Help for Addiction – The Real Truth about Recovery

Help for Addiction – The Real Truth about Recovery


Help for addiction – the real truth about recovery:

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1. Everything you know about treating addiction is wrong.

2. You are responsible for finding your own path in recovery.

3. It makes sense to seek a better solution. (why settle?)

4. There are 2 stages of recovery.

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5. The key to stage one recovery is overwhelming force.

6. You must transition to creative recovery.

7. The most effective treatments are ones that facilitate the transition to creative recovery.

8. There are 3 fundamental strategies for any successful recovery.

9. What got you clean will not keep you clean.

10. You must build self esteem through personal growth and self-care (not affirmations!)

11. Romantic relationships + early recovery = Extreme danger.

12. Recovery is a process. Your tactics can and will change over time.

13. External motivation produces extremely poor results. Self motivated addicts don’t fare so well either.

14. The cost of continuing to use drugs and alcohol is ridiculously high.

15. Spiritual growth is necessary for long term success.

16. Self-pity is a dangerous indulgence that can potentially destroy you.

17. Resentment is a dangerous indulgence that can potentially kill you.

18. The secret of taking action is to take action.

19. Growth in recovery is almost never linear.

20. Gratitude is a critical mindset.

21. Group therapy is a tactic, not a strategy. Using it as a long term recovery strategy creates another dependency.

22. Statistically, the odds are heavily stacked against you. But it doesn’t matter.

23. “Relapse prevention” is mostly a gimmick. Coping skills are just more tactics.

24. Addiction is complicated.

25. Comprehensive solutions for addiction are necessarily complicated.

26. Recovery is a state of learning.

27. There are at least 3 levels of denial.

28. Complacency is twice as dangerous as resentments are.

29. Many in recovery fall into the trap of using 12 step meetings as group therapy. While this works for some, there is no great push for personal growth outside of 12 step principles.

30. Sponsorship is of limited usefulness. Treat it as such.

31. Short term residential treatment (28 days or less) has little to no effect on long term outcomes.

32. Sometimes addiction is not the biggest problem in a person’s life. Trying to treat addiction in these cases is futile without addressing other needs.

33. For young people, traditional treatment models (12 step programs) are proven to be worse than no treatment at all.

34. Behavioral approaches to recovery do not work.

35. Any recovery program that can treat everyone won’t really help anyone.

36. Coping skills are secondary to lifestyle changes. The structure of the addict’s life must change.


37. You are blessed. Be wary of taking full credit for it.

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1. Everything you know about treating addiction is wrong.

Even for those of us who have found a successful path in recovery, we remain mystified when it comes time to try to help the struggling addicts and alcoholics in our lives. Relapse rates remain quite high.

Most of us have a preferred program of recovery…usually the program that we used to achieve sobriety. But did you know that a large study called Project Match proved that there is no statistical difference between 3 different types of therapies? This included the 12 step program, cognitive-behavioral coping skills, and motivational therapy.

But if someone finds success in recovery through a particular treatment model, then they will naturally have bias towards that method. This is unfortunate because there clearly is no universal program at this point that will work for everyone.

Different people in recovery have different needs and respond differently to various therapies. It makes sense to seek customization over universal, one-size-fits-all programs.

Anyone who has tried to help a large number of recovering addicts and alcoholics knows that there is no magic bullet, that relapse rates are atrocious, and that a better solution is needed. Existing treatment models work for such a small percentage of addicts that it is downright depressing.

Even if you have found success in recovery, over 95 percent fail when subjected to our best treatment models.

Everything we know is wrong.

2. You are responsible for finding your own path in recovery.

Personal responsibility is a huge part of recovery. Don’t expect a program (such as the 12 step program) to simply work magic in your life, especially without a ton of effort. In fact, the exact program you are following is only of minor importance, because your real challenge is in adapting that solution to fit your particular needs.

Many recovering addicts who relapse will blame the program they are attempting to use. This is unacceptable. The program itself is just a tactic; a gimmick. There is no real power in the suggestions without putting your passion and purpose into your own life and creating a new existence for yourself.

If your current solution isn’t working for you, it’s up to you to change it. That’s the responsibility part. You need to find your own path and make it work for you. This is a critical concept in finding long term sobriety.

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3. It makes sense to seek a better solution.

It is true that the 12 step model works for some people. But the percentage is so low that it seems imperative that we should seek a better solution.

AA World Services does a huge census (called their triennial survey) and their own data from several of these surveys states that 95 percent of people who attend an AA meeting will never return to AA after just one year. They are gone for good.

This is a startling admission on the part of AA. By their own data, less than 5 percent will find success through AA. Seriously, this is the best we can do in 2008?

If AA works for you, that’s great. But if you are interested in helping struggling addicts and alcoholics, then you have to ask yourself if you are satisfied with such a low chance of success.

Likewise, if you are in a 12 step program yourself, you might consider how secure you are in the face of overwhelming odds.

4. There are 2 stages of recovery.

Whether or not this is true is irrelevant. It makes sense to view recovery in 2 stages. This is helpful in terms of formulating a recovery strategy.

