Recovery is an ongoing process and those fortunate to have long-term recovery have one thing in common- an ability to recommit themselves. It has been observed that people often get sober and as a result expect that life should go their way-a reward, in a sense, for their "good" behavior. However, that is not generally what happens. In fact, many sober high-functioning alcoholics, in particular, report that their lives often get worse before better. While this may seem unfair, it is actually a blessing in disguise- for it can ensure that the motivation to remain sober becomes internal and not based solely on external rewards. For example, a person gets sober and then receives a new job, a romantic relationship and everything external in their life takes a positive turn. Inevitably a negative situation will arise and the individual may struggle to cope and feel that there is no point to being sober because life is not going their way. In contrast, when a person is staying sober despite difficult circumstances initially, they are able to increase their distress tolerance and to realize that recovery is about slow internal growth and not dramatic external rewards. It does not matter what the conditions are in early sobriety for an individual-positive or negative, for over time difficulties will arise. It is imperative to learn how to deal with the good, bad and indifferent waves that life will inevitably bring forth.
Initially, getting sober may feel exciting, new and fresh-the world suddenly appears different and a person may feel better mentally and physically. However, this "pink cloud", as many have labeled it, will wear off and "reality" of this lifelong venture will set in. At this time it is crucial to have a social support system in place as well as outside help for co-occurring mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, etc. (ie, individual therapy and medication management-as needed). Getting through a difficult time while staying sober builds their "muscle" and makes the next challenge feel possible to work through. Recovery itself may start to feel mundane and tedious and it is up to the individual to take a look at all facets of their lives to see what actions they need to take in order to get back on track. This is the process of "re-committing" and it involves acknowledgement of weakness in an area(s) of recovery and then self-correcting.
There are many aspects involved in having stable recovery. Some common areas in which sober alcoholics may lose their commitment over time are:
• Attending individual therapy as recommended
• Obtaining proper sleep
• Maintaining balanced nutrition
• Attending regular mutual-help meeting (A.A., SMART Recovery, Women for Sobriety)
• Attending group therapy
• Staying in contact with sober peers
• Not engaging in other addictive behaviors (ie, shopping, sex, gambling)
• Taking prescribed medication that has been assessed as necessary
• Being honest
• Pursuing spiritual practice
• Following through with daily responsibilities (ie, work, paying bills, chores)
• Giving back to others
• Involvement in healthy relationships (friendships, family and romantic)
One pattern that can lead to relapse is, for example, not attending mutual-help meetings for a period of time and then feeling discouraged about this pattern, giving up all effort in other areas of recovery and possibly relapsing. Instead of viewing this break from an aspect of recovery as a temporary lull and then recommitting, many individuals use "black and white" thinking to judges themselves in a negative way and as a result may "give up" on sobriety. However, no one is perfect, and everyone with long-term recovery has had a time when they were lacking motivation in one area or another. The key is to observe what aspect of life is out of balance and to work on making adjustments without giving up completely. Sometimes creating small and obtainable daily goals can help a person to get back into their routine. It is important to reach out for help and to talk with others in their support network about these challenges-for no one has to be alone on this path.
For more information and resources about high-functioning alcoholics, please visit: www.highfuntioningalcoholic.com and remember that my book "Understanding the High-Functioning Alcoholic" is now available in paperback!