In this lesson we are going to discuss the second of the daily maintenance steps and how working Step 11 can help to prevent relapse. Recovery is a daily lifelong process, and the spiritual growth I experience from working Step 11 helps me to maintain my spiritual condition. The book of Alcoholics Anonymous warns about resting on our laurels. This means we can’t rely on past successes guaranteeing future victories. The image I was given early in recovery was to see my disease as always being in the corner doing push-ups trying to get stronger. If I am not keeping up by growing spiritually I will eventually succumb to it. It can be easy to get overconfident in our recovery if we don’t watch it. I can imagine if a boxer beat the same opponent every time for years on end they may believe they don’t need to train anymore to fight them. If their opponent however does not rest in their preparation, eventually the tables will turn. My recovery is the same way, I need to continue to do the work that will strengthen my relationship with God to stay ahead of my hurts, hang-ups and habits.
Our acrostic for this lesson is RELAPSE:
R – Reserve a Daily Quiet Time
E – Evaluate
L – Listen to Jesus
A – Alone and Quiet Time
P – Plug Into God’s Power
S – Slow Down
E – Enjoy Your Growth
Let’s look at each one in more detail:
Reserve a Daily Quiet Time
As time goes on in recovery it can be easy to forget how difficult things were in the beginning or how impossible giving up our hurts, hang-ups and habits seemed before we began. Working Step 11 is important because even though things do get easier, eventually we will face temptation as a part of recovery. Prioritizing daily maintenance of my spiritual condition makes sure that I am ready to handle these temptations. I know early in recovery I used to get so upset if I got tempted to drink. When these thoughts entered my head I would get very angry at myself – I couldn’t believe I was actually thinking about drinking after everything I had put my family through. Then I would start to get very scared. I thought that working a good recovery program would mean these thoughts and temptations would go away, so if I was still having them then I must be doing something wrong. I now realize that this is just part of being an alcoholic. Rather than going through an emotional roller coaster, when I experience temptation I just use it as a reminder that my need for God will never go away and I go to Him in prayer.
There are going to be times when our ability to fight off temptations will be compromised. We need to be aware of these types of situations and how to deal with them. Below are two acronyms that you can use to help evaluate your ability to fight off temptation. The first comes from Celebrate Recovery and the other is one I have heard in Alcoholics Anonymous:
H – Hurting H – Hungry
E – Exhausted A – Angry
A – Angry L – Lonely
R – Resentful T – Tired
T – Tense
If you find yourself feeling one of these realize you may not be on top of your recovery game – and if you start to feel temptation in combination you can be in danger of relapse. The good news is that you don’t have to fight this alone, reach out to other people in your recovery group. If there is something you can do about these (such as if you are hungry or exhausted/tired), take action to get yourself in better shape to deal with temptations that may come.
Listen to Jesus
It may seem obvious to most, but I never really considered how important it was to listen to God. I was always taught to pray and talk to God, but it never occurred to me that communication should be a two-way street until well into my recovery. The way that we listen to God is through meditation. Now if you’re like me the term meditation may bring up images of people sitting with their legs crossed humming loudly with their eyes closed. This may be a valid form of meditation, but I have learned that meditation can take many forms. If I can quiet my mind and let myself receive God’s message I am meditating. I can do this listening to some music quietly, exercising without any other distractions, or just taking some time to reflect on scripture I have just read. Quieting my mind on purpose gives me the opportunity to hear from God.
Alone and Quiet Time
In order to do our daily prayer and meditation it is important to pick out a good time and place. The time and place we choose should be free from interruptions and distractions. I know many people choose early in the morning to spend time in study, prayer and meditation as it helps them to prepare for the coming day. Whatever time you choose I encourage you to make it the same time everyday so that it becomes a normal part of your daily schedule.