The first stage is the “crisis” stage where the addict is shocked to find themselves clean and sober all of a sudden. They face the monumental task of getting through the next few weeks or months without picking up a drink or a drug.

There are various ways to go about this. Some will go to treatment, others might hang out in meetings all day, some will cling to a sponsor, and so on. Whatever it takes to get you through.

Stage 2 recovery comes after this initial shock wears off. You are in stage 2 recovery when you are no longer thinking about doing drugs and alcohol all day long and can start to consider moving on with your life.

Recovery programs should focus on stage 2 recovery and on the transition into them. This is because stage 2 recovery lasts for such a long time, whereas stage one recovery only lasts for a few weeks to a few months.

Once you get through stage one recovery, the real challenge begins. It no longer is just about how to live drug and alcohol free. Now you have to figure out how to live with passion and purpose for the rest of your life.

5. The key to stage one recovery is overwhelming force.

What you really need in the first few weeks or months of sobriety is concentrated effort. If you just half-heartedly approach this phase of recovery you are sure to relapse. The solution is to approach this time in your life with overwhelming force. Whatever you think it will take to keep you sober for the first six months, simply take that level of effort and triple it. Now you are in the ballpark of what it is realistically going to take to keep you sober.

For me that meant living in a long term treatment center. Others might find a different solution, such as immersing themselves in a recovery program and attending multiple group sessions and/or meetings several times a day. Whatever works for you…just so long as you can scale your solution to occupy almost all of your time during this early phase.

6. You must transition to creative recovery.

I see a lot of recovering addicts and alcoholics who get stuck in recovery. They might be working a program, going to meetings, or doing something else to help them stay clean and sober. But they don’t have a passion or enthusiasm for life, and it seems like they are just going through the motions in order to maintain sobriety.

It is my experience and my belief that we need to transition into holistic, creative living. This means that we go beyond mere abstinence as a goal and start creating a new life for ourselves. For most of us in recovery, doing so is a requirement, or we will eventually relapse.

It is said around the tables of AA that “you are either working on recovery, or you’re working on a relapse.” This is the same idea that I am suggesting here, only I would argue that we need to embrace holistic growth and try to grow in areas other than just spiritually.

At some point in early recovery, you will wake up and realize that you are no longer craving drugs and alcohol every day. Great….now what are you going to do with your life? The creative theory of recovery holds the answer to that question. It is the path of vision and purpose so that you can reclaim the life you were ignoring back when you were getting drunk and/or high.

7. The most effective treatments are ones that facilitate the transition to creative recovery.

Because this transition to creative recovery is so critical for success, the best treatments are ones that facilitate this transition. For me that meant long term treatment, and I lived in such a place for a period of 20 months. I’ve seen others come out in less than 6 months and be successful though.

While I was in long term treatment, my therapist and sponsor pushed me towards holistic growth. At the time I thought this was irrelevant to recovery. Of course that was not the case, and I’m glad that I started exploring other areas of growth while I was in long term treatment.

Unfortunately, short term stays in rehabs are much more common (usually 28 days and less), and these are not as effective at helping people to start with the transition to holistic living.

8. There are 3 fundamental strategies for any successful recovery.

These 3 strategies make up the core of creative recovery. They apply to any situation and are universally applicable. They are:

* Caring for self

* Networking with others

* Personal growth

I would also point out that virtually any recovery program out there uses these strategies to some extent. We could even argue that they are fundamental principles for recovery. In other words, if you try to recover without using these principles, then you’re fighting an uphill battle.

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9. What got you clean will not keep you clean.

This becomes real obvious to anyone who sticks with traditional recovery programs for a few years. People who stagnate tend to relapse. People who show up to meetings and use them as a way to vent their frustrations, without putting in the effort to make any real growth eventually end up relapsing. And, people who rely on daily meetings as their only source of recovery lifeline tend to relapse.

The people who are pushing themselves to actually grow in traditional recovery probably don’t even realize that they do not need to lean so heavily on the “social” solution of daily meetings.

When I first got clean and sober I did it under medical supervision. Then I was in rehab for a few weeks, then I lived in a long term treatment facility for almost 2 full years. This is what got me clean and sober.

Would that keep me clean and sober today? Of course not. I have grown in different ways since then.

Not only that, but the tactics I was using in early recovery were much different than what I do today for my recovery. Early recovery tactics included heavy meeting attendance, sponsorship, and living in a controlled environment. These things would probably work great for me in the long run if I wasn’t growing at all. But I am growing and changing, and thus my strategy for recovery changes as well.

Today I can focus on holistic growth in a number of different areas, and the resulting boost in self esteem is far greater than what I could get than by concentrating all of my efforts in the same program (year after year).

Essentially you have the option: either stay stuck in a linear growth model with a narrow program of recovery, or expand your horizons and grow holistically, boosting your self esteem immeasurably.

What you do in recovery can and should change over time. If it’s not, that is a sure sign that you have become stagnant in your growth.

