Really, What Are They?
Okay, so what the hell is a negative contract? If you’re anything like me, you’ve heard this term thrown around in treatment, halfway houses, and twelve-step meetings without actually knowing what it means.
I’ve been sober for seven years now. It wasn’t until year two or three that I actually learned what a negative contract was. Probably because I was hardheaded in treatment and didn’t pay full attention!
So, what is a negative contract? It’s simply keeping a secret that may be harmful to yourself or others. It’s keeping a secret you shouldn’t keep. Still sound a bit confusing? Well, read on to find specific examples of negative contracts during the various stages of sobriety!
Keeping Secrets in Rehab
Negative contracts and rehab, the two go together like peanut butter and jelly! I’d like to share an example from my own time in treatment to illustrate just how harmful negative contracts in rehab can be.
In 2007, I was in a medium sized rehab. We had around forty patients altogether. Many of them were sneaking around, hooking up with each other, and sharing medication. It was a bit of a mess.
The staff found out about all this, although they didn’t find out who was doing what specifically. We had a “community meeting” where the therapists tried to get us to admit to details. I wasn’t directly involved in any of it, but I did know what was happening. I didn’t say anything and neither did anyone else.
A few weeks later, one of the guys involved relapsed, overdosed, and died.
Did he die because he was keeping a negative contract? Of course not! Still, he wasn’t living honestly. He wasn’t living by spiritual principles. He wasn’t drinking, but he wasn’t sober. That contributed to his relapse, which did kill him.
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Halfway Houses & Hiding the Truth
The time we spend living in a halfway house or other sober living facility is, generally speaking, considered “early to middle sobriety.” We have a little bit of time, we’re actively engaged in working the steps, and we’re trying to grow as spiritual men and women.
We’re still at risk for keeping negative contracts though. Thankfully, at this point, we’re usually not in imminent danger of drinking. What we are in danger of is living in a selfish and unhealthy manner. And make no mistake, these things lead back to drinking.
Keeping a negative contract during this period is a major danger! From personal experience, I know how damaging it can be. One of my roommates would regularly sneak women into our halfway house. I never said anything about it. I held that negative contract.
While I didn’t end up drinking, I certainly felt emotionally drained. I wasn’t being honest. I wasn’t helping my roommate or myself. I started to get angry all the time. I started to, once again, become selfish rather than selfless.
Negative Contracts in Long-Term Sobriety
And here we get to the good stuff! Long-term sobriety! This is, generally speaking, any length of time after the first three years of sobriety.
Do people in long-term recovery keep negative contracts? You bet they do! Although I don’t have personal experience (I finally started living right!), I can share a sponsee’s experience.
My sponsee worked at a popular fast-food restaurant. He knew of someone who was stealing money from the register. He didn’t say anything. He called me more than a few times torn up over this knowledge. He knew he should do something, but he simply didn’t.
Did he drink? Nope. He did act out in other ways though. Much like my experience, he began to get angry and act like, well, like an idiot. He would snap and yell at the people he lived with. He would let people walk all over him. He was living, in other words, like he was still drinking.
Getting Rid of Negative Contracts
The solution to negative contracts, as simple as it may sound, is to simply share the secret. You may have heard the saying “we’re only as sick as our secrets.” That’s absolutely true!
Holding a negative contract helps no one. It doesn’t help the person you’re holding it for. It only enables their negative behavior. It doesn’t help us. It only feeds our character defects.
So, tell someone! It doesn’t matter if the person you tell is your sponsor, therapist, friend, sober support, or anyone else. It’s just important to get that negative contract out.
Now, there is one caveat to the above statement. You shouldn’t tell the negative contract to someone it would hurt. That is to say, if you know someone is cheating on their significant other, don’t tell the significant other!
Now that we know how to handle a negative contract, let’s go out and start living our lives based on spiritual principles!