By Sarah Surrey, LCSW
“Inertia: a property of matter by which it remains at rest or in uniform motion in the same straight line unless acted upon by some external force.”
In physics, an object is known to remain in rest when at rest, or remain in motion in the exact same direction when already in motion in that direction. This remains the state of that object until an outside force “acts” upon it. A rock is unlikely to move on its own. Once an outside force causes its movement, it is very likely to move in the same direction until another force becomes involved.
Such is the case of addiction. People in active addiction will remain at rest in building their lives; while also moving in the same general direction in the progression of their disease. Their careers stall. Relationships end, or never get built. Social and emotional skills development seems to pause around the age of substance use onset. A decade passes, but everything feels postponed.
The only piece of life that seems to be in motion is their addiction. Day in and day out, addicts maintain the same routine of searching, acquiring, using, and recovering. Many in early recovery struggle with boredom, but also admit how mundane their using lives had become. Even a string of treatments, rehabs, jails, or hospitals all begin to blur together. Inertia. The same direction. The same addiction in the same pattern, with no end in sight.
“Unless acted upon by some external force.”
In Alcoholics Anonymous, this is referred to as rock bottom. Rock bottom is when the external consequences have become so bad that an addict or alcoholic is willing to try anything to change directions. It’s a willingness to move before feeling motivated. A person acts the part of a sober person, before feeling emotionally invested in long term sobriety. It doesn’t have to be any set prescription of detox, inpatient, meetings, or sponsors. It’s less about the specific plan, and more about moving daily in a new direction. Inertia. The same direction. The same sobriety in the same pattern.
The two most common external forces are families and the criminal justice system. Maybe a person shows up to treatment on his own. People are often brought to treatment as an ultimatum by family members. Some people are mandated to treatment by a judge, as a part of a plea bargain or a way to maintain custody of a child. Studies show that the chances of remaining sober are the same, whether a person is self-motivated or has been pushed by an external force. All paths have the same chance.
Inertia is a powerful law of physics. It applies to sobriety as much as it applies to active addiction. People moving in the direction of sobriety are more likely to move in the direction of sobriety, unless acted upon by an external force. A deep groove has been dug by people who have walked the path of recovery before. Once those new to recovery find that groove, there is no reason that sobriety can’t be maintained. Relapse can be a part of a recovery journey, but it doesn’t have to be. There are also forces that help people remain moving at the same speed on the path of recovery.
There are external recovery forces that can help build recovery momentum. Counselors and mental health professionals can help address co-occurring mental health disorders. Sober living can provide structure, housing, and accountability for short or long term periods of time. There is a wide range of peer support options. Typically in St. Louis, hundreds of 12 step meetings a week take place each week. Recovery Dharma, SMART Recovery, Secular Organizations for Sobriety, and Celebrate Recovery also offer local and online support. There’s no reason to take an either/or approach to building recovery momentum. The most momentum is built with “and”. A person sees a counselor, and attends 12 step meetings. A person has a sponsor through AA, and attends Recovery Dharma. Many people take medication for mental health support, and avoid relapse on addictive substances through peer support.
It’s hard to get momentum on your own, and you don’t have to. Harris House is here to help. Call 314-631-4299 today to ask about how to build your own recovery momentum.