I Have to Quit ALL Substances? Forever?

There’s a question that’s brought up almost daily in recovery groups and forums. Something to the effect of, “My DOC is heroin—can I have a drink?” or, “if I’m a recovering alcoholic and I do a bump of (something) at a party, is that considered a relapse?”

What we really mean to ask when posing these kinds of questions is, “Do I have to abstain from ALL drugs? FOREVER?”

It’s a loaded question, and there’s a lot at stake. Unfortunately, there’s no clear-cut, one-size-fits-all answer. Because recovery itself isn’t clear-cut or one-size-fits-all.

I’ve been in and out of recovery and through enough relapses to have learned what I can and can’t handle. I’ve tried AA, NA, medications, therapy, rehabs, outpatient, on and on and on.

Personally, I’ve never had a problem with alcohol. Well, except when I lived with my mother-in-law—but that’s a different story altogether. But even in my worst moments, I could have a drink or two without getting black-out drunk or finishing an entire bottle.

I just don’t really enjoy drinking all that much. I don’t enjoy being drunk, I don’t enjoy the taste of alcohol. And I don’t particularly care for the way it impairs me. For me, drinking occasionally won’t necessarily send me into a tailspin toward relapse.

On the flip side, I know that I can’t smoke marijuana. I’ve been a pothead and I’m a huge advocate for a more natural alternative to all the harmful, addictive chemicals we put into our bodies every day. But I’ve never been able to smoke a bowl without eventually sticking a straw up my nose or a needle in my arm.

Now on the surface this may sound like terrible advice—but stick with me.

These are my own personal boundaries that I’ve learned through over a decade of trial and error.

Was this knowledge of my own limits with drugs and alcohol worth the cost of my health and my life? Absolutely not.

I’ve gained weight, and lost weight. I’ve lost friends and family. I almost lost my children. I’ve overdosed alone in my car with no one to call for help. I’ve lost my home, my job—almost my life. Certainly my life as I once knew it. I’ve lost myself in this process—of trying desperately to find any way to continue escaping reality—which we’ll just call “self-discovery”

It’s not worth it.

There isn’t an addict alive that began recovery with gratitude that they would never drink or use again. Every one of us, at some point or another, has wished that we could just be ‘normal’, so we could drink or use to a more ‘acceptable’ extent, without ruining our lives and the lives of those around us.

But once that switch has been flipped, the chances of turning back are slim-to-none.

That’s where the whole acceptance thing comes into play.

When someone asks, “will I ever be able to use socially?” or “can I have a drink at my bachelor party?” or “is it safe to smoke a joint after work?”, my answer is this:

Maybe. Maybe not. Not a person in the world can answer that question for you, because none of us knows how any other person will react to a given substance. There’s a chance—a small chance—you may discover that after x amount of time you can do a line or a shot of whatever without any consequence, obsession, or craving. But there’s also a chance—and a much better chance—that you’ll die trying to test those limits.

I was lucky. I lived to learn my lesson and limits. Many of us never make it back from our last trip out, and very few can confidently say, “yes, I can have a drink—but I think I’d rather not.”

The fact is, even given my own unique relationships with these substances, I’m only one traumatic experience away from becoming a full-fledged alcoholic, convincing myself that one drink won’t hurt because it never has in the past. There’s no guarantee that just because I’m fine with alcohol now means that I’ll always be fine with it.

So more often than not, I choose not to tempt fate.

If you find yourself questioning your limits, and tempted to test them, I’ll leave you with this question:

Is it worth risking your recovery, your relationships, and—perhaps most importantly—your life to find out?

I hope that, unlike me, you’ll choose to stay, and find all that recovery has to offer in the long term. I promise that it’s better than your next, and possibly your last experiment.

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