Plug Into God’s Power
By the time I had gotten to Step 11 I had seen God’s power first-hand in my life. I had stayed sober longer than I was ever able to on my own. Despite this, I still was reluctant to plug into God’s power in other areas of my life or to seek His help when facing decisions each day. If God has the power to relieve me of my desire to drink, why wouldn’t I also go to Him with other issues? I have had to learn to seek His help with life’s problems and seek His help when making decisions. Doing this keeps me in closer contact with Him as I have to go to him often each day for help.
When I approach God for His help in solving problems I have to make sure I do not allow my own selfishness to enter the picture. Otherwise, rather than seeking His will for my life I will instead try to enlist His help in getting my own way. I have to remember that rather than proposing my own solutions to life’s problems or always asking for my will to be done, I instead have to ask for His help in seeing and accepting what His will for me is. By dedicating myself to finding His will for my life I can truly Plug into His power.
Sometimes in our recovery we can find our patience being tested. We keep asking for God’s help or seeking His answer to something and the outcome does not come as quickly as we want. When those times arise I have to remind myself that my timing is not perfect – God’s timing is though. It may seem to me like the time is now for something to happen, but I have to remind myself He will reveal Himself exactly when He should. It’s easy for me to get frustrated in these times and start to feel like my recovery has stalled. When I feel that way I have to remind myself that I’m not stuck, I’m just not seeing the results I want to see right now. As long as I am doing the work I am going to continue to grow spiritually, it’s only if I throw my hands up in the air and give up that I can truly become stuck.
Enjoy Your Growth
At this point in your recovery you have probably started to experience some victories. Old hurts, hang-ups and habits that seemed to completely dominate you no longer have their power. Perhaps some relationships have been mended, perhaps some of the consequences you were facing that were making your life unmanageable are going away. Share these victories with the group. You never know if somebody may be on the verge of giving up until they hear about your growth and the changes in your life. They may relate to what you’ve gone through or maybe just want a little of what you have and this can convince them to stay. Celebrate the new life you have: give thanks to God and share your victories!
One of the things I heard in treatment is that relapse doesn’t start with a drink, it ends with a drink. During recovery I have heard many people’s relapse stories and this has certainly been validated. In all the times I’ve heard somebody talk about a relapse I have never heard anyone relate that they were doing the exact same things that got them sober but somehow a drink ended up in their hand. Instead, the story I hear over and over again (with little if no difference between stories) is that the person stopped going to meetings, stopped talking to their sponsor, stopped praying, stopped working the steps and then subsequently stopped being sober. Based on this I’ve put together the following relapse prevention checklist. If you earnestly do these things I have no doubt your recovery can weather any storm.
- Keep going to meetings
- Keep in touch with your sponsor and accountability team
- Reserve a daily time for studying God’s word
- Help others
Relapse is something that is scary for me. One of the things that I have heard others say is that they know have another drunk in them, they just don’t know if they have another recovery. I can definitely relate to this. The fact that I still face temptation, the fact that my alcoholic brain thinks rainy weather is a great reason to drink and sunny weather is equally a great reason to drink convinces me that I have another drunk in me. The thing I don’t know is if I will ever make it back to where I am today. Will I ever be able to get back to the life I have and the relationship I have with God? I use this fear to motivate me to continue to do the work I need to do in recovery so I never have to try and work my way back.
I know that being in recovery is by no means easy. Life gets in the way – we have obligations at work or obligations at home that seem to interfere sometimes with recovery and compete for our time. Sometimes it can get stressful to try and balance everything. The thing I have to remind myself of though is that anything I put in front of my recovery I am going to lose anyway. If I start letting my obligations at work keep me from doing my recovery work and I start drinking again, I’m not going to keep that job. The people at work aren’t going to put up with the shenanigans I pull off when I am drinking. If I start letting my obligations at home interfere with the work I need to do with my recovery and I start drinking again, my family isn’t going to stick around. They know what it is like to live with a drunk and they are not going to stick around hoping that this time will be different. For this reason I need to take care of me first. I’m not going to be of use to anyone else if I don’t take care of my recovery and I start drinking again. I know that anything I put in front of my recovery work I’m going to lose anyway.