My sponsor in NA always used to tell me that “everything is process” in recovery.
I believe he is right about that. Everything is a process, from breaking through your denial, to asking for help, to following directions, to rebuilding your life, to reaching out to others in recovery, to living in long term sobriety and pursuing personal growth.
Even fighting complacency in long term sobriety involves a process.
Anytime you hear the term “process” in reference to recovery, what are we really talking about? It is either one of two things:
1) A sequence of actions that produces the desired result, such as the spiritual transformation as a result of the 12 steps of AA. That’s a process.
2) A daily set of positive habits that you do on a continuous basis in order to keep yourself moving forward, making progress, and learning new things about yourself. This, too, is a process.
In any case, the idea of “process” always refers to action. Something is happening. And it is not just a one time event or a single occurrence. If it is, then we do not label that thing as a “process.” It’s just a one time event.
So the process in recovery is about transformation over time. Positive action keeps happening, and you get certain results from this. Hopefully you like the results you are getting and if not then you can always adjust and regroup. And that strategy of testing new ideas and finding out works for you in recovery is…..you guessed it! Another process.
The process of recovery always starts with surrender and self honesty
So the first start of the recovery process involves surrender.
It has to be this way.
If you don’t surrender first then the next steps in the process cannot come to pass.
You can’t create a new life in recovery if you don’t first abolish the old one.
You can’t learn new things if you are stubbornly refusing to admit that you no longer know what the heck you are doing in life. The typical alcoholic is miserable from drinking, yet they refuse to admit that alcohol might be part of their problem. Instead they cling to their drug of choice and defend it, claiming that it is the one thing that gives them a tiny bit of happiness in this world. This is classic denial.
So the transformation process must start with breaking through denial.
For me, this process began when I started to realize that I could no longer get to that “happy place” through my drinking very reliably. I had some instances where I really wanted to get good and smashed on alcohol and drugs but it just wasn’t happening for me. The magic was fading. Something wasn’t working right. My tolerance had betrayed me.
So I had to notice that, first of all.
And up until this point I had been trying pretty hard to control my alcohol intake in the hopes of avoiding major consequences. I did not want to keep getting into trouble due to my drinking, so I tried to minimize the damages. I tried to lay off a bit, to control it some. Of course this did not always work but that was my basic idea, to try to limit the damage I caused.
But then that all started to change near the end of my drinking career. Because I was so miserable and I was noticing that the drugs and the booze just weren’t making me happy any more, so I started to push it a bit. I threw caution to the wind. I remember going “all out” with my drinking and drug use a few nights. Knowing that I was consuming such massive amounts of potent liquor that it could be extremely dangerous or even fatal. Knowing this, and simply no longer caring. I was so miserable and I was pushing for something to happen, I wanted either to become happy again or have something crazy happen that might slow me down or stop me completely. I was out of control and I was caught in a very bad downward spiral.
Shortly after getting to this point I finally reached my bottom and I surrendered. This is not necessarily something that I chose to do, or that I could explain precisely how to make other alcoholics reach the point of surrender. I was just so sick and tired and I was miserable. And I was tired of living in fear. And I was isolated more than ever before and I could not seem to make myself happy no matter how much I drank. I was going from being completely sober to being in a blackout with none of the “fun” in between. You know, the part where you would normally be drunk and falling down and laughing uncontrollably? That part was all but gone. Now I just went from being miserable to being either blacked out or passed out.
To be honest even the chaos and the craziness seemed to be gone. I was just a shell of a person now. No happiness or excitement left. Just feed me full of chemicals and stick me in the corner. I was done.
So I had to get honest with myself about this.
I had to get honest about how miserable I really was.
And I gave it a supreme effort, I stocked up on drugs and liquor and tried my hardest to get really “happy.” And it failed. I was still miserable and I even felt like I was fairly sober at that point. I couldn’t get to that happy place even when that was my only focus. It was ridiculous.
And that was my point of surrender. I gave up the struggle. Something inside just fell away from me, the part that was always trying to get drunk and high and stay medicated. I just gave that all up in one instance. I was tired of being miserable and I became willing to face my fears instead. The fear of sobriety. The fear of rehab. The fear of AA meetings. I was willing to face it all rather than to keep plodding along and being so miserable. I was done with the misery. I wanted something different, even if it was scary.
