Yesterday we looked at how 9 out of 10 people typically relapse in the first year of recovery. With numbers like that, how is it possible to permanently stop your addiction, even if you have seemingly tried everything and failed?
It is possible to one day, finally, “get it” and be completely over your addiction. The problem is that I am not sure that a person can just suddenly make this decision on their own whim without first putting in some of the “life lessons” that would typically lead up to this moment of surrender.
In other words, anyone can get clean and sober, thus overcoming their addiction…..at some point. But, they have to earn this moment of surrender, and sometimes it takes a long hard road before such an individual is willing to do what it takes.
Traditional recovery hints at this with sayings like “you paid your dues to get here (to recovery), and those dues were paid with years of misery.” This is exactly right. You do not get to recovery when everything is going well in your life. You get there when things have gotten so bad that you do not want to continue on any more.
Therefore, you have to look at the recovery proposition in terms of what you really are willing to do in order to recover. If you place lots of limitations on the recovery process then this is clearly a bad sign and is doing nothing to increase your chances. On the other hand if you have “full willingness” to do whatever it takes then you are much more likely to succeed.
What are you willing to do in order to recover?
“What am I NOT willing to do in order to recover?”
Because by looking at what you are not willing to do, this can give you a clear indication of what may actually be holding you back.
For years, I was not willing to go to rehab. Then at some point I went to rehab and I lived through the ordeal, but I was still not ready to get clean and sober. The problem was that I was not willing to attend meetings or dedicate my life to recovery. It was all just too much for me, and I lacked the willingness to go through with it.
Several years later I went back to treatment again, but I was still not willing to leave rehab and then start going to AA meetings every day. I was too scared of them, to be honest, and I did not like the anxiety of even sitting in a meeting. I was too stubborn to recover because I was hanging on to this need for control. I did not want to have to sit in AA meetings, but I still wanted to be clean and sober.
Sorry, you can’t have it both ways. If you want to get clean and sober then you have to do what you are told to do. At the time I was not willing to do that, and I was being very stubborn. I would say things to a therapist like “I want to be clean and sober, and I am willing to put in an effort, but I just can’t go to AA meetings all the time. Is there not another way to get sober?”
That was the basic thrust of my argument. It was stubborn on my part because the 12 step program is basically established as the only real solution out there today. Sure there are probably some other programs (such as religious based programs) but for the most part if you want to build a new life in recovery and have ongoing support from others in recovery then you are going to need to immerse yourself in a 12 step program. That is where the recovery is centered around and the meetings are where you connect with this group. Take it or leave it.
And so the therapists and the treatment centers that I was exposed to during my addiction essentially told me this. They say “AA and NA are the solutions, they may not be perfect but they are well established and that is where the people are at, that is the framework in which people support each other in recovery, so if you want recovery then that is where you need to be…..you need to immerse yourself in 12 step meetings and accept that as your solution.
And so I struggled with this for a long time, for many years in fact. I was dead set against going to AA or NA meetings. I had been to a handful of them and I did not like them and they scared me. So I stayed stuck and I stayed scared. In fact, what I did is that I dug my heels in as deep as I could and I declared that I would never go back to AA, that I would rather drink myself to death than to go back to AA meetings. This is how stubborn (and foolish) I was in my addiction. Talk about self defeating behavior! I was so scared of recovery that I was apparently willing to die rather than to face the solution.
But obviously this was not the case in the long run. At some point I managed to get out of my own way, and seek the help that I needed. Here is how I was able to do that.
How to get out of your own way and allow yourself to get the help that you need
As I said, I had been dead set against the idea of ever going back to an AA meeting. Fear kept me paralyzed from taking this action. I “knew that AA meetings could never work for me” because I was too scared to participate in them, and had terrible anxiety just sitting in them.
