One of the problems for people who leave alcoholism treatment is the possibility of relapse.
Not only this, but many people in early recovery are prone to chronic relapse. That is, they just keep relapsing over and over again in spite of their best efforts.
Once you find yourself in a pattern of chronic relapse it can be very difficult to break free from this. Because now that has become “your story,” that is what you do. You sober up, try again, and then you relapse. It is almost like you are expecting to relapse, or you have somehow given yourself permission to relapse because that is what always happens to you anyway.
Well, there has to be a way to break out of this pattern if you ever want to enjoy a better life in recovery. And in order to break free from this cycle of chronic relapse you are going to have to surrender.
First and by far the most important: Surrender to win!
The problem with the concept of surrender is that you cannot seem to force it on yourself.
In other words, it is a completely binary state of being. It is like a light switch that is either “on” or “off.”
You are either in a state of total and complete surrender, or you are not. It is as simple as that.
There is absolutely nothing in between the two. You either are or you aren’t.
And if you are not yet in the state of surrender, it is very possible that you are still being pushed into recovery for other reasons. For example, perhaps your family or your spouse encourages you to go to rehab in order to get help for your problem. You admit that you have a drinking problem so you agree to go to rehab. Does this mean that you are in a state of total and complete surrender? Not necessarily.
Unfortunately there is a gap. The gap is this:
Some alcoholics will become willing to seek treatment or get help, but at the same time they may not be in a state of total and complete surrender. So they are in between. At least they are willing to get help, and this is a good start. But ultimately they will not remain sober if they are not at the turning point, if they have not hit bottom, if they are not in total surrender.
So how do you know when you are in a state of total and complete surrender?
For one thing you almost never know it if you are not there yet. This is tricky. So if you are not in a state of surrender then you will be clueless. So you will hope that you are in a state of surrender, but you almost certainly will not be. If you have to wonder about it, then you are not at your bottom. If you think you might be at surrender maybe, then you are probably not.
On the other hand, if you have hit bottom and you are in state of true surrender, you will know it for sure. See the difference? So if you are not in surrender you will wonder and be unsure of yourself. But if you are at a state of true surrender then you will know it right down to your bones.
This is because the state of true surrender is almost like an ego death. You will throw caution to the wind and become willing to face your greatest fears in order to escape the misery and pain of addiction. This is a big deal. In a way it feels almost like a suicide of sorts, because you have essentially killed your ego. You stop caring, and this is what allows you to finally ask for help. So when you finally reach this state of being, you will know it. It will become obvious to you that you have finally surrendered.
I can remember the first time I went to rehab, I was not yet at my bottom. And everyone was telling me that I had to surrender to win. And I was like: “How do I do that? How do I surrender? Am I really at my bottom?” I think the real wisdom here would say, if you have to ask those kinds of questions, then you probably aren’t ready yet. Because once you are truly ready to get sober you won’t be asking those. You will know. You will know that you are at your bottom. You will know what it means to throw caution to the wind and finally surrender. Because you will be ready to ask for help and do the things that you never used to be willing to do. And this will be a big deal to you. You will walk through your fear.
How to follow through and take action in early recovery from alcoholism
Chronic relapse is a red flag. It means that you aren’t doing something right in your recovery.
Recovery is nothing if not positive change and positive action. Of course to achieve that ideal you have to follow through and actually listen to new ideas. You have to take advice from other people and put those new concepts into action.
Many people in early recovery fail to do this. They fail to do this in many different ways and on many different levels. So they fail to follow through, they fail to take action, they fail to make the necessary changes in order to put their life back on course.
A great example of this can be seen post-treatment. So an alcoholic may check into rehab and go through a program. Maybe it is a few weeks or maybe it is 28 days. The people in treatment make certain recommendations to you so that you don’t just walk out of rehab and then fall flat on your face. They want you to succeed so they try to encourage you to seek out support. So they tell you things such as: “Go to AA meetings every day, get a sponsor and call them every day, call your peers in recovery, work the steps, go to outpatient therapy, get a counselor or therapist,” and so on.
Now some people who get out of rehab start taking these suggestions and they implement them in their life. They work hard at it and they take action. These are the people who generally get decent results. These are the people who “make it.”
