Dangerous Anniversaries: Avoiding Recovery Pitfalls at 30 Days and 3, 6, 9 and 12 Months
Recovery is filled with perilous moments. Most who travel the path find that there are benchmark stages when you need to be especially careful and well-supported. The most common of these are: thirty days, three months, six months, nine months, one year and annually.
Surviving Dangerous Anniversaries
As the literature of AA states, the disease of addiction is “cunning, baffling, and powerful.”
- The disease may encourage us to believe that we are one of the “unfortunates” who cannot grasp the program and thus should give up and return to using.
- Alternatively, it encourages us to be overly confident, arguing that if we can achieve a significant period of sobriety then we ought to be able to return and manage using/drinking.
The need for support and accountability (particularly in the first year of sobriety) is best demonstrated by the impact of addictive thinking. It is useful to conceptualize the disease as being a part of yourself. It is a voice that draws you ever closer to the razor’s edge of the cliff. It is always present, lurking and awaiting opportunities to move from the back of your head to the forefront of your thoughts.
We’ve weathered the worst of the initial storm. We feel better physically and while we’re still likely to be terrified, things in the world around us are starting to make sense. We have fleeting moments in which we glimpse the wreckage of our past and are relieved to find that loved ones and folks in AA and NA discourage us from focusing upon it. Instead, they encourage us to focus on the here and now and connect to others in recovery.
There’s an adage in AA, “Think, think, think…drink, drink, drink.”
- Don't go it alone - self reliance and depending upon your perception and thinking is dangerous.
- So let others guide you - you need folks who are willing to be sounding boards and offer reality checks. If you are willing to be candid and share your ideas, fears, and plans with those further along in recovery, you can receive assurances that you are moving in the right direction – neither complacent nor regressing.
This is a huge benchmark. Hopefully you've been gathering support along the way and have at least one person (ideally a sponsor or other respected person who is capable of seeing you objectively) holding you accountable for what you say you'll do. Ideally, you also have peers, friends and other supports that you maintain connection and contact with.
Learning to Trust
Opening up and sharing our true selves is the hardest thing to do. People with substance use disorders often have difficulty trusting others. We fear being vulnerable. The underlying and greater difficulty is that we do not trust ourselves.
- However, every addict and alcoholic has extensive experience with self deception and self destruction.
- So choosing to trust then is a matter of weighing which is more frightening: opening up to others or relying on ourselves.
We begin move further from of our comfort zones. We find it difficult not to complicate things but realize that honesty and simplicity lead to clarity. We start living life on life’s terms and this allows for change and acceptance.
Six months is a very common relapse time and trigger. It’s about as long as a person can work a program alone and white knuckle their fears. Folks who refer to themselves as “chronic relapsers” most often hit the wall at six months.
Moving Past Early Recovery
A lot of us know how to do early recovery very well. We are simply afraid to grow beyond it and we live with irrational fears of what we might become.
- Even though it's difficult to share irrational fears (you may feel embarrassment and shame) you need to address your fears of the unknown.
- Get past being “terminally unique” by realizing everyone else has/had similar fears.
Our new lives have officially extended to the amount of time it takes to make a baby!
We have every right to build confidence but it must be tempered by humility. We have certainly reached a point in which we have a lot to offer those new to recovery. Being of service to others keeps us humble. We start to understand what people mean when they say that the only way to keep it is to give it away.
Dealing with Expectations
At nine months you may struggle with other's expectations. You may discover that you have subconsciously sought to keep expectations low due to fear of failure.
- You need to get honest and real and talk openly about expectations with anyone you feel has authority in your life.
Many “old timers” (people with long term recovery) have shared with me that regardless of the years they accumulate, that they still get “squirrelly” roughly two weeks before and after their anniversary dates. This is natural. We anticipate the milestone and naturally take stock of how far we’ve come. We consider where we’re going and what the quality of our recovery is. Fortifying our support system allows us to further invest in ourselves and others.
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