What is the key ingredient to getting over a drug addiction or alcoholism?
How is that so many people who try to get clean and sober end up relapsing and failing, seemingly before they even get started sometimes?
Roughly half of everyone who tries to sober up will relapse before the end of one month. Roughly 90 percent will relapse before the end of one year. These are not hope-inspiring statistics for most people.
But there is still hope. Anyone who concentrates on one key ingredient should not have any fear of these sort of statistics, because they no longer really apply if you are one of these “chosen few.”
So who are the chosen few, and what is the secret ingredient?
Surrender, of course.
You have to give up in order to win. You have to let go of everything in order to succeed in addiction recovery.
Everything flows from surrender.
Every single person who relapses can look back at their journey of recovery and realize that they, at some point, had failed to surrender completely to their disease. They failed to let go entirely. They must have been hanging on to some piece of their past in order to have relapsed. The process of getting over an addiction is the process of letting go totally and completely. In order to build a new life in recovery you must let go of the old life completely.
Surrender is the key that most people are missing out on.
How surrender sets you up for success
Surrender sets you up for success in recovery. Without it, you may stay sober for a brief period of time but eventually you will fail because you never made that deep commitment right from the start.
The depth of your surrender will determine the depth of your commitment to recovery.
They have a saying in recovery: “There is only one thing that you have to change in order to recover: Everything!” It is a little overwhelming but it is also basically the truth. Just ask anyone who has at least a few years sober if they actually had to change everything and they will think for a moment and say “yeah, everything had to change. I really changed my whole life.”
This is not a trivial matter. Changing everything is hard to do. It takes guts. It takes action. It takes follow through. And it takes a certain amount of blind faith. Because you have to let go and trust in the process.
What does that mean, to “trust in the process?” People say that all of the time in AA meetings, but many newcomers don’t even have a clue as to what it really means or how to implement it.
It means that you need to get out of your own way, and let other people tell you how to live for a while. This is a new process. Your ideas about how to live your life represent your old process. But the old process no longer works for you. It leads you to misery. If that is not the case then why are you trying to get sober? Go drink and be happy if your process works for you!
People come into recovery because they are miserable due to their addiction. They are sick and tired of what their process has been creating for them. They need a new solution. They need a new way to live, something that might be able to produce happiness instead of misery and dependence on drugs or alcohol.
So in order to become happy in recovery you need a new process. You need a new way to live. The key to recovery is to rebuilding your life and constantly reinventing yourself. How are you going to do that given what you know about life so far? Most alcoholics and addicts do not have a clue as to how to go about doing this. I admit that I had no clue either when I first got clean and sober.
So I had to have help. I had to have other people in recovery show me. So I lived in a long term treatment center and I talked with my peers. I had a therapist and a counselor. I was going to meetings for a while and learning from those. And I got a sponsor in AA who attempted to teach me this new way of life.
And through it all I stuck it out as far as sobriety went. At times I wanted to drink, but of course I did not. I stuck it out and I trusted in the process. I trusted that what these people were telling me to do would eventually create happiness.
For a few months this was an act of faith. Because to be honest I did not just instantly become happy overnight. I had some miserable days in there when I was sober and I could have easily just went and self medicated with alcohol.
Why was I willing to trust in the process? Why was I willing to stick it out in hope that it would get better later?
Two reasons. One was because I knew that the alternative was nothing but misery. I knew that if I drank or used drugs that eventually (and rather quickly) I would be extremely miserable again. I might have a few hours or a few days of excitement but after that it would just be more misery and chaos again.
The second reason was because I had truly surrendered this time around. I had made a decision deep inside of me that I was really done for good, that I was going to give this recovery thing an honest effort, and that I was really going to get out of my own way and I was going to listen to what others told me to do. It was like I had said in my mind “Look, what I have been trying to do in order to be happy has not worked out well. I admit that I do not know how to make myself happy. So I am going to trust in other people to tell me how to live for a while, and simply see how that works out. It cannot be much worse than the results that I have been getting lately with my drinking.”
