Of course no one can know for sure if alcohol treatment is going to change their life, or if it is just another false start in the hopes of escaping the clutches of addiction.
Anyone who has gone through the trials and tribulations with relapse and recovery knows this is true. It is very difficult to know if you are truly ready to get sober.
The interesting thing is that you will feel this unease when you are not at the point of surrender, and therefore you won’t know if you have truly surrendered yet or not. But after you hit rock bottom and surrender “for real,” you will know it deep down. There will be no question. You will know that you are serious this time and that you mean business.
That is a tricky concept to grasp. Let me rephrase it to be clear:
1) You have not yet fully surrendered, but you believe that you might be ready to change. Therefore you don’t know for sure. You wish things were different in your life.
2) You hit rock bottom and surrender fully. There is no question. You are done with drinking and/or drugs.
So the only time you really know for sure when you are ready is after you have hit rock bottom and you truly are at the point of full surrender. The problem is that, before you reach this point in your life, you will never know for sure if you have “arrived” yet and you will second guess yourself constantly. What I am telling you now is that once you hit bottom and truly surrender, there will be no more second guessing. You will know it is time to change.
The greatest predictor of success is level of surrender
Your level of surrender predicts how well you will do in recovery.
Unfortunately, sobriety is a pass/fail proposition. You can’t be “sort of” sober. That doesn’t work for the alcoholic or the drug addict. You are either stuck in your addiction or you are working on recovery.
There is a transition period right before relapse when a person has not physically picked up their drug of choice again, but they are on the verge of disaster. This period does not usually last very long at all. The alcoholic is a condition of extremes. We can’t have one drink; that’s the whole point. That is what defines alcoholism and addiction. We drink to excess. We self medicate to excess. We cannot control it. That is what defines addiction, obsession and compulsion.
Therefore there is no in between when it comes to recovery. You either get an A plus or you get an F minus in recovery. You are either sober or you relapse. If you think that you can somehow skate by with an average grade in recovery based on a modest effort you are sorely mistaken. A modest effort will get you an F minus; it will cause you to relapse. In fact, I believe that getting a grade of a “B” in recovery will eventually lead you to total failure.
There are two paths in recovery, one leads to a vastly better life of learning, growth, and contentment, while the other path leads to relapse. If you think there is a third path I believe that one day you will look back and find out that you were wrong. There is no third path. You must choose between working very hard to get that A plus grade in sobriety, or you will eventually relapse. There is no in between. The sooner you accept this and adopt the correct attitude to match, the sooner your life will get better.
The bonus of course is that your life doesn’t just get a little bit better, but it gets a whole lot better.
How not to screw up a visit to a treatment center
One way that you can predict success in advance is to watch how a person fares in addiction treatment. In this case we are talking about inpatient addiction rehab, the kind where you would typically go and stay for 28 days in a facility.
Some people get to treatment and they resist everything. Or they want to bend or break the rules. Can you guess how such people fare in their recovery? I can tell you from experience (over a decade of experience actually) that such people do not do well in terms of their recovery. In fact, I would venture to say that if you are not willing to follow the rules in treatment that your chances in recovery are pretty much zero at that point.
Note that this does not mean that the person will never achieve sobriety. It simply means that the person is not ready at this time. They have more drinking to accomplish, whether they realize it or not. The person may be trying to convince themselves and everyone who will listen that they are serious about their recovery program, but if they are not following the rules in treatment and listening to others then they are setting themselves up for failure.
This is very difficult to see from your own perspective. If you work at a treatment center for several years it becomes painfully obvious over time. You get to the point where you can tell almost instantly when someone is not yet ready to get sober. They have only surrendered partially because they are either trying to control the situation or they are outright breaking the rules. Or they are simply not listening and taking suggestions from other people.
If you want to succeed at inpatient treatment here is what you need to do in order to vastly improve your chances of success:
1) Surrender completely.
2) Follow the rules in treatment perfectly.
3) Listen carefully. Apply what you learn.
4) Take suggestions from other people. Ignore your own ideas for a while.
5) Follow through with the aftercare suggestions. Do what the people at rehab tell you to do. Follow directions.
This is not rocket science. In fact, if you happen to be as smart as a rocket scientist, that may actually work against you. The best course of action in early recovery is to sit down, shut up, and listen carefully. Then follow through and take action based on what you are being told.
