Yesterday we found that the ultimate advice for sobriety had to do with prioritizing abstinence and recovery as goal number one. Today we want to look at some do’s and don’ts for early recovery from addiction and alcoholism.
DO – Ask for help from people you trust
This is probably the single most important piece of advice for someone who continues to struggle with drug or alcohol addiction. The reason such a person is struggling is because they are dealing with a problem all by themselves, and they are constantly battling with the fact that they cannot overcome their problem alone. Many of us are very stubborn and believe that we can figure out such a problem by ourselves, but addiction proves to be too much for many of us.
This does not mean that you are stupid….what it means is that you are a true addict or alcoholic. There is a big difference, and one that most “normies” may never fully grasp. It is easier for a normie to believe that addiction is a produce of either mental weakness or moral failings. In my opinion (being an addict myself) it is neither of those things.
Is alcoholism and addiction about lack of information, or is it a moral issue? One thing that should make you raise an eyebrow towards traditional recovery is this interesting double standard: They say that you are not a bad person if you are an addict or alcoholic, but that you are, in fact, a sick person. So they argue that having the disease of addiction is NOT a moral failing. But then if you look at the traditional recovery steps, they specifically address fixing moral defects of character as a means to treat the addiction. This is an interesting turnabout that I have never quite been able to fully grasp and understand. On the one hand it is a disease and not a moral failing, but on the other hand the 12 steps seek to treat the problem by fixing moral defects of character. Can anyone clarify how this is not some form of confusing doublespeak? It’s not a moral failing, but here…fix it by working on your moral character!
So in my experience addiction and alcoholism are not moral problems, and they are not the result of stupidity either. Instead, it is a physical “allergy” that leads to a pattern and a cycle that traps the addict or alcoholic.
As such, the person needs new information in order to escape from this trap. They cannot do this under their own power unless they learn new information that can teach them how to live successfully without self medicating all the time.
This is what should fuel early recovery then: the need for new information. The struggling addict needs to learn something if they are going to significantly change their manner of living. Therefore early recovery is a huge learning experience.
This is what makes this first “do” so important. You are not going to learn anything by having stuffed rammed down your throat against your will or being preached at. You have to want to learn something if you are truly going to experience something new.
And therefore you must ask for new knowledge. You have to ask for help. This is a critical component of early recovery. If you are not asking for help, if you are not seeking new knowledge about how to live without drugs and alcohol, then you are probably not ready to be clean and sober yet.
Early recovery is really about willingness. Your success in the first year of your recovery can be measured based on your level of willingness at the beginning of your journey.
If you are not in a place where you are willing to ask for help then early recovery is going to be a very rocky experience. Most people who try to get clean and sober without any outside help end up relapsing. This is indeed what defines their addiction. If they can do it on their own then they do not even label themselves as an “addict” or an “alcoholic.”
DO – Follow through on advice and suggestions you receive
After you ask for help, what happens next? Obviously you have to do something with the new information that you receive.
For many people, this will play out as a trip to rehab or treatment of some sort. This is perfectly acceptable and is probably the best course of action for most people in early recovery. There are many benefits to going to inpatient treatment. Certainly you could do worse than ending up in a short term treatment facility.
What happens to most people in early recovery who have taken that first step in asking for help is this: They take a few tentative steps towards real change, then they get scared and pull back, sabotaging their recovery effort. This is why they say that you have to let go “absolutely.” People who fail to let go of everything are still hanging on to some need for control. This is a fear based reaction and it is perfectly understandable.
Just checking into an inpatient rehab can be a very scary experience. I don’t blame anyone for backing out of such a deal. It is scary to turn your will and your life over to others. It is scary to check into treatment and be at the mercy of random strangers. This goes against many of our basic survival instincts, to surrender and back off and allow others to dictate our actions for us. In many respects, going to treatment can be a lot like voluntarily walking into prison and putting your hands out to be chained in handcuffs. It takes a lot of guts to reach this level of surrender.
Willingness is one thing, but taking action is another thing entirely. Having the willingness implies that you are willing to take action.
