How to Avoid Underestimating Your Disease of Addiction

How to Avoid Underestimating Your Disease of Addiction

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Yesterday we looked at how to design the ultimate life in early recovery. Today we want to be sure that you avoid underestimating your disease of addiction so that you do not fall victim to relapse.

Why most people do not respect the power of addiction at first

Nearly everyone underestimates their disease of addiction or alcoholism, at least at first. This is pretty much a universal response and there seems to be no easy way around it. Addicts and alcoholics generally have to try a few times on their own (and fail) in order to fully respect their disease.

The problem is one of relativity, believe it or not. You see, most addicts and alcoholics have nothing to compare this too–no experience in their life that mirrors the struggle with addiction. This is a major lifestyle change that for most people will be the hardest thing they have ever been challenged with in their life, ever.

This is actually not a problem once the person figures this out. It really is no big deal to dedicate your entire life to recovery and thereby overcome your addiction. It can be done and it is actually not that difficult once you fully commit to doing it. The problem is that almost no one realizes the true depth of the commitment and just how hard they have to try at this thing! Nearly everyone underestimates the struggle, while at the same time, overestimating their own abilities.

Not only do addicts and alcoholics believe that the journey into sobriety will be easier than what it truly ends up being, they also have the problem of believing that they are “above average” in competence and intelligence. This has already been proven in studies where something like 80 percent or more of everyone believes that they are above average intelligence! Obviously there is some serious overestimating going on here. And this definitely comes into play in terms of addiction recovery, as most people falsely believe that they will have a bit easier time at digesting the recovery concepts and then applying them successfully in their lives. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to work that way. In fact, above average intelligence may be a liability in early recovery because the people who end up succeeding seem to be the ones who are able to get out of their own way, suck it up, and listen to advice and direction from others. This does not generally describe most people who believe they are of “above average intelligence.” In other words, it’s now how smart you are, it’s how smart you THINK you are. If you think you are too smart then you are setting yourself up for roadblocks in early recovery. If you can humbly admit that you have a lot to learn, on the other hand, then you have a much better chance at sobriety.

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If you look back at the challenges that you have faced in your life BEFORE your addiction came along, you can probably see a pattern of how you dealt with things. Most of us put forth a certain level of effort and were therefore able to overcome the problems and struggles that we faced. Now let’s put this into perspective and talk about perceived effort. All of that stuff that you have dealt with in your life required a certain amount of effort on your part in order to deal with it. Some challenges were harder than others, and therefore required more effort, right? The point here is that most people have nothing to compare addiction too in this sense–you have never faced anything within this same ballpark. This is a huge challenge and therefore it demands a huge amount of commitment and massive action. Really this does not make it impossible or even difficult to overcome, it just means that you have to meet the challenge with the right amount of effort and dedication. Don’t just expect to go to an AA meeting once a week and be cured. That is not how recovery works. This is how people relapse and fail; they underestimate the disease while overestimating their capacity to solve the problem. You must not do this, and realize that this will be the struggle and fight of a lifetime. This is to be your greatest challenge ever, treat it as such and you will do well.

If you do not yet have this level of respect for your addiction then you must learn it or gain it somehow. The best way to do that, unfortunately, is through experience.

Experience is the best teacher–most of us learn the hard way!

Most, if not all of us, learn to respect our addiction the hard way.

This happens slowly over time (for most people) after they increasingly try to tackle their addiction problem by themselves. Really what they are doing is proving to themselves what doesn’t work in trying to solve their own problem. Most addicts and alcoholics at this phase of the game are trying to figure out how to control their drug or alcohol intake while still being able to enjoy it. Either that or they are trying to go cold turkey on their own and quit completely, without any outside help at all.

