Yesterday we looked at how secrets and lying could potentially destroy your recovery by leading you into relapse. Today we want to look at how you can reinvest in yourself in your addiction recovery to become a stronger and better person.
Essentially recovery is nothing other than personal growth, reinvested over and over again continuously.
When you stop learning new things and growing in you recovery you end up sliding back towards relapse. Simple as that. The real danger in long term sobriety is in complacency and laziness. A lack of action and progress is what causes people in long term sobriety to get tripped up.
The key is that you do not just want to make a few positive changes here and there in your life and then suddenly stop. This is the path to stagnation and relapse. Instead, you want to keep pushing yourself to build on previous success that you have had in recovery.
But before you can start to multiply your growth and enjoy all of these great benefits in long term sobriety you have to build a solid foundation. It is worth taking the time in order to do this right. The fact is that most people in early sobriety do NOT get this right, in fact they end up relapsing before their first year of sobriety rolls around. Statistically it is a hard road to follow and most end up falling short. Therefore one your main priorities in early recovery is to focus heavily on building a strong foundation, at any cost.
Making sure you have a strong foundation in early recovery
It took me several years and 2 relapses before I learned the full importance of building this strong foundation in early recovery. The first time that I tried to get clean and sober I attended treatment but I was not willing to follow through with any sort of programming when I left. I could not bring myself to go to meetings or follow up with any sort of aftercare. It was just all too much for me and obviously I was not ready to make a change at that time. I had been willing to go to rehab but I was not willing to dedicate my life to making radical and positive changes. There is a difference there and it has to do with your level of willingness and surrender.
There are many different paths by which a person might build a strong foundation in early recovery. What is important is the level of commitment and the level of willingness, which can generally be measured and observed based on the level of action and follow through.
So if someone says that they really want to change their life and get sober, but then they are not willing to go to a 28 day program or do any sort of aftercare following that treatment, then are they really willing to make big changes in their life? Probably not. They have put limitations on how they will receive help and so therefore they cut themselves off from the possibilities of change. If you want to do well in recovery then you sort of have to put yourself out there in terms of willingness. If you hold back and refuse to do certain things in order to get help or change your life then it is going to be a much tougher road in early recovery.
Building a foundation in early recovery is done by taking positive actions, over and over again. The only way to build a foundation (or to build anything, for that matter) is to take action. A lot of people who are stuck in denial in early recovery will try to weasel out of taking actions that they do not want to do, and try to convince themselves that they can find alternative actions or simply do something mentally that will keep them sober. For example, an addict or an alcoholic who is stuck in denial may argue that they do not need to go to an inpatient rehab program, and they will make all sorts of excuses as to why this action is not necessary. They might say “I have been to rehab before and I already know all of the lessons that they teach and how they try to help me, I have been there and done that and they cannot offer me anything new.” When you ask them what they intend to do instead of going to treatment they will say that they “already know what they need to do, they just need to do it and sober up.” At this point you should demand to know what specific actions they intend to take, how they are going to find support in early recovery, and how they intend to build a new life all by themselves without any outside help and having to somehow resist the temptation of relapse. If they are stuck in denial then all you are going to get at this point is a feeble list of excuses. They say they want to change but they are not willing to take action in order to do so. When you try to pin them down and get specific commitments then they squirm and talk about how they already know what they need to do in order to recover.
Such a person is stuck in denial and is likely not ready to change their life just yet. What they need to do is to go through more chaos and misery so that they realize that they need help and that they cannot solve the problem of addiction on their own. Until they get to this point then it is not likely that they will be willing to take the sort of actions that are necessary to build a strong foundation in early recovery.
A strong foundation in early recovery does not just require positive action–it requires massive amounts of positive action, over and over again, taken consistently for a long time. This is much different than the sort of “commitments” we may have had during our addiction. If you want to know the depth and length of this commitment to recovery, try to mirror it with that of your addiction and passion for your drug of choice. At one time you had great enthusiasm for your drug of choice, right? You need the same depth of commitment and enthusiasm for recovery as well. If you want to overcome your addiction then your desire for recovery must match up with those old passions.
