How do you get to your ideal life in recovery?
What is does it really mean, to “live the life you were meant to live?”
Does it mean reaching your full potential? Does it mean using your talents and skills to help others in recovery? Does it mean that you use your experience and your past to teach lessons to other people who need your help?
It might mean all of these things, but it might also not. It all kind of depends on what you believe.
But you have to be careful with your beliefs. Because some beliefs are rather limiting, while others can be quite empowering.
At some point you may have to take a step back, look at your beliefs, and see if they are helping you or hurting you in life.
I tend to believe that we all have a mission here during this life, and we should try to aspire to reach that purpose.
But you are free to believe what you want, so long as it serves you.
“Our experience can always benefit others”
One of the things that you tend to hear in traditional recovery is how “our experience can help others.” They say in one of the fellowships that “no matter how far down the scale we have fallen, we will see how our experience can directly help other people.”
Thus, the tragic and miserable things that we lived through in our addiction can become a gift later on, if we are willing to turn it into a gift. But in order to do that we have to share our pain with others. We have to share our pain and our struggle and then our hope. Because obviously we made a decision at some point and we were able to turn our life around.
And the amazing thing about recovery is that the farther you have fallen in life, the more valuable your experience becomes. Because then you will find that more and more people can relate to something that you are saying. And if they identify with your story and you are sober today then that can give people real hope.
So if you are beating yourself up or you are totally down on yourself because you have been through so much misery and chaos, do not despair. Those trials and tribulations are actually the fuel for a successful recovery if you are willing to share your experience with others. If you are willing to give back to others then it can help your recovery to become even stronger.
“Healed people heal people” and the ripple effect
Sponsorship is a neat thing in recovery. Or just simply helping someone else to get sober and find the right path.
Just think about the person who may have done this for you. Think of the positive influences and teachers that you may have had along the path in recovery. Then, realize that those teachers also had people who helped them to get sober.
This is powerful.
So the person that you may be helping who is struggling with alcoholism may one day go on to help dozens of other people to recover themselves. The impact that you make in recovery could have a huge downstream effect. Healed people go on to heal people. And then those people will heal people. And therefore you can become this huge link in a massive chain that promotes a whole lot of healing in the world. Your message can have a lasting and permanent effect on the world. This is real purpose.
Do you think that there might be a reason that you are an alcoholic? What could the reason possibly be for that? At a glance, alcoholism does not seem to serve any purpose other than bringing chaos and destruction into people’s lives. It wrecks families.
But within this misery is a great opportunity. There are many alcoholics in the world and you could be a part of healing those people. So you might find a unique way to reach out to others, to spread a message of hope, to help others who may be struggling to heal. And in doing so you can find real purpose in life.
A lifetime of positive rewards versus the misery of addiction
Do you seriously believe that the universe placed you on this planet just to drink yourself into oblivion?
There has to be more meaning to life than that. There has to be more purpose to it than that.
I honestly believed that this was my calling for a long time. To simply drink myself to death. How pathetic is that when it comes to your life purpose? I mean, I could have easily fulfilled that life purpose while living on the streets, never working any job, and never intentionally helping another human for the rest of my life. A life of complete selfishness, nearly entirely devoid of any meaning. What is the point? Seriously, what is the point of drinking yourself to death at all? Even if you have a family and a job, drinking yourself into oblivion every day is still a waste of a life. You contribute nothing, there is no fulfillment in that. This is not the existence you were meant to live. It just can’t be. It’s wrong.
So if drinking yourself to death is not the “right” path in life, then what is?
Improving your life as a gift to yourself and others
Maybe you are not into AA meetings and sponsorship and reaching out to other struggling alcoholics.
That’s OK. To be honest, I was not really into that at all during the first few years of my sobriety.
I mean, I lived in long term rehab and so I had to go to AA meetings every day for a while. And I even chaired some NA meetings inside of a rehab for almost the first three years.
But I wasn’t feeling it. It didn’t click. This was not my calling. Sitting in AA meetings, talking about my experience, trying to give hope to the newcomer. It didn’t feel right. It wasn’t what I was meant to do. This was not the life that was intended for me, or at least I don’t believe it was.
