If you are on the path of addiction recovery then you should certainly make the most of it. There are a few principles that will allow you to do so and we will explore these below. Just as the new year gives you an opportunity (or an excuse) to set some new goals for yourself, being in recovery gives you an opportunity to (or an excuse) to make positive changes in your life.
Being in recovery demands that you make positive changes, so you may as well take advantage of that fact. What do you want to sculpt your life into? How do you wish to live? These are the sort of questions that hint at the level of your opportunity. Being in recovery opens this path to you.
The idea is basically this:
You are in recovery and you are going to be doing lots of work and taking lots of action just to maintain sobriety. There is a price to pay in order to overcome addiction and that price means that you cannot just sit around and be lazy. You have to take action and put in real effort. But this also comes with an opportunity, because (in the long run) you have quite a bit of say in what those positive actions are. You can direct your own growth in recovery and create the life that you always wanted to live.
Your old life was one of addiction and self medicating. Your new life has to be something completely different, and obviously you can no longer rely on your old ways at all. At first this may seem difficult or even impossible because you will not know how to live your life and enjoy yourself without using your drug of choice. But in long term sobriety this will slowly change and evolve as you learn to enjoy the simple things again. You will come to find that life is delightful again, as exciting to you as the day that you first discovered your drug of choice. That may sound like fantasy but if you stick it out long enough in recovery then you will realize that this is true eventually. Long term recovery becomes a gift and part of that gift is happiness and freedom.
Of course you cannot just go to this “state of happiness and freedom” overnight. It takes time and you have to walk the path of recovery in order to get there. Early recovery does not start out with this wonderful life immediately. There is a price for such happiness and freedom, and it must be paid before you can enjoy these benefits. So what is the price?
The price is all of the growth that you must endure during early recovery. Before you can enjoy the benefits of long term sobriety you have to earn your spot there by getting through early recovery.
You must surrender to your disease of addiction and ask for help. Then you have to accept that help and start slowly rebuilding your life, usually according to someone else’s plan.
“But wait a minute,” you protest. “I thought that I got to be totally free and happy in recovery….what happened to that idea?”
Ultimately you do get to be happy and free in recovery, but before you can achieve that state of being you have to pay the price. There is a saying in traditional recovery: “It gets greater, later.” Early recovery demands action and footwork. You have to ask for help, take advice, put in the work, and later on in your recovery journey the benefits of that effort will come to fruition. But it all takes time, and therefore you have to “give recovery a chance.”
Unfortunately we have to “give recovery a chance” and we also have to “have faith in the process” in order to receive the long term benefits of recovery. Why? Because the benefits take so long to kick in.
Think of recovery as building discipline. (That is not the entire concept but the analogy is still useful). When you are building discipline it is hard work. You are told to do something and you do it. You follow orders. You do what you are told. And you keep doing it, over and over again, even if you do not see the point of it. Later on after you have done this thing over and over again for a long time you can look back and realize how you have grown as a result of the discipline. You realize that it benefited you even though it may have seemed pointless when you first started out.
Recovery works like this in that you have to slow down, surrender, and start taking advice from someone else for a while. You have to get out of the driver’s seat, as they say. For too long in your addiction you have been “driving the bus.” When you first get clean and sober it is time to let someone else drive the bus for a while. Meaning that you must turn your decisions over to someone else for a while. It is crushing to your ego to do so but this is how you start to rebuild your life in recovery. This is how to build strength and do the work. First you must be told what “the work” actually is. Without taking on new direction you will not have a clear path to recovery. If you try to design your own program in early recovery you will simple sabotage your own efforts and end up relapsing.
Recovery demands positive action and growth, so you may as well make the best of it and use this to your advantage. You have to put in an effort if you want to stay sober, so you may as well do something (or create something) in life that you actually want to do. This should be your attitude towards growth in long term recovery.
Use your recovery as a springboard for growth
All of recovery is personal growth. This is the case whether that growth is self directed or advice from other people.
Ultimately all of your growth is technically self directed. Even if you take advice from other people, the final say is always your own. You still have to decide whether to take their advice or not and whether you are going to follow through with it or not.
You have to make growth in your recovery if you want to remain clean and sober. If you are not making growth then you will soon relapse, simple as that. You can either grow and learn or wither and relapse. The choice is always yours. Just make sure that you make that choice consciously and realize that your sobriety is entirely up to you. You are no longer a victim of relapse if you realize that you can prevent it by taking action. Relapse prevention is simply taking positive action every single day, and accumulating positive benefits over time. Relapse happens when you stop doing this and the negative things in your life slowly snowball out of control until you are overwhelmed.
When you first get clean and sober you will not be in a position to direct your own growth at first. This is not the time to try to create your own path in recovery, as you will most likely fail. Realize that over 90 percent of recovering addicts and alcoholics will fail during their first year. If you want to avoid this fate then you need to surrender fully, take advice and direction, and follow through with it. This will very much feel like “taking orders” during your first year of recovery. It is a massive blow to the ego but this really is the best way to get started on the right foot in your recovery journey.
Once you are stable in your early recovery you will realize that there is a new challenge facing you–one of long term growth. If you attend 12 step meetings you will come to learn that even people with several years sober still end up relapsing at times. Why does this happen? Because they get lazy and stop pushing themselves to make growth and progress. If you want to avoid this fate then you need a strategy for long term growth. If you want to make the most of your recovery journey then you will embrace this fact and realize that you have to take action regardless, just to stay clean and sober. You may as well create the life that you really want to live.
Early recovery is not the time to do this. Early recovery is when you build a foundation. You have to establish your sobriety in early recovery to the point where you are stable enough to start testing out your own ideas. Once you have established this foundation then you can start designing your own path in recovery and chasing after the growth experiences that you want to create for yourself. Up until this point you have been building up growth in recovery based on the direction of others. But at some point you will realize that you are stable in recovery and that it is time to start creating the life that you really want.
