There’s a saying “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” It may seem trite or simplistic, but it’s also true. It is especially true if you want to make a significant change in your life. Changing our behavior, turning away from the abuse of alcohol or other drugs is not something that happens by accident or circumstance. Changes like this require a definite decision to behave differently. Recovery is not something easy or simple. Terminating our abuse of alcohol or other drugs requires that we engage in a concerted effort to do something different. We cannot simply wake up one morning with a different set of habits and behaviors. Recovery demands that we abandon one set of habits and adopt another.
It would be nice if we could just wake up one morning with a different set of habits. Recovery would be much easier if we could just make a simple decision to stop using and be done with it. Unfortunately, that is not how things work. The abuse of alcohol and other drugs is a complex set of behaviors and attitudes. Drug abuse exists amid an environment of people and places that provide the circumstances of our drug abuse. In the same way, recovery can only occur in the midst of an environment of people and places that enable us to live sober lives.
In other words, drug abuse happens in certain places and in the company of certain people. There are certain people we use drugs with and there are certain places we go to use drugs. You wouldn’t normally go to your local church and hang around the minister to use drugs. You wouldn’t normally go to visit with your grandparents when you want to use. On the contrary, you probably have friends that you use drugs with and there are places that you go where you will find others who are using drugs. Part of planning to recover from drug use means that you will stop hanging around with people that you use drugs with and instead hang around with people who strive to live as faithful Christians.
Part of planning to succeed in recovery means that you will plan to avoid the people and places which were a part of your drug abuse. Plan to succeed. Plan to stay away from the places and people that formed the environment of your drug abuse and instead surround yourself with believers.
Aside from having a strong support group, a person in recovery from addiction to alcohol or other drugs can also benefit from the example of a person who is also in recovery. A support group can help to keep you honest about your behavior. They need not be people who are also in recovery. Rather, they are people who help you to monitor your behavior and help you to maintain your commitment to remain sober. An example, on the other hand, is a person who is also in recovery and has been successful in their commitment to sobriety. In other words, they are individuals who are on the same journey that you are on and can help you to make good decisions about your own program of recovery.
One of the challenges of recover from addiction to alcohol or other drugs is the need to sever your relationship to people with whom you formerly used drugs. The loss of companionship, of somebody to spend time with, can make recovery even more difficult. Having an example, somebody who inspires you to continue the journey of recovery gives you somebody to help you keep moving forward. Severing your relationship with people who shared your addictive behavior can leave you with fewer people to share your time with. An inspiration, on the other hand, gives you somebody with whom you can move forward in recovery.
Being part of a community is a great source of strength. No matter what you are trying to accomplish, having somebody with whom you can make the journey much easier. Whether you are trying to change a behavior or change your way of life, it is not easy to do so alone. A good example is becoming a Christian. Jesus has called us not as individuals; He has called us to become members of the Christian community.
Who is an example for you? Who inspires you? To whom can you look as an example of the person you want to be? The journey of recovery from addiction to alcohol or other drugs is a difficult journey. Making that journey alone is not easy, but making that journey with companions is much easier. You don’t have to be alone. You can travel with others. Even better, you can walk in the footsteps of others who have already made the journey that you hope to make. An example can serve as your inspiration to keep moving. We can all benefit from having somebody who inspires us. Who inspires you?
It is tempting for an addict to excuse his behavior on events in our lives; on people around us, such as family members or friends; or on the suffering that we endure. Excuses such as these allow us to think of ourselves as victims and to place the responsibility for our addiction on another person or on the challenges we have faced. It is true that people or events in our lives contribute to our decision to abuse alcohol or other drugs. It is also true there is more to the story of our addictive behavior than the people or events in our lives. We are not simply victims of the people or events in our lives. If that were the case, then we would be unable to change our behavior. In other words, if our addictive behavior is purely the result of things that have happened to us, then we would be unable to change on our own.
We must realize that we are able to make our own decisions, not simply surrender to the power of others. We must claim our own power. While it might give us a sense of comfort to place the blame for our addictive behavior on somebody else, this is not the whole story. We are responsible for the decision to begin abusing drugs; we are responsible for the decision to stop to stop using drugs.
