As we have explored recently there are really two parts to the recovery process–the internal and the external. In order to overcome a drug addiction or alcoholism you are going to need to make progress in both your internal processes (working through denial and surrender) and also in the external world (actually changing your habits on a day to day basis). Just embracing one half of this equation is not going to get you the success that you want. Real change over the long term requires both an internal and external change to occur.
One of the problems with this is that many people get all revved up to make some serious changes in their lives, but they never really pull the trigger on these potential changes, and thus they stay stuck in their addiction. They are caught in the old patterns of their lifestyle. They have made an internal decision that they want for things to be different, but their actions in the real world are not yet reflecting this. They are torn by inaction. They need some way to get to that next level, to kick their recovery into gear.
At some point, you have to “just do it.” When you stop hemming and hawing and you truly surrender, fully and completely.
Why recovery is an all-or-nothing proposition
There is this extreme amount of “duality” if you will with addiction recovery. You are either all in, or all out. Clean and sober or full-on relapse. There is absolutely no in between. If there was an in between then there would be no disease, no problem. But the fact is that just “a tiny amount of relapse” is actually not tiny at all–it is a complete and 100 percent disaster. There is no such thing as a little relapse. Every single relapse is huge, catastrophic, a total reset back to ground zero.
Therefore recovery is an all-or-nothing proposition. You are either in it to stay clean and sober for the long run, or you are headed for relapse and will eventually revert back to the old chaos that you used to live in.
This extreme polarization is important to understand if you happen to be on the brink of recovery (meaning you have not yet surrendered fully but you are getting closer).
It will help you to understand that there is only one path forward to success, and that has to begin with complete and total abstinence. Anything less will result in a total reversion back to your old lifestyle. If you cannot see this clearly when you first get clean and sober then perhaps you will end up learning it the hard way through a series of failed recovery attempts. Experience is the best teacher and unfortunately many people who have achieved successful sobriety can look back and point to a few relapses. Personally I have found by talking with others in recovery that the average seems to be 3 tries before sobriety finally “stuck” with someone. It almost seems like every addict and alcoholic has to try and fail a few times before they really realize what they are up against. They have to try to get clean and sober a few times before they realize just how polarizing sobriety is and how extreme their approach must be in order for it to work. Let me say it like this: “Had I known how hard it was to stay clean and sober, I would have waited longer before I ever tried and I would have used a much more extreme approach on my first effort.” Instead I went to three rehabs and finally figured it out when I became willing to live in long term rehab for 20 months. Up until that point I was still trying to hang on to control in my life, hang on to my pride, and so on.
To “just do it” is to surrender completely
The moment when you decide to “just do it” in recovery is the moment that you finally surrender fully and completely.
The problem for most people who are struggling with drug addiction or alcoholism is that they hear these words (just surrender) but they do not really know what it means. Nor do they know how to implement the idea. How can they “just surrender?” To whom? For what? To be honest, when I was still drinking, the concept did not make a lot of sense. After it happened and I looked back on it, then it made more sense to me.
Therefore, allow me to try to explain what surrender really means in this context:
1) Surrender is the moment when you stop caring about trying to control everything. You are struggling with addiction and you are trying to maintain your own happiness, your own sanity, while also using your drug of choice and somehow keep your life from falling apart. It is juggling act. And all the while you are miserable, just trying to use more in order to be happy again. And you are failing at it. The moment of surrender is when you stop caring about this whole process, you let go of this struggle to self medicate in order to try to be happy.
2) Surrender is when you let everything truly slide. You let go completely. Of what? Of anything that you were hanging on to. Your job. Your friends that you used drugs or alcohol with. Your need to self medicate. Your need to try to be happy by getting wasted. You let go of everything. You let it all slide. You have to stop caring in order to do this.
3) Surrender is when you abandon yourself and allow others to control you in a move of desperation. This is what it means to agree to inpatient rehab (or to long term rehab). You are saying: “I don’t know how to live and be happy, please take control of my life and show me how.”
