How can you avoid giving up in your journey to beat alcoholism? How can you insure that you remain successful in your quest for recovery and a better life?
This is not an easy question for any recovering alcoholic to answer. In fact, their entire recovery rests on the answer to this question, because you essentially only relapse in your addiction when you give up in the fight to stay sober. Recovery is, unfortunately, a pass/fail proposition. You can not “sort of relapse.” You can not “sort of stay sober.” It is one or the other. Sink or swim. Anyone who is either successful in sobriety or struggling with their addiction will tell you that this is the case (unless, of course, that person is heavily in denial, in which case they may try to convince themselves and other people that a middle path exists where they might be able to self medicate successfully. This is fantasy for the true alcoholic or drug addict though).
There are many reasons that a struggling alcoholic or drug addict might get clean and sober but then later give up the good fight and go back to drugs or alcohol.
Let’s take a look at some of those potential reasons, and what the solutions might be for when you find yourself confronting these problems.
The first reason that many people give up in early sobriety: They never fully surrendered
The number one reason that people relapse in early sobriety is the false start. They never truly surrendered to begin with.
I watched this happen twice in my own life, then I watched it happen over a thousand times when I worked full time in a treatment center for a period of several years. People would try to sober up (including myself) and then they would later relapse, often very quickly.
I can tell you for sure what did NOT happen.
The person did not surrender fully. They did not break through the last bit of their denial and surrender completely to two things:
1) That they are an alcoholic or drug addict of the hopeless variety, and
2) That they need someone to tell them how to live and what to do in order to turn their life around.
Note that this level of denial that has to be conquered involves at least two concepts. Most people think of denial as just the problem of admitting you are an alcoholic. This is false. That is only one half of your denial.
It breaks down like this.
Most alcoholics and drug addicts are in denial of two things:
1) Denial of the problem (I am alcoholic).
2) Denial of the solution (AA or rehab might be able to help me, if I allow it to).
For a long time I was confused about this.
I thought that I was past my denial, because I told everyone who would listen to my obnoxious self that I was definitely an alcoholic. I had a problem, and I admitted it.
Big deal! I was still in denial. Look at point number 2. I was no longer in denial of the problem, but I was in denial of the solution.
I was denying that AA or treatment might be able to save my life and make me happy while I was sober.
Specifically, I had been to rehab in the past and I had been to an AA meeting. And I was denying that either of those things could ever lead me to happiness in sobriety. If I was going to be sober in the future then I was absolutely positive that I would be completely miserable. No program of recovery or treatment center would be able to produce happiness in me. Not possible.
Or rather, that is what I told myself at the time. That was my denial. That was my justification so that I could keep drinking. Because no one could help me and if I was sober then I would be even more miserable than I already was. So why take away the one thing (alcohol) that brings me just a tiny bit of happiness in my life? That was how I was thinking at the time. That was my denial at work. I was in denial of the solution. I was in denial of the idea that treatment and AA might actually make me happy one day.
Denial of the problem is only half of the deal. Denial of the solution might be where you need to really take a look at in your life……
Therefore, if you get sober and then quickly relapse, your problem isn’t denial of alcoholism. It is denial of the solution. You need to accept something new into your life, something that can help you.
This is why they say that you have to “let go entirely.” You must surrender absolutely. That means everything. Hand your life over to someone (or something) that can help you. Hand it over completely. That is the power of total and complete surrender.
The second reason that many people give up in early sobriety: It doesn’t get easier quickly enough for them
People are impatient. Recovering alcoholics and drug addicts are impatient too. They want results and they want them now.
“They want what they want when they want it.” It’s the “king baby syndrome.”
I can remember the first time I went to rehab. I was thinking to myself: “OK, it’s been a week now, when do I become peaceful and happy again?”
That is not realistic. You did not become an addict or an alcoholic overnight, and your addiction has likely raged on for years or decades. You cannot just expect it to fade into peace and joy overnight. It takes a bit of work and it takes some time.
I lived in long term rehab for 20 months at the beginning of my journey. I probably watched about 30 guys come and go while I was living there. The average length of stay was well under six months, even though the program was set up to be over a year long.
