10 guidelines for maintaining recovery from addiction

Catch the small problems in your recovery before they turn into big ones. In this article, learn how you can identify and react to these risks, in order to sustain a long-term recovery.

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If you want to keep your recovery running strong, you need to take the same approach a mechanic would take when tuning up a car.

But what should you do in order to maintain your recovery successfully? How can you react to the little signs of risk when they appear, and prevent larger damage? How can you cope with life after getting sober? In this article, we explain what you can do to make sure you are headed in the right direction on the addiction recovery road. Then, we invite your questions and feedback in the comments section below.

Identify and mend signs of trouble down the recovery road

When you are driving or are on a road trip and you don’t fix the small leaks, rattles, and squeaks when they pop up, you’re going to find yourself broken down somewhere down the road. Remember that a tiny drip becomes a drop. A drop becomes a tiny puddle, and before you know it you’ll be spewing oil everywhere and wonder what the hell happened.
Catch the small problems in your recovery when they’re small. Don’t put things off. So, what can you do to keep up a healthy addiction recovery program? How to stay on track?

REMEMBER: Diagnose, Repair, Maintain.

All this is really pretty simple.

Sustaining your recovery: What TO DO

Within this article you will find a 10 point recovery checklist which will be your guide to keep your recovery running strong and out of the repair shop.

Would you leave for a cross country road trip without checking your fluids, tire pressure, and lights?
I didn’t think so.

Most guys put more time and energy into maintaining their vehicles than they do maintaining their lives. Don’t do this.
Do this instead…

10 guidelines for addiction recovery maintenance

1. Make sure you are being honest with yourself and others at all times. No exceptions.

If you are not willing to be honest with yourself, there is no way you’re going to be honest with anyone else. Lying to yourself and pretending that you’re okay when you are not will put you back in the repair shop quickly and you won’t see the breakdown coming until it’s too late.

Be honest, even if it upsets others. It is not your responsibility to determine how they will react to your honesty. It’s much easier to tell the truth the first time, man up and face your consequences than it is to back track wondering what you said to who and why you said it. Quit fooling yourself and JUST BE HONEST.

2. Regularly attend support meetings to keep yourself fueled.

Thinking that you could drive from Michigan to California on one tank of gas is a pipe dream. Unless you’ve got a 200 gallon gas tank, it ain’t gonna happen. You know those places that sell gas? They’re everywhere. They need to be everywhere, or no one would be going anywhere.

Cars, trucks, and motorcycles need fuel to run. They need to be filled up often to keep running, and so do you. Meetings and support groups are your fuel. Fail to stop for fuel often and you’re going to stall out and be stranded.

3. Fix problems while they are small.

Don’t be the guy that neglects an oil drip, cracked radiator hose, or bald tire. Remember that an oil drip ain’t going to fix itself. It will only get worse. Don’t think that duct taping your radiator hose is going to fix it. It won’t, and it will burst eventually. Replace the thing. A bald tire can be deadly if not changed immediately. Pull the wheel off and change the tire.

If you are encountering small problems in your recovery, remember the sequence: diagnose, repair, maintain. Legal problems? Man up and face em’. Relationship, money, health, or employment issues? FACE THEM. Fix what you can with what you have. Surrender the things you can’t fix to the Master Mechanic.

4. Wash, wax, inspect, and repeat.

Most guys will spend a load of money on their car, truck, or motorcycle. They will only buy premium fuel, synthetic oils, and brand name tires. That’s all fine and dandy, but these same guys won’t spend more than a few bucks on buying healthy food, a gym membership, or going to the doctor. Take care of your body. You’ve busted your butt to get sober, so why would you skimp on the vehicle that’s going to take you through life?

Take care of your health. Honor what God has given you. Get some exercise. Stop eating garbage. Quit smoking already. Get plenty of sleep. Learn to rest and relax. Would you put used oil and fouled out spark plugs in your prized possession? I didn’t think you would, so stop treating your body like it will run forever. It won’t. Take care of it and it will take care of you.

5. Stay on your own lane.

There is a passing lane, a driving lane, and a slow lane. If you are really trying your best to live a life based in recovery, you have no business being in the fast lane. None. The fast lane is for passing, not driving. There are always those jackasses that are constantly hurrying to get somewhere that will drive in the fast lane.


