What is the best way to jump start your recovery from addiction?
Massive action. If nothing changes then nothing changes. It is the same old story, really.
This is evidenced by the struggling addict who tries to use half measures in order to get clean and sober. They may be willing to attend rehab but they are not willing to follow through and take suggestions after they leave treatment. They may be willing to attend counseling but they are not willing to take suggestions from the therapist and actually change their life–who they hang around with, what they do with their time, and so on.
The only real way to jump start your recovery is to dive into it head first and commit 100 percent to the idea. If you are holding back even a tiny bit then that will leave the door wide open for relapse to occur. We may not realize that this is a true threat when we are first starting out in our recovery but relapse has a way of sneaking into your life if you are not careful. What this means is that problems can creep up during a recovery from just about any angle, and therefore you must be 100 percent committed to recovery in order to overcome those challenges.
Unfortunately, recovery is pass/fail. There is no way to get a grade of a “B-” or a “C+” in recovery from addiction. You either get an A or you fail entirely. There is no in between. Just go to any AA meeting and take a look around. You have people who are either staying clean and sober, or they are just back from a relapse and their life is in shambles. There is no in between at all. No one got “sort of drunk” recently. No one had a “partial relapse.” Those would not be accurate statements, ever. They are impossible. You are either living clean and sober or you are back into full blown addiction. It really is one of the most polarizing things I have ever encountered in my life. Think of it as being “digital.” You are either on or off. No in between. Drinking or sober. Addiction or recovery. But you can’t float in the middle–that is just not possible. It has to be one or the other.
That said, if you are looking for a way to “jump start the recovery process” then what you are really looking for is a way to dive in and embrace the recovery process 100 percent. This is the only approach that will ultimately work in the end, so anything less than this would end up in relapse anyway. In effect you are not looking for a shortcut here, you are just looking for “the one true path” that will keep you clean and sober. In fact there are probably many paths that would result in long term sobriety but there is only one mindset and attitude that will get you there, and that is an attitude of total and complete surrender.
Most people in this world have a false belief about addiction and recovery. They believe that the secret to overcoming an addiction must be in the magic of taking certain steps. We might call this phenomenon “program worship.” What is really amazing though is that this can happen not just with AA or NA, but also with other programs such as certain religious based approaches. It is very much like the typical ego-centrism that you find in religion where everyone thinks that they have “the one true path.” This happens because the individual addict or alcoholic has struggled for their whole life to get help, and they have failed repeatedly no matter what they tried. But finally they got to this breaking point and now they are clean and sober and they are enjoying an amazing new life in recovery, and they are using a certain program in order to do it. So they falsely believe that whatever program they are using now is the whole secret, when in fact the real secret is that they had finally surrendered 100 percent.
The exact program that you use for recovery is irrelevant–all that matters is your depth of surrender and the resulting attitude and mindset. If you are determined to change your life and follow through this time, then that will make all the difference in the world. Many people have the false belief that a specific program and the specific instructions or steps of that program had the power to keep them clean and sober. The truth is that they had finally surrendered fully to their disease, and this is what produced good results for them.
Therefore if you are looking to jump start your recovery then I would urge you to consider the difference that I am describing here. You don’t need “the perfect program.” In fact, you just need any program, you need to ask for help, you need to start following directions from other people. The secret is not in a magical sequence of steps but instead in the attitude and mindset and the surrender that you bring to the table.
In effect, the jump start is your total surrender. Don’t sweat the details, as they will take care of themselves. Just worry about the fact that you need to become desperate to find sobriety.
Remove yourself completely from decision making
Suggestion number one is tough to swallow. Most people do not want to hear this, because in reality most addicts and alcoholics that I have met in my life have been darn smart people. They are not stupid. So when you tell them to “get out of their own way” and let other people make decisions for them, it is insulting on some level. I don’t blame them one bit for feeling insulted. But that doesn’t change the truth of the matter: they would benefit tremendously if they would just take directions from others for a while.
