There is no getting around the fact that recovery from addiction is a learning process.
Therefore you need either need to engage in self discovery, or you need a teacher.
At one time I thought that I might be smart enough to figure out sobriety on my own. I was wrong. Perhaps there are other struggling alcoholics and addicts who are smarter than I am and they can recover without the help of others, but honestly I have my doubts. Not based on my own experience necessarily, but based on my own observations. I worked in a treatment center for 5 plus years and I also lived in a long term rehab for almost two full years. So I had the opportunity to watch a whole lot of people try to recover. My belief is that people cannot get through early recovery on their own. They need help.
They need new information.
Why you need new information in order to remain sober
Everyone needs new information when they first get into addiction recovery. If you want to make it past early sobriety then you are going to have to learn a whole lot of things in a very short period of time. Early recovery is concentrated. It is focused. If you fail to concentrate and focus enough then this will lead to relapse.
The problem with overcoming an addiction is that it requires you to make so many different changes all at the same time. Simply abstaining is not enough, if it were then recovery would be simple and easy. People in meetings are fond of saying “The solution is simple” but I never believed this. I still don’t believe it. I think the solution is fairly complicated. A simple solution would be abstinence from drugs and alcohol. In reality the solution that is needed to maintain sobriety is far more complicated than that. Twelve different steps and daily meetings and they want to say that it is “simple?” Really? That doesn’t make sense to me. Twelve is sort of a lot in my book.
Regardless of which recovery program you try to use to get sober, you are going to have to learn new things about yourself. And you are going to have to experiment and put new ideas into action. Achieving long term sobriety may start with a simple baseline of abstinence, but eventually you have to take additional action in order to remain sober. What are these additional actions, and how are they determined?
These additional actions are what make your recovery move forward. We have to keep learning about ourselves and reinventing ourselves if we want to remain clean and sober.
Learning is fundamental to recovery. If you don’t learn anything new when you first get clean and sober then it is certain that you will relapse. Without new information you will simply go back to your old coping mechanism, which is to self medicate. You have to learn a new way to live your life if you want to break free from the old patterns.
People who try to experiment and find their own path usually stumble at first. In long term sobriety this works well, but in early recovery you should rely on the wisdom of others. If you try to do it all by yourself then it is likely that you will just sabotage your own efforts. Early recovery is the time for rapid learning, long term sobriety is the time for self discovery.
Why you can never be done learning in sobriety
Long term sobriety is all about preventing relapse. The best way to prevent relapse in the long run is with a holistic approach to recovery.
That is a bold claim but I believe it to be true. The holistic path to relapse prevention is the most powerful tool you have in long term recovery.
What does it mean to use a holistic approach?
All that it means it that you are treating your entire body and your entire self in recovery, rather than just treating the spiritual malady.
In traditional recovery they attempt to fix the spiritual malady. That’s it. They don’t consider other aspects of your health. They don’t take a holistic approach, instead they focus in narrowly on spirituality.
In my opinion this is a mistake. In long term sobriety you need to spread your efforts out and achieve personal growth in new areas of your life. If you only focus on spiritual growth at the expense of these other areas (physical health, mental health, emotional health, social health, etc.) then you are doing yourself a disservice.
Who relapses in recovery? Someone who believes that they have finally figured it all out.
If you ask someone who comes back from a relapse what went wrong, they will tell you that they stopped learning. That they stopped pushing themselves to learn new things. That they thought that they had it all figured out. And this is what led to their downfall.
We have to keep learning in order to remain sober.
The holistic approach is big enough and broad enough to give us the platform to keep on learning in recovery.
If you focus on the traditional spiritual approach then you will be relying on constant spiritual growth. This will work for a time but then there will be periods when you are not focused on spirituality as much and you may be yearning to learn new things. For example, maybe your physical health as gone by the wayside and you need to get into shape again. Or you need to reach out and meet new people. Some other form of personal growth may be calling you, but if you are too narrowly focused on “spirituality as the solution” then you may never see these opportunities. With the holistic approach to recovery you can acknowledge and realize that the growth in all of these areas is helping your recovery.