If you wake up in recovery and you have two weeks sober and you ask yourself “What do I want today?” the answer might be your mind telling you “well, I really want to get drunk or high but I am giving this sobriety thing a chance so I won’t do that.” If that is where you are at then you still in early recovery and it is not yet time to try to design your own program of growth. You still need to take direction and advice from others until you are more stable in your recovery.
At some point you will wake up each day in recovery and you will not have those thoughts about wanting to get drunk or high. When you have progressed to that point and you are more stable in your sobriety then it is time to start thinking about what you really want in life. Now it is time to focus on personal growth and to start looking to your own ideas for what you want to create in life.
I wanted to create happiness and freedom in my own life but I could not do this when I only had 90 days sober, nor could I do it when I had 18 months sober. I had to stick it out in recovery for longer than that in order to get to a point where I was stable enough in recovery to be able to “strike out on my own path” and start designing my ideal life. When I had 90 days sober and even at 18 months sober I was still in the process of building my foundation. Looking back I can see that I was learning how to build discipline. This was to be the foundation of my future.
For example when I later quit smoking cigarettes this was an extension of what I had learned in getting clean and sober. The discipline that I gained from one event helped me to overcome my next challenge. This was also true later on when I was “designing my own life in recovery” and going after my freedom and happiness. The discipline that I gained from overcoming addiction and quitting smoking was used in order to help me to reach my new goals in life. I built a successful business with hard work and a sustained effort, but I never could have done this if I had never quit smoking first. That might sound a little funny but I can see looking back that it is absolutely true. I learned the real meaning of the word “discipline” when I finally was able to quit smoking cigarettes. I could see that building up a successful business was not going to be easy and it was not easy to quit smoking cigarettes either. The lesson that I learned from doing one was directly applicable to the other. In order to see this I had to have the right attitude towards growth and learning.
Eliminate the negative stuff from your life as your main priority
If you want to make the most of your recovery then you need to take a look at the negative baggage in your life that is holding you back, and then create a plan to eliminate it. If you cannot figure out what that stuff is then I suggest you seek out a sponsor or a trusted peer in recovery to help diagnose your problems. I had several problems in my early recovery and my sponsor at the time helped me to diagnose much of it. For one thing I was out of shape, still smoking cigarettes, and I had an unfinished college degree under my belt. My sponsor helped me to see that all three of these things were holding me back from freedom and happiness in some way, so he suggested that I take action on all three.
Note that this did not happen all at once. You never want to take on so much change in recovery that it overwhelms you and causes you to quit or give up. That is the not the point. If this happens to you then you just need to slow down and focus on one thing at a time. Abstinence is your baseline of success and the foundation of all future growth. Maintain sobriety as your top priority.
Your second priority in recovery is to examine your life and your situation and figure out your blocks to happiness and freedom. We are basically wired to be happy when we are not holding ourselves back in some way. Yet many of have these “blocks” in our life that we do not even realize are a cause of our misery. Simply eliminating these blocks can be enough to tip the balance in our life from being miserable all the time to being happy and free.
Most people have it wrong in life: they try to create happiness. This is a hopeless journey because happiness is a moving target. Every time that you think you can achieve happiness (if you can just accomplish this one goal) then you think that you will finally be happy. But of course when you finally do reach that carrot at the end of the stick, suddenly your happiness is moved further away from you again. It becomes a moving target. Your happiness just gets put on the end of another, longer stick. Therefore you cannot find happiness by trying to chase it down through a series of goals.
Instead, happiness is a by product of living the sort of life that we want to live in recovery, one in which we have removed all of our major “blocks” to freedom and happiness. This does not insure that you will be happy every second of every day, but it will help to insure that you are not miserable. And perhaps this is the real secret of happiness: simply avoiding misery.
Therefore your plan in recovery is to eliminate your blocks. Are you still smoking cigarettes after being clean and sober for a few years? Take a look at that….it is holding you back and causing misery in your life. Quitting smoking may not be the ultimate key to all of your happiness, but it holds one key to your freedom. It is one of your blocks to happiness and you must deal with it.
We all have these negative blocks in our lives when we first get clean and sober. We all have negative things that hold us back from true freedom and happiness.
Don’t seek happiness. Seek instead to eliminate misery. Find the blocks in your life that hold you back and eliminate them.
Creating happiness in your life by helping others in recovery
Again, this suggestion is for long term sobriety more than early recovery.
When you are early in your recovery journey you should seek help from others. But when you are stable in recovery then you should find a way to help others with their own journey. This is one of the keys to happiness and freedom that is often overlooked. You may think that helping others in recovery would be a source of stress, but it is in fact a great relief to be able to give of yourself in this way.
You do not necessarily have to help others in recovery through a formal program. There are ways that you can reach out and connect with others outside of formal programs. Perhaps you may even work in a treatment center (as I once did) or get involved in counseling or therapy.
Growing in recovery through personal growth
All success in recovery is a result of personal growth.
Recovery is change. If you refuse to change then you run the risk of relapse.
Positive action is the method through which you should change. You want to gauge your actions by how beneficial they are to your sobriety and to your future growth.
This is an opportunity for you to shape your own future. You have to take action anyway in order to stay sober, so you may as well create the sort of life that you are interested in living, right?
Life in recovery can be exciting again if you stick it out long enough to the point where you are dictating your own growth and using your own ideas to pursue happiness and freedom. This is the end result of a life in recovery that is well lived. You get to create your own reality and decide what you want to learn in life.
Embrace the process in order to enjoy it fully. If you resist learning and change then recovery will be a struggle. If you embrace the process then it can be a joy.