10. You must build self esteem through personal growth and self-care (not affirmations!)

Where does genuine and lasting self esteem come from?

It comes from personal accomplishments.

A big part of self esteem is in knowing. When you tell yourself that you are a good person, or that you can achieve great things, this might help your self esteem to some degree. But when you know these things, really know them on a deep level through experiencing them, that is when you start to really build up a strong sense of self worth.

Affirmations can be effective for some in correcting patterns of negative self talk, but the real boost in self esteem comes when you are setting goals and knocking them down with authority. Or when you are meeting challenges with apparent ease. Or when you are surprising yourself with a new level of discipline. When you know that you are making real progress in your life, this energizes you on a level that affirmations cannot hope to achieve.

This is why there is such a push for personal growth in creative recovery. You need to make real progress in your life in order to build genuine self esteem. Success breeds success. Taking action will lead you to a better attitude towards caring for yourself. A positive feedback loop is created.

But the loop starts with real action, not with happy thoughts or wishful thinking.

11. Romantic relationships + early recovery = Extreme danger.

I watched this tough lesson play out all around me in early recovery, over and over again. People in early recovery have a tendency to get into romantic relationships, because they have a tendency to be vulnerable in early recovery and many times will be recently split up.

This is extremely dangerous.

The reason that this is so dangerous is because these new relationships feel so good, and sap away any drive or passion for personal growth. Everyone thinks that they are immune to this phenomenon but they are not. If you find yourself getting romantically involved with someone in early recovery then your program of action will suffer. Period. There is no way around this, because the romantic relationship requires so much energy.

This is actually all about creative energy and the creative theory of recovery. Starting a new relationship takes creative energy with a huge emotional and spiritual investment on your part. No single person has enough energy reserves to tackle both the creation of a new relationship and the creation of a new life in recovery. The two things each require undivided attention.

The tricky part then becomes knowing when you are ready in your recovery to seek out a relationship. Move to early and you risk almost certain relapse.

12. Recovery is a process. Your tactics can and will change over time.

Some of us have a tendency to think of recovery as an event, or at least to have this vision of what makes up a “perfect recovery.” We think there are certain things that everyone should do in order to be working a perfect program of recovery, and so we strive to meet that vision.

This is ridiculous. Recovery is a process. That means we will change over time. How we approach recovery will change over time. If it did not, then we would not be growing. The key then is to embrace these changes and push yourself to grow in many different ways.

Many people have a narrow vision of growth in recovery. They try to grow along a narrow spiritual line, in hopes that it will lead them to a life of recovery. While this does work for some, why limit yourself? Focus on an holistic approach and push yourself to grow in several different areas.

13. External motivation produces extremely poor results. Self motivated addicts don’t fare so well either.

It is a sad truth of recovery that the odds are stacked against us. Many people suffer from a misconception regarding their chances of success in recovery: they believe that they have a much greater chance of staying sober based on the fact that they are self-motivated. This is not true.

People believe this because they have struggled with addiction in the past, and have gone through brief periods where they tried to quit using for someone else, or they tried to quit using to avoid legal consequences. In other words, they have had past experience with trying to recover based on external motivation. And of course they failed to stay clean in those cases.

Because of those past experiences, these people naturally believe that things will be different now that they genuinely want to get clean and sober for themselves. This is where the sad truth of the matter comes into play: it seems to make no difference. By the numbers, those who are forced into treatment seem to succeed at about the same rates as those who voluntarily enter treatment. And in both cases, the success rates aren’t so great.

But this is not to say that there is no hope, because there most certainly is. People can and do recover each and every day, many of us over long periods of time. But be aware of this extremely common misconception that people have regarding motivation and what it can (and cannot) do for their chances of success.

Just because someone finally wants to get clean for themselves is no guarantee that this will be their lucky break in recovery. The relapse rates remain constant across the board regardless of how you are motivated.

14. The cost of continuing to use drugs and alcohol is ridiculously high.

It is difficult to place a value on the cost of continuing to use drugs and alcohol. For true addicts and alcoholics, the cost is fairly close to infinite, because our obsessive nature in pursuing that next fix basically consumes us in total.

The monetary cost of addiction is staggering as well. The cost of the drugs and the alcohol itself is merely the beginning. Try to put a price on the relationships we screw up, or on the years or decades of life that is lost due to our addictions.

But the real cost of addiction is much greater than even that. The real cost of addiction comes from the fact that you could get clean and sober and have a positive affect on other people in the world. By getting clean and sober, you could change lives on a much greater scale than what you are anticipating and affect real change in the world.

The real cost in addiction is in lost service to others. You have a purpose in life; a reason for being. The cost of addiction is that you sacrifice that purpose and live a meaningless existence.

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15. Spiritual growth is necessary for long term success.

Spiritual growth is not the entire answer to recovery, but it is still a critical component. You must progress spiritually in order to grow over the long term.

Understand that “spiritual growth” encompasses a great many things. It is broader than what you probably think it is. For example, painting can be spiritual. Exercise can be spiritual. Some of us have a tendency to equate “spiritual” with religious ideas. This is not the case in recovery and we might do well to redefine what we think of as being “spiritual.”