What are you going to learn about yourself today? With the holistic approach to recovery your options are wide open. There are many different areas of your life that you can explore.
If you shut yourself off to these opportunities and stop learning and stop growing as a person then this is very dangerous for your sobriety. We can only relapse after we have shut down and stopped learning new things.
The shortcut to wisdom is to model the success of others
So what is modeling in recovery?
If you go to AA meetings and you see people who have sponsors, this is modeling.
You find someone who is living the sort of life that you want to have for yourself, and then you model that person. You ask them for help. They sponsor you and attempt to teach you what they know. This is modeling. You are modeling another human being.
You can do this formally with a sponsor in AA or NA, or you can simply do this on a more informal basis with teachers in your life. And you can do it with many different teachers. And you can do it without telling them that you are modeling them.
You can simply ask questions of people and ask for advice. Then take the advice and apply it in your own life. Keep doing this over and over again and watch what happens to your life. Watch how this impacts your happiness. If you are serious about modeling others and you follow through for even 30 days I can assure you that you will be amazed at the results.
Modeling is a very powerful form of learning. This is because you are getting a shortcut to true wisdom. Some other person has made all of the mistakes and done a lot of hard work in order to find the right path in life. A path in life that leads to real peace and contentment, not a false dead end like we typically find in life so often. And you are taking a shortcut to this path because you are simply emulating their success. They told you what they did to get there, so you do the same things. It is dead simple. And it works.
This does not mean that it is easy to do. It is simple to do. There is a difference.
When I first got clean and sober I was miserable. And I was sick and tired. And I was also fed up with my own ego and my own ideas, because I had finally admitted that my best ideas about being happy were completely wrong. My own path to “happiness” had failed me in addiction. I was miserable. I wanted a new life.
I went to rehab. I went to AA meetings. I listened to what they were telling me. And I realized that this modeling idea was very critical to success in recovery.
But the truth was that I was not ready for it. The first two trips to rehab, I was told what it took to succeed, and I rejected the ideas. I was not ready to do the work. I did not want to model other people and follow in their footsteps in sobriety. I didn’t want it and I did not believe that it would make me happy.
So I relapsed. Those first two tries at sobriety, I did not model anyone else and I tried to do my own thing. It failed and I relapsed.
The third trip to rehab I was really sick and tired and I experienced a full and total “ego death.” What I mean by that is that I finally surrendered in full. I experienced a real ego death. I was able to push my own ideas to the side for once and really listen to others. Not just listen to them but take their suggestions and put them into action. I was willing to take directions. I was willing to step aside and do what I was told to do. I pushed my ego to the side entirely. This was absolutely critical for what happened next.
I was in rehab at the time and I was following directions from others. I had killed my ego. And I was starting to take these directions and follow them and do experiments. I was listening to others. And I was finally willing to model other people. I was watching people in recovery and I was judging who had good sobriety and who I wanted to be like. Who had the sort of life that I wanted? Who was happy in their sobriety? I wanted what they had. I wanted to be like them.
So during the AA meetings I was attending, I started to filter people. Everyone had advice and experience to offer, but not all of it was valuable to me. I only wanted to follow the advice of the people that I looked up to and wanted to model.
So this is what I started to do. I started to model the success of others. But I only paid attention to people who were living the sort of life that I wanted.
What shocked me at the time was how quickly my life started to improve. The other thing that shocked me was how this led to happiness for me. I felt like I had cheated the world somehow by becoming so much happier so quickly. I felt like I was carrying around a secret and that I could get into trouble if anyone found out how easily I had found happiness. Just follow directions and you will become happier! It was so simple. And yet it was not easy to do. I had to almost kill myself with drugs and alcohol first before I could embrace this “simple” solution. Simple, but not easy.
Stick with the winners
They have a saying in AA: “Stick with the winners.”
There are a lot of contradictory messages in addiction recovery and in AA meetings. One of them has to do with this idea of sticking with the winners. Because other messages you get will seem to run counter to this, such as:
* Don’t judge, lest ye be judged yourself.
