Yesterday I was at the new Sunrise facility in Ft. Lauderdale, helping prepare for an accreditation inspection. I was working with client records, and noted once again how many addicts relapse and return to detox. This isn’t surprising; one of the symptoms of addiction is relapse, and virtually all addicts do it at least once. Noticing it just brought the fact back to mind. It’s a good thing for us addicts to keep in mind, whether we are in recovery or just think we are. Alcoholics and other addicts relapse. All the time. So can we all, even us old-timers. I’ve seen it way too many times.
I found myself wondering how many of those folks who returned multiple times for detox actually went on to primary treatment or the 12-step groups (hopefully both), versus how many went back out to The World with the same old ideas and habits.
Detox is certainly the first step in the direction of recovery, but it’s not the whole answer. If it were, our repeat business would be zip. Recovery is about willingness to change: to change how we think, how we relate to others, how we look at our lives, our approaches to problems, and how we solve them (or don’t). It’s about deciding how badly we want to have a life free of drugs.
Woodrow Wilson once said, “If you want to make enemies, try to change something.” We don’t like change. Hardly anyone does. Humans like predictability. We’re like the musician who said he was going to get his guitar tuned and have it welded. We want to get everything in our lives just the way we want it, and then weld it in place.
Welcome to the real world. The only thing that’s certain is change, and if you don’t want to keep on being miserable — regardless of the cause — you have to do what you can to make the changes reasonably predictable. As addicts, alcoholics, or whatever we call ourselves, if we don’t change all the things I mentioned above, and learn the skills to move forward afterward, then we’re going to see detoxes, jails and other institutions, over and over again. Until we die.
Detox is about getting alcohol and other drugs out of our systems, so that we have a shot at making good decisions about the rest of our lives. The secret’s not in quitting — it’s in learning to live in a way so that we can stay quit. We don’t learn that overnight. We don’t learn it from gurus, or New Age books (no matter how many we read) or preachers, or well-meaning friends. We learn from other addicts and drunks, and we practice.
Staying sober is about practicing the skills of recovery until they become second nature, just like being an addict was second nature. Until that happens, we’re at risk. And if we forget how to live sober lives, slipping instead back into our old ways of thinking and behaving, we’re at risk again.
Some kinds of welding are worth the effort.