Why was that happening? Because most alcoholics wanted to see results quicker than that. When they did not get instant results, they got frustrated and relapsed.
Of course, we could also frame this problem in terms of surrender. As in, if they had surrendered fully, then they would have been more patient in waiting to see results while actually working the program of recovery. But because they had not really surrendered fully, they were not patient enough.
There is an important concept in recovery that I think everyone should learn about. That concept has to do with your average length of time until you get to your “miracle moment.”
For me this moment came at around the six month point in my sobriety. We are talking about less than a year sober! Here is what my miracle moment was:
When I first started out in my recovery journey I did believe that I would ever be happy while I was clean and sober. Specifically, I did not believe that I could go through an entire day without thinking about getting drunk or high all day. In other words, to become free of cravings and free from the obsession to drink and use drugs. I did not believe that this was even possible for me, ever. I really believed that it would never happen.
Well, it happened when I had less than six months sober. I had only been working a recovery program for less than six months and I had this miracle moment. And I realized on that day that I had to eat my own words, that here I was at less than six months sober and I was already feeling amazing, I was already fairly peaceful and content, I was already free from the obsession that was my addiction. The obsession had been removed. This was what the AA literature promised me, and it had delivered. On that day I was truly grateful, and on most days I can remember that gratitude and try to build on it (still not perfect at this of course!).
Today I have over 13 years in sobriety and I can look back at that day and remember it very clearly. Just think, that was 13 years ago when I had that miracle moment. What an epic journey I have had since then! What an incredible gift. Over 13 years now. And to think that I was, at one point, struggling in a rehab center because I was angry that I was not feeling better when I had only one week sober?
Give it a bit of time, people. My miracle happened around the six month point. That was a long time ago. It has been more than worth it. Well worth it. But you have to put in the time and put in a bit of effort.
Would you go through a few challenging months of your life in order to have 13 years of happiness, peace, contentment, and even bliss? Or would you rather continue to self medicate and be miserable for the next 13 years instead? Which is the better choice? Obvious in hindsight, but tough to make that decision when the bottle feels like your best friend and sobriety is downright scary…..
The third reason that people give up in the fight against alcoholism: They fail to take massive action and make big changes in their lives
Again, all of these reasons listed here can be traced back to the concept of surrender.
This concept has to do with taking massive action.
In recovery, you need to make big changes in early sobriety or you just won’t get anywhere.
I personally lived in long term rehab. Now you don’t necessarily have to do that, it all depends on your unique situation. But you still have to take massive action.
For you, maybe that means going to AA meetings every day. Or maybe that means leaving a job where nearly everyone drinks or uses drugs. Or maybe it means going to see a counselor or therapist and actually following through on the advice that they give you.
The point is, you are not going to beat alcoholism by making tiny changes.
Remember trying to switch from liquor to beer? That is a tiny change.
Remember trying to go to rehab, but then not following through and doing all of the stuff they suggested for after you leave? Another tiny change.
Remember trying to see a therapist, but not really taking any advice from that person? That’s a tiny change.
You need big changes. You need to move mountains in order to beat an addiction. Go big or go home. It’s time to change the whole game if you want to succeed.
Taking massive action is only partially about the scope of the actions that you take. The other part of “taking massive action” is about the attitude that you have in relation to your process.
In other words, part of the action that you need to take is to get your head screwed on right. You have to have the right attitude.
Cultivating gratitude can be a big part of this. If you are not grateful then any action that you take in life is going to be suspect. It may not really be helping you because your attitude about things is all wrong.
In order to remain sober you have to make big changes. That might mean different things to different people, but one thing you can be sure of:
If you are comfortable…..if you are totally and completely comfortable….then those are not the kinds of big changes that I am talking about here.
No, if you want to succeed in recovery, you are going to have to get uncomfortable. You are going to have to face some fears.
I faced many fears in my journey. I was afraid of meetings, I was afraid of rehab, I was afraid of living without alcohol and drugs. I was afraid that I might succeed, that I might be a decent human being. I was covered in fear when I started out in sobriety. I had to start knocking those fears down like they were bowling pins. I had to start tackling them one at a time, usually when someone pushed me to do so.