We all know how both of these scenarios are likely to turn out. Trying to cut down or control your intake is just going to be annoying and frustrating for most addicts and alcoholics. Because of denial they will probably control things for a little while but then eventually screw up and go nuts again, getting themselves into trouble of some kind. Their denial will tell them that they had been very close to “solving” their drug or alcohol problem, and that they just need to try a slightly different tactic this next time. These are the games that we play when we switch from liquor to beer, when we limit ourselves to ten pills each day, when we try to control our intake and set limits so that we do not lose control. None of it works for the true addict and this is what defines our addiction to begin with. “Normal” people have never had to place such limits on themselves or even made any sort of special effort to try to control their drug or alcohol intake, yet we believe this is normal for us to be doing. In fact it should be a clear enough sign right there that we are completely addicted and out of control, in desperate need of help. Of course most addicts at this point are in denial and believe that they are very close to finding just the right combination of self control and indulgence with their drug. They falsely believe that they can one day both control their intake and be happy at the same time. This is fantasy; it will never happen. This is what makes them an addict.

It seems that we cannot be told any of this, addicts and alcoholics are far too stubborn. Instead we have to learn it the hard way. The experience of doing so is much like banging your head into a brick wall repeatedly. I only say this because I can look back at my own struggle with addiction and agree that the experience is pretty close to flagrant self abuse. I cannot believe how stupid I was for so long and how long my denial actually held out for me. I cannot believe how long I had to abuse myself before I was willing to give myself a break and give sobriety a chance. But this is what defines addiction. It is not rational in the least. This is why concerned friends and family members have such a hard time convincing the struggling addict or alcoholic to take action–because the disease is not rational. It may listen politely but all it can do is cover up it’s ears and say “I need to self medicate in order to be happy!” Thus denial keeps people stuck in addiction much longer than you would expect. If the disease was rational then we could have talked people out of this madness a long time ago.

If denial convinces people that they should underestimate their problem while also overestimating their ability to solve it, what then is the solution?

The solution is to take massive action.

The struggling addict can easily overcome their addiction and solve their problem by applying overwhelming force to the situation. Dedicating their entire life to recovery with a 100 percent commitment will do the trick nicely. But can the addict realize that this is the sure path forward to success? Can the struggling addict muster the willingness and see the need for this “extreme” path in recovery? That is the question that will define their sobriety (or relapse).

Recognizing the need for massive action and serious dedication

They talk often of willingness in recovery programs. They talk about how the addict must be willing to “go to any length,” as it states in the big book of AA. What are you willing to do in order to recover? What limitations (or reservations) have you placed on your recovery journey?

I had a reservation once, before I had got clean and sober for good. It was about long term rehab. I was terrified of the idea of living in long term treatment. I would sooner go to prison, or so I told myself at the time. In truth, I was not that stupid–I would have chose rehab over prison, trust me. But I still had this big mental block in my mind that said I did not want to go live in treatment. I thought the idea was crazy.

The truth was that I was looking at the issue with a bad attitude, plain and simple. My line of thinking was “why would anyone live in rehab, what about their life? What about living? Don’t they want to go on living their life where they are free? Why would anyone voluntarily go to long term treatment?”

What I was doing was equating rehab with prison. And so this was a reservation on my part. I vowed never to go live in long term treatment. I was dead set against the idea.

Well I was still pretty young at this point and I had a whole bunch of friends in my life and all of them used drugs and alcohol. I also had a job that was nothing but drugs and booze as well. My entire world consisted of drugs and alcohol. How was I going to recover in this environment? This is precisely why the therapists and counselors were pushing me to go to long term rehab to begin with. They could clearly see that this is what I needed to do.

So two times I went to short term inpatient rehab while I still held this reservation close to my heart. I was dead set against the idea of long term rehab. So when it came time for aftercare, I simply walked away from the path of recovery, right back into the storm of addiction. I never had a fighting chance because I was sabotaging my own efforts. I was NOT willing to “go to any length.” I had clearly stated what I was not willing to do, and that was what tripped me up more than anything else. I clung to a reservation and it almost killed me.

Later on, after much additional misery and chaos from my addiction, I became willing to let go of that reservation. I knew what I needed to do and that was to face my biggest fear and go live in treatment for a while. Turns out that this was a walk in the park and also the best decision I ever made. I wish I could have known how easy it all was, if only I would become willing to dedicate my entire life to recovery with absolutely no strings attached.

