A Most Effective Sobriety Plan

Four Circles


         A new approach to establsihing and maintaining sobriety has emerged from the most effective treatment centers in recent years.  It is a direct application of the 12 steps of AA, and it is a great way to measure your risk at any given time, and to report to someone else how you are doing.  It works if you work it.  Four concentric circles represent three important lists of behaviors, and one list of warning signs.  These lists will be fluid, and you will need to add and subtract new items on a regular basis, at least from the boundaries list and the recovery behaviors below.  These 4 cirlcles are often an excellent way to give account of yourself on a regular basis, in your marriage, with your sponsor, me, and with same-sex accountability partners.  They will also give you a quick read on how you are doing at any given time, what AA calls a "spot-check inventory":  are you code green, yellow, orange, or red?  Use these lists to structure and summarize your reports to people of how you have been doing, in the order below: red, then green, then yellow, and finally orange.  Each behavior needs to be very specific, to minimize confusion about whether you have done something, and whether it is useful as listed.

Sobriety definition (the red inner circle).  Here you describe any relapse into behavior you believe you are called to completely avoid.  Examples of behaviors that are often on this list for addicts are any indulgence in your addictive substance or behavior, and any lies or cover-ups to your spouse or significant other about anything.  Spouses usually need to be told all details within 24 hours of any relapse, including your inventory of which character defects were involved, who you hurt, and amends you propose.

Recovery behaviors (the green outer circle): if you are married, include positive approaches to your mate that you need to make regularly until they have become habits.  Include all of your regular recovery behaviors, and state how often (daily, weekly, etc.) you are led to do each one: meetings, devotionals, phone calls, workbook pages, reading certain books, going to church, attending counseling, daily prayers, accountability check-ins with spouse, buddy and/or sponsor, whatever.  (Some examples can be found below.)  Include other behaviors that are to be done often and whenever appropriate, but not on a daily or weekly schedule (such as making amends and maintaining progress in step work and tasks for recovery).  Also include behaviors your spouse wants and needs to see for closeness to occur (e.g., sharing your feelings, calling/texting during the day, coming home on time, spending time with the kids, praying together, sitting together on the couch, speaking the spouse’s love language, whatever).

Troublesome attitudes (the yellow inner circle):  Between the outer circle and the middle circle, many people are finding it helpful to use this circle as a warning.  If you don’t talk these attitudes out, you are more likely to act them out.  Here you can list the mindsets and situations that tend to trigger your slips and relapses.  Common ones are: resentment, shame, insecurity, boredom, loneliness, horniness, exhaustion, self-pity, discouragement, failure, success, rejection, entitlement, egomania, etc.  Watch for emotions that spike intensely as over-reactions to a situation, and for those that linger after the trigger incident, looking for other situations that justify their existence.  If you call these attitudes instead of triggers, you take more responsibility for them, and for your choices when you experience them.  (Your addiction wants you call them triggers so you can say something just set you off.)  These attitudes will often need to be on your list of character defects when you do/did step 5.             

Boundaries list (the orange circle, next to the red, things that would be a slip but not a relapse):  This should include all behaviors that might come before a relapse, and that might incite some temptation to relapse, such as:  lying or covering up, foot slips (allowing yourself to go somewhere unnecessary that is tempting), fantasy slips (allowing your mind to imagine future misbehaviors), euphoric recall (dwelling too long on the pleasures of past addictive escapades), argument slips (avoiding or prolonging a conflict which gives you resentment), or social slips (hanging out too long or too often with people tempt you to act out).  Spouses usually need to be told about slips more vaguely (like just tell the frequency of each type of slip), with fewer details, and not as quickly (within a week is OK).  Even so, your inventory and your proposed amends do need to be included when your spouse is told.


Possible Recovery Behaviors

A 30-second prayer for a day of sobriety in early AM, and another for thanksgiving at bedtime

A 2-minute meditation on how God might want you to help with your prayers being answered

Initiate successfully live phone call with sponsor, to include 4-circle report, including also:

10+ minutes for you  (2+ for slips, temptations, and pressures, 8+ for your recovery)

Initiate phone calls with recovering buddies until you get one live on the phone:

5+ minutes for each of you  (1+ for slips, temptations, and pressures, 4+ for your recovery)

20 min. of phone time buddies initiate  (or 10 from you leaving two VM’s with 4-circle reports)

15 min. of Bible study, leaving time to meditate on personal application for your life/recovery

15 min. of recovery reading, highlighting, meditating on personal application for your recovery

Attend a 12-step or recovery meeting

Chart the day’s activities, and on a log, record brief but specific answers to what you did, what

helped the most today, and why?  What helped the least, and why?

Read and complete the writing assignments for one chapter per week of a recovery workbook

Read and highlight/underline one chapter per week of a recovery-oriented book

Dr. Paul Schmidt   (502) 633 2860

Dr. Paul Schmidt is a psychologist life coach you can reach at [email protected], (502) 633-2860.


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Dr. Paul F. Schmidt