Early recovery is all about taking suggestions.
The typical alcoholic or drug addict is thrashing about in life, trying to find happiness. They are obviously frustrated because happiness remains elusive. We want that happy feeling that we first got when we got drunk or high for the first time, and we want to experience it all the time, every day. This is what drives us in addiction. We just want to be happy.
Of course this doesn’t work out in the long run. But because of our denial we believe that it is working, we simply blame other things when our happiness does not materialize. But we don’t blame our addiction. For whatever reason, we cling to the idea that our drug of choice can make us happy at any given moment, like magic. Only the magic stopped working a long time ago and we refuse to believe this.
The struggling alcoholic or drug addict is their own worst enemy. If they try to fix their own problem they will generally fail. This is because we fear sobriety and we cling to our old solutions. No one really wants to change; it’s too difficult. Too scary. It is much safer to just keep medicating ourselves.
But at some point if you want to recover you have to open up to the possibility of taking suggestions from other people. You will discover that you cannot do it alone. You can’t recover by your own ideas. If you could then you would not be an alcoholic. The question is, how do you reach the point where you become willing to listen to other people?
Reaching a breaking point in my addiction and asking for help
I finally reached a breaking point in my alcohol and drug addiction where I became willing to follow directions. This point was reached when I was completely miserable due to my alcoholism. I was also fairly isolated at the time. And I had just discovered that even if everyone was leaving me alone and I had plenty of booze on hand I still could not find happiness.
Part of my denial was in blaming others for my unhappiness. I blamed circumstances. I blamed people who would bother me or get in the way of my drinking. So there came a point where all of the people in my life were temporarily gone and I was able to drink by myself as much as I wanted. Much to my surprise though this situation did not make me happy. My alcohol had failed me because I had finally run out of excuses and I had no more fingers to point blame at other people. It was just me and my booze and I thought that this would make me happy. But I was miserable. And so I could no longer deny that I was miserable, and that alcohol was not making me happy like I thought it could.
I had to reach this point on my own. No one could tell me that I was unhappy. I had too many excuses as to why they were wrong. They would tell me that I was unhappy and that I should quit drinking, and I would get extremely defensive. My mind went into panic mode at the thought of quitting drinking. Anything but that. I would do anything but give up the alcohol. This was a fear based response. I was afraid of facing life sober. Of course if you tell an alcoholic that they are afraid of sobriety they will usually deny it. They might say something like “life is boring without alcohol” or some other such excuse. But deep down they are afraid to be sober. They are afraid of the change. They are afraid to ask for help.
And so the alcoholic must reach this point of desperation where they become willing to ask for help. If the alcoholic is not yet willing to ask for help then there is little hope for change at this time. They will just keep being stuck in their own little trap that they have built for themselves.
Everything is an extension of surrender and asking for help
Once you are in early recovery, everything is an extension of asking for help. You need direction and guidance to learn how to live a new life.
Learning how to live sober is simple, but that does not mean that it is easy to do. All you have to do is listen to other people’s suggestions. You must take orders. You must follow directions.
Doesn’t sound very appealing, does it? Taking orders from other people…
But this is one of the great secrets of sobriety. The key is to trick yourself. You are tricking yourself so that you get out of your own way in early recovery.
Because the alcoholic will just screw things up if they are left to their own devices. You have to keep in mind that there is this little part of the alcoholic brain that always wants to drink. When you are in early recovery that part of the brain is doing everything that it can to get you to relapse. It wants you to screw up and take a drink. It is looking for excuses as to why it should be allowed to drink. So it takes a great deal of energy and momentum to overcome this part of the mind that is screaming out for alcohol. If you don’t have a plan to overcome this seductive voice in your mind then it will surely make you relapse. You have to have a plan.
And that plan involves taking direction from other people. If you use your own ideas then you are just giving more power to this evil part of the brain that wants you to relapse. You cannot tap into your own mind during early recovery or it will trip you up. The alcoholic is their own worst enemy.
Instead, listen to other people. Take their advice and suggestions. Do what they tell you to do. When you do these things you take power away from that evil voice in your mind. When you listen to the guidance of other people you are insuring that you do not relapse. Your peers in recovery are not going to steer you in the wrong direction.
And yet we all have these big trust issues with this, and we believe that only we, ourselves, could possibly know what it best for our own life. This is silly. Just look at what our own advice has gotten us over the last few years. Look at where our alcoholism has taken us. And if we listen to other people instead they can direct us towards sobriety, peace, and happiness. All you have to do is listen to your peers and do what they tell you to do and this will unlock your freedom.
It is a complete paradox as to how this works. You would think that if you listen to other people and ignore your own ideas that this would enslave you. Yet the exact opposite happens and if you follow the advice of others in early recovery it completely sets you free. This is the path to total and complete freedom. Take advice from others and your life will get better and better. If you ignore their advice and do your own thing then you will find yourself trapped in the prison of addiction again. This was what was so shocking to me in early recovery. I could not believe that my life got so much better when I finally got out of my own way and started listening to other people.
The shortcut to wisdom
Part of your task in early recovery is to design a recovery program that works for you in the long run. Yet at the same time, you cannot really use your own ideas in early recovery or it will lead you to certain relapse. Somehow you have to kill your ego while also deciphering a program that works for you and keeps you sober.
How is this possible? How can you both kill your ego, listen to other people, and yet still design your own recovery program?
I believe that it is possible. Here is how it worked for me.
When I first got clean and sober I went to treatment. While I was in rehab I started taking suggestions from other people. I also made a deal with myself that I was going to basically kill my ego and get out of my own way for at least a year. If I was not happy again after a year then I would go back to using my own ideas instead of listening to others.
