What does it take in order to overcome your biggest challenge in long term sobriety?
Most of us are content to just coast along in recovery after we have found some amount of stability. This can be a mistake, however, because we have to keep moving forward and making positive changes if we are to thrive in long term sobriety.
Before you can conquer your biggest challenge you need to determine what it is. And before you can do that you need to get your bearings and your footing in early recovery.
So it all begins with sobriety itself, and the challenge to simply get clean and sober.
The entry fee for this is breaking through your denial, hopefully after you have hit bottom and admitted that you do not know how to live your own life any more due to your addiction. Once you can admit that to yourself you can ask for help and hopefully go to inpatient treatment. This is the starting point for a better life in recovery.
Now once you go to inpatient treatment you should realize that the journey is just beginning. I think that some people assume that if you go through a 28 day inpatient rehab program then you should be able to walk out of that program and go back to your normal life, simply picking up where you left off but without the alcohol or drugs. This is a big misconception because the fact is that your entire life was affected by your addiction, and therefore your entire life will be changed due to your recovery.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, but you need to be realistic about it. If you go to an AA meeting and you ask various people there what changed after they finally sobered up in AA, they will all tell you the same thing, which is that “everything changed! Everything!”
And the truth is that what really happened you cannot see for yourself until you have gained a great deal more of perspective, because after a few years in sobriety you can finally look back and realize that what really changed is yourself, and more specifically, what really changed was your attitude. That was why it seemed like “everything changed,” because your perception and your filter had changed so drastically. Instead of being stubborn and fighting for control you finally let go and asked for help and started to actually listen to people. That was what really changed. You became open minded, and so you started to see the world totally differently after you reached that point of surrender.
Now this is a critical time in your recovery because you are building a foundation. The way to do this is to ask for help, start taking advice, and then to start applying that advice to your life in a way that allows you to see positive results.
At one point I had a revelation in my early recovery journey because I realized that this recovery stuff that I was doing was actually working. I was suddenly saying to myself “wow, I just need to keep doing what these therapists and counselors tell me to do, and my life gets better.” It was a revelation of sorts, and I was eager to make more progress. So I surrendered even more deeply at that point–I surrendered to the recovery process and to the advice that people were giving me. In other words, I accepted it more thoroughly and I was even more willing to test out advice in my own life so that I could reap the benefits of that advice. I was more trusting the recovery process after I saw that it was working for me. At that point I went “all in.”
I found many challenges in my life once I was clean and sober, and so I started to tackle them one at a time.
Therefore, at various times throughout my recovery, I was facing one specific challenge that was the biggest issue on my plate at the time.
Usually this was defined like this: I may have had several projects and ideas for personal growth, and I may have had a few life obstacles thrown in the mix as well, but only one of these things, when fixed, would give me the greatest positive impact on my life.
In other words, I had to prioritize which goal I wanted to tackle next, and I did that based on the expected amount of positive impact that goal would have on my life.
At one time in my recovery, the single biggest impact goal would have been quitting cigarettes. Even though I had a few years sober I was still addicted to nicotine. And at that point, this was the biggest drag on my life and my happiness, and I stood to have the biggest positive gains by facing that goal.
So how did I do it at the time?
I threw myself into it. Just like when I went to rehab and AA when I quit drinking, I had to go “all in” when I tried quitting cigarettes. I had tried and failed to quit smoking many times before, but this time was different–this time I had made a decision, I had reached a breaking point. I was serious this time. So I went all in.
And that was just a matter of asking for help, getting advice from multiple sources, and incorporating pretty much all of that advice and drumming up as much support for myself as I possibly could. And so I was finally able to quit cigarettes once I prioritized the goal, surrendered completely to it, and then went “all in” on seeking out help for my particular journey.
Honestly, I was kind of shocked when I was able to quit cigarettes successfully (probably because I had failed so many times before). So after I quit, I got excited: I could conquer nearly any challenge if I really went “all in” on it!
And this turned out to be true. I knew it was true, actually, because I had already seen it work for myself. Facing a challenge requires paying a certain price, which for me was illustrated by the intense amount of effort and support that was necessary to sober up, and then later to conquer nicotine addiction. Now I knew how hard it was. Now I knew what the price to pay was, and how hard I had to push, and how much support it required.
With that knowledge in hand, I knew that I could prioritize and conquer pretty much any particular goal, as long as I was willing to invest the work and pay the price. And with that, I went on to finish a college degree, run a marathon, and start a business. I also was able to vastly improve my relationships and find a network of people that really cared about me.
So that is how I faced my own challenges in recovery–I did them one at a time (for maximum focus) and I also went “all in” on them. I hope you can do the same in your own life!