Living in Consultation with Accountability while embracing Consequences: Core components toward Relapse Prevention

By Ken Wells - 10/27/2020


Series One: Blog Sixty

Addicts who seek recovery want to stop their destructive behavior. The physical and emotional pain, the hollow loneliness and despair is no longer worth the effort to spin the lies that are needed for one more trip around the track of getting high on whatever drug is their choice. The last lap is always one of total exhaustion. It is fatal for many. Even, those who survive getting off the track, find a new track of compulsion to obsess about. Often, it is a cocktail of other experience. While sober and free from one addictive behavior, they create a new cocktail of experience to numb the pain. When the new cocktail contains acceptable behaviors (excessive work/shopping/eating/exercise, etc) addicts declare sober victory from the original addiction, asserting the necessity of 12 step meetings and working the steps. Yet, many times behind the scenes there is a story of emotional irritability, painful behaviors of anger, rage and attempts of over control by many who left their original addiction behind. The substitute addictions have a short shelf life with committed partners and those who are close and part of their recovery life. Often, these dynamics form into a recipe for relapse. Before long the addict finds him/herself back to zero, having acted out with their original addiction or maintaining sobriety while creating misery for themselves and others around them.

The difficult about sober living is that it is so daily. So much like it is for everyone else. For instance, this morning I get up and run early before it is light and most people are out and about. For the first mile and one half, I am arguing with the bad attitude that exists within. My body hurts, I’m tired, I’m breathing hard and though I have been here hundreds of times before, I just want to stop! Say, to hell with it. But I don’t. In time, my resistance gives way to acceptance, my attitude surrenders to the action of my body, and I get into a space where I am in harmony with the task and joyful to be able to. I find the tasks of recovery to be like this. When I quit my addictive behavior, there have been many days I have screamed out inside that I just want to stop— go back and do whatever the hell I want to do. I want to get lost in the fantasy of the rush of acting out. I don’t want to do recovery or be an adult and take care of myself. But I don’t act out. I simply focus on doing the next right thing and in time I am in harmony with my commitment to sobriety again. Sometimes, it’s immediate. Sometimes it takes time to win this war within. Yet, for sure, in various ways, it shows up daily in my life. I usually wake up every day with a bad attitude, particularly the older I get. As a geezer, my body hurts more and my passion and intensity toward personal growth is more challenged. This is the reality of daily living for most, including recovering addicts.

The core ingredients for daily living in sobriety for addicts is not different than that which is necessary for others. The reality is that we are all struggling to grow ourselves up which must become a priority for us all throughout the rest of life. There are at least three necessary components. The first is to live in consultation. Addicts struggle with this one. Living in consultation does not mean that you want someone to wipe your ass, or depend upon someone else to tell you when to get in out of the rain. What it does mean is that you work with a support group and share your life plans, attitudes, behaviors and invite others to crawl inside your head to understand what makes you tick. It means that when you are faced with trials and tribulations in life, you consult and rely upon the collective feedback that provides the wisdom necessary to navigate in and around addictive cravings, life decisions and future hopes. It means that you surrender being a lone ranger which fosters doing what you want when you want to. Rather, consistently you seek the wisdom of a trusted few and learn to rely upon the safety net of collective input. Like some say, “if eight people tell you that you have a tail, the least you would do is look at your ass in the mirror!” It doesn’t mean you have a tail, but… have you looked lately in the mirror?

The second component is accountability. It has been my observation that as I listen to addicts describe their relapse what seems most consistent is a failure to effectively manage unaccounted for unstructured time. This failure appears most consistently. Unstructured time is healthy and necessary for us all. Being able to unwind, turn off the phone and have time to do nothing is critical to the renewal and calibration of us all. However, seldom does a lack of accountability serve well for any of us and it is always high risk for an addict. Accountability does not mean that you have someone looking over your shoulder 24/7-365. It does mean that when chilling out, you bookend the experience with accountability. By book ending I mean that before you chill out you connect with support and clue them in on your need for renewal. It must be implied that if overcome by destructive urge or whatever you will reach out. When finished you check in with support and let them know how you are doing— all is well, thanks for the support or whatever. Addicts tend to take pride in being lone rangers. It’s another form or characteristic of narcissism. When you look around the world-corporate, religious, or political- you can see the most egregious examples of what happens when one lives without accountability. Whether we talk about spirituality, addiction recovery, fiscal responsibility or political elections, accountability is a necessary component for adult maturity. Addicts who take responsibility in recovery learn to covet accountability. 

The third component is consequences. Many addicts have programmed themselves to duck and dive consequences for life. They have never learned to utilize consequences as an effective tool to grow up. Typically, addicts cultivate an attitude of excuse making and believe that their predicament is anybody else’s fault but theirs. In some cases, this is true. Yet, focusing on fault does not establish responsibility. In essence the world doesn’t care if you are an addict. People want to know will you be responsible for doing whatever is necessary to change and be healthy? 

Consequences teach reality. You have limits. You don’t get to do whatever you want without repercussion. Facing consequences means that you are willing to do the next right thing and hang in there even when the outcome of your behavior is painful. From a recovery viewpoint, consequences are not designed to punish.  In our society, many times consequences are designed to punish. Prison and public ridicule are all about meting out shame, pain and punishment. But, recovery is about facing what is through velvet steel which means to be gentle with yourself on criticism, not beating yourself up while being steel with yourself which means to walk to hell and back to do the next right thing in the face of consequences. People, particularly addicts, who do this grow themselves up and create a solid foundation for recovery living. Consequences are also essential toward building necessary relationship boundaries. Without consequences you will not establish healthy boundaries. Essentially, you merely make a request without consequences. Addicts struggle with this application of boundaries. The mentality is like “hey, I’ve screwed up my life with lies and addiction throughout this entire relationship. I don’t have any right to establish boundaries with consequences. So, if my partner chooses to relentlessly rail at me I cannot set a boundary that he/she stop with consequences that I will end my part of the conversation if she doesn’t by leaving their presence. I think I have to simply take it.” To this I would say that I have observed that no relationship beat themselves up to a better place. That while hurt and anger are predictable human response, boundaries without consequence adds to distance in a relationship and not healing. Addicts who learn to respect consequences, their own and toward establishing healthy boundaries promote self and others respect.

There is a tendency to want to reinvent the recovery wheel. It is true that the evolution in recovery is exciting and transformative. Yet, the foundation for lifelong sobriety and serenity will always include these three fundamental recovery elements-consultation, accountability and consequences because these are the ingredients that connect addictive behavior to everyone else who is not.

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