Going to alcoholism treatment at an inpatient rehab can give you a foundation for learning and growth.
My basic philosophy of recovery is that it is based on personal growth. For me, this is the key that unlocks a better life in sobriety.
What is recovery from alcoholism if not personal growth?
Let’s look at it this way:
There are 3 possibilities for anyone who is attempting to overcome an addiction.
1) Their life is getting worse.
2) Their life is stagnant. No change.
3) Their life is getting better.
So obviously the first two possibilities are useless to us in recovery. If things get worse, that is bad. If nothing changes at all, that is bad.
Obviously the only thing we are seeking is positive change. We want to move forward. We want to progress.
In my experience this also happens on two different levels. One level is that of “internal change.” You are changing who you are as a person. You are making internal changes. You are clearing up resentments, overcoming fears, dealing with anger, overcoming self pity, dealing with shame and guilt and so on. These are the internal changes that a person has to make in order to help them stay sober.
But there are also external changes. For example, you may need to get a different job when you are sober. You may need to change some relationships when you are in recovery. You might want to hang out with a different crowd of people. These are changes that you make on the outside of yourself. They are external changes.
Both types of changes are necessary for success in recovery. You have to address both of these levels of potential change. In other words, you have to change your life from the better both from the inside as well as on the outside.
Some people believe that one change leads to the other. My opinion is that you need to both, together. For example, you may hear that “it all starts from within” and that you have to deal with your inner demons in order to be able to stop drinking physically. So the internal changes lead to the external change. But on the other hand, what about the idea of going to treatment and removing yourself from the threat of relapse physically? This is a case where the external change leads to internal change. My opinion is that you need to do both, together. Do not ignore either level of change.
Being in short term rehab is a good example of addressing both levels of change. When you go to inpatient treatment you are obviously making an external change in your life. You are “locking yourself up” in order to be safely removed from the threat of alcoholism for a while. But at the same time, the focus in treatment is going to be on making some internal changes as well and addressing some of those inner problems. This is something that many people in recovery would refer to as “doing the work.” They might work through these inner problems by doing the 12 steps, or they might do it by going to therapy or counseling. But the idea is that we all have some sort of stuff “on the inside” that can lead us to self medicate, and that we need to deal with that stuff if we want to have a shot at real sobriety.
How can we possibly experience personal growth in life if we are not willing to learn anything new?
How can you expect to recover from alcoholism without learning anything new?
We don’t just magically change. I think some alcoholics are living under the false hope that someday they might just drift away from their problems. That suddenly things will become magically better in their life without any real effort being made.
This is not realistic.
In order to see positive changes you are going to have to make a positive effort.
The struggling alcoholic has a problem. They want their life to be different, but they don’t know how to go about doing it. They know that the answer probably involves abstinence, but they cannot fathom a life without alcohol–they believe that they would be far too miserable if they were sober. So they feel trapped. They don’t know how to go about fixing their problems because they cannot picture themselves being happy while sober. So they continue to drink and try to control it instead. This may work in the short run but eventually the alcohol leads them to total chaos. Every alcoholic loses total control eventually, and that is when bad things start to happen. Consequences start to pile up. Eventually the disease will kill them.
So for the alcoholic, the problem is not that they don’t know the solution, because intuitively they realize that they need to become abstinent. Deep down I think every alcoholic knows that the answer is not moderation, but instead is total abstinence. Or at least they must realize that total abstinence would, in fact, work out well for them if only they could implement it.
But the problem is “how.” How does the alcoholic achieve this state of sobriety? How do they go from being miserable in their addiction to being sober and happy?
It is not enough to just stop drinking. Every alcoholic has done that and they know how miserable they will become. This is not a solution. Just telling the alcoholic to sober up is not a solution. Telling them to be abstinent is not helpful at all. To the alcoholic, if they suddenly get sober they know that they will be completely miserable. Many alcoholics would rather die than to face life completely sober. This is why they feel so stuck. This is what is holding them back. Not because they can’t figure out that the solution is abstinence, but because they cannot picture themselves happy when they are abstinent. Sobriety is like a death sentence. They would rather die than be sober and miserable.
