The baseline in recovery is abstinence.
The foundation of recovery is all about taking positive action. Do this every day, and you start to establish healthier habits in your life.
You replace old habits (drinking or using drugs every day) with new habits.
What those habits and actions are specifically may vary a bit from person to person.
But in order to overcome any serious addiction I believe that you have to do both of these things. You must establish a baseline for your recovery and then you must build a foundation.
Establishing a baseline is actually pretty simple to do. This does not mean that it is easy to do for everyone, but it is actually quite simple.
How do you establish a baseline?
Simply go to treatment. Go to rehab. Get on the phone and call up a treatment center that has a detox facility built into it (most treatment centers are set up this way).
Are there other ways to do this?
But none of them are nearly as simple, or as safe. Detoxing outside of a medical treatment center has risks. Some people can even die from withdrawal.
The real challenge, of course, begins when you leave the treatment center.
Detox and residential treatment may sound like a huge challenge, but that is actually the easy part. It is easy to establish sobriety.
The hard part is making it last.
Establish a baseline for recovery by getting sober. Go to rehab. You can’t make progress in life if you are still putting the poison into your body.
Total abstinence from all mood and mind altering drugs is the baseline.
You get there quite easily when you check into treatment.
Maintaining sobriety is another story entirely….the bulk of which this website is dedicated to exploring. How do you stay sober in the long run? How do you embrace recovery and make it work for your own life?
How do you turn your whole life around and make it work?
This is the real challenge of sobriety. This is why after you establish a baseline (total abstinence), you need to get to work on building a foundation.
Your first few actions in early recovery and how they can set you up for success
After you convince yourself to go to treatment, you have to follow through.
It does no good to leave rehab and jump right back into your old pattern.
Recovery is all about change.
So what exactly do you have to change? The popular answer, of course, is “everything.”
You can start with changing people, places, and things. These are the external things in your life.
Going to treatment helps you get a jump start on this. While you are in rehab you are not at the corner bar, you are not hanging out with your old drinking buddies, and you do not have drugs or alcohol that are right in your face and tempting you to relapse.
When you leave treatment, your goal is to continue with these themes: Find new and positive people to hang around with, find new things to put in your life (not drugs and alcohol), and find new places to go to (AA meetings rather than the corner bar).
So all of this requires action. You have to make deliberate changes. And you have to do it consistently, right when you leave treatment. If you go back to your old pattern even for a moment it can be devastating.
This is because recovery is pass/fail. If you get tripped up after leaving rehab then it can instantly erase any and all progress that you may have made. When you relapse even a tiny bit, it resets your whole life back to total chaos and misery.
This is an important point that many people have to learn the hard way. You can’t dabble in a relapse and expect for things to turn out well. There is no such thing as “Sort of relapsed.” This is what defines addiction, that it is extreme. That is the whole definition of an addiction. So the alcoholic or drug addict cannot “Sort of slip up a little.” A little slip quickly escalates into misery and chaos. We quickly revert back to our old level of drug or alcohol abuse. This is how addiction works.
So your first few actions after leaving treatment will be critical.
At the very least, you need to have a plan.
Someone who walks out of rehab without a strong plan is doomed to relapse. They don’t have a chance.
It is very important to understand this. You cannot just “wing it” post treatment and expect for things to work out well for you.
It takes a great deal of energy and commitment to overcome an addiction in the long run. If you don’t have a strong plan and a fierce determination to execute that plan then it is almost certain that things will fall apart quickly.
This may sound like pessimism but in fact it is simply being realistic. It is not intended to “scare” you necessarily, only to warn you of the reality. Most people relapse after treatment because they do not build a foundation. They don’t take action. They don’t follow through. And if you don’t follow through then you can expect to relapse.
Your foundation in recovery will give you flexibility and strength later on in recovery
If you build a strong foundation in early recovery then it will give you strength down the road.
I experienced this for myself when I lived in long term treatment for 20 months. Now don’t get me wrong here, it was not that I lived in rehab that built me a strong foundation. Because honestly, I met many people who came to long term treatment and who did not actually build a foundation at all. They all relapsed. Being in long term rehab simply gave me a strong platform on which to build this foundation, but it was by no means a magic cure. That does not exist.