4) Surrender means having the guts to admit that your way is not working. That your choices have led to disaster. That you were wrong.
5) Surrender is a temporary ego death. You squash the ego and make way for others to tell you how to live.
I cannot explain what surrender is any better than that. Now, how can you force yourself to surrender? How can you choose to surrender? Is it even possible?
I am not entirely sure if you can choose to surrender or not, simply by intending it to happen. I believe that at one point in my past I tried and failed to do so. Instead, what had to happen for me was that I had to experience more pain and misery in my addiction until surrender occurred naturally for me. But to be honest I am not 100 percent sure on this, and it is only the experience of one person (myself). Perhaps others have had more success in choosing to surrender when they wanted it to happen, rather than having to accumulate so much misery in their lives first (like I did).
So if you want to “just do it” in recovery then you have to surrender first and foremost. If this is not happening then you are probably still stuck in denial and not able to see the extent of the misery that you are living.
In order to move past that denial you either have to:
1) Increase the amount of misery in your life.
2) Increase your awareness and acknowledge your existing misery.
You can probably do the second one more safely than the first one. If you want to surrender then start forcing your mind to confront reality: recognize just how miserable you are every day, and vow to keep focusing on your misery until you convince your brain to start doing something about it. Addiction and alcoholism can continue if your mind convinces itself that it is still happy. This is denial. Because the truth of addiction is that you are rarely happy–in fact you are miserable about 99 percent of the time. But your mind convinces you that your drug of choice can fix everything and make you happy forever, even though that is clearly not the truth. You need to realize this truth and in order to do so you have to focus on just how miserable you actually are. Start measuring your happiness (or lack thereof) and you will move closer to surrender.
Creating internal change with action
One problem with recovery is that people want to create a change in mindset, or attitude, and they do not know how to go about doing so.
If you want to change something internal then you should start by modeling people who are successfully living this change that you wish to make. This is what sponsorship in the 12 step program is based on. Modeling someone else just means that you start following their actions in order to get the same results that they are getting. Monkey see, monkey do. Simple, but it does work.
Of course, just because it is simple does not mean that it is easy to do. First of all you have to be willing to take action. This is really the whole key to any changes that you make in recovery, the willingness to take action.
There are different levels of willingness. When you first have the inkling that you might have a drug or alcohol problem, you have a very low level of willingness to change. Why? Because you are in that place where you are starting to wish that things were different, but you are not yet “fully willing to change and follow through with action.” In between these two extremes are a whole bunch of incremental steps that may or may not result in the full change that you want. In other words, at one point I was willing to go to rehab, but I was not yet willing to change everything (including my job, my friends, to start going to meetings, etc.). Therefore I was only “halfway there” to the point of full surrender. I was willing to change some things in my life (in order to try to recover) but not everything. I was holding on to some stuff that was keeping me stuck in addiction. Remember that recover is an all-or-nothing proposition. This is why you have to develop a very high level of willingness, one that promises to follow through and take action in the future. Just wanting to change is not enough. You have to be willing to follow through on those changes, and you have to be willing to change anything and everything in your life. If you set limits to what you will change then this is known as “a reservation.” Having a reservation can keep you from enjoying long term sobriety.
Let’s say that you want to create an internal change after you are already clean and sober. Maybe you feel like you have a bad attitude lately and you want to be more helpful and friendly with others. How do you go about doing it?
Trying to change this from the inside is not likely to be very effective. You can try to convince yourself in your mind that you are being friendly and helpful and pleasant, but this will probably not convince you that a real change has occurred. The solution is to “just do it” and to start by taking some action in the real world. Instead of just wanting to be friendly and helpful, find someone who is struggling in recovery and sit down and work with them. Take the action and the internal change will occur.
This is illustrated by the phrase “You can’t think your way into good living, you have to live your way into good thinking.” This is actually really good advice and it illustrates one of the keys to how you can transform your life. If you are trying to make a change in your life and you are struggling to make it happen, then the solution is probably not internal. Or rather, your internal state will eventually change once you figure it all out, but in order to “get there” you will have to first take some action in the real world. The solution is external. This is why modeling is so effective.
