First of all, what exactly is self sabotage, and how does it happen to someone who is striving to get clean and sober?
What typically happens with early addiction recovery is that the struggling addict will find reasons and excuses for which they can justify using their drug of choice. Now obviously there is not an excuse in the world that is truly legitimate, and therefore anyone who is justifying a relapse is essentially sabotaging their own recovery through rationalization. They are simply deciding in their own mind that it is okay to relapse, and this is why.
So how can we eliminate this from happening to someone who is engaged in the early recovery process?
A couple of suggestions for anyone who is looking to eliminate the threat of self sabotage:
One, I would strongly recommend that the struggling addict or alcoholic attend inpatient treatment. There is a definite advantage to anyone who checks into rehab for 28 days.
Just think of how much more vulnerable a person is to self sabotage who is NOT at an inpatient rehab center when they are going through those first few critical weeks of their recovery journey.
For example, if you ask everyone who is just completing their 28 days at an inpatient rehab if they believe that they went through any cravings during the past 4 weeks, and if that would have tempted them to relapse had they been on the outside, they will nearly all agree with that idea. In other words, everyone can easily see the safety and benefit of being at an inpatient facility while they are getting through that initial 4 weeks of their recovery. If you are not in a controlled environment then the chance of relapse during the first month skyrockets.
Now second of all, while it can be a huge advantage to go through inpatient treatment, the real challenge begins when you go back into the real world and have to deal with your cravings without the safety net. So how do we avoid self sabotage when we are no longer in the safety of a controlled environment?
Here is what worked for me: I made an agreement with myself that I was not going to make any major decisions by myself, in my own mind, without consulting my sponsor or my therapist first.
So I had a sponsor in AA at the time, and I was also working with a substance abuse therapist and seeing them on a weekly basis. I was also going to AA meetings on a regular basis.
What I was afraid of was relapse, and I was watching my peers fall victim to self sabotage over and over again during my early recovery journey. And I wanted to figure out how to mitigate this risk that I would somehow talk myself into a drink or a drug, even though I had decided that in the long run I wanted to be clean and sober.
Therefore I made this decision, and I did not really tell anyone about it at the time, I just made it up in my own mind and decided to test it and see if it worked. The decision was to essentially not make any decisions. The decision that I made was to always consult my therapist or my sponsor in the event I was doing anything out of the ordinary, any time I was trying something new or unique, and any time I was making any sort of major life choice. And I made this agreement with myself that I was going to do this for the first full year of my recovery journey.
And so I was doing this experiment and, to my surprise, it was working really well. At first, I did not really notice anything different about my life. But within just a few short weeks I started to realize that my life was, in fact, getting better. And not just a little better either–it was getting shockingly good for the small amount of time I had been sober.
And the really funny thing was that I could not take credit for this turnaround. I felt this way because I wasn’t the one who was doing it, I wasn’t the one who was really turning my life around, I was simply doing what my therapist and my sponsor were telling me to do, and the results were shocking to me.
Maybe this is because I did not really have much faith that it was going to work–that going to meetings and working the steps and writing in a journal and reading the literature and prayer and meditation–I had no great confidence that these things were going to improve my life or make me any happier.
And yet it was working. I was far happier in a very short period of time. My life was thousands of times better than it was when I had been drinking and abusing drugs. Suddenly everything was so much better, and it was honestly shocking to me because I had not expected recovery to “work” for me.
So at this point, I doubled down on taking advice and suggestions from those that I trusted in recovery. It had worked so well during the first few months of my recovery, so I was eager to continue doing it. So I started to ask for even more feedback and advice from my sponsor and therapist, because I knew if I followed their direction that my life would improve even more. I was actually excited when I realized that my life could, potentially, just keep getting better and better through this recovery journey–so long as I was willing to follow directions.
And I could clearly remember what happened when I took back my own will and my own decision making for myself–everything screwed up and went to chaos and misery. That was my life of addiction, when I was in full control and trying to muscle my way to happiness any way I could get it. And that was how I continuously sabotaged myself and my own happiness–by trying to find it by self medicating, by trying to find pleasure and happiness in the bottom of a bottle.
I had to admit to myself that my way did not work. That was a lot to swallow, to admit that I had been wrong, to admit that I did not even know what I wanted, that I had no idea how to find my own happiness.
When I became sober and went to rehab and started following directions and letting others tell me how to live my life, I became infinitely happier. That was a huge blow to my ego at first.
But in the end I got past that blow to the ego, because I wanted the results. I wanted the happiness and the freedom of sobriety after I finally got a taste of it. And I no longer cared that I was a failure at creating happiness through my own selfish desires, and had to rely on the direction of a program instead. I was happy in recovery, so I embraced the program of positive change, and my life has become better and better ever since!