Part of the solution in alcoholism and addiction recovery is in simply finding out what works for you in terms of staying sober.
This is not going to be the exact same solution for every person. This is why this website has hundreds of articles and a lively discussion forum about what actually helps different people to overcome addiction. If the path were identical for everyone we would not need to discuss anything at all–recovery would be neat and tidy and straightforward. But I think we all know by now that it doesn’t really work that way.
Even if you go to a traditional recovery program that is supposedly the exact same for everyone, you still have to interpret the program for yourself and apply the concepts in your own life. This is going to be unique for every person based on their current situation. No two recovery programs will ever look exactly the same.
If you are just now getting clean and sober then you have a responsibility to figure out what works for you and what does not.
If you go to a treatment center you will hear lots and lots of suggestions. In fact you will be overwhelmed with suggestions and you will hear more ideas than you could ever fully apply in your lifetime. Therefore you have to prioritize, you have to pick and choose, you have to decide what is best suited to help you.
There are lots of ways to get and stay sober, but there is probably only one path that is right for you.
Your job is to find that path.
Start your recovery journey by taking suggestions from other people
At the beginning of your recovery journey the smartest thing that you can do is to take suggestions from other people who are already successful.
This is the great shortcut to wisdom. This is really the entire principle on which programs such as AA are founded. One alcoholic helping another through a common problem that is now shared with each other. What works for one might in fact work for another. And if not, there is someone else with another spin on things, another take on it, another way to help you figure things out.
The reason that many recovery programs have a faith based component to them is because we cannot succeed (at first) just by having faith in ourselves. That doesn’t work because our addiction has basically taken over. So when we try to figure things out for ourselves we just sabotage our own recovery efforts and we relapse. When we attempt to use faith instead we are taking ourselves out of the driver’s seat, so to speak. We are admitting that there is a higher power and that we are NOT it. Therefore we remove ourselves from the decision making process for a while, and this allows us to buy some sobriety.
It really is very simple, though no one wants to do it. If you listen to others and do what you are told then it is a cinch to stay sober. How could anyone ever screw this up if they are really willing to listen and take advice? Go to rehab, go to AA meetings, don’t drink in between the meetings. Those are simple instructions and if you follow them exactly then you won’t get drunk and your life will slowly start to get better. There is no great secret in any of that. Don’t drink, keep taking positive action, do what you are told to do, and your life will start to transform. This is a very simple formula for beating addiction, and it most definitely works. You don’t have to get fancy in order to overcome alcoholism or drug addiction. You just have to get humble and be willing to listen and follow directions.
And that is the problem–who really wants to follow directions? Who really wants to listen to others, when we all know that we have a capable mind for ourselves? Most alcoholics and drug addicts are fairly intelligent people. And that presents a big hurdle, because then they are far less likely to trust in the advice of others over their own ideas. But your own ideas are not helping you in early recovery, because your mind is still skewed from the addiction. There is a little devil on your shoulder that wants you to relapse every day, and the only way to ignore that little guy is to listen to the advice of others in recovery. Or at least that is the most reliable way to overcome that little voice that wants you to relapse. Ignore the voice by listening to the advice of your peers, your counselor, your therapist, your sponsor.
The key to early sobriety is to listen to other people rather than to take your own advice. Someone will probably suggest that you go to AA. Someone else will probably suggest that you go to treatment. I would urge you to take both of those suggestions. Follow through and see where it leads you. If you are stuck in addiction then going to treatment and AA every day (while sober) is a major breakthrough and a huge upgrade in happiness. Trust me, you will be far happier being in treatment or going to meetings every day than you are when you are trying to drink yourself into oblivion. The problem is that we cannot see the truth in that when we are still stuck in denial. It is only after getting sober, finding some stability, and then looking back that we can see just how far out of whack our life had become due to our drinking.
Look at life as an experiment and keep trying new strategies for your recovery
Once you have some stability in early sobriety it is time to start experimenting.
