Online or in person, with family or with strangers, with friends in recovery or people you bump into on the street – conflict happens. In active addiction, you may have handled these moments with an extreme response, perhaps even with verbal or physical violence. In active recovery, however, this will no longer work. Staying sober for the long-term requires a more balanced approach to everything in life, including conflict, no matter how large or small the issue.
Conflict = Stress = Relapse Trigger
When you are in conflict, your body has a physiological stress response. Your heart rate increases, your body temperature rises, and you shut down every response except what you need to focus on and respond to the argument.
Depending on how heated the argument gets, how frequently you engage in strenuous conflict, or the emotional attachment you personally have to the topic at issue, arguments can be a trigger for cravings for drugs and alcohol. Continually choosing to put yourself in a state of high stress means putting yourself at risk for relapse.
Like everything in recovery, if arguments are a trigger for relapse, your best option will always be to walk away and limit the amount of time you spend engaged in disagreement of any kind, especially in early recovery when you are less likely to be able to manage your emotions. However, if it is an argument you cannot avoid, there are ways to handle the situation effectively and decrease your risk of relapse.
Physical Violence Is Never Appropriate
It should go without saying but engaging in physical conflict for any reason is not an option in recovery. It doesn’t matter what the other person says or threatens to do, how their words make you feel, or who is watching or not watching. Though it can feel like an emotional release to unleash on someone physically, it also:
- Does nothing to win the argument for you or address the issue at hand
- Gains you no respect from the individual or others standing nearby
- Puts you at risk of legal complications
- Can be a trigger for relapse in itself
- Set you up for repeat conflicts and ongoing aggressions
Other Things to Avoid in an Argument
In addition to steering clear of physical altercations, there are a number of other tactics that will do little to help you win an argument and will ultimately only cause more problems and more stress without resolving the discussion. Here are a few things you should avoid if effectively arguing your point is the goal.
Attacking the character of the other person or group: If you solely focus on the person or group that espouses an argument, then you are not actually arguing the point at hand. Calling people names, referring to past choices they have made as your only form of argument, or trying to say that the other person has no authority to comment does not prove that you are right or that they are wrong.
Focusing on minutiae: If you are mocking someone’s grammar, correcting them when they use a word incorrectly, or attacking their character, you are also not making any comment on whether or not the arguments they are using in this case are valid.
Stating your opinion: Your opinion is not an argument until you back it up with facts – statements that have evidence to support them. Stating your opinion alone will not win an argument, but depending on the context, it can be a valid addition to a conversation.
Saying that the other person is wrong: Similarly, stating only that the other person is wrong without pointing out any factual evidence to support that conclusion does not win an argument.
Know Your Goal
When you find yourself getting drawn into or contemplating an argument, consider what your goal is before you begin. Are you determined to change someone’s mind? Get them to agree to take part in a certain activity? Will it actually change anything for the better if you do prove yourself right or them wrong? There is a saying in recovery: “Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?” In most cases, you will likely find that forcing an argument through to a conclusion will do nothing more than raise your stress level and put your recovery at risk.
How do you handle arguments in sobriety?