How can an alcoholic or drug addict actually give recovery a chance to really work in their life?
Sometimes the biggest problem is simply getting started. But how can you do that when you are trapped in your own addiction, stuck in denial, and having absolutely no hope for the future?
The first step is to break through your denial.
How to give yourself a chance to get clean and sober
Every alcoholic is fighting a battle within themselves. They want to self medicate every day in order to avoid feeling pain and misery, yet at the same time their addiction is adding additional fuel to the fire. It is their addiction and their actions that is creating more and more chaos and misery in their lives. Then their denial covers this up and they tend to blame other things instead of realizing that most of their problems stem from addiction.
The problem is that you can see everything in life at least two different ways. The alcoholic is stuck because they are constantly saying to themselves: “If things would just work out the way I want them to, then I could use my drug of choice and I would finally be happy. But other people and situations and events keep screwing up my life and it is not the fault of my addiction, but it is just bad luck and random circumstances. People have it out for me or something. I can’t get a break.” So they are blaming their problems on anything except for their drug or alcohol consumption in order to defend their addiction. They do this out of fear. They are afraid to take away their ability to self medicate every day. They don’t want to be left defenseless without a way to medicate their mood.
So in order to give yourself a chance at recovery you have to somehow break through this denial.
The way to do that is to start measuring just how happy you are every day. If you honestly assess how happy you are in your life then this will help to move you past your denial. Why? Because if you are constantly realizing that you are unhappy then this will help to motivate you to make changes.
Denial happens when we sweep our unhappiness under the rug. Denial happens when we deny the fact that we are miserable and that we are unhappy. When we remember the good times with drinking and drugs but we block out all of the consequences. Or we make excuses for the consequences and blame other things, rather than our alcohol consumption.
The alcoholic must have a moment of clarity in which they see past all of this. They have to glimpse the future in which they continue to drink every day and they stay miserable forever. There is no hope in this sort of future and that will be the moment when they finally make a decision to get clean and sober. But in order to have that moment of clarity the alcoholic has to prepare for it a bit. They have to start getting more and more honest with themselves. And that means they have to measure their lack of happiness each day.
I recommend that alcoholics and drug addicts start writing this down in a daily journal. This can be a two minute exercise each day. Most people will not do it though because it is very difficult to reveal the truth to ourselves. Simply write down if you are happy or not each day. Write down your real feelings. Are you happy? Keep answering that question, in writing, every day. If you do this for long enough then eventually you will force your brain to realize that you are living in denial. You will wake up to the fact that it is not going to get any better if you continue to drink and take drugs. Suddenly that moment of clarity will come when you glimpse the future and realize that you will never be any happier if you continue to do what you have been doing all along. Drinking and drugs is no longer working for you. You just have to wake up and realize that.
We get sober due to overwhelming misery. No one gets sober because they want to pursue happiness. Instead, they surrender because they are sick and tired. There is a difference between these two concepts. No one chases the positive. Instead, they avoid the negative. But you have to break through your denial and realize that you are sick and tired of the chaos of addiction. And you have to stop blaming others and realize that your addiction is creating your misery.
Why people are so miserable in very early recovery
Beating addiction is tough because early recovery is not fun at all. The problem is that every alcoholic and drug addict has to go through a difficult transition period of withdrawal.
Every alcoholic and drug addict has gone through brief periods of time during their active addiction when they did not have access to their drug of choice. So they know what it is like to start going through physical withdrawal. They know that feeling. It is a feeling that drives them to go back out and get more drugs or booze. It is a big part of what drives their addiction in the first place; avoiding the pain and misery of withdrawal.
If you have never been clean and sober for an extended period before then it is probable that you are projecting this misery of withdrawal onto the rest of your entire recovery. In other words, the alcoholic has very little hope at first because in the back of their mind they believe that they will feel miserable forever if they get sober. They are taking the ill effects of short term withdrawal and they are projecting those feelings onto their future life in sobriety.
Obviously this is wrong.
You don’t feel miserable forever in recovery. If you did then no one would stay sober for the long run. The pain and discomfort of withdrawal is gone within a week or less.