Does that sound like fun? It probably doesn’t. I am sorry that it doesn’t sound like much fun, but there is no way around that issue. You have to suck it up and do the work. You have to stop playing God and take directions from other people for a while. If you are anything like the typical alcoholic, you have screwed your own life up pretty badly and it is time to let someone else fix it for a while.
Don’t worry, you are still in control of your life. But it is to your advantage to relinquish that control temporarily so that you can get the help that you need. Let go and turn your life over completely. To whom? To anyone but yourself. Get out of your own way in order to recover.
Gauging your level of willingness in terms of follow through
I once went to a 28 day program and the therapists and counselors at that treatment center were urging me to attend long term rehab. They wanted me to live in a treatment center for six months to two years.
I was appalled at this notion. I was outraged, in fact. The thought of giving up two years of my life voluntarily was unthinkable to me at the time. There was good reason for this, and it was because I had not yet surrender to my disease. I was still trying to control the situation and I had not let go.
So at that time I left treatment and I ended up going right back to drugs and alcohol. My life was a complete mess because I could not see how long term rehab might actually be the best choice for me.
Later on I surrendered fully and completely. I became willing to follow through with long term treatment. What had changed? I was more miserable. I was more desperate. In fact, I was close to being suicidal. I was at the end of my rope, and drinking had made me completely miserable. I wanted out, and I was finally willing to do anything; to actually listen. And so I became willing.
What happened next? I checked into long term treatment and my life got a whole lot better. This was the best decision that I ever made in my whole life up to that point.
You can predict how well a person will do in sobriety by their level of willingness. That begs the question: “Willingness to do what, exactly?” Willingness to follow through on the recovery process. They have many suggestions in early recovery such as “go to 90 meetings in 90 days.” If someone is not willing to entertain those ideas then that is usually a pretty strong red flag that they are not at the point of full surrender. If you are still outraged at the level of effort that recovery demands from you then you probably aren’t ready to get sober yet.
No, you have to be willing to dedicate your entire life to sobriety. That means being open to doing the work and being willing to do whatever it takes.
Being willing to do the work involved in getting honest with yourself
There are really two kinds of work that you need to do in order to get clean and sober: Internal and external.
Think of these are two different groups:
1) Changing people, places, and things in your life.
2) Getting honest with yourself about what is going on inside.
Both of these are important. The external changes are obviously the people, places, and things in your day to day life. You can’t hang out at the corner bar any more and expect to remain clean and sober. So some external and physical changes have to be made. For me, that also meant changing my relationships. There were certain people in my life who were just no good for me—not because they were bad people, and not because they did not care about me. They actually did care. The problem was that they were not going to stop abusing drugs or alcohol themselves. So I had to cut ties with some people because it was just too dangerous for me to be around that stuff. I have also learned that the younger you are in recovery, the more important it is for you to cut those ties with bad influences. That is one of the hard truths of recovery, because younger people place a greater importance on their friends and their peer group, yet it is that same influence that can be so dangerous to their recovery. I had to be willing to walk away from real friendships and then have the courage to meet new people in sobriety. That was really, really hard for me.
Then internal work that you do can be challenging as well. This can be thought of as getting a sponsor and working through the 12 steps of AA. You may also do significant internal work in other ways as well. For example, you may see a counselor or a therapist, or you may write in a journal every day and work your feelings out that way.
The key is that this internal work has to result in making changes in the real world. So you can’t just examine your life, you have to examine your life and then attempt to fix it as well. Dealing with resentments is a popular example of doing exactly that. And you may not know how to deal with resentments off hand, so you may need to ask for help. There are many people in recovery who would be glad to help you process through this sort of thing, but you have to be willing to reach out and ask for help.
At one point in my own journey I realized that I was holding myself back due to self pity. It was part of my mental pattern, it was how my mind was used to operating on a daily basis. It was like a script that would run on a regular basis in order to help me justify my drinking.
Only the problem was, I did not want to drink any more. So this script that was running in my mind all the time was only serving to make me miserable. And I stopped and thought one day: “Why am I making myself miserable? What is the point of that?”
So I had to process this. I had to get honest with myself and realize that I was doing this to myself, that I had a choice. And then I had to ask for help. “How do I stop feeling sorry for myself all the time?” And they told me to practice gratitude instead. So I had to learn how to practice being grateful, even when I was having a bad day or a bad week, I had to find ways to force myself to find the good in things. And in doing so I was able to correct this character defect.