What happened is that at some point I got miserable in my addiction. Really miserable. I was not having fun any more and I realized it. I could not avoid this conclusion. In fact I had a lot of booze and drugs at my disposal and I realized suddenly that I could not get happy no matter how much I self medicated. I had run up against a wall in my drug and alcohol use. For some reason it just was not making me happy any more. And so out of sheer misery I decided to ask for help and take some direction again.
I knew what this meant, that I was headed back to rehab again. And I knew what to expect, that they would push me towards AA and NA as my solution. But I just did not care. I was all done caring. I had stopped caring about anything and everything, because suddenly I was completely miserable and there was no end in sight. Using drugs and alcohol was not lifting my misery any more. I was desperate for something to change, and so therefore I was willing to face my fear.
This is a critical point to understand–you must overcome your fear in order to recover. No addict or alcoholic can claim to get sober without first overcoming their fear of sobriety. Even if you are not terrified of AA meetings (like I was), you still are being held back from recovery by some sort of fear. Maybe you fear facing life without your drug of choice. Maybe you fear having to feel and process all of your emotions again, without being able to medicate them away and dull them. Maybe you fear dealing with the relationships in your life without your drug of choice. Everyone has a fear that is holding them back from recovery. That fear drives us to self medicate, that fear perpetuates our cycle of addiction. If you did not have any fear in your life then you could simply ask for help and walk away from your addiction…..problem solved. But it is fear that keeps us stuck in the cycle. It is fear that drives our cycle of addiction.
So how do you overcome fear? With misery.
When I said that “I was done caring” what I was referring to is the fact that, in my addiction, I used to care about the control that I had over my life. I used to care how happy I was, and I wanted to control my drug use so that I could keep myself happy. I wanted to control my finances so that I could control my drug supply so that I could control my happiness. It was like everything revolved around my happiness. I was terrified of existing and being miserable and the greatest tragedy would be for me to be miserable and not be able to self medicate with my drug of choice (or so I thought).
During my addiction, everything was a big game in terms of getting more happiness. I equated getting high with being happy. And I knew that if I got sober then I would not be happy (or so I believed). It was all about this selfish drive to secure my own happiness. I had to be happy, and my addiction was just my way of securing my own happiness.
Well eventually it all stopped working. I broke through my denial one day and realized that my drug of choice was no longer making me happy. I realized that even if I could take a few days off of my drug of choice and then suddenly use it again, I would be “happy” for about an hour or two, and then I would be miserable again. I clearly saw, for the first time, the futility of the cycle of addiction. I clearly saw how I was using my drug of choice to dole out “happiness” to myself, and how this was a broken system, how limited it really was, and how it would never make me happy in the long run. And I suddenly saw all of this clearly, for the first time, because I was completely miserable and I had lots of drugs and I could not make myself happy. The drugs were failing me, and I finally realized it.
Had I not been miserable at that point, I would not have sought recovery. Had I not sank to these depths of misery, I would not have had the incentive or the motivation to face my fears. I was still afraid of AA meetings, and I hated the idea that I might go back to rehab and be exposed to “the solution” that I was so afraid of, but at this point the scales had tipped and I no longer cared. I was so miserable in my addiction that I no longer cared about this fear of meetings. I had stopped caring about my incessant need for control and my constant search for happiness. It wasn’t working anyway, and I finally realized it.
So this is the secret to overcoming your addiction. This is how to succeed in recovery when you have previously always failed. You must reach the point of full surrender, and at that point you will be so miserable in your addiction that you will no longer care about your fears regarding recovery. You will shrug your shoulders and say “sure, I’ll give rehab another try. Why not?” This is the point of true surrender. You must become indifferent to the universe. You must abandon your self and your incessant need to seek more happiness and to control your life. This is the state of true surrender. This is the secret of successful recovery.
I did not know it at the time, but this moment of surrender is what would set up my long term success in recovery. Here I am over 11 years later, still clean and sober. This has little to do with my own success and everything to do with the fact that I finally faced my fear, asked for help, and became willing to follow through with the suggestions I was given. I went to AA meetings every single day for about 18 months. I even spoke in meetings. I even chaired some meetings. I faced my fear and actually it never got a whole lot easier. Eventually I found my own path in recovery and I found a way to stay clean and sober that did not depend on daily meetings. But in the beginning I had to do what I had to do, and that meant going to meetings. I had to face my fear in order to recover.