What actually happened was that I got to work. I started doing the work. The work that you do in early recovery.
So I got a sponsor. I took suggestions from the therapist. I listened and participated in group therapy. I started working through the 12 steps. I started digging and soul searching. I learned how to forgive myself. I learned how to process my feelings, to look at where my anger was really coming from.
I learned how to identify my core issue, which was self pity. And I had to do much more than just identify it, I had to talk to people and figure out what to do about it. I had to create a plan. Then I had to take action and start doing things to correct the problem. I made gratitude lists every day. I made a commitment to myself to eliminate the self pity. I started meditating so that I could raise my awareness and be able to notice it much quicker. And so on.
All of this foundation work played a huge role in my recovery. I was shocked and amazed during about my second and third year of sobriety when I watched nearly everyone that I knew in recovery relapse. The people who got sober around the time that I did were all gone. Only one of them remained. And I had met tons of alcoholics and addicts who came after me and they relapsed quite frequently. I was shocked. People that I looked up to relapsed. It was really eye opening for me.
So I doubled down at that point and tried to do more work. For example, I started to exercise. I could not see at the time how that would actually help me to remain sober but everyone was suggesting it to me. So I took the suggestion and I did the work and I established another healthy change in my life. And I took other suggestions as well–I quit smoking, I tried meditating every day, I explored new avenues of spiritual growth.
I pushed myself.
And I think this is an important part of building a foundation. You can’t just be lazy and let it come to you slowly. You have to work at it. Of course it is going to be hard work.
Just step back for a moment and look at the numbers. Maybe 90 percent or something like that will relapse during the first year of attempting sobriety (ballpark figure, doesn’t have to be exact though for our purposes). So assume roughly 90 percent will relapse.
Then realize that if you are going to be in the 10 percent that “make it,” you are going to have to push harder and try harder than that entire 90 percent of people. Many of those folks are coasting. And some of them are actually making a modest effort. And yet they still relapse! 90 percent!
So again, this is not meant to scare you. Only to guide you. To give fair warning. If such a high percentage of people relapse, then wouldn’t it make sense to try harder and to push yourself more than what they all are doing?
So when you leave treatment they give you suggestions. I know that it can seem overwhelming. They want you to go to counseling, therapy, group therapy, outpatient therapy, AA meetings every single day, get a sponsor, and on and on and on. I know it seems overwhelming.
But this is the point. Yes, you need to be overwhelmed with it all. And you need to tackle it all and embrace all of it. Because the alternative is to be lazy and expect (hope?) for it all to work out anyway, even if you don’t try 100 percent.
Well, that’s not good enough. Just look at the 90 percent. They will all relapse. 90 out of 100 recovering alcoholics (who try to get sober) will relapse in the first year. Many of the stats actually say it is closer to 95 out of 100 will relapse.
So your job, when you go to build this foundation in early recovery, is to make sure that you are trying harder than the 90 percent.
You see a few select individuals who really seem committed, who are really giving it their all, who are going way above and beyond to make this recovery thing work.
You need to be one of those people. Or you are going to relapse.
That is not a threat. That is not said to try to scare you. Simply hang around recovery for a year or so and you will realize the truth of this. Go work in a rehab (like I did) for several years. Go live in a long term rehab (like I did) for a few years. Then you will know that this 90 percent number is true. You will see it for yourself, with your own eyes.
It is one thing to read about the scary relapse statistics, but it is another thing to live it. To actually live in rehab and work full time in a rehab and really watch it for yourself.
The odds are not good, but if you know the odds and you commit to taking positive action then you can easily put yourself in that 10 percent category. It takes a whole lot of work but once you are realistic about it then you have something to build on, something to work towards. Recovery is possible but it is not a walk in the park. Don’t treat it as such.
Instead, treat it as the hardest thing you have ever done in your life. Ever.
How to build a strong foundation by taking advice from others
Unfortunately you actually have to listen to people in recovery.
I know, terrible, isn’t it?
I didn’t like it either. I thought that I was pretty smart, actually. But it turned out that I didn’t know a thing about staying clean and sober.