But that is a huge process and it is a learning process. You have to get honest. You have to identify what is actually going on in your mind, what destructive thought patterns you are running up there. And then you have to make a decision to fix those thought patterns. And you may have to ask for help and guidance to learn how to do that. Then you have to take action and actually do the work, change your behavior, start living a new way, so that the new way of living will eventually change your thinking.
This is quite a process to embark on. Some people don’t even understand the process to the extent that it is explained here. And yet the process still works for them so long as they are willing.
And so it all comes back to willingness. Are you willing to listen, to learn, to get honest with yourself, to follow through and take suggestions and do the work? None of it sounds like much fun, but the rewards of doing so are truly incredible. Not only do you get to stay sober, but you get to experience this amazing new life in recovery as well.
Think back to how happy you were before you started in your addiction. If you do the work in recovery, you will become happier than that even. But it takes work, it takes commitment, and you have to take real action. You have to be willing.
Adopting a growth oriented mindset towards life and learning
Some people get into treatment and they just have the wrong attitude. They don’t want to learn anything, they just want to be fixed. They are hoping for a cure. They have a certain expectation about sobriety, that it should be easy and painless. And perhaps above all, they want to get sober without having to think about it. They want to avoid the responsibility of having to think.
This is not how recovery works, unfortunately. It is going to require some thought, some honesty, some serious work and effort on your part.
Therefore you should try adopt a mindset of learning. Every day you should be learning more and more about recovery. The disease, as they say, is always in the corner doing push-ups and getting stronger. Therefore you must stay active in recovery and keep getting stronger as well.
If you stop being active in the learning process, what will happen? Believe it or not, slowly you will start to forget that you are an alcoholic.
Now what does this really mean? Obviously it does not mean that you permanently forget about your addiction. Instead, what it means is that if you stop working on your recovery for long enough that eventually your brain will get slower and slower to respond, to catch your thinking.
Here is how it works in real life. Let me give you a simple example.
Bobby goes to AA meetings every single day. He is working hard on his recovery in addition to the meetings, but he makes sure that he hits an AA meeting every single day. He is working a program.
Bobby walks past the liquor store that he used to buy booze at. For a split second his brain thinks “Wouldn’t it be nice to go in there and buy a bottle of booze like I used to get!”
Now because he is working a program and going to meetings every single day, his brain catches this thought instantly. So the brain remembers very quickly that Bobby is in recovery now and he no longer drinks. Then the brain moves on, thinks about other things. It redirects to something else. No big deal.
Later on, Bobby stops working his program so intensely. And he stops going to meetings every day. Maybe he goes once a week now. And he doesn’t give much thought to recovery any more at all. He is no longer actively working a program of positive change.
He walks past the liquor store. What happens this time?
This time, his brain has the same exact thought: “Wouldn’t it be nice to get that bottle of booze?” But the difference is, his brain is much slower to “catch” the thought. Instead, the fantasy of buying that booze plays out for an extra 2 and a half seconds.
Notice that we are only talking about 2 and a half seconds here. It could be much worse, Bobby could have a 20 second long daydream about what it is like to get drunk, about how it tastes going down his throat, about drinking with his old buddies, and so on. But this is far less than that 20 second fantasy. We are only talking about 2 or 3 seconds here where Bobby entertains the thought of drinking. Then he catches himself, remembers that he is in recovery. So he walks on and doesn’t drink, doesn’t relapse.
No big deal, right?
This will eventually lead to a relapse. Maybe not today, and maybe not this month, but eventually that extra two seconds of “entertaining the thought” is going to lead Bobby to relapse.
How? Why? You may ask.
Because it will make him miserable.
Bobby will compare his current happiness in recovery to the old fond memories of drinking, the times when it was most fun, the peak experiences. Note that this is not realistic, because 99 percent of the time the alcoholic is miserable. But Bobby’s brain will make this comparison in an unfair way, and it will cause Bobby to be unhappy with his life. And eventually it will cause him to drink.
And this is why we must maintain a mindset of growth and learning in recovery. You have to stay “plugged in” to recovery every day. Every single day! Otherwise your brain will get slower and slower to “remember” that you are in recovery now, and your mind will actually make you miserable as a result.
If you can adopt this attitude of learning and growth then it will go a long ways in keeping you clean and sober. If you can attend treatment with this attitude of learning then it is a strong indicator that you will do well in recovery.