By the time most people get into recovery from an addictive process or substance, they are sick and tired of being sick and tired. They have hit a point where the pain of remaining in active addiction is greater than the pain of getting sober. Many people go to treatment and/or join a 12- step recovery group, get connected in the fellowship, work the steps and their lives drastically improve year after year. There are , however, some people whose recovery and spiritual growth seems to slow considerably or come to a grinding halt despite the fact that they are no longer using and/or drinking a few years into the recovery journey. They may be feeling restless, irritable, discontented unsatisfied, unfulfilled, depressed, angry, rigid, controlling, or anxious They may be asking questions like “Is this all there is to life?” “What is the point of staying sober if Im just going to be miserable” or Will I ever be capable of a healthy relationship?” If you find yourself identifying with any thing I have said, read on. Let’s look at three reasons, among others, that people get sober but stuck.
1) 12-step Meeting Attendance.
If you are in a rut in your recovery, a good first place to look is how are you attending to your sobriety. We are in 12 step meetings as we are in our lives and the world. It’s worth taking an honest look at ourselves to evaluate what we are doing to enhance our spiritually inside and outside the meeting rooms.
First, are you going to meetings? Many people reduce or cut out meetings all together as the circumstances of their lives get better.
If you are going, how’s your participation? Are you sneaking in at the last minute, and sneaking out before the meeting is over so you don’t have to talk to anyone and get honest with them about how you’re doing?
Do you still speak in meetings, or are you content to just listen because you have heard it all before, or you don’t want to risk being open and vulnerable by telling the group that you are struggling?
Do you have a sponsor? More important, are you using them? Many people have a sponsor on paper, but do not talk to them consistently or do any step work with them. The 12 steps are a way to build self-esteem, self-forgiveness and self-compassion. A relationship with a sponsor is the first time most people can be totally transparent and still feel unconditional love and acceptance. It’s hard to grow along spiritual lines if you are still hiding out from yourself.
Are you being or service and connecting with other recovering people, or are you isolating? Active addiction is such a lonely place to be. The anecdote for that is getting outside yourself, helping others, and embracing a sense of community.
Ahhh, relationships. They can truly thrilling or utterly devastating. Many people in recovery get into relationships too quickly or stay stuck in relationships that no longer serve them because they are afraid to be alone. It”s not that relationships are a bad thing; we are hard wired to be connected with others. Where relationships can keep people stagnant is if they have not taken the time to really get to know who they are and what they want, or to deal with the issues that led to addiction in the first place. I have a friend who used to say that she did not have relationships, she took hostages. She meant that she showed up in relationships with her character defects in full force. She was overbearing, domineering and highly controlling as a way to reject other people before they could reject her. Of course, underneath all that she was terrified of being left. But it was not until she gave herself a hiatus from relationships, got into therapy and worked on herself that she was able to see this, and go on to have healthy connections with people.
The other reason relationships can keep people from growing spiritually is because they take the focus off recovery. People go to meetings less frequently, and stop doing the things that got them sober initially. For some folks, the relationship it self turns into another addiction. People obsess about their partners whereabouts, spend time with that person to the exclusion of everyone else in their lives, or try so desperately to save their partner from their own addiction they end up drowning. You are giving yourself a tremendous gift if you can abstain from romantic relationships long enough to get your own issues sorted out.
3) Unresolved Childhood Wounds
And where do those issues I just spoke about come from? For most of us, they come from our childhood. This is not to say that your parents were not doing the best that could, but rather that they did not have the tools to give you what you needed. Some issues that typically come up for people stuck on their spiritual path are: trauma, fear of rejection or abandonment, anger and rage, control, emotional unavailability, feelings of worthlessness, being less than, not belonging, codependence, shame and grief, to name a few. Many recovering people experience these issues as a sense of resignation, just going through the motions of life, merely surviving. There is little joy and peace and they just feel numb and disconnected. It’s really hard to maintain a pleasurable sobriety if you feel like this, and these feelings often lead to relapse. Other people may be doing everything “right” in their recovery but still struggle with these issues. These feelings negatively impact relationships with others, but the most devastating impact is felt n your relationship with yourself and your Higher Power.
I truly believe that therapy is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. I am a Licensed Therapist with 17 years experience, and love working with people who want to flourish in recovery, not just tolerate abstinence. If anything in this article resonates with you, I invite you to schedule an appointment. I know it can be difficult to find the right therapist, so I also offer a 30 minute consult at no charge. Please reach out for the help you need; I’d be honored to walk with you on your path.