When I say that you should experiment what I am talking about is the idea of personal growth. My hope for you is that you hear suggestions from other people in recovery and say to yourself “Hey, maybe that would work for me too.” Then you take their idea and implement it into your own life.
Let me give you two examples of this in my own life, one that worked out for me and one that did not.
At one time I was encouraged by my therapist (I was living in long term rehab at the time) to meditate every day. He was really into meditation himself and he said that it helped him immensely. In fact, meditation had transformed his life and really was the main thing that helped him in his own recovery. So he pushed me to get into meditation because he really thought that it would help me too.
So I tried it out. I went and got some books about meditation. I read about various techniques online. And I started to practice every day, doing breathing exercises, doing various seated meditations, and so on. I was meditating up to 40 minutes at a time, but usually more like 10 or 20 minutes. And I was doing it consistently between one and three times per day. I kept this up for at least a month or so.
Did it help me? That is hard for me to say. I don’t think it was hurting me, that is for sure. And it may have given me some benefits. But ultimately I dropped it and moved on to something else that worked out a lot better for me, and that was distance running.
Someone else made a different suggestion to me that I get some exercise. So I started running with my dad every day and before long I was doing about 40 miles per week out on the open road. And what I discovered in adopting this new jogging routine was that running outdoors, for me, was meditation. In fact, it was better than seated meditation. It had all of the same benefits but it seemed to work much better for me. It was more powerful than seated meditation.
When I ran, it put my mind into a state of trance almost. There were still thoughts running through my brain but they were in the background, and I felt this calmness that was watching those thoughts. I became the stillness that was able to step back and watch my mind while I jogged.
And I noticed that this helped to balance me emotionally. If I was upset or angry or scared, going for a long run seemed to balance that out. Somehow an intense workout and a long run made my emotions less intense, less of a threat.
Nothing matters as much in your life when you can go run six miles on the open road and feel great while doing it. Nothing hurts you as much, nothing can knock you off your square emotionally when you have that sort of routine to fall back on. The exercise is intense and it relaxes your mind in a way that gives you real power.
So those were two suggestions that were made to me, one was to do seated meditation and the other was to jog and exercise.
And I tried both of those suggestions and I found that one of them worked for me and one of them did not.
So I continued to run and I left behind the idea of seated meditation.
Which is a perfect example of one of the most important principles you can learn about in addiction recovery, which is to “take what you need and leave the rest.”
Take what you need and leave the rest
Take suggestions from your peers in recovery. Experiment to find what works best for you. Leave the ideas behind that don’t help you.
Can it really be that simple?
Sure it can, but you still have to do the work. There is no free lunch in recovery. If you want to achieve long term sobriety then you are going to have to do some serious work.
Part of the problem with this concept, however, is that we can fool ourselves. Because many of us are lazy or uncomfortable in terms of “doing the work.” We don’t want to do it! For example, how many people in AA have avoided doing the fourth and fifth step because they:
A) Did not want to do the work and were just plain lazy.
B) Were uncomfortable digging into their past.
C) Wanted an excuse to relapse.
D) Wouldn’t take the time to read and understand the process.
There are lots of excuses, but the fact is that if you go to enough AA meetings you can find plenty of people who have weaseled out of doing their fourth and fifth step. And in the end they almost always regret this choice, because it comes back to bite them. If you listen carefully you will hear many stories of people who relapsed in the past because they avoided doing this key piece of work, but now that they came back to recovery they are doing things right this time and now they are being more thorough.
So you have to be careful. You can’t just “take what you need and leave the stuff that makes you uncomfortable.” Sometimes you are going to have to get uncomfortable in your recovery. In fact, whenever you are making real growth in life you are probably going to have to get uncomfortable. That is the price of real growth–you have to fight through some discomfort. If it were super easy then it would not be growth, it would not be rewarding! Think about it. Everything that is truly rewarding in life you have to work hard for, you have to face discomfort, you have to persevere to achieve it.
So when you hear the phrase “take what you need and leave the rest,” it is important to remember that your actions in early recovery should still be driven by the suggestions of others.
