The idea of going to rehab in an attempt to quit drinking or using drugs can be a scary proposition.
One of the big questions is “How will addiction treatment transform my life? What will become of me if I go through rehab?”
I can distinctly remember that this was a very acute fear that I had myself. I was terrified that my personality was going to be sacrificed in some way in order to achieve sobriety.
My argument was that addiction recovery must surely be a form of “brainwashing.” I reasoned this way because I loved to use drugs and alcohol, and the whole point of treatment was abstinence. So surely any program that converted me to abstinence would have to be downright evil and involve brainwashing on some level.
I pictured cult-like activity in recovery, a bunch of evil people all manipulating each other in order to try to control them. My impression of recovery was evil and twisted and based purely on fear.
At various times, people who wanted to see me get help and see me get clean and sober tried to reason with me, saying things like “Yes, you will change in recovery, and you will lose the desire to use drugs and alcohol, but these will be GOOD changes. Your personality will change for the better!” And so on.
But I was not having any of that, and I was stuck in this fearful mode where I was not going to allow myself to be “manipulated” in recovery. So I stayed stuck in addiction, until I finally became miserable enough that I forgot all about these ideas, or just stopped caring about them altogether.
The fact of the matter is, even though I was terrified of all of these changes that recovery would have on me, I went through with them when I finally got miserable enough and surrendered to my disease.
The changes turned out to be “all good,” just as the people in recovery had predicted who were trying to help me. I was scared that my personality would somehow be sacrificed or that I would become brainwashed, but all of that turned out to be unfounded fear.
Let me go through all of these changes that occurred to me in my recovery journey, to illustrate how your life will be transformed in recovery.
How the process of surrender changes you
The first major change that happens in your recovery journey is the act of surrender. This is an internal shift that cannot always be affected directly; I am not sure that anyone can just choose to surrender when they feel like it.
Surrender just happens. It is a shift in attitude.
The outcome of this shift is basically this: “I am so sick and tired of using drugs and alcohol.”
That is the feeling that generally accompanies the moment of surrender. You become fed up with your addiction, fed up with the disease, fed up with having to hustle and chase after your next high all the time.
It is a shift in perspective. You are able to step back and look at your whole life and see a glimpse of the future, where you realize that you are just going to have to keep chasing the same high, over and over again. This moment of surrender is a glimpse into the futility of it all. It is a depressing moment, not a happy one.
Now the way that this moment of surrender actually changes you is that it suddenly makes you care LESS.
This is an important distinction because most people have this idea backwards. Most people believe that in order for someone to get clean and sober, they would think that the person has to buckle down and get serious and really care a great deal about the idea of getting sober. But this is not an accurate portrayal of how surrender works.
Instead, the person who is able to finally get clean and sober simply stops caring. This is how surrender changes you. Something breaks free inside of you, and that “something” is really your ability to care about chasing your happiness and your next high. THAT is the thing that dissipates.
Note something else about surrender: it makes it easier for you to embrace further changes. Part of surrender is that you stop caring so much about your own struggle to self medicate, you stop caring so much about chasing your own happiness for a moment (because you realize it is not working anyway), and you stop caring so much about how you are going to take care of your own personal needs. All of that stops mattering so much, because you have reached a boiling point of complete misery due to your addiction, and it has all swelled so much that it became overwhelming. This is the moment of surrender, the critical point where it just all becomes too much and you just don’t care any more.
Because you’ve reached this point, you become open to change. In the past, you would have shot down the idea of rehab, because you had a million excuses as to why it would not work for you, and you were terrified of it anyway and you thought that they might brainwash you, and so on. But after this critical point of surrender is reached, you no longer care. You are fed up, sick and tired, and you don’t really care if you go to rehab and they try to brainwash you or not. It’s no longer that big of a deal because you have stopped struggling and fighting and caring so much about anything.
So realize that this first big change in your life is this shift that occurs due to surrender.
Also realize that it is this first internal attitude shift that allows all subsequent changes to even occur at all. Without this critical moment of surrender, you are not likely going to become open enough to new ideas to allow recovery to work in your life.
