It is difficult to sustain massive action in early sobriety.
This is a problem.
Recovery from alcoholism is a problem of inertia. There is a certain, shall we say, escape velocity that is required to get through early recovery.
I tried to “escape” from alcoholism and drug addiction twice, and failed both times, because I did not have enough gas in the tank. I was not moving in a positive direction for long enough.
This is why I talk about “massive action” all the time. Because in early recovery, your success depends on making these massive changes.
And then of course you have to sustain those changes. You have to keep building momentum.
Most people fail to do this.
Change for a brief while but then quickly change back
I worked in a treatment center for over five years straight. I worked full time and I had the opportunity to observe thousands of different struggling alcoholics and drug addicts. All of them had the same goal of achieving sobriety. All of them were trying to turn their life around.
And being that they were coming to a treatment center, all of them at least got started on the process. They all checked into detox, went into residential treatment, and started living a sober life. Of course they were not really “living life” just yet because they were still in the protected and artificial environment of a rehab facility. So what was going to happen when they got back into the real world and faced their first temptation?
In many cases they relapsed. Some people obviously stayed strong, used what they had learned, reached out for additional help, and persevered in sobriety. That is the hope and aim of treatment, that we can show people who to overcome their old behavior and turn their life around.
As I worked at this treatment center over that five year period, I started to realize just how daunting the odds were in real life. Many, many people who I watched in treatment came back later for more treatment. This was an obvious sign of failure. Of course, relapse can sometimes be a part of the journey (for example, I went to 3 treatment centers before I “got it”).
So if you go to treatment and then later relapse, what really happened? You changed briefly while you were in treatment, but then you changed right back after you left.
Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that you never really changed at all, you were abstinent while you were in a controlled environment.
So what drives that change, and what does it really take to make a sustained effort in early recovery?
What it takes to sustain a consistent effort in recovery
If you talk to enough people who are successful in recovery, you will start to notice some common themes. These themes are the fundamental principles of sobriety. Whatever you hear popping up over and over again as you talk to successful recovering alcoholics, those are the important things that we need to focus on.
Perhaps no theme is more prevalent than that of surrender.
Every alcoholic who has successfully overcome their addiction has had to go through the surrender process.
And this is what leads to their willingness, to their deep commitment to change.
Without the surrender, there is no platform on which to build a new life in recovery.
Without surrender, how are you going to take advice from others and follow their suggestions?
Seriously, stop and think about this for a moment. How can you fill up a bowl unless it is empty?
The path in recovery is simple. You don’t drink, you don’t take addictive drugs, and you keep doing this every single day.
On top of that, you start taking better care of yourself in every aspect of your life. You strive to improve yourself. You seek to eliminate the negative garbage that is still swirling around inside of you from your addiction (or from even before your addiction in some cases).
Abstinence plus personal growth. That is the entire formula. This is not necessarily complicated.
But it is complicated to implement it on a daily basis. And it can be downright overwhelming.
So when you are struggling with alcoholism, the prospect of becoming abstinent is simple enough and most can understand it, but the prospect of rebuilding your life and pursuing personal growth and becoming happy and joyous? That is overwhelming. Most alcoholics do not even know where to begin. Nor do they believe that happiness may even be possible in sobriety.
So what is the solution?
The solution begins with surrender. This is a fundamental principle of sobriety.
The alcoholic must let go of everything. They have to let go of the need to be right. They have to let go of the idea that alcohol can comfort them or be their friend. They have to let go of the idea that they need alcohol or drugs to have a good time. They have to let go of all this and so much more.
Total surrender feels like a death of the ego. Because you are basically telling yourself in that moment: “I thought that alcohol could make me happy, but I was wrong. Everything that I thought I knew in life turned out to be wrong. I am not happy, and I don’t know how to become happy. I am, in fact, miserable. And I want to change.”
That is the moment of true surrender. When you throw up your hands and ask for help. When you ask others to show you how to live, how to be happy again in life.
