How do you get a fresh start on life when you give up alcohol and drugs? The process can be daunting, especially if you have been stuck in addiction for years or even decades. Another added challenge can be if you happen to be a younger person entering sobriety, as there is an added layer of difficulty based on peer pressure.
So how do you do it? How can you “reset” your life after addiction? Is it really possible?
Let’s take a look.
How to push the hard reset button when you are stuck in alcoholism or drug addiction
They have a saying in Alcoholics Anonymous: “The only thing that you have to change is everything.”
People say it jokingly, but it definitely has some truth to it….just ask anyone who has managed to sober up and turn their life around post-addiction. Ask them if they had to change everything, and they will laugh and say “yes!”…they most definitely did have to change everything.
Of course in reality, it is not everything that changes so much, rather it is your attitude that changes. It is how you approach life that changes. But because this has to change so thoroughly and completely, you are approaching everything in your life differently. So even if many external things in your life don’t actually change–for example, maybe you still work at the same job that you did in addiction–the way that you approach that job and the attitude shift that comes in recovery makes it seem like a whole new world. So even though your job technically did not change, it feels like it did in a way, because your perspective changed. Your attitude changed. Your coping mechanisms changed. How you deal with life, how you conquer problems, how you get along with coworkers—all of that stuff changed to some degree when you got sober.
So how is this massive shift in personality accomplished? How can you push the reset button on your life?
In my experience it has to do with making a leap of faith. And that leap of faith has to do with immersing yourself into a new world of recovery.
Treatment is one way to accomplish this, but it is not the only way. For example, I know many people in AA and NA who got clean and sober without ever going to treatment (not recommended by the way, but it has happened). Instead, they just detoxed on someone’s couch (sometimes their own) and then they found some support system that could help get them through early sobriety. Some people found this support in AA or other 12 step meetings, and some people found this support through religious communities. And there are even a few support systems out there that do not fall into either of those two categories.
But the key is that the people who remained sober dove head first into one of these solutions. They did not just declare that they were going to stop drinking, and then magically their problem was fixed. We all know that this doesn’t work. Simply promising ourselves and others that we are done drinking forever never produced the results that we wanted.
Instead, we have to take action. Massive action. And that is the point here. That is how you push the reset button on your life.
When I finally decided to get clean and sober, I walked away from my entire life, or so it felt like it. I had a job where I worked full time and I drank and got high with all of the coworkers. I lived with a girlfriend and we both abused substances. I had a bunch of friends and every single one of them either drank or got high with me at the time.
So when I finally surrendered to my disease, I walked away from ALL OF THIS. Every last bit of it. Totally and completely.
Let me be clear on this: One day, I decided that I had had enough, and I was done with the madness. I wanted help. I asked for help. And I was willing to follow through.
And after that moment, I never went back to my old job again. Never.
I never hung out with any of my old drinking or drug buddies. Not once.
And I moved out of my current living situation immediately (same day) and never looked back. Never went out with the old girlfriend again who was still stuck in addiction.
I severed all ties immediately. It was a very thorough and clean break from all of those old behaviors, all of those toxic relationships. I just walked away from all of it.
And I asked for help and the people who would help me (my family) sent me to rehab. So I went to rehab and I listened to what they had to say. I listened and I followed directions. I listened and I did what they told me to do, even if I was not sure if it would ever help me or make me happy.
For example, they told me to go meetings. I was terrified of AA meetings and I did not want to attend them. But I went anyway, because I was so desperate. I felt like I had no choice. It was either self destruct in my addiction, or try this sobriety thing. And I could not figure out sobriety on my own so I had to ask for help. I had to do it someone else’s way, because my way did not work. And I was finally OK with that. I was finally willing to take that leap of faith.
It is a leap of faith because no alcoholic really knows if they will be happy in sobriety. In fact, most of them believe that they will be miserable forever if they are sober. I sure thought that way myself. I expected to be unhappy forever in sobriety. I was shocked when my life started to slowly turn around and I was actually enjoying myself. It was bizarre. I was truly shocked that I was not miserable in sobriety. The joke was on me. What a blessing that was.
So if you want to push the reset button in your life, you need to take massive action. Change everything. Make a leap of faith.
