Time is dragging this week. I’m feeling bored and restless and just want to make things happen NOW! I want to get going with working in the recovery services but need to hit that magic one year of sobriety first. Not only do I believe that achieving a year of sobriety really affirms it to your mind, I also know that people who remain abstinent for a year or longer are less likely to relapse. I tried to find a source for the figures, but it’s an article you have to pay to read that you can find HERE. It’s a study that spans over eight years with 1,200 addicts. Out of those abstinent for less than a year, only a third remain sober and those who manage a year or more this increases to half. So I guess what this means for me once I get to 23rd January 2019 is that I go from a 67% chance of relapse to 50%. Any time I look at statistics and figures for recovery I’m reminded of what I’m up against and that this isn’t something you tick off on a check list and just move on from. Sobriety will require work and I may as well get comfortable because this is for the long haul.
That makes it sound grim, doesn’t it? I don’t see it that way. To be honest, it isn’t exactly a thankless task now is it? Sobriety is an amazing gift. I get to wake up every morning hangover free and I get the opportunity every single day to be the best I can be. This is now always available to me, right there for me to take it and run with it. So when I say it’s for the long haul and will forever require a bit of effort and awareness, I actually feel about sobriety the way I feel when I find my seat on the airplane taking us to hubby’s native New Zealand. Where we are going – to the land of the long, white cloud – is so magical and so exciting that it doesn’t matter if there are a few turbulent patches or the queue at passport control takes forever. I don’t like flying and it’s 24 hours of it, but I know what’s ahead and it’s worth it a million times over. I’d sit on that plane for a week straight if it takes me to Aotearoa. And then I sit there on the steps leading down to Waihi Beach from the foot path late at night with hubby and listen to the roaring waves of the Pacific crash in. So does it seem like hard work that I on occasion will have to consciously battle the idea of that glass of wine and remind myself that its benefits are an illusion? I mean, in exchange for all the things I now get to have and enjoy because I’m sober? Not one bit, peeps.
As discouraging as that figure might seem, I think it’s helpful no matter how you approach it. Say you’re really struggling to stay sober and that first year is a huge battle. Then you get past the milestone and feel reassured that half of those who reach that are likely to stay sober. That’s got to feel good, right? That now it might begin to feel a little easier, that you don’t have to go about each day like a fight to the death. I’m only speculating here. Personally, where I find myself right now is at a stage where I can’t imagine going back to drinking and genuinely can’t find any reason why I would. I just don’t want to! Maybe I really need to look at that figure and remember that I’m far from safe? Remind myself that sobriety isn’t something I can ever take for granted? I do think you can have totally different experiences of this first year of sobriety and use that statistic in a positive way.
Then you have those who relapse after several years of sobriety. Remember Philip Hoffman? Actor who passed away a few years ago from what I recall was a heroin overdose. I vaguely remember that there was a discussion at the time around how he relapsed after many years of being clean. I don’t know if relapse figures and risks are the same for different types of addictions, i.e. whether an alcoholic is more or less likely to relapse than a cocaine addict or what have you. Anyway. On my literary travels through the world of books on addiction and recovery, I just finished ‘Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction‘ by David Sheff and started the accompanying memoir by his son Nic Sheff, ‘Tweak‘. The former has now been adapted to the big screen as a film starring Steve Carrell that I can’t wait to see. This deals mainly with methamphetamine addiction, which I understand to be just about the worst and most difficult of them all to recover from. In fact, Nic is clean over a year twice yet relapses. Well, whatever the difference between various substances are when it comes to recovery and relapse, it does appear we’re more likely to remain abstinent if we manage to get some distance between us and that last drink or hit.
With relapses after many years of abstinence you may have to factor in the issue of what our memory does to us. We are wired to better remember good things and for bad things to fade away. This is called Fading Affect Bias (FAB) and can be defined as “a psychological phenomenon in which information regarding negative emotions tends to be forgotten more than that associated with pleasant emotions” (Wikipedia). Presumably this is why someone might look back on problem drinking and feel the consequences weren’t so bad after all and more clearly remember the perceived benefits. For me, the memory of always waking up and feeling wrecked is currently WAY stronger than any sense of what I enjoyed about drinking, but maybe it won’t always stay that way? This is where that 50% is handy as it highlights to me the very real and very dangerous possibility that I could relapse. Who knows if this was why Hoffman went back to using after many years clean, but it’s worth bearing in mind that we may be at our most vulnerable when we actually think we have it all sussed.
I suppose that’s it, really. My smooth flying conditions appear to continue but I’ll just have to bear in mind that clear air turbulence that doesn’t show up on the radar can happen at any moment. (I know lots about turbulence because I hate flying and try to reassure myself by knowing as much as I can in order to calm my anxious mind and irrational fears…)
Today I’m not going to drink.