The decision to get sober is not an easy one, and early on we often do not fully understand what that commitment entails. Early recovery is an extremely vulnerable time riddled with difficult decisions. It is the time we rewire our brains from months or years of acting on impulse and putting your drug of choice as #1. It is a time in our lives that requires vigilance, care, and putting recovery before absolutely anything else. Difficult situations often present themselves for addicts and alcoholics in early recovery. It may be tempting to say yes to an invitation from friends to go to a bar you all used to go to, or to start on trauma work (PTSD often feeds into addictive behaviors). But protecting yourself in early recovery means building some degree of insulation from temptation and opening up old wounds. Exposure to these types of triggers is not a wise move, as it puts your recovery in jeopardy.
Temptation is a Trap, Not a Test
While some who are seasoned with years of experience in recovery may be able to stroll into a bar and stay on the wagon, the same cannot be said of newcomers who are in their early days of sobriety. The tempation to test ourselves often manifests with thoughts like, “It’s no big deal, I can handle it.” And more often than not, that cocksuredness ends badly. This is an oft-discussed part of Bill W.’s story in the Alcoholics Anonymous big book (pages 5-6):
Renewing my resolve, I tried again. Some time passed, and confidence began to be replaced by cocksuredness. I could laugh at the gin mills. Now I had what it takes! One day I walked into a cafe to telephone. In no time I was beating on the bar asking myself how it happened.
Wanting to “test resolve” to not drink by going into dangerous situations is more often than not our addiction speaking to us in a poor disguise. It is giving us permission to relapse before the fact. That’s why temptation is a trap, not a test. Before we are ready to engage in high risk situations (going to places we used to use, going to holiday parties with alcohol to save face, etc), it is best to get a long period of sobriety working a program and/or with professionals to properly shield ourselves.
Protecting Yourself in Early Recovery
Recovery requires a lot of difficult work. Twelve steps may not seem like a lot, but earnestly going through each of them takes a lot of emotional energy. Particularly the tough ones like moral inventories and making amends. These steps require the guidance of a sponsor, and it’s not a bad idea to have the help of a therapist as well while navigating these murky waters.
Sponsors, therapists, and AA/NA meetings are all forms of protection for early recovery. While this is all work that eventually needs to be done, sometimes it is more beneficial for people in recovery to wait a few months, even a year, before opening up old wounds. The raw pain that comes with looking at our character defects and apologizing for how we harmed others has a very real capacity to lead to relapse if not properly prepared and handled. Though intentions may be good, it is safest to recognize our limitations and focus on the present goal of staying sober one day at a time.
If you or a loved one is seeking help for a substance abuse problem, our behavioral health counselors are available 24/7 for free case assessments: 855-997-4702