Is it possible to create success in recovery from addiction on your own terms rather than by following someone else’s rules?
My belief (and my experience) is that you can do exactly that if you are willing to put in the effort.
Of course commitment, willingness, and an eagerness to learn are all critical for this to truly work. But if you are willing to make a conscious and deliberate effort at self growth, you can create your own path in recovery.
Living life on life’s terms
What does it mean to “live life on life’s terms?”
It means that you have to deal with reality as it comes to you, whether you like it or not, and that you have to take it like an adult. When we self medicated with drugs or alcohol in order to try to avoid reality, this was really a childish and immature reaction to life. Choosing to accept life on “life’s terms” means that we have more acceptance and respect for the cards we are being dealt, and that we do not act childishly about our situation. Instead of running away from our problems and attempting to escape we choose to face our problems in recovery and learn from the situation.
In order to do this effectively in recovery you have to take action. I think in some cases there is this idea in addiction recovery that we have to be robots who just accept everything and therefore never try to improve our life situation. This is not how I have approached my recovery and this is not how I have found my own success.
The reason that you get to create your own success in recovery is because you are going to forge your own path. And in order to do this you have to be able to take and accept what life is dishing out to you, like an adult, without running away from it all and attempting to self medicate (an immature response).
There is a problem with this approach: Sometimes life dishes out some real crap for you to deal with.
This is going to be true no matter who you are and no matter what your life situation is. We all have our ups and downs, we all go through cycles of change, and we all have good times in our life followed by some bad times. It can’t all be perfect. So what happens in recovery when you are dealing with situations that frustrate and upset you? What happens in recovery when you notice things about yourself that you don’t like, and these things make you want to lash out at the world in anger? What happens in recovery when random events seek to disrupt your serenity, and it all comes down on you in spite of your best efforts to work a good recovery.
The problem is essentially “life happens.” The random nature of life insures that you are going to experience the full roller coaster of emotions as you make your journey–whether you are self medicating or clean and sober does not really matter. Life still happens, and you are left to learn how to deal with it.
So the task in addiction recovery is to learn how to deal with life (on it’s own terms!). Ask yourself:
* Can I deal with this situation? Can I handle it? (Implying that you can deal with the situation without self medicating).
* Can I avoid this situation entirely? (Relapse prevention).
* Can I create a future in which I am better equipped to handle this type of situation, or I am better at avoiding it? (Personal growth and learning).
Anyone can go to detox and short term rehab and get clean and sober. The challenge is what happens when you walk out of that protected environment and start dealing with the real world again. “Life happens,” and how we deal with it is up to us.
There are essentially three tools listed above. You can deal with negative situations, you can try to prevent them, or you can make deliberate changes that minimize them in the future.
If you look at the first tool it is largely out of your control. You either can handle things or you cannot. You cannot change this directly unless you are deliberately subjecting yourself to greater and greater stress (sounds like a terrible idea, and risky too!).
The second idea is to avoid the situation. This is good in the short run if it will keep you clean and sober. If there is a negative situation then you should do everything that you can in order to protect your sobriety.
The third idea is what recovery is all about:
The idea is to take a step back and look at your life. Analyze the negative situations, the negative elements of your life. We all have our ups and downs, even in our recovery. Look for the patterns. What is holding you back from living your best life? What is holding you back from creating your best life in recovery?
If you take the time to ask these questions and analyze your life (seeking out the negative elements of it) then you can start to create a plan.
The plan is simple: Fix the negative stuff! Eliminate it. Get rid of it.
One by one, you can change your world in recovery. One issue at a time, you can fix any negative situation in your life. It is possible to create deliberate growth and change in your life. Start from the bottom up and find your biggest weakness, your biggest flaw, the one thing that is holding you back. Create a plan, ask for advice and help, and then attack that particular problem. Do not let up until you have solved the issue and created some progress.
This is the best way to deal with life on life’s terms. Sure, you could just sit back and sort of accept the cards you are being dealt, without complaint. But it is far better to take a pro-active approach and look for the opportunity for growth.