So I eventually had to find another venue. Another calling. Another way to give a message of hope.
But before I could do that I had to have something to give back.
You see, when I was at 2 years sober and I was chairing meetings in a rehab facility, I was most definitely “talking the talk” of recovery, but was I really walking the walk?
No, not really. Not at that time. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I had the fundamentals of recovery down pretty good. I was doing the right things, checking off all the right boxes. I had worked through that fourth and fifth step. I was working on my character defects. But I really hadn’t dug into the work like I needed to yet. I was not yet taking care of myself in a holistic manner the way I should have been. I wasn’t really rocking out my recovery the way that I would be in a few years from then. I was still stuck in a pretty low gear.
So at some point I got the idea that recovery really isn’t about these 12 specific steps, but instead it is about personal growth. Self improvement. Making healthy changes on a regular basis. And taking care of yourself in every way.
I got the idea that I could improve myself beyond what was indicated in the 12 steps of AA. I got the idea that personal growth was bigger than just “spiritual development.”
And so I started to run with this idea. I started to live my truth, even though I wasn’t 100 percent sure that it was right just yet. But it felt right. The idea that personal growth was the ultimate form of relapse prevention.
So at one point I bid my goodbye to AA meetings completely and started to do the work. Taking positive action every day, taking care of myself, challenging myself to stay on the path of personal growth.
I took advice from other people. I took suggestions. People challenged me to do things: To go back to college, to get a better job, to start a business, to start exercising every day. To meditate. To seek a relationship. So I started doing these things, and I found myself on a path of personal growth that did not depend on the 12 steps.
It is not so much that I believe the 12 steps are wrong or anything (they are not wrong in any way, they are very helpful), but just that I needed to go beyond that at the time. And I needed to go beyond the daily meetings. I had to push myself to grow in a way that would not lead me to complacency.
And so before I could carry a real message of hope and try to give this gift to other people, I had to find that hope myself. I had to find this gift for myself. I had to realize the value of personal growth and holistic health. I had to push myself to make the difficult changes in life and then go on to help and inspire others to do the same. I had to walk the walk before I tried to talk the talk.
So the end of result of this was the message that you find here on Spiritual River. Not necessarily the traditional AA way to sobriety, but instead a path of personal growth and holistic health. And not because I thought it was a neat idea or a way to sidestep AA, but because it actually worked for me.
And that is really the only way that you are going to help people in the long run, is if you believe in the message. You notice that someone who got sober in AA, they are really excited to talk about AA and how well it works. The same is true if someone got sober in a religious based program, they will be excited about it and tell you all about it. This is because they believe in the method and they are excited to share it with others.
And so as the struggling alcoholic, your job is to listen to someone who might help you, try their path that they suggest, and see if it works for you. If you are at the point of true surrender then chances are good that their method will work just fine for you (regardless of what that message is). And even if it does not work perfect then hopefully it will evolve into a recovery lifestyle that works for you (as it did for me). Of course this is assuming that you are willing to do the work.
It doesn’t really matter if you go the AA route, or religious based recovery, or a holistic strategy like mine–you still have do the hard work. There is no free ride in recovery. If someone tells you that their way is easier then they are lying.
My holistic approach is not necessarily any easier or more effective than other paths, it is just different. It worked for me and it has worked for others. But there are many paths to sobriety and your job is to find the one that works for you.
Your true purpose in sobriety
Do we each have a specific purpose? Maybe we do and maybe we don’t.
The number one regret of people who are on their deathbed is “Not living the life that they really wanted.”
The alcoholic fools themselves for a while by thinking that drinking every single day is the best possible life. Hopefully they figure out eventually that this is not the case. Drinking themselves silly every day is a nightmare that they cover up with denial for years or even decades.
Then you have the alcoholic who gets sober. Maybe they go to AA meetings or maybe they find some other path to sobriety. But are they living the life that they were meant to live? Are they living with no regrets and learning how to enjoy the process that unfolds around them?
