Ending Rock Bottom - Precovery and Sustained Sobriety

I've spent hundreds of hours combing the internet for incredible, recovery-related articles. Recently, I stumbled across a jewel admist the junk. Bill White, preeminent addiction researcher, wrote an article concerning "Precovery." Before you dismiss this term as medical mumbo-jumbo, know that Mr. White believes unpacking this addiction stage through evidence-based studies possesses the potential to trim painful "bottoms" experienced by alcoholics and drug addicts.

Precovery isn't a collection of war stories, sometimes hilarious, sometimes funny and often tragic. According to Bill White, this term refers to:

"...physical depletion of the drug's once esteemed value, cognitive disillusionment with the using lifestyle (a "crystallization of discontent" resulting from a pro/con analysis of "the life"), growing emotional distress and self-repugnance, spiritual hunger for greater meaning and purpose in life, breakthroughs in perception of self and world, and (perhaps most catalytic in terms of reaching the recovery initiation tipping point) exposure to recovery carriers--people who offer living proof of the potential for a meaningful life in long-term recovery."

You Can't Take Step 1 without Precovery

"But that's not in the Big Book!" 

I can almost hear rebuttals from passionate book-thumpers now. True as it may be, addiction treatment professionals would do well to examine the article. For most alcoholics and drug addicts, precovery occurs over many years. Active addiction brings tremendous consequences for most, high-bottom drunks and junkies notwithstanding. My experience led me to mingle at government country clubs (also known as jails), cause tragic car wrecks and destroy relationships. On the bright side, I did manage a 10-year bachelor's degree. What can I say... I'm persistent.

As soon as I read the description of precovery, an instantaneous realization hit me like a Bonnaroo acid trip - I engaged in all of the processes Bill White outlines in his definition of the first stage of recovery. It occurred over many years, where horrifying thoughts like, "What the hell am I doing with my life... How did I end up in this place again... Isn't there more to life than this," popped up during a heroin nod or a booze binge.

My come-to-Jesus-moments culminated in a decision I made while in Discovery Place's long-term recovery program. Sitting in the conference room, I made the decision to stay sober, no matter what. All the erratic behavior of early sobriety left me miserable, and I knew why. Consistent failure to practice healthy life principles strickened my internal condition with a super sickness.

Heroin stopped working. Booze stopped working. Pot stopped working, even the bubonic chronic from out west didn't daze me. Self repugnance? Check. Unabomber became a favored nickname amongst my early sobriety brothers when I checked into alcohol and drug rehab. It's easy to hunger for deeper meaning when life transforms into a meaningless nothing. Sitting on the couch all day mainlining junk is no way to live.

Without the processes Bill White outlines in Precovery stage, I couldn't have completed Step 1 100%. As 12 step literature notes, complete surrender is a precondition for sustained sobriety.

Precovery and Rock Bottom Reduction 

Wouldn't it be nice if that criminal record vanished? How about the family lost over years of substance abuse? Or maybe the scholarship that evaporated with your bank account while in college?

Mr. White states that, "If there is a conceptual breakthrough of note in addictions field in recent years, it is that such processes (Precovery processes quoted above) can be strategically stimulated and accelerated." That's good news for active alcoholics and drug addicts in America. Treatment programs need to incorporate exercises to facilitate an expedited Precovery. By working with addiction treatment researchers, recovery centers across the United States will be able to shrink the notoriously long stage of presobriety. Bill White calls it Precovery, but I prefer Prebriety. It's like a politically correct period of inebriation.

Let's look at the elements of Prebriety again...

  • Drugs stop working/tolerance builds to a point where the substance abuser does not receive the traditional effect of the intoxicant
  • Growing disillusionment with the party lifestyle
  • Emotional distress increases
  • Self-esteem decreases
  • Internal search for deeper meaning in life
  • A moment of clarity
  • Exposure to sober folks

A treatment center that fails to cultivate these processes in the first week fails alcoholics and drug addicts in desperate need of recovery. 

Exercises that may be beneficial...

  • Inventory of active addiction life
  • Challenges presented in a controlled environment
  • Groups centered on negative consequences of abusing substances
  • Groups centered on positive aspects of healthy, spiritual living
  • Facilitation and integration into the sober community

Sponsors in Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous would do well to guide their pigeons (that's an old school term for sponsee) through as many of these exercises as possible. Step 1 in sobriety might be the most underrated exercise. According to our literature, however, it's the most important.

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