What is your current situation trying to teach you? Where are your points of misery right now in life? What is holding you back from being extremely happy and joyful each and every day? Figure out what those “points of misery” are and then attack them, one at a time. Eliminate them.
If you are religious or spiritual, think about it like this:
Your higher power created you as “a perfect person in his own likeness.” We have strayed from that because we are human, and our addiction is an obvious indicator of this. But we can fix these things and get back to where he (our higher power) wants us to be. In other words, you don’t have to go out and move mountains necessarily….you just have to fix your own issues and become the person you were meant to be. This means removing the negative stuff from your life and improving your situation incrementally.
You can create your own success but you still have to do it while facing reality and dealing with your existing situation. So long as you face this reality honestly and try to improve yourself and your situation then you will create success.
Traditional recovery wisdom says that you cannot set your own terms for recovery
In traditional recovery circles the typical message that you hear is that you “have to deal with life on it’s own terms” but that you also do not get to necessarily dictate these terms yourself. Instead you are taught that you are powerless over people, places, and things and that you must learn to practice acceptance.
Obviously this is true for some situations and not for others. The Serenity prayer is an attempt to decipher “which things we can change” and which things we must simply accept. The strategy outlined earlier in this article is all about assessing what things you can potentially change (and fix) in your life, and then taking action to do it. Figure out what is holding you back from happiness and joy, and work hard to eliminate it.
Modern day recovery is based around the 12 step program and if you frequently go to meetings you will probably hear a slightly different message. It is not that they disagree with the ideas stated here, they just have a different suggested path of getting there. Instead of figuring things out for yourself you are expected to follow the steps and also to follow the advice of a sponsor. This is not a big difference really and in fact if you follow that path you are still “facing life on it’s own terms,” you are just doing so with the help and guidance of others.
If you want to create success with your own path then you simply need to find the path that works for you and then start walking it. For me this means that I have to make incremental improvements in my life and in my life situation, hence the personal growth. If you follow a 12 step program then you will probably engage in much of the same growth eventually–but it will be directed by others rather than by your own ideas. The outcome is much the same and so the means do not matter as much as we may think. Freedom, joy, and recovery are still awesome no matter how you get there or by what path you find it.
Traditional recovery wisdom would argue that the individual cannot figure it all out their own, and that they need others and they need groups in order to succeed. This is the point that I disagree with. You can create your own path to success if you are willing to work hard for it (and also note that if you stay in modern recovery programs, you have to work hard in them as well!).
How to remake all the “rules” of recovery and find what truly works for you
In order to really create your own success in recovery you have to do a lot of testing.
This is done by taking action. You have to try things in order to figure out what really helps you in recovery.
For example, consider the following 2 people in recovery from addiction, person A and person B:
– Goes to AA meetings every day.
– Works with others in an active sponsorship group.
– Finds religion and joins a church community.
– Works the steps of AA and studies the literature.
– Never goes to AA meetings, never works the steps, never reads recovery literature.
– Finds an active recovery forum online to connect with others in recovery.
– Exercises and pursues holistic health as a personal strategy of recovery.
– Pushes themselves to pursue personal growth and to improve their life.
But now let’s take this a step further and throw out another hypothetical “person C.”
– Is serious about meditation every day but does not engage in prayer much, if at all.
– Focuses on nutrition as one of the pillars of their recovery.
– Sponsors people in recovery but does not attend many 12 step meetings.
– Studies recovery literature and writes recovery material of their own.
Now realize that all three of these people are successful in recovery, and they are all living a clean and sober life now. (In fact, the people are not hypothetical, as person “B” is actually me and person “A” and “C” are patterned after people that I know in recovery!)
So what is going on here? How can all three of these people be doing well in recovery, in spite of their unique and different approaches?
Anyone who is preaching about recovery that you have to do certain things in a certain way is very misleading. As you can see from the examples given here, there is no single path to success in recovery.
This should lead you to a revelation:
YOU MUST FIND YOUR OWN PATH.
Now I will admit that “your path” may just be to do what others tell you to do. Go to meetings, get a sponsor, and take the advice of that sponsor. Keep doing what you are told to do, and you may be just fine.