If they do not then you will grow bored in recovery and return to that which excites you, and relapse.
Building a strong foundation in recovery does at least two critical things:
1) It gives you a chance for success. You have to be clean and sober before you can start to grow in this life and experience the happiness and benefits of a life well lived in recovery. Abstinence is a necessary foundation for this.
2) The growth that you experience in early recovery is the foundation on which future positive changes will occur. In creating positive changes you will build momentum, confidence, and discipline to be able to make even more positive changes in your life down the road. Success breeds success and that is why people in recovery say that “their life just keeps getting better and better.” This is because it is actually true! The positive changes that you make early on in recovery set the foundation for you to make future positive changes as well.
The key to early recovery is massive action. I failed in my first two attempts because I only agreed to take some action, but was not committed to following through and to take massive action. I limited myself and I had reservations about what I was willing to do in order to change.
It was not until I became really miserable (hit bottom and fully surrendered) that I became willing to do whatever it took in order to recover. At that point I was then willing to take massive action in order to recover. 90 meetings in 90 days? No big deal. I was willing to do all of that and more when I finally surrendered “for real.” This is how to build a strong foundation. Take suggestions seriously, follow through with them, be willing to go the extra mile in early recovery.
Evaluating your choices and personal growth options
After you have established a strong foundation in early recovery you are going to shift into what I would call “long term recovery.” Earnie Larsen calls it “stage two recovery” and basically it means that you are no longer struggling each and every day just to stay clean and sober. You have moved beyond early recovery and the immediate threat of relapse. Now the threat of relapse is no longer a day to day threat, but it is still there, always lurking in the background. And of course we know that the threat of relapse never goes away entirely and that is why stage two recovery (or long term sobriety if you will) still demands action and growth.
Those who fail to embrace long term personal growth have a tendency to relapse. If you stick around the recovery programs for the long haul then you will notice that every once in a great while you will hear a story or witness first hand how someone with several years of recovery ends up relapsing. It does happen. The reason that it happens is because of complacency.
The person who has 12 years sober and ends up relapsing did not do so because they did not know how to stay clean and sober. They knew how to do it and they knew what to do in order to stay sober–they did it successfully for 12 years! That is a long time. They had the basics mastered and obviously at one time they had built a strong foundation in early recovery. So what happened?
What happened is that they stopped pushing themselves to learn and to grow and to make positive changes in life.
Let’s say that you make it to one year sober or you make it to five years sober and you say “OK, I am done with this recovery stuff, I know how to remain sober and so therefore I do not need to learn anything new or push myself to make any more positive changes. I can just kick up my feet and enjoy life now!” If that is your attitude or your approach to recovery then we may as well bring you a cold one right now! You are setting yourself up for failure because you are shutting down the avenues of personal growth in your future.
So what is the alternative to this path that leads only to relapse?
What is the solution for long term sobriety?
The solution is continuous growth. You must reinvest in yourself as you remain clean and sober. When I say “reinvest” I am talking about making more positive changes in your life and taking more positive actions. Incremental improvements, if you will. This is not just to benefit yourself but to benefit others as well. Becoming a better person over time will have a ripple effect on the people that you reach out and help in your life. The goal is to make a positive impact, and to keep pursuing positive changes.
Therefore you will want to evaluate your choices each day in recovery, and make decisions that will lead you to future growth, positive action, and significant changes in your life that have a powerful impact in the future.
A guy I knew in early recovery used to say “You did not get clean and sober just to sit around and watch cartoons all day.” The underlying message here was “get busy! Go do something positive! Go create something new in this world! Go help someone! Go help yourself!” etc.
