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Author: Justin Mckibben

That more depressing cliché saying you might hear in recovery, whether in the rooms of 12 Step meetings, in rehabs and halfway houses, or even from therapists and sponsors is a little morbid, sometimes effective, and an undeniably tragic reality. “Sometimes you have to step over bodies in early recovery”. It may not be your favorite, it is definitely not mine. But sometimes it’s the truth, and sometimes the truth hurts. I’d personally like to believe that it shouldn’t have to be that way, because no one should ever have to lose their life to the disease of addiction, but sadly I have personally had to step over a few bodies myself in the past few years, and a couple times came close to becoming one. In the U.S. prescription medications alone cause 1 death by overdose every 19 minutes, and hundreds of deaths by overdose every single day, so in the time it takes some people to get to work every day, it is probably safe to say at least one addict lost their life.

What Does it Mean?

To “step over bodies” in early recovery is essentially to bear witness to the downfall of others and avoid letting it trip you up in your own sobriety, and this can happen in a few ways.

  • Relapse

I would just like to say to start off that some people will tell you “relapse is part of recovery”, but I disagree. Relapse is a part of some people’s stories, including my own, but it is NOT a necessity. We as addicts and alcoholics do not have to relapse in order to recover, we just have to accept relapse IF it happens and move on.

So if someone close to you relapses, someone might actually tell you to “step over the bodies” and avoid getting involved in their toxic behaviors. This specific use of the term is NOT my favorite, because to some peoples understanding this might be implying that a friend who has relapsed is doomed. It attaches this stigma on the relapsed individual, like saying they may as well be dead already, and you should avoid them. That should never be the case.

What I should say is in early recovery it may be wise for some people to avoid temptation, and to steer clear of people who have relapsed so their own sobriety is not compromised. Whatever your sponsor says, do that because they are probably right. But in my experience, I was around people who relapsed. Some of my best friends relapsed when I got back from my own relapse, and no one “stepped over me” when I was out using and drinking. I didn’t “step over” my friends either. I reached out and made myself available in the appropriate settings.

  • Death from addiction

This is probably the more obvious translation, and it speaks volumes. To “step over the bodies” in early recovery sometimes means you literally have to overcome some tragic deaths. I can say I have lost a few friends of my own in early months of recovery. People that were inspirations and people that were reaching out for help, and once they were using and drinking again it caught up too quickly and they lost their lives to their disease or their life-style. Situations may vary, from overdose to undesirable circumstances that lead to untimely death, and we are often exposed to our own emotions before realizing how sensitive they are when this happens in early recovery.

When a friend passes away, from the disease of addiction, whether a direct result like overdose or another situation, or dies at all really it has a tendency to strike a nerve. Some of us are a little more susceptible depending on our history, our coping mechanisms, or our relationships. But to be able to walk through this experience without letting it compromise your convictions is vital to your continued sobriety and your own survival. To “step over bodies” is to be able to accept death like this for what it is, and to not let yourself use it as an excuse or let it deter you from doing what you need to for your recovery.

Dealing with Death

Death and the disease of addiction are no strangers to one another. Thousands of people die every day from addiction to drugs or alcohol, and in early recovery you are bound to meet a few of them. To be able to walk through an experience like that is going to probably take a lot of perseverance and sober supports to stand by you through an emotionally scarring situation. However dealing with death in early recovery doesn’t always mean you have to avoid it.

Saying to someone they have to “step over bodies” can be effective in giving them the perspective that recovery can be a battlefield at times, and that in that fight there will be casualties. Although we should hope to contribute to others in as many ways as we can to help, it is not in our power to stop it alone. Someone else’s relapse cannot be our responsibility, and we cannot try and rescue them when it is not up to us. If you have to “step over bodies” in an effort to keep them from dragging you down with them, do what you have to do.

At the same time saying to “step over bodies” also seems a little insensitive to some. Some people feel like it implies to say that you avoid the sick and suffering, and that concept is offensive to the idea of many recovery programs. I was taught that I am to ALWAYS have my hand out to those who need it, and I feel as though if an addict or alcoholic is still breathing, they are not a body to be stepped over. They are a sick person and a fallen comrade, and if they reach out then I will kneel to help them before I tip-toe around them. That is just what I believe.

I have seen some beautiful people lose their lives to the disease of addiction, and the life-style that it creates. I do not doubt that it can and will happen again. In order to learn and grow from it, and to endure and evolve, I will have to accept it and move on. We must walk through these experiences together, not side-step them. Too many incredible men and women have died, and their memories should be honored with the lives of their loved ones. If someone dies, we honor them by working toward change in ourselves, and it is OK to stumble down that part of our path, as long as we can stay the course.

Addiction is a fatal disease, and it claims the lives of thousands of beautiful and amazing people every day. Some of us recovering addicts and alcoholics have had to walk through the pain associated with losing a friend or loved one to their own addictions in early recovery, and many people have opinions on how to overcome such a tragedy. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction do not wait to get help. Too many addicts never get a chance, do not pass up yours. Please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135

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