And you cannot really reach this point unless you are willing to do anything to change. This is driven by misery. You don’t get sober to become happy. You get sober to avoid pain and misery. The happiness that you eventually achieve in sobriety is a nice reward, but it was never the goal when you surrendered. You were just trying to avoid the pit of misery and despair that you had sunk into.
Denial is when you try to convince yourself that you are not really in a pit of despair. Or that everyone else is just as miserable, so you should get used to living in misery. Or that you could never possibly be happy living like a “normal” person and not self medicating every day. That is all forms of denial.
Because the truth is that we can all be happy, we can all be content, we can all build a new life that is worth living in sobriety.
But it takes massive action to achieve it.
You are going from point A to point B.
At point A you are a miserable alcoholic who self medicates every day and has almost no hope left in life.
At point B you are living sober, enjoying life, helping others, and finding real meaning and purpose in each and every day. You have found real gratitude.
So how do you go from point A to point B? What is that process?
And what is the shortcut?
And is it possible to pay a certain amount of money for this to magically happen with little to no effort?
I think you can probably guess the answers to those questions. No, there are no real shortcuts. It is very possible to get from point A to point B but it takes a great deal of work and a lot of consistent effort. There are no shortcuts, monetary or otherwise.
The only “shortcut” is to surrender now and get started today. The second “shortcut” would be to take advice from others and put their suggestions into action.
In other words, act now, and follow advice.
Take massive action.
Building enough momentum to escape from the lifestyle of addiction
As mentioned before, escaping from addiction requires a certain amount of momentum. Escape velocity if you will.
Now this is going to vary from person to person.
The amount of velocity that you need is going to depend on your personal situation and your circumstances in addiction.
In my own situation I was deeply entrenched in the lifestyle of drug and alcohol abuse. Nearly all of my relationships revolved around getting drunk or high. Nearly every waking hour of my life was consumed with the obsession to get drunk or high. I had a job where I made money to spend on drugs and booze, and nearly everyone at my job was an addict or alcoholic as well. My entire life revolved around my addiction.
Therefore it was not reasonable to believe that I could go through 28 days in rehab, get out, and just go right back into this old environment and expect to stay sober. Even if I choose to attend AA meetings every day in this scenario (which I didn’t), I still would have been hard pressed to build any sort of new life.
So in my personal situation, I required a great deal of escape velocity in order to overcome my addiction.
Eventually I moved into long term rehab where I stayed for 20 months. This did the trick for me. Mission accomplished. I have been sober ever since and it is now over 13 years.
Perhaps I could have done less than that and remained sober. I am not so sure though. The only way to know for sure how much treatment you really need is:
1) Go for too little treatment, and relapse, or
2) Go to enough treatment and remain sober.
How much help do you really need to overcome an addiction?
You can tell if you have not had enough help in the past simply based on your results. If you are still drinking or abusing drugs then you should have sought out more treatment, or more intense treatment options.
At some point I had to admit to myself that going to a 28 day program was not enough. Especially when I would get out and then not really follow through at all (go to meetings, go to counseling, go to outpatient therapy, etc.). That was when I realized that I should follow the advice I was being given and attend long term rehab.
When most alcoholics ask for help and then try to get sober, they are typically directed to an inpatient treatment program.
So they go to detox, then they stay in residential treatment, usually for up to 28 days.
But what happens when they leave?
It is all about momentum. The real test in sobriety begins when you walk out of treatment and back into the real world.
If you don’t have a plan then you can expect to relapse.
Very important point there: You must have a plan or you are doomed to relapse.
The default for any alcoholic or drug addict is to go back to their old behavior and to self medicate. You need to take massive action in order to overcome this default tendency.
So what constitutes “having a plan” in early recovery?
That is an important question. It goes back to the idea of escape velocity. You have to be honest with yourself, first of all. Second of all you have to ask: “Am I really going to stay sober just by going back to my old life, without the booze, and going to maybe 2 or 3 AA meetings each week?”
That is a 2 to 3 hour investment each week into your recovery. Is that enough to overcome the tendency to relapse?
Keep in mind that in my own personal journey I left treatment and then moved into a long term rehab center for 20 months. Perhaps that was overkill. But 13 years later and having acquired these massive benefits of sobriety, I tend to think it was just what I needed at the time. I consider it to be the best decision I ever made in my entire life.
