Long Term Sobriety is Possible: National Recovery Month

Addiction has no cure. It can only be treated and managed. So this month we come together to raise awareness that long term recovery is possible for all who want it.


National Recovery Month

It’s September again. This is the most noted month of the year for the recovering community to come out and come together to raise awareness that long term recovery is possible for all who want it.


Yes! For all who want it!


In fact, Faces & Voices of Recovery has assumed sponsorship of this yearly celebration, and they have adopted “Every Person. Every Family. Every Community.” as their permanent tagline.


“Faces & Voices of Recovery is dedicated to organizing and mobilizing the over 23 million Americans in recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs, our families, friends and allies into recovery community organizations and networks, to promote the right and resources to recover through advocacy, education and demonstrating the power and proof of long-term recovery.


&


Recovery Month celebrates the gains made by those in recovery from substance use and mental health, just as we celebrate improvements made by those who are managing other health conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, asthma, and heart disease.”


Addiction Can Only Be Treated

Alcoholism is a medical disease and as such, there is a shared collection of symptoms, an onset, a course, a progression, a treatment, heritability, and directed efforts at prevention. Addiction has no cure. It can only be treated and managed.


Treatment starts with cessation of use and the substances’ exit out of the body. After medical detox (a few days to a few weeks depending on various factors), then recovery really begins. Recovery involves mental, behavioral, spiritual, and social changes the newly sober person needs to make to live a sober life. It’s a lot of change, which takes much longer than most addicts or their families realize. Sadly, not everyone makes it. Just like every other disease, some people do not win their battle with addiction. But Recovery Month is here to remind us that long term sobriety is possible.


So I asked myself, “What contributes to long term sobriety?”


Long Term Sobriety is Possible

Instead of diving into my usual formal research and offering statistics to answer that question, I took a look at many of my clients I’ve treated since I’ve been in private practice to find some answers. I’ll offer some “eyeball” observations of what I’ve seen that tends to separate those who create a long term life of happy and peaceful sober living from those who still struggle, didn’t make it, or dropped out of my care.


Recovery traditionally focuses on persons struggling with substance dependency. For the purposes of this blog, I’ll go with that. (Although there are many types of addictions and all of them have the potential to wreck lives and families in their own ways.) In my opinion, we cannot treat addiction without considering how substance dependency affects entire families.


So we’ll draw from the experiences of:

  • Addicts/alcoholics (although let’s get real, an alcoholic is simply an addict who is addicted to a drug they drink)

  • Teenagers/Adult children of addicts/alcoholics

  • Spouses/partners of addicts

  • Parents with addicted children (be they minor or adult)

So what did we find that separates those who push through to long term recovery from those who don’t?


Common Obstacles to Sustain Sobriety

Bad News First? There are common traits of those who struggle to sustain sobriety or learn to live “happy, joyous, and free”. I wish I could say all my folks made it. Sadly, I can’t. There are others who struggle to stay sober. They may be living as “functional addicts”, but honestly they have had a real difficulty finding happiness or peace.


What common obstacles do these persons face to attain or sustain an enjoyable sobriety:

  1. Lack of consistent participation in a recovery group/program. I don’t care what anyone says: attendance at 12 Step or other recovery-focused fellowships is the most consistent way people stay sober. Hands down, period. An AA slogan states, “Meeting makers make it.” And they’re right! There are no guarantees, of course, but addiction is a disease of isolation. People do not get sober alone. People do not live happy sober lives alone. Being around others who understand addiction, who have both compassion for the addict and call “bullshit” on the disease, invites power to support the fledgling newly sober addict.

  2. Unaddressed, underlying trauma. In my experience, it’s very rare that addicts do not have underlying trauma. If not experienced before using substances, certainly the use of substances in an addictive manner opens doors for clients to experience trauma during their addiction.[I’m not going to list all the ways that addicts experience trauma in active addiction. I’m sure whatever your imagination comes up with will be sufficient]. Physical and sexual abuse are common traumatic experiences prior to using substances. But are you aware of the power that emotional and verbal abuse “alone” create vulnerabilities in children and teens who may eventually seek substances to feel better about themselves? For real. There are so many types of verbal and emotional abuse which are not always obvious to others. Children who chronically feel unimportant, inferior, abandoned, emotionally neglected, unlovable, afraid, emotionally unsafe, etc., are susceptible to substance abuse. Stopping the substance use is a necessary but insufficient step to achieving long term sobriety. Healing from a history of trauma through therapy, medication, and/or other tools is necessary to sustain and enjoy sobriety.

  3. Unwillingness to get honest. Addiction is not only a disease of isolation. It’s also a disease of shame. Of manipulation. Of “getting over”. Of deception. Deceit (manipulation and lying) help addicts in their active addiction to continue to use by “getting over” on others. Deceit also protects the addict from feeling their shame. Just because drugs leave the body does not mean the person will stop lying – to themselves or to others. I have observed that my clients who were not willing to get honest about their feelings, behaviors, or thoughts struggled to stay sober. In the words of the Big Book, “Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves over to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves.”

  4. Untreated/Undertreated concurrent diagnoses. Several of my clients really struggled to attain or enjoy sobriety because of co-occurring diagnoses. Psychosis, severe depression, personality disorders, and co-occurring addictions multiplied the obstacles my clients faced to attain sobriety.

  5. Unfavorable social environment. Although addiction is a disease that isolates the addict, addicts do come from families. Upon getting sober or entering treatment, addicts usually still have active ties to at least one family member or good friend. Social factors that tend to make sustained sobriety more difficult include:living alone, living with other active drug users, living with an enabler, experiencing frequent chaos in the home. I have always been passionate about educating families on things they can do to help bolster the addict’s chances for sustained sobriety. As the Al Anon slogan states, “I didn’t cause it. I can’t control it. I can’t cure it. But I can contribute to it.” In my opinion, it is imperative that family members learn all they can so they do not contribute to their loved one’s struggle or possible relapse.


Common Actions of Those Attaining Sobriety

There are also common behaviors of those my clients who, by common definition, are “making it”, and they are:

  • Going to 12 step meetings, going to therapy, and following recommendations

  • Setting boundaries, speaking their truths

  • Turning personal tragedy into a personal mission

  • Developing spiritual faith

  • Taking risks to try new behaviors as suggested by their recovery community

  • Addressing their co-occurring diagnoses

  • Taking responsibility for their own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors

  • Learning to “let go” of trying to control others

  • Getting honest

And guess what? They are doing these things in such an imperfect way, but with persistence, strong support, self forgiveness, and consistency, there are people all around who are making it!


 

Thank you so much to #teamsoulspring counselor Wynne Stallings for her contributions to the content of this article.


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