There were a few hidden keys to my own success in addiction treatment.
Let me describe them to you on the chance that they might be able to help you as well. I think that we all have certain keys that we discover on our journey to recovery, and while we may find lots of similarities in our journey, we will also find that different things work for different people. So the following is what worked for me.
First of all, there is one fundamental key that I believe is required for anyone who wants to get clean and sober, and that fundamental key is surrender.
Every addict and alcoholic who is struggling is in denial. They may or may not admit that they have a problem, and that is actually not the point here. The point is that the person who is struggling in addiction is in denial of a solution.
There was a time when I would openly admit to anyone who wanted to know that, yes, I was a real alcoholic and a drug addict. I had a serious problem, and I would admit to it out loud. And I believed it. I was not lying. I knew that I was a mess. And I knew that this addiction was a real and permanent condition for me. It was not going away. I knew this, and I admitted it, and yet I continued to drink and take drugs.
Why? Because I was still in denial. And I was in denial of the solution. I had been to rehab twice and I had sat through some AA meetings and I was afraid of those things. I was living in fear and I was afraid to open up and share at an AA meeting. I had sort of done that, sure. And I could certainly force myself to do it. However, I was afraid, and I wanted to run away from the idea of rehab and AA and I wanted to drink myself into a comfort zone. I wanted the security of drinking and oblivion rather than to face my fears and accept a new solution and try to recover.
At some point I broke through this denial when I realized that the alcohol and drugs were never going to make me happy in the long run. Somehow I got a clear look at everything, I saw the bigger picture for once, and I realized that I was just going to keep chasing that next high while being miserable nearly 99 percent of the time. And I suddenly–for no apparent reason that I can discern–had had enough. I was done. I had reached my limit. I was at rock bottom, and I wanted to change. I wanted something different. And I was so incredibly sick and tired of it all that I became willing to face the fear. I was willing to face my fears and go to AA and go to rehab and do whatever they told me to do. You see, I became willing to accept a new solution into my heart. That is how you break through denial.
This is fundamental to recovery. Meaning that if you do everything right, if you go to the meetings and you do therapy and you go to rehab and you get a sponsor, none of it will matter if you do not surrender first. And people do this all the time–they make an attempt at recovery before they have surrendered fully and completely. Meaning that they have a reservation of sorts. And that is why they relapse. Not because they failed to do a fourth step in AA, but the fundamental truth is that they never surrendered fully in the first place, which is probably why they skipped that fourth step. But forcing that person to work through the fourth and fifth step of AA would not have saved them if they truly had not surrendered. They still would have relapsed eventually. Surrender is fundamental to recovery.
So that is the first key that you must find: Surrender. What are the other hidden keys?
For me, the next hidden key was an extension of surrender, and that was in taking suggestions. Taking advice from people in early recovery was absolutely critical to my success. I had to get out of my own way. I had to become willing to take advice and do what people were telling me to do.
And therefore I had to decide who to trust. This was actually fairly easy for me to do, because I went to a 28 day rehab program. So I trusted the people in rehab, especially the therapist that was working with me directly. And later I got a sponsor in AA and I trusted the advice that they gave me.
And so what was this advice? I was told to do many things, such as to go to AA meetings every day for the first 90 days, to work through the steps, to study and read the literature, to write in a journal, to exercise physically, to go back to school, to get a job, and so on. So I did all of these things and I took other suggestions as well.
I also took some suggestions that did not work out for me so well. When that happened I simply moved on with my life and found other avenues of personal growth. For example, at one point it was suggested to me that I meditate every day. I tried for a while and it did not really click for me so I eventually turned to physical exercise instead. I started jogging on a regular basis and I got the point where it was actually invigorating and easy to go for a jog rather than difficult. And when it got to be easy to run it became very powerful for me because it was like a meditation. And I realized then that I could use running as a means of dealing with triggers or urges, and it could help to smooth out my emotions if I was having a bad day. Exercise became an important tool for me in my recovery journey that I never would have predicted at first.
So you see, I had to be willing to experiment, I had to be willing to take advice and suggestions, and I had to be willing to try some different things in order to discover what really worked for me in my own recovery journey. As I said, different things work for different people in recovery. There are plenty of folks who will never use physical exercise as part of their recovery toolbox. It’s just not for them. Maybe they will get into AA meetings, or online recovery forums, or seated meditation, or even creative arts. Or maybe they will take a yoga class one day and the light bulb will go on and they will find their “thing” that way. You don’t know what is going to work for you in early recovery so you should be open to trying lots of new things.
You must be willing and open to new ideas in order to discover the key to your own recovery. There are going to be lots of people along the way, especially those in traditional recovery programs, who are going to try to convince you that they have all the answer that you could ever need.
Those people are not trying to be harmful, but what they fail to realize is that they do have all the answers for recovery, but only for themselves. Those answers may be different for you. And therefore you need to politely take their advice and suggestions, test them out, and then do the same with other “winners” in recovery that you meet. Keep taking suggestions and advice from those who are successful in sobriety, and eventually you will find the strategies and tactics that work best for you. Good luck!