When it comes to addiction and recovery, there are certain pieces of advice that you would be very wise to follow. And some advice is downright dangerous to ignore.
Unfortunately, most people who are struggling with addiction are not in a position where they are eager to take advice. This is because addiction and alcoholism are conditions in which our self will has run out of control. We are essentially doing everything that we can possibly do for ourselves in order to “get happy.” We self medicate because we don’t like the way that we feel when are sober. The alcoholic seeks to escape from reality and in doing so they are trying to take control of their life.
In order to get sober you have to relinquish this control. Or rather, you don’t really have to give up control at all–what you have to give up is the need for control. There is a subtle difference there and that is what surrender is all about.
Surrender is your first and most fundamental step towards recovery
Surrender is fundamental to successful recovery.
Without surrender the struggling alcoholic cannot accomplish anything. All they can do is to stay stuck in the world of self will run riot and continue to try to medicate their way to happiness.
When you give up this constant need for control you are basically saying to the universe: “I give up….I don’t know how to live any more, I don’t know how to be happy. Every time I try to make myself happy I end up miserable. My life has turned into a train wreck. Please show me a better way to live.”
That is surrender. If you are still struggling for control then you are not in a position to heal your life. The only way to turn your life around when you are struggling with an addiction is to ask for help and then follow through on the advice you are given.
Think about it: You could take your own advice, or you could take advice from someone else. What will happen if you take your own advice?
I can tell you what would have happened if I had taken my own advice when I first got clean and sober–I would have relapsed very quickly. Because my advice to myself always got me into trouble. My advice to myself was always a way to sabotage my sobriety and take me back to drinking. My advice to myself was never any good because my addictive thoughts dominated my mind. I couldn’t help it. All I could do was screw up.
Now over time this was slowly corrected. Today in sobriety I can take my own advice again. I have learned to trust myself a bit more. I can identify what is a good idea versus what is a bad idea. I know what will lead me to relapse and how to avoid it today. I have slowly learned this over time in recovery.
In very early sobriety I did not have this knowledge. I had no idea what would work and what would not. I had no idea how to remain sober by myself. I needed help in order to learn those things. I had to take advice.
In early recovery, there was only one thing that really helped to keep me sober. I had to ask for help. That was a huge part of my success in early recovery. Asking for help.
Asking for help is critical to success
Asking for help is absolutely critical for your success in recovery.
Again, if you never ask for help then you can never take any advice from others. And if you cannot take advice from others then you cannot gain new knowledge about how to live sober. And if you don’t gain new knowledge then your only real solution in life is going to be to drink alcohol.
You need to ask for help so that you can learn how to deal with life while you are sober.
Getting sober is not the hard part. Any drunk and stop drinking temporarily. The problem is “staying stopped.” How do you deal with life without resorting to self medicating? That is the issue on which your sobriety hinges.
Therefore you need to ask for help so that you can learn how to deal with life. There are many people who can help you with this: Therapists, counselors, sponsors in AA, peers in recovery, people in AA and NA meetings, people in online recovery forums, and so on.
I would separate the groups of people who can potentially help you into two different categories: People who are in recovery themselves, and people who are not.
There is nothing wrong with getting help from both of those two groups. But it is especially important that you find at least some people who are also in recovery, who have quit drinking themselves, who can help you specifically with the feelings and issues that you are going through. It is still possible to get help from a “normie” or someone who is not an alcoholic. But it is vital that you also get help from people who are actually walking the walk, not just talking the talk. There is a special reason for this and that reason is due to the principle of identification. You will be able to identify with people who have gone through what you are going through, who have quit drinking themselves, and who have dealt with your exact struggle before. Without that identification it will be much harder for you to gain hope in early recovery. We gain hope and strength through identification. Someone can sit us down and say “look, I went through what you are going through now, and it is going to be OK, you are going to make it just fine if you stay sober, things will get better.” Every alcoholic and drug addict can benefit greatly if they get this sort of reassurance through identification. One of the easiest ways to find people to identify with is to go to either AA or treatment.
Professional treatment is usually the best option for most people
Inpatient rehab is by no means a cure. It is not a perfect solution for alcoholism and drug addiction, and it certainly does not work for everyone.
