Relapse from recovery is my number one fear. Falling off the wagon, going out, screwing up: same difference. As a person in recovery for over 10 years, the fear of relapse still scares me sober. And it seems like everyone in recovery I’ve come in contact with has exactly the same fear.
Once an alcoholic or addict is “in recovery” and has been clean and sober for a while and continues to go to AA or NA or other 12 Step meetings, relapse is still a very real possibility. Although I have over 10 years of sobriety, my recent bout of chronic back pain pointedly reminded me of how fragile I am. I was very close to relapse and deadly afraid that prescription painkillers would lead me back to that dark place I thought I would never escape over a decade ago.
The loved ones of addicts and alcoholics in recovery feel the same way. They remember what it was like to stand by and watch their loved one spiral into self-destruction. In many ways, it is worse for the loved ones because they feel so powerless in the face of the addiction that has completely possessed the person they care for so deeply. They want to help their son, daughter, husband, wife, father, mother, friend stay sober, but there seems to be so little they can do.
It is natural for loved ones to want to help in any way they can to maintain sobriety. Sobriety is still ultimately up to the addict/alcoholic, but encouragement and letting the person know you believe in them can help make that crucial difference. Recovery can be touch-and-go, so every little bit helps. That person is crawling out of bad place and there are many forces in life that will try to suck the addict/alcoholic back into their addiction.
So how does one offer encouragement and show that person that you love them, that you are their number one fan? Those of you in Al-Anon already know that you can hurt the alcoholic’s or addict’s recovery by helping too much. This is the same whether the addict/alcoholic is active in Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous or any other 12-Step Recovery group. You must not enable that person, you cannot bargain with them to stay clean or sober, and absolutely no bribing either. Of course, a little token of support or appreciation now and then is fine but, say, a luxury watch would be way over the line.
During my first year of sobriety, I was struggling badly. My husband never missed a chance to speak positively and tell me how proud he was of me. He offered me little tokens as I reached each milestone like flowers, making a special dinner or rearranging his schedule to accommodate my meetings. He even attended a couple of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings to see what they were all about.
As for myself, I started making bangle bracelets as touchstones which helped me focus on my staying clean and sober. I wore them all the time and I felt protected by The Serenity Prayer that I had inscribed on them. Even though they were just inanimate objects, somehow they made me feel better and reminded me of the love I still had for myself and my family. It was important to me that I could actually feel them to make the Serenity Prayer seem more real and close to me. I started making recovery jewelry for friends in the program who felt they too needed touchstones as reminders and as sources of inspiration to carry on.
When I achieved my first year of sobriety I proudly took a medallion, but I also made myself something special to wear around my neck with the number One on it. Acknowledging that I had accomplished that first year was vital to me as it proved that, if I had come this far, I could keep on going. I shared these tokens with my fellows in the program. By popular demand, I have branched out to sharing my touchstone artwork with the world.