Addiction recovery can be likened to a journey. Everyone may have their own unique path, but the final destination is usually the same – people want to find a good level of happiness. Any path through recovery will involve many possible turnings. It can easily happen that the individual takes one of these paths and finds that they have lost their way. So long as they can find their way back to the right path then this need not be too much of a problem. Unfortunately some people lose their way and just keep going. This wrong path can take them back to addiction or just lead them to a life that is far from satisfactory.
Here are some of the most common reasons for why people lose their way in recovery:
* They become stuck and refuse to acknowledge the problem.
* The only real change that they make to their lives is giving up alcohol or drugs
* They substitute addictions
* They have expectations of recovery that are too low
* They have expectations or recovery that are too high
The reason why people stop making progress is that there is an obstacle in their path and they refuse to deal with it. Until they are ready to face this challenge there can be no further progress. When people come to a standstill in recovery it means they are in a precarious position; they can soon begin to backslide. They may end up falling into a dangerous downward spiral known as the relapse process which involves:
* The individual is faced with a problem that they do not feel willing to deal with – they become stuck.
* They attempt to ignore the fact that they are now stuck
* Their lack of progress begins to make life a bit uncomfortable. They turn to negative coping strategies to ease this discomfort. This only further increases their stress levels.
* A trigger event causes all the inner turmoil to rise to the surface. This trigger event might only be something minor like a silly argument. The individual will overreact as they release of all the stress that has been building up since they became stuck.
* They now experience a great deal of emotional upset
* It now feels as if their life has gone out of control, and they feel desperate to escape their discomfort.
* They remember how alcohol or drugs once allowed them to escape their problems. They relapse so as to enjoy this release.
If the only change that the individual makes to their life is giving up alcohol or drugs, they are unlikely to find true happiness. This is because they will just be returning to the life they had before they fell into addiction. It will often have been the unsatisfactoriness of this former life that caused them to turn to substance abuse in the first place. It is therefore necessary that people work hard to build a new life that is going to be far more satisfactory than anything they experienced in the past. This is why recovery is often referred to as a process and not an event. If the only thing that the individual changes is to quit substance abuse they will be at risk of developing dry drunk syndrome.
Addiction substitution is an easy trap for people in recovery to fall into. Even though they have given up an addiction the urge to avoid dealing with life is still likely to be there. People can find themselves becoming obsessed with work or they might develop an exercise addiction. Even more dangerous still, is that the individual may continue to use other intoxicants and become hooked on these mind altering substances. In order to find success in recovery the individual must be willing to face reality head on. Substituting addiction only ever leads to further pain and discomfort.
There are people who make the effort to get sober but then settle for a life that is less fulfilling then it could be. Instead of viewing their new life away from addiction as a chance to live their dreams, they instead treat it almost like a prison sentence. They are just not willing to try new things and make the most of their life. This is a sad situation because it does not have to be this way. People can accomplish the most amazing things in recovery when they make up their minds not to settle for second best.
Some individuals have unrealistic expectations of life away from addiction. They believe that once they give up alcohol or stop taking drugs their life will be perfect. They fail to realize that it takes time and effort to build a good life. When they discover that sobriety requires plenty of work they can feel cheated. They may respond to this realization by becoming petulant and unwilling to do work they need to do to find success. This not only means that they lose their way in recovery but it can also lead to relapse.
Almost everyone who becomes sober will go off track occasionally. Once they realize that they are on shaky ground they can take action to return to the right path. The real danger is when people fail to recognize that they have taken a wrong turn in sobriety; or when they do recognize it and refuse to change course. It is almost always possible for people who have lost their way to get back on track. The sooner they do this the better it will be for them.
Once people have identified that they have taken a wrong turn somewhere in recovery they need to take action. The type of action they need to take will very much depend on the nature of the wrong path they have taken. Here are some of the things that people can do to get back on track:
* If people are stuck in recovery they need to acknowledge the obstacle in their path. They will then need to develop a coping strategy that will allow them to get past this problem. Once they have overcome it one time they will find that it is much easier to do so again in the future. Once this obstruction is cleared the individual will be free to progress to the next level of sobriety. These obstacles are often referred to as the touchstone of growth in recovery. It is by facing them that people find true peace and happiness.
* It is vital that people put enough effort into their recovery. When they give up their addiction or leave rehab it does not mean that they have graduated – they have not been cured. The real work is still ahead of them. It takes about five years before people become firmly established in recovery. Even those individuals who have been sober many decades will still need to make an effort if they want to get the best from sobriety.
* The old motto that you only get from life what you put into it is true. Once people become sober there is so much that they can achieve, but they have to really want to find success. If people are prepared to settle for second best in recovery then this is probably what they are going to end up with.
* People need to have realistic expectations – particularly in early recovery. It usually takes the addict many years to get their life into such a mess. It can take even more years to repair the damage. Great things will come in the future but everything is not going to become perfect overnight. Just because people become sober it does not mean that they get to escape the trials and tribulations that every other human has to contend with.
* Those individuals who have been addicted in the past have the potential to repeat the pattern in the future. They may never relapse back to their old addiction, but they could find a substitute. This does not have to be a mind-altering chemical; their new addiction might be their job, their relationships, or their hobby. It is vital that people in recovery stay alert so that they can avoid falling into new addictive behaviors.
* Those people who have friends in recovery or belong to a fellowship can find that this reduces their risk of going too far off track. These other people should be able to spot the danger signs and raise the alarm.