And so this was the difference. In the past, I had gone to treatment a few times but I had never reached this point of surrender. I had never been willing to step out of my own way and listen to other people and follow their advice. This is the whole key to recovery. That you simply follow other people’s advice and do exactly what they tell you to do. It is so simple and yet so difficult for most of us. We don’t want to trust others. We don’t want to believe that someone else might be able to tell us how we can be happy. We like to think that we know the way to produce our own happiness better than anyone else. But the truth is that you need to let go. Completely.
The recovery process and why it depends on willingness and surrender
So what exactly is the recovery process?
It is learning. The process starts with learning.
If you cannot learn anything then you are stuck in addiction. If you refuse to learn anything new then you cannot build a new life for yourself.
So everything hinges on the learning process.
And there are two types of lessons that you need to learn in recovery.
One is that you need to learn about yourself. This is what most people are referring to when they talk about “working on your life in recovery.” So if you go into a 12 step program and you work through the 12 steps then this is the sort of thing that you are focusing on. You look at yourself and your past and your personality and you attempt to make corrections in order to learn more about yourself and be a healthier person. This is what the steps walk you through.
And so reading about this sort of thing is not the entire solution. You have to actually do some work and interact with others and talk about these issues and explore them. Then you have to take corrective action in the real world so that you fix those character defects and such. So you are learning about yourself and seeing what makes you tick and what part of your personality gave rise to the alcoholism.
For me it was self pity and resentment. I was stuck in my own head a lot, and I realized that if I did not solve this particular problem in recovery that it was going to quickly drive me to relapse. I found myself feeling sorry for myself and reflecting on various drama in my life and trying to be the victim. For some reason it gave me comfort to do this. It was a game that my mind liked to play in order to justify my drinking.
And so when I first got sober I discovered that my mind was still doing this. Yet it was pointless because I was not drinking any more, so it was like my brain was busy making excuses as to why I should be able to drink. And yet my goal was not to get drunk any more. So I had to change that line of thinking. I had to retrain my brain to stop making these excuses as to why I should be able to get loaded. I had to raise my awareness so that I could recognize when my brain was engaging in self pity (or reflecting on resentments) and then figure out a way to shut that down.
How did I do it? Most just awareness and the decision to stop it. 90 percent of the battle was just knowing about the diseased thinking and becoming hyper aware of it. Once I did that then it was an easy decision to redirect my thoughts whenever I noticed the self pity coming back. I simply had to decide to redirect my thoughts and not allow myself the “luxury” of feeling sorry for myself any more.
So that was one thing that I had to learn. I had to learn how I could learn about myself. I had to learn how to fix these internal problems in my life. I had to look inside and see what was pushing me to drink and I had to fix it. It was internal stuff.
But the second thing that you need to learn in recovery is how to fix the external stuff. You need to learn how to fix your life situation. This is different than working on resentments or fixing character defects. This is about working on the external things in your life.
The 12 steps do not really address this sort of learning (not directly anyway). But it is still a very important lesson in recovery. You must actively work to change your life situation and improve it.
When I was still drinking I worked at a job in which everyone drank or used drugs. I lived in a home where everyone abused alcohol or drugs. And I hung out in places where everyone was self medicating.
In the program of AA they have a phrase for this: “Changing people, places, and things.” This is about your life situation. It is the external stuff.
And it is really important.
So when I finally became clean and sober I changed all of this. I left my job. I left my home and moved into long term rehab. Later I would live with people in recovery (or eventually by myself). I stopped going to the bar. I stopped hanging out with people who used drugs or alcohol. I found new friends in recovery. I got a new job in which people were not on drugs or alcohol.
So what does all of this mean, these two learning processes that you must go through? What is the key to being able to change both the internal stuff (your character defects, what drove you to drink, etc.) and also your external things that may drive you to drink? What does it take in order to embrace both of those learning experiences?
It takes a whole lot of willingness. You have to change “everything.” That is a monumental task. And so the key is willingness.
Willingness is the key.
And that willingness comes from your surrender. If you have not fully surrendered to your disease then you will not be willing enough to take the extreme level of action that you need to take.
