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Complacency Is the Addict’s Enemy

Posted in Relapse Prevention

As addicts we are notorious for our pursuit of the quick fix, the easy way out, and the path of least resistance. Our aversion to action, inconvenience, discomfort, and prolonged effort dogs us at all stages of recovery. A quiet and subtle foe, there are two strains of complacency that particularly threaten the recovery and lifelong sobriety of the former practicing alcoholic. The first is the idea that alcohol is the only problem that needs fixing and the second is the notion that we’ve been fixed.

What were you looking for when you first walked into an A.A. meeting? Most newcomers hold the hope of finding a cure for their drinking problem. This is an essential motivator. Regardless of whatever else was going wrong in our lives, it was the drinking that was pushing us over the edge. But a halt to the drinking isn’t enough—we must also deal with the causes of our drinking. Sure, many of us have been able to put the cork in the bottle for some span of time, but if the reasons we drank are not addressed, we will either return to drinking or find a suitable substitute. This is hardly sobriety.

“How many of us would presume to declare, “Well, I’m sober and I’m happy. What more can I want, or do? I’m fine the way I am.” We know that the price of such self-satisfaction is an inevitable backslide, punctuated at some point by a very rude awakening. We have to grow or else deteriorate. For us, the status quo can only be for today, never for tomorrow. Change we must; we cannot stand still.” (Bill W., Grapevine, February 1961)

The addict who believes there is little more to be concerned with than the alcohol obsession will be reluctant to diligently work the Steps because the very aim of the Steps is not simply to cure us of our desire to drink, but to change us as people from the inside out. Why do we drink to excess and others don’t? The 12-Step Program is designed to help us discover and fix. It is a lifelong process of personal growth and development.

Many newcomers will be quick to congratulate themselves for simply not taking a drink. In the short term, this is indeed an accomplishment, but if it is the highest aim, the future vision for recovery looks grim. The source of the problem is pride: these alcoholics cite external explanations for their drinking rather than internal emotional, spiritual, and psychological causes. The one who wants to be free of alcohol but refuses to look inside will surely drink again.

If you think your problem isn’t “that bad,” your approach to recovery will be equally nonchalant. Nonchalance keeps us from admitting the true seriousness of our disease and it hampers us from pursuing recovery with the intensity it requires and deserves. You may want to quit drinking because you see the wreckage your life has become, and living in the mess is reaching uncomfortable proportions. But this does not mean you are ready or willing to surrender your life to the rigors of the program.

The second sort of complacency occurs later in the recovery journey. After a member has gone through the Steps, discovered character defects, made amends, found freedom from the compulsion to drink, and begun to engage in service, he begins to believe that he has, in a way, “graduated” from the program. The program principles are well grooved and so perhaps he thinks he can sit back and coast a bit. This is a fatal mistake and again, the root is pride.

“Now that we no longer patronize bars and bordellos, now that we bring home the pay checks, now that we are so very active in A.A., and now that people congratulate us on these signs of progress—well, we naturally proceed to congratulate ourselves. Of course we are not yet within hailing distance of humility.” (Bill W., Grapevine, June 1961)

If, after becoming sober, we feel we’ve “got it made,” alcohol will show us our error. Even if you think you’ve got the Program so perfected that you can hit the autopilot switch, you are wise to allow for the possibility that you may be mistaken. Remember, your disease is set on luring you back in. The notion that you’ve reached the pinnacle and no longer need to work so hard is tantalizing, but it shows that we still have not acquired the kind of humility that will keep us sober. In life, we will be taught humility—would you choose alcohol or the Program as your instructor?