Yesterday we looked at how effective inpatient treatment could be for arresting our addiction. While it is not a magic bullet, it is still probably the best solution we have available to us. It is one of the many “shortcuts” that we might use in our recovery journey.
OK so technically there are no shortcuts, and we probably all know this already. But that does not mean that we cannot find the most direct path to personal growth in our recovery journey.
Especially in early recovery there is another opportunity to make huge leaps in terms of personal growth. I am talking about another potential “shortcut,” one that might lead to inpatient rehab, but it is actually taking a step back from everything and simply asking for help.
That’s right–the biggest shortcut in early recovery is to ask for advice, and follow it to the letter. A fairly straightforward approach but very difficult to do. As such, most people have a strong resistance to doing it. That is why they would rather hang on to their pride and stay stuck in addiction rather than to make huge leaps forward in recovery.
It takes guts to get clean and sober.
Why you need new information to recover
Without new information in our lives, it is impossible to recover from addiction. This is because we cannot do it ourselves, or surely we would have done so already.
One of the strongest drives is that people want to save face and protect their ego. They do not want to admit that they have a problem, they do not want to admit that their life is out of control, they do not want to admit that they cannot figure out how to live a better life. We all want to protect our ego and so we all believe that we should be “smart enough” to figure out how to be happy in life without destroying ourselves with drugs or alcohol.
So when a struggling addict realizes that they have a problem with drugs or alcohol and they actually admit this to themselves, they then have the task of dealing with the problem. Their first reaction is never going to be to say “maybe I can go get on my hands and knees and beg someone to tell me exactly what to do and how to live!” This is not realistic, yet this is practically what it is going to take in order to recover. This is why there is such a huge gap between when an addict first becomes miserable due to their addiction, and when they finally surrender fully and ask for help and start taking advice. It is hard to be humble and take advice from others, but this is really the secret to success in early recovery. Most people will not do it because their pride and their ego get in the way.
But obviously they cannot recover with the information that they currently have. Every addict proves this to themselves over and over again during their addiction as they try to find new ways to beat their addiction, only to lose control again at some point and fail completely. There is that old saying in traditional recovery “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” What the struggling addict is doing during their addiction is to try slightly different methods of controlling their drug or alcohol use, and repeatedly failing. They are stuck in denial though because they believe that they are NOT doing the same thing over and over, they believe that they are trying different approaches to control their habit. In reality if they could take a huge step back and look at their life, they would see that switching from liquor to beer or attempting to use only a certain number of pills per day is completely missing the point. They would then realize that they are just playing games, that they are not really doing anything different, and that their addiction still has them trapped even as they try to outsmart the disease.
Therefore the struggling addict or alcoholic needs new information. They cannot overcome their addiction by their own design. This is important, because it essentially defines addiction itself. If the person could overcome their own addiction, they would not need any sort of outside help and therefore no one would really label that person as a “recovering addict” at all. They would just be another “normal person” who used to abuse drugs but then grew out of it.
With “real” drug addiction and alcoholism there is no such thing as “just growing out of it.” Instead the individual must go on this soul searching journey in order to find themselves and thus escape the grip of their addiction. This is not a trivial matter and even getting to the point of surrender is a journey in itself. Some people struggle their entire lives and then die without ever having reached the point of surrender.
Once you reach a bottom then it is time to take action if you want to change your life. There is definitely a right way to do this and a wrong way. This “shortcut” that I speak of is that you need to tap into new information, you need to get advice from other people, and you need to follow that advice without even questioning it or thinking twice about it.
This is a special time in your life and I would never advise anyone to act in this manner unless they were in very early recovery. This is the only time that I would advise someone to follow direction and advice blindly, so long as it is from people they can trust. Later on in recovery you will need to change from that mindset and learn to think on your own two feet again. This is generally not a problem and what you learn in early recovery will fully prepare you to do this later on.