After that there is another challenge though, of learning how to live in your own skin and be comfortable in the world. This goes back to the all of the reasons that an alcoholic loves to drink in the first place and how they are typically medicating some sort of anxiety in their lives. Now that they are sober they have to learn how to face reality without the crutch of alcohol. They have to learn how to deal with life on life’s terms, rather than running away from everything by getting drunk or high.
This challenge must be met with courage. This is because every alcoholic has fear in them about this, whether they admit or not. Recovery is scary and it takes guts. Everyone has fear about sobriety, fear of facing life sober, fear of the unknown. Of course very few people will admit to being afraid. They will make excuses or show anger but they will rarely admit that they are afraid of sobriety. Deep down, every alcoholic is afraid of sobriety. If they were not then they would already be sober! It is fear that holds us back from recovery. We only choose to face that fear when we become so sick and tired of the pain and misery of addiction. The chaos and misery of addiction become so great at some point that we overlook the fear and we embrace recovery anyway. That is the path to recovery.
What it really means to “give yourself a break”
If you look at how alcoholics actually recover then you will notice at some point they have to “give themselves a break.”
But how exactly do you do this? How do you “give yourself a break” in recovery?
I can tell you how to do this exactly. That does not mean it is easy though. But I can outline it very precisely for you.
Here is how to give yourself a break and get sober:
1) Surrender to the fact that you cannot drink or use drugs like a “normal” person can. Ever again. Surrender to that idea. Stop avoiding the idea of abstinence. Embrace it.
2) Ask for help from someone you trust. Tell them that you need inpatient treatment. Tell them to make phone calls and help you set up rehab. You need rehab.
3) Go to rehab and be willing. Be open minded. Go with the flow. Stop resisting. Resist nothing.
4) Kill your ego. No more decisions. Make a deal with yourself that you will not make any decisions for yourself for one full year. Only take advice and suggestions from others. Kill your ego.
5) Take advice and suggestions and test them out in your life. If they don’t help you, move on and try different suggestions. Keep asking for advice from people you trust. Take action.
If you follow these concepts for one full year then at the end of that year your life will be completely different. Not only that but it will still be changing. In other words, after a year of sobriety your life will be different and amazing, but then a year later it will have changed completely again, for the better. Your transformation will continue so long as you keep practicing these concepts in your life.
Remove your ego and follow advice from others. This is how to “give yourself a break.”
Now you might ask, how exactly does this give me a break? How does killing my ego really give me any sort of break or relief?
I am telling you, it is a huge relief. It is real freedom. When you do this you free your mind up to stop worrying. Because now you are just following directions. There is no more pressure because you do not have to worry about what you will do or how it might turn out. You have left those decisions in the hands of other people. You ask for advice, you ask for direction, and you take it.
Will this turn you into a robot? That is what I feared, that I would lose my identity if I lived this way. But it was the most freeing thing I ever did. It gave me my life back. Killing my ego for a year was the best decision I ever made. Instead of losing my identity I created a new one, a better one. I started to become the person that I was supposed to be all along, but that I had been slowly killing with drugs and alcohol.
When you kill your ego and live by the suggestions of others, you free up your mind to stop fretting over decisions. This has a really big effect on how you feel from day to day. It must be experienced to be appreciated. You will not believe how much time you used to spend worrying about what you “should” and “should not” do with yourself. Those questions are answered by other people when you kill your ego so all of those mental worries get freed up. It is truly amazing.
How long does it take to start seeing results?
If you do this then you will see results in less than two weeks time. One month at the most, and that is only if you are having trouble “turning over self will.”
If you think about it this is very similar to the third step in AA where you turn your will over the care of a higher power. When we “take back self will” in recovery it means that we get some crazy idea in our head that is no good for us and it causes problems. Our self will is usually when we are trying to force our own happiness, and it generally does not turn out well. Usually when our ego gets involved it just creates more misery and chaos.
They have a saying in recovery that “God speaks to us through other people.” This is the idea behind killing your ego. Remove yourself from the decision making process and let other people tell you what to do. All you need is to take advice from people you trust. You don’t necessarily even need a higher power to do this. You just need to kill your ego.
