I’ve been blessed, recently, to be able to celebrate several of my Home of Grace brothers achieve one year of sobriety. I watched as Josh, Ross, Brian, Jay, Lonnie, Donovan, and others were able to cross that 365th day off of the calendar, and I rejoiced with them. For many, if not all, this was the first time ever (or at least in a very long time) that they were able to say they hadn’t used in a year. And I started thinking about people that were currently using or had a very short amount of sobriety under their belt. I can imagine that it seems like a very daunting, almost impossible task. But it’s about perspective.
We can’t start out by looking at a year.
Facing the task of sobriety is like facing a mountain. Standing at the base looking 8611 meters (28,251 feet, or 5.35 miles) up at the summit, it can look like an impossible task. That isn’t how mountains are climbed. There are camps. There are stops along the way. The next camp is the goal. I watched a documentary on climbers attempting to ascend K-2. They had camps every 500 meters. It was broken up into chunks. At these different stages, the climbers could rest, eat, set up a tent to get warm, and fellowship with other climbers. In short, they were able to recharge their batteries both physically and mentally for the next stage. By doing so, they were able to reach the summit of K-2. As an addict, that is how we should approach sobriety. The thought of not using for a year can be overwhelming. Choosing not to use TODAY is more manageable. Tomorrow I can deal with tomorrow. But today I choose not to use. Then one morning you wake up and realize you’ve decided not to use for 365 days.
Remaining focused is the key.
The documentary I watched was on a group of climbers that were struck by tragedy. In 2008 11 climbers were killed in a group. I’m certainly no mountain climber, so I’m not criticizing, but this tragedy was a domino effect that started with one bad decision. While approaching the summit, one man decided he wanted to slide over 4 feet, around another climber. Rather than hooking a new tether, and unhooking the old tether, he decided he could unhook the existing safety line, hold on to the rope, slide 4 feet over and reattach the safety line. He tried to save 30 seconds of work. He thought it was a very small risk. After he unhooked and was in the process of sliding past her, his feet gave way, and he slid to his death. Just that quick. He took a chance there was no need in taking. His decision caused others to do various things in response, and ten other people lost their lives because one person made one bad choice.
Reaching the goal we’ve set for ourselves isn’t the end.
In the documentary, it talked about how the vast majority of the people who have died on Mt. Everest, or K2 didn’t die on the way up. They died after reaching the summit, as they were coming back down the mountain. The climb up had taken its toll both physically and mentally. They didn’t pay attention to their bodies or surroundings as closely on the way down, and they lost their lives. Reaching a day, week, month, or year of sobriety isn’t the end of addiction. Reaching a decade isn’t then end. We must remain vigilant and committed to our course of sobriety for the duration of our lives. And we do so anchored in Jesus Christ to give us the strength, support, and safety we need to stay the course.
Addicts don’t choose to relapse; they stop doing the small things that keep them sober.
Addicts don’t typically wake up and decide to throw away their sobriety. They stop doing the little things that keep them sober. They stop going to meetings. They stop communicating with their accountability team. They stop avoiding places and people that used to be triggers. They reach a point where their confidence in their own abilities exceeds the strength they have to say no. They find themselves in a position where they no longer have the ability to walk away, and they relapse. We all have to make sure our recovery takes priority over everything other than our relationship with Christ.
EVERYTHING takes a backseat to my recovery.
My walk in recovery has to take priority over EVERYTHING in my life. I work, have a family, friends, and a ministry to addicts. I’m very passionate and involved in each of those things. But my recovery is my first consideration before each of these areas. I know if I relapse I will lose my family, my job, my ministry, my friends, and my life. So the recovery comes first.
We risk relapse with every small compromise.
By choosing to compromise, we put ourselves in danger. We oftentimes deceive ourselves into believing we can handle it, or it isn’t a big deal. But history has proven we don’t know our limits. It has also proven that we don’t have the same ability to be in a situation and say “No.” like other people. We have to recognize that slippery slope we are on.
The idiom the straw that broke the camel’s back, alluding to the proverb “it is the last straw that breaks the camel’s back”, describes the seemingly minor or routine action which causes an unpredictably large and sudden reaction, because of the cumulative effect of small actions.
We have to recognize that in order to stay sober, we cannot pick up the dice. If we pick them up, we will roll them, and when we roll them, we will eventually come up snake eyes. Then it is too late. The dice cannot be unrolled. And once we’ve slipped back into using, it is far too late to make the right choice we should’ve made earlier.
The small things matter.
As addicts, we go to meetings. I go to Celebrate Recovery at my church. During my time there, I’ve seen a great many people come for a while. For one reason or another, they stop coming. They get too busy, or they feel like they have it licked. Most of them end up back using. I’ve seen guys I went to the Home of Grace with that decided they could handle drinking because it wasn’t their drug of choice. Many of them end up back in rehab. I’ve seen guys and girls that decide they don’t need to stay in frequent contact with their accountability groups on minor things. They don’t want to be a bother. Then later, after they’ve relapsed, they curse themselves for not picking up the phone. Yes, it sometimes gets old going to meetings, staying in touch, working the steps, and doing the other things that keep us sober. But being in rehab got old too. Not seeing my family, waking up in the hospital after an overdose (realizing 5 days of my life were just gone with no memory of the events), not having a job, having no self respect or respect from others, having no money, spending my days trying to figure out how I was going to get pills, all got old. I’ll take a few meetings and phone calls if I can avoid all of that other stuff.
The journey is hard, but it is worth it.
Restoration begins with one day of sobriety. Everything may not fall back into place as quickly, easily, or completely as we like, but with that first day, the process begins. And it continues building with each day of sobriety we add to it. All of that progress can be lost in an instant, with one bad choice. That is why we must remain vigilant. But one day, years from now, when you wake up with people you love around you, no legal issues looming, a job you enjoy that meets your financial needs, and the ability to look yourself in the eye in the mirror, with no regret or shame, you will realize it was worth it. The hard work has paid off. And it begins with today. Will you make the next right choice? Will you choose not to use TODAY? We can deal with tomorrow, tomorrow. The rest of your life is still out there waiting. How will you live it?