I had to come to terms with this myself in recovery. I was miserable in my life and I was struggling for so long to try to become happy with drugs and alcohol. It wasn’t working. At some point I had to admit to myself that it really wasn’t working, and that I did not know how to produce my own happiness. My goal was to be happy, I was in charge of my own happiness, and I had failed. I was a miserable wreck. I wanted to be happy but it just wasn’t working.
What if I could ask other people how to be happy, and they told me what to do? I got news for you, folks–there is no shortage of people in this world who will tell you what to do. I am sure you are already quite aware of that fact. But we tend to ignore other people in this regard because they “don’t really know what we are going through.” How can they really know what we are feeling, and therefore what we need in order to be happy? How can they know that?
So it was insulting to me when it was suggested that I listen to advice from other people in early recovery and take their suggestions. Why should I listen to them? I was outraged at this.
Let me cut right to the chase here though–eventually I got miserable enough in my addiction that I became willing to give this approach a chance.
I said to myself something like this: “I am so miserable from my addiction that I no longer care if I live or not. Therefore I will take their advice, get out of my own way, and simply do what they tell me to do. It can’t possibly make things worse; I am already miserable and want to die. So I will surrender fully, and start taking suggestions.”
So I did that. I started stopping myself whenever I had an idea about something that I should do, and I would instead ask for advice from others in recovery. I would not act alone. I forced myself to defer all of my decisions to other people. This was a very deliberate decision that I made in early recovery. I decided that I would not make my own decisions, because I was afraid that I would just sabotage my own recovery.
Therefore I went to long term rehab and started going to meetings every day. I was also attending groups. I was told to get a sponsor. I was told to write in a journal. I was given all sorts of suggestions, which I took action on and followed through with. In short, I surrendered totally and got out of my own way. I made an agreement with myself that I would take advice from others and not use my own ideas.
This worked well. I had removed myself entirely from decision making, putting the responsibility on others. Does this sound like a bad thing? It wasn’t. In effect what I was doing was just being very careful in my life, and collecting advice about how I should live. I had believed that if I lived this way that I would have absolutely zero freedom, and that I would probably be unhappy. I thought that I would feel like a robot, or a slave, because I would only be listening to others for advice instead of myself. But an interesting thing happened–things started to get better. Fast.
Not only did my life start to rapidly improve, but I also realized that I wasn’t really giving up much control. In fact I was still in control of my life and I was still “in charge of my decisions,” but I was just getting lots of helpful advice from others along the way. And the amazing thing was that I was becoming happier and happier. It was working. Recovery was changing my life for the better. Somewhat slowly at first, but I could not deny that even during my first few weeks of sobriety that my life was improving dramatically.
But in order to get to this point I had to be willing to let go of my own ideas for a while. I had to push my ego to the side and be willing to listen to others instead. I had to be willing to take the risk that even if I was not making all of the decisions for myself that things might still turn out OK. And of course they did. But I had to take that risk and sort of “get out of my own way” in order to let recovery into my life.
Follow advice from other people and take their suggestions
Getting your recovery kicked into high gear is based on taking in new information and applying it in your life.
When you first get clean and sober you lack information. You don’t know how to live. Your life is a mess and you are unhappy in spite of your best efforts to self medicate. Therefore you need new information as you need to learn how real happiness is created.
In order to receive new information you have to become open minded. You have to open up to suggestions and be willing to do what other people tell you to do. If you are not willing to do this then you are not likely to stay sober for very long. You will just end up reverting to your old ideas about how to be happy, which of course do not work very well.
Taking suggestions from other people may sound like a drag, but it is really not much different than what you normally do. In fact it is a little easier because you are no longer as responsible for the decisions in your life. You get to kick back and just follow orders for a while. Really, if you use this approach then things will get better quickly.
Part of this comes from experimentation. They have a saying in traditional recovery: “Take what you need and leave the rest.” This works best when you are actively taking suggestions and trying new things in your life.
The first few years of recovery resulted in a lot of experimentation. For example, I tried meditation for a few months and really got into it. This was suggested to me from other people in recovery. What I found is that it was quite helpful, but eventually things evolved and this got replaced by another suggestion. What happened is that I started exercising (another suggestion from many people in recovery!) and eventually this replaced the meditation. They both had many of the same benefits, but one of them was a better fit for me, and gave me more benefit.