So I took the plunge and I asked for help.
That was how my process of breaking through denial went. I wish there was a magic formula for telling you HOW to do that. I just had to focus on my misery, on the fact that drinking was no longer any fun for me.
Taking suggestions and putting new ideas into action are critical strategies for early recovery
In early recovery I continued the process by listening to other people.
This is critical. If you get into early recovery and you try to do it all on your own then you will almost certainly relapse.
The key is to take advice and suggestions from others.
Alcoholics and drug addicts are notorious for self sabotage. This happens all the time in early recovery. People who start on the recovery process but fall by the wayside because their disease is taking control over them again.
I worked in a drug and alcohol rehab center for over 5 years and I watched this happen over and over again. I also lived in long term treatment for 20 months so I watched self sabotage happen quite a bit there as well. It is very, very common among people in early recovery.
So what exactly is self sabotage? It is when the recovering alcoholic decides to “take their will back” as they say in AA. They ignore other people and they just go with their own selfish ideas about how they should be living their life.
Of course it is your right to do this if you want, it is everyone’s right to do their own thing and make their own choices if they so desire. You are free to do so, just as we all are.
But in early recovery you are in a special circumstance. You have just proven to yourself that your ideas are currently not working to well. That is why you asked for help and went to treatment in the first place. Because your way wasn’t working.
So the idea is to learn a new way to live. You aren’t going to figure this all out on your own, or you would have done so without the treatment. That should be obvious. No one wants to swallow their pride and ask for help if they can figure it all out by themselves and just recover in total privacy.
But that is not how it works if you end up in rehab. Your ideas failed. They were not enough to keep you sober. I am not saying that to be snide or mean. I am being perfectly honest in suggesting this to you.
When I walked into rehab on my first day of sobriety, my ideas about how to stay sober were completely worthless. My ideas were terrible. They had no value. They did not work for me. I needed help, I needed new information, I needed someone to tell me how to live a happy life. Because I was miserable doing my own thing.
So this is the formula for success in early recovery. You ask for help, you get out of your own way, and you start listening to suggestions and taking advice. It really is that simple and the process can start with the most simple gesture of surrender. A phone call to a rehab center or to a friend who is in recovery. Reach out and ask for help.
Then of course it is all about follow through. You have to act, you have to take action, you have to follow through.
This is part of the early recovery process. Surrender, ask for help, follow directions.
It may not sound like much fun at first, but I have good news for you.
It gets better.
It gets better because your life transforms. And you go from being miserable in addiction to being grateful and content in recovery.
But it’s a process. And you have to give yourself time to let all of these processes unfold for you. They don’t just happen overnight.
This is why the element of hope and faith are so critical to the 12 step program of AA. They were smart enough to realize that the rewards of sobriety take a bit of time to really kick in. So you have to have hope that this will happen for you, and you also have to have faith that this better life in recovery will come to pass. That one day you will be relieved of the obsession to drink and that you will be happy.
It takes time and it is a process. There are several processes. It is not enough to surrender, ask for help, and take action.
After that, you have real work to do. You are just getting started….
Personal growth and holistic health should be the direction of your efforts as you transition to long term sobriety
At some point you are in early recovery, perhaps going to AA meetings, and then at some other point you look back and realize that you are living in long term sobriety.
In there is a transition of sorts.
My belief is that you cannot keep doing what kept you sober during the first 30 days when you have ten years of sobriety. Not because it doesn’t work any more for you, but simply because you change and grow and evolve in recovery. You learn new things about yourself. The old challenges from when you first got sober drop away and new challenges replace them.
For example, when you have two weeks sober you may be gritting your teeth trying to avoid walking down to the corner bar and getting hammered.
When you have ten years sober you may be just as close to a drink, but you won’t even realize it because you may have become lazy and complacent over the years. And so the threat of a drink is not as immediate but it might still be a serious threat.
So what you did when you had two weeks sober might be different once you have ten years sober. At two weeks you were calling your sponsor, going to the local AA meeting, hanging out with sober people and drinking coffee with them all night and talking.
At ten years sober you can still do those things of course, but you are likely living a different life at that time. And there are other things that can help to keep you sober when you have ten years. There is a different sort of process.
