When I was struggling to get clean and sober, I often wondered how I was actually going to make sobriety work for myself, in real life.
I could see that going to rehab and following up with AA was sort of the default path for people who wanted to change their life, but I did not really think it was all that practical for my own personal taste. I mean, I was a bit nervous when it came to social situations, I was nervous to speak in front of others in a meeting, and I did not really see myself suddenly opening up and getting over this anxiety.
I had to figure out how to make sobriety work for me.
My therapist at the time was urging me to go to AA and urging me to go to rehab. He also suggested that I try to get into something longer term. He was pushing me towards solutions for recovery, and I was pushing back, saying “that won’t work for me because of this excuse, and that won’t work for me because of this other reason,” and so on. I had an excuse for everything which was really just denial.
My denial was based on the fact that I was stuck in my addiction, I was running away from my own fear every day by drinking and taking drugs, and I had no idea how to face reality without self medicating. I was terrified of sobriety so I made excuses as to why getting clean and sober would not work for me. I made excuses for why I could not live in long term treatment because the idea of long term sobriety threatened me and filled me with fear. Instead of explaining that I was scared, however, I acted angry that anyone would want to “lock me up in long term rehab” when I was a free man right now. I could not see the positive side of getting clean and sober, all I could do was to feel the fear and the threat of someone “taking away my drugs or alcohol.”
So how did I eventually make it all work? How did I get past these issues and find my path in sobriety?
First of all, it started with what I like to refer to as “total and complete surrender.”
I reached a point 3 times in my addiction in which I became willing to go check into an inpatient rehab facility.
The first two times I was doing it for the wrong reasons. I was barely willing to go to rehab because my family and friends were urging me to do so. But I wasn’t at rock bottom and I wasn’t in “total and complete surrender.”
So I went to rehab those first two times and I may have listened politely and even shared in a meeting or two, but my heart was not in it. I did not care about sobriety and recovery because I had no intention of working the AA or NA program when I left rehab. I wasn’t “all in” when it came to recovery. I was still stuck in denial and I was still holding on to a reservation–meaning that I was clinging to part of my addiction and I was not willing to fully let go just yet.
So I hung on for a few more years and I continued to create chaos and misery in my life due to alcoholism and drug addiction. I would go in cycles and temper my drinking for a short while before eventually having another blackout and losing complete control again. The consequences of this pattern continued to get worse and worse and I continued to spiral lower and lower into madness, sadness, and negativity. My addiction dragged me lower and lower over the years in spite of going to rehab those first 2 times.
The third time that I decided to attend rehab was different. This time, I was defeated. I was totally and completely miserable, to the point that I almost did not value my own life, at all. I was completely indifferent to any threats at this point because I just did not care. I was beyond caring.
Why was I beyond caring? Because I had finally had enough. I was sick and tired of being miserable, of being afraid, of being sick and tired. All the cliches fit me at this point. I was totally done with everything, and I just wanted it all to go away in a poof.
It was at this point that I started to figure out how to make sobriety work for me.
For starters: I asked for help, and this time I meant it. I was ready to listen. This is what “hitting bottom” earns you: A place at the real recovery table. It was game time, and I was finally ready to play.
I went to rehab as was suggested. But this time I said to the therapist in treatment: “Tell me what to do in order to recover, and I will do it. Try me.”
So they sent me to long term treatment. I willingly went to long term.
The sent me to AA and NA meetings. They told me to get a sponsor. They told me to read the literature.
I did all of those things and more. I was in “listen and obey” mode, and it was working.
I did not like the idea that I had to listen and obey. That feels like a blow to my pride.
But I was so miserable that I did it anyway. And I made an agreement with myself at the time: I agreed, in my own mind, that I was not going to take any of my own advice for the first year, and I was only going to listen to the advice of others. I would do what I was told. If I had decisions to make, I would always consult my therapist or my sponsor. I would not act alone. I would not use my own brain in order to screw up my life again. I would trust others rather than myself.
This worked. This approach worked when others had failed me.
If you look deeply at how to apply the third step of AA and NA, this is what it amounts to. You have to let go of your own need for control, and you have to put your life and some of those crucial decisions into the hands of people that you trust.
What if you don’t trust them? That’s the hard part. That is what step 2 and 3 of AA are all about: Becoming willing to trust in the universe, in a higher power, to allow yourself to be guided to recovery.
You cannot figure this out on your own, because your addiction contains an element of self sabotage. Therefore you have to allow other human beings to tell you what to do.
Yes, you can listen to your higher power in prayer and in meditation. But the real answers of recovery are going to come from your sponsor, your therapist, and your peers at the meetings.
And you have to trust in the process, and trust in the fact that your higher power is reaching out to you through this entire process, through all of these people. If you cannot get with that idea then you are probably going to be stuck in traditional recovery circles. That is how the third step really gets implemented and changes your life–because people who were already successful in sobriety tell you what to do, and you do it. It really is that simple. But you have to trust those people and take the leap of faith and actually follow their advice in order to get good results.
Later in your recovery you will refine this process and make it your own.
The first year of sobriety, however, is NOT the time to personalize your journey. Instead, you want to shut up and listen and obey. Seriously. That is how I was able to survive my addiction, because I finally started to listen and obey. And people told me how to live and what to do, and it worked.
That is how I made it all work for me. I started following advice and my life just got better and better every day. Before the first year was over I was able to cautiously take back a bit of control myself and start to think like a real human again. And my life has gotten better and better ever since. Good luck!