Yesterday we looked at a method for recovery that does not depend on programs or meetings. Today we want to take a closer look at the real truth behind successful recovery, and what it really takes to maintain sobriety.
The true nature of addiction and alcoholism and the need for overwhelming force
One of the biggest and most important concepts to understand about addiction is the severity of it. Most people underestimate it by leaps and bounds. This includes both addicts and alcoholics but also the opposing group of “normies”: people who are not addicted to anything. Pretty much everyone underestimates what it will really take in order to overcome an addiction.
Part of this has to do with the insidious nature of addiction and alcoholism. When we think of our addiction in one dimension we do it a great disservice. The real power of addiction comes from the fact that it infiltrates nearly every aspect of our lives.
To the typical outsider, solving the problem of addiction often appears quite simple. In fact, the average “normie” cannot imagine what it is even so difficult for the struggling addict or alcoholic to begin with. Their entire perception of everything is “duh! Just stop drinking or taking drugs! How tricky is that?” But of course the problem is not that it is tricky, because we all know that such a solution is dead simple. Abstinence is pretty straightforward. The problem is not in figuring out that abstinence would be helpful, the problem is in actually doing it.
From the perspective of the addict or alcoholic, this is like climbing a mile high cliff without any safety equipment (or training!). They don’t even know where to start. Face life clean and sober? They don’t even know where to begin. This is because they are trapped so thoroughly by their pattern of behavior. They have come to rely entirely on self medicating each day for every little thing:
* Having a good day? Let’s celebrate by getting drunk or high!
* Having a bad day? Perfect excuse to use my drug of choice!
* Nice weather? Good excuse to go take a walk outside and use our drug of choice!
* Bad weather? Good excuse to stay in and feel justified in using our drug of choice!
You get the idea. The entire life of the addict has been built up around making excuses for getting drunk or high each day. It becomes a way of life, these justifications. So to suddenly expect such a person to embrace abstinence as their solution is a bit overwhelming. They can picture such an existence but the idea is quite terrifying to them. This is because nearly every moment of every day is now defined by their addiction. You take away their ability to self medicate and you leave them defenseless. Of course the idea in recovery is that you will learn new ways to deal with life, but that does not happen overnight, and that is certainly no comfort to someone who is facing their first days in detox.
The reason this intense amount of fear exists is because the struggling addict or alcoholic is so thoroughly trapped by their addiction. They are trapped and they know it. They cannot face life without self medicating and they feel doomed to be miserable without their drug of choice. At the same time they are coming to the realization that their drug of choice basically makes them miserable as well. Thus they feel defeated, as if in a no win situation. And on top of this all they feel unique, like no one else on the planet has every gone through exactly what they are dealing with. And to some extent, they are right. No one is exactly like they are, with their exact set of circumstances. Even though you might assure them that other addicts have recovered, they do not necessarily believe that this applies to them. They are many times completely hopeless.
So you must understand that overcoming drug addiction or alcoholism is not a trivial matter, and in fact it is the most intense and difficult thing that most people have ever attempted. Ever. This means that they have never faced a greater challenge in their life. Certainly this was true for me as well in my own journey. I had never done anything quite so difficult, had never dealt with a problem in my life that was so insidious and deeply ingrained. I had to fight like hell in order to finally turn my life around and it was definitely the most difficult challenge I have ever faced in life. Based on my observations of others in recovery, this was not unique to my situation. If you ask a dozen people in recovery if this is the most difficult challenge they have ever faced in life, all of them are likely to respond with “yes, it is.”
Therefore this should provide you with a key insight into recovery from addiction: it requires overwhelming force. This is simply the idea that instead of just trying to meet a goal (such as recovery from substance abuse) that you should instead attack the goal with every single resource you have available, completely crushing the goal instead of just barely achieving it.
This is especially important due to the pass/fail nature of addiction recovery. If you give it a 99 percent effort in recovery and that tiny 1 percent trips you up and causes you to relapse, then you still fail totally and completely with a full reset back to the chaos and misery of active addiction.
