Everyone who gets into addiction or alcoholism recovery has baggage. Everyone who tries to get clean and sober has a past that they are attempting to deal with.
Of course, some of us have bigger skeletons in our closet than others, but the simple fact is that we all have gone through all sorts of different trauma, much of it self induced. We all have things in our past that we are not proud of when we try to overcome our addiction.
So how can we prevent those things from our past from haunting us in our present day recovery? How do we move on and live in the moment and try to overcome those past demons?
The obvious answer in addiction recovery has to do with the 12 steps of AA and NA, in which we specifically make a plan to deal with our past issues. In the fourth and the fifth step we thoroughly explore all of those issues from our past and bring them to light. We put them out there and make them tangible and we even discuss them with another human being, out loud. In some cases we take it a step further than that, and we then go on to identify the character defect that created that issue in our past in the first place. At that point we start doing the work to eliminate that character defect from our lives moving forward so that we do not repeat the mistakes of our past.
And then we might even go a step further than this in some cases, and we might reach out to someone that we wronged in our past and attempt to make an amends with them.
And finally, we live a program in which we try to walk a spiritual path every day, doing the work that is in front of us, and forcing ourselves to find a path in which we can help and be of service to others. Then we do not have to live in shame or guilt, and we can feel good about the life we are living in recovery and the work that we are doing to help others.
That is a lot to take in, and it is a lot of different processes to work through. Which is another way of saying, if you want to overcome a checkered past and live a more positive life in addiction recovery, then you are going to have to put in the work in order to make it happen. You cannot just snap your fingers and have it all magically fall into place with little effort made on your part. Instead, it is going to take a great deal of effort and a multi-faceted approach in order to fully heal your life and overcome those issues that threaten to haunt you.
Some people get overwhelmed with this before they even get started, meaning that they use their past issues as an excuse to continue to keep self medicating. They say things like “If other people had my problems or past issues, they would drink too.” And so they are not even giving themselves a chance to get clean and sober and even attempt to overcome their past issues in recovery. How can such a person move past this roadblock and take action?
Such a person has to reach a point of desperation in which they are completely sick and tired of trying to self medicate with drugs or alcohol. They have to reach a point in which they realize that self medicating isn’t really working all that well for them anyway, meaning that the emotional pain that they are trying to medicate and the past issues that they are trying to drown out with alcohol are still haunting them and bubbling to the surface in spite of their efforts to medicate it all away.
At that point, once the person realizes that the drugs and the booze are not really doing the job that they want it to any longer, hopefully they will realize that there has to be a better way.
If the person reaches this point of surrender then the most important thing by far is to convince them to pick up the phone and to call a rehab center. Get them into inpatient treatment any way that you can. Convince them that the most important step that they could take right now is to get themselves into a 28 day program. Inpatient treatment is their number one bet for being able to actually turn their life around and learn how to overcome their past.
Addiction recovery depends on sequences. You cannot just jump into the twelfth step of Alcoholics Anonymous, the step in which you give back and help others and carry the message, without first laying down some ground work.
In other words, before you can do some of the most important work in addiction recovery on yourself, you must first create a foundation.
The basics are necessary before you can heal your life fully.
So what are the basics? How do you create this foundation? How do you get started on healing your life in a way that is meaningful and sustainable?
It all begins with the moment of surrender. The alcoholic must admit that their drinking or drug use is no longer doing for them what it once did. In the beginning they were able to drink or take drugs and it cured their problems and it worked well for them. Over time, tolerance developed and their drug of choice began working less and less as a good solution, and just created more and more consequences. Ultimately they have to admit to themselves that their drug of choice has actually made them miserable, and that they would probably be happier without it.
The block that they are facing in this moment is that they honestly do not believe that they can live a sober life and be happy, so why even try?
The key, therefore, is that they must become desperate enough and miserable enough due to their addiction that they are willing to try anything, to do anything, to follow any advice. Because going to inpatient rehab for 28 days and depriving themselves of drugs and alcohol sounds downright scary to any alcoholic or drug addict. And that is what is required to start building a real foundation.
From this moment of surrender, if the alcoholic agrees to go to rehab, everything can start to fall into place. They can go to treatment, they can start attending meetings, and hopefully they will follow up after rehab with both therapy and sponsorship. At that point they will be getting plenty of guidance and advice about how to work through their past and overcome any guilt, fear, shame, resentment, or self pity that they may be dealing with inside. Those are the key things that can trip us up in recovery and cause us to relapse if we do not take care of it.
Ultimately the struggling alcoholic can fix their past and move on with their life if they are willing to do the work. It is too much to take it all on at once, so we have to start small by taking baby steps. That first baby step is to pick up the phone and call up a rehab center. That is the one step that can topple an entire string of dominoes that ends with the person living a healthy and happy life again. Any other first step in the sequence and they may not be able to find this path to more positive living.
In order to find the right sequence I had to start with total and complete surrender. I had to admit that I did not know the answers, and that I needed help in order to find happiness and peace again in my life. Luckily there were people who were able to direct me to inpatient rehab.