The solution of course is that they don’t have to be sober and miserable. They can be sober and happy. But the alcohol does not know this. And if you try to convince them of this, they won’t believe it at first. They think they are unique. They don’t think that your sobriety and happiness formula will apply to them.
And furthermore, the alcoholic has no idea how in the world they could ever “get there.” How they could go from being drunk and miserable to being sober and happy. They know how they could get to being sober and miserable, but sober and happy? That is a fantasy. They don’t even believe it to be possible for their situation.
And yet it is possible. But they don’t know how to do it. The alcoholic is lost without a road map. They have lost their way. They don’t know how to get back to happiness. Maybe they never had happiness. Many alcoholics who started drinking or using drugs at a very young age are in this situation–they never really knew happiness at all. They never knew peace and contentment in their lives. They grew up in total chaos.
No matter. It is still possible to achieve a better life in sobriety. It is still possible for such people to recover and to be happy.
They must learn to do this.
It is a learning experience.
The alcoholic has to sober up, then they have to learn how to live a healthy and happy life.
The key word here: Learning!
It is a learning experience. This is what rehab is set up for. You check into treatment and you stop putting drugs and alcohol into your body. You sober up. You dry out. Then you start a learning process. The treatment center is attempting to teach you something about how to live a better life. The question is: Are you going to take the lessons that they are teaching you and apply them? Are you going to put the ideas into action?
Of course, in order to really learn something you have to experience it. You have to put it into action. You cannot just read the big book of AA and expect to suddenly be cured. That is not how recovery works. Real sobriety is about taking action. Just reading the 12 steps is not going to change a thing. If you want results you will have to put them into action. You have to live them.
Treatment is a concentrated effort of learning how to live without alcohol and drugs
When you stay in a residential treatment center, what you are really doing is learning how to live a sober life.
Of course while you are in treatment you are obviously clean and sober. This is the whole point of treatment to begin with, being in a safe environment and not being tempted to drink or use drugs while you are there.
But you are also living while you are there. Life goes on, even while you are in rehab. And so you start to get a feel for what it is like to live a sober life. You are only in rehab for a short time, but you are starting to get a taste of what it is like to live sober. You still go to sleep and wake up each day. You eat meals every day. You socialize with other people. All of these things you continue to do while you are in treatment, and of course you are doing them clean and sober. You are slowly learning how to live again.
My opinion is that the longer you stay in treatment, the better. I am a firm believer in this concept, though many disagree with it. I tried to get sober three times in rehabs, and the first two times I stayed for 28 days or less. The third time I stayed in a long term treatment center for 20 months. That third time was the charm. I have remained sober to this day after having gone to long term rehab. I don’t know that I would have remained sober if I would have attended a shorter length of treatment.
I try to tell people that if they have a chance to go to rehab, take it. Being in rehab is easy. It is like guaranteed sobriety. Stay as long as you can. Why not take advantage of the help?
What complacency is and how people in long term recovery relapse
There is a problem in long term sobriety in which people sometimes relapse. Whatever the exact reason may be, the overall problem usually stems from complacency.
When people get complacent in long term recovery they get lazy. They stop doing the work that helped them to transform their life in the first place. They stop learning about themselves and moving forward in recovery. They stop taking positive action.
In order to avoid this fate you need to take a proactive approach. The way to do this is to design your recovery program to include a lifelong strategy of personal growth. In other words, you want to find a way to keep pushing yourself for personal growth in recovery, even after you may feel like you have “arrived.” The fact is that we never really “arrive” in sobriety. When we think that we are “finished” it can get us into trouble. That is when we put our feet up and get complacent. This is dangerous. We don’t want to become complacent.