For me, it was all about cultivating positive action. But as I remained sober for longer periods of time, that process no longer had to focus so narrowly on AA, on not drinking, on therapy, and so on.
It became more holistic over time. It was more about personal growth. It was more about expanding my recovery process outwards. So not so much the narrow focus in recovery on not drinking, but more about holistic health, personal growth, being healthy physically, healthy relationships, emotional stability, and so on.
My belief is that every person in recovery should evolve and learn and grow. So you might still go to AA meetings after ten years sober, but chances are you will no longer be dependent on them at that time….not like you were when you had two weeks sober. Your approach in recovery should broaden. Personal growth and improving your overall health can happen outside the bounds of traditional recovery. Now you are living holistic recovery. It is about your whole life, all aspects of your health.
Developing and cultivating a daily practice that works for you
Another piece of the process is your daily practice.
What you do every day, your positive habits–these things are in themselves a process. Because you keep doing them over and over again.
For example, I exercise on a regular basis. That is a big thing for me, it is part of the foundation of my recovery. It is part of my daily practice. I don’t just skip it or slack off for weeks at a time because I feel lazy. I make it a priority because I decided that this was important, this was part of what keeps me sober, this is part of what I need to do in order to take care of myself.
Every part of your daily practice should be something that adds to your health in recovery. Keep in mind the following dimensions of your health:
If you are neglecting any of those areas of your health in long term sobriety then you leave the door open to relapse. It becomes a possibility when you neglect one of those areas of your health.
So you might ask yourself:
“What am I doing to take care of myself today?”
And look at each of those five categories.
And you might also talk to other people in recovery about those five categories. Ask someone how they are taking care of themselves emotionally today. You may get some strange answers, but keep asking people this question. Keep hunting for ideas, for feedback. Find what works for people in these areas. Talk to people who have multiple years sober in recovery. Ask them how they take care of themselves on a day to day basis.
You are looking for ideas. Obviously when you start to hear some common themes, then those are things that you might want to take a look at.
I did this myself and I heard a lot of people talking about fitness and exercise. At first I tried to dive into that area and it didn’t really pan out for me. The timing was wrong, I suppose. For whatever reason it didn’t really happen for me at the time.
So I moved on to other things. I worked on my spirituality, on cultivating gratitude, on building relationships.
And then later, as I spoke to more and more people, the fitness thing kept coming up again. And I couldn’t ignore it.
So this is just an example. The same thing might happen with something like gratitude. Or stress relief. Or healthy relationships. Or whatever may be going on in your life at the time. So you talk to people and you ask for suggestions and advice and sometimes you hear just the right piece of advice at just the right time, and it clicks for you.
This is a process. Learning is a process. Personal growth is a process. I had to try and fail a few times before I got certain things to work in my life. I had to try to get into exercise an fail at it before it finally clicked. I had to try to get sober a few times too. I had to try to quit smoking cigarettes a few times too.
I don’t necessarily learn very quickly. As an alcoholic, I sort of like to bang my head into the wall a bit more often than is necessary. But I can also be persistent and eventually I end up learning my lesson. Just make sure you understand that this can be a process, that some things need to unfold in their own perfect time, when we are ready for them.
I have a good friend in recovery who went through an amazing transformation that was several years in the making. He was in recovery for several years but later on something clicked for him and now he helps people and is living a spiritual life on a whole new level. It is very inspiring to me and it was an amazing thing to watch.
Everything in its own perfect time. Everything is process. Stay open to the possibilities.
Dealing with complacency for a lifetime of recovery
The final process in sobriety is that of battling complacency.
Say you have a decade sober now. You are living the dream, right? Your sobriety is stable and you are happy and content.
Now, how do you hang on to it? How do you keep yourself from getting lazy?
Again, with process. With daily action. By challenging yourself to push the envelope, to learn new things about yourself, to reach out and help others in recovery.
Some people master all of the processes talked about here except for this last one. They have several years sober and then they fall victim to complacency and they relapse.
When you transform your life you don’t finish at some point. You keep going. This is what protects you from relapse….the continuous reinvention of the self.
If you want to keep enjoying the benefits of sobriety then you have to keep peeling back the layers of denial in yourself. You have to keep practicing self honesty. You have to keep pushing yourself.
And this process never ends.
What about you, have you found your way through the healing process of recovery? What have you learned about the process? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!