Staying Sober Under Stress
In the post-treatment period, you likely feel better than you have in years. Your cravings for the next fix have dissipated. Your personal energy is renewed. And the days ahead show fresh hope and promise.
Some weeks later—when you’re back in “normal” life and realize that its demands and stresses didn’t go away while you were in rehab—relapse temptations start their siren song. You forget all the problems substance abuse caused you and remember all the pleasures of temporary relief. You may even feel that the rehab system misled you into thinking things would be better. Didn’t you work hard to sober up? Doesn’t the world owe you a break for all the trouble you went to? And if the world has gone back on its promise to make things easier for you, why should you keep your promise to stay sober?
Well, if nothing else, you should stay sober for your own sake and for the sake of those who care about you. But the answer to the other question is: the world owes us a lot less than we think. Never mind presumptions about an indifferent universe or original sin. Just understand there’s a bit of spoiled brat in all of us. Something in human nature feels that I have the right to decide where stress should draw the line in my life, that I know best the point where I’ve put forth enough effort to earn “whatever I want” rewards. And most of us, given the choice, would take all we could and do as little as we could, until we wasted away from boredom.
When you start thinking you’ve worked “hard enough” at the sober life, remind yourself that your personal comfort is not the ultimate standard of what’s good in the world.
There’s a book titled SHAM: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless. Its main premise is, the world is full of self-proclaimed “experts” who are making a fortune raising people’s hopes of finding 12-simple-steps cures for everything from addiction to inferiority complexes—and most of their followers are getting the same old tips over and over, always looking for the magic-bullet breakthrough and never making any real progress. Or accepting any real responsibility.
The problem is, it takes a lot less time to attend a seminar, read a book or even get through a treatment program than it does to change a life or achieve a dream. And the “learning period” also involves a lot less uncertainty. If you expect the experience of applying sobriety principles to be identical to the experience of learning them, you’re in for a lot of stress and disappointment. Accept that “sober for life” means for life—with all the time, demands and unexpected happenings a life involves.
Keep working, and keep believing.
Progress is a lot of work, but don’t fall into the “when I reach my destination, then I can rest” trap. As a road-tripper needs motels, you need breaks along your progress journey. Get your sleep every night. End your daily work on schedule. Take your weekends and vacations. Have fun things you can do sober, and have them in mind before you get exhausted and irritable. Spend time with those you love.
The journey of long-term sobriety isn’t an easy trip. Expecting ease will only make it harder. Instead, use your support network and your life plans to build strength against stress.