Working with addicts and alcoholics, I pay close attention to the details. My mind tends to create graphs and charts of behaviors, of sayings, of what works and what doesn’t. I witness people who come into recovery with a deep fear of relapse and others who say things like, “I know I will never use again.” In my experience, it is this second group who will have a harder time staying clean.
If you’ve ever said any of the following, keep reading.
I know I’ll never use again.
I can’t relapse again because I’ll die.
I’m not using again ever.
Nothing will make me get high again—ever.
I know I’m done.
I can’t use again because— (list logical reasons)
It seems to me that all of these phrases underestimate the power of the disease of addiction. After all the pain and suffering, after all the failed attempts at getting clean before now, where does the confidence in saying “I know I’ll never use again” come from? I think it’s like standing on the trap door of a stage when the disease has kept you too distracted to look down to see where you are.
Being overly confident in early recovery will rob you of the required motivation to stay the course. There are no guarantees anyone will stay clean. Relapse rates are high. The disease of addiction is incurable. Thirty days in rehab did not cure you. It may have improved your health and repaired some areas of your life but, in terms of recovery, it is just the beginning. Recovery is the ongoing work of learning how to exist in this world with all of your feelings—the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Fear is a healthy response to taking on a disease that is so powerful it was destroying your life, your health, and your relationships. Fear provides the impetus to take positive actions when you really just want to turn off the phone, close the door, and avoid dealing with the world. It ignites the courage you need to begin the process of recovery.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe in confident proclamations such as, “We don’t use no matter what.” (We don’t use no matter what we are going through). Not using “no matter what” means we acknowledge that there will be difficult or painful times when staying clean will seem next to impossible. But we don’t use—even then—no matter what.
I believe that freedom from active addiction is achievable for anyone who wants it and that it is absolutely natural to be fearful at the start of this journey. After all, recovery is the gradual process of becoming fearless.
Patty Powers is a sober coach, writer, and public speaker on addiction and recovery. She was featured on the A&E mini-series Relapse in 2011 and is currently writing a recovery book. She lives in New York.