Which level of treatment is right for you?
There are two ways that you can figure out what level of treatment you really need.
One way is to simply do what you are told to do. Ask for help, take the advice, and follow it exactly. If someone tells you that you need to go to 28 days in rehab, followed by daily meetings, then do what they say. Follow directions. If you do this and you end up failing, then try again, and do exactly what they tell you to do. Pretty simple, though not necessarily easy for most people to follow through with!
The second idea is to simply seek MORE intensive treatment than what you have tried in the past. If you try to get clean and sober and then relapse, you obviously need more help than what you were given in the past, right? So seek more intensive treatment.
For example, say that you went to see a therapist in the past and also attended a few meetings. This time, do more. Go to inpatient rehab, then go to daily meetings.
Or if you have been to inpatient rehab several times but you continue to relapse, then try going to long term rehab instead. This is the decision that I had to make at some point, after going to short term rehabs a few times. They were not working and I needed something more. For me, that “something more” was long term rehab. I had to live in treatment for almost two years in order to finally “get it.” For me, it took what it took. If I had to do it all over again, I would still go live in long term rehab without any hesitation. The only difference is that I would go to long term rehab much sooner in my struggle, rather than later.
I am not saying that everyone who struggles needs to go live in rehab. I realize that is an awfully big step (that some people are not in a position to take). All I am saying is that at some point you may need to change your approach, if things have not been working for you. Try something more intensive. Get involved. Immerse yourself more deeply in recovery this time around (if you want different results).
Why some people never make it in recovery
Some people just never make it in recovery, because they are not willing to do what it ultimately takes.
It is not that recovery is impossible for some people, because that is not the case. Recovery is possible for anyone. The barrier is their willingness. Some people just refuse to take the actions that are necessary to get them clean and sober.
If I had never become willing to face AA meetings again, then I would probably not be clean and sober today. In the end it all came down to my level of willingness. I had to get willing to do some stuff that was uncomfortable for me. Without that willingness I never would have made any progress.
Some people are just too stubborn and they refuse to become willing. Now at some point, every addict and alcoholic will theoretically get miserable enough that they will then become willing to take action. The problem with that is that some people die while they are building up to the point of ultimate misery and surrender. Their addiction kills them before they can reach that point of misery. This is why some people never make it to recovery. It is not that they were incapable of recovering, it is just that they never go their chance. Their addiction took that chance away from them before they could get miserable enough to be motivated to recover.
Of course there is no such thing as a guarantee for “permanently” stopping your addiction
Ultimately there is no real guarantee for someone to “permanently” stop their addiction. Anyone who is clean and sober today, no matter how deep their initial surrender was, is still susceptible to relapse. No recovering addict or alcoholic is 100 percent immune from the possibility of relapse.
So long as their is free will in this world, that will probably never change. Don’t expect some miracle pill to come along that will “cure” addiction. Human beings have the amazing ability to act against their own best interests, and they will often do so. We are not always rational creatures. Therefore we can never guarantee that an addiction is completely cured forever.
But the next best thing is still available. There is still hope for recovery. Anyone can reach a point of deep surrender, and start on a path of recovery.
How to be fully done with your addiction
The way to be “fully done with addiction” is to first “fully surrender to your disease.”
When you finally give up all struggle for control in your life, then you open the door to being able to start on new path. If you are open to the idea of asking for help and taking direction from others, then you can build a new life for yourself in recovery. Your ability to do this is only held back by your own stubborn need for control. Let go of that need and allow others to direct your life for a while. You will not lose your “self” in taking advice from others. Doing so will empower you and give you a new chance at happiness in life, real happiness.
If you have tried everything else and nothing has worked for you, then try this: surrender.