This is how you grow in recovery. No discomfort, no growth experience. If it was super easy, then you did not benefit much. If it was really tough, then you probably got huge benefit from doing it. That’s just the price of success in recovery. Personal growth requires hard work, facing fears, getting honest with yourself. Experiencing discomfort.
Many, many people are not willing to do this. They bow out. They take the easier, softer way. They relapse because it is easier to drink than it is to get really honest with yourself and figure out how to fix the bad stuff that is inside of you.
Fixing that stuff is a big deal. It takes massive action. And it is scary, and uncomfortable.
The fourth reason that people give up in achieving sobriety: They don’t listen to advice from others and try to rely entirely on their own ideas
If you could figure out sobriety on your own, you would have done so.
But you didn’t.
So here you are, looking for answers on a website. That’s great, I encourage you to keep seeking.
The message you read here is one voice. There are other voices out there. Dozens of voices at a single AA meeting. And nearly everyone has something that might be of value to you. Nearly everyone has a lesson to teach you, if you are willing to learn it.
People fail in sobriety all the time because they don’t listen. They don’t take advice. They don’t embrace the wisdom of others who have already achieved multiple years sober.
If you could recover on your own, you would. Everyone would. No one wants to be humble. No one wants to ask for help. No one wants to have to ask for advice or direction if they can avoid it. That’s only natural.
But real alcoholics and real addicts don’t have a choice. Their addiction is defined by the fact that they cannot recover on their own. So they need help. They need new information.
Sobriety is a continuous reinvention of the self. When you go through your thirteenth year of sobriety, you do it by constantly challenging yourself to change and to grow and to learn. Even after several years sober, you are still reinventing yourself, all over again.
And to do this, you need new information.
Rehashing the same old ideas will not keep working. You need new input, new ideas, new perspective.
You get that from people. From various people. From various people in recovery.
Right now, you know what we do NOT have? We do not have a total and complete process of recovery. We don’t. No one can outline a process and definitively say “here it is, if everyone does this, then bam! Perfect sobriety.”
We just don’t have that yet. We have some ideas, we have some programs, we have some strategies. But nothing is definitive yet. The art of helping alcoholics and addicts is just a few hundred years old. It is very, very young. We know so little.
Like it or not, you have to keep learning about yourself in recovery. You have to keep pushing the envelope, keep uncovering deeper layers of truth, keep peeling the onion. Rigorous self honesty and continuous self improvement is the way forward. In a very general sense, this is what works in recovery. Unfortunately this is not very specific and can be applied in a million different ways by different people. But perhaps this is a good thing? That there are so many paths in recovery?
I’m not sure as to the final answer of that. I just know that if you stop exploring new paths (by talking to other people in recovery) then you are in danger of becoming complacent.
The final hurdle in long term sobriety is complacency
The last thing that trips people up in recovery is something called complacency.
When you get complacent you get lazy.
And there are a million different forms of complacency that can trip you up in sobriety.
You can get complacent in your relationships. This can lead to relapse.
You can get complacent with your physical health. This can lead to relapse.
You can get complacent with your emotional health. Or your spiritual progress. Again, any of this can lead to relapse.
So how do you avoid this fate of complacency? How do you avoid a trap that tells you that you are not even in a trap to begin with? People who are truly complacent do not know that they are complacent! That’s the whole problem.
The solution is to assume, right now, today, that you are struggling with complacency.
That’s the solution. To believe that you are already complacent, and that you need to get going in terms of personal growth, and do something about this problem.
That you need to push yourself continuously so that you are always growing, always learning.
That you need to embrace the lessons that you find in your everyday life, and learn from them. That you need to seek out the gratitude and continue to practice gratitude every day.
If you can structure your life in this way, if you keep yourself motivated to find another layer of personal growth every day, then you can avoid the trap of complacency and keep moving forward.
What about you, have you figured out how to keep moving forward in recovery, and avoid relapse? What are your strategies and techniques in order to do so? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!