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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Hitting the Plateau

In my time, I have seen a phenomenon in sobriety I call the 'plateau.'  It is that flat place that one comes to after years of struggle for spiritual development.  'Old Timers' with 20 years or more often hit this stage where the program has seemingly dealt with all the major drama in their lives.  While they still live by the principles of AA, they become disinterested in attending meetings, sponsoring, etc.  In fact, a lot of the chaos of newcomers becomes just downright boring.

Well, to be honest, sin is boring.  You hang around enough meetings, and you start hearing the same stories over and over again.  Depravity is predictable.

What is this 'plateau?'  Is this the first stage of relapse?  No, not necessarily.  What it does indicate is that spiritual development has ceased.  Quite literally, the program alone has done all that it can do.  The addict has completely entered into recovery, where the average person in a 12 Step meeting is still struggling with his ambivalence.

By that, I mean that because we do not fully and completely accept all the principles of the Steps in everyday life, we still have problems.  After all, we have not truly accepted a relationship with God and are still living according to self-will.  

In the plateau, the recovering addict has largely renounced his old ways and followed good orderly direction, but he is no longer moving forward in the program.  He has 'maxed out' on his experience of God in the meetings.  God is there, but the plateaued addict is, well.... bored.  He needs to grow.

To avoid slipping back into the disease, addicts will often look for God outside the meetings.  Some addicts will seek God in church or religious activities, others will find ways to serve in the community.

Does this mean that the meetings have failed?  Or, are addicts who remain the truly recovering ones, while those who leave are setting themselves up for failure?

Some do relapse, but there are plenty who don't.  I know a number of alcoholics and addicts that 'dropped out' of meetings after a number of years and have not relapsed, nor are they on 'dry drunks.'  I would never force them to go back.  What they are doing, judged by its fruits, is working.  You don't have to fix what is not broken.

However, if you stop going to meetings and your anxiety level begins to increase, then you should go back.  Leaving is not for you.  And, I would not even consider such a maneuver until one has at least 10 years of working all the steps and has a solid spiritual foundation.

Some people get apathy in the program, but that is different from the plateau.  Apathy is when we start hiding from our inner problems, which then makes all of the spiritual work of the steps seem unnecessary.  That will come back to bite you.  Apathy feels like boredom.

The plateau does not feel like boredom, but fullness.  It is like that feeling after a big meal: the I'm done feeling.  People get this in church, too.  It means that one needs to explore new options and take new directions.  After all, spiritual development has endless opportunities.

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