For example, in practical terms, part of our spiritual growth is a shift from self-seeking and self centered behavior (in using drugs and alcohol) towards a genuine interest in others and their welfare. This usually manifests itself in the form of reaching out to other addicts and alcoholics in recovery.

This is an important part of our spiritual development because if we remain self centered, then we run the risk of eventually justifying and rationalizing why we should allow ourselves to self medicate again. In trying to help others to recover, we fight off this potential relapse trigger in a very direct way.

Our pursuit of spiritual growth also pushes us to grow as a person in order to better help others. This in turn boosts our self esteem because we are making real growth and progress on ourselves. So our spiritual growth becomes part of a positive feedback loop in which we grow and change in recovery.

16. Self-pity is a dangerous indulgence that can potentially destroy you.

In recovery, it is OK to feel sad. There is nothing wrong with our emotions, and we can’t choose what we feel anyway (only what we think). So if you happen to feel sad about something, there is nothing wrong with that. You are supposed to feel sad at times. This is normal.

What is not normal is when you take your sadness and create an obsessive loop in your mind where you are a victim. This is self pity. It becomes a real problem when you start feeling sorry for yourself in such a way that you are no longer creating a positive new life for yourself in recovery.

When I first got clean and sober I noticed that self pity was one of my typical responses when something bad happened in my life. It was obvious to me that this would eventually undermine my recovery efforts if I did not put a stop to it. My strategy for doing so basically amounted to a zero tolerance policy that I made with myself. I made a decision to stop myself whenever I noticed that I was starting to feel sorry for myself. I simple did not allow myself to go there. Instead, I chose an empowering attitude of action and creation. In other words, when something bad happens to me, I simply brush it off and know that I am still making progress in my life. I can still choose to take action in spite of whatever circumstances life throws at me. I do not have to play the victim anymore.

If you are prone to feeling sorry for yourself then you need to raise your awareness about it and shut it down before it starts. In recovery, we no longer have the luxury of feeling sorry for ourselves. Instead, we must take positive action. This is the key to overcoming self pity.

17. Resentment is a dangerous indulgence that can potentially kill you.

You have to let anger go in recovery or it will consume you. Obsessive anger is resentment, and it takes up a lot of mental energy. The reason this is so detrimental is 2 fold:

1) Resentment fills you with negative energy.

2) Resentment consumes you and becomes an obsession and detracts from creative potential and positive energy.

The big book of Alcoholics Anonymous points this out clearly enough, calling resentment “the number one offender” when it comes to relapse. But even if it doesn’t drive you to relapse, resentment is extremely harmful because it uses up so much mental energy.

The next time you find yourself angry at someone–really angry–try to gain an awareness of just how much energy you are expending on that situation. It’s actually quite exhausting, but we normally do not realize it because our focus has become so narrow and our thoughts have become so obsessive.

The creative life in recovery demands positive energy and positive action. Resentment saps the energy needed to make real progress in recovery. We cannot afford resentments in recovery.

18. The secret of taking action is to take action.

Positive action is one of the big secrets to a successful life in recovery. So what is the secret to positive action? Positive action!

Sometimes we can kill our plans before they even get started. We see a lofty goal in the distant future and become discouraged from ever getting started on the path.

This is a defeating attitude. The secret of momentum is to take action. Get started on those big goals, even with just a little start, and your efforts will start to snowball if you stick with it.

Let me give you an example. For many years I struggled with quitting smoking. When if finally came down to it, I used a brute force approach and took decisive action, even as I was starting to second guess my decision to quit (which every smoker will do). What I did was to start flushing my system by drinking large amounts of juices and I stayed up all night long, becoming really tired. Finally I collapsed the next day and slept for almost 24 hours straight. When I woke up, I was through the worst of the Nicotine withdrawal. This was the start of my 3 year journey with quitting smoking that has saved me almost $5,000 dollars now. Notice how I built momentum from taking that initial action….momentum that carried me through the worst of my withdrawals.

My point is that it started with action. I had played with the idea for so long in my mind, and tried and failed so many times before by dancing around the real issue (not smoking) and doing just about everything but taking real action.

I had tried so many mental games in the past to try and motivate and convince myself to quit smoking. In the end, the whole secret was to take action.

19. Growth in recovery is almost never linear.

This fools everyone at first, because we are so used to experiencing linear growth in our lives with other things. In other words, we experience fairly straightforward, linear growth when we learn to ride a bike. Or when we are learning algebra in high school. With most experiences in our lives, we tend to get a little better each day, bit by bit. The growth is a relatively even upward trend.

In recovery, growth is not like this at all. Instead of being a straight line going up from left to right, it is a curve that starts out much more slowly at first, then rounds the corner and shoots up towards the end (just like exponential growth).

This is why relapse rates are so lousy in recovery. Because growth in recovery is not linear. If it was, then we could all experience modest success fairly early in our recovery.