If you want to be happy then go find some people who are happy (either in AA meetings or out in the real world) and then model what they are doing. In order to do this effectively you will need to get advice and feedback from them (rather than by just observing them). Then you can model what they are doing by following through on their advice, and if you like the results that you are getting then you can continue living that way. If you don’t like the results that you get then you can always revert back to your old ideas about life.
If you want to create an external change then just do it. Go make the change. If you want to start exercising, then start exercising. There is no need to create an attitude change or a shift in mindset first–that will come later as a result of your actions.
On the other hand if you want to create an internal change (such as an attitude change or a mindset shift) then you may need to start out in the external world–by taking immediate action. You can do this by modeling other people who have already created the changes that you want in your own life. Model their success and you learn from their experience and wisdom. This is a huge shortcut to success in recovery.
Creating motivation from nothing
How can you become motivated to do something if you are stuck and completely lack any motivation?
Well first of all you have to realize that you have more motivation than you think–if you are wanting to change but lack motivation, then you actually have the seeds of motivation already planted. At least you want to change. This is a better position than those who do not even see a need to change yet!
The way to create motivation from nothing is to fall into action. Force yourself to take the first step in the process, no matter how small that may be.
“But” you may protest, “I don’t even have enough motivation to take that initial action in the process, or to figure out what it might be!”
In that case, you need to use the “shortcut” outlined above that is modeling. It is not hard to find someone that is living the life that you want to live. It is not hard to find someone who has achieved the sort of breakthroughs that you want to make. If you cannot find anyone like that then I would suggest you go to a few AA or NA meetings and look around. There will be people who have achieved the breakthroughs that you are seeking at these meetings. Find the one who seems to have walked the path you are on and ask them for advice and guidance.
Now here is the key: when they suggest that you do something, you GO AND DO IT. You don’t hem and haw and question their logic or go find a second opinion. Instead you take their suggestions and you run with it. You follow through on what they advise.
This is how to create motivation when you have none. Simply borrow the wisdom of others, then act on it. Take that first step in your journey. If you do not know what the step is then ask someone else to tell you what it is. If no one will tell you what to do then go to an AA meeting and find someone and ask them. I can assure you that people in AA and NA will tell you what to do if you ask for earnest advice from them.
Once you take that initial first action in a process then you will generate new motivation. The action itself and the feeling of moving forward will help to create new momentum. Once you have started the process of change you have something to build on.
Focusing on small wins and building confidence
Recovery is all about change. Obviously we want these changes to be positive rather than negative. We want to move forward, create success, find new joy in life, help others, and so on.
In order to build confidence and enjoy this success in long term sobriety we have to start somewhere. That starting point is called “surrender” and everything you do after that should be an action that leads to a more positive life. Each change that you make should be building up a better future.
Start with surrender. Find that next positive action to take, and then move forward. If you honestly do not know what the next right thing is, then ask someone. Find people to ask for help and guidance. If you cannot find such people then go to 12 step meetings and pick out the people who seem to have the life that you are seeking. Ask for advice and then take action.
You need to change your idea of what a “win” is in recovery. A win is not staying sober for ten years. That is a whole bunch of wins strung together.
A win is making it through the day, clean and sober. A win is being relatively happy without having to self medicate. A win is helping someone else in recovery even though you may have just started the journey yourself. A win is taking a positive step towards a future change you want to make (exercise program, going back to school, working through the steps with a sponsor, etc.).
Each win should be celebrated and thus added to your overall momentum.
Recovery is accumulation. You accumulate benefits over time. It starts very slowly. Recognize this slow process and allow time for it. Realize that it takes time to realize the full benefits of recovery. Therefore you should focus on the little wins and remember that they will build into something much greater.
Take action and know that it will all create a better life for you in the end. Have faith in the process itself, because the results of our hard work are often delayed…..