That voice in our head that is always telling us that sobriety is not the answer to our problems is one of the scariest parts of early recovery. Furthermore, as its volume continues to get louder, we wonder if this unpleasant conversation will ever fall silent. We hope that as we progress in recovery, this voice will diminish. As time passes, however we begin to accept that complete eradication is unlikely. We start to realize that when things are good, it will be there telling us how to celebrate; when things are bad, it will be there telling us how to massage the pain; and when things just are, it will suggest there is a better way.
What we must realize is that we are not alone in this struggle, this voice is harassing the non-addict as well. These internal debates are simply a part of being human. Everyone has an annoying voice that at times leads them down a road they should not be on. This voice might cause dysfunction around eating, losing self-control, dishonesty, selfishness, insecurity, blaming, and many other unwanted traits. The problem for us, the addict, is that our voice is continually trying to get us to use again. If we act upon this advice and use, that is when things tend to go downhill quickly. What makes the situation more difficult for the recovering addict is, their years of addiction could have damaged their brain. While repairable, this damage could demand a little more effort on the addict’s part to get the voice under control.
Beating this voice, which is nothing more than our dysfunction/addiction speaking, is the central piece to living life free from drugs and alcohol. To do this, we must set out on a path that starts with honesty, acceptance, and a purpose. These are the tools that allow the true us to appear, and this true us is our answer to the nonsense our internal voice is suggesting. With a clean mind, we can use honesty to define who we have been and who we want to become. With acceptance, we can understand what we control and what we don’t, and with a purpose, we can choose what step to take next. When these qualities are employed without restriction, we can enjoy the magical journey that is life.
So How Do We Get There?
In a February 13, 2014, online posting at Psychology Today titled How Often Do Long-Term Sober Alcoholics and Addicts Relapse, Omar Manejwala MD looks at how relapse rates decrease the longer someone is sober. Dr. Manejwala references statistics from an eight-year study by Chestnut Health Systems that tracked 1,092 addicts after they left treatment. The researchers looked at the relationship between long-term sobriety and relapse rates. Below are a few of the findings:
· 64% of addicts in the study relapsed within the first twelve months following treatment;
· 66% of the addicts with 1 to 3-years of sobriety remained abstinent until the study concluded at the end of year eight;
· The research found that the relapse rate stabilized at 14% for individuals in years 4 through 8.
Thus, when an addict can stay abstinent for three years, their chance of relapse drops from 64% in the first 12-months to 14% after year three. Dr. Manejwala adds some anecdotal evidence that suggests relapse rates diminish further once an individual reaches double figures in years sober. From these statistics, you might conclude it takes at least four years of sobriety before the body is both physically and mentally healthy enough to quiet that voice in our head.
This is good news because over our lifetime, 4-years is a very short period. However, these statistics also tell us that being proactive in early recovery is key to beating the unfavorable odds we are up against. There are a host of measures one must enact to develop the necessary skills and knowledge to live a life of sobriety. A commitment and persistence as well as the support of friends and family, keep us on a positive path.
While there are many ways to achieve the goal of abstinence, to quiet that voice requires more than simply the internal fortitude to say “no” when drugs and alcohol are present. Research shows that addiction is often a symptom of a much deeper mental issue(s) that is being bottled-up in our being. This suppression is often the drugs themselves or the source that triggers the unstoppable desire to use. Professional therapists are skilled at helping the addict release this trauma or the “why” our voice encourages the use of drugs and alcohol to solve our problems. Without this release, quieting that voice can be next to impossible, and this is when relapse becomes probable.
We have all heard stories of those who have quit drinking without treatment or a twelve-step program. Just like we have heard of billionaires who dropped out of high school or college and the professional athlete who never had a coach. These odds breakers are truly unique individuals who should be celebrated. However, if you are reading this article, chances are, you like me, are not in this exclusive group. We accomplish our greatness the old fashion way. By working a program that strategically takes us on our lifelong journey in recovery. While this journey is specific to each of us, it will have those recovery staples that have proven to be successful for all. These include but are not limited to, a stepdown approach to various levels of professional care, regular AA attendance, a sponsor, a healthy lifestyle, and the removal of excuses and triggers from our lives. This is how the rest of us build a life that we love. This is how we overcome that annoying voice in our head. This is how we reduce the chance of relapse to less than 14%.