Unfortunately, recovery is pass/fail. This is because recovery is based on total abstinence. I suppose there may be some out there who have learned how to moderate their drinking or drug use but I have never encountered such people. They must be quite rare, and I do not think that my ideas apply to them. If you can moderate, more power to you! But I was never able to do so and therefore at some point I had to accept the label of “addict” and “alcoholic.” Once I accepted this on a very deep level I was able to see that abstinence was the best solution for me and from that moment forward my life has got better and better.
With such an approach to recovery, your success is either an A+ or an F. You either pass or you fail. If you are getting a “C-” in your recovery then you are headed for relapse. If you are getting a “B+” then you are probably gonna make it just fine. I don’t know exactly what happens in the middle ground there and I don’t care to find out, because eventually everyone slides all the way over to an A+ or an F-. Recovery is pass/fail. You either stay clean and sober for the long haul or you end up relapsing. When you relapse you lose everything. All progress made is completely lost and must be rebuilt again from scratch, if you can even manage to sober up again and start on the recovery journey a second time. Doing so is reportedly “much harder than the first time.”
With such a clear division between success and failure in recovery (either you remain sober or you don’t), it makes sense to push extra hard in order to get the positive result. This is even more true based on the fact that you will backslide and lose nearly everything good in your life if you do end up relapsing. Everything hinges on continued abstinence. This has to be the priority and it has to come first, before everything else.
So how does the concept of overwhelming force come into play here? Let’s look at two examples:
1) Someone who is NOT using overwhelming force in recovery – they might go to treatment but they don’t necessarily pay close attention. They kick their feet up and relax. Then they get suggestions from counselors and therapists about what to do when they leave rehab, but they only agree to think about these suggestions and give them consideration. After leaving treatment they may implement some suggestions but not all of them. For example, they might go to outpatient treatment as instructed but not go to any 12 step meetings as was suggested. They don’t get a sponsor or get involved with the fellowships or anything. Such a person is following some suggestions, but they are certainly not applying overwhelming force. Their prognosis is not good.
2) Someone who IS using overwhelming force in recovery – they go to treatment after asking for help and they pay close attention in each group and in each meeting, hanging on to each word as if their life depended on it. They are quick to take notes and they are eager to follow through with suggestions. When they leave rehab they follow through with every suggestion they were given, devoting nearly all of their time and energy to their new journey in recovery. They immerse themselves fully in a recovery solution such as AA or NA. They get a sponsor, they attend lots of meetings, and they get involved. Every valid suggestion they are given is followed up on. They are studying the literature and writing about themselves. If they are in AA or NA they are working the steps immediately. They dedicate nearly every waking hour to their recovery effort. Their chances are better than average.
Think about this for a moment–there are a whole bunch of people who try to get clean and sober, all the time. Out of that huge mix of people, you have the “average person” in recovery.
Now look carefully at the statistics. Seriously, think about this. What happens to the average person in recovery? How many people stay clean and sober for at least five continuous years?
Something like only 3 or 5 percent of people make it to five years clean and sober. So the average person relapses.
In fact, most of the people who try harder then the average also relapse.
This is extremely important!
Realize this now, because the odds are stacked up against you. There is no need to be scared or intimidated, but you would be wise to take action based on this information. If the average person relapses, and many of the people who are trying harder than average ALSO relapse, then what does that mean for you and your recovery effort?
If you want to succeed, then you need to use overwhelming force. Your goal is to try harder than average. Because the average person relapses.
How much harder? Well, just going to meetings every day is no longer good enough. Tons of people do that and only a handful of them end up staying clean and sober. Going to daily meetings is not enough, in and of itself. You have to do more than that.
So think carefully about the concept of overwhelming force. This is the idea that you are not just going to barely meet your goal of staying sober, but you are going to completely dominate and crush your goal instead. This is the only way to really insure your sobriety. Think about the thousands of “average people” in recovery who all believed that they were doing what they needed to do in order to stay clean and sober. They underestimated the challenge and the overestimated their own ability to recover. Don’t do this! Instead, have a massive respect for your disease and the insane amount of power it has to destroy your life (if you let it!). But, you don’t have to let your disease win. You can crush it by taking action instead. Reckless action. Ruthless action. You have to attack your recovery with everything you’ve got. You have to try harder in recovery than anything you have ever done before in your entire life.
Think back to challenges that you have faced in the past. You may have had to put forth a serious effort in order to achieve certain things in your life. Think back to the effort that you made.