It takes guts. But once you make this leap, it is not so bad. Once you are actually in rehab, it is not so difficult or scary. It’s just getting there that is the hard part.
Figuring out how much treatment you really need in order to break free from addiction
I went to rehab three times in my life.
The first two times I wasn’t ready. I had not yet surrendered fully to a new solution in my life.
Understand this though: I had surrendered to the fact that I was alcoholic. I did that before I went to my first treatment center. I knew I was alcoholic. There was no question.
But that is not the same thing as accepting a new solution in your life. I was still in denial even though I new that I was alcoholic.
I went to rehab and it didn’t work. That was my first try. I got out and I continued to drink and use drugs.
Then I went a second time to treatment. This time my family was urging me to go, and I told them that I wasn’t ready. But I went anyway. I went for their sake, not for mine. And I told them that before I agreed to go.
So I went and I relapsed immediately. Again, I was not in denial about my disease. But I was in denial about the solution. I did not believe that AA and the 12 step program could lead me to freedom and happiness. I didn’t believe it. I thought I would be miserable forever if I got sober. Denying me alcohol seemed almost cruel. How could anyone dare to even want me to quit drinking, when that was the only thing that made me happy? That was how my mind was working at the time. And yet, at the same time, I was actually completely miserable. The drinking and drug use had me miserable 99 percent of the time. And yet I clung to the false belief that drugs and booze were the only way I could experience happiness.
And that was why I was terrified of rehab. I was terrified of sobriety. I thought I would be miserable forever.
So at some point I finally surrendered, and I realized that I was miserable even with the drugs and the booze. The escape no longer worked. I needed a new solution. That was the moment when everything changed. When I broke through my real denial, and was able to see that I needed a new solution.
So I went back to treatment. And I knew that I needed serious help. My entire life was set up to revolve around drug and alcohol use. All of my friends, my coworkers, and my girlfriend were all drug or alcohol users. I had arranged my life this way in order to feel better about my own alcohol use. If everyone around me is addicted then I don’t feel so guilty, see? That was how my mind functioned. So I was surrounded by people who drank and used drugs right along with me.
How much help did I need? Could I go to detox for 5 days and be cured? Could I do 28 days in residential treatment and be OK after that? Or did I need more serious help?
I was pretty sure that I needed more help. Here was my logic as to why I needed more than a 28 day program:
1) I had been to rehab twice before and failed. One of them was a full 28 days.
2) The counselors and therapists who had tried to help me at previous rehabs always recommended long term treatment. I always refused to go. Everyone was telling me that long term rehab was the solution for me.
3) I could imagine myself leaving short term rehab and jumping right back into the fire. I didn’t have a chance of staying sober if I went right back to my old life. This was because my entire life revolved around drugs and alcohol. I needed to change one thing: Everything. And I knew this. I admitted it finally. I accepted it.
These were the reasons that led me to consider long term rehab for my third time around. In the past I had always resisted the idea of living in rehab long term, saying that this was no better than being in prison. That was a bunch of garbage though. Being in long term treatment is nothing like being in prison, and in fact you have nearly total freedom when you live in long term rehab. That was just what I told myself because I was so scared of sobriety. In other words, take away my alcohol and I felt like I may as well be locked up in prison. But the reality was that being in long term treatment was actually the best decision I ever made. And I had total freedom while I was there. In addition to that, it was fun a lot of the time. Imagine that! It was actually fun being in long term rehab. I can remember all of the guys I lived with and some of the crazy stuff we used to talk about. It was an epic adventure and I am so glad that I got to experience it.
Now don’t get me wrong–not everyone needs to go live in long term rehab in order to get sober.
I’m not suggesting that.
What I am saying is that every alcoholic and drug addict has to figure out just how much help they need.
If you try to get sober and you fail, you may consider the idea that you need MORE help than what you got in the past.
This is the harsh truth that I never wanted to admit to myself–that perhaps I really DID need to live in rehab for over a year. And I resisted that solution for a long time, and I stayed stuck in my addiction and I was miserable. And then one day I finally surrendered to it and I moved into long term treatment and it was the best thing I ever did. I had a great time and I learned a lot while I was there. Ten out of ten, would go again!