The possibility for successful treatment starts with a moment of total surrender. If you are not completely sick and tired of your addiction, you are probably not ready for all the changes that have to happen in order to create this new life.
How very early recovery and inpatient treatment change you as a person
So now that you have surrendered fully to your disease you are ready to start changing your life. The first step for most people at this point is to check into a residential treatment facility. What will likely happen is that they will check into a treatment center, go through a few days of medically supervised detox, and then attend short term treatment at an inpatient rehab.
In the big scheme of your recovery, these events are a mere drop in the bucket. If you have been clean and sober for a decade or longer, looking back to your first 28 days of your recovery is like nothing at all–just a tiny blip on the radar.
But obviously when you are just getting clean and sober and starting your recovery journey, this stay in a residential rehab is a very big deal to you.
And of course, the whole idea is that you want to change your life, you want to stop chasing drugs and alcohol and start living a healthier life, so you attend this rehab and try to listen to what they are telling you.
If you have not reached the point of surrender, then everything that they tell you will sort of fall on deaf ears. Nothing will really be taken to heart, because you are not yet fully ready to change. You will not really change at all because you are not ready to do the work. Whether you realize it or not, you will probably just leave the rehab at some point and go back to your drug of choice.
Those who have fully surrendered to their disease will take a different approach while in rehab. They will take everything fairly seriously and they will cling to the new information that they are being given like a drowning man would cling to a life preserver. The whole attitude will be different because the level of surrender is different.
Early treatment will change you as a person based on your level of surrender. If you have fully surrendered to your addiction then you will be in a position to want to change, and you will be in a position where you want new information about how to live a different way of life, and you will be open to different ideas about how you can be successful in recovery.
If you have not really surrendered yet then early treatment is not going to change you. There is no brainwashing going on at rehab and they do not have the ability to make you want to avoid your drug of choice. Treatment centers do not have a magic wand that allows them to change your motivation. The motivation to change must come from within, it must come from you, and you are the only one that can supply the motivation to change your life. Rehabs do not have a way to motivate people. They can help people, they can teach people, but they cannot motivate people.
My fear was that rehab was a place that could actually change my motivation, or change my thinking against my will. This is not the case, and so the concept of surrender is still the most important thing when you are in early recovery. If you are not willing to change your life on a really deep level (due to surrender) then you are not going to change at all.
How treatment centers try to change you
Drug rehab centers try to get you to change in a few ways:
1) Teaching you about addiction and the disease.
2) Teaching you about recovery, dealing with triggers and urges, and so on.
3) Connecting you with support.
4) Giving you a plan for ongoing support.
Teaching you about addiction and the disease – One way that rehabs attempt to get you to change is to simply educate you about addiction and the disease itself. This is not the least bit threatening or any attempt at all to brainwash people. For example, there may be a class each week at a rehab about how heavy drinking affects the body long term, or a class about how smoking damages the body, and so on.
They may also get into the disease model of addiction and how the disease is progressive in nature, how your body reacts over time and builds tolerance, and so on. All of this is an attempt to give you more information so that you can hopefully learn to live without drugs and alcohol.
Teaching you about recovery, dealing with triggers and urges, and so on – Treatment centers also attempt to teach you about recovery itself, and how you can learn to deal with life in recovery without resorting to your drug of choice. Some of this information may well be labeled as “relapse prevention.” So they may have a class where they talk about how to identify triggers and urges, then go through various techniques on how to handle those without resorting to self medicating.
Connecting you with support – Many rehab centers are based on the 12 step program of AA, so they naturally will connect with your those meetings while you are in treatment.
Giving you a plan for ongoing support – Part of treatment is organizing an aftercare plan so that you will have specific help and resources after you leave the inpatient treatment center.
We could summarize all of these efforts as follows:
1) Drugs and alcohol are bad for you, and here is why….
2) You can live clean and sober and find alternatives to self medication, and here is how…
3) Find support in groups like this one here….
4) Here is an ongoing plan for after you leave here to help you stay clean and sober….
Or put another way:
1) Teaching about disease/addiction.
2) Teaching about recovery/relapse prevention.