But because the growth curve starts out so slowly, recovery is essentially a long, hard road at first, with little rewards to be had immediately. If you think about this it makes perfect sense. Most of us who first get clean and sober have all sorts of life problems smack us in the face during our first few months of sobriety.

Many will have legal problems. Many others will discover health issues that were masked by addiction. And still others will experience relationship problems. And this could all be happening within the first 30 days of sobriety! It’s no wonder that so many relapse in early recovery.

But even beyond this, there is a huge hump that the recovering addict must get past in order to achieve meaningful sobriety and move on to “stage 2 recovery.” This is where we think growth will be linear in getting us there, but it is not. The reason it’s not linear is because we have to grow in several different areas of our lives in order to achieve “stage 2 recovery.” This is holistic growth; developing in different areas and treating our whole being as an addict (physical, mental, spiritual, etc.). This is why recovery is not linear and it is only in sticking it out for the long haul do we start to see the benefits pile up further down the road.

20. Gratitude is a critical mindset.

Gratitude is so powerful that it can almost keep you clean and sober all by itself.

That’s because gratitude is an attitude, or a mindset. It is a lens through which you see the world; a positive spin that you can put on any situation.

For most recovering addicts, the point of relapse is preceded by a little switch in their mind that–after that switch is flipped–they say “screw it.”

Screw it, I’m just going to get high. Screw it, I’m just going to drink. Screw it, nothing matters anyway. This is the point of no return. This is the point of relapse.

Gratitude is prevention against this fatal mindset. Gratitude protects you from saying “screw it.”

Gratitude is actually a prayer. Most people do not realize this. Giving thanks, whether to your higher power or just to the universe in general, is actually a prayer offering. It is a deep and holy sense of well being and thankfulness for existence itself. This is the power of gratitude…that it can rewire your brain for a positive outlook on life.

Practicing gratitude on a daily basis is a powerful recovery strategy. Use it.

21. Meetings are a tactic, not a strategy. Using them as a long term recovery strategy creates another dependency.

Recovering addicts and alcoholics get this mixed up all the time in traditional recovery circles. This is mostly due to an over-emphasis on meeting attendance as a recovery solution. Many who go to daily meetings only use them as an outlet to vent their frustrations, and do not really use them as an opportunity to grow and receive valuable feedback.

Thus, meetings are a tactic; a gimmick. They can help people in recovery, but they are not the ultimate solution, nor should they be made into one. Using them as such only creates another dependency, one that will eventually fail the recovering addict when they inevitably have to face life without quick and easy access to their preferred venting outlet.

Meetings are external. Any strategy that creates a foundation for long term recovery must be internal in order to be sustainable.

Many who are successful in recovery will attend daily meetings, and some of them attribute their success to doing so. But look deeper into their lives and you will see that they are creating a powerful life for themselves outside of meetings. Their daily meeting attendance does not drive their success in recovery. Their growth comes from (and through) their day-to-day life experiences.

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22. Statistically, the odds are heavily stacked against you. It doesn’t matter.

You create your own success in recovery. This is about personal responsibility and if you truly accept your condition of addiction and make a decision to overcome it then the statistics do not apply to you.

Most people who get caught up in addiction or alcoholism will struggle their whole lives with it. Addictive behavior is “sticky” in that we fall into long term patterns and adopt a certain lifestyle. It can be very difficult to break free from the chains of addiction when you consider how infected our lives become with our drinking and drugging.

Addiction affects us on so many different levels. Successful recovery requires a tremendous amount of concentrated effort. Most will not bother with this challenge and will lapse into the lazy solution of simply accepting their disease and cycling through periods of heavy drug use and being “dry.” Others will make a half-hearted attempt at recovery but never achieve lasting sobriety and growth.

Many will never even be exposed to the 12 step program. Of those who are, a full 80 percent will never attend a second meeting for the rest of their life (AA’s own census data) and 95 percent never return after the first year. And of those who stay in AA, many will struggle with continuous relapses.

So yes, the odds are against you. But it doesn’t matter.

You’re not a statistic, you are a real person. Just like I am. And I’m going on 8 years of continuous sobriety now.

23. “Relapse prevention” is mostly a gimmick. Coping skills are just more tactics.

The idea of relapse prevention seems good in theory. Take a recovering drug addict or alcoholic and teach them skills for coping with life’s troubles. Teach them how to avoid slippery situations and to recognize their triggers and so on.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t work.

The reason that relapse prevention fails to actually, you know, prevent relapse is due to the nature of addiction. Our disease is so complicated and has infiltrated so many aspects of our lives that trying to come up with an arsenal of tactics to successfully deal with each situation is impossible.

They say that our disease is cunning and powerful and that it can sneak into our lives in areas where we least suspect it. So why on earth would we try to prevent this based on a number of different tactics? If we devise a solution for preventing relapse in one area of our life, then addiction will only find another sneaky route through which to penetrate our defenses, right?

Relapse prevention is just a bunch of tactics. Even if you could come up with a hundred different ones and manage to keep them all straight, you will still find yourself unprepared some day when the disease comes knocking on a door that you did not expect.

