I have been clean and sober now for over 10 years and counting, which is by no means meant for bragging rights and I fully concede that I am blessed beyond all measure. I do not know exactly why I am blessed but I am darn lucky to be sober today. If I had my own way back when I was still drinking and drugging, I probably would have overdosed at some point. As fate, luck, or divine intervention should have it…..I’m still here and kicking.
So 10 years is a long time and I want to go through the entire process for me. I think there is real value in showing how my recovery philosophy changed and progressed over the years. To the newcomer in recovery, they might exclaim: “Sure, this stuff works for him now, but he has been sober for 10 years! How did he even get to that point?”
Thus, the journey is made up of details. And the details have changed over time.
What I did to stay sober at 90 days into my recovery is absolutely nothing like what I do now. So there is value in seeing the progression.
In fact, it may be the progression itself that is the solution. I am sure my sponsor would agree with that idea.
So here is what it was like for me in recovery at various points in my recovery. I have broken it down into 3 parts:
* Before getting sober.
* Early recovery.
* My current recovery philosophy.
Before I got clean and sober
My philosophy of life BEFORE I got clean and sober was really, really screwed up.
I pitied people who did not desire to go through life with some sort of buzz. I thought it was pathetic and boring to not be drunk or high.
I thought that life was way too easy and way to boring without being self medicated all the time.
I could not understand how anyone was happy or content if they were not stoned out of their minds. I looked down on sober people. I felt bad for them, and I cherished the “gift” of intoxication. I worshiped it, glorified it.
I saw no point in living sober. It was not for me.
Obviously, as some point, that changed. Exploring that moment of change could be the subject of entire books, so I’ll skip it here. Suffice it to say that I finally surrendered.
Early recovery and what it was like for me
Like I said above, at some point I became miserable enough in trying to stay drunk and high all the time that I simply gave up. I realized that I would never be able to really make it work by self medicating all of the time. I realized that I would never have enough cash and drugs and booze to be able to feel comfortable in my own skin. I finally saw that I was on a treadmill, and that it was a dead end. So I decided to try sobriety again.
I had already tried to get clean and sober twice before. Neither time was a true surrender on my part. Both times I was holding back, holding out hope that I could still self medicate in some way.
This time was different in that I surrendered fully. I was willing to attend 12 step meetings, even though I hated them and was terrified of them. I was eager to move into long term rehab, because I knew that anything less would lead to relapse for me.
I had become willing.
My philosophy for the first 2 years of my recovery was: “Take suggestions. Do the work. Follow through.”
I was attending meetings, even chairing one on a regular basis, and I was doing heavy amounts of stepwork, journaling, therapeutic writing, etc. I got a sponsor, did a few of the steps. Got another sponsor, did a few more. Never completed all 12 in a formal way with a sponsor, but if you tried to argue that I did not live the 12 steps, you would have a tough time of it. I was heavily immersed in recovery and living in a long term rehab. I stayed for 20 months.
I was very much trying to do the right thing, do what people suggested, and follow “the program.”
Before I left the long term rehab, however, I had already drifted away from regular meeting attendance and sponsorship. I was already finding a new path in recovery, one that did not rely on meetings or programs.
What my recovery is like today at 10 years sober
The transition from 2 years sober to 10 years sober is very much about what I call “creative recovery.” This is my recovery philosophy today and that how I try to live my life.
With “creative recovery” the bottom line is this, at least for me:
You create your own success in recovery through goal oriented living and creative effort.
That means that you set goals for yourself and achieve them. It also means that you seek to create positive things in your life through everyday actions.
So what does this mean in practical terms?
For me, today, it means:
1) Exercising on a regular basis.
2) Helping others in recovery on a regular basis.
3) Nurturing relationships with friends, family, and real human connections.
The whole “spiritual element” runs through all of this, of course, and can be taken on as the central thing that holds it all together, OR as a completely unnecessary component of recovery. Really it is all up to the individual as to how much or how little their actions hinge on the spiritual element.
How is this different from a 12 step program?
I would argue that my personal recovery philosophy is actually 2 steps:
1) Don’t use drugs or alcohol no matter what.
2) Take positive action every day to improve your life.
That’s it. We can easily get swept away in the details, looking at “holistic health” and looking for various aspects of our lives to improve, and so on. All well and good.
For example, at some point fairly early in my recovery I was urged to go back to college and finish up my degree. This turned out to be a positive step for me.
The same thing happened with employment. I was encouraged to go back to work. Again, this was another positive change. I was taking action, making good things happen. Helping people.
I also realized early on that I had to ditch the cigarette habit. I tried and failed many times before I was finally able to stick it out and find freedom from nicotine. Again, this was a huge positive change for me and I also see it as being an important part of my overall health and recovery.
At some point I picked up the exercise habit. Talk about a life changer! What used to be a miserable chore (jogging) suddenly became one of the most important tools of my recovery. Why? What led to this change? I’m honestly not sure what caused this shift in perspective. But once I forced myself to take positive action on a regular basis and the exercise became a habit, eventually it got really easy to go for a run. It was suddenly no longer “work” like it used to be. And that was a very powerful place to arrive at. Now exercise was a tool; a blessing of my recovery.
And so all of these positive changes occurred, and one by one they all had a positive impact on my life. I never backslid. I never picked the cigarettes back up, for example. I never quit running after I established the habit. I never quit working once I was employed again in my recovery. With each positive experience in my recovery, I made sure to lock in the gains. I sought to master each positive change rather than to just dabble in it.
But through it all, the number one thing was never about each positive change. It was always about that first point: “Don’t use drugs or alcohol no matter what.” That is the central focus and that is the pillar of recovery. This is a two step program and one of them is critical and the second one is optional. Do the first step perfectly and then do your best on the second one.
But keep that first step as your ultimate truth. Hold it higher than any and all beliefs you may have. Don’t use drugs or alcohol no matter what. Then, make positive changes in your life every single day.
If you believe in the disease model of addiction, then think about it like this:
Your addiction is trying to derail your life every single day. It tries to funnel chaos toward you so that you get frustrated and relapse. Your addiction is trying to find any way that it can to trip you up, make you miserable, get you to self medicate again.
So the strategy is to fight a daily battle, one in which you seek to counter this negative erosion by making positive changes.
If you exercise today, that will give you a huge advantage in the battle. You will feel better physically. You will reduce your cravings for substances at the physical level. You will get your endorphins pumping and you will feel better all around. Your self esteem will get a boost because you did something that was very positive and beneficial for yourself.
It does not have to be exercise. Maybe you will help someone else in recovery. Maybe you will learn something new. Maybe you will make progress in quitting a bad habit. Maybe you will take on a new job with a promising future.
So the idea of “creative recovery” is really just about creating positive changes every single day in your life.
Everyone who seeks to overcome an addiction has to do this in one way or another. They have a saying in recovery: “You are either working on recovery, or you are working on a relapse.” We do not sit idle and do well. If you are stagnant in your growth then that means you are sliding back towards a relapse.
The way to overcome this is with progress. You must make progress. For the rest of your life, you have to make positive changes in your life every day. That is what life today sober is like.
There are always new ways to grow in recovery. There is always another layer of growth to be exposed in our lives. Always something new to learn. Always a healthier way to live.
So that is my personal philosophy of recovery boiled down to its bare essence:
1) Don’t use drugs or alcohol no matter what, and
2) Make positive changes in your life every day.
They tried to convince me that AA was a simple program, but to be honest, 12 different steps was a bit overwhelming to me. For the last 10 years + I have made it work with just 2 steps.