December 4, 2012

Why we can’t get complacent in our recovery

If you think you’ve got your addiction beat, time to get off your high horse.

By Ellen Katz for Renew

It’s a common pattern: going through hell, eventually making your way to some meeting or program and finally getting sober. It’s not easy at first, but at some point, you start feeling pretty good. Nobody tells us about the insidious seed that begins to grow along with our relief: complacency.

Why we always need to be working on our recoveryLittle thought viruses that are born in our egos start making their way into our consciousness, and the mind turns to its favorite place for entertainment: Me. “My God, I’m over it. I’ll never use again.” Or, “I’m with my old friends and not even tempted.” And, “I don’t have to tell my sponsor everything because I’m still sober.”

Sound familiar?

Bits of self-satisfaction begin to creep in, barely noticeably at first. Weeks, maybe months pass, and in this new life filled with new friends, new patterns and new routines, time passes. The dark ghosts of our disease and the humility that was born when we finally saw our reflection in the stark light of honesty (memories of our last drunk) start to fade. “I’ve made all my amends, I’m getting my life back and I’ve cleaned up the wreckage. Now I’m entitled to a normal life! Now I get the reward for my labors.”

We walk away from the wreckage of our past and shake the dust from our feet.

As this confidence starts to build, an invisible parasite jumps in: ego. With less and less humility to keep it in check, our opinions insist on being voiced, slippery places become casual visitors, subtle arrogances remain well within our blind spots. Completely unaware of the tarnished streak in attitude, we forget the simple truth in recovery: If we’re not stepping forward, we’re slipping backward.

Our species is still animal at our root; we are hardwired to seek comfort. A blessing, in the most basic ways: We instinctively find warmth, food or a place to rest if we’re cold, hungry or tired. But when our instincts, melded with our egos, begin to make the executive decisions of our lives, suffering is inevitable. Ancient wisdom warns us about this.

In the Bhagavad Gita, a treasured Hindu epic, Krishna (God) shows up in the role of a charioteer and explains to the warrior Arjuna that our senses can be compared to horses pulling a chariot. Without a driver, they become wild creatures and chaotically chase after whatever they want, after whatever feels best in the moment. Essentially, the teaching describes how the addict part of us will always want what it wants when it wants it, and unless we listen to our higher self rather than our cravings and aversions, we inevitably find ourselves in chaos.

Many mystical teachings in the Jewish tradition suggest that our animal soul takes care of our physical needs while our godly soul continually seeks to reconnect with its source. Like the Hindu teachings, they emphasize human choice: We have the opportunity, unlike any other species, to maintain a vigilant watch and to recognize which part of us is currently running the show. It’s our nature to slip downward to the lowest level of our consciousness when we stop being mindful. The Big Book describes another version of the same admonition as “self will run riot.”

Click here to learn how to cope when someone you care about verges on relapse.

By accepting the gift of this spiritual map, we win; we can navigate life with less suffering and more blessings.

Without engaging in mindfulness through regular, ongoing check-ins and honest self-evaluation, we will return to our animal instincts. We can’t help it. We will interpret our comfort as a sign that we can let go of our vigilance, and we will become increasingly complacent. We will get comfortable, casual and finally, careless. Then comes relapse, either in attitude or actions.

Our complacency is the invisible predator whose unexpected source is internal not external. Our casualness, our willingness to leave our post as guardian of our lives, is our eventual demise.

Relapse always begins in something very understated, in an unconscious self-abandonment. We have been given the choice to pay attention or not. Every second is a crossroad. Is my thought life-enhancing? Is my action life-enhancing? Is complacency life-enhancing or life-depleting?

Ellen Katz is a psychotherapist, music therapist and who resides in the Chicago area.

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