Stinkin’ Thinkin’: The Mistakes of Relapse and the Lessons of Recovery, Part 4


Mistake #19 – Impatience

Substance abusers are not known for their patience—they want what they want when they want it.  When their illness was active, they wanted their alcohol and drugs NOW, before the cravings hit. And now that they are getting sober, they want everything that their recovery promises NOW, as well.

And when there are delays and bumps in the road, they get frustrated.  When things aren’t moving at a pace that suits them, they may even begin to doubt the fact that things are ever going to get better at all.  That doubt can trigger a relapse.

Lesson – Don’t Rush Things

But here’s the thing—just as the addiction did not develop overnight, neither will recovery.  Coming back from SUD is not like walking into a dark room, flipping a switch, and instantly being rewarded with light.  Rather, recovery is a process, one where progress happens at different rates. As long as you are on the right path and moving in the right direction, it really doesn’t matter how long it takes you to reach your destination.

Sometimes, current success is measured by not moving backwards.

Mistake #20 -Thinking About Forever

“Forever” is a mind-boggling concept. When someone who hasn’t gone without a drink or some kind of drug for more than a few hours in several years tries to wrap their head around the fact that they can NEVER drink or get high again, the idea is just incomprehensible.  It’s too terrible a thought.

This is especially true in early recovery.  Someone who has just completed a painful detox program and who is still experiencing lingering withdrawal symptoms cannot possibly have desire to feel that way for the rest of their life.  Because they don’t yet have a frame of reference, they don’t know that it WILL get better.

And if they are having a difficult time in early recovery, they may think that they lack the strength to resist a lifetime of cravings and temptation.

Lesson -Take Recovery One Day at a Time

About this, they are exactly right.  Expecting someone to promise that they will give up alcohol and drugs forever IS just too much to ask. No one is that strong.

But…with all of the help and support and treatment and medication that they have available to them, they ARE strong enough to stay clean and sober just for today.  That’s realistic and achievable.  And when you make it through enough todays, tomorrow takes care of itself.

Mistake #22 -Boredom

During active addiction, most of a person’s time revolves around their next drunk or high.  They spend their days thinking about, locating, acquiring, using, and recovering from use. The cycle repeats.

And when they enter a recovery program, they are shocked to discover how much time they have on their hands. Even after counseling sessions, 12-Step meetings, and work, there is still so much of the day to fill.

To and alleviate their boredom, too many people in recovery fall back into old patterns.

Find Positive Things to Do

But recovery doesn’t have to be boring or miserable.

It is possible to be productive and genuinely happy during recovery. Those empty hours that be used to be taken up by addiction-driven compulsions and behaviors can be now spent positively in the pursuit of hobbies and interests that have nothing to do with substance use.

Some examples of positive activities:

  • Take a class
  • Volunteer
  • Serve at 12-Step meetings
  • Go to a local sporting event
  • Go on a trip
  • Throw a sober party
  • Pick up a new hobby
  • Learn a new skill

Finally, you are free to CHOOSE, something that wasn’t always an option during active addiction.

Mistake #23 – Loneliness

For most people in recovery, their social life changes drastically when they give up drugs and alcohol. They can’t “party” like they used to, they have to stay away from friends and family members who don’t support their sobriety, they have to watch where they go, and they even have to avoid certain social gatherings – parties, sporting events, barbecues, etc. –if alcohol use is significantly involved.

Interaction with others is a biological need, and when that need is unmet, it interferes with our mental and emotional health.  To fill the void, some people will turn to their most-familiar source of comfort—drugs and alcohol.

Lesson -Surround Yourself with Positive People

While adhering to recovery might mean avoiding toxic people who have been regular parts of your life, it doesn’t mean that you have to be lonely. Positivity is contagious, so when you make a point of hanging out with non-drinking, non-drugging people, those friendships help support your continued sobriety.

Traits of positive people:

  • Leaders by personal example
  • Non-judgmental
  • Builders of other’s self-esteem
  • Helpful
  • Motivated and motivating
  • Honest
  • Caring
  • Accepting that your recovery is your highest priority

Mistake # 24 -Resenting Recovery

At some point, everyone in recovery experiences twinges of regret because they miss their former life. They don’t think about the negatives—the instability, the personal problems, the dysfunction, etc..  Instead, they dwell upon everything that they have lost now that they are sober—the camaraderie, the good times, and the freedom from worry or responsibility, even if it was only temporary.

Some people go further than that, however. They start feeling jealous about the fact that other people can go out and drink and get high and have fun while they themselves cannot. They may even feel that they have been cheated somehow.

These feelings turn into a dangerous mistake when the person starts to resent their own sobriety—to the point that they might do something about it, even if that “something” is against their own best interests.

Lesson -Be Grateful

Instead of obsessing over everything that was lost, people new to recovery are taught to appreciate everything that they have gained or regained now that they are sober:

  • Stability
  • Personal relationships
  • Sense of self
  • Employability
  • Real friends
  • Self-respect
  • Physical and mental health
  • Prospects for the future

When these things are added up, the total of what is gained far exceeds any “losses”.

And that is something to be grateful for.

The Bottom Line

Addiction is a complicated disease, and this creates potential potholes on the road to recovery. Mistakes WILL be made along the way. There will be missteps, stops and starts, and wrong turns.

The challenge isn’t to be mistake-free during recovery. No, the true test is our response.

We can either stubbornly refuse to change what we are doing and continue making and remaking the same mistakes over and over, or, we can make every small failure an opportunity for growth and eventual successful and long-lasting recovery.

Even better, we can make the road ahead as smooth as possible by learning from the mistakes of others.  We know enough to know about the disease of addiction to avoid some of the challenges faced in the past.

If you are ready to move forward on your own sober journey, click here for more information about the steps you can take to get the professional help you need.


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