Why can you not just jump ahead to this “thinking on your own two feet” thing in early recovery? Because you will sabotage your own recovery effort and end up stuck back in the cycle of addiction. This is what you have been battling for years now and this is the trap that keeps you stuck in denial. You cannot think your way out of addiction. Not at first. Later on you can use your brain all you want to develop your long term recovery strategy, but in early recovery you do not have the knowledge needed to do so. If you did you would not have a problem! But clearly you lack the knowledge necessary to be sober right now, and so therefore you must learn this knowledge by DOING. That means you have to take action, and in order to take action you have to get out of your own way and follow some direction.
If you try to do both (think and follow through with action) then you are setting yourself up for failure. You do not have the stability or the knowledge to both plan out your recovery and also execute on it at the same time. Not when you have a few weeks or a few months clean time.
The shortcut to success in early recovery is to find people you trust, take their advice, and then act on it unquestioningly. Later on you can question it all you want (as I have done, and continue to do!).
How to get out of your own way in early recovery
So the way to get out of your own way is to do the following:
1) Hit bottom.
2) Ask for help.
3) Follow through.
All three things have to happen, and all of them have to happen in that order.
First you have to hit bottom. If this has not happened then it is unlikely that you will be able to truly do the next two steps in the process. As I pointed out already, no one wants to ask for help and take advice for how to live their own life–not if they can help it! We are too quick to protect our pride and our ego. So hitting bottom first is essential.
I am not sure there is a straightforward way to tell someone how to hit bottom quicker. Maybe someone has not surrendered yet to their disease but they still wish that things were different. If that is the case then I would urge such a person to try to get help anyway. If they are willing to seek help then they are either at their bottom or they are close. If they are close to their bottom then after seeking help they will relapse at some point, and this failed cycle will help move them even closer to the state of true surrender. I know that sounds like an awfully clunky process but I do not think there is a better way to reach the point of surrender and become able to recover. There is no way that an addict can be convinced to “just surrender and get it over with” unless they have fully paid the price in their addiction. In other words, no one is going to hit bottom if things are still going well for them. They are not going to surrender if they are still having fun with their addiction. It is only after months or even years of misery that they will realize that it is not going to get any better, and that they should cut their losses and give recovery a chance.
Depending on the situation this may mean that the people around the addict need to take a step back and let them start experiencing some consequences. We do not surrender or hit bottom without first experiencing pain in our lives, and that means experiencing consequences. Even though the person may be in denial about what is causing them pain in their lives, at some point they will be alone and have to face the fact that their addiction has made them miserable. At some point the addict will be in a position where they can no longer point the finger or cast blame on anyone expect for themselves. It is at this point that they addict will realize that they are just chasing their own tail in their addiction and that they have created all of their own misery. They will come to the ego-crushing conclusion that, in spite of their best efforts, they do not know how to be happy in this world.
And this is what the addict must let go in order to gain entry into recovery. They have been hanging on to this idea that they are in charge, that they are the master of their own happiness, that no one else in this world could possibly care about their own personal happiness expect for themselves, and so therefore no one is qualified to give them advice about how to live and how to be happy. This sort of thinking is very common and prevalent. No one wants to believe that someone else could hold the key to their happiness. We all have this belief that our own self interest is going to be our most trusted source of information, that we alone care the most about our own happiness, and that anyone else that seeks to give us advice could not possibly have our best interests at heart–not like we do anyway. Other people may care about us and want us to be happy, but it is not the same as our own self wanting us to be happy. We realize that no one else could possibly care as much as we do about our own happiness and well being, no matter how good their intentions are.
And so we have this death grip on the idea that we alone can guide our own life and create our own happiness–that anyone else who would advise us does not really have our happiness in mind. They just want “what’s best for us” but do they really want us to be happy? This is how our denial prevents us from taking advice in early recovery. And this is what we have to get past if we want to grow in recovery.
The shortcut is to step out of your own way and start taking advice from others. This is the key to success.
But in order to do this you have to learn how to trust other people.