Even when I got serious about trying to pull it off.
So I had to surrender. I had to admit that I did not know the secret to happiness in recovery.
Because quite honestly, I really thought that if I were to remain sober that I would probably be miserable forever. Ha!
It seems funny to me now because recovery has been so full of joy, happiness, and amazing experiences.
But when I first got sober I couldn’t see any of that future. I was just sad, miserable, and sick of being afraid.
So I had to make a leap of faith. I had to have hope, and faith, that things might (just maybe) get better.
And of course they did get better.
And the reason that they got better in my life was because I listened to other people and I took their advice.
So, you might say that I “really” listened. Emphasis on “really.”
And that means that I took action. I did not just politely nod my head when they told me to go to 90 AA meetings in the next 90 days. I actually went to the dang meetings!
And when they told me to get a sponsor and to work through the steps with that sponsor, I actually followed through on this. I did the work.
And I kept doing this. I was doing this at six months sober when they suggested that I go get a job (I went and applied for jobs until I got one).
And I did this at one year sober when they suggested that I go back to college. I went back and finished my degree.
Honestly, these were not my ideas. I did not think it was important at the time. Someone had to tell me to do these things. And so I had to be open to taking the advice. I had to listen.
It happened again when my sponsor (who was a smoker) finally quit smoking cigarettes. He suggested that I try to quit again. He did not tell me to quit. He actually used the word “suggest.” And he emphasized that he was not telling me what to do, that he was merely suggesting it to me. Nice guy, that sponsor. I am grateful to him to this day for his suggestions.
So there are many examples in my recovery of this. I had to be open to suggestions and advice from other people.
This is what got me to where I am at today. This is what made my life better. I had to listen to other people. I had to take advice.
Because my way wasn’t working.
Just look at how things were going when you were still stuck in addiction. That was denial. You thought you had it figured out, you thought that you knew how to make yourself happy, and it wasn’t working. At some point you had to admit to yourself that it wasn’t working, and that you should take someone else’s advice (anyone else, really!) and try something new. So you ask for help, you go to treatment, maybe you go to AA, and you turn your life around.
Well now that you are in recovery and you have a baseline of abstinence, you need to do the same thing again.
We can still be in denial about certain things, even in our recovery. We can still be stuck in our recovery even if it is not leading us to relapse.
Maybe we are in a bad relationship. Maybe we are stuck in a job that we hate and we need more education. Maybe we are not active enough and we need to get healthy in a physical way.
Whatever the case may be, there are always more positive changes to be made in your recovery.
And they all add up. They all matter. Recovery is holistic, whether you want it to be or not! It just is. Your overall health matters in recovery.
So you can’t just ignore your spiritual health and expect to be OK.
Or you can’t just ignore your emotional health.
Or your physical health.
And so on.
There are all of these different aspects of your life, of your health, and they are all important.
And this is what building a foundation in recovery is all about.
If you leave one of these key pieces out of your strategy then you are setting up for a relapse down the road.
And this is why recovery can be so tricky. This is why they say in Narcotics Anonymous that “we need to be each other’s eyes and ears sometimes.”
Because sometimes you need other people to help diagnose your problems.
Because sometimes you don’t realize that your relationship with someone else might be dragging you down and threatening your serenity.
But other people can see that (maybe). And so we need to be open. We need to talk with others and share our recovery with other people so that they can help us. So that they can “be our eyes and ears.”
So no, you can’t do it all by yourself.
You need help in order to recover.
And one way that you get that help is by listening to other people and taking advice from them.
In the end, yes, you have the final say in your life.
I took some advice to try seated meditation once. I gave it a fair shot. After it was all said and done, you know what?
I rejected that advice. I moved on to something that worked better for me, which was exercise.
But I had to do the work. I had to be open to the advice, to different ideas, to try different things.
And so this is a huge part of how you will build a foundation. It is about balance. You have to try various things and find what works for you.
And this is how you build a foundation. Positive changes. Taking advice. Testing ideas. Reach out to others and let them help you find the path.
This is how you get strong in early recovery. By taking action and listening to others.