Denial can be a tricky thing, especially when it comes to alcoholism and drug addiction. How can you tell when you are truly ready to change your life, and when you just want a temporary reprieve from the madness?
You would be surprised to learn how much it is the latter. It is quite common for people to enter treatment, get back on their feet, and then run back out the door and relapse. They were sick and tired but only up to a certain point. They were not ready for real change just yet.
So the question is, how can you prove to yourself that you are ready for real change?
How can you tell when someone is ready to get clean and sober for real?
It is one thing to make a decision to change your life and it is quite another thing to actually do it. All of us talk a big game when the chips are down and we want to convince ourselves that we are going to be different in the future. Every alcoholic has made those promises to themselves and to others, only to drink again later down the road.
The problem, of course, is that they start feeling better. And then the disease kicks in and they cannot help themselves. They have to self medicate.
Many times the alcoholic or drug addict will be manipulative. They do this without even trying to manipulate others, in reality it is their disease which is doing the manipulating. So the person may say that they want to get help but in reality they just want to get back on their feet so that they can go drink again. Sometimes the alcoholic crash and burns and they need a little break from the action, but that doesn’t mean that they are down for the count. The question is: Have the truly surrendered to their disease? Are they ready to take action?
Surrender is when you finally break through the last of your denial. It is difficult to know if you are in a state of full surrender or not, because when you are not quite there yet you will be hoping that you are there. Because everyone is telling you at rehab that the only way to beat the disease is to surrender.
I have been in treatment twice when I was not in a state of full surrender. But everyone was telling me that “surrender was the key.” So here I am in rehab, not surrendered to my disease, and trying to figure out how to surrender. I was down but not beaten. I was sick and tired enough to come to treatment but I was not in a state of full surrender.
And yet I did not really know this. I thought, at the time, that it was possible that I was in a state of true surrender, and that I could become sober. I had no idea really. But those two attempts were quite obvious in retrospect because I relapsed immediately after leaving treatment. At the time I was not willing to follow up with aftercare and I was not willing to go to AA meetings. In retrospect it is pretty easy to look at those factors and say: “Oh, yeah, that person was nowhere near full surrender, because they were not willing to do certain things for their recovery.” But when you are going through it yourself it is very difficult to know for sure.
Then later I tried a third time to get clean and sober. This time I had a much greater feeling of surrender and it felt like I could not get any lower in my life. I was at my bottom and I knew it this time. So when I reached a state of full surrender, I knew it for sure. But the two times before that I had no way of knowing that I was NOT in a state of full surrender. See how confusing that is?
And what determined the depth of my surrender was my willingness. This is how you can know for sure if you are ready or not for recovery. Look at how willing you are to follow other people’s directions and advice.
Notice that this does not apply to your own advice or ideas. That doesn’t count. It only matters if you are willing to take advice and direction from other people. That is the true measure of your willingness in recovery.
Because recovery is all about doing something different. If you only agree to take your own advice or suggestions then you are not “doing something different.” You cannot stop drinking just by your own ideas alone, if you can do that successfully then you are not alcoholic to begin with. It is only via willingness to take direction from others that you are able to demonstrate your readiness to change.
Early recovery is not the same as long term sobriety. In early recovery you need to take massive action and you need to listen to other people. They have the answers and you do not. It is that simple. If you had all the answers then you would not need treatment, you would not need help, you could just moderate your drinking and life would magically get better. At some point you have to admit that this is not reality and that you need serious help. Your willingness to accept that help and translate it into real action is the measure of how successful you will be in recovery.
Don’t talk about recovery–go do it and take action
How do you reinvent yourself in recovery? You do it by taking action.
Addiction recovery is essentially a testing process. The alcoholic has to try something different in their life and obviously if it is not working well for them then they are not going to keep doing it. Hence, they become testers. They test ideas out in their life and they keep the things that are helpful. The saying in traditional recovery is “Take what you need and leave the rest.” In other words, some suggestions probably won’t really help you, but they might help someone else. Therefore you need to test the ideas out in your life and see what works for you and what does not.
There are some people who are all talk and very little action. Such people can deceive themselves because they might seem to do well in AA meetings in early recovery, but then when it comes time to actually implement real changes in their life they come up short and relapse.
Instead of being “all talk, no action” I would caution you to try to be the reverse. Instead of relying on talking to “cure” your addiction, focus on taking action as your main priority. Make positive changes in your life and then measure the outcome of those changes. Measure it in terms of how much it helps you in your recovery (or not).
One way to do this is to listen to others. But don’t just sit there and nod your head, actually take their suggestions to heart and go follow through on it. Take action based on the advice you are given. Very few people actually do this in life. If you want to learn how to be sober you are going to have to do this, at least temporarily. After you figure out the basics of remaining sober you can go back to using your own ideas, but in early sobriety you need to listen. You need new information in order to remain sober. Therefore you need to listen and learn from other people. They have the answers and you lack that information. So listen up.
Recovery is a series of taking suggestions and following those suggestions up with action. It starts when the alcoholic asks for help and then agrees to go to rehab. But if it ends right there in terms of taking advice then the alcoholic is doomed to relapse anyway. They have to go further than just walking into treatment. They have to start taking advice and turning that advice into positive action. They have to initiate change and build momentum.
Cut through all of the options and just check into inpatient rehab
If you really want to prove to yourself that you are ready for serious change in your life then just go check into inpatient rehab.
This cuts right to the heart of the matter in most cases. Sure, it is still possible that an alcoholic can go to treatment and then later relapse, but in terms of proving your willingness to change, attending rehab is a very positive sign. There is nothing more that you can do to prove to yourself that you are truly ready.