If you were to interview several recovering addicts and alcoholics who have just made it through their first year of recovery without relapse, you could ask them to take a look back at that first year and tell you how much of the solution was “taking action.”
I am sure if you did this then people would emphatically tell you that it was ALL about taking action. They would say that they really dove into recovery, that they took all sorts of action in their life, and that the people who failed to take action were the ones who relapsed. This is just how it goes. Do nothing (or very little) and you will quickly revert to your old using or drinking behaviors. Relapse comes to those who do nothing.
Recovery is all about change. When you first get clean and sober your natural reaction to life in general is to use drugs or alcohol. Period. Your solution for everything is to self medicate. This is your baseline for existence when you first get into recovery.
This has to change. The only way it is going to change is if you ask for help and then take action. Because your whole life is dominated by addiction, you are going to have to take LOTS of action. Just changing one little thing is not going to do it. You have to change “everything.” Again, if you interview successful people in recovery they will emphatically state that this is true, you really do have to change everything. To say that this requires action and follow-through is an understatement. You are going to have to push harder than you have ever pushed before in your life. You are going to have to make a supreme effort.
Thus, action and follow through are extremely important to your success. Anyone can say “I want to quit drugs or alcohol” but very few will actually put in the massive work required and get it done. You can be one of those people if you choose to take massive action and put forth a serious effort.
DO – Dedicate your life to recovery
This “do” is really about the level of action, willingness, and follow through that you commit to taking in recovery.
Essentially what you will want to do is to dedicate your entire life to recovery. This should happen for at least the first year or two.
Most people who first dabble with the idea of getting clean and sober do not come anywhere near this level of dedication and commitment. They suffer from a problem that I like to call “compartmentalizing their recovery.”
What this means is that the person is trying to pick and choose how they recover, when they recover, and by what methods they recover. They are trying to say “OK, I can go to an AA meeting here and there, but I certainly can’t live in treatment or do this sponsorship stuff or attend meetings every day for months on end!”
Or they may say “sure, I can quit drinking or using drugs….but there is no way I am going to an inpatient facility in order to do so!”
Or they may simply try to recover from their addiction without disrupting any other part of their life. They try to compartmentalize their recovery and put it in this neat little box, such that it does not affect any other part of their life. They want everything else to continue on as normal, without their recovery having much impact on the other parts of their life.
This is never going to work. This cannot ever possibly work for anyone. You cannot compartmentalize your recovery from addiction. It’s not possible. People who try to do so have not fully grasped just how deeply their addiction infiltrates every part of their life.
There is a reason that they say that “you have to change everything.” They say this because it is really true. If you successfully go through a year or two of recovery, you will look back on it one day and agree with the statement that “yes, everything is really different in your life, everything changed, you had to let go of everything in order to recover.”
People who hang on to a little piece of their old life are only sabotaging their efforts. They have reservations. They cannot let go absolutely.
In order to succeed in early recovery you must let go of everything. You must become willing to change everything.
In order to do this you need to be willing.
Then you need to ask for help.
Then you need to follow through on the advice and suggestions you receive.
And finally you need to dedicate your entire life to learning a new way of life. If you have to slap a time limit on it then give yourself a year. Tell yourself “for one year, I will dedicate my entire life to recovery, to not using drugs or alcohol, and to learning a new way to live so that I can be happy while being clean and sober.”
If you watch people in recovery who end up relapsing, you will notice that they have not done this. They have not dedicated their entire life to recovery. They are stuck trying to compartmentalize their recovery. In a way, they are still trying to have their cake and eat it too. They are trying to hold on to control of certain things while only hoping to let go of other things. You cannot succeed this way. You have to let go of everything (need to control) absolutely. Let go of it all. Surrender fully and completely to your addiction. This is the only way to truly succeed in recovery. You must dedicate your entire life to sobriety, to recovery, to a new way of living.
DON’T – Rely on meetings or therapy alone to keep you sober
Now for some “don’ts.”
My first recommendation can be slightly controversial, because most people in traditional recovery harp on the idea that “meeting makers make it.” Going to daily AA meetings is typically seen as a lifeline to strong recovery. Why would anyone argue against those helpful meetings?
