By: C. W. Stratton, MS, CASAC


Changing People, Places, and Things

Those in recovery have heard the negative aspects of People, Places, and Things on a regular basis. People caution us to:
  • Detach from some relationships
  • Remove ourselves from the old haunts
  • Be mindful of what things prompt cravings
  • Cultivate awareness of negative thinking that prompts using
Some may be tired of hearing this constantly repeated in meetings, but many of us need to continue hearing the message as a reminder of how our addictions have affected us on so many levels, and that returning to the familiar hangouts or communicating with our using buddies often sets us up for a relapse.  When we hear this simple concept, we have a duty to ourselves and to those entering the recovery process to help in identifying each area; with specifics. 
Addiction  must be treated and managed just like other diseases.  Following the prescription written by professionals and pioneers of self-help meetings is critical to the overall recovery process.  We realize that recovery is a lifelong process that must be consistently managed.  Just as other diseases and illnesses that may have potential setbacks given that the person doesn’t follow the guidance and recommendations, addiction has the similar setbacks that can be experienced. Identifying specifics about this will offer more insight into the dangers and high risk situations that we can meet, consciously and subconsciously.   


In identifying people, we must dig deep and attempt to avoid minimizing the negative impact that certain people in our lives can have on our recovery. While we should live with awareness that,  “I know, at the end of the day we are responsible the decisions we make and we can’t blame others for our actions.”  However, we need to be honest with ourselves and say, “There are some people I’ve met during active addiction that can create certain emotions within me that could risk my recovery.” 
Then we have those people who have been in our lives before our use of substances that can also have a negative impact on our recovery.  It’s time to identify those people with respect to the concept of People, Places and Things.
1.  The person that first introduced us to a substance.  This person tends to be one of the most difficult people to let go of.  The person showed us a new experience that was initially fun and filled with euphoria.  Every time we wanted the feeling we sought that person out.  If we decide to return to active use, we make seek that person out or someone similar.
2.  The drug dealer that you formed a relationship with based on your use that is still out there.  He may be the one that tells you how happy he is that you’ve changed your life, but he says he’ll make himself available to you if you need him for anything.
3. Family members who still use substances; this can even be your mother.  Since many of us value family, we make excuses of why we continue to socialize with them despite their use and the high risk situation that you may place yourself in.
4.  The beautiful girl or handsome gentleman that you know uses, but you were fond of.  Now that you’re clean, that person may seek you out and show you more attention than in the past.  Those in early recovery may have feelings of loneliness and may put themselves at risk by socializing with this person.
5.  The person who was released from jail and they’ve heard your life has changed for the better.  This person may seek you out for a number of reasons; financially, to get back in the game or deceive you into believing that they want what you have (recovery).  This isn’t true in all cases, but we know this type of person.

Why We  Let Go of Some People

Although this is not a complete list of people that can potentially put your recovery at risk, we must begin doing a thorough inventory of this area of our lives.  This tends to be the most problematic area for recovering people, due to the attachments we form in our lives.  We have a difficult time letting go and starting anew.  Change is difficult, but it’s inevitable. Change is uncomfortable, but needed for the recovering person.
Our associations shape who we are and how we learn new things.  If we continue associating with those from our past, we continue to live there.  We do not get an opportunity to see the wonderful things ahead of us.  Take a healthy risk, change.


Now, we should look at the Places that can have a negative impact on our recovery.  There are many places that prompt thoughts of using.
1. The local liquor store.  This where many of us found our relief and comfort.  Some of us waited patiently until they opened or rushed there before they closed.  There are those who created friendships with the owner and felt the relationship with genuine.  The owner may see you now and say, “I haven’t seen you in some time.”  We are compelled or even feel that we owe an explanation to the owner because he was a good friend.  Remember, he’s a business man.
2.  The street where you purchased your drugs.  Some of us may feel the urge to travel down that block just to see what’s going on.  This is definitely a high risk situation on so many levels.
3.  The house where you used to get high.  I’ve known people who know the owner of the  house and tell themselves, “I just want to stop by and see how Mr. X is doing.”  Mr. X was the person who orchestrated the getting high process in his home.  I’m sure we have an idea of how Mr. X is doing.  Do not venture into this situation.
4.  The local Bar.  This is the place where all your so-called buddies hung out.  It seemed that all of you had so much in common and that’s why you always arrived there like clockwork.  Keep in mind that the commonality was the use of alcohol.  Now that you’re sober you have an urge to see how your buddies are doing, so we tend to drive by or peek in the window as you walk by.  Yes, they are still there.  This is high risk and we must be vigilant in trying to rearrange our routines and routes of travel if this is difficult to let go of.

Why We Let Go of Some Places

The Places that can potentially impact our recovery seems difficult to manage.  Changing our travel patterns, acknowledging that the same things are going on in these places, and realizing what I call “Peeking” will eventually draw you closer to relapse should be in the forefront of our minds.  This isn’t all the places that can impact recovery, but look at your overall recovery and begin identifying the places that you know deep down can lead to a negative outcome.
The Things that can impact our recovery takes a different shape and People and Places.  I’ve found throughout my career and personal recovery that many people have had difficulty identifying Things.


1.  Music.  This may relate to a song the you hear at the bar all time or the song you to listen to when you were using substances.  Subconsciously listening to that song now may lead to a moment of romanticized events.  Acknowledging this is key and keep in mind that we have the ability to find a new song we can enjoy.
2.  Movies.  There are movies that some of us may have enjoyed watching during active addiction.  Or, there are movies that may depict your previous behaviors, such as your drug use, problem relationships, or simply scenes where violence is the focus.
3. Sounds, Sights and Smells.  This is a list of some things that may trigger thoughts of use or relapse:
  • The sound of a beer can opening (it can actually be a soda can being open, but this is what it reminds us of).
  • Sound of lighters flicking.  This may be related to those who use marijuana, crack, heroin use, etc.
  • The aroma of alcohol or other substance.
  • Seeing  a syringe, spoon, rolled up dollar bill, pill bottle or aluminum foil.
4. The other thing that I’d like to mention is our MINDS.  Our thought process and how we perceive things in recovery is crucial. 

Retraining Our Minds in Recovery

Utilizing our minds in positive ways and making a conscious decision to better our lives will allow us to get the rewards of the recovery process.  Those who have psychological disorders may need to seek professional help to better insure success in the recovery process.
Now that we have identified some potential High Risk situations, we can begin healing and making better decisions in our lives. 
There are people from our past or even present that may create emotional challenges for us.  These can be people that we don’t associate with substance use.  However, emotions that are uncomfortable or overwhelming can hinder our recovery.  If this is the case, we must set up firm boundaries with these people. 
There are Places the remind us of substance use; like the neighborhood we may reside in.  Not everyone has the economics to move from the current environment.  Given this, we must be extra vigilant in our recovery; create strong social supports and new associations.  
The Things that we may encounter can be worked on through hard work and a sincere commitment to gather new things in our lives.  Things that are meaningful and will strengthen our recovery. 
As mentioned before, recovery is a lifelong process the requires us to follow the prescription and guidelines that have been proven successful.  The HOW of the program is Honesty, Open-mindedness and Willingness.  With these, you are well on your way. 
Resist old behaviors and use new ways of thinking.  Always keep in mind that if you’re currently displaying a behavior that you call old, how can you call it old if you’re doing it now.  Change is required.  Make yourself aware of High Risk Situation and avoid them at all costs.

Writing, and recovery heals the heart

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