God has given us the gift of free will and Jesus has suffered and died to save us from the power of sin. As He said, “If the Son frees you, you will be really free.” The Son has truly freed us, and we need not continue to be the slaves of sin. You can decide to change your behavior, to change your life. You are in charge of your life. Not the people you know; not the sufferings you have endured. You, you are in charge of you.
It’s time to stop placing the blame for your behavior on other people or on what you have been through. It’s time to stop being a victim. It’s time to claim your power, to assert your freedom. You are not under the control of somebody else; you are not a slave of forces outside of yourself. You are an independent person who can make your own decisions. Claim your power and become the person you are called to be.
Along the same lines as triggers are what are often called ‘risky choices’. Risky choices are decisions that pose a strong likelihood of lead to triggers or even a return to abusing alcohol or other drugs. Some examples of risky choices are such things as choosing a route to the store that you know will take you past a favorite bar or going to a party with friends that you used to use with. Risky choices put you in or near places or situations that pose a likelihood to returning to the use of alcohol or other drugs.
Often, these risky choices are made without any real foresight. You might be going to a meeting of some kind and ‘just happen’ to drive through the area of town where you used to purchase drugs. You might be at the grocery store and ‘just happen’ to walk through the area of the store where the alcohol is displayed. You might be trying to call a friend and instead you dial the number of a former drug supplier.
Other times, people believe that they have enough time in recovery that they can now handle some temptations. An alcoholic in recovery for several months might think he can handle going to the bar “just to see his old friends.’ A drug user in recovery might think he has enough clean time that he can go to a party where he knows some of his old friends will be using drugs. These risky decisions can place you in serious danger of a relapse, a return to your old behavior.
Let’s be clear. The person making this kind of risky decision doesn’t really have any real intention of returning to their old behavior of abusing alcohol or other drugs. It is more a matter of setting themselves up, of laying the groundwork for a return to their former behavior. It is more something that they allow to happen, rather than something they want to happen. This is true, at lease, on the conscious level. Unconsciously, however, they may be planning to ‘accidently’ return to their old behavior.
While He was always willing to forgive sinners, Jesus also challenged them to change their behavior. The woman caught in the act of adultery, for example, was told that Jesus did not condemn her. He also told her that she must change her behavior and, as He said, “Sin no more.” He says the same to us. He does not condemn us, but he does expect us change our lives. He expects us to avoid whatever leads us to sin.
One of the problems that most people encounter in recovery is something known as ‘triggers’. A trigger is a person, place, event or situation that was frequently involved in your drug use behavior. An alcoholic, for example might have been in the habit of drinking every Friday or Saturday night. A person who abused opiates, on the other hand, may have used them to help deal with stressful situations. The challenge is that these are coping techniques or habits that were very deeply ingrained. The alcoholic who was in the habit of drinking every Friday, for example, might especially be tempted to drink on Fridays. Getting off of work on Friday afternoon, the alcoholic would normally head to a bar. Similarly, the individual who abuse opiates would be triggered by a stressful situation. The point here is that recovering addicts must learn new ways to deal with situations that were formerly occasions when they would use
Something as simple as driving past a bar that used to be a favorite drinking spot could trigger a desire to drink. Seeing and old drinking buddy might have the same effect. A stressful situation might trigger a recovering opiate user to want to use again, since that was the way they formerly dealt with stress.
Some people in recovery find that they must avoid certain people or places where they formerly abused drugs or alcohol in order to avoid being triggered. It is hard enough to remain in recovery without the added challenge of being reminded of their former behavior. People in recovery must know what triggers them and learn different ways they can spend time formerly spent using drugs or different ways to respond to situations that formerly led to drug use.
The same is true of anybody who is struggling to make a change in their life. Recovery is really just a different kind of repentance. Both mean that the person is striving to change part of their life. They could be a habitual liar who wants to be more honest; a short-tempered person who wants to be more patient; a glutton who wants to start eating better or an alcoholic who wants to stop drinking. Bad habits, commonly known as vices, are always difficult to get rid of. However, the same God Who made us His own in baptism will continue to strengthen and support us if we turn to Him when we are struggling.