I believe that our job in recovery is to reinvent ourselves. We do this when we first get clean and sober. We reinvent ourselves and our entire life because we suddenly have to learn how to function without alcohol. This changes everything: Our lifestyle, our relationships, how we have fun, how we deal with problems, and so on. Everything changes.
And this is just within the first year!
Now, fast forward about five years in recovery. Then fast forward another five years. What happens?
Is an alcoholic the same at five years sober as they were at one year sober? Is their life different at ten years sober?
My answer to this is a resounding “yes!”
Absolutely, it is different. In fact, if you are on the right path in recovery, then your life will always be changing over time. Because you are always reinventing yourself.
And what does that really mean, to reinvent yourself?
It means that you make a positive change. You look at your life, decide that something about it should be different, and then you make an effort to change it.
Sometimes this is a struggle. In fact, it should frequently be a struggle if you want to make real growth in your life. Setting and meeting tiny little goals is not serving you well.
No, what we need are big, juicy, life changing goals in our recovery. We need to aim for the stars. We need to figure out the one change in our life that, if we were to focus everything we had on that one goal and finally achieve it, then that would make all the difference for us.
Have you been avoiding that goal? That big goal that would make all the difference?
This is what you were meant to do in recovery. You were meant to reinvent yourself, to find that big juicy goal and go after it with massive action.
And then to do it again. To meet that goal and then build on top of it.
Let me give you an example. At one time in my recovery I was still smoking cigarettes. I really wanted to quit. I tried everything it seemed like, but I just could not shake the nicotine addiction. I was stuck as a smoker and I did not like it one bit. I wanted to shed that nasty habit.
After trying and failing many times, I decided to try a slightly different tactic. I was going to get into shape first.
I always hated to exercise. But my dad encouraged me to run with him (he has been a lifetime jogger) and so I started to build distance. This took hard work. This created discipline where before there was nothing.
And I continued to smoke. I got to the point where I was running six miles on pretty steep hills with my dad and I was still a regular smoker!
But that was when I was finally able to quit. And so that taught me something valuable: I had to build on a previous goal. I had to achieve the exercise goal, and learn that level of discipline, before I could drop the nicotine habit.
That was just how it worked for me, perhaps your path will be different.
But there are other examples in my recovery of how one goal that I met built upon previous success. And nearly everything that I have achieved in the last 13 years is based on the fact that I got clean and sober to begin with. That is the one change that set up the rest of my progress and growth.
So now I believe that I am living the life that I was meant to live. Do I have real meaning and purpose? In some ways I do, and in some ways I am still on the journey and still seeking. And that is OK. It is alright to be seeking and on the path at the same time. It is OK to keep reinventing yourself.
I am not sure that this feeling of reinvention will ever be totally finished for me. I think if it was truly finished then I would not be as protected from relapse.
Because each positive change that you make in recovery is another brick in the wall of protection against relapse. Each positive habit is another brick. Each time you reinvent yourself the wall of protection gets stronger. This is how you build a moat around your recovery: with personal growth.
The danger in recovery is that you stop doing this. That you stop taking positive action. That you stop living this life that you were meant to live. And if you do that then the option of drinking alcohol becomes really enticing in a hurry.
Remember that every alcoholic has a choice today. They can choose personal growth, or they can choose relapse. Ultimately you are either choosing one or the other with each passing day. If you choose wrong too many days in a row then you will eventually relapse. No one knows for sure what that threshold is going to be exactly as it varies from person to person. So you might avoid personal growth for a month and relapse. Or it might take two weeks. Or it might take two years. No one knows for sure.
But realizing this problem helps you to dictate your recovery strategy. Since you know that complacency kills, your goal should be to avoid complacency at all costs. The way to do that is to make a daily practice out of taking positive action. Find the habits that lead you to personal growth. Find the positive actions that allow you to continuously reinvent yourself in recovery. The bonus in this is that this is the sort of life that rewards you over and over again, rather than just “getting you by.” Sobriety is a gift but only if you are putting in the work that helps you to stay sober. If you skate by doing the bare minimum then sobriety might not be so rewarding. But if you push yourself to take positive action every day and live the life that you were truly meant to live, then sobriety will reward you over and over again.