Help addicts recover….here’s how.
Some of us don’t even know how to get started with recovery. The thought of facing the rest of our lives without drugs can be overwhelming. So here is one simple formula, try breaking it down like this:
1) Detox and short term recovery – first few weeks or months of recovery.
2) Long term recovery – the rest of your life.
First, let’s take a look at short term recovery:
I usually like to think of the first stage of recovery as “early recovery.” Many people will experience this stage in a treatment center. You go through detox and get a few weeks of clean time under your belt while you’re in a protected environment.
Photo by Lukasz Dunikowski
Because you’re not used to being clean, this can be an intense time for the recovering addict. This early stage of recovery is very different from the idea of “staying clean and sober for the rest of your life.”
As such, you should treat these 2 stages of recovery differently.
The secret of success in early recovery
I had the opportunity to live in a long term treatment center in my early recovery, where I watched a lot of addicts struggle to get clean. These days, I’m employed at a short term residential treatment center, and thus get to observe literally hundreds of recovering addicts in early recovery. Because of this experience, I have formed strong opinions about what works and what doesn’t in early recovery. I’ve based my opinions on my own experience and that of watching hundreds of struggling addicts all around me.
So what works? First of all, there are so many ways to fail in early recovery. Staying clean is an all-or-nothing proposition. One slip up and your recovery is history. Take one drug and it’s “off to the races.” There are so many different triggers and potential urges in early recovery that it’s like a minefield for the newcomer. The vast majority do not even make it to 30 days clean.
Because of this, the only strategy that I have seen that seems to increase the odds of success in early recovery is overwhelming force.
The idea of using overwhelming force is fairly simple, but it might be difficult for people to actually implement in their lives. Here are some examples of the concept:
1) If you go to 12 step meetings in order to help you stay clean, don’t go to 1 meeting per day. Go to 3 each day.
2) If you are a crack addict, don’t go to cocaine rehab in order to recover, go to a long term treatment center and live there for a year or two.
3) If you use a sponsor to help you in recovery, don’t just call them once per week. Meet up with them frequently and actually put in the work that they suggest for you to do.
4) If you set goals in early recovery, don’t just set them in your mind and then slack off. Attack your goals with ruthless action and unbounded energy.
And so on. The idea is to figure out what you think you need to do to stay clean, then triple it. Go way above and beyond what you think it will take. This is overwhelming force.
It’s necessary to do this because so many addicts in early recovery underestimate what they think it will take to stay clean. We almost always underestimate the disease at first.
So the secret of getting through early recovery is to use overwhelming force. Your exact method for this will vary from person to person. Some will go to treatment, others will not. But any addict can get through early recovery if they only attack the goal with a big enough hammer.
Go big. Early recovery demands it.
Transitioning to long term recovery
At some point in the life of the recovering addict, a shift must be made. Say you are going to three 12 step meetings each day, or living in a long term treatment center. These tactics are no longer appropriate at 5 years clean.
What got you clean will not keep you clean. Why not? Because we change and evolve in recovery. And so you must deliberately change for the better, or you’ll slide back into your old ways.
Ever heard the phrase “You’re either working on your recovery, or you’re working on a relapse?” The idea here is that if you’re not pushing yourself to grow, then you’ll slowly revert back towards your old addictive behaviors.
So it makes sense to consciously transition into long term recovery. If you have 30 days clean and you’re using overwhelming force to stay clean, that’s great. But don’t just continue to drift aimlessly without forming a strategy for long term recovery. This is suicide.
The reason that this approach won’t work is because the short term recovery tactics will eventually fail you as you accumulate clean time. Complacency will set in and you will become either bored or restless in recovery. To avoid this, you must consciously chose to transition to long term recovery. This means pushing yourself to grow. In particular, you must choose to grow holistically in order to truly embrace creative recovery.
It is not enough in our recovery to grow spiritually. This might sound blasphemous to some people but it’s the truth. I have seen so many people in recovery who focused heavily on their spiritual growth, only to end up relapsing (or dying). Balance is important.
What does it mean to grow holistically? It means that we grow in all areas of our life. Spirituality is important, no doubt, but we are headed for relapse if we neglect the other areas of our lives.
What are these other areas? Let’s take a look:
1) Physical – this is so important in recovery. Your physical health and well being, your fitness level, nutrition, how well you sleep at night–it’s all tied together in this category. I’ve seen many recovering addicts throw away their sobriety because they did not take care of themselves physically.
One of the biggest trends I have seen among people in recovery is that there is a tendency to get tripped up with medical problems. Sometimes this leads to prescription medications (which can be a slippery slope), other times it just keeps someone sick for so long that they become depressed and return to their drug of choice. Either way, I’ve noticed that a lot of recovering addicts get tripped up because of these sorts of health-related problems.
Therefore, it makes sense to approach recovery from a “total health” standpoint. Don’t neglect your health or your physical well being and expect to flourish in recovery. Taking care of your physical body is important.
2) Emotional – staying balanced emotionally is critical for success in recovery. Learning how to achieve this balance is a growth process. Most addicts in early recovery are not experts at this. It takes time to learn how to achieve this balance, and this skill can require a number of different processes. For example, learning to say “no” to certain people in your life might become an important step in achieving emotional balance. On the other hand, someone might have to learn how to treat themselves to a good time or learn how to have fun again in order to restore this balance.
3) Social – Most of us are used to using others as a way or a means to get more drugs in our addiction. We might have to learn how to “play nice” in recovery and build real meaningful relationships. Growth in this area will have us reaching out to others and building real connections, not just shallow friendships or unhealthy dependencies. The foundation of this growth will come with increased self-esteem, which will build up through our pursuit of personal growth and also through caring for ourselves.
4) Spiritual – Traditional recovery programs typically focus exclusively on spiritual growth. This is a mistake, because the real solution is holistic, but spirituality remains an important piece of the puzzle. While this area of growth will vary greatly from person to person, for me it meant that I shifted from self centeredness towards a genuine interest in helping others, as well as a renewed faith in a higher power. This doesn’t have to be the case with everyone, as we all define spirituality for ourselves in recovery.
There are other areas of our lives that we can grow in, but these 4 are the main categories. Sometimes, however, true holistic growth does not fit so neatly into categories such as these, and we just go through an experience and come out stronger without having to put a label on it.
Action items: what you can do to help addicts recover
1) Encourage treatment in a controlled environment. This is safer and offers improved outcomes, though it is no magic bullet.
2) Encourage the principle of overwhelming force. If they are considering long term treatment, for example, push them to go for it. If they think they need more support, encourage that too. Always opt for more intensive treatment options. Push them to go overboard with recovery efforts. Never encourage them to slack off in their program.
3) Be aware of the need to transition into long term recovery. What looks like slacking off might actually be a step up in another area. Think holistically. Growth is not linear in recovery.
4) Health and well being should be top priority, with recovery being a large part of this. Caring for self should be a fundamental strategy in addiction help.
5) Encourage holistic growth. Push them to grow in new directions.