The Danger of Complacency in Recovery

By Elizabeth Rosselle

When we first get sober, assuming we’re serious about this whole recovery thing, we’re often very motivated. The feeling of relief we experience when we’re free from drugs and alcohol can be quite rewarding on many levels. After a while, however, we can easily forget how bad things were toward the end of active addiction and can start to take our recovery for granted. In other words, we can become complacent. It’s easy to develop an almost smugness over our achievements, thinking that things will be the same forever. We’re generalizing, of course, but complacency in recovery is surprisingly common, and it’s a trap to think that what you did yesterday will carry you through tomorrow, so to speak. 

While everyone’s recovery journey is different, one thing is certain for people who are die-hard addicts (alcoholics and those with process addictions included): once an addict, always an addict. People don’t graduate from recovery, so if you stop doing the work and moving forward, you’re more than likely going to regress in some way. 

Having said this, let’s not confuse complacency with contentment. Content people are usually quite happy with their lives, but this doesn’t stop them from wanting to grow. Complacency, on the other hand, generally involves a sort of false confidence—one that’s not rooted in reality. Confident people, however, act sanely and rationally. They’re aware of their shortcomings as well as their assets. Complacent people tend to be unwilling to look at or examine their character defects. In recovery, those who are complacent might assume their success is guaranteed, and this is dangerous territory.  

Here are some of the reasons you might become complacent in recovery

Pink cloud syndrome. Have you ever heard people in recovery talking about the pink cloud? They’re referring to the state of mind people in early recovery are often in when they’re high on life because they’ve achieved 30 days, or maybe even 90 days on up to a year of sober time. But, eventually, what goes up, must come down if you’re not keeping your emotions in check and working a strong recovery program. In sobriety, you should always strive for balance when it comes to your emotional state. Watch out for over elation because it’s usually a sign of complacency and it will almost invariably end in a crash. 

Material, professional, or social success. Recovery frequently brings people a relative amount of success in their personal and professional lives. Employers tend to trust you more than before, your work ethic improves, often quite drastically, and you will rebuild broken relationships with friends and family members. This is great, but be mindful about becoming overconfident as a result because as we’ve already established, overconfidence can lead to complacency. The result? You decide to stop doing the recovery work. 

Ambivalence. Perhaps you were never really sure about recovery to begin with, but you went along with it for whatever reason (i.e., a court order, family pressure, etc.). Or, maybe you’ve thought since day one of recovery that you’d eventually be able to drink or use again once you learned how to “handle” your addiction. Fair enough. You could be one of the lucky few who can get away with this. More than likely, however, you can’t get away with it if you’re a true-blue addict. And, if you’re ambivalent, you might not think the work that goes into maintaining your recovery is important. 

Sobriety has become a habit. It’s possible that you’ve been sober for, say, two or three years and you’ve forgotten that you had a problem in the first place. Once again, please remember that you’re never “cured” of alcoholism or addiction. Generally, you need to continue to work a recovery program. Nevertheless, if you’ve completely wiped out the memory of having a drinking or using problem to begin with, you could be in trouble. This is especially true if you stop doing the work because of it. 

The pitfalls of complacency

Becoming complacent in recovery not only puts you at a huge risk of relapse, but it means you’re settling for less than what’s possible. In sobriety, you have the opportunity to do and achieve things never before imaginable. You really do have the whole world at your fingertips and the wherewithal to achieve a life beyond your wildest dreams. But, if you stop doing the work, you’ll stop growing. 

As for the part about being in danger of relapsing, consider what could happen if the urge to drink or use crops up. You might not be equipped with the tools to handle it because you’ve effectively stopped doing your recovery work. 

And, consider the dangers of developing process addictions like compulsive eating and other eating disorders, gambling, or sex and love addiction. If you’re still experiencing the same issues you had before you got sober but you’re not working through them in a program, you’re putting yourself in danger. These other addictions might not sound as bad as drugs or alcohol, but you’ll probably change your mind about that if your addiction ever manifests in some other form. Process addictions aren’t pleasant for the people who experience them, and they can wreak havoc on your personal life and your relationships. Why risk it? It’s just not worth it. 

The bottom line: Remain grateful to avoid becoming complacent in recovery 

Stay grateful and humble. Work on appreciating what you have and writing daily gratitude lists. They don’t need to be overcomplicated. Pen to paper is ideal, but even if the only way you can manage to get your gratitude down is via cell phone notes, then go for it. Gratitude helps get us into the right mindset in regard to life in general. Primarily, we should appreciate our recovery because more than likely, it’s enabled us to rebuild our lives in some pretty awesome ways. 

Combat complacency in recovery by attending regular recovery meetings like AA or NA, and by staying close to the fellowship. Continue doing the work that essentially makes you a better human and watch how beautifully your life will continue to unfold. 

Kembali Recovery Center can help

If you or someone you love is struggling to get sober, Kembali Recovery Center is here to help. Contact us today to learn more about our inpatient treatment program. You don’t have to do this alone. 

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