So then I started taking more and more suggestions from people. Someone suggested that I meditate every day. Someone else suggested that I exercise. Someone else suggested that I write about recovery. And so on.
They have a saying in recovery: “Take what you need and leave the rest.” This is how you design your own program without relying on your own ideas. Instead, you borrow the collective wisdom of others and you take their suggestions and you test them out in your life. Then you keep the ideas that benefit you and drop the ideas that are not serving you well.
This is how you can rebuild your life in early recovery. It is a shortcut to real wisdom because you are drawing on huge amounts of experience when you take suggestions from other people.
For example, let’s say you want advice from another alcoholic on how to stay sober each day. There are two groups of people you can ask for this advice: Group A is comprised of people who have been sober for at least ten years each, and group B has people who all have less than 30 days sober. Which advice do you listen to?
Of course we can all see the value in collective wisdom in this example. The group of recovering alcoholics that all have ten years sober is going to have much better advice for you than a group of people who don’t really know what sobriety is all about yet.
And you can use this idea in your own recovery. Not to ignore people who have little clean time, that is not the point I am making here. What I am suggesting is that you can tap into the collective wisdom of long term sobriety and get some really good advice. For example, if you need specific advice about something in your recovery and you ask for that advice in an AA meeting then it is very likely that the collective group will not steer you wrong. Their collective wisdom is much more powerful than the advice of a single individual.
So this is a way to get direction in early recovery. If you go to treatment for 28 days you will hear a lot of suggestions. If you go to 90 AA meetings in 90 days you will hear a lot of suggestions. Some of these suggestions will start to stand out because you will be hearing them over and over again. If that is the case then those are the things that you really need to test in your life. If everyone is suggesting that you do something then you had better give that suggestion a fair chance. It is a piece of wisdom that you cannot afford to ignore.
Kick start personal growth in a new direction
Sometimes you will feel like you are stuck in recovery. You will feel like you lack direction and you need to find some new purpose in your life or a new challenge.
In such a case you can draw from this same principle and ask for advice from others. If you have a sponsor then you can ask your sponsor which direction you should be headed in right now.
For example, my sponsor once suggested to me that I go back to school and finish up my degree. I honestly had nothing better planned at the time and so I took him up on that suggestion. This obviously had a big impact on my life and gave me direction when I needed it.
Another time it was suggested to me that I start exercising on a regular basis. Even though I had heard this suggestion in the past, for some reason I was just ready to hear it at that time. So I started exercising and it has had a tremendous and positive impact on my sobriety.
In order to have these amazing growth experiences I could not rely on my own ideas. If I just use my own ideas in recovery then my experience is very limited. I cannot achieve the same outcomes unless I take advice from other people.
This is not something that I wanted to admit to myself. I did not want to rely on the advice or suggestions of other people. It is not in my character to do that.
But I had to admit that I was getting results by doing so. I had to admit that my life was getting better and better when I took the advice of others and applied it in my own recovery. I had to admit that it was working. That listening to others was making my life a lot better.
I never would have believed that this was possible if you just told me about it. I had to experience it from the inside out. And I don’t think I ever could have made this particular leap of faith unless I was truly desperate for change in my life. I had to be miserable in my addiction in order to start taking orders from other people.
You are still in control, you just fool yourself in order to benefit from advice
One of the things that you will learn if you try this out is that you are still in control of your life, you are only “tricking” yourself to believe that you are not in control.
Essentially you are telling yourself that you are no longer in control of your life and that you have outsourced all of your decision making to other people. And you start to take action based on the suggestions of others.
But really you are pulling a trick on yourself. Which is OK. Because this is a simple trick that will help you in the end.
After I had been doing this for a while (taking suggestions from other people) I realized that I was still in control. Even though I had made this agreement with myself to relinquish control and rely on other people’s advice, I was still the final decision maker.
For example, I took a suggestion once to start meditating on a regular basis. This worked out fine and I believe that it helped me in certain ways, but it also had a few drawbacks as well. Then later on I took another suggestion to start exercising. The exercise seemed to give me all of the benefits of meditation without any of the drawbacks, and it just seemed to work better for me. So I dropped the meditation and I focused on regular exercise instead.
In the end I was the final decision maker. In the end I was still in charge of my own life and I was calling the shots. But I still went into it with the idea that I was getting my own ego out of the way, taking a suggestion from someone else, and putting that suggestion into action to see if it helped me or not.
I believe that this is the best path through addiction recovery. You must take the ideas and suggestions that you hear and put them into action. Do this without judging them at first, but then after you have given each idea a fair test, you can then decide if it is right for you or not. This is the kind of open mindedness that is essential for recovery.
The only way to benefit from this is to test it out for yourself. Find someone that you trust and look up to in recovery and ask them for advice. Ask them what you should do. Ask them what actions you should be taking. Then, take their advice and put it into practice. Take action based on their suggestions. Then, evaluate what your results from this are. If you don’t like your results then simply find more advice. Seek out another path. But keep taking action, keep taking suggestions, and keep testing out new ideas in your life. This is how you can rebuild your life in recovery.
If you are not willing to take suggestions from others then it is a strong indicator that you are not ready for personal growth. The alcoholic or addict who is not willing to listen to a new solution is probably not ready to be clean and sober yet. You have to be willing to take that leap of faith into the unknown if you want to get the benefits of growth. If you want to stay safe and stay stuck where you are at then you are always welcome to do that, but you are not going to get the massive benefits of growth if you don’t take any suggestions.
Our own ideas keep us stuck. Other people have suggestions that have the power to set us free. The question is, are we willing to listen to that advice and take the suggestions?
What about you, have you found your own path in recovery, or have you benefited from the suggestions of others? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!