Consequences of Relpase or Recovery
An interesting question was raised in group recently -- the question was "How do you give yourself consequences for acting out?" As I pondered the question, I recalled that my first therapist made me write out short and long term consequences for relapse as well as recovery. It was a good exercise and it crystallized in my mind what could happen if I acted out or stayed sober. The word 'consequence' carries a negative connotation. I learned though, that if I maintain by my boundaries and honor my bottom lines that positive consequences would abide -- and I know them now!
As I thought about the question more, I thought back to my first sponsor and how he required me to deal with slips. First I had to be very clear on my boundaries and my bottom line behaviors. I had to recite them cold and check in boundary violations as well as bottom line slips. If I violated a bottom line -- there were negotiated and agreed upon consequences. The first requirement was that I had to get honest with myself, then my sponsor and then my accountability partners. Second, I was required to do the Renewal of Sobriety pamphlet from SLAA (on this website). In this wonderful pamphlet is a consequence inventory. It reviewed the first three steps and went into detail about time, money, health and legal consequences; relationship and victim consequences; career consequences; and consequences to my integrity, self esteem, spirituality and many other areas.
After I did my consequence inventory, the pamphlet helped me figure out how to get back on track and develop a short-term plan. So the consequences weren't just punitive - they were helpful in getting out of the muck. So all these things were required and demanded by my sponsor. Then he would require me to to redo my first step and deliver it to him or the group or both. As painful as this process is -- I've found it to be truly compassionate and helpful. There is a certain amount of humility that is required to tell another person or persons that you have failed. Catholics know this as confession. How easy it is to just tell God (who knows all things that you have failed)? But tell another person -- your priest, rabbi, spiritual adviser, sponsor, group buddies, etc. Ouch.
So the first consequence for me -- is getting honest. My second consequence is doing the work to understand what happened and how it happened. The third consequence is figuring out how to get out of the muck. And the final consequence was doing the first step (and maybe step 2 and 3 too!) to admit powerlessness, surrender and practice acceptance.
I've learned that when I slip I separate myself from God. This separation allows my false self (my addict) to assert itself over my true self (the person who God intends me to be). I must repair this relationship with God and make it right -- because I don't want to live on the dark side -- not because of the fear of consequences (although there are many) but because I have separated myself from God and I cannot know him in the darkness of my bottom line behaviors. Recovery is nothing more than finding and establishing a permanent relationship with God.
As I have said before, I have come to God not by doing it right, but ironically by doing it wrong. I must take the consequences of my actions and re-frame them into a positive: "What did I learn from this slip? How has it renewed and strengthened my determination to stay sober and to connect with God?" God always finds a way to take a negative and turn it in to a positive. But I must be willing to do my part. Sometimes that entails suffering not just from acting out -- but it the denial of my addict's determination for a fix.
These are my consequences for Short Term and Long Term relapses and recovery:
Relapse ~ Short Term
A relapse would be devastating to me. The emotional downside is almost too much to even think about. My wife would surely consider leaving me, if not leave all together. I will lose her, her love and her friendship. My self-image ~ my mental, physical and emotional health would surely suffer.
I will be asked to leave my home. I will have to find an apartment. My behavior would be revealed to all. I will suffer deep humiliation from the embarrassment. My parents and siblings will also suffer embarrassment.
The focus on my job and my ability to contribute would be significantly diminished.
A short-term relapse would also leave me questioning whether I can truly recover from this addiction. It will fill me with self-doubt and negative thoughts. It will lead me deep into the abyss of acting out and increased shame.
Recovery ~ Short Term
The benefit of short-term recovery is that for the first time I will have to commit myself to dealing with my feelings in a non-addictive way. I will have to be open to “let things go” or not to be so controlling. I will have to admit that I am powerless over this addiction. I will have to focus on my codependent role and behavior and begin to find “healthy” ways of dealing with these issues. For the first time I would have to deal with the unresolved disappointment, guilt, and anger that has led to self-hatred and shame.
Short-Term recovery will allow me to be there for my family. It will cause some anxiety, but overall, it will have a calming effect. It will leave me less prone to emotional outbursts, such as anger and frustration. It will help me to be more disciplined in my everyday life ~ better eating habits, physical fitness, emotional awareness, etc.
It will help me to be more loving and caring and less self-centered. It is already causing me to be more open and honest with my wife.
Short Term Recovery will also mean increased anxiety and possibly boredom. I will have to endure emotional pain instead of deadening it with my drug of choice. I will have to endure an intense craving for destructive “acting out” behaviors. I will have to endure “over analysis” and finally deal with the issue and the connotation of that issue that I am an addict.
A long-term relapse would leave me questioning God’s existence and power to act in my life.
My wife would not only leave me, she would take the children with her and probably remarry. Another man would raise my children. She would spend the rest of her life questioning how she ended up marrying the miserable person I had become.
My children would suffer emotionally and spiritually from our broken home. They will not benefit from living in a warm and loving home.
My health would turn for the worst. My physical, emotional, spiritual and mental health would hit rock bottom.
My reputation would be secure ~ A PHILANDERING DRUNK.
My extended family and friends would distance themselves from me. I would be truly alone.
My self image would suffer irreparable harm.
My finances would be depleted. I would most likely lose the ability to contribute in a meaningful way and would most likely have to consider career change.
My future ~ life without growth is no life at all. I would have only a future defined by being an addict, full of shame and unable to get a hold of himself. My behavior would ultimately lead to life-ending consequences of disease and/or suicide.
My relationship with God would be wonderful. I would feel his presence in my life each and every day. I would put him first in my life in everything I do.
My wife and I would feel for the first time the closeness of an intimate and giving relationship. My focus would shift from the selfishness of receiving to the act of giving to others.
My children will benefit from living in warm and loving home. They will benefit from seeing two people in love that work through their problems and are committed to each other.
My mental, spiritual, emotional and physical health without acting out will increase my energy level and sustain my desire to set and achieve real life-renewing goals.
My reputation can only get better. People will see me as a changed man. Giving up my drug of choice alone will allow people to see that I am serious about life change and they will hold me in high esteem for making this change.
My extended family will benefit because I will refuse to act out my codependent role of scapegoat. They will see me not only as outwardly successful, but inwardly successful. The confidence I derive from overcoming my addictive nature will allow me to be there for them as I have not been.
My self image, my finances and future would be secure in the knowledge that I can deal with whatever I shall face . . .