So when you are in treatment it is very likely that the counselors and the therapists will try to give you a plan. They will probably call this an “aftercare plan.” What are you going to do when you get out of rehab? How are you going to continue your efforts and sustain your recovery?
At this point you probably believe that there is a magic formula, or that some therapist will be lucky to come up with just the right arrangement of aftercare for you to succeed.
In fact, this is not as important as the dedication and the follow through.
In other words, the specific details of your aftercare plan are not what will create a magical result in recovery for you. You are not going to succeed or fail just because they told you to go to group therapy rather than AA meetings, or outpatient therapy rather than counseling.
Instead, you are going to succeed or fail in recovery based on the commitment. Based on the intensity of your follow through. Based on whether you do the work or not.
That is what will determine your success or failure. Not the specific details, but your level of commitment and the amount of action that you take.
It is not too difficult to choose a positive direction in recovery. Don’t drink, don’t use addictive drugs, and then start taking positive action every day. Perhaps you need a program and a direction for this positive action, but it is not the actual details that make or break your success. It is your commitment, it is your follow through, it is your willingness to take massive action.
And of course, it is all about consistency. If you are pushing yourself hard for two weeks and then you totally flake out on your recovery efforts, you can guess what kind of results that will get you.
Lack of immediate rewards make it tough to continue in the face of uncertainty
There is another problem in early recovery from alcoholism.
Typically an alcoholic who stops drinking and starts putting in a serious effort at recovery will start to slowly change their life. This happens over time and eventually they are living an awesome new life in sobriety.
But how long does it take to get there, and what is going on in the meantime?
The time it takes will vary from person to person. It might take you a few months and it might take you a few years. And of course we never fully “arrive” in the sense that we can stop pushing ourselves to grow and to change.
But I can remember having maybe 90 days sober and being balled up on my bed in tears. I was so frustrated at that moment and I thought that I would never be happy again. I briefly considered relapse but I did not act on those thoughts.
Some time later I was past that rough spot, I was happier, and around the six month point I had a day where I realized that I went the entire day without a single alcohol craving. This was a miracle to me.
And quite honestly things just kept getting better and better from that point forward.
But I can look back now and realize that I had to put in the hard work. I had to make it through a few rough patches in early sobriety. I had to “stick and stay” as they say. I had to gut it out at times. It was not always easy, just as I would expect it would not be for any recovering alcoholic.
And this illustrates the problem I am getting at here: There is a delay in recovery.
A delay in when you first stop drinking, and when sobriety is this awesome new life of joy and gratitude.
You don’t go from point A to point B in one week. Or in one month.
Some people certainly do it in a year or less. And I am sure there are some people who are not really “doing the work,” yet they manage to hang on to their sobriety anyway, and remain somewhat miserable (they call this a “dry drunk”).
Obviously we would like to fall into the camp of people who turn their life around fairly quickly and get to those awesome rewards of sobriety.
The path to this is not necessarily easy to accomplish, but it is somewhat simple.
It is all about action.
Massive action. Consistent action.
The direction doesn’t even matter so much, so long as it is positive. You can join a church, you can go to AA, you can go to counseling or get a sponsor or find a mentor. There are lots of alternatives out there, and no one has a monopoly on sobriety.
What matters is your intensity. Your commitment. Your willingness.
Ask for help. Stop drinking. Then take positive action.
If you work a program of recovery, then dive into that program, head first. Embrace it with massive action. Treat it like your very life depends on it (because it does!).
Think back to the biggest challenge that you have faced in your life.
Think about how hard you had to push yourself to get through whatever that challenge was.
Now, realize that your addiction is stronger than that challenge.
Realize that you are going to have to try harder than you ever have in the past.
This is the intensity level that will get you the results that you want.
Massive action is the key. Consistent action is the key.
What about you, have you been able to overcome your alcoholism and take massive action? Was it the hardest thing that you have ever done in your life before? How were you able to make that commitment to yourself and create consistent changes? Share your wisdom with us. Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!