In baseball, a 5-tool player is one who excels in hitting, fielding, speed, hitting for power, and average. There are not many major league players who demonstrate all these skills during any given season. In 2022, Paul Goldschmidt of the St. Louis Cardinals was such a player. It is even more rare for a player to demonstrate these skills throughout a long career. Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, and Barry Bonds are all iconic players who demonstrated these five tools throughout their careers.
Long-term recovery from any destructive behavior requires a commitment to change and new behaviors must be incorporated to replace old destructive conduct. There are five tools necessary to achieve long-term sobriety in addiction recovery. Today, I will discuss one of the tools and follow up with subsequent blogs to cover the other four.
Failure is a reality in almost all aspects of life. Everyone desires to relate to short-term accomplishment and success. But long-term achievement requires more, including the ability to manage failure. People highlight spectacular victory but longevity teaches how to handle human shortcomings.
It is a common response to lower your expectations when encountered with failure. Sometimes it is helpful like when you attempt to achieve unrealistic expectations. However, in many cases lowering expectations is an attempt to soothe yourself from the sting of failure. Addicts tend to scale down expectations for sobriety after they announce their successes in a 12-step meeting but then slip into old destructive patterns of behavior. It is easier to lower expectations than to learn from the disappointment of failed behavior.
Relapse vs lapse are often confusing terms. Relapse behavior for an addict is a reconstitution of old destructive patterns in behavior that engages acting out with a drug of choice. Lapse behavior includes indications of failure in attitude and action around addiction management. It involves behaviors that are short of addictive acting out but engage high-risk patterns of thoughts and behaviors that inevitably do lead to actions of relapse.
There are very few addicts who do not relapse after engaging recovery, no matter the program. All addicts and everyone else fail with lapse behavior. This is simply a human element that touches everybody.
Addicts must learn how to extract the fruit of meaningful lessons and then throw away the rind of failed experiences. This treatment of failed behavior is absolutely critical to anyone who has successfully created long-term sobriety.
Tool #1 is about how to address times when you fail and stumble into old destructive patterns of addictive behavior. You learn what to do when you determine to quit destructive conduct but after your best efforts find yourself back to where you started. You learn how to manage times when you feel defeated with a strong urge to give up. Here are a few considerations to think about:
Tool #1: Engage in a Relapse Litmus Test
Geoff Hewitt wrote a poem about a sailor who was lost at sea and somehow made his way to the shore. Exhausted he fell asleep on the shore only to have the tide come in and sweep him back to sea. This is the story of many addicts in recovery. Managing recovery failure embraces the following components that comprise tool #1.
(a) A beginner’s attitude: The challenge of showing up every day hungry for one thing that will keep you sober and growing. This becomes more difficult the longer you are sober. The tendency is to lose urgency and back off from cultivating personal growth. On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your beginner’s attitude toward recovery? Will you take the initiative to examine where you got off track from your recovery program? Are you willing to do what you need to do to get back to where you need to be? These are the questions required about the humility needed to engage a beginner’s attitude.
(b) Honesty: Recovery requires honesty. Deep emotional honesty is difficult to achieve. Few people achieve this level of honesty. Face the questions: Where am I dishonest with myself? Who have I been dishonest with? Am I willing to make amends and restitution for my dishonesty? Who will I be willing to be accountable to? These are important litmus test questions to guide you through failure.
(c) A willingness to do something different: Albert Einstein’s famous quote “you can’t solve a problem with the same mindset that created it”. Twelve-step communities like to croon “Insanity is doing the same thing over and again, expecting different results”. Ponder what it is that you would be willing to do differently to accomplish the level of sobriety you desire. When you don’t know what to do, brainstorm with your 12-step community for solutions that make sense. Are you willing to go to any length? What would you do differently in the next 24 hours/week/month?
(d) Do whatever it takes to stop the slide of acting out: When skiing on a steep slope and you fall and uncontrollably cascade down the mountain, you do whatever it takes regardless of how it looks to get stopped! Even if you look like the abominable snowman coming down the mountain, one thing matters and that is to stop the fall. It takes the same urgency and burning desire to stop the slide toward addictive behavior. There must be a burning desire within your heart. Although determination alone will never keep you sober, you cannot recover without it.