* Everyone at an AA meeting has something valuable to teach you.
Those two concepts would seem to contradict the idea of “stick with the winners.”
But do not be confused, it is still, in my opinion, really important to “stick with the winners.”
“Don’t judge lest ye be judged yourself” – You can “judge” others without putting them down or talking badly about them. When you make a judgement in your mind you are simply setting personal boundaries for yourself. Are you going to go into the dark alley with the guy who looks like an ax murderer? No? Then you have judged him. Should you feel bad about yourself for having made this judgement? Of course not! We have to make judgments in order to protect ourselves and live our lives. Judgement itself is not evil. What we want to avoid is when we judge others in order to inflate our own ego in comparison.
When you are in an AA meeting and someone is giving advice and they just relapsed last week, you need to make a judgement. You need to say to yourself: “This person can teach me something, but probably only as an example of what NOT to do in recovery.” In doing so you are making a judgement, and this is a good thing. Don’t beat yourself up over it.
“Everyone at an AA meeting has something valuable to teach you” – This is true, but sometimes the effort and mental gymnastics that you have to do in order to extract the “lesson” are not always worth your time. In other words, yes you can find some sort of lesson from every person on the planet if you look hard enough. But your time is limited and you need to find positive role models. So, make judgments and find people who you want to emulate. In short, stick with the winners!
Don’t waste your time in recovery. Find the people who really speak to you, who really have what you want in life, and start asking them questions. Cut right to the chase. Then start taking action. You don’t have time to try to figure out every single lesson from “the losers” in recovery. Go right to the source of success and stick with the winners instead.
How to push yourself to learn more
If you are in long term sobriety and you are trying to design a program that will prevent complacency, then you need to find a way to keep learning. You need to find a way to keep growing and reinventing yourself.
Everything is process. Recovery moves in cycles. You need to embrace these cycles, go along for the ride, and see what you can learn.
For example, you start out in recovery and maybe you go to rehab and you get a foundation of sobriety. You abstain from drugs and alcohol and maybe you start attending 12 step meetings. You have a baseline of sobriety and you are slowly establishing a foundation.
At some point you stagnate a bit so you look up to the people in recovery who inspire you. You ask them questions. What do they do in order to live a better life? How do they improve their life and their life situation? What actions have they taken in order to improve themselves in recovery?
Maybe you are in AA. Ask your teachers in the program something like: “Other than sponsorship, step work, and daily meetings, what have you done in the past that strengthened your recovery?” Also, what actions have they taken to significantly improve their life?
Another question to ask is to talk about habits. Say: “What habits have you established in your recovery that have led to your success?”
If you start asking these sort of questions from lots of different role models in recovery then you will get lots of suggestions. You will find new direction to follow. And if you ask multiple sources then you will also likely hear some overlap. You will hear the same advice from more than one person at times. When this happens you should take note. If more than one person recommends something, you really need to consider doing it. This is especially true if you look up to both of these people and want to live a life like they have (see: Stick with winners).
Once you get a taste of modeling others, once you get a taste of the happiness and the success that it brings, you should be excited to do it more. This is exactly what happened to me in early recovery when I started to model others. And it did not take very long at all for this to happen.
Maybe at some point you feel like you are stuck.
In that situation, ask yourself:
Which area of my life have I been neglecting lately:
1) Physical health.
2) Mental health.
3) Emotional balance.
5) Social health and relationships.
At any given moment in your recovery, you will probably be excelling in one or two of those areas, and you will be slacking off a bit in others. This is natural.
What you need to do though is to recognize when you are too far out of balance and then take action to correct it.
You may need to ask for advice from others to even identify the area in which you may be “coasting.”
If you slack off in one of those areas for too long, it can lead you to relapse.
Therefore, relapse prevention is all about addressing your holistic health. It is about taking care of yourself in all of these areas, every single day. And you cannot do that unless you are willing to take a look at your life and assess your progress on a regular basis. Then ask for help from others and model their success.
What about you, have you had success in modeling others in recovery? How have you learned new things? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!