I usually describe successful recovery as taking “massive action.” This is because you have to push yourself very hard in order to make the sort of changes that will actually result in real progress. Most people fall short of this mark in recovery and it causes them to relapse. They don’t do enough. They don’t try hard enough. They don’t commit fully to change because they have not yet reached a point of total surrender.
Why people fail to follow through in their recovery
When people fail to follow through and take massive action it is because they have not yet reached that point of total surrender in their life.
They are hanging on to something. They are hanging on to a piece of their old life. They are holding out hope that they can one day drink successfully again. That they might be able to learn to control their drinking or drug intake some day. They have failed to let go of everything.
Most people who enter recovery for the first time end up relapsing. Even if they go to a treatment center for the first time ever they are not likely to remain sober. The problem is that they do not yet realize just how deep their level of surrender must go. They may believe that they are ready to change their life and to be sober, but usually they have not yet reached total surrender. They normally have to try and fail at least once or twice before they realize just how serious it is.
Most alcoholics or addicts are holding on to the idea that if they really wanted to quit, they probably could do so on their own. But every alcoholic and addict has a little piece of them that will always love their drug of choice. So how can they know if they are ever at a point of total surrender?
The truth is that you will never know for sure, especially if you are not quite there yet.
What is the solution for this?
The solution is to seek help. To seek treatment. If you are not truly ready then you will fail and relapse anyway. But this may be a necessary step in your recovery process (as it was in mine) because I had to realize just how desperate I was. I had to try and fail a few times before I realized the gravity of the situation. Before I realized just how serious it was. What I was up against.
So the solution is to try and fail. If you wait for the perfect moment for recovery then it will never come. Every addict and alcoholic will always have a piece of them that still wants to drink or use drugs. That will never die completely. But you can still reach a point where you are 99 percent miserable and you only have 1 percent of your brain saying “let’s get drunk or high and we will be happy again!” You have to be thoroughly miserable due to your addiction in order to ask for help and give this new way of life a chance to work for you.
How to crush your ego and move forward with a new life
The key to surrender is to really follow through with it.
I have met many people in recovery who have paid lip service to surrender, but then when they get into detox and into residential treatment they are doing everything that they can to manipulate the situation. They are trying to control anything and everything.
That is not true surrender.
In order to really surrender and build a new life in recovery you have to get out of your own way. You must crush your own ego and realize that you don’t have the answers. The more pride that you have in yourself the harder this will be to do.
But this is absolutely the key to happiness. It is very counter-intuitive. You would think that you would become more miserable if you let other people tell you what to do, right? You would think that only you, yourself knows exactly how to create your own happiness, right? You would think that if you took orders from other people and gave up complete control of your life that you would be totally miserable as a result, right?
The truth is that you will be unhappy at first when you start this process. But it changes quickly. Within a few days you will realize that you are not, in fact, miserable. Just because you are listening to other people tell you how to live you are not suddenly miserable.
And then things will get really amazing after a few weeks or so of this. Because suddenly you will be having fun again. You will be laughing again. And you will realize that you are actually enjoying life again, while sober. This can (and will) happen in just a short period of time. The miracle of recovery really can happen that quickly, if you fully surrender and give up control of your life completely.
It is a great paradox. You create the most happiness by listening to others and following their orders. You will realize that squashing your own ego was the smartest thing that you ever did. But it is so hard to do because your ego thinks that it is the smartest thing in the world. And for you to squash it and then ask for help from others and follow direction takes a lot of guts. It is not an easy thing to do. It is simple to do, but not easy.
Will I ever be happy again?
If you are struggling to hang on to control then you may believe that you will never be happy again without your drug of choice.
This is understandable.
The key is to let go.
Let go completely. Let go of all of it, of everything.
Ask for help.
Then, follow direction. Take orders. Push your ego aside and just do what they tell you to do.
Go to rehab. Take suggestions. Do what you are told to do.
You may not actually believe that you will be happy again. At one time I did not believe it myself.
But it didn’t matter what I believed. It only mattered that I let go. I let go totally and completely and I started following directions.
And my life changed. It changed very fast. I became happy within a matter of months, weeks even.
This was the gift of recovery. And the only way to unlock it is by surrendering. If you can let go of everything then you can find true happiness in this life.