It is very easy to tell someone else how to fix their problems. We can step back, see their problems, and tell them what advice they need to correct them. We can even do this when we are alcoholic and medicating every day. It is easy to tell people how they should change.
But it is very difficult to change ourselves. And it is very difficult to know what to do in order to become happy and content. This is why we need to kill our egos. This is why we need to stand down from making our own decisions for a while and let someone else tell us how to live. It takes a lot of humility to do this. It takes a lot of humility to be able to follow directions and advice from other people. Because we don’t believe that anyone else could possibly know what we need to be happy, more so than our own selves. Only we ourselves know what we need in order to truly be happy, right?
Wrong. This hasn’t worked out for the alcoholic. The alcoholic has been thinking this way for years now, believing that they alone hold the key to their own happiness, and yet look them. They are miserable. They have drank themselves into complete and total misery. It hasn’t worked out.
So they must let go. They have to turn it over. They have to give themselves a break. All of these concepts point to the same basic idea. The idea that you must kill your ego and start taking direction from someone else for a while. Because your own ideas are not working out. They are not making you happy. And if you live according to someone else’s design for a while then your life will start to get better.
And so this is what happens in early recovery. Either you surrender fully or you do not. If you do not surrender fully then you eventually relapse and go back to self medicating, only to accumulate more pain and misery in your life.
Or you can surrender and then kill your ego. Start taking advice and direction from someone else. Anyone’s ideas except for your own. And so you start to live this new life and take positive action every day and your life slowly starts to get better and better.
There is a crossover point in recovery. It is the point at which your life is slowly getting better and better each day, and at some point it is even better than it was when you had a “good day” in addiction.
But don’t lie to yourself. You will not reach this crossover point in your first week of sobriety. Which is why so many alcoholics fail to remain sober. Because there is a time period where you are miserable and you are slowly rebuilding your life and it is difficult. You have not yet reached this crossover point. You can imagine your best day drinking alcohol and it is much nicer than the reality that you are currently experiencing in early recovery. Of course that is true, otherwise people would never relapse.
I know someone who used to say “My worst day sober is better than my best day drunk.” A nice idea, but for me that is false. I had fun while drinking and I had some great days, I am not going to lie. If there weren’t some amazing experiences in my addiction then it would not have been so difficult to quit. Of course there were some great times. That’s what makes it an addiction, that’s what makes it so hard to walk away from it all. We cling to those good memories. I can’t just lie to myself and tell myself that it was all miserable. Because it wasn’t.
But in the end my addiction got worse and worse, and at that time it really was all miserable. And there was no going back. In fact, I did an experiment where I sobered up for a week, then I got smashed again. When I returned to drinking I had “fun” for about a few hours, and then I was miserable again. The “window of happiness” grew smaller and smaller. I could still have “fun” with my drinking but only if I went through a very difficult week of sobriety. It was no longer worth it. And I could see that if I continued to try to drink in the future that I would get almost no real happiness out of it.
So after a few months in my recovery I reached this crossover point. I had made it through an entire day of my life, sober, and I had not even thought of taking a drink or a drug. Not a single craving all day! That was a miracle. And I realized then that I was basically happy, and that I was never this consistently happy when I was drinking. So that was my crossover point, and I reached it in under six months. After that my life continued to get even better and better over the years. In fact I am much happier and more content today than I was at six months sober, and the misery of my addiction is even more in contrast to my current life. It really does keep getting better and better, but of course you have to put in the effort to get those results.
What to do if things are not getting any better
If things are not getting any better then it simply means that you are not giving yourself a break. You are not giving yourself a chance.
Go back and read through the process again that I outlined above. You must kill your ego if you want to see your life get significantly better. Remove yourself from the decisions. Let other people tell you what to do and how to live.
It doesn’t sound very appetizing to kill your ego, but the results are always impressive. When you kill your ego you are “borrowing” the wisdom of other people, and therefore the results that you get in your life will be accelerated.
What about you, have you been able to give yourself a break in recovery? How did you do it? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!