Aren’t most forms of treatment just trading in one addiction for another?
Is it possible that people in AA are just trading in their drinking for hanging out all the time in AA meetings?
And so what if they are, right? It sure beats living a life of misery.
The idea that we can replace our addiction with a new set of behaviors is worth investigating. I definitely think that there is some potential for exploring the idea of having a “replacement strategy” for your alcoholism.
Obviously every alcoholic on the planet has tried to walk away from their drinking. They have tried to just up and quit on their own, to no avail.
It never works to just walk away from the alcohol. Something has to take the place of the drinking. You cannot just leave that great big empty void in your life that you used to fill with getting drunk every day. If you do that then you will go crazy and this will force you to relapse.
The replacement model of addiction recovery
One thing that you should know about recovery is that you are essentially creating a new life for yourself. You are building something. It is not an act of elimination.
Recovery is an act of creation.
In order to build a new life for yourself you have to take action.
Positive action. Of course anyone can take reckless action or negative actions and that will not get you anywhere. You will just end up drinking again if you are not focused on building something positive in your life.
So the key in my opinion is to start by taking suggestions.
You know what it was like when you were drinking in the past and you tried to overcome your alcoholism on your own. First of all it never worked. Second of all you were just shooting from the hip, trying to reduce or eliminate the booze using your own ideas. Nothing worked. You tried and failed and you always went back to the bottle.
So in recovery you have to try something new. You have to do something different. And you can’t just rely on your own ideas at first because there is such a potential for self sabotage.
What is “self sabotage?” It is the idea that if you rely on your own ideas in early recovery that you will just end up getting drunk again. Your brain secretly wants to screw you up and cause you to relapse. So in a way you have to protect yourself from your own mind. The only way to do that is to ignore your ego and listen to other people and their advice instead.
I actually did this myself when I got sober. I made a deal with myself, internally. I did not tell anyone about this deal that I made, instead I just silently made it. And the deal was this:
“I hereby make an agreement with myself that I am not going to use my own ideas to try to overcome alcoholism. Instead I will listen to other people and take their suggestions. I will not do anything on my own unless someone else has suggested it to me first. I will act according to the advice of others. I will do this for one year.”
So I made this commitment to myself. I pushed my ego aside and I agreed with myself that I would only listen to the advice of others and NOT my own advice.
And it worked marvelously. I started to live a better life. Things started to improve, little by little. And it felt like a miracle because I was not “driving the bus.” I was letting other people make my decisions for me. And it was working. Things were getting better.
Now here is an important point for you to realize: Even though I had killed my ego and was following the advice of others, I was still in control. In the back of my mind I knew that I could refuse to follow anyone’s advice at any time and go off and do my own thing. I knew that I could go relapse at any time if I wanted too. No one was brainwashing me or anything. I was still in control.
And yet my life was getting better and better. And the reason is because I was following the suggestions that people were giving me, and thereby replacing my addiction with something different. Instead of drinking at the bar every night I was hanging out with people in recovery. Instead of drinking and using drugs I was writing about my new life and I was attending meetings. Instead of self medicating I was learning how to talk to other people about my problems and to deal with them like a real person.
I was learning to replace my addiction with something else. That “something else” is a new life in recovery that you have to learn about one day at a time. It is a process that unfolds, slowly. You have to give it time to unfold.
Anything is better than active addiction, so experiment until you find something that works
There is more than one possible replacement out there for alcoholism and drug addiction.
One such replacement is AA and the 12 step program.
I want you to give this concept a fair chance. Meetings are no longer my replacement of choice; I tend to do other things in my life today rather than to go to AA meetings. But that does not mean that they are not a good choice for you or anyone else.
AA meetings work well for a lot of people. You should give them a fair chance.
For one thing AA meetings are a widespread community of support. They are everywhere. There are people in AA all over the world, and their basic mission is to help alcoholics to recover. You cannot really get more concentrated than that. Most people in AA really do want to help others in any way that they can.