Some of us do not have a personality that will allow for that particular path, however. In that case, you may need to “make your own rules” and thereby find your own path in recovery.
How do you do that?
Look back to our example with person A, B, and C.
How do you think person C learned about meditation? It is obviously an important part of their recovery.
The same is true of exercise for person B. How did this person come to learn that exercise was so helpful to their recovery? How did they discover this?
How did person A discover that religion and the church community was such a powerful part of their recovery?
In all cases, these people had to try stuff.
They had to take action.
But more than that, they had to take suggestions. They had to take ideas from other people and give them a shot in their own life.
They had to experiment.
This is what I mean by “testing.” You need to test things out in your life, and in your recovery.
What works for you? You will never know unless you try stuff!
I went a few years in my recovery without exercising. At one point I took the suggestion from someone else to give regular exercise a try. It made a huge difference in my life and in my recovery. But I had to be willing to try it, to put myself out there and take action, to try something different.
This is how we learn in recovery.
This is the path of personal growth.
And this is exactly how you create success on your own terms. You have to get ideas (from yourself, or suggestions from others…it doesn’t matter!) and then try those ideas out in your own life. “Keep what works and discard the rest.” Keep trying new things and your life will get better and better over time.
Some things will help you in recovery and others will not. For example, I tried meditation for a while and gave it a fair trial run. It was not helping me enough to keep pursuing it, but then I discovered exercise and distance running (which accomplished many of the same things that meditation sought to do).
Experiment, test, explore. Iterate and repeat. Keep seeking to improve your life and to grow as a person. This is recovery.
Personal growth defines recovery.
When not to use this strategy
The only time you might want to put the brakes on this particular strategy is in very early recovery.
If you just got into detox yesterday, you are not yet ready to design your own recovery strategy. You can start to think about it, but you also need to be seeking advice and guidance from outside sources at this point.
Early recovery is the only time when you should not trust yourself entirely. Instead, trust others to help guide you in early recovery.
Because when we are still abusing drugs or alcohol–or if we just stopped using them very recently–our decision making is generally at its worst.
It is during this time that we should outsource our decision making to others, if just temporarily. This is crushing to the ego but it needs to be done.
The way I did it was to go to treatment. I checked into detox, went through residential rehab, and then I even inquired about long term treatment. I ended up living in a facility for 20 months. This was what I needed at the time in order to get my life back under control. You may need more or less help than this, but chances are that every person in recovery will benefit from some amount of professional help.
You can do it alone, but not in the beginning. This is based on my direct experience. In very early recovery, you need help. My suggestion is that you get that help from professionals (at rehab).
Why everyone must create their own success eventually
In the end, everyone has to create their own success in recovery, whether they want to or not.
Every person who makes it in long term sobriety has to learn how to overcome complacency. They must learn how to push themselves towards growth and learning at some point. They cannot rely on the advice and guidance of others forever.
Sooner or later the suggestions run out. Sooner or later the individual has taken all of the steps, they have worked through all of the suggestions, and they must find their own happiness in this world.
Eventually every person in recovery will get to a point where they are extremely stable in their recovery and the challenge of staying clean and sober is a distant memory. Paradoxically this is where it starts to get dangerous. Complacency kills. And so every person who seeks to stay clean and sober for the long run must figure out how to overcome this particular challenge.
Programs and sponsors cannot always help much with this. In fact, they may be the problem that creates complacency to begin with! If you get too comfortable in your recovery then this can lead to complacency and eventually relapse. So how can you avoid this problem and create continuous growth and change? How can you realize when you are faltering and shake things up?
The key is to plan for it and be proactive. Realize that you must always and forever be pushing yourself to make incremental improvements in your life (and in your life situation). Always seek out the point of misery. Hopefully as you go along in recovery these points of misery will get smaller and smaller! But each time you find yourself idle, you should examine your life and figure out what is holding you back from bliss, joy, and happiness. Then create a plan to tackle that problem and fix it. We keep doing this over and over again until we die. Find the things that we can change, and change them. This is growth. This is recovery.