If you ever see any data regarding relapse rates post-treatment, it is generally not a pretty picture. Most people don’t make it. I won’t quote any hard numbers here but it is almost always a very grim picture.
So think about it. Maybe 10 percent or so make it to a year sober post-treatment. The other 90 percent relapse.
What do you think that 10 percent or so that is successful is actually doing? How are they different from the 90 percent?
I can tell you based on the same research and studies that the 10 percent who are successful are taking massive action. They are not just getting out of treatment and being lazy. They are following through, they are taking all of the suggestions, and they are pushing themselves to make positive changes. They go to meetings, they go to therapy, they follow through in every way. Those are the people who are generally successful.
Can you find exceptions to this? Sure, if you dig hard enough. But I worked in an alcohol treatment center for over 5 years as a full time employee, and I can tell you that it is definitely NOT worth trying to prove the exception to this rule. Nearly everyone who fails to follow through with aftercare will relapse. Simple as that. Of those who do follow through and take positive action, many of them will remain sober for the long haul. You want to be one of those people who “makes it.” So follow through.
What are you missing if you keep relapsing?
People who keep relapsing are missing something.
I knew a person once who was in AA and they came to AA meetings every single day. And this person spoke a great deal at the meetings and usually had pretty good things to say. And yet this person continued to relapse over and over again.
This drove me crazy after a while.
Because obviously this person is missing something critical. Why would they continue to speak at AA meetings at great length if what they are doing is creating constant failure? Why wouldn’t they listen to other people who are actually successful at maintaining sobriety, so that they might actually learn something and see what it is that they are missing? (Eventually I stopped attending meetings so I no longer wonder about such people!).
If you continue to relapse over and over again you are missing something critical.
And I can almost assure you that what you are missing has to do with surrender. Though that doesn’t necessarily narrow it down to much because there can be many aspects to surrender.
For example, many people in early recovery have some sort of reservation. Like they may say to themselves without even realizing it: “Well, I will give this sobriety thing a try, but if my spouse ever leaves me, that’s it! I’m getting drunk again.”
So that is a reservation. They have a pre-existing excuse as to why they might drink again some day. They are saying “If X happens, then I will give myself permission to relapse.”
So you have to kind of take inventory and figure out if you have any reservations in your life. Many of us have them buried and we don’t even realize it. So we have to be on guard against that kind of problem.
Another reason that people are prone to chronic relapse is because they think they can do it all by themselves without any help. If you did not need any help to recover then you would not be alcoholic to begin with. If there is no problem, there is no problem. But real alcoholics need help in order to recover because they lack sufficient information to beat their addiction by themselves.
If you continue to relapse then you are either not fully surrendered or you are not doing the work. It is one of the two. Either you have the wrong attitude (not surrendered) or you have the wrong action (not doing the work). It is always going to be one of those two elements that is holding you back.
Surrender completely and then commit to doing the work. This is the path to continuous growth.
Reaching the turning point and giving yourself completely to a new way of life
Real surrender comes when you reach the turning point and give yourself over to a new way of life.
There are two aspects to denial, or to surrender.
The first aspect is in admitting to your problem and then accepting it deeply. Yes, I am a real alcoholic. A hopeless alcoholic that needs serious help. An alcoholic that cannot fix his own problem. That is the first part of your surrender.
But the second part is just as important. The second part is what I missed out on for so many years when I was still stuck in denial.
The second part of surrender is where you say: “I need serious help, and therefore I am going to give myself over to this program completely.”
And it doesn’t matter what that program is. I know just about everyone will freak out at that statement, but it’s true. The program of recovery doesn’t actually matter so much. It’s all about surrender and getting to the place where you are willing to do the work.
You can go to rehab, you can go to AA, you can go to a religious based recovery program, or you can go see a behavioral program of recovery. It doesn’t matter that much. If you have not surrendered then none of these things will help you in the long run. You might stay sober for a short while but then you will relapse.
On the other hand, if you have reached the point of total and complete surrender then any of those options will likely work out well for you. You will become willing to do the work and you will change your life. Things will get better and better and you will become strong and stable in your recovery. You will find a path of personal growth and you will continue to reinvent yourself over and over again. The exact program of recovery doesn’t actually matter all that much. It is all about surrender and willingness.
