How to Have the Right Attitude Entering Recovery and Addiction Treatment

How to Have the Right Attitude Entering Recovery and Addiction Treatment


The right attitude is everything when it comes to getting treatment for addiction or alcoholism. If you have not fully surrendered and made the decision to go to rehab, then your effort in recovery will probably be short-lived.

Many people who are forced into treatment have a bad attitude, and so nothing works out for them. They relapse quickly and return to their drug of choice almost immediately.

Having the right attitude does not insure your success, but it is a requirement to even make it possible. Without the right attitude towards recovery, you are pretty much dead in the water.

Working at a rehab facility for several years made this painfully obvious to me. It was very, very difficult not to become cynical when certain clients where checking into the facility, because it was just so obvious who actually had a chance at recovery, and who was destined for relapse. The staff tried to stay positive and we did everything that we could to NOT be this cynical, but our experience over the years was teaching us how to be a cynic. We spotted a bad attitude, and we just knew that this person was never going to make it. They were fighting against themselves, making everything harder than it had to be, and giving themselves every excuse in the world to justify their next relapse.

But this did not mean that someone with a bad attitude was doomed. One of the amazing things about working at a treatment center is that you realize that many people keep coming back until they “get it.” I saw this over and over again, and much to my surprise, many people who had a bad attitude eventually–sometimes years later–came back and finally “got it.” I’ll explain how this happened and what changes were necessary in order for this transformation to occur.

Why being overly confident in early recovery will never work out well

You might say that there is a fine line in recovery between having some confidence in what you are doing, and in having enough humility to be able to learn a new way of life. If you lack too much of either then you might be setting yourself up for failure.

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The problem comes in when people start trying to help each other in recovery, for example, in 12 step meetings. Statistics are often quoted, indicating that a very small percentage of people actually make recovery work out well for them in the long run, and that the vast majority end up relapsing.

People in early recovery hear these scary statistics being quoted in the meetings, and they get scared and become intimidated.

So what do you think the natural response that most people have to that is?

They get cocky. They overcompensate. They muster all of their confidence, and cling to the hope that they are working “the best possible program” for themselves. And so the person becomes overconfident about recovery, simply as a reaction to the fear that they have about relapse.

The truth is that a balance between humility and confidence is really what is needed. Being overconfident and shutting yourself off to new learning experiences is a sure path to disaster. For example, saying that “I go to meetings every day and I read the book every day and I’m living these 12 steps every day and no one is going to tell me anything that I am doing wrong with my recovery”….do you see how that sort of attitude can produce problems? The person is so scared and driven by fear of relapse, that they have put their recovery into this little box and they have convinced themselves that they are working the perfect little program, and that no one is going to tell them anything different. Their confidence in their recovery program is driven by fear of relapse. This is not good.

Instead, most programs talk about two other components of a successful recovery, and they sort of tie together, and both help to keep a person from becoming too overly confident. You need a mix of these two things as well with your confidence in order to stay clean and sober: humility and willingness.

Let’s take a closer look at both of them.

The role of willingness and being eager to soak up new knowledge

People in recovery programs everywhere hear it over and over again: “Willingness is key.”

We hear it over and over again because it is so true. You have to be willing if you are going to make the leap from active addiction to a new life in recovery.

Specifically though, what does our willingness really come down to? Because technically, a person could be willing to do anything, good or bad, but that does not necessarily make it right. Some discernment is still necessary, and we have to be willing to do the right things in our recovery. So what are those things?

First of all, we have to become willing to take direction from successful role models in recovery. This is the whole thing about “find someone who has what you want, and then ask them to guide you.”

For example, you may find someone in recovery who you can relate to a great deal. Your stories and backgrounds seem to match up quite a bit, and you really understand where the other person is coming from and what they are saying. Furthermore, this person used to be in your shoes, stuck in addiction, and now they have found this great new life in recovery.

Your willingness needs to be focused on taking direction and advice from this role model. They used to be in your shoes, and now they are in this great place in their life, a place that you very much would like to be yourself. So, take direction from them! Do what they tell you to do. They have it figured out, and you do not! If you did have it all figured out, then you would be at the same place in your life where they are now. But you’re not, so you would do well to take direction from them.

This is the first type of willingness that is so important to have in early recovery. It is really a willingness to model your life after someone who is successful. Modeling is an easy way to learn, and it is not too complicated either. Monkey see, monkey do. Simply imitate your role model and eventually you will start getting the same results that they are getting. Not too difficult. So what is it that prevents so many people from figuring this out and taking the required action?

Pride. Our pride gets in the way. We like to think that we are smart, in control, and can figure things out on our own. We like to think that we are smart enough to shape our own destiny. The truth is that our last few years of controlling our own life has been a real mess. Therefore, our willingness must be to overlook our precious ego, to put our pride on the shelf for a while, and to actually start taking direction from others. It is a blow to our selfish ego to do so, and that is why we have to be willing. We have to become willing to shelve our pride. We have to become willing to say “maybe their way is better than mine.”