Second of all it is a very focused approach. They are dealing with overcoming alcoholism and nothing else. There are other forms of replacement strategy that are not nearly as focused (for example, joining a church community).
Because AA is so widespread and also so focused at helping alcoholics, I believe everyone should give it a chance. It may not be a perfect for you, and that is OK. But at least give it a try and see if it is right for you. I don’t think that you can do that with a single AA meeting. In fact I am sure of it, as I went to one meeting when I was still drinking and I did not get the right impression at all. I didn’t really get anything at all, I was too stuck in denial. Later on I was able to go to different AA meetings when I was sober and I got a lot more value out of them.
That is another key point: You should attend a variety of AA meetings before you judge the program as “useful” or “not right for you.” I have been to many different AA (and NA) meetings myself in various cities. I have joined different groups and got to know different people. It is not fair to go to one or two AA meetings and then judge the entire program based on that. Give it a chance. Go to various meetings and go to several of them.
Believe it or not I normally do not push AA on anyone, as I have found a different replacement strategy in my own life. I still believe that everyone should start out with AA and see if it is the right fit for their life. If you don’t like it then you can always try other options.
One of those “other options” might be a religious based solution. Many recovery programs are twelve step based, though some of them are religious based programs instead. Those programs that are religious based are giving you a different replacement strategy other than AA meetings. This is not necessarily good or bad, but whatever works best for the person.
Many people get defensive if you try to push them towards religious based solutions. This will depend a lot on their background and their beliefs. But beliefs can be changed easier than most people realize, and it all depends on how desperate you are. AA is also a religion of sorts, we might call it a pseudo religion. I am sure many would argue with that but what I am really pointing out is that some people who go to AA get “chased away” by the God concept. I know that the program is technically “spiritual” rather than “religious” but I have also watched thousands of people try to recover over the past decade, and many of them do not really differentiate. Just explaining to some people the difference between religion and spirituality does not mean that they will instantly grasp this and understand.
As far as replacement strategies go, I think there are really 4 major categories of them, though you can feel free to add your own ideas to this:
1) AA program.
2) Religious based programs.
3) Exercise programs.
4) Holistic approach.
So there are a group of people out there who actually replace their addiction with nothing other than exercise. And there are actual organized programs that teach you how to do this if you care to research it and look into it.
My opinion is that the first three options there (to include both AA and exercise) are incomplete solutions that are lacking in some way. Why are they lacking? For one thing, they both ignore the other programs! In other words, the people who do nothing but AA could learn a thing or two from those who exercise, and those who are in the hard core exercise recovery program could probably learn a thing or two at AA. Why do these people all exclude solutions from their lives? Why focus on one thing at the expense of others?
My approach has evolved into number 4 up there: The holistic approach.
So I try not to exclude anything that might help me. This includes AA, and it also includes exercise, and it also includes spirituality and/or religion.
I don’t want to exclude any of it because all of it can potentially help me.
You have large groups of recovering alcoholics who are staying sober just based on exercise alone–that is a big clue that you should take a look at the concept of daily exercise!
Then you have large groups of recovering alcoholics who are in a religious program and they are doing well and living a great new life. Again, this is a clue. What can you learn from their approach? What do they have that can help you on your own path?
They have a saying in recovery: “Take what you need and leave the rest.” In order to do this you have to be truly open minded. In order to do this you need to pull ideas from many different disciplines.
Refining your approach in long term recovery to better fit your life
In long term sobriety you get a bit more control over your life and the direction it takes.
In early recovery this actually works against you. In early sobriety you don’t want all that control. It is actually better if you relinquish control and just take suggestions from other people for a while.
But in the long run you are going to have to change. You will have to learn to grow in your own direction. You will have to learn to motivate yourself to make positive changes.
The key to long term sobriety is personal growth. You must find a way to push yourself to keep learning and growing in recovery.
One way to guide yourself in beating addiction is to listen to the suggestions of others. This works really well in early recovery, and it even works well as you start accumulate significant clean time.
But there is also a point where you can move beyond the taking of advice and suggestions. There is a point where you can figure out what you want in your life and start to create it for yourself. This is one of the rewards of a life well lived in recovery.
