You’ve Come a Long Way
If you’re familiar with the Bible, perhaps you remember the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 18–19. He publicly bested 450 enemies by calling down God’s fire and rain from heaven—and barely a day later, he was brooding in the wilderness, claiming everyone was against him and he’d never accomplished anything.
It’s not just in cocaine addiction that the most spectacular highs can be followed by the lowest of lows. When a car’s brakes are slammed on at 65 miles an hour, the protesting screech is the sound of tire treads, brake pads and drive shaft being stripped of usefulness. The human heart is subjected to dangerous strain when abruptly jerked from intense exercise to a dead stop. And if we aren’t prepared to let ourselves down gently from the increased adrenaline and dopamine generated by high achievement, our emotions can nose-dive into depression as our bodies dump the high-energy chemicals with little warning.
You may have experienced something similar after being released from addiction rehab. Your body was finally clean from drugs, your mind and heart were charged up to believe the world was all yours—and then, along came the old stresses, the old temptations, the lingering mistrusts, the hard work of making amends and of fitting new habits into the same old world. Perhaps you found yourself calling your support partners daily, begging for reassurance you really were better off now than when the addiction dominated your life.
HERE I AM—HAVE I GOTTEN ANYWHERE?
After a few more months of living sober, a lower-key version of letdown can set in. Your life is better, but it isn’t nearly as good as you’d hoped for. In fact, it’s feeling a lot like the pre-addiction days when you first started taking drugs to cope with everyday pain and stress. Life still disappoints you. You don’t always get a fair return on investment for your work, and progress doesn’t happen fast enough to satisfy you. Your old “friends” of perfectionism and self-pity are knocking on your door again—and, even knowing they’ll invite addiction relapse to join them, you want to open that door.
This is the point where questions of “Am I really any different from the person who was fired for too many ‘drunk days’ last year? Has all my work been for nothing?” may start to plague you. When you’re in the canyon, it can be easy to forget the view from the mountain—and to forget that roads can go downward while still heading forward.
The truth is, you have made plenty of progress since your addiction days, and reminding yourself of that can save you from discouragement or even relapse. Here’s how.
READ YOUR DIARY
Dig out your old records from your time in rehab, including therapy notes and self-inventories. If you’ve kept diaries from your addiction days, dig them out too. Doesn’t much of what you thought “only natural” then, seem childish and unimportant now? That’s your increased maturity making itself known. You’ve come a long way in perspective.
CONSIDER YOUR EVERYDAY ATTITUDES
Guilt feelings aren’t pleasant, and shouldn’t be indulged to the point where they turn into feelings of hopelessness. Still, they can give you valuable insights into the progress you’ve made. If you’re disappointed in yourself for entertaining thoughts of “It’s not fair I can’t have a drink when life is treating me so badly,” remember that there was a time when you not only took that drink, but convinced yourself that your taking it, with whatever damage resulted, was someone else’s fault. You’ve come a long way in discernment.
HOW LONG WAS IT SINCE YOUR LAST FIX?
12-step groups celebrate sobriety milestones: one month, two months, three months, six months, one year, five years, ten years. Even if you won’t reach your next official anniversary for weeks, every week of sobriety is a triumph compared to the mere day or two you could stand shelving the bottle during full-blown addiction. You’ve come a long way in endurance.
One advantage of looking at how far you’ve come is that it keeps you from looking only at how far you still are from where you want to be—an approach that leads many people to conclude there’s no use trying to go anywhere. Nonetheless, you do need to look ahead on a regular basis: appreciating your strength in getting this far is important, but everyone always has room for progress in this life. The key point to remember is that life isn’t about the point when you finally “make it.” It’s about enjoying the trip and growing the whole way.
Appreciate yourself as someone who achieved much in the past, will achieve much in the future and is achieving much where you are today. Be happy with how far you’ve come and where you are now!