Now realize that I would have done neither of those things (meditation or exercise) without having been told to do so first. Those things had to be suggested to me. But ultimately I got huge benefit from those suggestions and they have made a huge impact on how I remain clean and sober today.
Therefore you should make a point in your recovery to try to seek out and take suggestions from other people. Keep in mind that you are still your own person when you do this, and ultimately you are still the judge of what you do with your life and how you spend your time. But it pays to experiment and try new things, and you can only get that sort of information and new suggestions from other people. Therefore you should seek out this advice and feedback from others in order to expand your recovery effort.
Go to rehab. The longer the better
Here is a suggestion for jump starting the recovery process:
Go to rehab. The longer the better.
I firmly believe in rehab even though it failed for me twice and technically only worked for me once. So what–I had to go three times in order to finally “get it.” That’s just how it is in most cases. I don’t see a lot of people who make a single trip to rehab and come out of it well. And I say this after having worked at a rehab for several years. Nevertheless, rehab is still the best solution that we have, and it is also the best “shortcut” that we have. Not that it is really a shortcut, but it is still the best way to start off on the right foot I believe. You could do much worse than attending rehab.
At the very least you are in a safe place while you are in a treatment center. It is a controlled environment with no drugs, alcohol, or temptations. So the longer you stay in rehab the better off you will be (in my opinion). If you are used to using drugs or alcohol every single day and you go to detox and rehab, how long do you have to stay in treatment before sobriety “feels normal?” This is an important question because if you just leave rehab after a single weekend then you will probably not feel normal at all, and will want a drink very badly. On the other hand I lived in rehab for 20 months continuous–sobriety was now my “new normal” and I was much more stable when I left rehab. So I think it matters how long you stay, though the statistics do not necessarily reflect that opinion (long term rehab only has slightly better success rates than short term, though I don’t understand why not). Perhaps this is because I finally found success by going to long term myself. But remember the “ego centrism bias” from the beginning of this article–we tend to believe in whatever solution finally worked for us in recovery. I ended up finally getting sober at a 12 step based long term rehab. But had I gone to a short term based religious recovery center, that likely would have worked as well, because I had finally surrendered. But then that would mean I would be biased towards short term religious based treatment, rather than long term 12 step based treatment.
But I can’t help it. I still believe that “more treatment is better than less treatment.” Long term rehab finally worked for me when short term rehabs had failed. Your mileage may vary, but if given the choice, I would personally encourage you to opt for longer treatment rather than shorter. Why not give yourself that extra time to help (possibly) increase your chances?
Also, living in long term treatment is a lot different than simply taking a few week “vacation” at a short term treatment center. In my experience the long term rehab is more powerful because it forces you to figure out how to live sober while you still have all of this support in your life. You still go out into the real world, work a real job, go to real meetings, and then have to learn how to remain sober while being exposed to some temptations. You see, living in long term rehab gives you just enough rope to hang yourself. You can still go grab a bottle or your drug of choice while you are living in treatment. But on the other hand you also have a ton of support. So many people actually relapse while living in long term. But they don’t have to. They have the support, they just have not surrendered fully yet. Remember it is rarely the treatment itself but instead it is all about surrender.
Surrender fully and completely – this is the quickest path to recovery
If you want to jump start your recovery then the depth of your surrender is the truest measure of your success. If you have surrendered fully then you have a shot at staying sober. On the other hand if you are just sick of the unhappiness of addiction but you are not really willing to change everything then you are not in a position to succeed in recovery.
How do you surrender fully? You do so by letting go completely, letting go of the need to control things. You must let go of everything, let go of everything that you normally care about in your life.
Take massive action. Don’t just take small actions and hope that you will get lucky. You won’t. You must create your own luck by diving into recovery head first and taking massive action. This is how to produce good results–you must commit fully. That is the only way to really jump start your recovery–by taking massive action and committing fully to the process.