Furthermore, there is no special treatment center that is better than all the others that can insure a successful recovery. There is no magic wand out there. You cannot pay a huge sum of money and insure that someone will stay sober because of it. For the most part, treatment is treatment. They do what they can to help but they cannot work miracles.
Rehab is pretty straightforward. You check in and go through a detox process. You are medically supervised. Everyone is searched to make sure that no drugs or alcohol are allowed into the facility. You are fed well and you get to sleep a lot in detox. After that you start attending groups and lectures where they attempt to teach you how to live a sober life after you leave rehab. This is inpatient rehab in a nutshell. No rehab center has a secret method that vastly improves on this formula. That is the basic idea behind rehab, in that you dry out in a medical setting and start to live sober again in a controlled environment. Then they attempt to teach you how to avoid relapse. Most treatment center are 12 step based and some are religious based. Therefore most rehabs encourage you to either attend AA meetings or religious services (depending). Once you leave treatment the real challenge of sobriety begins. Being sober in rehab is very, very easy to do. Staying sober after you leave is infinitely more challenging.
All of that said, inpatient rehab is still the best option for most struggling alcoholics or drug addicts. There are other choices you could make; for example, some people would just go straight to AA meetings without going to treatment first. I don’t recommend this though for a number of reasons, the first of which has to do with health and safety. It is far safer to go to a medical detox at a real treatment center than to try to go cold turkey and start attending meetings on the outside.
I was afraid of treatment for a long time and I honestly did not want to go to save my life. In fact, the fear of sobriety and of treatment was so great that I almost chose to self destruct through my addiction than to surrender and go back to rehab. I had been there once before and, while being in treatment isn’t so bad itself, I still had a tremendous amount of fear about the idea of sobriety. For some reason I felt like if I were to go back to rehab and get sober that I would be under mind control, that others would be controlling my life, that I would not be my own person any more. This is because I wanted to get drunk and high all the time. So if they took that away from me, what would that leave of my identity? Who would I become if they somehow squashed my desire to drink and use drugs? It was a bit pathetic but this is what scared me when it came to the idea of rehab. I was afraid that they would brainwash me somehow. How could they convince me to quit drinking if I still wanted to drink? This was what kept me scared, drove my fear of sobriety. It had to do with my personal identity. I loved to drink, that was who I was, that was what I thought made me a likable person.
So it was a big and scary step for me to abandon my favorite drug of choice (alcohol) and take a step off that cliff into the scary world of treatment. It was like a massive leap of faith. I had no assurance that I would ever be happy again if I were to become sober, whereas if I continued to drink, at least I could count on a few moments of relief at times. I had no such assurance in sobriety though. It was a complete unknown.
Again, there is no assurance that if you go to inpatient rehab that it is going to “cure” you in the way that we all hope it will. I went three times and the first two times were a spectacular failure. The third time was over 13 years ago and I have not had a drink or a drug since then, so I would call that a resounding success from my current perspective.
If everyone had to go to rehab three times in order to insure that they stayed sober, that would actually not be bad at all. At least then we would have a specific set of instructions for how to rehabilitate someone. As it is though, there are some people who have been to treatment more than a dozen times and they continue to struggle. There is no magic wand, no sure cure for addiction. Inpatient rehab is generally the strongest and best option, so I try to encourage people to give that option a chance to work in their life.
Willingness and commitment to a new way of life is essential for success
Willingness is the key to recovery. In fact, inpatient treatment is completely worthless unless the alcoholic or addict is willing to change. Without the element of willingness, there is no real benefit to treatment at all. You can attend rehab and you might even listen and absorb a few ideas, but none of them are going to sink in or make any sort of different unless you are willing to dedicate your life to real change.
This is the level of willingness that is required: Complete and total dedication.
Why does recovery have to be a study in duality? What is it all or nothing? Perhaps that is just the way that alcoholics and drug addicts are wired. We tend to go to extremes. Addiction is an all-or-nothing condition. We are either drinking heavily or stone cold sober. There is no such thing as a middle ground for the true alcoholic. Any middle ground is an illusion because eventually the drugs or booze takes over and forces us to lose control completely. That is what defines addiction: the loss of control. We go to extremes. That is just how we operate.
