We can complete the treatment programs, we can do long stints in rehab, and we can go to group for the rest of our lives, but it won’t change the truth about being an addict—once an addict, always an addict. The same goes for drinking. If you are an alcoholic today, you are an alcoholic for life. This may feel overwhelming and difficult to hear, but when ignored, it becomes easy to fall from our place in sobriety. At a certain point, we want to say it’s over, that we’ve successfully graduated from our problems. We want to say we’ve beaten it, but this isn’t a game. When we forget we have a problem with a substance, it can be easy to slip back into old patterns and routines that can cause us to fall off the wagon. Here’s what happens. We act as if the narrative is rewritten, and in a lot of ways, it has been. We’ve moved beyond using/drinking, we’ve moved away from negative influences, and we’ve learned significant life skills to better our futures. But our bodies are programmed to addiction mode, hence our original trip(s) to get help. We have worked hard to control the addiction and silence it, but that doesn’t mean it will never resurface. Take Jessica, for example. Jessica has gone through a 30-day inpatient program for alcohol, extensive group therapy, and she sees a licensed therapist once a week. She changed careers from a bartender to a dental assistant, she’s changed friend groups, and she moved into a place without roommates. She feels good and positive about her future, but her co-workers at her new job are starting to go out for drinks every Friday. So far, she has attended these events and used her coping skills to ensure she doesn’t relapse. In the back of her mind, something is telling her it’s okay to have one drink. It tells her it’s okay because she’s done the work and conquered the disease. One drink a week can’t hurt, right? But what brought Jessica to inpatient in the first place? What caused her to make a complete life change and start over? Alcohol. If Jessica thinks it’s okay to drink, there may be something deeper at play here, something she should speak to her therapist about during her next session. It may be a hard truth to accept, but the alcoholic is not like the others who are able to go out and have one or two drinks every Friday. Jessica knows this, but she is struggling to accept this new reality. The alcohol hasn’t changed. It’s not making us any new promises. It’s the same old substance that will give us hangovers and DUIs. It’s the same liquid that caused us to say mean things to a friend and blow off commitments because we were too tired to function the next morning. It’s the same bottle that caused us to cheat and act in a way we never would sober. These are the reasons we need to stay mindful about addiction because it’s us, not alcohol, that needs to make the permanent change. Addiction is looking to take control of your life. It wants power and that usually stems from the addict making choices with negative consequences to fulfill those desires. If Jessica wants to drink again, then maybe she doesn’t feel as good as she thinks she does, and that’s okay! It means she has some more work to do where her emotional well-being is concerned. Adding a group session once a month maybe all she needs to stay on track. Falling back into the physical patterns of when she used is common. With a little time and mental work, Jessica can find a clear path away from relapse.
Ways to Ensure We Stay Clean and Sober
There is no need to panic when the desire to use or drink resurfaces after significant time has passed in recovery. This is normal. We simply need to remember what we’ve learned and applied it to our lives. We have our coping mechanisms from treatment, we have AA and other groups in our area that we can reach out to for support, and there is always the option of checking ourselves back into a program if we are feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes, it can be far simpler, but the disease makes us confused and anxious. Sometimes we just need a long walk to clear our head. Sometimes work stress can exacerbate a passing thought. Maybe we just need to phone a friend and say our fears out loud so we can shift the power away from the feelings and back into our conscious control.
Succumbing to a substance is never the last move on the chessboard. There is always another option available to us; we just have to remember why we started. We start down the road to recovery because we were unhappy, sick, and tired of feeling out of control. If you or an adolescent you know if struggling to stay clean or sober, call Stonewater Adolescent Recovery Center today at (662) 478-9463. Our proven methods can get you back on track to a life where you’re in control and ready to conquer the world.