What you need are strategies, not tactics.

For example, the 12 step program is actually these 3 strategies:

1) Find God.
2) Clean house.
3) Help others.

Using strategies over tactics offers the flexibility and customization necessary for you to succeed in recovery. It’s not necessary to use the 3 strategies listed above. You could even use a strategy such as “love yourself” and be successful in recovery, if you work diligently at it.

Also, beware of people who take a mere tactic (such as “going to meetings”) and elevate it to the level of ultimate strategic solution. While meetings might be helpful, they do not comprise a recovery strategy by themselves and should not be relied on in this way.

24. Addiction is complicated.

We want for it to be so easy. People say things like “this is a simple program (referring to the 12 step program) for complicated people.

I have news for you: Addiction is complicated, and recovery is necessarily complicated as well.

But that doesn’t mean that we can’t simplify it into a few basic strategies. The way that an individual in recovery takes those simple strategies, however, and applies them in their life in order to make a successful recovery, can become very complicated indeed.

Addiction is complicated. Just picture all the ways that drug addiction or alcoholism infiltrates our lives. We are consumed by our addiction in almost every way. It starts to dictate our social engagements, who we hang around with, what job we take, how we behave emotionally, how we develop mentally….it affects our nutrition, our fitness level, our mental status, and so on. It is definitely not simple. Addiction affects our whole being. It affects every aspect of our lives.

Recovery, therefore, must address our whole being. That is why the solution is not just spiritual, it is holistic. A spiritual solution falls short of treating the whole person.

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25. Comprehensive solutions for addiction are necessarily complicated.

Because addiction is so complicated, the best solution is bound to be holistic and somewhat complicated. But it doesn’t have to be a mystery in order to figure out the proper path. In fact, starting out is quite simple, and the complicated solution will unfold of it’s own accord as you progress in recovery.

What I’m saying here is that, when you get a few years sober in recovery you can look back and say “wow, who would have thought that this is what I needed to live a good life in recovery? Who could have predicted this intricate path that got me to where I am today?”

The path is complicated, but if you follow some basic strategies and allow for a flexible approach, finding your solution will be no problem at all.

We could examine several case studies of recovering addicts and alcoholics who have found success in recovery, and all of them might have very different approaches to recovery. I know this to be true because I live and work in a diverse recovery community with many examples of different “programs.”

So don’t fall into the trap of claiming that the solution is simple. It’s not. And it’s not easy either. But you can find the right path for you if you work at it.

26. Recovery is a state of learning.

This is obvious to anyone with a few years sobriety.

Recovery is learning. When you first get clean and sober, you can barely find your shoes. (Sometimes they’re just plain gone!). The next thing you have to do is get all the drugs and alcohol out of your system. After that, everything becomes a learning event.

Got a bunch of free time on your hands? You have to learn how to get through that clean and sober.

Got a big party to go to that you used to get smashed at? You have to learn how to get through that clean and sober.

Got to go to work, where you used to secretly self medicate in order to get you through the day? More learning is required.

Because addiction permeated our entire life, we have to relearn how to live without chemicals.

But the need for learning goes beyond this, because there will always be new situations we encounter that we’ve never had to deal with before. In cases like this, our first response might be to pull out an old coping mechanism that used to work great for us…such as self medicating with drugs or alcohol.

So we have to be flexible enough in recovery to be able to deal with new experiences while staying clean and sober.

We also have to learn how to build self esteem. Our drug of choice used to provide all of this for us. Now we have to create our own.

In order to maintain that self esteem, we have to learn how to take care of ourselves. In addiction, many of us abused and neglected our bodies. Now we have to take care of ourselves in order to preserve our self esteem and stay healthy.

In short, recovery is a learning process that never ends, because we continue to grow and to change in recovery. The things that worked for us at 30 days clean will not work for us at 3 years clean. We have to keep growing in recovery in order to succeed and that means continuous learning.

27. There are at least 3 levels of denial.

Most people think that denial is fairly straightforward and easy to recognize. If that were the case then denial would probably not be denial!

We all probably know about blatant denial, such as when we are slowly killing ourselves each day with drugs and alcohol, but trying to maintain some semblance of sanity and generally hold our life together amidst the chaos. Most of us have been there before.

But there are other, more subtle forms of denial that can attack us even in our recovery. For example, many people in early recovery who are single will find themselves in a relationship soon after getting sober. This is a huge breeding ground for denial, and it is much more subtle and therefore dangerous. In most cases, the people in the relationship will feel good about themselves and about the new relationship and will deny any evidence to the contrary. It is a form of getting “high” in early recovery and can blind us from the truth.

An even more subtle from of denial is when people stay stuck in a recovery solution that is not really pushing them to grow and flourish in recovery, but merely to tread water and maintain a baseline of near-misery.

In all cases there is only one solution for breaking through denial, that is to face reality squarely and make the decision to do what is right for you in your recovery. But understand that denial is not always as blatantly obvious as we thought it was. It can creep into our lives in many different areas.

