Most people believe that if they can achieve a full year of continuous sobriety, this will set them on a new path in life that will (hopefully) be successful and trouble free. While this may not be exactly true in every case, most struggling addicts and alcoholics would do very well to achieve a solid year of recovery in their lives.
If nothing else, this year of continuous sobriety is the foundation on which to build a new life of success. Without continuous abstinence, no progress can really be made whatsoever. So in a way the year of sobriety is necessary to even gain a foothold in recovery.
As such, this is a worthwhile goal to focus on, and there are many people in recovery who fail to achieve it.
What can we do to increase our chances of getting to a full year of continuous sobriety?
The reason most people relapse before the one year mark of sobriety
To be very clear about it, most people who relapse in early recovery do not do so based on a lack of knowledge, or a misstep in their program.
Instead, their failure is based on a lack of surrender. They did not commit fully to recovery because they never reached that total level of surrender.
After they finally do surrender in full, we typically refer to this as “hitting bottom.”
Sometimes people believe that they failed because they went to the wrong rehab center, or because they did not work the steps quickly enough, or because of some trivial detail about the recovery process. But the truth is that it can all be boiled down to one single concept: Surrender.
If you have surrendered fully and hit bottom 100 percent and you are fully committed to your recovery then none of those other details really matter much. It will all work out and you will manage to hang on to your sobriety regardless of what happens.
On the other hand, if you are hanging on to some reservation because you have not fully hit bottom and surrendered completely yet, then it does not matter what happens with all of these details or what recovery program you try to use or what rehab you attend. None of it will matter because you will still be hanging on to the idea that you might be able to use drugs or drink successfully again at some point. If you are holding on to even a sliver of an idea that you might use drugs or drink again some day then nothing else matters; you are destined to relapse.
The point here is that most people who relapse early in recovery do so based on a lack of surrender and a lack of total commitment. They thought they were ready to change their life and get sober but in reality they were still hanging on to a piece of their old life.
Therefore, the most important thing to remember about getting your first year sober is that you must first surrender 100 percent to your disease of addiction. If you have not fully hit bottom yet then it does not matter much what you do or how you approach recovery; you are already set up for failure. Without the full surrender first there can be no long term growth in recovery.
Hit bottom fully, surrender completely, then commit 100 percent to recovery. This is the prerequisite for success in recovery. Without this level of commitment the rest of the details are completely meaningless.
Consider treatment, including long term options
So then, if you have surrendered fully and completely and you are still interested in insuring that you complete a full year of continuous sobriety, my first suggestion for you is to strongly consider treatment.
Now addiction treatment is not a cure-all, and it is far from being perfect. There are a few things that treatment centers do very well and there are other things that they struggle to help people with. But on the whole they are still the best option that we have for helping someone in early recovery. You are still better off for having gone to treatment than not, in my opinion.
My experience is that I attended treatment centers 3 times in my life. The first two times I attended rehab I was not yet ready to get clean and sober. I had not fully surrendered yet to my disease and therefore I was setting myself up for failure. Even though I sort of wished that my life was different, I was not really desperate for change and I was not willing to put in the intense amount of action that was necessary in order to make a complete turnaround in my life.
When I had finally surrendered to my disease, I attended the third treatment center and this is where I found success. The timing was right and I was willing to put in the action. While in this rehab I set up a deal to go live in a long term rehab as well. I was willing to do whatever it took to stay sober and I knew that–in my particular situation–long term rehab was probably a necessity.
Now this is not to say that everyone needs to go to long term rehab in order to get clean and sober, but anyone who has struggled to find sobriety should definitely consider inpatient treatment at least. There really is no (valid) excuse not to check into rehab if your life is falling apart due to your addiction.
Keep in mind what was said about surrender, though. Going to treatment is not effective if you have not fully surrendered. So if you are still hanging on to the need for control then just forget it, you are not ready to get clean and sober. You must let go absolutely and are taking advice from others. The best time to go to treatment is when you are completely broke down, you ask for help, and someone tells you to go to rehab. If you are willing to do whatever is suggested because you are so desperate for change in your life, then that is the “turning point” when going to treatment will likely produce good results.
It is certainly possible to achieve a year of sobriety without going to treatment, but I think if you insist on such a path then you are just being stubborn and making things hard for yourself. The key is to become desperate enough for change in your life that you accept help and advice from others. As such, they are going to recommend treatment in most cases and therefore if you are really committed to change then you will follow through on those suggestions.
How much disruption do you need to be successful in recovery?
The amount of disruption that you need in order to recover is based on how deeply immersed in a lifestyle of addiction and/or drinking. If everything that you do and everyone that you associate with has to do with your disease, then it is going to take a great deal of disruption in order to get started on a new path to recovery.
For example, in my own situation I was fully immersed in a lifestyle of addiction and alcoholism. Nearly everything that I did in life revolved around using drugs or alcohol or finding ways to get more. All of my friends and people that I associated with tended to use drugs or drink heavily. The job that I worked at during my addiction was full of people who used drugs or drank heavily. I had surrounded myself with a culture of drug and alcohol abuse so that it would be easier for me to mentally justify my own behavior. In fact, I really believed that most people in the world self medicated much of the time, just like I did. I had come to believe that most people were drug or alcohol abusers, and it was the odd man out who did not self medicate in some way. This is how delusional I had become in my addiction; that I believed everyone else was just as sick as I was (and that some were just hiding it better than others).