Every day you could potentially make a number of different changes in your life. You could pursue a number of different goals. And unfortunately you cannot do everything. Therefore you must prioritize. We need a way to do that.
Making the biggest positive impact first
After you are clean and sober and you have a foundation in recovery, you need to step back and assess your life. If you choose to use the AA program and follow through the steps then you will pretty much end up doing this anyway if you are really thorough. I would suggest that you do not necessarily need to use the steps in order to make this evaluation, but to each his own. Whatever works for you.
What happened in my own life was that I had a mental list of possible changes that I wanted to make in my life now that I was clean and sober. If I could go back in time I would have gotten a bit more organized and written these goals down, so perhaps that should be my suggestion to you. But to be honest at the time I only had a mental list and did not actually write stuff down. I just prioritized mentally.
I had various goals in my life that I wanted to accomplish. Some of them were bigger goals than others. For example, I wanted to quit smoking cigarettes. I also wanted to get into shape. And I wanted to go back to school and get my college degree (that I had fell short on due to my addiction). I also wanted to find some sort of significant work in my life, start a career or build a business, something along those lines.
So I had all of these goals and I obviously could not do everything all at once. Therefore what I ended up doing was to prioritize and then focus.
If you try to take on everything all at once you will probably not be very effective. In order to make a dent in some of these larger goals you will probably need to focus on them exclusively for a period of time.
This is something that I discovered in retrospect. Looking back, I found that I had knocked down a series of goals by tackling them one at a time.
The reason that I did this was because of my nicotine addiction. I struggled for a long time to try to quit smoking cigarettes and I kept falling short of this particular goal. At some point I had to get really serious and push everything else to the side and focus entirely on quitting smoking. It was the most difficult thing that I had ever done, maybe even harder than getting clean and sober had been. So I focused exclusively on this goal and put all of my energy into it, focusing on it like a laser beam. I finally managed to quit smoking and to be honest I don’t know how I made it through that miserable withdrawal. But by focusing all of my energy on this one goal, I was finally able to reach it.
This is when the light bulb went off. I realized that I could probably accomplish anything in this life, so long as I put that laser beam focus on it and made it my number one priority in life. This was an amazing revelation for me and it truly got me excited. It was based on this realization that I decided to build my own business for myself instead of simply looking to “advance in my career” and find a better job. It was also based on this that I decided I wanted to run a marathon some day (which I later accomplished 3 times, with 2 races being counted as a “success!”).
Therefore one of the most important concepts when it comes to personal growth in long term sobriety is the idea of “focus.” Pick one goal–your most important and highest impact goal–and then tackle it with all of your available energy and resources.
If you do this in early recovery then you will one day look back and realize that you are “living in long term sobriety.” You will suddenly realize that you have advanced beyond that early recovery stage and that you are not building a new life for yourself based on personal growth.
Then if you do it again (choosing another important goal in your life) then you will be building momentum and really achieving some great things. This is recovery through personal growth and this is also how to fight against complacency.
You may question this path and say “isn’t this just recovery via personal achievement?” I would answer that this is as fair assessment, but why would you want to disregard such a path? Why would you want to block yourself from positive achievements? Is this not a good way to live?
Accumulating personal growth
Your success and positive changes in long term recovery will start to build on themselves. For example, after I quit smoking cigarettes I eventually had a new goal to run a marathon. Do you think the second goal would have been possible without meeting the first one? Of course not. This is how one positive change can create even more positive changes further down the road.
In this way you can accumulate positive benefits in your life and in your recovery. Previous successful changes will open doors for future growth that were never available to you in the past.
Today when I make a new goal for positive change it usually involves something that I never would have dreamed possible while I was still stuck in my addiction. This is because I have come so far based on all of my previous growth in recovery. Therefore if you are just starting out in recovery then you are probably underestimating just how awesome your new life can be in recovery one day. It just keeps getting better and better if you give it a chance. But you have to build that strong foundation in early recovery, and that takes a lot of patience and time.