How can you find the best path for yourself in addiction treatment?
Is it possible to sit down in advance and plot out the perfect course? Or is it the case that you have to discover the perfect path by actually walking it?
In my experience, you find the right course for your life through experimentation.
In fact, all of addiction recovery should be like this. And we all started before we even put down our drug of choice.
Think about it: You knew at some point that there was a serious problem when you were drinking or taking drugs. You knew that your life was spiraling out of control, and you desperately wanted to figure out how to hold it all together, to keep using your drug of choice, and to somehow keep it all together.
So you tried various solutions: Maybe you drank less often or less alcohol, or maybe you tried to control your intake of pills, or you tried partying only on weekends. You tried various things in order to find the perfect path for your life, and you repeatedly failed at it. These repeated failures are what eventually led you to the point of surrender. That point in which you said to the world: “I cannot figure out the ideal path in life, I am a total mess, please show me how to live properly. I am ready to follow directions.”
That is total and complete surrender, and it indicates that you are finally finished with your own experiments in trying to beat addiction at its own game.
So hopefully once reaching that point you ask for help and get directed to professional treatment services. Hopefully you land in rehab. There they can start showing you the path in recovery.
However, I think it is important to make a distinction here. In early recovery the path looks pretty darn similar for everyone. In other words, if you are struggling with alcoholism or drug addiction, what you need at that time is inpatient rehab. 28 days in a facility. Detox and residential treatment, group therapy, meetings, counseling, peer support, and so on.
Early recovery is a huge mash up of treatment, rehab, resources, meetings, and therapy. It is everything all mashed together in one, because it takes a lot of help to get through to someone who is just trying to get clean and sober. So the path looks pretty similar in those first 28 days. Early recovery is, quite honestly, a brute force approach. Surrender completely, check into rehab for 28 days, and then dedicate your life to recovery activities such as AA meetings, therapy, counseling, and so on. This part of the path–early recovery–should honestly look pretty similar for most people.
Long term recovery is a little bit different story, however. Long term recovery can look quite different for different people. I have a good friend in recovery who goes to AA meetings every day, sponsors lots of people in early recovery, and generally is heavily involved in the local AA community.
I do none of those things. I work at a local rehab, connect with people in recovery online, and focus on personal growth. Both my friend and I are successful in long term recovery and we are both working a program. However, our lives look nothing alike, and there is actually not a whole lot of overlap between our two recovery programs. This is because we are no longer in short term recovery, but we are living our lives in long term sobriety now, where things have changed and evolved for both of us.
So the next question that you might ask either my friend or I is: “How did you get there?” In other words, we all start out the same way: We go to rehab, we go to AA meetings, we see a therapist, etc. We all use the same basic tools in early recovery. But in long term sobriety we come to define our own path.
In other words, we each have to discover what works for us in recovery. We each have to find the path in recovery that empowers us and strengthens our sobriety.
This is a tricky transition from early recovery. I see a lot of people who struggle with this in AA and NA because they want to keep believing the basic principles of those programs, and that those early concepts can sustain them forever. They want to hold on to the basics, to just keep hammering away at daily meetings, and hope that this is good enough.
In my experience and in my observations, however, this is not good enough. It is not enough to just apply the principles of early recovery to the rest of your entire life in long term sobriety. That is a recipe for failure.
So what happened to me is that I started to notice around the 18 month point in my sobriety that a lot of my peers in AA were not necessarily doing so great. Some of them relapsed and it was scaring me. Quite honestly, their relapsing is what forced me to examine my assumptions, mainly the assumption that just going to AA forever would be the safety net that would save my life.
I was observing the opposite: That just going to meetings was not working for some people. Using the basics forever was failing people. Something more was needed.
So I started exploring. I started to branch out, to talk to people with 10, 15, 20 years sober. I started to look at what they actually did during their week rather than just what they said in AA meetings. I also noticed that my grand sponsor with 20 some years sober did not even attend that many meetings any more.
“Maybe” I thought, “Going to AA every single day is not the magic bullet that I thought it was.”
So I started taking suggestions.
Key point: Ask for advice from those who are successful. Take their suggestions and test them out in real life.
In other words, don’t just think about their suggestion and weigh it carefully. Don’t think about it at all, just do it and then reflect on it later. Test it out. Test drive their suggestion.
So my sponsor suggests that I go back to college. I do that. My sponsor suggests that I mediate. I do that for a while. My therapist tells me to exercise. I do that.
I start doing all of these things, and guess what? I quit some of them.
That’s fine! That is the whole point–to test things out and figure out what doesn’t really help you.
And then a tiny handful of things that I have tested out over the last 16 years have stuck with me. They worked so darn well in helping me that I am still doing them today.
Things like physical exercise. Things like writing about recovery. Things like setting goals for personal growth. I continue to do these things because they have served me so well in my recovery.
Now my friend, his path in recovery looks totally different than mine, because other things “clicked” for him. So he sponsors guys in AA, he goes to church and gets involved in that community, and he also runs a very involved sponsorship group. We both found different paths in long term sobriety because we found different things that worked for us.
And I encourage you to do the same: Go experiment. Take suggestions and advice and start testing it all out. This is the only way to find the best path that will work for you in long term recovery. Good luck!