28. Complacency is twice as dangerous as resentments are.

We are told in early recovery that “resentment is the number one offender” that leads us to relapse.

Turns out this isn’t true after you progress in your recovery a bit. After transitioning to long term sobriety, your biggest enemy is complacency, not resentment.

What complacency does is allow you to slip back into stagnation instead of actively pursuing personal growth. If you allow this to happen then your self esteem will eventually suffer. This sets the stage for potential relapse.

So the reason you need to fight complacency is so that you can keep achieving new goals and thus feel good about yourself. Without doing so, you run the risk of becoming lazy and depressed.

If resentments are still your biggest problem after a few years in recovery then you are not doing things right. If this is the case then you are probably still stuck in stage one recovery and have yet to really transition to long term, holistic living. Make it a priority to do so and you’ll move beyond the level of resentments and anger and start living with passion and purpose.

Photo by Wolfgang Staudt

29. Many in recovery fall into the trap of using 12 step meetings as group therapy.

While this works for some, there is no great push for personal growth outside of the 12 step principles.

The 12 step program is useful and offers a ton of support for the newcomer, but it can also trap people by limiting them in their growth. What happens is that many in recovery will focus on making daily meetings as their primary solution, and they tend to “talk the talk” in meetings without really applying the spiritual principles of the program.

Some can stay sober with this approach and some cannot. Of the ones who do remain sober, they tend to grow very slowly or not at all, and only cling to their sobriety through a heavy dependence on daily meetings for their dose of “therapy.” These people tend to talk a good game in meetings but they are not really pushing themselves to grow out in the “real world.”

Obviously this is not a desirable way to work your recovery. It becomes a trap for people because they are taught that dependence on meetings is a good thing, and that if they drift away from the fellowship they will surely relapse and die.

It is not the 12 step program that is at fault here, the fellowship is more to blame. The spiritual principles of the program are sound and can offer much growth and guidance to those in recovery. The problem is when people get stuck in the program and are not really growing, but the fellowship insists that they are “right where they need to be.”

Any program that lures you into complacency is a trap. Any fellowship that encourages complacency (such as lifelong meeting attendance as a recovery solution) is detrimental to your success.

30. Sponsorship is of limited usefulness. Treat it as such.

In stage one of recovery, sponsorship is a useless crutch. In stage 2 recovery (holistic growth and creation), a sponsor is only marginally more useful. They are best utilized in the transition between the 2 stages.

The role of the sponsor is not to hold your hand through detox. Instead, they are best used if they can push you or help motivate you to grow as you are transitioning to long term recovery.

One study showed that the only benefit in sponsorship was in being one, but there was no benefit in having one. This study matches up nicely with 2 other truths that you will find over and over again on this page:

1) That no one can really tell you how to find a fulfilling life in long term recovery….you must find your own path, and

2) Reaching out and helping others in recovery is a powerful strategy.

This doesn’t mean that you should not have a sponsor, or that they can not be useful to you. But understand that a sponsor is of limited usefulness, and that most of your direction in recovery must come from within.

31. Short term residential treatment (28 days or less) has little to no effect on long term outcomes.

The substance abuse treatment industry is doing the best that they can. Unfortunately, our best efforts seem to produce dismal relapse rates, and most of the time these rates seem to border on that of spontaneous remission.

In other words, short term treatment doesn’t seem to help much. At all.

Now, it is true that many people do get clean and sober at rehab, as I have done so myself (several times!). But really, what is the value of a few weeks sobriety? Very little. The real prize is in long term sobriety, and that seems to have almost no correlation at all with a short stay in rehab.

Now this doesn’t mean that treatment is useless, or that you should not seek out treatment because it is so terribly ineffective. Just understand that treatment is a step….probably one of many steps that a person might take in their recovery journey. It certainly is not a magic bullet and what you learn there is not going to keep you sober for rest of your life.

If you want to stay sober for the rest of your life, then you have to keep learning and growing for the rest of your life. Even after a few short years of sobriety, you will look back on that 28 day program and wonder how you ever managed to stay clean at all. That’s because the real learning in recovery starts when you walk out of that treatment center and into the real world.

Rehab is about stage one recovery. Stage 2 recovery is about the rest of your life. That’s what is going to make or break your sobriety.

32. Sometimes addiction is not the biggest problem in a person’s life. Trying to treat addiction in these cases is futile without addressing other needs.

I have seen many examples in recovery where a recovering addict or alcoholic does not realize that they actually have bigger problems than their addiction. Failing to realize this and act accordingly then creates even bigger problems for these people.

One example of this is with mental illness. Now there are plenty of people out there with a dual diagnosis, in which drug addiction actually is their biggest problem. But in some cases, the mental illness is a bigger problem than their addiction, and it is in these cases that priorities get mixed up.

Traditional recovery programs tend to think they can solve any problem. This is not always the case, and for many people in recovery, it makes sense to treat their mental illness first, before they try to tackle their addiction or alcoholism. Or at the very least they must treat the 2 things concurrently if they are to succeed.

