Essentially, accountability in addiction recovery is about commitment to ongoing change. In abstinence-based recovery, the addictive substance or behaviour is relinquished – the first big change that is required. This allows the lifelong process of recovery to begin. The recovery process can then be seen as a series of questions – some small, others big. We need to face and answer these questions in new ways, without returning to the harmful habits of active addiction. In this way, we must remain in a ‘state of being answerable’, in order to grow in our recovery.
There are many questions we face, particularly in early recovery, which relate directly to overcoming the addiction. For example:
There are many other important questions to face in recovery, which relate to managing our emotions and relationships. For example:
All of these questions have something in common – they all relate to external and internal conflict. There’s something we want (or we don’t want) – but there’s an obstacle in our way. It’s a block that can feel very difficult to overcome by ourselves. Or it’s something we just don’t know how to do because we have no prior experience of the situation.
Sometimes, the obstacle can feel completely impossible to change, which can significantly affect mood and well-being – particularly if we don’t confide in a good friend or mentor.
In recovery from addiction, accountability to other people can be extremely helpful in resolving our conflicts healthily. In sharing the problem at hand, it can relieve the immediate pressure we feel. Talking to another person is not only a way to express the emotions involved, but it also builds human connection. The person you talk to may identify with the feelings you’re having or the situation you’re in, which can make it a bit easier to deal with. They might even suggest a good way forward and be there to give encouragement if you get stuck again.
Working with a recovery sponsor, mentor and a set of trusted peers can increase accountability and the potential for change. By talking regularly to the same people, we may find that we commit more meaningfully to actions that will change our circumstances. We may also find peace with a conflict that is beyond our control, thanks to being challenged by friends to let go of a persistent worry.
There’s also another great benefit of speaking to the same set of people over time. We can also encourage them to resolve their conflicts in addiction recovery. And in doing this, we can learn from their experience – and sometimes, we can find the motivation appears to take difficult actions in our own life.
Here are a couple of examples of how accountability can help in addiction recovery:
You speak to a friend in recovery on the phone. You tell him you haven’t been feeling too good – your mood and energy levels are low. He asks if you’ve been to any addiction recovery meetings recently. You’ve haven’t been for two weeks. He suggests going to a local meeting tonight. He offers to meet you beforehand for a cup of tea and a chat. You make yourself accountable by agreeing to meet him there.There’s a work Christmas party coming up, where you know there’ll be a lot of drinking. You’re three months into your recovery from alcohol addiction and you’re worried about going. At the same event last year, you were drinking with your colleagues. You make yourself accountable by talking to your counsellor about strategies you’ll use at the party, to keep yourself safe. You decide on the soft drink you’ll order at the bar. You work out a rough plan for when you will arrive and leave the party. You have numbers in your phone for several people you can call, if you don’t feel great at the party. You book another counselling session too, so you can let your counsellor know how the party went.
Being accountable is also a way of facing some very common fears, which can hold people back in their recovery from addiction. These fears include:
What’s really important to understand about fears that arise is this – when we’re accountable to others and ourselves, fears can be interpreted in a positive way. Identifying a particular fear can give a helpful indication of something we need to get help with or give our attention to. Fear should not be seen as a shortcoming or a weakness in our character. Furthermore, when we’re experiencing and sharing our fears in recovery, without returning to our addiction, we’re actually developing emotional intelligence and creating much better habits.
In all these respects, accountability is a vital strategy in addiction recovery – not only for relapse prevention but also to answer the many questions we have in life. Accountability helps us to change where we need and want to change, to accept where we can’t influence a situation or person, and to process our fears without returning to active addiction.
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