Figuring out how to live a life without drugs and alcohol requires new information.
This should be evident to anyone who is trapped in a cycle of addiction and has tried every which way in order to try and keep drinking successfully. The alcoholic just cannot do it for any length of time…..eventually we screw up again, go off on a huge bender, get into trouble, and so on. Lack of control defines our addiction, obviously. If we could control it there would be no problem.
Every person who has wrestled with alcoholism tries to overcome their problem on their own. They use known solutions to other similar problems they have experienced in their lives. For example, they might simply try to cut back on drinking. Or they might say “I know….I will just drink on the weekends.” These ideas make sense because they have worked for other types of problems. Why would you not try these approaches?
Our experience in life is that we will apply ideas that may have worked for us in the past to a new problem.
But we all know what happens to the struggling alcoholic at this point: none of their ideas work. Nothing that they attempt on their own seems to help their drinking or drug problem. This is almost always because of either one of two possibilities:
1) The person is trying to moderate rather than to stop entirely, or
2) The person is trying to stop entirely, without also trying to change their entire life around to support a sober existence.
Both approaches lead to failure.
So what is the secret to sobriety?
The secret is counter-intuitive. If it were intuitive, then getting sober would be easy and natural for any alcoholic. But of course it is not.
The reason that the solution is counter-intuitive is because it involves surrender. Almost every other (tough) problem in our life involves fighting hard for the solution. But peeling back the first eye-opening layer of information in recovery is not about fighting harder, it is about giving up. You have to let go of everything in order make a fresh start in recovery. You must surrender.
Surrender to what?
I think you have to surrender to 2 things:
1) You have to surrender to the fact that you cannot control your drinking. You have to accept total abstinence. This is a crushing defeat that has to be embraced before you can achieve serious recovery.
2) You have to surrender to the fact that you need help from outside of yourself. Surrender to the idea that you cannot defeat addiction alone. In my opinion, this is one of the biggest reasons that alcoholics and addicts should go to rehab. They need help.
So if someone is in the process of getting clean and sober then they have to grasp this about surrender. It is vital information. Without it, you cannot recover.
But some people who do surrender still manage to relapse. What other layers of information are critical for recovery? What has to be learned in order to maintain sobriety?
New layers of information
In my opinion, there are a number of things you have to learn if you are going to remain sober. The thing is, you may not learn them in a specific order. For example, one thing you might learn is how to have fun again in recovery without drugs or alcohol. Yes, this is a learning experience, and it might take some time for you to discover this new information.
Likewise, you may have to rediscover how to communicate your feelings honestly with other people, rather than simply covering those feelings up with alcohol or getting angry and being verbally abusive.
You may have to learn how to forgive. How to forgive yourself, or how to forgive others. There are people in recovery who fail to do this, and it ends in relapse. So for some, this is critical information. It must be learned.
I know a person in recovery who died young because they failed to embrace holistic health. They were overweight, continued to smoke cigarettes, and failed to heed several warning signs. We learn through experience, by doing stuff. If this person had learned to live healthier, and embrace an holistic path in life, then they might still be here.
Lessons to be learned in recovery
One of the mysteries of recovery is that you have to keep learning new things. It is pretty tough to explain why exactly, but it is true. If you stop learning in recovery you will relapse. The ultimate form of relapse prevention in recovery is continuous learning about holistic health.
Why is this the case? Probably because:
1) Life is cyclical – old issues that you may have dealt with in the distant past will pop back up “to haunt you” eventually. The same is true for people you may resent, etc. So just because you think a certain issue in your life may be dead and buried, it almost never is. The nature of life is that we have to keep revisiting our past, over and over again. This requires us to constantly be on our toes, learning new things, so that we can effectively remain sober through these cyclical swings that we will eventually experience.
2) We forget idle information – even if you have a mind like a steel trap, you will forget the important parts of how you actually stay sober through certain events. “If you don’t use it you lose it.” This is true for remaining sober through a wide variety of different life experiences. In other words, we have to keep relearning how to live sober, over and over again, because it is the experience of doing so that we need to learn, not the information itself. In other words, we need to keep relearning the application of knowledge about recovery, not about recovery itself. Memorizing a whole book about overcoming addiction is useless. The knowledge we need in recovery is applied knowledge. It is experiential knowledge. And we have to keep building that as we go along, or we fall out of touch with how recovery actually works.
3) If you stop learning, for any reason, you have the wrong attitude for recovery. You are setting yourself up for failure.
The lifelong solution
Always be learning.
But even more than that, always be open to peeling back that next layer of information. For example, maybe a friend of yours just experienced a huge breakthrough in their life when they learned about forgiveness. So they get excited about their new found freedom and they tell you all about it and you have this great little discussion.
Now the key is to take that information and apply it to your life. Does it apply? Do you have issues in your own life that might benefit from this insight? Do you have anger or sadness or frustration because you cannot let something go? Are you beating yourself up, over and over again, over the same things?
So maybe it applies to you and maybe it does not. Fine. The key is to be ready for the lesson, in every interaction. If you want to see learning in action, read through some of the comments on this thread. People there help each other to make real progress in taking the first steps towards overcoming addiction.
Ask yourself: What do I need to learn today?
Am I ready to see the lesson that is in front of me?