3) Support groups/12 step program/etc.
4) Aftercare and long term relapse prevention.
These are the methods by which rehab tries to get the addict or alcoholic to change.
At their most basic level, these changes amount to:
1) You used to self mediate all the time with drugs or alcohol, now you are going to give complete abstinence a try.
2) You used to react to situations in life by using drugs or alcohol as your solution, now you are going to find new solutions for your problems that do not involve self medicating.
3) You used to hang around or associate with people due to your addiction, now you will hang around and associate with people in recovery.
4) You used to obsess about finding and getting more of your drug of choice, now you will focus on ongoing treatment and personal growth as your continuous goal instead.
This is how the treatment and recovery process seeks to change the drug addict or alcoholic.
How long term recovery changes you
Long term recovery is more of the same: you are making major life changes and constantly engaging in personal growth activities.
Those who fail to do this in long term recovery become stagnant, and run the risk of possibly relapsing because of it.
They have a saying in recovery programs: “You are either working on recovery, or you are working on a relapse.” But you do not stand still. You can not just tread water in your recovery program and expect to be OK. If you are treading water and merely maintaining abstinence, then you are actually in great danger because you are slowly progressing toward relapse.
Remember that to relapse in recovery is actually our default state. This is normal, because we are addicts and alcoholics, and because we tend to want to use drugs and alcohol to medicate our feelings, our pain, and our frustrations. This is our normal default state, to use drugs or alcohol. That is just the way it is, because of our addiction.
So long term recovery, when done correctly, is a long series of changes. It is a huge growth experience that never really ends.
The goal is to keep changing, to keep reinventing ourselves. It is this process of change and of reinventing ourselves that protects us from relapse.
If you make it in long term recovery then your life will always be changing, and your new default will be a system of self analysis and pushing yourself toward new goals.
This does not necessarily mean that you will become some desperate self help candidate who runs from one pathetic “cure” to the next.
Instead, we seek to build upon layers of success in recovery.
For example, you may identify your most important change that you need to make in your new found sobriety. Maybe for some people this will be “quitting smoking.”
So you are clean and sober and you decide that this is your next major life goal: to quit smoking.
So you do it. You attack the goal with everything that you have, and you may even fail at it. You might fail several times. But you push through and you keep trying new approaches until you succeed and reach your goal.
Your goal in this case is really “permanent freedom from nicotine.” So you lock in that change and you make it a part of your life. You transform into a non-smoker. You don’t just change in recovery, but you master each change like this in recovery.
That way, you are not constantly sliding backwards after you have made progress.
Recovery becomes a cumulative process of personal growth. No change is considered a success until it is firmly established as a solid habit, a part of who you are. Each positive growth experience is a goal that you meet and then lock in for the long run.
After reaching such a goal, you may take some time to reflect and enjoy your success before you set your next challenge. How can you improve your life next? What is your next big change, your next challenge in recovery? Do some self analysis, try to look at the big picture that is now your life in recovery, and figure out what positive change would have the biggest impact on your life. Then, set the goal and start pushing yourself to take action.
This is long term recovery done right–a series of positive changes, a continuous growth experience. When people mention “complacency,” they are referring to the idea of stopping this process, of not setting these goals any more, of not pushing themselves to make any more positive changes.
Obviously, in order to be successful in long term recovery and protect yourself from relapse, you want to embrace the idea of change, and keep pushing yourself to make positive improvements in your life.
Embracing the idea of change
Nobody is perfect, right? But there is nothing wrong with pushing ourselves to become better people, to strive for an ideal.
Relapse is that moment in recovery where we say “screw it, I don’t care anymore, I give up on trying to be a better person. I am going to just use my drug of choice instead.”
In order to protect yourself from this extreme moment of negativity, you have to embrace the idea of positive change, over and over again.
This becomes easier to do once you have been doing it for a while, and are already receiving the benefits of these positive changes in your life. Success breeds success, and it gets easier to justify the pursuit of personal growth once you have had some success with it.
Addiction treatment is all about embracing change.
Are you ready to take the plunge and change your life?
Take your next step right here.