The first rule of recovery is that, without surrender, no meaningful recovery is possible.
This is the rule that stands above all other rules in recovery.
The addict or the alcoholic is someone who is in a battle with themselves for self control. This is because when they give in to their addiction and let loose, bad things happen and they lose control of themselves.
The alternative for the struggling addict or alcoholic is to attempt to reduce or eliminate their consumption, at which point they become miserable and stressed.
It feels like a trap that they cannot escape from, and a game that they can never win: Either they indulge and lose all control, or they restrain themselves and invite misery.
Is there no middle ground? Is there no happy medium?
No, there is not. That’s the whole point. This is really what defines addiction at the core–that the alcoholic or addict cannot self regulate, that they cannot moderate. If they could then the addiction would not exist, we would not cast that label on them.
So the addict or alcoholic is struggling to maintain control, and eventually this struggle wears them down over the years. Eventually they will reach a breaking point, given enough time and enough misery stacked up in their life. And when they reach this breaking point, they will enter a state of surrender in which they finally become willing to let go of their struggle for control.
When we say that an alcoholic has to “let go” in order to recover, what we are referring to is this struggle that they have with trying to both control and enjoy their drinking. They have tried to have it both ways–where they can stay in control and still enjoy themselves–and they finally admit at some point that they cannot. It is this acceptance and this moment of surrender that defines the first–and most important–rule of recovery.
No surrender, no recovery. That’s the rule that overrides everything else in the world of recovery.
Now a second rule of recovery that could be helpful to people would be an extension of the first rule, and that is the idea that we cannot solve our own problem of addiction.
The struggling alcoholic or drug addict cannot figure out their own problem. As they have struggled to maintain control of themselves, this is what they have been trying to do all along as they stumble their way through chaos and addiction itself: They have been trying to figure out the secret to successful drug or alcohol use.
And they have failed. The true addict or alcoholic has finally admitted to themselves that they cannot solve their own problem of addiction. They have tried so many different ways to be able to navigate their addiction successfully, and yet they keep enduring more and more chaos and misery.
Every alcoholic will come to realize, at some point, that they do not know how to make themselves happy any more. Their own personal formula for happiness did not work out and it caused them to be miserable, and they will finally admit this to themselves.
It is at this point of surrender that the struggling addict will say to the world “I don’t know how to live any more, and I do not know how to create my own happiness any more, someone please show me how.” And they are truly ready to listen and learn.
At this point they will hopefully go to treatment and start working a program of recovery. The basic idea is that, instead of chasing happiness as they were doing during their addiction, someone will teach the struggling addict or alcoholic the new habits that they need to establish in order to build a more successful life. Trading out their bad habits for healthy habits will eventually lead them to a healthier and more positive life. The hurdle here is that these new positive habits take time in order to kick in and produce real results. This is why many recovery programs are based on the idea of hope and faith, because the struggling alcoholic must go through a period in which they are learning how to recover but they are not yet enjoying the full benefits of recovery. So we need faith and hope to tide us over as our new efforts slowly begin to take hold in our recovery journey.
Now one final rule of recovery that I want to emphasize is something that often gets glossed over by recovery programs, and that is the concept of overcoming complacency.
Recovery is, in essence, personal growth. When an addict or alcoholic recovers from the seemingly hopeless state of addiction, they are able to do so because they are making positive changes in their life; trading out their bad habits for healthier lifestyle choices.
If you change one single thing today in your life and then you revert back to your old ways tomorrow, does this help your recovery? Not really. Only more permanent lifestyle changes really have an impact on the quality and length of your recovery.
Which brings us back to personal growth and the exchanging of bad habits for positive ones.
If you go to several AA or NA meetings you will eventually hear stories of people who had multiple years in recovery who then ended up relapsing. Why does someone relapse after they have several years sober and obviously know what it takes to maintain recovery? How and why does that relapse happen?
It happens because that person got complacent. They got too comfortable. They stopped challenging themselves with new areas of personal growth.
If you reach this sort of lull in your own journey and you become stagnant then you, too, are in danger of becoming complacent.
So the third rule of recovery is this: “Recovery is personal growth.”
If you are not moving forward in your journey then you are playing with fire. Relapse is the final outcome of complacency.
After you establish yourself in early recovery and you basically “figure out how to be a sober person” then you run the risk of kicking your feet up and coasting through your recovery. This is a mistake, because life is going to keep throwing new and unique problems into your lap. Therefore, in order to remain sober and resilient, you are going to need to be continuously learning and adapting.
Recovery is personal growth. If you stop learning and growing then you eventually relapse. The key is that you realize this and continue to take inventory of your life, your issues, and the potential areas of personal growth that you can tap into.
These are the rules that have served me well in recovery. Good luck to you on your own recovery journey!