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The Difference Between Making It In Recovery and Relapsing; What It Takes to Keep Coming Back

Grab a cup of coffee for this post.  This is a long one.  Apologies in advance, it took that long to get to the main point.  I couldn’t cut anything without a convolution of the process.

Well, my friends, we’re only a few days out from New Year’s resolutions when everyone and their brother is swearing off alcohol for good… this time.

You’ve said it before, I’ve said it before (more than twenty times, I’d reckon), and we’ve all heard it before.  You probably don’t really believe it when you utter it.  I surely didn’t.  “Hoped”, maybe.  Nor do we believe it, when we hear it said.

What it takes to recover and to stay recovered is very simple, but sadly, exceedingly difficult to maintain.  Note, I chose the word “simple” in lieu of “easy”.  Simple, it is – they fit the instructions on 164 pages of a book.  That’s all it took, 164 pages, plus time and practice, to go from lost cause to happily recovering.  Easy, it isn’t.

Now, to be fair, I only know of one way to recover from addiction.  It’s the “free” way.  I don’t have to pay for professionals to assess my life and tell me what to do.  I can do it myself, with the help of a friend, because honesty takes care of the important stuff – and I’m talking penetrative, deep, dark, scary honesty.  On the plus-side, I only have to worry about me – being honest about how I’m doing.  The way I know is the “whole life” repair kit.  If happiness were measured as wealth is, I’d be the equivalent of living on the ocean in West Palm Beach.  There are other ways for folks to recover, but I’m not familiar with them, so I’ll stay in my lane, as we like to say.

So, there isn’t a lot to making it in recovery, but it’s a bit of a puzzle to make it all work.  The tough part is, each individual makes their own puzzle pieces – it’s up to the individual to make sure they fit together.  Let’s look at my puzzle pieces because I know mine, yours may vary a little bit.

  • I can’t drink successfully.  I’ve tried so many times, so many different ways, so many combinations… I simply suck at living and using at the same time.
  • I can’t use anything else successfully.  Folks, this isn’t rocket science.  If I can’t drink successfully, I can’t smoke dope successfully.  I can’t shoot heroin successfully.  I can’t smoke crack successfully.  Etcetera.
  • Those first two pieces are hugely important, because they form this next piece; I can’t use successfully, so I won’t try.
  • That piece forms the next; I won’t try, I’ll use twelve steps to recover.
  • That forms the next; I’ll put my arrogance aside.  I don’t know what’s best for me.  I’ll take some advice from others who have recovered before me.
  • That forms the next piece; step one…  and so forth, eleven more times.

These are all absolutes.  If I have any doubt in my mind, I need to squash it underneath my heel.  Thoughts will enter the gray matter between my ears that will work against those absolutes.  Those thoughts have no validity anymore.  They must be discarded (this last paragraph is 20-year recovery stuff that you won’t find in the Big Book – taking it to heart early in recovery will be like cheating).

From that point, there are a few simple things that’ll help keep us on the path.  For me, it was reviewing those first four points, but simplified.  See, I asked my Higher Power for a deal the day I quit.  The deal was; God, I can’t do this alone, I need Your help.  If You help me, I’ll give recovery everything I’ve got.

Rather than going through each of the first four points, I often referred back to the deal.  Basically, it’s a Big Book principle; I can’t, You can, I’ll let You.  Simple.

Too often we like to complicate things.  Well, I can’t have a Higher Power because [insert reason/excuse here].  Surely, crack cocaine was my drug of choice, so heroin should be okay, right?  How about meth, maybe?  Of course, that’s not how we justify it, is it?  No, we like to go for “weed” which enjoys the dubious distinction (either ignorant or dishonest, take your pick) of being less damaging and/or addicting to the user.  In the end, though, a drug is a drug and using pot is just as bad as heroin.

The main point about all of this is “keep it simple, stupid”.  Recovery may be hard, but it’s definitely simple.  Making it complex only serves relapse, and making it complex is a choice.  Going back to making our puzzle pieces, the more complex we make the pieces, the harder it is to make them fit together.

So let’s look at how we can beat the penchant for making simple things, complex.  In my case, complex-ing recovery was all about ego. It’s funny how many things fall back to the ego – and I have a perfect example.

I had a problem with doing a Fourth Step.  There were a few things that were going to have to go on that Fourth that I didn’t want to deal with in the Fifth.  For that reason, I created a “problem” with not being done with the Third.  I couldn’t do the Fourth because I wasn’t done with the Third, you see?

Well, that only worked on folks in meetings with fewer than five years of recovery.  The old timers didn’t buy it (correctly), because Step Three is only a decision.  It just so happens that you have to practice continually making the decision.  Anyway, I was called to the mat by a woman whom I trusted implicitly (I also had a mild crush on her, to be honest…).  She gave me the old, “Look, you’ve been working on the Third Step for a month and you still haven’t gotten it?  What’s really the problem?”

And I fessed up.

I didn’t want to do the Fourth because there were things on my Fifth that could have meant a year or few in jail if I made my amends.  That’s why I didn’t want to really complete my Fourth…  And you can bet, that whole episode made my Fourth when I finally did it a week later, after discussing the sordid affair with my sponsor.

The point is, I made the Third Step puzzle piece so complex, it couldn’t fit with the Fourth Step piece.  I almost drank over that mess, too.  See, when you get close to your first year of recovery, many of us get a little squirrely because we come to find that “just being sober” isn’t enough.  We have to free that trainload of baggage we’ve been hauling around, sometimes for decades.  We find we have to work the program in all our affairs.  We don’t necessarily understand what’s happening at the time, but that’s the “why” of it.

In my case, I put my ego (and fear) aside to do what had to be done to be free of my addiction.  I never knew what “freedom” would feel like until I did the Fourth, Fifth, (Sixth, Seventh, Eighth & Ninth) Steps to rid myself of the baggage I’d piled up and had been lugging around.  Without letting go and getting beyond that experience, I’d have been drunk (and I’d likely died long ago, my liver just can’t take anymore poison).  Instead, “I found a new freedom and a new happiness” that I didn’t think was possible.  Just like they promised would happen.

And I stayed recovered.

And I lived happily ever after.

Because I made the puzzle pieces so they fit together.

And that’s how it works.