Another example that comes to mind is with suicide. I have seen people with many years sober who have attempted to kill themselves. The amazing thing about this is that they maintain the idea that their addiction is still their biggest problem, even though they had not relapsed (but tried to kill themselves!).

This is a clear mistake in priorities. Suicide is a more serious problem than addiction because the after effects are so….permanent. Please don’t get confused about this in your recovery. If you have additional problems in your life–and many of us do–then seek additional help for those problems outside of traditional recovery programs.

33. For young people, traditional treatment models (12 step programs) are proven to be worse than no treatment at all.

There are several obstacles that make it very difficult to treat younger addicts and alcoholics, and our most popular treatment model of group therapy and meetings actually make outcomes worse for young people than if they had not been exposed to any treatment at all.

Surely we can do better than that. With the bulk of our current efforts, we are actually making things worse for young people in recovery. This has to be fixed.

So far, family involvement seems to show the most promise, but we would do well to expand this line of thinking and try some more creative approaches. For example, how about a “wilderness survivalist” approach, where a few guides take a group of troubled teens to live in remote areas? This obviously would need refinement, and it’s not clear if this model would scale well, but this represents the type of thinking that can potentially work for kids. What we are doing is not working. It’s time to experiment.

Photo by d3b…*

34. Behavioral approaches to recovery do not work.

Behavioral approaches to recovery are flawed because they do not promote growth or solve the problem of self esteem. In order to sustain long term sobriety, we have to find a way to build self esteem.

A behavioral approach to recovery is only attempting to treat the surface-level manifestations of a deeper problem. The 12 step program of Narcotics Anonymous correctly states that “using was but a symptom of our disease.” If you sober up a drunken horse thief, you still have a horse thief on your hands. A good program of recovery needs to address the root of the problem, not just the visible effects of the problem.

Furthermore, most behavioral approaches only attempt to remove the negative behaviors, and some will possibly try to substitute more positive actions in their place. Such an approach is doomed to failure. The only real way to make a lasting change is through a creative vision of recovery. This is the path to aligning yourself with new values. In other words, the path to long term recovery is one of positive growth; of building self esteem, not a path of merely eliminating old behaviors.

35. Any recovery program that can treat everyone won’t really help anyone.

Our existing approaches to recovery are one-size-fits-all. We are told that the 12 step program will work for anyone who truly wants it, yet according to AA World Services 95 percent leave within the first year and never return.

As a universal solution, this is unacceptable. Even AA themselves are stating that the failure rate is at least 95% or worse. Surely we can do better.

The key lies in customization. The creative approach to recovery allows for enough flexibility for the individual to find their own unique path. 3 guidelines lay down the foundation of our recovery strategy:

1) Caring for self

2) Networking with others

3) Personal growth

The real power of such guidelines is the ability to work them into your life, regardless of your circumstances. They are fundamental strategies that are universally applicable.

Your exact path in recovery cannot be prescribed to you. You must find it for yourself. Any solution that leads to a lifetime of passion and purpose is going to come from within. Because of this, recovery programs are merely guidelines, or suggestions.

36. Coping skills are secondary to lifestyle changes. The structure of the addict’s life must change.

Which do you think is more important: learning how to deal with your triggers and urges, or changing your lifestyle? If you said “learn to deal with triggers and urges,” then you’re thinking tactics, not strategy.

The best answer is to change your lifestyle from the inside out, such that you essentially “live your way into better thinking.” This is the more powerful approach with a greater chance of producing long term sobriety.

Think about it: trying to merely change your thoughts is a surface-level tactic at best. It might work, it might work for a short while, but what it doesn’t do is it does not really work at a deep level. Instead, think about making big, drastic changes in your lifestyle. For example, leaving an environment filled with drugs an alcohol to live in a long term treatment center. That is a big, strategic move that can eventually change your thinking from the inside out. This happens because you are making a drastic change and entering a supportive environment that can help carry you through your early recovery. It is a deep strategy in that it will affect many areas of your life. And, it will help change your thinking through better living.

In this way, consider not just tactics that can help you overcome addiction, but sweeping structural changes that you might make in order to set your life up better for success. This doesn’t necessarily have to be long term treatment. Another example is in leaving a job where your coworkers all drink or use with you. That is a massive (and necessary) structural change that can help set you up for success in recovery.

Forget tactics. Think structural. Think strategic. Think big. This is how to claim your recovery for yourself. With overwhelming force.

37. You are blessed. Be wary of taking full credit for it.

If you are clean and sober today, then you are truly blessed.

So many addicts and alcoholics will never even seek recovery. Of those who do, the vast majority will fail to achieve long term sobriety. Some of us just seem to be blessed with a second chance at life.

And there is seemingly no rhyme or reason to it. Sometimes the most dedicated people in recovery seem to relapse. Other times it seems to be the really smart ones who screw up….or the most spiritual people.

There seems to be no way to predict success in recovery. If you happen to be clean and sober today, count this as a major blessing. Give thanks.

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