Anyone can learn to overcome alcohol addiction provided they are willing to take action.
The key of course is that you have to be willing to follow through. So many people who try to get sober are not fully willing to dedicate their lives to sobriety. Instead they dabble in recovery, they get a short break from the madness, but then they are right back at it and drinking again. Why do people relapse? It is because they do not take action in order to remain clean and sober. This lack of action is due to a lack of willingness. The lack of willingness is due to a lack of total surrender.
When people surrender fully to their disease, they become willing to do what it takes in order to remain sober. But up until that point they are basically just playing games, and potentially even fooling themselves into believing that they are ready to change.
So the question is: “How do you surrender?”
Starting from ground zero: how to surrender to your disease
The moment of actual surrender may not be something that you can choose. If we knew for certain that you could choose to surrender then the problem of addiction and alcoholism would be solved. It would be easy. We would simply instruct people to surrender, and that would be that. They would go on to follow a recovery program and their life would get better and better without their drug of choice.
But obviously this does not work. You cannot just tell someone to surrender and expect them to do it.
In fact, even if the struggling alcoholic wants to surrender, they may not be able to simply do so on command. They may not know how. At one point in my journey this was the point that I was at. I did not necessarily know what I wanted in life but I knew that I wanted something different than what I was getting. And yet I felt trapped by my alcoholism and I did not know how to break free, I did not know how to leave alcohol behind without becoming so miserable that I wanted to self destruct. I felt completely trapped by my addiction. Someone could have told me to surrender and I would have given them a blank stare at that time. How was I supposed to surrender? I already knew that I wanted something else in life. I just wasn’t willing to do it, because I did not see how sobriety could work for me and I was too afraid to give it a chance. I was stuck.
Once you reach the moment of true surrender, there is nothing else to really figure out. You have arrived at the moment of change and now you can ask for help and follow through on the advice you are given. Once you have surrendered fully then everything will fall into place. Now it doesn’t matter which treatment center you go to or who you choose for a sponsor. So long as you have surrendered fully to your disease, everything should work out for the best. You have switched over to the path that leads to sobriety.
So if you cannot directly choose to surrender, what can you possibly do that will bring you closer to sobriety? How can you consciously move closer to surrender?
I did it by focusing on the misery in my life. I know that sounds a little bit backwards and maybe even a little depressing, but it’s true. I finally was able to break through my denial when I started to focus on the misery and chaos in my life. I started to embrace the chaos. I started to notice and accept the negative things rather than trying to cover them up and minimize them. I started to see the truth.
What happened is that I was sick and tired of being on a hamster wheel. The hamster wheel was essentially me, trying to self medicate with alcohol every day and be happy, while also holding together some sort of life and trying to convince others and myself that I was OK. Of course the truth was that I was not OK and I was slowly killing myself with drugs and alcohol.
But denial causes us to ignore this simple fact. Our denial causes us to keep using our drug of choice while pretending everything is fine. We attempt to minimize the negative stuff and focus on the positive. This is how we keep the balancing act up while we are stuck in addiction. We tell ourselves that everyone else is drinking or using drugs too. We tell ourselves nearly anything in order to rationalize our behavior. And so we just keep on using our drug of choice while telling ourselves whatever we can figure out in order to make it OK. But of course it is not OK.
When you finally break through the last bit of your denial you will reach a point of total surrender. When you arrive at that point you will be able to ask for help and your entire life will change and get better from that point forward. So your goal is to break through your denial.
It is possible to know that you are in denial. I knew it myself for several years but felt powerless to do anything about it. The problem was that I did not know how to escape the trap of addiction. I knew that if I sobered up that I would be miserable, and I could not face the fear of going through with that. On the other hand I also was slowly realizing that I was pretty miserable in my addiction as well. It was turning into a lose-lose situation. And so at some point I had to realize that I was stuck in permanent misery unless I gave sobriety a chance. But in order to get to that point I had to work through my denial and realize how miserable I really was when I was drinking. I had to consciously start noticing every day just how unhappy I was. This is the only way that you can move closer to change in your life–you must notice and recognize a need for that change first. And you cannot do that if you are constantly telling yourself that you are happy, even when you are really not. That is denial. If you are stuck in denial then you will tell yourself that everything is fine and you will NOT change. The only time that we change is when we see through the denial, realize that we are miserable in our addiction and likely to stay that way, and then we will finally realize that we have to do something different.
Change is hard. No one wants to make the enormous lifestyle changes that it requires to overcome an addiction. It is too much work, too much fear to face all at once. Total abstinence is terrifying at first. I don’t blame anyone for staying drunk for years on end. It is a very scary thing to sober up.
In order to sober up you have to decide to do it first. In order to make that decision you have to be completely sick and tired of the misery you are getting due to drinking. In order to be at that point you have to notice, acknowledge, and realize just how miserable you are. Focus on the misery. Embrace the pain of addiction. This is how you break through denial. Stop denying yourself that you are in pain and misery while drinking.
Seeking professional help and following through with treatment
After you surrender things can happen fairly easily. You ask for help and then you follow through with what you are told to do. If you have surrendered fully then this should actually be pretty easy and straightforward.
If you ask for help then people will suggest professional treatment services. They will tell you to go to rehab. Most treatment centers will have a medical detox where you get dried out from the alcohol. Depending on your condition this may be a necessary (or even life-saving) step in the process, to go through detox.
After a few days in detox they will put you in what is known as residential treatment. There are a few different kinds of treatment models out there but most of them are based on the 12 step program of AA. This means that they will teach you about AA and you will likely attend AA meetings while you are there. They will also give you a therapist or counselor who will work with you directly and come up with a treatment plan.
