There is one critical question that every struggling alcoholic must ask themselves before they can attempt to get sober:
“Am I willing to take massive action in order to overcome my drinking?”
If they answer to this question is “yes” then they should be strongly motivated to take serious action. On the other hand, even when most people are at the point where they wish that things were different in their lives, they are not usually at this point of “maximum willingness.” The point at which they would do nearly anything in order to avoid the pain and misery of their addiction.
The problem with overcoming any addiction is that it is such a huge commitment that is necessary, right up front. A half hearted effort gets you nowhere.
Why surrender is an act of massive action
The act of surrender itself requires massive action, because it is such a big deal to the struggling alcoholic. From the outside looking in, the act of surrender appears to be a really simple and easy process. You just have to let go and allow yourself to seek help from others…..how hard can that be? But of course to the alcoholic who is trapped in denial, actually getting to the point of surrender is nearly impossible. I believe that the main reason for this is because you cannot choose to surrender–instead, it has to just happen for you.
In other words, the struggling alcoholic cannot simply declare “OK, I’ve had enough drinking I believe, I guess I will surrender now and everything will magically get better.” This is now how it works at all. I know this to be true because I tried to do it. I was at a rehab center once because other people wanted me to get sober, but I was just not ready yet. And I knew that my life was messed up and I knew that I should try to get and stay sober. But I could not grasp this concept of surrender that they were talking about in the rehab. I was searching my soul and I realized that I probably had not really surrendered yet to my disease, but I did not know what to do about it. I felt guilty and bad but there was no solution for me. I had not reached the point of surrender and I was not done drinking yet. I had not had “enough.” And the people in the treatment center were telling me that if I did not surrender fully then I was not going to be able to maintain sobriety. And of course they were completely right, and there was no way for me to decide to surrender. I could not choose to surrender at that point. I tried to do so and failed.
Later on in my journey I finally reached a point of true surrender, before I had checked into treatment. I reached a point of misery in my life where I no longer cared what happened, and I was able to let go of all need to control anything. I let everything go. And at that time I became willing to try something new. I had been to treatment before and I was not optimistic about what it might teach me but I was sick and tired of the alternative. I was so sick and tired of my life that I was willing to let someone else tell me how to live. This was the point of surrender that I had to reach in order to make serious changes.
At that time I went into detox and when they suggested that I stay in long term treatment I said “yes.” So they placed me in a long term rehab and this finally “did the trick” for me. I have been clean and sober ever since after living in rehab for almost two full years. Is that massive action? I say “yes.” Living in rehab for almost two years of your life is definitely taking massive action.
That said, an alcoholic could easily repeat what I did and still relapse. I know this to be true because I watched several of my peers do exactly that. You can’t just go through the motions and expect for everything to work out without putting in a serious effort. The reason my life is better today has to do with personal growth; with change. If you are not pushing yourself to learn and to grow then all of the treatment in the world is basically for nothing.
In fact, rehabs by themselves have no real power to help you, unless you are willing to help yourself. There is no magic wand when it comes to alcoholism or addiction; your sobriety is ultimately up to your own willingness and actions. The tactics that you use in order to achieve sobriety (rehab, AA, meetings, counseling, therapy, step work, literature, etc.) are all just minor details on the path of recovery. The important thing is that you are pushing yourself to achieve personal growth in recovery on a continuous basis, and this requires action.
If you stay sober for a day or two this requires a certain amount of effort. If you stay sober for a month or two it requires even more effort. If you stay sober for years then it requires massive action. This is because you do not get a free pass in recovery. You have to keep taking action in order to maintain sobriety. You have to keep pushing yourself to make continuous growth in recovery for the rest of your life. This requires a massive amount of action. Is this a negative thing? Of course not! Personal growth is it’s own reward. The benefits that you receive in recovery are amazing, and tend to multiply over time. So the benefits that you get out of recovery after five years sober will be significantly greater than what you get out of recovery during your first year. As they say, things just “keep getting better and better.” This is because you retain much of the positive benefit that you gain each day as you move forward. Therefore the positive experiences that you have in your recovery tend to accumulate over time. You learn to avoid negativity and you start collecting positive experiences. After a few years of this your life just gets really amazing. It is a path of continuous growth and self improvement.