Many people who are in AA believe that the 12 steps have some sort of magical property to them. Like they are divinely inspired and if we changed one of the 12 steps just slightly then the program would fall apart and not work for anyone. This is a naive perspective and it simply isn’t true. Consider the fact that there are many other abstinence based programs of recovery in which other recovering alcoholics use to stay sober. They work because the people commit to them and take positive action, not because there is a magical sequence of steps involved.
First you surrender, then you ask for help, then you follow through and do the work. “Doing the work” can entail a lot of different things, but it all boils down to personal growth and positive changes in your life. The 12 steps are one path with which to accomplish this. But there are other paths as well. Not a big deal, truly, if you actually surrender and become willing to take massive action. Those two things are far more important to your chances in long term sobriety.
Long term sobriety is a continuous reinvention of the self
Chronic relapse exposes a problem in the way that you are living your life.
Recovery is a unique path because it is a path of action. Continuous action.
What happens in long term sobriety if someone sits still? What happens to people who are no longer achieving any personal growth?
Typically one of two things will happen. Either they become bitter and unhappy but cling to their sobriety (dry drunk syndrome), or they become bitter and unhappy and they relapse. But ultimately you don’t want either of these paths because you will be unhappy and miserable in your journey. Recovery stops being fun.
The solution to this is to make it exciting again. And in order to find that excitement you must challenge yourself, you must find the next step towards growth in your life, and you must rise to meet that challenge. You cannot sit idle on the sidelines of recovery and expect to remain happy for long.
Complacency kills. In fact, complacency becomes the number one threat in long term recovery, even beating out the popular threat of resentment.
So in order to overcome complacency you have to keep reinventing yourself. So how does a person do that? How do you reinvent yourself in recovery over and over again?
You can do this in any number of ways, luckily. The first way is to take a look at your life in recovery and figure out where the negative points are. It may help you to meditate in order to do this. See what anxiety comes up when you sit quietly and listen to the stillness. What is bothering you? What is causing you fear lately?
Then, the challenge is to meet that head on. I admit that I am not perfect at this. It’s really tough to do, but this is where the growth is at. Figure out what you are afraid of, figure out what creates anxiety in your life, and then make a plan of action in order to solve that issue.
This is how you reinvent yourself. Because if you identify a fear or an anxiety and then you eliminate it through doing the hard work, suddenly you are like a brand new person again. It is a rebirth of sorts. It is an amazing way to live and to grow.
But it’s not easy. And that is the catch. I probably make it sound like it is easy, but obviously that is not the truth. If it were easy then we would all do it without any hesitation. But fear holds us back. We like to stay comfortable rather than to confront unpleasant realities.
So this could be any number of things. At one time I was engaging in self pity on a regular basis. I had to identify that and then take action in order to fix it. I did that in my first year of sobriety. Now I don’t sit there and stew in self pity any more. Ever. I shut it right down. I redirect myself. I practice gratitude instead. I took action in order to fix that problem and in doing so I reinvented myself.
That is just one example. There are a thousand other examples. And I have lots of challenges that lay ahead of me too that I have not yet tackled. In some ways I am still complacent and still have a need to reinvent myself.
So if you stop doing this sort of work, if you stop doing the soul searching and listening to your fears and your anxiety, if you stop doing this completely and you refuse to address any of these issues that lay inside of you, then eventually you will drink again.
It is as simple as that.
If you refuse to listen to the inner fears and address them then eventually it will drive you to drink again.
So you may as well get used to it. The path of growth, that is. Identifying your fears and anxieties and all of the negativity that might be swirling around inside of you and taking action in order to do something about it.
Sometimes you will need help for this. You will need to ask for advice, or feedback, or guidance. And that is OK. By all means, seek feedback from others. They will have insight and wisdom that will help to guide you along the path. I never could have done it alone. I took many shortcuts based on the advice I was given along the way. I continue to listen to others in my journey.
What about you, have you been able to avoid chronic relapse in your own journey? If so, what has been your path to success? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!