Really I am not arguing against the meetings, I am just putting in a word of caution here.
What I am suggesting is that you do not RELY on the meetings for your continued success in recovery.
You can test this yourself without risking relapse. Simply cut back from your meetings, and see how you feel. If you go to AA every single day, try skipping a day here and there and see if it affects you. Some people find that it changes their attitude and their outlook when they miss a meeting. I used to experience this myself in early recovery, and I could notice it when it happened.
So what changed? I forced myself to solve this particular problem. Why was I dependent on the meetings in order to have a good attitude and feel confident in my recovery? I did not like this after I discovered it and realized that I had just created another dependency (much healthier than a drug or alcohol dependency, but a dependency nonetheless).
What changed for me is that I started to realize that I was complacent in going to daily meetings. I was using them incorrectly. I was using daily AA meetings as a form of ongoing therapy. This is not their intended purpose, believe it or not. But this is largely what daily AA meetings have become for most people.
I vowed to stop using the meetings this way and to stop relying on them as a daily therapy session. In order to do this I started to seek other outlets, other forms of personal growth, and other ways to feel good about my recovery that did not involve “the program.”
What I discovered is that recovery is really nothing more than a continuous cycle of personal growth–a constant reinvention of the self. People could achieve this state of growth both in and out of programs like AA. I also discovered that people could achieve this cycle of personal growth by being in alternative programs, religious based programs, or in no program at all. The key was in the personal growth, not in the specific program of recovery.
So by all means, you (or anyone else) can keep going to AA meetings every day, and I would encourage you to do so if you get value out of them. But do not rely on those meetings in order to sustain your recovery. If you do then this only points to a glaring weakness in your own recovery process. Personal growth outside of AA meetings should be enough to sustain your recovery. If it is not then your dependency is making you weaker, not stronger.
On the other hand, if you can find successful recovery via personal growth without depending on AA, then you can still attend AA meetings and have something much more powerful and meaningful to contribute to them. You can become a message of hope and strength in a venue where most people are dependent on the group therapy aspect to sustain their sobriety, and you will be coming instead from a place of greater strength.
DON’T – Expect recovery to be easy
Again, this is just underestimating your disease and the recovery process itself. Nearly everyone does this at first, and usually a relapse or two is necessary in order to realize just how powerful the addiction truly is.
This speaks to the level of dedication and commitment that is required. Think back to the greatest challenge of your life so far, and what the toughest thing is that you have ever accomplished. Now realize that overcoming your addiction is probably going to be a full step harder than anything else ever has been for you. This is the struggle of your life and if you want to succeed then you have to realize that this is going to be a very difficult journey.
I don’t like it when people throw around “doom and gloom statistics” in recovery but the fact is that those lousy success rates are basically true. The odds are heavily stacked against the individual in recovery, and most people do not make it to 1, 5, 10 years sober. But obviously many people DO make it in recovery and you can certainly be one of them. You just have to decide and commit to doing so. But realize that you must decide and commit with a level of intensity that is far beyond anything you have ever done before in your life. This is it. Nothing in your past could have possibly prepared you for a challenge of this magnitude, so you would be wise to realize this and adjust accordingly. Don’t make a lazy or half hearted effort and expect to be successful.
DON’T – Set yourself up for future complacency
I mentioned the trap of AA meetings and a possibly dependency there. In addition to this, anyone who is practicing “acceptance” more than they are challenging themselves to grow is also headed for trouble.
Complacency is the trap of laziness. It is a path that says “we are OK now, we are stable in recovery, no need to seek out any more learning or growth experiences.”
Don’t allow yourself to fall into this trap. The way to prevent this is to embrace the cycle of personal growth. Realize that you are always going to be learning new things, and stay open to new growth opportunities. There is a proper “pace” in recovery where you are always looking ahead to that next challenge, and at the same time you are not burning yourself out either. Find that pace. In finding it you will also realize that there is a time for acceptance and reflection in your life. But even after you reach a goal in your life, you should still be looking ahead to your next big project. Thus you can always be learning, always be willing to change and to grow. This is the path of success in recovery.