Therefore the key to sobriety is a total and complete willingness to abstain entirely. It is another extreme, but apparently it is the only way that this will work for the true alcoholic.
There is another choice which every alcoholic has explored for themselves, and that choice is compromise. The idea that they can control their drinking, that they can cut down a bit and be more reasonable. That they can have two drinks in an evening instead of a dozen or more drinks. That they can have fun with their drinking but not lose total control.
Every alcoholic has struggled to find that fine line. Every alcoholic has experimented in order to figure out how to have their cake and eat it too. How to enjoy their alcohol while still being able to control it.
This is the disease of alcoholism. This is, in fact, what defines the disease itself. That the alcoholic believes that perhaps they can outsmart the disease, that they can somehow limit their alcohol intake while still enjoying themselves.
This is fantasy. Of course it will never work; if it did, then the person would not be an alcoholic. If you can control your drinking then there is no problem. Put another way: If there is no problem, then there is no problem! An alcoholic who can control their drinking is not an alcoholic. The disease is defined by a lack of control.
Surrender is the moment when the alcoholic agrees to step off the cliff, to make that total leap of faith, to agree to give total and complete abstinence a try in their life.
That is the moment of truth: when the alcoholic agrees to take that plunge into total darkness, not knowing what to expect, not knowing if they will ever be happy again. To swear off alcohol forever and really mean it, to give sobriety a real chance to work in your life, to step into the unknown and allow others to guide you to sobriety. That is a real leap of faith and every alcoholic will face real fear when they take this step into uncharted waters. It is just plain scary. And you can’t get sober without plunging into this fear.
The key is to become so miserable in your addiction that you become willing to face this fear anyway. I can remember this turning point very distinctly. I reached it one day when I was so sick and tired of being miserable that I no longer cared about being afraid. I was willing to face the fear finally. I was THAT sick of being miserable that I no longer cared about my fear of sobriety. I was willing to gamble on the fear, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. Could it be any worse than death itself? Probably not. Therefore I was willing to risk it. Because the level of misery that I was currently living through was starting to make non-existence look attractive. In other words, if you are so miserable in your addiction that you are thinking that death looks like a decent alternative, then it is time to reconsider your options. Maybe sobriety looks really scary, but it can’t be any scary than death. Time to make a choice. Time to choose life, to choose sobriety. Because choosing death is a losing proposition. You can’t reverse that decision. Once you are dead you are gone for good, no reserving it, no do-overs. Better to take a chance on life, on sobriety, on facing the fear of facing life without alcohol.
When we talk of willingness, this is what we are really speaking of. Being willing to face life and sobriety rather than to cower in fear and medicate yourself to death.
You must be willing to make that leap of faith. To face reality, to face sobriety, to face your ultimate fear.
This is the path to a new life in sobriety. Scary, yes. But very rewarding and well worth it in the end.
Personal growth and holistic health are the guiding principles of long term sobriety
One parting piece of advice and, ultimately, wisdom:
Your best defense against relapse is personal growth.
Every alcoholic and drug addict who is struggling against their disease is locked in an epic battle. That battle rages on for the rest of your life, and it is the battle between complacency and personal growth.
You are either moving closer to relapse or you are moving away from it. Period. If you try to stand still in this battle then you will actually be drifting closer to relapse. A lack of positive action is really a regression towards the negative, towards relapse. You cannot stand still in recovery. You can only move forward or backwards.
Therefore the solution is clear:
Assume that you are complacent. Assume that you need to make forward progress today, that you need to make positive changes in order to strengthen your sobriety.
Because the alternative to this is to become complacent, to drift towards relapse without even realizing it.
Positive action and personal growth are your best protection against the slow and unwitting slide towards alcoholic relapse.
Your best defense is to get into action, to push yourself to learn new things, to take positive and healthy steps today.
This is the path to lifelong sobriety. This is how you defeat complacency and move forward in recovery.
What about you, what advice have you found to be invaluable for overcoming addiction? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!