Treatment centers try to prepare you for this. They try to teach you some things that will help you to adopt this strategy of personal growth. They may talk about holistic health or lifelong health and healing. When I heard these things in early recovery I had to admit that I was not really ready for them. I was in rehab and I had two weeks sober and they were talking about holistic health, and I was like “What does this have to do with me not drinking?” I was not yet ready for that message because I had just become sober and I thought that it was all about spirituality. I thought that I needed to find a higher power in order to remain sober. I did not see the point in a long term holistic approach to recovery.
Later on I learned the truth of what they were trying to teach me. It is very difficult to teach a recovering alcoholic what they need to do for their life in just 28 days. Of course you can teach them to be abstinent and to go to AA meetings every day, but can you teach them how to overcome complacency when they reach 5 years sober? Or how to deal with complacency when they have 15 years sober? Is it possible to teach that to someone who has 2 weeks of sobriety and is still stuck in a rehab center?
I’m not sure. But you can certainly plant the seeds at that time, as was done with me. They told me the solution (holistic health, personal growth, etc.) but I wasn’t really ready to hear it at the time. But no matter. I still remembered, and later on I was able to think back and say “Oh yeah, maybe those folks at the rehab were right all along….” We each learn at our own pace. We can’t learn something until the time is right for our own journey. Every learning experience is personal. Every journey through sobriety is personal. We each learn these things in our own time. And sometimes we have to bang our head into the wall for a while before we realize that it is hurting. This certainly applies to me in my own life. I had to do quite a bit of head banging before I realized that there was a better way.
The foundation that I built in treatment continues to affect my life to this day (over 13 years later)
The things that I learned during my first 2 weeks of sobriety continue to have an impact on my life today, over 13 years later.
I can still remember the basic message behind the lecture I attended on “balanced lifestyle” and how I thought that it was mostly useless for sobriety at the time. And yet now, today, I think that the topic of balanced lifestyle is incredibly important for recovery!
But it is all about what point you are at in your life, and what lesson needs to be taught to you at the time. When I had two weeks sober I was not ready to learn about having a balanced lifestyle. But after two years in sobriety I realized that this was a very important topic, and that it might even have a big impact on whether I remained sober or not! There have certainly been times in my recovery journey when I needed to take a step back and look at the bigger picture in order to find balance.
I can also look back at my peers in recovery and see how important balance really is. For example, I had one friend in recovery who was extremely spiritual…so much so that I looked up to this person a great deal. I wanted to be more like them because I had put them up on this spiritual pedestal. I turned out that this person relapsed, however, and this sort of shattered my understanding of recovery. I am grateful that this happened because it taught me a great deal about balance.
It is not enough to “be spiritual” in order to become sober. We have to be more than just spiritual. We have to be healthy in all ways. We have to pursue personal growth in every area of our life, and every area of our health.
And this is why when you are in rehab learning about how to live a sober life, they might have a group each week about nutrition. And you might think to yourself: “Nutrition? Really? What does that have to do with not taking a drink?”
And the answer is essentially summed up by the phrase: “Holistic health.” You need to learn to take care of yourself in every area of your life. Not just spiritually, but also physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially.
So yes, you need to be abstinent and you need to pursue spiritual growth. But you also need to get quality sleep, eat healthy foods, maybe quit smoking those cigarettes, build healthy relationships, learn to meditate or exercise or find some emotional release, and so on. You need to learn how to take care of yourself each and every day in a million different ways. This is all part of the recovery journey and it needs to happen over and over again for a lifetime. And this is what it so challenging about treatment, that they have to try to teach you how to reinvent yourself over and over again.
How do you teach someone to reinvent themselves? And then how do you teach them that this must be a continuous process, that they must never stop learning, never stop growing? It’s not an easy task. Treatment centers do the best that they can, and then it is up to the individual to put the ideas into action.
What about you, how have you found learning and growth through treatment? Did you find that rehab was a turning point in your recovery journey? What did you learn in rehab? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!