The next form of willingness that we have to cultivate in early recovery is the willingness to live a new way of life. You might say that the first part of our willingness is about changing our minds and our attitudes and being able to accept some new direction, but that the second part of our willingness is really all about action.

We can say that we are willing and that we are taking on new ideas in recovery, but then what happens if nothing really changes? Were we truly willing in that case? No, we were not. Instead, real change in recovery is about action, about taking a new direction and actually following through with it.

So when people talk about willingness in recovery, they are really talking about a two-part concept, one that involves:

1) Accepting new ideas, direction, and advice into our mind.
2) Executing on that new advice and direction with our actions in the real world.

It is not enough to “want” something new for yourself in recovery. You have to go get it, physically make something happen, take real action and start putting in the footwork to make your recovery real.

The role of humility in getting clean and sober

A big part of the right attitude for successful recovery is in the idea of humility.

Most people do not have a clear concept of exactly what humility is and how it should relate to their recovery. Sometimes the word “humble” and “humility” will carry some baggage from the past for some people.

Let’s clear that all up right now and just say that for our purposes in recovery, we can take the idea of humility to mean that:

1) We are not the creator of the universe and we do not KNOW IT ALL.
2) If we are humble, we become willing to learn a lesson from ANY situation in our lives, if we care to examine it.

That’s it. A fairly simple two part definition.

The first part implies that each situation that we experience in life is new to us and could possibly teach us something. This is especially true if we are upset or reacting in any sort of negative manner. That is a clear sign that we should pay attention, reflect on the situation, and see if there is something that we must learn from it.

You see, recovery is not just about living, but it is about learning from life itself. If we continue to learn about our life as we experience it, then we are on a positive path in our recovery. “The unexamined life is not worth living.” (-Socrates).

On the other hand, if we are not examining our life as we live it, then we are inching closer and closer to relapse.

Why is this?

The problem is that we are addicts and alcoholics, and our natural, normal, default state of being is to self medicate with our drug of choice.

Think about that for a moment.

Our natural state of being is to take drugs and alcohol. That is normal for us. That is our default. That is what we will always return to, given enough time.

Therefore, as we move through life and live our recovery, we need to constantly be reinventing ourselves and learning more about ourselves.

Every new learning experience helps to protect us from future relapse. Every time we fail to learn from our negative experiences, we get closer and closer to reverting to self medicating and relapse.

What is the solution for any negative experience that we might have in life?

We can react in one of two basic ways:

1) We can examine the negative experience and try to learn from it, OR
2) We can self medicate the experience and try to ignore it.

There are other options, but they all boil down to one of those two things, essentially. We either confront our problems or we medicate them. We either examine our problems and deal with them, or we try to hide from them and ignore them until those actions cause us to relapse. There is really no third alternative. We either deal with our life or we revert back to our addiction. That is our only option.

This is why humility is so important. We will always have more problems in our future, most stuff to deal with, more lessons to be learned. The second that you think you know it all and cannot possibly learn anything more about life, that is when you start on the path towards a relapse.

How to cultivate the correct attitude for successful recovery

You have probably heard of terms associated with spirituality such as “mindfulness” and “awareness.”

These are both important concepts when it comes to having the right attitude toward recovery.

Both of these concepts hint at the idea that you need to watch your own mind, and see how it reacts to things, and see how your mind is attempting to manipulate you.

For example, say that you run into someone from your past life and that you had problems with during your active addiction. The encounter goes very badly and it gives you all sorts of feelings of regret and resentment toward the other person. Maybe you even notice that your mind is trying to use this as an excuse to drink.

Now think about this example for a moment. There are people in recovery who might not even realize that this trigger is occurring, that their own mind is attempting to get them to take a drink in order to self medicate. This is where you do NOT want to be as far as mindfulness and awareness are concerned.

So what is the correct approach?

The right attitude in recovery will flow from your desire to be mindful, be more aware, and to examine your life as you live it.

In the above example, you might later that day look back and realize that you had some feelings of resentment there, and that your brain immediately tried to get you to self medicate over it. So you would realize that there is some work to be done there, and that you should examine these feelings and probably talk to someone about them. Thus, you can work through your problems, so long as you recognize them first!

Remember, many people in recovery would not have even necessarily given much thought to this sort of trigger.

You have to be mindful, be aware, and watch how your brain is reacting to your life. Slow down, stop acting from a place of reaction, and start simply observing your brain. Notice when “your addiction” is trying to take control of your mind, and simply be aware of it. Watch it happen. Then, from a place of strength, take the steps to learn from this and grow stronger from it. This will almost always involve talking about it, examining the situation, and sharing about the experience.

The right attitude in recovery is one of:

1) Being willing – to learn from each new experience, and to take action.
2) Being humble – so that you can always learn something new, and keep moving forward in your recovery.
3) Being aware – so that you can observe your own mind and how it reacts to events in your life, and then learn from and examine those reactions.
4) Being mindful – so that you do not react hastily and make poor decisions when your addiction tries to take over.

These concepts are actually very simple. I hope I have not over-complicated them for you. Simply be mindful, and always seek to be learning, a new lesson from every experience. This is how to stay positive and learning throughout your recovery.

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