Whether you are a fan of James Bond, an admirer of John Wayne, or a wiz at video games, you know a basic rule of warfare – never underestimate the enemy. Let down your guard, turn your back, become complacent, and you are an easy target to be attacked. The winning strategy requires that you are always prepared to defend yourself, and when possible, ready to seize the opportunity to strike first.
How I wish that the addicts and alcoholics I meet would recognize the power of their enemy, and prepare themselves for the battle that lies ahead when they enter into recovery. However, too often, they declare a premature victory, and are unprepared for the first surprise attack. And the attacks will come, because addiction is the enemy that never surrenders, but keeps looking for an opportunity to regain control.
When people in recovery from addiction experience a relapse, the explanations are often familiar. “I thought I could manage recovery on my own and I stopped going to meetings.” “I knew things were starting to slide and I didn’t call anyone for help.” “I thought I could have just one drink, because alcohol was never my problem.” Just because the enemy – addiction – had not struck for days, weeks or months, it was assumed to have been defeated.
Our greatest struggle at St. Joseph Institute is often to help the people who come to us for help accept the seriousness of their disease. Like the diabetic who must tend to their disease every day, the addict and alcoholic cannot take a day off. Addiction is never cured; there is no victory except through ongoing vigilance. I wish that we could promise a great conquest, but the best we can do is to prepare the addicted person for the battle that lies ahead, teaching the skills that are needed to stand strong and fight for a great life in recovery.
In many ways rehab is boot camp, getting tough and ready for battle. After discharge the real struggle begins. Each day in recovery requires mental preparation to keep addiction from overwhelming thoughts and feelings. The ongoing conditioning for war is achieved with meetings, prayer, study and other forms of preparation. Victory occurs one day at a time, when the addict or alcoholic is able to declare at dawn “another day is beginning and we are still free.”
Sun Tzu – The Art of War