Take suggestions in recovery and put them into action and then evaluate your results later on. Give things a fair trial. Experiment and find out what really works, not just what sounds good to you in theory.
Theories are worthless in recovery. They are a dime a dozen. The ideas themselves are useless unless you apply them in your life and see real results from them. Only then can an idea have value to you, if it is working in your life and helping you to remain sober.
Don’t judge ideas by how they sound in theory. Only judge them after you have lived them, after you have implemented them in your life. That is the only way that you can judge their validity.
Keeping yourself moving forward with more personal growth in long term sobriety
In long term sobriety the game changes slightly.
In early recovery it is all about learning, it is all about figuring out this new way of life, it is all about following directions.
After you have been sober for a few years the game starts to change. This is all my opinion of course. But you can duplicate these ideas by talking to people in AA who have, for example, one year sober versus someone who has over a decade of sobriety. Ask them independently what keeps them sober on a day to day basis, and you are likely to hear two very different answers.
“What keeps you sober every day?” Ask that to various people in recovery and you will hear a wide range of ideas about what actually works in recovery.
In early recovery the goal is right in your face: How do you get through today without taking a drink?
So you take the basic suggestions: You go to meetings, you call your sponsor, you have coffee after the AA meeting with your peers, and so on. You read the recovery literature, you work the steps. You take action every day and you dodge bullets. You avoid relapse, which is a constant threat.
After a few years of this, the constant threat of relapse is no longer constant. It is no longer right in your face every day. This is very different from when you had 30 days sober.
Could you still relapse? Of course you could! And that is the whole point here…..complacency is the biggest threat in long term sobriety.
People still relapse after 3 years sober, after 5 years sober, after 15 years sober. It happens. People get complacent and they relapse.
Obviously you want to avoid this fate if you can.
So how do you do that, given that the game changes as you remain sober for multiple years?
Can you just go back to the basics, go back to daily meetings and calling your sponsor every day and things like that?
If that works for you then I would say go for it, but I believe that your recovery has evolved beyond those early tactics. It is time to move forward in your recovery, not backwards.
So that means finding new ways to achieve personal growth. You have to keep reinventing yourself in recovery.
What does it mean to “reinvent yourself” anyway?
It means that you learn something new about yourself and make a positive change as a result.
Someone once described recovery as “peeling back the layers of an onion.” They were speaking of self honesty and how we have to discover more and more about ourselves in order to grow.
This has to keep happening, over and over again, until you die. You don’t get to stop this process. If you do stop this process then that is called complacency, and it could result in relapse.
There are various ways to keep yourself moving forward, to keep yourself in this process of self honesty, self discovery, and constant reinvention.
One way is by working with other alcoholics and drug addicts. In doing so you will force yourself to look at your own recovery, at your own efforts, at your own personal growth.
Another way is through continuous self improvement, by setting goals for yourself to improve your life and your life situation. Always moving forward, almost making progress.
Beating an addiction by building a better life in sobriety
Ultimately the goal in recovery is to build a better life, eventually making it so good that this prevents relapse naturally.
Relapse prevention, at the most basic level, involves things such as: “Call your sponsor if you are craving a drink.”
That’s fine, and there is a time and a place for those kind of tactics (early recovery for the most part).
But in long term sobriety you need a better strategy than that.
In long term sobriety you have to be able to prevent relapse much more naturally. Your life and what it becomes should protect you from the threat of relapse.
This happens when you make positive choices and make positive changes. Your life gets better and better and eventually the alternative of getting drunk or high starts to look so much worse in comparison.
If you have nothing to lose then the choice to relapse becomes very easy. If you have not built anything up in recovery then your sobriety has very little value to you.
Therefore my suggestion to you is to build value in your life. Make something out of your recovery. Start making positive changes and build something amazing with your life. This is how you can protect yourself naturally from the threat of relapse. This is how you find what truly works best for you in recovery.
What about you, what works best for you in recovery? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!