months and years we will always have to adjust our recovery to fit what needs work in our lives and to better ourselves. It will never be over. We will never be “cured”. At least, that’s what I believe and what my personal recovery program has taught me. That fact has been backed up by almost 2 decades of my own experience with the disease of addiction. For some, that may make it sound like an insurmountable obstacle; like there is no hope. But that’s simply not true. Because while I may be an addict for the rest of my life, there is also a solution to my problem.
Like someone once said, “I would rather go through life clean, believing I’m an addict than destroy my life using, trying to convince myself I’m not.”
by Ashley Hebner
© All Rights Reserved 2016