If you suffer from addiction or alcoholism, then you’ve probably heard about the First Step. You know that many people say you must admit that you are powerless over drugs and alcohol in order to begin recovering. But many people shorten this step. The shortened version generally reads “admit that you’re an addict/alcoholic.” This can be misleading. Why? Because many of us admit this constantly while we’re still using. To some, it’s even something of a joke. This violates the spirit of the First Step. Joking about our disease is not acceptance. If anything, it’s complacency.
Complacency could be viewed as a form of acceptance, but for our purposes it misses the mark entirely. When we grow complacent, it’s a fair bet that we aren’t doing what we need in order to grow and move forward. We usually either stand still completely, or else move in reverse. Neither of these benefits our recovery, nor do they benefit our lives or the lives of those around us. Active addicts and alcoholics who grow complacent are unlikely to enter recovery. As for recovering addicts and alcoholics who grow complacent, relapse is a very strong possibility. If we wish to enact positive change in our lives, we must break through and discover the meaning of true acceptance.
The difference between acceptance and complacency may elude us at first, but it’s easier to recognize with a little practice. Below, we’ll talk about the varying effects that each of these attitudes may have on our addiction and recovery. We’ll then discuss how to tell the difference between the two, so that we might keep our recovery on the right track. Life’s too short to keep making the same mistakes. We must learn to set complacency aside for the sake of our own futures.
The Trouble with Complacency
If you look up the meaning of complacency, you’ll find the following definition right off the bat:
“a feeling of smug or uncritical satisfaction with oneself or one’s achievements”
There are actually two distinct definitions present here. The first relates to smugness, which implies a sense of arrogance or ego. The second relates to a lack of criticism, which might be a little broader. While those who are uncritical might be smug or arrogant, they may also simply feel too defeated to bother considering the possibility that their life could be better than it is today.
Addicts and alcoholics who exhibit the first form of complacency tend to view their habits unrealistically. For some, drinking and abusing drugs is actually a source of false pride. Such people believe that they are better than others because they can drink their friends under the table or drive intoxicated without getting pulled over. Perhaps they believe themselves to be high-functioning addicts and alcoholics. And this might be true. But when they so strongly embrace their addictions, they set themselves up for the inevitable downward spiral. This is just plain reckless.
Then, there are those who simply feel resigned to their way of living. Drugs and alcohol might make them completely unhappy, but they’ve been using for so long that it’s become all they know. They can’t see a better life for themselves, and so complacency begins to set in. Such people might accept that they are addicts or alcoholics, but they haven’t learned to accept that they can be something better if they just put forth the effort. In this way, complacency leaves them spiritually drained and utterly hopeless. They might think that they’ve reached true acceptance, yet they still continue to go about their old ways.
It doesn’t matter if complacency results in pride or sheer resignation. Either way, the result is that our lives continue spinning down the drain with little improvement. There is no way to advance our recovery when stuck in complacency. Acceptance is the only true way to begin moving forward. This means that we must learn to accept both the good and the bad in our lives. To do that, we must come to understand a bit more regarding the true meaning of acceptance and how it changes us as we begin working to achieve spiritual growth.
The Virtues of True Acceptance
True acceptance requires us to make a full admission of our powerlessness over drugs and alcohol. This does not accommodate any form of complacency, as we must be absolutely certain that to continue using is to seal our own fate. We therefore cannot be proud of our substance abuse, nor can we allow ourselves to feel that it is the only choice for us. If we resort to these modes of thinking, we’ll simply lock ourselves in the same cycle of habits that landed us in recovery to begin with. But if we truly embrace acceptance, the rewards will be great.
Acceptance often results in a great sense of inner peace. But this sense of peace is not always immediate. It often begins with great turmoil. Those of us who take pride in our substance abuse must first learn to see the true harm caused by our past actions. We must see that, even when things turned out alright, this was nothing but pure dumb luck. Perhaps this isn’t the happiest of revelations, but it is a necessity if we wish to focus on making things better in the present. No longer must we lie to ourselves about our past. This brings us great freedom.
One of the greatest benefits of acceptance is that it introduces a level of objectivity into our lives. Complacency is generally based on warped perceptions of ourselves. But acceptance puts these perceptions aside. We learn to see where we have erred, as well as how we might improve. Instead of assuming that we are fine as we are or that there is no hope of us, we learn that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. This realization lifts a heavy burden from our hearts, allowing us to live freely from the bondage of drugs and alcohol.
Acceptance also allows us to free ourselves from the bondage of our own self-image. We need no longer bend over backwards to try and justify our false pride. Those of us with unrealistic expectations of ourselves need no longer beat ourselves up for falling short of perfection. Recovery teaches us that we must strive for progress. Perfection is unattainable, and complacency is death. But through progress, we can grow steadily more comfortable with the person we see in the mirror. And since progress requires action, we must reach acceptance by practicing the First Step so that we can move forward through the Twelve Steps of recovery.
Learning to Tell the Difference
If you’re familiar with the Serenity Prayer, then you know it ends with a prayer that we may learn “the wisdom to know the difference.” In the context of this prayer, this refers to the difference between the things we can change and the things we cannot. But this also applies to the difference between acceptance and complacency. There are things that we can change, yet choose to leave untouched. When complacency takes hold of us, we take this approach to our character defects. But when we reach acceptance, we learn that we not only can but must change our way of living.
Learning to tell the difference on our own will be difficult due to the sheer amount of denial that must be shattered. That’s why many addicts and alcoholics choose to enter recovery, so that they may receive the help they need. Patients who enter our programs find this much easier through group therapy. Confronted with the wreckage of their past, they find themselves surrounded by a caring staff and a community of patients who will lift them up and teach them that they can achieve sobriety by letting go of complacency and embracing acceptance.
When taking stock of the beliefs we held in addiction, we often find that neither pride nor self-loathing did much to move our lives forward. To find something in between, we must begin embracing humility. Through true humility, we can learn to see both our weaknesses and our strengths in equal measure. We aren’t perfect, and we’ve made many mistakes. But this doesn’t make us inherently bad people. Everyone has a dark side, but we can still choose to be better. We can learn to see the light, and then reflect it through our own actions.
Complacency ruins the lives of people who’ve never used drugs or alcohol in their entire lives. It convinces us that we can afford to stop spinning the wheels, or that there’s no point in seeking a destination in the first place. Add substance abuse to the mix, and complacency hurts not only us but those who care about us as well. If we can learn to embrace acceptance, we can begin to repair some of this harm. This will take a lot of action, and the road ahead of us may not always be smooth. But as a great man once said, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. There’s no better time to take that step than the present.
If you struggle with chronic substance abuse, contact us for more information on available treatment options. Together, we can help you take that first step toward setting aside complacency and seeking a better life.