I Almost Relapsed on the 4th of July

“I Will Not Use, No Matter What!”

I wrote that phrase in my lecture notebook during my stay at Rob’s Ranch, and I still remember the exact moment I wrote it. A feeling of strength came over me as I made a personal mandate that I was done with my old way of living.

This statement became my mandate and it has pulled me out of many traps the past few years; but one such occasion stands out.

Like an idiot, I took off by myself (not something I would suggest early in recovery) on a camping trip to Roman Nose State Park near Yukon, Oklahoma. I was looking forward to this trip—just me and Mother Nature for an entire week. I was convinced I would spend the time sitting outside my RV, writing, reading books, and enjoying the scenery, undisturbed for days.

It was gonna be good, the only problem was I forgot what weekend it was. I was so focused on packing the right stuff, getting out there, and getting set up that I totally forgot the date.

It was 4th of July weekend . The year, 2012.

Now, I am not a complete idiot. I had realized it was a holiday week, I just didn’t realize everyone would stay at the state park the entire weekend! Next thing I knew, I was surrounded by thirty other RVs full of people partying and partying hard.

So there I was, all alone, stuck in between what sounded like some pretty quality parties. I had no accountability (first mistake) and nowhere I needed to be for days. I have to admit I had some pretty troubling thoughts that first night. But each time my mind wandered into a thought like No one will ever know or You can have a few beers, what’s it gonna hurt? something would click inside my head and I would immediately begin to speak my mandate quietly to myself.

That weekend, saying “I Will Not Use, No Matter What!” as my mandate statement became a habit that has stuck with me every day since. I made it through that camping trip and came home stronger than ever in my sobriety. While I should never have put myself in that situation in the first place, I view that time as a turning point in my recovery. It was one of the most tempting times I had experienced, and I came out of it victorious.

I knew I could do it.

So what is your mandate? Have you ever sat down and thought about it? Do you have a statement you live by, something that drives you forward or keeps you on track? Use whatever analogy you would like for your mandate.

Call it your rudder, your barometer, your compass, your GPS—whatever you want. Just get one that means something to you and convicts your heart to act. That is the most important facet of a moving mandate. It must have a passion behind it that will stir you to action.

Keys to a good mandate statement:

  • Keep It Short. A mandate statement should be between five and ten words max; a phrase you can memorize within a few minutes. You want it to be something your brain will immediately turn to at a moment’s notice in the heat of battle.
  • Keep It Specific. Make your personal mandate attributable to your life experience, addiction, or struggle. It should be a command that will instantly speak to you while pointing to your future.
  • Keep It Singular. A mandate should have meaning behind it that draws you to a certain time in your life or particular emotion you’ve experienced, acting as a verbal reminder of who you once were and what would happen if you made the wrong choice. It should be uniquely singular to you.

If you have a mandate statement let us know by leaving it in the comments section. If not, write one up now.  I’d love to know what drives you to stay clean, make the right choices, or just stay on track every day.

This is an excerpt from my first book, Hope is Alive. It’s part autobiographical and part practical advice on how to stay sober in the modern world. You can pick it up here.


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