Inpatient rehab takes a serious commitment
Believe me I know: just the thought of checking into an inpatient rehab can be seriously terrifying.
I know because I was there once myself–having never been to treatment yet and not knowing what to expect.
I was scared of it because it felt so wrong to go voluntarily be locked up somewhere. I could not get past the idea that I would be putting myself into a facility where they would have me cordoned off from society, on purpose. That felt very scary to me to admit that I was so screwed up with my addiction that I had to be separated from society for a while.
Therefore it took an act of massive action just to convince myself to go to inpatient rehab. Simply following through with this took a lot of guts.
Now after you go to inpatient rehab you are faced with a choice: Are you going to embrace what they are teaching you, or are you going to go back to your old life?
It is not an easy choice to make, especially if you have never been to treatment before. Again, fear is the dominating problem here. Your old life may have been miserable but at least it was familiar. At least with your old life of drinking you know what to expect. At least with your old life of drinking you know where your drinking buddies hang out. With recovery you don’t have any of these reassurances. With recovery you are facing a life of complete unknown. Fear is a powerful motivator in both addiction and recovery. Fear causes us to do a lot of things that most of us will not admit to. We don’t like to admit that we have fear at all, or that it has any power over us. But fear is what kept me drinking for so many years because I was terrified of recovery, scared to face sobriety, scared to face AA meetings. Fear kept me stuck.
Overcoming that fear took massive effort and serious dedication. I finally went to inpatient treatment with a sense of complete abandon. This means that I had cast away my fears and I was willing to face whatever lay ahead, no matter how scary it was. I just did not care any more, because I was so miserable from my drinking.
Dedication to a 12 step program takes massive action
Of course it is not enough just to go to rehab and pay attention to what they are telling you there–you have to actually follow up and take action when you leave treatment as well. For most people this will mean participation in a 12 step program.
In the beginning I was never willing to embrace the 12 step program as my solution because I was terrified of the meetings themselves. I did not like sitting in a meeting. I had no problem listening to others and I thought that it was rather interesting. But I did not like speaking because of anxiety. And the problem is that they eventually ask you if you want to speak. Sure, they don’t really force you to talk. But they ask you if you want to speak, and even that much attention on myself was too much for comfort. I had a level of social anxiety that just did not do well in a crowded AA meeting. So I was afraid of them. Again with the fear!
So at some point I had to get miserable enough with my drinking that I could look past this fear. I honestly never thought it would happen–I figured that I would sooner die than go back to AA meetings and face that fear and anxiety. But for some reason I reached a tipping point (the point of surrender, the gift of desperation, etc.) and I became willing to give the meetings another chance. So I went back to rehab and I attended the meetings and I did so for over a year straight. I did what I had to do because I had reached that point of surrender, which allowed me to become willing. I had the willingness to seek a new solution because I was so sick and tired of my old life.
So at that time I dove head first into the 12 step program and decided to give it a chance in my life. Ultimately (over 10 years later) I have drifted away from the program and I no longer rely on the meetings or the steps to maintain my sobriety, but for the first year or so I was heavily involved in AA. At one point I was attending up to 4 meetings per day and I was also chairing one meeting each week in a detox unit. Even when I was chairing a meeting I only spoke for about 2 minutes at a time, tops. I never really completely moved past my anxiety, though I certainly gave it a strong effort and faced the fear head on.
If you choose to pursue a 12 step program in your own life (strictly optional in my opinion) then you will find that it demands a great deal of dedication and willingness on your part. Recovery takes massive action, whether you are in a 12 step program or not. So if you choose to go the AA route then you need to dive in head first and fully immerse yourself in that program. Anything less and you will simply relapse.
