Is Abstinence the only option for Recovery?
Working in addiction treatment and being in recovery from alcoholism and addiction, I’ve heard this question more times than I can count. People ask “Won’t I be able to drink one day?” or “What if I just smoke pot from now on?” No one likes the idea of abstinence for life.
I do believe that abstinence is the only option for recovery, only because I’ve tried and failed and seen others try and fail to do it another way. I was on a Suboxone maintenance program for over a year, trading my opiate addiction for addiction to another, less strong opiate. I convinced myself in my first treatment center that I was okay to drink alcohol afterwards because I’d “never had a problem with alcohol.” I couldn’t accept the fact that abstinence was the only option for recovery. I started drinking again, and for a while I was okay. I wasn’t drinking every day and I would force myself to stop after a couple of drinks. Really, it was more stubbornness than anything. I didn’t want to admit that I was a “real” alcoholic and drug addict and that abstinence was the only option for recovery. This course of action didn’t last for long, and before I knew it, I was in the bathroom, snorting pills, and wondering what the hell had gone wrong with my plan.
Suboxone didn’t work for me either, and when that stopped working, I realized that what I had was more than just a physical addiction. I believed that once I had kicked the physical dependence and craving, I would be fine. It was the drugs that were my problem.
Suboxone took away my cravings and eliminated my withdrawal. It even took care of the back pain that led me to start taking prescription narcotics in the first place. So I should’ve been fine right?
Unfortunately, I was never more miserable than when I was on Suboxone. Even without the physical dependence and cravings, I was restless, irritable and discontent. This is when I realized that, for me, abstinence is the only option for recovery.
Except that what worked for me wasn’t what I would call abstinence. When I think of abstinence, I think of “Don’t drink (or do drugs) and go to meetings. I’ve tried that too. I attended meetings every day, and I didn’t pick up a drink or a drug for nearly five months. It was a miserable five months though. I hated my life, I hated myself, and I became very, very depressed.
Now that I work a solid program of recovery, I’ve come to realize that abstinence is only a side effect of living a better, more spiritual life. When I practice spiritual principles in my daily life, I stay abstinent almost as a bonus. I don’t even miss it. When the thought of drugs and drinking comes into my mind, I am able to dismiss it easily. Alcohol and drugs no longer control me.
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