Again, I don’t mean to scare anyone off….you don’t necessarily need long term, and no one necessarily needs to live in rehab for a year or longer. That was just what I needed to get back on my feet, and it worked for me. Your solution might be different. But if you have struggled in the past and you have been in and out of short term facilities then you might consider the fact that you might need more help.
Creating a new life is an exercise in changing your habits
So what does it really mean to get a “fresh start” on life in recovery? What exactly makes it fresh?
Things have to be different. Again, the only thing that you have to change is everything.
My life is totally different today than it was when I was drinking and using drugs. But here is the interesting thing: My life is also totally different today than it was 5 years ago (even though I was sober at both of those times). And my life was totally different 5 years ago from what it was like after my first year or two of sobriety.
That’s right–my life continues to change and evolve even as I remain clean and sober. The adventure continues.
So obviously, when you walk away from you life of addiction, everything changes. It is a massive change and everything is fresh and shiny and new since you are now sober.
But this happens over and over again if you are working any kind of recovery program.
If you are doing the work in recovery, your life will continue to change for the better. It really is amazing.
For example, when I had one year sober I was still living in long term treatment. My life was definitely much improved at that time, and I was going to meetings, I was working the steps, I had a sponsor, and so on. I was earning my wings, so to speak. Very early in recovery.
Fast forward to today, and my life has changed and evolved in so many ways. I no longer smoke. I exercise very day. I write about recovery every day. I connect with people in online recovery every day. I have totally different relationships in my life today. I do different things in order to remain sober today (specifically, a more holistic health approach today rather than meetings and sponsorship when I first got sober).
So lots of things are different from my first year of sobriety. And my life continues to change even today.
Our habits define us, for the most part. What you do every day–your repeated actions–those are what really define who you are becoming in life.
So if you smoke cigarettes every day and never get any exercise, that will have an impact on the person that you become in 5, 10, 20 years down the road.
If you reach out and help people in recovery every single day, that will have an impact on who you become as well.
Your daily habits are super powerful because they happen every single day. So over time, those habits build up into something much more serious.
Just look a the runner who is headed out the door to go run 10 miles. They are super skinny and someone remarks “Look at that person, they don’t need to go run 10 miles, they are already in great shape!”
But what they are not realizing is that the person is in great shape precisely because they run consistently. It is a lifestyle. These are the habits that have made that person into a runner who is in great shape. They don’t even consider the idea of “not running.” They would never do that. This is their lifestyle, so they just do it. They run. They maintain great fitness. It has become part of their identity.
This is what addiction is like. It is also what recovery is like.
When you are stuck in addiction you are just like the runner, only you would never consider not getting drunk or high that day. You just do it. You self medicate every day. It is how you cope, how you deal with life. It is your daily habit and in the long run it will create serious consequences for you.
Recovery is the same way. Once you take the plunge into sobriety, you get into certain habits (hopefully) that help you to remain clean and sober. So you don’t really consider NOT going to meetings, or doing your exercises, or connecting with others in recovery, or writing in your journal, or doing your daily readings, or whatever those habits may be. You just do them, because you know that they work and they help to keep you sober. These are your new habits and they are giving you the outcome that you desire. You want to remain sober in the long run, so to do that you need to adopt a new set of habits.
Now in order to do that you have to change everything. So that means you need to create new healthy habits in every area of your life. Specifically:
1) Not drinking alcohol or putting addictive drugs into your body. Ever. That is new habit numero uno.
2) Taking care of yourself physically. Getting good sleep. Eating healthy food. Exercising. Quitting cigarettes.
3) Taking care of yourself mentally. Generating new ideas. Staying sharp. Making gratitude lists. Staying organized. Avoiding obsessive thoughts.
4) Taking care of yourself socially. Helping other people. Connecting with healthy people in recovery. Eliminating toxic relationships.
5) Taking care of yourself spiritually. Practicing gratitude daily.
6) Taking care of yourself emotionally. Avoiding stress. Staying on an even keel. Loving yourself. Avoiding toxic people.
It’s a lot to take in all at once.
Which is why you may need some help.
But this is how you change your habits, and how you create a new life for yourself.
What do you think everyone, has this worked for you? How did you escape addiction and start a new life? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!