There is an expression in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous: “No matter how far down the road you go, you’re always the same distance from the ditch”.
There are people that put together a significant amount of time in recovery, only to relapse and fall into a deeper and darker place than they had before. It’s tricky because people celebrate the amount of time that they remain clean and sober, and they should! After struggling for so long, it is appropriate to celebrate a transformation of character that results in time free from a seemingly hopeless state of body, mind and spirit. Every day that a drug addict and alcoholic is clean and sober is virtually a miracle, and so when that miracle continues to happen on a daily basis, resulting in years of time free from drugs and alcohol, a celebration is in order.
The problem is when people confuse distance from the last drink or use as distance from the condition of being an alcoholic and drug addict. They forget that this disease is a permanent and progressive illness that will use every avenue at its disposal to get them to use again, including success in recovery. Addiction and alcoholism is the only disease in existence that will try to convince those afflicted that they do not have it, and success in staying clean and sober is a very powerful tool that the disease will try to use against such people. It is very tempting to look at the years of being clean and sober and say to yourself “maybe I’m NOT an addict and alcoholic, because I have successfully stayed clean and sober for such a long time.” People forget how it used to be; the travesty that unfolded around them when they were using and drinking, and how difficult it was just to live life on a very basic level. They take freedom for granted, and become ungrateful for the life that has been given to them. This is called becoming restless, irritable and discontent, which – for those of you who are familiar with the cycle of addiction – is the stage right before the mental obsession. It is a very dangerous place to be caught in a downward spiral of being restless irritable and discontent, because that is fertile ground for the idea that a substance might make life better.
Continuing to get uncomfortable is the best defense against falling into a stagnant place in your recovery, which is common for people who have put together significant time clean and sober. The more you get uncomfortable by reaching out to others, being selfless and taking spiritual action, especially when you don’t want to, the more you will reap the rewards of doing so. We are human, and ultimately selfish, so we are constantly looking for rewards, but it is our responsibility to seek those rewards by pursuing forms of enlightened self-interest (like doing something selfless and feeling good because of it), rather than outright selfishness. Continuing to get uncomfortable is the only way to continue growing as a person. The work is never done, and as they say in the rooms “while you’re in here working your program, your disease is out in the parking lot doing push-ups”. The disease never goes away, and the battlefield will always evolve as long as you are alive, so get uncomfortable, and continue to reap the rewards that come with it.