Learning to trust other people
After you hit bottom and fully surrender, you have to learn how to trust other people. This is actually not too difficult after you have hit bottom because suddenly your inhibitions are automatically lowered. You will care less about your own life and your own happiness when you have fully hit bottom.
Now if that makes you pause and say “hey wait a minute, that does not sound right! I would think that you would care more about yourself if you wanted to get sober.” But that is not the truth. That is not how real surrender works. Hitting bottom is not pretty. It is not this wonderful moment where you are happy and want to change your life for the better. Rather, you should be at the height of your misery and be on the brink of saying “do I really want to live, or should I just give up entirely?” This is a more accurate description of true surrender, of really hitting bottom.
This state of mind makes it easier to trust other people. If you were hesitant to trust others in your addiction, then hitting bottom should increase your willingness to trust others.
If you ask for help at this stage it is highly likely that people will direct you to professional treatment services. Inpatient rehab would be a likely scenario.
Now the question of trust comes down to: “Do these people (at rehab) really have my best interest at heart? Do they really have information that can help me to live a better life, to become happy again?”
You have nothing to lose by trusting such people. You are already miserable! What have you got to lose? If they mislead you then you can always go back to your drug of choice, right? Drugs and alcohol have been around for thousands of years and they will still be here for thousands more. They are not going anywhere. So if recovery turns out to be a big sham, you lose nothing. You have risked nothing. You can always return to addiction. It will always be there. The option is always available.
Therefore you must hit bottom, ask for help, and then give your trust over to these people completely. Their job is to help you recover. That is what they get paid to do. That is what they have dedicated their life to doing. Now their ideas about recovery may help you and they may not help you, but what do you have to lose by trying? You risk nothing by trusting them. You are already miserable, you are already at your bottom, and you basically have very little to live for at this point. Addiction has defeated you.
Why not give recovery a chance?
You need new information. Trust the people at rehab, at meetings, who are already in recovery to give you advice. They are only trying to help you, only trying to lead you to a life of happiness. And the only way for you to “get there” is to let go, let go of everything, let go completely. Stop fighting, stop struggling, and just do what they tell you to do. Trust them. You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.
So, how do you trust the people who would help you?
Asking for advice and then acting on it without hesitation
You trust them by doing exactly what they tell you to do.
I did exactly that in my early recovery. At first I was a little hesitant, a little bit leery. But within my first week of sobriety something clicked, and I said “screw it. I am going to do exactly what they tell me to do. I have nothing to lose by following their advice.”
And so I did exactly that. My family suggested rehab, so I went to rehab. The rehab suggested I attend groups and go to 12 step meetings, so I did that. The counselors suggested that I go live in long term rehab, so I did that too. I stayed there for 20 months. The therapist there suggested that I go back to college, so I did that. My dad suggested that I start exercising with him, so I did that. My sponsor in NA suggested that I quit smoking, so I did that.
All of these suggestions I followed fairly blindly, without much thought. The thinking just gets in the way of taking action anyway. Better to just do it, to take good advice and then get into action. This is how to “get out of your own way.” Stop thinking so much and just take action. Take massive action.
After doing this for a few months I realized that it was the shortcut that I had been looking for all along. To stop thinking, to get out of my own way, and to just take action and execute on things.
Life was getting really good, and the benefits were piling up. I could thank all of the people who had gave me help and advice, but really I had to realize that it was just me, getting out of my own way. People love to give helpful advice. But how often do we take it, and act on it? Turns out that is the ultimate shortcut in recovery. Learn from other’s experiences.
When do you get your “freedom” back?
Very quickly. Within six months of taking advice, you will realize just how much freedom this has given you. By following good advice from others, your life will get better and better. You will enjoy stability and a peace and contentment that you never knew before. And then you will realize that you can start thinking on your own again too, without screwing everything up.
But you have to surrender at first, and let it all go, and learn to trust others. This is the start of your path in recovery. This is the great shortcut that I struggled to find for years and years while stuck in addiction. Trust others.