A lot of 12-step programs mark time in sobriety with chips, keychains, etc. In Alcoholics Anonymous, when you are coming in for the first time or coming back in after a relapse, you pick up a white chip. A chronic relapse will often say they have enough white chips to tile a bathroom. This was certainly something I’ve said, and until recently, I would have described myself as a chronic relapse.
Ever since I was only 12 years old, I’ve had a history with alcohol and drug addiction. Both sides of my family are filled with people who struggle with substance use disorder, and my mom used to take me to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings with her when I was a kid. They even used to joke that they were “saving me a seat.” And since then, I’ve been going back and forth between meetings/sobriety and active addiction.
After my most recent relapse, I came back into 12-step programs, and I noticed that every time I do this, there is a unique “high” I experience. You definitely feel a rush of adrenaline and pride when everyone’s clapping for you at a meeting. You definitely feel good about yourself when you work with a sponsor and get involved in recovery. And knowing that your loved ones are proud of you makes you feel great.
Unfortunately, I realized that this high that I was experiencing was just another high that I was chasing. I think the difference for me, though, has been that I have been aware of that this time, and I have really leaned on my support system—my loved ones and my recovery program—to stick to the program, whether or not I’m feeling a rush of positive feelings.
This made me realize that even when we are clean and sober, there are times that we can exhibit addictive behaviors and chase highs. That might be something healthy like becoming addicted to exercising or it might be a more destructive behavior like becoming addicted to our smartphones, but it’s important to realize that one addiction can often be replaced with another.
Having awareness of this is the most important thing, I think. As long as you see that you might be replacing one harmful addiction (drugs or alcohol) with a less harmful addiction (fitness, technology, shopping, etc.), we can stop and reevaluate.
The most important thing, though, is that you keep going with your recovery program. This might be professional addiction treatment in a rehabilitation facility like The Recovery Village. It might be 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. It might be alternative recovery programs like SMART Recovery. You may need counseling, psychiatry, or alternative therapies like acupuncture and biofeedback. You may need a combination of all of the above. But you need to know that recovery is beyond possible.
There was a time in my life when I didn’t think long-term sobriety would ever be possible for me. But that has changed as I have continued to turn to my support system and work my program. Recovery is a journey, a path, not a one-time destination, and it’s a journey that never ends. There is no cure for the disease of addiction. The good news is that if we work hard enough, recovery can be permanent. And that should give us all hope.
Peter Lang is a freelance writer from Atlanta, Georgia. In recovery himself, he is dedicated to helping those who struggle from drug and alcohol addiction.