I have given a lot of thought lately to alcoholic treatment in its various forms, partly because I see so many people struggling to stay sober all around, and very few success stories. It is not that no one out there stays sober, because of course many people do, it is just that I work in a treatment center and I see so many people fail. It can be discouraging.
As such, a lot of my time is spent analyzing the “winners” and trying to deduce the key components that make up successful recovery.
Here are some of my ideas:
1) Short term alcohol treatment may be important, but most of the details are meaningless.
Huh? That’s right….it does not matter one bit what treatment center you go to in order to get sober, and it likely matters very little what program you adopt to try and beat alcoholism. In fact, it probably would not make much difference if you just had a bunch of fellow recovering alcoholics detox you at home and drag you to AA meetings every day. What happens in your early days of recovery is not going to make or break your sobriety over the next decade. Sure, you may get off to a lousy start, or you may have all the support in the world. But most alcoholics in recovery can look back and see that the details did not matter. Recovery is such a long, complex journey that the details of short term recovery fade away to be completely irrelevant.
You were either ready for change in your life, or you were not. If you were, then anything would have worked. If not, nothing would have.
What is important was the decision to stop. The moment when the person broke through their denial, and decided to change. This is the type of thing that has significance in long term recovery.
What are the other details that I am referring to? Things like going to rehab, going to meetings, getting and using a sponsor, and so on. Am I saying that these actions are useless? No not at all. What I am saying is that it is the big picture that is important, not the details.
People erroneously believe that there is magic in the details when it comes to recovery. Then they get hung up on them, and stumble because of it. I am here to tell you, the magic is not in the details! Recovery is big and complex and–if you are successful with it–will consume almost your whole life for a long time.
Fact: you need to take massive action in early recovery in order to get a handle on sobriety.
Fact: you need to actually do some stuff in order to recover….not just sit around and wish things were different.
But do you need to do specific things in order to recover? Is there one set path that can lead to sobriety? No. It is the conviction and the action that is important, not the exact stepping stones that you use.
People get hung up on the details all the time, thinking that they hold the cure. They do not. It is the willingness and the action of the individual that holds the key to success in recovery. How else could alcoholics find sobriety using completely different methods of alcohol treatment? They can and they do, all the time. Use this information to your advantage in designing a program that works for you. Stop getting hung up on the details and take massive action instead!
2) Personal growth beats social based recovery solutions in the long run
What I see working in recovery, both in myself and in other recovering alcoholics, is the common thread of personal growth. This is the common denominator of people who seem to stay sober in recovery. In other words, those that stay sober in the long run are those who focus on continuing to learn and grow as a person. This goes for both inside and outside of recovery programs, as well as inside and outside of “spiritual dimensions.” In other words, the type of growth that can benefit you in recovery is holistic growth….meaning it could be spiritual, mental, physical, emotional, fitness oriented, quitting smoking, or just about any positive growth experience.
As evidence of this idea, I would point out that:
* Many alcoholics stay stuck in a recovery program, but continue to relapse over and over again or they may stay sober but be fairly miserable. They are not really growing as a person and improving their life, yet they stick to one recovery program in spite of a lack of progress (what do they say about insanity, and doing the same thing over and over again?).
* Others in recovery continue to grow and progress in their life, even without a structured recovery program, much less a program that is largely dependent on the social element provided by regular meetings.
* Social based recovery solutions (such as one that is heavily dependent on groups or regular meetings) can lead to a dependency on those meetings over time. This weakens recovery and creates a new dependency. (Quality long term sobriety should not be dependent on continued meeting attendance, or if it is….then it is not “quality” sobriety!).
* As a continuous solution to alcoholism, recovery is personal growth. We see this more clearly in the next section, where it is obvious to anyone who has ever relapsed in long term recovery that their main problem is that they stopped growing and stopped challenging themselves. They got lazy.
3) Complacency is the final obstacle. Those who relapse are not those who “lose sight of the basics” or who “stop going to meetings.” People who relapse are those who stop growing in recovery.
Everyone who has established a baseline of sobriety and then screwed up and lost it with a relapse are guilty of the same thing: they stopped growing in their recovery. We can dress this up and label it with a number of different excuses, some of which might be true, but they all sort of gloss over the greater truth about complacency:
“I just wanted to drink again.”
“I stopped going to meetings.”
“I quit working my program.”
“I started hanging out with old friends who are a bad influence.”
And so on. None of these really get down to the heart of the matter, which is that the foundation of recovery was eroded long before the person picked up the drink. In fact, the relapse happened on a subconscious level before the person “stopped going to meetings” or whatever their excuse is. The fact of the matter is that the person got lazy, a switch was flipped in their mind, and they took the easy way out. They stopped pushing themselves to learn and to grow. They got too comfortable in how they worked their recovery. They stopped challenging themselves by seeing their fears in life and then facing them head on.
The successful alcoholic in recovery has to challenge themselves to keep growing:
“How can I be a better person?”
“How can I help someone in recovery today?”
“How can I take better care of myself and be healthier?”
“How can I push myself to learn new things in recovery?”
“How can I create the life I really want?”
“How can I be grateful for what I have in recovery today?”
And so on. We can even bring this back full circle, and point out that–once again–the details don’t really matter. What counts is taking consistent, positive action. You don’t have to grill yourself with every question on that list…..instead, just keep pushing yourself to take some action, to improve your life in some way, to stay active, keep learning, stay engaged with the recovery process, and so on.
Want to know more? Download my free addiction ebook.
I want to give a shout out here to my friend Mark, who is writing about how your life can change in sobriety with a single step.
I also want to recognize my friend Art, who writes about heroin addiction, and continues to help people online.