Most alcoholics have a million excuses as to why they should not go to treatment. These excuses are all rooted in fear of change, fear of sobriety, fear of the unknown. So they will argue that they cannot just drop everything and go to rehab for 28 days because it is completely unrealistic. Or they will say that they have to work at a job, or that they need the money and cannot afford to leave work for 4 weeks, or that their family “needs” them and that they cannot go be locked up for that long.
These excuses are all based out of fear and they are ridiculous under closer inspection. Imagine a man has had a massive heart attack and he insists that he has an important meeting this afternoon and cannot go to the hospital. Then he dies.
This is the same argument that the alcoholic is essentially making when they argue that they should not go to rehab. They are ignoring this massive heart attack which may very well kill them while denying themselves the help that they desperately need.
So if you want to cut through all of this drama and hand wringing you can just simply pick up the phone and call up a treatment center. Go straight to rehab and get started on the solution. If you want to prove to yourself that you are ready for real change then simply dedicate your life to recovery by checking into rehab.
How inpatient treatment can help you get your life back on track
Inpatient rehab is not a cure, but it is still the best option for the alcoholic who is struggling.
First of all you are all but insured to remain sober while you are in treatment. It is easy to be sober in rehab. That is not a challenge at all. I worked in a rehab facility for several years and I can tell you with conviction that it is easy to be sober in rehab. I don’t care how bad your alcoholism is, it is easy to be sober in rehab.
That does not mean, of course, that it is easy to actually go to rehab in the first place. That takes guts. It takes real willingness to pick up the phone and get the ball rolling.
Once you are in treatment your main job is to listen and obey. Sounds harsh and boring, right? But this is what will turn your life around.
I did an experiment when I got into rehab this last time. I was sick of screwing up my life and I realized that every time I tried to make myself happy and make my own decisions that I ended up miserable. So I decided to take a leap of faith and I essentially killed my own ego. I made a deal with myself that I would not make my own decisions any more, that I would only rely on other people to help give me advice and guidance.
When I started this experiment I expected that it would lead to great misery. I expected that doing this would make me miserable, and I also felt like I would be a robot slave. Like I would feel deprived all the time because I was not making my own choices. I really thought that this would make me even more miserable than I already was due to my alcoholism.
I was shocked after just a short week or two. My life turned around quickly as I started to follow directions from others. I was amazed. Suddenly I was happy again, and the happiness that I felt each day was growing. Where was this peace and contentment coming from? I had not organized it. I had not planned it. I was not making my own decisions, I was only doing what other people told me to do. And yet it was working. Things were getting better. My life was getting better and I was happy again, not due to my own ideas but because I was listening to others. I was shocked.
So I kept doing it. I secretly realized that it was working and that I should keep taking this advice from others. And my life continued to get better and better.
Looking back, I realize what had happened. I had “tricked myself” into getting out of my own way, and taking advice from others. I had tricked myself into killing my own ego and relying on the advice of others.
You see, it is easy to tell someone else how to fix their problems. It is easy for us to see their problem and an obvious solution. We can do that for other people. It is easy to see the flaws and the potential fix.
But in our own lives it is so difficult to implement change, to take positive action, to do the hard work. We probably all know what we need to do, we just don’t want to do it. And so we need to trick ourselves. We need to make this leap of faith, where we believe in the message of others, that it has the power to heal our lives. Of course there is no real magic in anyone’s message, no magic that you do not have within yourself already. Even a drunk can tell another person how to overcome alcoholism. Don’t drink alcohol! It is not the secret knowledge that we need in order to overcome addiction, it is the implementation of that knowledge. We all know what we need to do, we need to stop putting drugs and alcohol into our bodies and we need to make healthy choices. This is not rocket science. But it is the implementation of these actions that is so difficult. It is hard to be good. But we all know how to be good. We just need a trick to help us get there.
Going to rehab is the beginning of learning how to trick yourself.
Why the real journey begins once you leave the rehab facility
As I said before, it is easy to be sober in rehab. The real test begins when you leave treatment.
This is an important transition. You should not take it lightly. The day you leave rehab is critical. You should absolutely go to an AA meeting on that first day out of treatment. They always suggest that you go to 90 meetings in 90 days. I agree with this suggestion simply on the basis of needing the support and structure in your life. If you are not going to get support from AA meetings, where are you going to get it from? If you do not have a good solid answer to that question then you should probably just go to AA every day in your early recovery.
Early recovery is all about taking suggestions and advice. At some point you will have exhausted this testing process and you will feel like you have “arrived.” This is another dangerous point to be at in your journey because you might get lazy and complacent. It is at this time that you should double down on the idea of taking suggestions from other people. Continue to explore. Seek to improve your life and your life situation. Reach out to others in recovery and see how your unique talents and abilities can help them.
Long term sobriety is a journey of personal growth and positive change. I believe that complacency sets in when you decide that you don’t need to pursue personal growth any more. So long as you are striving to improve your life and yourself you are protected from relapse.
I can look back to almost 13 years ago and see how my journey started in a treatment facility. My first few days of sobriety are still embedded in my memory. I can remember the feeling of surrender, of taking that leap of faith into the unknown and not being sure that it would lead me to happiness. I really thought that there was a chance that I would go back to drinking if things did not work out.
But they did work out because I was lucky enough to willing. Willing to take direction and advice from others. When before I had been so stubborn. Where does this willingness come from? For me it came from pain. I was sick and tired of being miserable. It was pain that motivated me to change my life. It was misery and pain that gave me the willingness to try a new path in life.
I had to be willing to try to trick myself into a better life. Going to rehab was the first trick that I had to pull on myself. And it worked.
What about you, did inpatient rehab work for you? Or did you relapse afterward? Have you tried again yet? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!