And this is the level of willingness that you need to succeed. This is how you must realize that it takes massive action, and how you must become willing to take massive action. You may not need to go live in rehab like I did, but you almost certainly need to push much harder than what you ever dreamed possible. This is to be the greatest challenge of your life, are you ready for that level of intense commitment and dedication? Have you ever heard of going to 90 AA meetings in 90 days–does that sound like a huge commitment to you? Ask any addict who has made it through their first year or two of recovery and they will laugh at the idea that this is a big deal. Shoot, doing 90 in 90 is a drop in the bucket. If that was all it took to recover then we would have this addiction thing fully solved by now. In truth, you have to be willing to go way beyond that, to dedicate your entire life to recovery.

How willing are you to do whatever it takes?

If you are about to start your own journey in recovery, you may wonder what your own level of willingness is, and whether it will be enough. Unfortunately this is best measured not by enthusiasm, but by your level of despair. The more you feel like you have hit bottom and reached your lowest point, the more willing you will likely be to take the necessary action to recover.

Your misery and complete feeling of defeat at the hands of your addiction is actually a good thing. This negativity is what will turn into the willingness to take massive action.

Be particularly aware of any reservations that you may be making at this point. If you are saying things like “I will do anything to recover except go to inpatient rehab, or except go to meetings, or except talk to a counselor, or whatever….then you may be setting yourself up for failure.

Early recovery demands that you learn from others. You cannot both learn from others and also tell everyone else exactly how your recovery is going to go at the same time. Think about this for a moment. If you are trying hard to stay in control and to call all the shots then you are not in a position to learn what you need to learn.

You are struggling with addiction or alcoholism and you need to learn a new way to live. Now is the time to stop trying to control everything and everyone and let go of everything. Just let go of all of it. Ask for help from other people and be willing to take direction from them. If you are not willing to let go of everything in this manner then you may not be ready to recover at all.

Just wanting for your addiction to be gone is not enough. You have to be willing to truly let go of everything and to stop struggling for control.

Can you develop willingness based on rewards, or does willingness have to come from avoiding misery?

From what I have seen it is probably only possible to achieve this deep level of willingness in order to escape from misery. This is why they say that the addict must “hit bottom” before they can recover. Without hitting bottom first, they will not have the motivation that they need in order to take massive action in their life. They will not have the motivation needed to become willing, to fully commit to recovery.

When is enough going to be enough? When are you done abusing drugs or alcohol?

At some point you have to really stop for a moment in the course of your addiction and honestly assess how miserable you have become.

This is the only way to really escape from addiction. You have to suddenly realize just how miserable your life is, and you must grasp the fact that it is not going to get better anytime soon.

Denial is when we tell ourselves that we are happy in our addiction, even though we are likely miserable 99 percent of the time. Denial is hanging on to the idea that we were deliriously happy in that tiny 1 percent of the time, and that we could be like that all of the time if only circumstances would magically line up for us. The moment that we break through our denial is when we finally realize that this is a fantasy, that circumstances are never going to line up like that every day for us–it may happen every once in a great while where we use our drug of choice and become truly happy from it–but it will never happen every single day. And so we will have this crushing moment where we see the futility in it all, and realize that we cannot buy our happiness every day like we thought we could, and that the drugs and the booze have really been a huge lie. We thought we could find eternal happiness in our drug of choice and it betrayed us, making us miserable 99 percent of the time. We have to clearly see this for what it is. They call this “a moment of clarity.” Once you’ve had this moment, you will then become willing to ask for help and take direction and advice on how to live a different way.

Squash your addiction by using overwhelming force and taking massive action

Like I said earlier, it is actually somewhat easy to overcome your addiction once you have committed to recovery 100 percent, and dedicated your entire life to the pursuit of sobriety. The hard part is finding the willingness to take this level of massive action.

The key is to use overwhelming force. Immerse yourself fully in recovery. Dedicate your entire life to it. Go live in rehab, then work there. Don’t just go to an AA meeting, go immerse yourself fully in the fellowship. Get involved. Go nuts with recovery. This is the path to success in recovery. Take massive action.

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