Recovery is not like this. It is different than previous challenges that you faced because of a couple of reasons:
1) Recovery from addiction is pass/fail. It is all or nothing. Relapse just a little bit, and you lose everything.
2) Addiction is insidious and it affects your entire life. It is a holistic disease and therefore it demands a holistic solution. You cannot compartmentalize your recovery from addiction. Many people try to do this at first. They try to put their recovery in a box, and then live their “normal life” outside of recovery. They try to separate the two lives: recovery and then non-recovery. This will never work and it will always lead to relapse.
Indeed, the only way to recover successfully from addiction or alcoholism is to merge your two “lives,” both your recovery life and your non-recovery life. They must become one and the same. The best way to do this is to dedicate your entire life in early recovery to overcoming your addiction. This is how to embrace overwhelming force. Just push everything else aside in your life for a while and concentrate on conquering your addiction. This is not a side project. This is the hardest thing you have ever attempted! Treat it as such. Give it the respect that it deserves and realize that it is going to take a supreme effort–that is, you need to try harder at recovery than anything you have ever attempted in the past, ever.
Overwhelming force. Use it!
Is dedication to AA the best path for long term sobriety?
I have no objection to using the concept of overwhelming force in combination with programs such as AA or NA in early recovery. I think that ultimately this is what most people should do in the early days of their journey. Those programs are widespread and are currently the dominant solution out there to help people. It’s all about the people anyway, at least as far as support goes in early recovery.
The question then becomes: do you want to still be relying on daily AA meetings when you have achieved long term sobriety? My thought is that “no,” you probably do not want that. That is not what I wanted anyway.
That said, I would urge you to find the path that is truly working for you in long term recovery. That said, you need to be very careful when you are evaluating your long term strategy for recovery. Why? Because the number one killer in long term recovery is complacency.
You have to get honest and evaluate yourself in your long term journey. If you are doing this right then you will probably want to get feedback from other people as well. Of course you have to balance this carefully with their fear-based responses that are typical of anyone seeking to leave the daily AA meetings.
What I would advocate rather than a lifetime of daily AA meetings is a lifetime of personal growth and development. If you need to stay in daily meetings in order to achieve this personal growth, then by all means, do it. Keep going to meetings. But this is also where you need to get honest with yourself, because a lot of people who stay in AA for years and years end up getting a bit lazy and complacent. They show up to meetings every day and this makes it fairly easy to “coast” and to stay sober without putting in much additional effort.
Me? I wanted to work a bit for it. I wanted to put in some additional effort. I wanted to push myself to exercise, to create a business for myself, to accomplish some unique things. I don’t know as if I would have pushed myself to do these things if I were sort of “stuck” relying on a daily AA meeting to keep me sober. Therefore I believe there is a right and a wrong way to use the 12 step programs. If you just show up to meetings each day and you rely on them to keep you sober then this is generally not so good. On the other hand if you are working a strong recovery OUTSIDE of the meetings and then you show up them and give back to the community, then this is probably the right way to do it. Most people are stuck in the pattern of the former group.
So I am not trying to talk people out of AA if that is what is working for them, but I would try to “wake them up” if they are just sort of stuck going to daily meetings and not really getting stronger outside of the meetings in any way.
If that is the case then I think such people could benefit from taking a good look at their recovery, and figuring out how to pursue personal growth outside of the framework of AA.
How you benefit from a transition to independence and personal growth
If you can learn to push yourself a bit to make personal growth outside of AA, then you gain extra insurance against relapse. You do not have to leave AA necessarily. But imagine if you were engaged in the act of personal growth to the extent that you truly did not NEED a recovery program any more in your life, you no longer relied on AA to keep you sober. This is the power of personal growth in recovery. If you can embrace such a cycle of self analysis, reflection, and achieving goals, then you can gain this level of independence in recovery.
This ties into the concept of overwhelming force as well. When your recovery is sustained entirely by your own personal growth efforts, then AA meetings become just another resource that you can draw on to help you in your journey. You will not depend on them for your sobriety but they can still be a part of your overall “safety net.”
The safe and comfortable path is not always the best one. I have grown tremendously outside of the meetings. Complacency claims many lives……