Because health care costs have skyrocketed you will probably not be in treatment for very long. Short term residential treatment used to be a standard 28 days, but many of them are only around one to two weeks now. So much of what your therapist or counselor does with you in treatment is simply preparing you a plan for when you leave. As soon as you check into rehab the goal is to get you ready for the day that you leave. Specifically they want to:
1) Teach you about addiction and recovery so that you understand that the goal is total abstinence.
2) Teach you some tools to deal with triggers and urges so that when you leave treatment you don’t just relapse immediately.
3) Introduce you to support systems such as AA meetings so that you can hopefully follow up with AA on the outside and get more support.
4) Develop a plan for aftercare so that you have specific things you will do when you leave rehab in order to work on your recovery (counseling, outpatient therapy, etc.).
In other words, everything that happens while you are in treatment is setting you up for a life of sobriety. They are trying to teach you how to remain sober and give you the tools with which you can accomplish this.
A big part of early recovery has to do with support and fellowship. Most people cannot do it alone and if they can then they certainly do not need treatment.
The statistics are rather scary when it comes to post-treatment success rates. Something like 50 percent will relapse within 30 days of leaving treatment and 90 percent will relapse within a year of leaving treatment. Therefore your big goal when leaving rehab is to make it through that first year, clean and sober, with no relapse. Of course they will tell you that you need to take it “one day at a time” and they are certainly correct in that. But you also want to have a plan in place that will help to insure your success during year one, as this is the most vulnerable time for relapse.
How to avoid relapse in the first year of your recovery
In order to avoid relapse during the first year of your recovery you have to take action.
First of all, realize that if you remain clean and sober then this will be the hardest thing that you have ever done in your life so far. So think about some things that you have done in the past where you tried really hard or made a very strong commitment. Staying sober is harder than that and requires even more commitment than that. So make sure that you are approaching the task realistically. Don’t just expect it to be easy, because it takes work. Be prepared for the battle of a lifetime.
Second of all you need to dive into recovery head first without any reservation. You need to be willing to do whatever it takes. There was a long time when I was not willing to quit my job in order to get sober because I thought that the job was too valuable to me. Everyone at the job drank or used drugs with me and so for me to sober up I was definitely going to have to quit. But I was not willing to take that much action, to quit my job and go find something else to do for a living. Fear was holding me back. I did not want to change due to fear, simple as that. When I finally became miserable enough in my addiction I no longer cared about the fear, and I became willing to face it. This is the point of surrender where you break through denial.
When you dive into your recovery you must also dive in fully and embrace treatment. I worked in a rehab for several years and you could always tell when someone was destined for relapse, because they were not the least bit grateful for treatment. They did not really want to be there, they did not really want to have this new chance at life, and they had a bad attitude towards everyone and everything. They were not ready to embrace change and they would rather complain. Such people always relapsed.
Third of all you probably need to embrace some sort of support system. This may be AA, NA, or a religious organization. There may be other ways to get through early recovery (completely on your own) but I am not familiar with them. From what I have observed, this social support is a critical part of early recovery. The identification process of knowing that you are not alone in your journey has to be experienced over and over again on a regular basis during the first few months (or years) of recovery.
Fourth, you must dedicate your life to recovery and commit to following through on this new way of life for the long run. Sure it is still “a day at a time” but you also have to have some level of permanent commitment to this new lifestyle. This is why you must take massive action and make huge changes in your life. It is not enough to make small changes and expect a miracle. Instead you must make huge changes.
Think about it: Recovery is all about change. That is all it is, really. You were drinking yourself to death, now you are going to do something different. So you change your life. You change everything. You change how you deal with reality on a regular basis. If you make enough changes then you can sustain your new life of sobriety. If you fail to make any changes (and just try to stop drinking cold turkey) then your disease will overpower you and you will relapse.
As an alcoholic your natural state is to be drunk. Your natural state of being is to self medicate. So it takes an enormous effort and a sustained effort in order to overcome this. It takes a lot of energy and effort to be able to do something different when things get tough in life. To be able to call someone else or talk with a sponsor or go to a meeting. These things take a huge effort and a huge amount of commitment to actually work as solutions in your life. You have to dedicate your entire life to a recovery solution if you want it to be powerful enough to overcome the seductive pull of alcohol.
Why most people fail to remain clean and sober after leaving treatment
As I mentioned above most people relapse after treatment. Roughly 90 percent relapse within the first year.
They relapse because they fail to follow through. They fail to embrace a new way of life. They fail to take massive action.
If you don’t dedicate your life to the purpose of recovery then you are probably not going to make it.
Look at the average person who leaves treatment and their efforts. Now realize that the average person relapses! So you have to do more than the average person does in order to try to remain sober. It really is as simple as that. Take massive action. Take suggestions and follow through. Do what they tell you to do. Commit fully and completely to a new path in recovery.
Intentions may fail you but positive action rules the day
Everyone has good intentions when they check into rehab. But how many people actually follow through and stay sober for the long run? Very few.
We are not judged by our intentions. Our sobriety is not determined by our intentions. In fact our intentions are rather meaningless.
What matters is action. What did you actually do? What are you doing on a regular basis in order to remain clean and sober?
This is what will make or break your recovery–your actions.
In order to overcome alcoholism you have to take positive action every single day.
In order to build a new life for yourself you have to take a massive amount of action, every day, over a long period of time.
This is how you rebuild your life in sobriety. This is also how you prevent relapse in the long run. Positive action, each and every day. Consistent effort based on a real commitment to recovery.
Anything less and you run the risk of relapse. Anything less and you will slowly go back to your old ways.
What are you willing to do to stay sober?