When we train ourselves to deal with unpleasant emotions by numbing them with drugs, we do not learn normal coping strategies. And numbing unpleasant emotions means numbing pleasant emotions as well, so increasingly we isolate ourselves from all emotions, good and bad. The drugs become a kind of equalizer, and we drink or use when we're happy and excited just as quickly as we drink or use when we're sad and depressed. The drugs knock off the highs and the lows, both, and leave us in a kind of numb middle state that we grow to think of as normal. But clean and sober living has both highs and lows, normal highs and lows, that we must learn to navigate and even embrace.
Long-term sober living, with all the highs and all the lows that life hands us, is a happy place if we develop a kind of emotional sobriety along with our sobriety from drugs and alcohol. Emotions are good things, feel them! It means we're alive, and we need the lows to appreciate the highs, just as ying needs yang. Life does not always go our way, even when we are solidly clean and sober. Sometimes our past even comes back to haunt us, and people who don't know us now and have no clue what we've been through, dredge up shame and embarrassment perhaps from years before. Other times, we are on top of the world, proud of ourselves and feeling like we've accomplished a dream.
None of these occasions are justifications to drink or use, now matter how low we feel and no matter how good we feel. Nothing is so bad that we cannot make it worse with drugs and alcohol, and nothing is so good that we can't destroy it with drugs and alcohol. That path is closed to us forever. Acceptance includes accepting everything that comes our way, secure in the knowledge that we can make it through clean and sober. When we've been to hell and back again, there isn't really anything we can't do and can't survive, is there? As long as we stay away from the drugs and alcohol that took us to hell and could take us there again if we let them, life is good.
This is peace and serenity, and it is how we come to embrace clean and sober living as a wonderful thing, instead of a sentence.
AA talks about the "dry drunk", and while the term is often mis-used, there is some wisdom there. We may have experienced the dry drunk in recovery support groups, the person who is always angry and intolerant, stuck in black/white thinking, projection, and denial. Some become obsessed with their particular brand of sobriety support and the philosophy that goes with it, and can't accept value in other points of view. Some view clean and sober living as a kind of purgatory, and are afraid of anything that upsets life balance and tilts the tables, still viewing sobriety as a one day at a time march even with many years of sober time. While this can work and can keep some of us clean and sober indefinitely, it is possible to remain clean and sober and also be happy and at peace.
We cannot control things outside of us, all we can do is control ourselves. No one can make us feel anything, instead we have the power and control to choose how we feel. This is personal empowerment and serenity at its finest.
There is no finish line for addiction recovery, there is just the rest of our lives. Whether or not we choose to stay involved with sobriety support groups indefinitely is up to us, many people do but some people don't. While there are various studies that produce statistics and relapse probabilities based on continued recovery support, when we are secure in the knowledge that we can make it through anything without drinking or using, and when we show this to ourselves by succeeding each and every day, then the numbers and statistics don't mean much. Hopefully if we choose to remain involved, it's because we enjoy remaining involved, and we hope to share our own serenity with those who need it.
Serenity in Long-Term Recovery
Many of us former addicts first turned to drug and alcohol abuse as a coping mechanism. Often this was in high school or even before, and often it was in response to emotional distress. Emotional abuse including neglect by our families (and perhaps by addict parents) is a common theme, as is emotional abuse by our schoolmates. Perhaps it escalated to physical and sexual abuse. Perhaps it was simply puberty, and the emotional upheavals that can accompany it. Those of us who just fell into addiction may have an easier time climbing back out of the hole and staying out of it, but for many of us we need to not only quit taking the drugs, we need to develop new coping strategies for emotions that we aren't accustomed to feeling and dealing with.