How do you adopt the right attitude for alcoholism or drug addiction recovery?
In my experience, this will depend on the timing of where you are at in your addiction recovery journey.
Let’s take it from the beginning.
When you are still struggling in active addiction, you likely have an attitude that is dictated entirely by the fact that you are in denial.
This causes you to defend your use of your drug of choice at all costs, and in order to do that you have to blame your ridiculous actions on other people, other things–anything other than your drug or alcohol use. So what you are really doing is playing a victim role in many cases, arguing that “If other people had my problems, they would drink like I do!” In order to maintain this mindset you have to build up your own problems and the drama that exists inside of your head as being so awful, so terrible, that anyone experiencing that drama would surely have to self medicate. You are just doing what you can to survive, right? You’ve got lots of problems and therefore you have an excuse to drink or take drugs the way that you do. You’re just trying to survive here–at least that is the story that you tell yourself while in denial.
The truth is that everyone has problems, and that your mind has built all of that drama up in order to try to justify your addictive behavior. You just go along with it because you are trapped in active addiction. Therefore your attitude becomes one of pessimism, because being pessimistic helps your brain to justify and rationalize your addiction. If you were being optimistic, hopeful, and upbeat then there is far less excuse for you to abuse substances. Your brain needs the bad attitude in order to make your drug or alcohol use okay.
This all changes when you enter into addiction recovery. Now the key here is that you have to enter recovery for the right reason: Some people go to treatment or AA because their friends and family are pressuring them to do so. But in those cases, the key is whether or not the struggling addict has truly surrendered or not, if they have fully hit bottom or not, and this is going to be the determining factor in what their attitude and mindset is going forward.
I can remember back when I was going to treatment for the wrong reasons. I went to rehab 3 times total; the third time it was for the right reason and I have been clean and sober ever since. The first two times I went due to family pressure. On those times when I was in treatment for the sake of my family, my mindset was all wrong for recovery. I was constantly trying to pick apart what they were telling me and find the fault in it. I was trying to figure out if I could smoke marijuana and still avoid my alcoholism in the future (turns out I could not!).
In short, I was only looking for what was wrong and unhelpful about the recovery program that was presented to me, rather than to look for the good parts that might help me.
The recovery literature talks about this as well. It states that if we go to a support group for recovery and we start comparing ourselves to our peers there we are likely to talk ourselves out of that recovery program. If we look at our differences that we have with other recovering addicts and alcoholics then it only serves to drive us apart from them, and apart from the recovery program.
On the other hand, if we look at what we have in common with the other person, then that gives us hope. How does that work?
It works because if someone in an AA meeting is telling you their story, and suddenly they say something and you think “Oh my gosh, that person is telling my story almost exactly, they did exactly what I did in my addiction, that person is just like me!–then that is a huge breakthrough.
It is a breakthrough because it gives you hope when you identify so closely with another person in recovery. If you suddenly realize that you and that other person are pretty much alike, and that you are both addicts, then you get hope from the fact that they are clean and sober today and you can see that they are relatively happy.
So looking at the similarities rather than the differences with other people is an important part of the attitude that you need to adopt in early recovery.
The mindset that you want to have in early recovery is an attitude of hope and willingness. You need to be open enough to hear the stories, to really listen and to begin to see yourself in other people. This is how you can generate hope from a seemingly hopeless state of surrender.
When you first get to recovery you will likely be almost completely hopeless. That is fine so long as you have a shred of willingness–to go to rehab, to go to meetings, to start listening and gaining some hope from identifying with other people. This is the proper attitude for early recovery–you must be willing and open. If you are closed minded or constantly trying to find fault in whatever program you are at then you are setting yourself up for relapse.
Now as your recovery continues and you have already built a foundation in treatment, you will eventually go back out into the real world and have to work a real recovery program into your everyday life. What kind of attitude is important for this stage?
In my experience, there are basically 2 phases of recovery: Early recovery in which you go to treatment and meetings and learn about how to cope, and long term recovery in which you are living your real life and not necessarily focused on AA or rehab every second of the day. At some point, you have to start living your life again. And that will happen after you have gone to rehab and built a foundation and built a new life for yourself.
So the major attitude shift that has to happen in long term sobriety is towards continuous learning and personal growth.
The real threat after you have a year clean and sober (or more) is that of complacency. Are you kicked back and being lazy and complacent, or are you continuing to push yourself to learn and discover more about yourself?
The mindset that succeeds in long term recovery is a mindset that is geared towards personal growth. If you just try to accept everything and you lose that drive that you once had to improve yourself and your life then you can fall into the complacency trap. People with multiple years clean and sober still do relapse; they often look back and realize that they quit pushing themselves to grow and to learn.
So the attitude that you want to adopt in the long run is one where you are constantly trying to improve yourself and your life. Personal growth is the optimistic attitude that will carry you through long term recovery. Good luck!