Does this mean that every alcoholic has to use AA in order to recover? No it does not. What it means is that every alcoholic who wants to recover must take massive action in their life. This can be done either with or without a recovery program. But massive action is required in order to overcome an addiction, because the addiction is such a huge, complicated problem.
Creating a new life in recovery takes a huge effort, regardless of your method
The reason that massive action is required in recovery is because it takes so much energy and effort to rebuild things after you strip away your addiction.
Our drug of choice defined our entire lives. Everything that we did revolved around our addiction and our need to self medicate. When you remove that addiction there is a huge gaping hole left in your life.
The aim of AA is to fill that hole with spirituality and fellowship. You go to meetings every day, hang on to sobriety, and start moving towards a spiritual awakening.
This is but one path to sobriety, and it does not necessarily work for every alcoholic.
Another path in recovery is a self determined path of creative recovery, one in which you focus on personal growth and holistic health. This is the path that I have chosen after leaving AA over a decade ago. It is a path that requires continuous growth and improvement, just as AA requires.
And if you take a step back and look at recovery in general (without considering specific programs) then you will see that recovery has several fundamental principles to it. One of those principles is continuous growth. If you stop making growth in your recovery then you are in danger of relapse. This is true whether you are in a formal program of recovery or not.
AA attempts to deal with this problem with step 12, which is to carry the message to the alcoholic who is still suffering. This is the “giving back” step which should guide people in recovery to go out and help others to recover. If you actually take this suggestion and do the work then you will find that it most definitely does help you to remain sober! Helping others to find sobriety is very powerful. Keep in mind though that it is still possible to do this outside of AA or other recovery programs. There are many different venues in which you can help people to recover.
The path of overcoming long term complacency requires a new life strategy
One final reason that you need to take massive action in your recovery has to do with complacency.
Long term sobriety has a boogeyman, and it is known as “complacency.” This is what happens when you get lazy in your sobriety and it eventually leads you to relapse.
There is only one solution for complacency, and it is action.
The very definition of complacency is simply a lack of action. You get complacent when you stop growing, stop learning.
So the solution of course is to keep pushing yourself to grow and to learn in recovery. The question is: “How do you do that?”
The answer for me has to do with the cycle of personal growth and acceptance.
What you must do in your recovery is to practice acceptance. But you must also decide at other times NOT to accept your current reality, and instead to change it.
Of course the simple Serenity Prayer is an attempt to give you the guidance to know when and how to do this. If you cannot change something then you must accept it. If you have the power to change something (that is bothering you) then you should probably do so.
This requires a new strategy for life. You cannot develop such a strategy unless you are willing to take a step back and examine you life in detail. You may even need to seek outside advice and feedback from others. In doing so you can find your “points of misery,” things that are holding you back from experiencing joy in your life.
This is a counter-intuitive approach to creating happiness, but it is also the one that actually works. Find your points of misery by getting honest with yourself, and then work hard to eliminate them.
Prioritize. Start with your biggest point of misery in your life. For every alcoholic this is how the process of surrender starts when they realize that their drinking is the source of their misery (and thus they have to stop blaming others). So they break through their denial and they get sober.
But the process of discovery does not stop there. For example, I realized early in my recovery that I was holding myself back in many ways because I continued to smoke cigarettes. This was one of my biggest “points of misery.” There were other changes that I could seek to make in my life at the time, but smoking cigarettes was really the biggest priority because it created the most misery for me. So that was my biggest goal, and I had to make a special effort to tackle it.
Years later I had eliminated all of my major points of misery, but of course this process never really ends. You still have to be vigilant for the rest of your life and take action in order to constantly learn more and more about yourself. Thus you can always be seeking to improve your life further and make more healthy changes that lead to more happiness and joy.
It’s all based on the idea that you are willing to take action.