My belief is that you need a foundation in recovery of daily action. You might call this the “daily practice.” It is a set of habits that you do every day that creates a foundation for a better life.
Picture your life ten years from now. What do you want it to be like? Where do you want to be physically? Emotionally? Career-wise? And so on?
If you know where you want to end up in recovery then you can start to plan for that. And you can only do so much each day, but you can certainly make each day count for something.
And that is where the daily practice comes in.
You want to establish daily habits that are moving you towards your goals.
You would be amazed at what you can create in this world if you have a five year goal.
Five years is a long time. Ten years is a long time. If you take positive action every single day then you might not notice anything after a month or two. But after a year or two you will notice a LOT has changed. And your life will get better and better.
This is what it is so hard about that first year of sobriety. The rewards are still a ways off. You can’t get to them overnight. You have to build this new life in recovery with one brick at a time, and it takes a while.
Building up this daily practice is simple trial and error. This is how you replace your addiction with something positive. You try new things and you experiment and then you keep what is working well for you.
Reducing dependencies in long term sobriety
I think it is important to look at your dependencies in long term sobriety.
Some people disagree with this. So it can be a slippery slope. For example, do you think that it is right to be dependent on AA meetings when you have ten years sober?
Does it matter?
I mean, so what if you have to go to an AA meeting every single day just to stay sober. At least you are sober, right? That is a small price to pay for this awesome new life in recovery.
But I thought differently about this, and I took action as a result.
I said to myself: “Wait a minute. Do I really want to have to rely on daily meetings in order to keep my sobriety?”
I mean, think about it: If you miss your AA meetings for a week straight and this causes you to relapse, then what kind of sobriety did you really have in the first place? I would say that what you really had was a dependency on meetings, not a solid recovery.
Again, this is just my opinion, and many will disagree with it I am sure.
But in looking at this I was able to get stronger in my recovery.
In fact, I started asking this question of myself when I had less than two years sober. Today I have over 12 years sober and counting. So what happened over that journey?
At about the 18 month point in my sobriety I decided that I did not want to be depending on daily meetings to keep me sober. So to do that I wanted to leave the meetings entirely, at least for a year or two. As it is I have not yet gone back to them for over a decade now, but I am not entirely against doing so necessarily. But I am at a point today where I don’t NEED the meetings. And I believe that this makes my recovery stronger.
When I left the meetings at 18 months sober I had to pay attention. Everyone told me that I might relapse, or that I probably would relapse. I knew that this was the expected outcome of leaving the meetings so I took corrective action.
In fact, what I did was to establish a daily practice. I started pushing myself to take positive actions every day. If I was going to skip out on the meetings then I had better “up my game” in other ways, right? That was my logic at the time, and it worked.
I stared exercising. I started writing about recovery. I started reaching out to people online about recovery. I quit smoking cigarettes. I started eating healthy foods. I made sure that I slept 8 hours each night. I meditated. I worked with other people in recovery on a regular basis.
I did all this stuff, and I just didn’t go to meetings any more.
And it worked. So at some point, I was able to look back and realize that the meetings were a form of dependency (for me anyway), and that I had grown stronger in my recovery by leaving them.
This is not to say that I should never go back to them, or that I would not get huge benefit from doing so. Also I could probably offer some help to people in the meetings as well. It does not all have to be about me and my sobriety all the time. I could go back to meetings and help others. So I am not against that idea entirely, I just found value in reducing that dependency and I wanted to share that with you.
AA meetings are not bad. But if you depend on them for your sobriety then you might look at the idea of reducing that dependency in order to strengthen your recovery.
Being addicted to personal growth
Can you get addicted to personal growth?
Is it possible that your replacement strategy in recovery is as bad as your alcoholism was?
Probably not. I have not found any of my personal growth efforts to have any sort of detrimental effect in my life.
If I am addicted to anything today then I am addicted to “making positive changes.”
What about you, have you replaced your alcoholism with something else? What did you replace it with, and did it work out? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!