It’s okay to pass, but remember that recovery is a long-term deal. It is the most epic adventure you will ever embark on, so get used to going slow and pacing yourself. You’re not going to get to anywhere worth going by rushing. You are not Dale Earnhardt, Mario Andretti or Evil Knievel. Slow the hell down and enjoy the ride. Remember: God’s time, not yours. You will get there, but not by rushing.

6. Realize that you can’t fix everything. Some things will break and stay broken for a while, and that’s fine.

While it’s a really good idea to fix problems while they’re still small, some things are not for you to fix. You may not have the knowledge, the right tools, or be ready to tackle repairing certain parts of your life. Don’t stress. You need to learn how to change your own oil before you can even begin learning how to overhaul an engine, so don’t take on problems that are not yours to fix in the first place.

If you’re trying to rebuild your relationships, finances, health, or employment, remember that you need to learn how to manage what’s in front of you before you are given more to manage and repair. Why don’t they just let a kid drive when they turn 16? They can’t handle it. It would be a complete shit-show.

A kid learns to drive very slowly and deliberately in driver’s education with the instructor at the helm, ready to react if junior makes a dumb move. You are still learning to drive. Chill out and enjoy the process.

7. Follow the instructions at all times.

There are auto repair manuals for a reason. Don’t think you can do things your own way and be successful. You can’t. When it comes to maintaining your recovery, you’ve got to do what the pros do (people that have been in the program longer than you): Listen, learn, pray, apply, and repeat.

The “instructions” to living a healthy and balanced life in recovery can be found at various support meetings and in various books that are read in these support meetings. If you think you’re slick and can cut corners, go ahead…but you must be willing to deal with whatever consequences come your way for doing a half-hearted job.


8. Maintain contact with the head mechanic at all times.

If you are made of flesh and bone, you are human. You are not running the shop, and you can’t keep your own car on the road forever. NO ONE knows how to fix everything. You might have some tools, some experience, and fixed many of your own problems, but the HEAD MECHANIC is the ULTIMATE repairman.

You can call your Head Mechanic whatever you want, so be sure you consult Him on a regular basis. He has already fixed plenty of other cars and knows exactly what’s wrong with yours. Trust Him to give you the tools to fix your own problems when you’re ready, or watch Him work his magic and fix them for you. He’s a hell of a good wrench.

9. Expect breakdowns and detours.

I don’t care how well you’ve maintained your vehicle…THINGS STILL BREAK. Things do not always work out how they are supposed to. Plans change. Potholes are everywhere. Roads are closed, tires go flat, and rocks get spit up by 18-wheelers and chip your paint. It’s not your job to control and micro-manage every step of your journey, nor is it your job to predict everything that might go wrong.

That’s impossible.

Only one mechanic is capable of such things, and that’s the Master Mechanic. If things go wrong – and they will go wrong – adapt, reset, repair, and get back on the road. If that road is closed, ask for directions.

10. Keep a maintenance checklist. Do this daily.

You need to do this. You’ve got to keep track of what’s running well in your life, what’s starting to run a little rich or lean, hot or cold, what’s leaking and what’s not, and keep track of those things. You will not know what’s wrong and what needs to be fixed or maintained if you skip this step. Just do it.

Daily recovery maintenance checklist:

  • Was I 100% honest today?
  • Have I been checking in with the Head Mechanic?
  • Do I owe anyone an amends today?
  • Did I do my best to live in the solution, or have I been living in the problem?
  • Did I make good use of my time today? Why or why not?
  • Was I grateful for what I already have?
  • Did I whine or complain about things I do not have? What is this doing for me?
  • Have I been to a 12-step meeting or talked to someone in the program today?
  • Did I follow the directions to the best of my ability?
  • Am I playing well with others?
  • Have I been getting regular exercise?
  • What kind of fuel have I been putting into my body?
  • Have I been working to improve myself today?
  • Am I keeping my surroundings neat and tidy?
  • Am I regularly checking my motives?
  • Am I getting enough rest?
  • Am I reading something difficult every day, just for practice?
  • Have I been financially responsible today?
  • Have I been checking in with the Head Mechanic?

Recovery maintenance questions

Did you find useful information to help you with your addiction recovery?
Happy travels. See you on the road!

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About the author
Paul J. Wolanin is a professional addictions therapist living and working in Northern Michigan. He is author of Chopping Wood and Carrying Water: One Day at a Time , a 30-day recovery devotional available on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble. He also runs a website where he offers tools and tips to keep your recovery on track. Sign up for his newsletter by visiting him at Paul Wolanin's Author Site.
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