Written by Peter Lang
In many 12-step meetings, you pick up a white chip whenever you come back in after a relapse. A common joke between people who relapse repeatedly, is to say that we have enough white chips to tile a bathroom. Up until recently, this was definitely me.
I have had a history with drug and alcohol addiction since I was a teenager. It runs in my family on both sides, and my mom used to bring me to support meetings with her when I was a kid, where I was told they were “saving a seat for me.” I’ve been seesawing between meetings and active addiction ever since until the last time I went back into recovery.
As I was going through early the early days again, I realized, though, that there is a euphoric high that comes from getting your life back together after a relapse. It can feel pretty good to have everyone clap for you during a meeting when you tell them you’re coming back after a relapse. It can feel pretty good to work with a new sponsor and get excited about a recovery program again. It can feel pretty good to feel like your loved ones are all proud of you.
In 12-step meetings, you often see those who are new in sobriety expressing feelings of grandiose happiness in spite of any negative events that are actually happening in reality. This is called a “pink cloud.” While it can be a positive thing, it can also be a complete denial of negative circumstances and consequences that come after a relapse. It can be just another delusion, and delusion can often lead us back to drinking or using drugs.
Those who have been in support programs for a long time can typically see through these delusions. And they aren’t usually trying to be downers or discourage newly sober people from attending meetings and throwing their lives into recovery, but they’re trying to keep the newbies grounded in reality.
Even if the “high” you experience in early sobriety isn’t based in delusion but is just a result of life getting better in recovery, this can be just another “high” an person ends up chasing. When I realized this, I realized how important having a support program like a 12-step program really is. And whether your program is SMART Recovery, 12-steps, or another method, it’s important that you follow through and complete the whole program, even after that initial high wears of.
I have definitely been exhibiting addictive behavior before even when I was technically sober. Because even if we are completely clean and sober in terms of drugs and alcohol, we can still be chasing other highs. For some people, it’s checking their smartphones 80 times a day to look at their social media notifications. For some people, it’s going to the gym multiple times a day to get that runner’s high. For others, it can be going on a shopping spree and buying a lot of stuff you don’t need. And in a way, we’re all addicted to something. Sure, some of these are natural highs that are rewards for healthy behavior—like feeling great when you’re eating healthy or the rush of endorphins you get after working out—but they can be destructive highs all the same.
I think the only true way to stop relapsing and to stop chasing highs—whether it’s in e-mails, sugar consumption, sex, gambling, etc.—is to recognize that behavior in ourselves. We’re all human beings. We’re all going to make mistakes and mess up sometimes. And yes, overdoing it on the chocolate cake one night certainly isn’t as destructive as picking up a bottle or using an even more dangerous and addictive drug, but I think we want to be self-aware enough to notice when we are chasing highs—even if it’s in healthy activities like exercising or going to support meetings.
And once we notice that behavior in ourselves, we can turn back to our recovery program. I actually believe anyone—even people not suffering from any addictions—could benefit from a recovery program, like a 12-step based program, which has been the most effective program in my life. And I would encourage everyone to think about their own behavior and where their addictions are. Because with a good support system and an effective program, it’s possible to overcome any addiction.
I think it is because I have had these realizations that this has been my longest time in recovery without relapsing. And it gives me hope to know that even for us who may have relapsed several times, long-term recovery is entirely possible.
This blog post was sponsored by:
The Recovery Village® | an Advanced Recovery Systems Brand
If you, or anyone you know, is struggling with Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)*, please check out the Sober Courage menu at the top of this page for an extensive list of support groups and recovery related articles.
*Problem drinking that becomes severe is given the medical diagnosis of Alcohol Use Disorder or AUD. AUD is a chronic relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol intake, and a negative emotional state when not using. (Ref: NIAAA)