So when it came time for me to make the decision to pursue recovery, I needed quite a bit of disruption in my life in order to achieve good results.
What do I mean by “disruption?”
Going to an AA meeting is one level of disruption.
Going to outpatient counseling three days a week is a more intense level of disruption.
Staying at an inpatient rehab for 28 days is yet a more intense level of disruption.
Living in long term rehab for several months may be the most extreme form of disruption from a life of addiction or alcoholism.
So what I am asking you to think about is this:
“How much disruption do you realistically need in order to recover from your addiction?”
It’s a very important question and you may need to explore the answer “in the real world” before you arrive at the proper course of action.
For example, you may try to go to an AA meeting one evening and see if that helps you to overcome your alcoholism. You may find (if your disease is anything like mine was) that you need a bit more help than just a single trip to an AA meeting one night in order to turn your whole life around.
Now that is not to say that people can never get sober going to AA…..they most certainly can. But in many cases alcoholics and addicts may need a lot more help initially, which is to say, a greater amount of disruption in their lives. AA meetings did help me eventually, but when I first got clean and sober I definitely needed a lot more help, structure, support, and accountability than what a single AA meeting per day could provide.
Your success in recovery may also be based on how quickly you can shift over to a new lifestyle, to a new way of life, to a new way of dealing with problems. Again, without any sort of disruption in your addictive life it may be hard to make this transition. Obviously such a transition requires quite a bit of learning and therefore you need to be open minded if you are going to adopt a new way of dealing with problems. It takes time to make this transition and during that critical time you are going to need support and help from others. That help and support is tied into the level of treatment (disruption) that you may choose to use.
It can be pretty obvious that many people who fail to stay clean and sober in very early recovery have simply chosen the wrong level of treatment, or the wrong amount of disruption. If your life is built around addiction and all of your friends or associates are people you normally get drunk or high with then the amount of disruption that you need is going to be fairly great. This may also depend on how physically hooked on your drug of choice you happen to be and what the physical withdrawal symptoms might be like. The more intense your physical dependence is the greater the need for more intense treatment.
Having worked in the treatment industry for over five years, I can tell you that a great many addicts and alcoholics fail in recovery because they choose the wrong level of treatment. They believe that they can get away with minimal disruption in their lives and still get good results or make a profound change. In fact they are underestimating their disease by a large degree and at the same time they are overestimating their own ability to beat their addiction with minimal help. The truth is that most addicts and alcoholics make this mistake (at least initially) and therefore they opt for a low level of disruption that does not result in long term sobriety for them.
The moral of the story (at least for me) was to opt for the most intensive level of treatment available. Go for maximum disruption. Your life will smooth out later (and you will have your sanity back).
Full immersion in a new way of life
They have a saying in the Big Book of AA: “Half measures availed us nothing.” This is a very important concept in recovery and it holds one of the major keys to those who make it to that elusive first year of successful sobriety. Those who merely dip their toes into recovery do not make it. They relapse.
The key to success in early recovery is massive action. If you are going to do something in order to gain sobriety, do it with enthusiasm, do it to the max, fully immerse yourself in whatever solution it may be.
For example, there are many religious based programs for recovery from addiction and many people might criticize these programs as being ineffective. But this is merely a point of confusion because plenty of people can and do find long term sobriety through religious programs, but it is only those who put a 100 percent effort into them.
The same is true with 12 step based programs: it is not that there is a magic formula for success, it is simply those who put in a massive effort and dedicate their entire life to the program who get excellent results. People who fail to live up to this standard tend to relapse and then discredit whatever program failed them.
The truth is that it is all about the willingness, the commitment, and the dedication to whatever solution you may be using for recovery. There are many people who stay clean and sober based on religious programs, many who stay clean and sober based on 12 step programs, and even some who achieve long term sobriety based on a purely holistic approach. There is no right answer among program solutions but there is a right answer when it comes to the willingness, dedication, and intensity level with which you approach recovery. There is no magic formula….the magic is in the willingness and the follow through.
How to commit fully to your recovery
The way to commit fully to your recovery is to first surrender completely to your addiction. If you are still hanging on to the idea that you might one day drink or use drugs again then you cannot commit fully to a recovery solution.
Jumping from one recovery program to another or going to one rehab over the next is not the answer. These are lateral moves that do not even come close to hitting the solution head on. The solution is total surrender which will then lead to true willingness to do whatever it takes to stay clean and sober.
The way to commit fully is to abandon yourself fully. Give up the struggle, give up the fight, and stop struggling for control. Abandon the self entirely and you can then start to rebuild your life from the ground up.
The way to commit fully is to become desperate for a solution, then ask for help. Depending on who you ask this may steer you in various directions, and you may be presented with one of many various solutions. It doesn’t really matter though….the fact that you got desperate and asked for help is what will insure your success in recovery. Full surrender followed up with a genuine desire for change…..this is the willingness that you need to be successful. This is the secret sauce that will allow you find a new life in recovery. The rest is just details. Programs, rehabs…..these are mere details. Complete surrender is the big picture, the important point that most people are missing. Nail that one, and you and be sure that your first year in recovery will be successful.