What are the best tactics for early recovery from alcoholism or drug addiction? There are a number of different things that you can do to try to stay sober, and some of them have to be more effective than others, right? So how do you prioritize in early sobriety? Where do you place your efforts?
Let’s take a closer look and see what we can learn.
What are some of the typical tactics that people use to overcome alcoholism?
One of the most popular tactics that people use in alcoholism recovery is that of AA meetings. Some people base nearly their entire recovery around the idea that they will be going to AA meetings almost every single day in order to maintain their recovery.
There are other tactics as well. For example, some people go to therapy or see a counselor on a regular basis. Or they might use sponsorship in AA or NA and talk with a sponsor and work the steps with that person.
Some people read recovery literature and base a great deal of their recovery on that. In some cases, a person may not have access to lots of AA meetings (or any at all) and therefore they have to rely more on the literature to keep them sober.
And then there are less traditional and less focused tactics for recovery, such as exercise, meditation, holistic tactics, and so on. In other words, some tactics are very specific and focused heavily on recovery and not drinking, while other tactics are not really related directly to the idea of sobriety, but still might be helpful (such as yoga for example). This doesn’t mean that yoga is useless for sobriety, it just means that it is a less direct method of staying sober, and therefore should be used to supplement your other recovery efforts.
Which brings up another good point, that you would not generally just pick one recovery tactic and use that exclusively. This is not an optimal approach. Instead, you would rather use and combine a variety of recovery tactics that all fall underneath a recovery strategy. Having a cohesive recovery strategy that can help you to dictate your day to day actions is, in my opinion, a key part of your recovery plan.
In other words, you have to answer the question of “how do I want to live in sobriety? What will determine my priorities and my day to day actions?” In order to answer that question you need a strategy.
Using a strategy to choose tactics that compliment each other in recovery
Let me give you an example of a recovery strategy and how it can influence your day to day tactics.
The recovery strategy that I use in my own life is one of personal growth and holistic health.
So my overall goal in recovery is to become healthier–not just physically but also mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and socially. My goal is to get healthier each and every day in all five of these different areas of my life.
That is a holistic approach to life, and to recovery. In traditional recovery programs they often ignore the holistic approach in favor of the much more popular spiritual approach. This seems to work well for a certain group of people, but it certainly does not work for everyone.
Some people who hear that get upset and argue that they also use a holistic approach, even in AA or NA. That may be true, but it all comes down to what your priorities are and how you are living your life in recovery. Many people in the 12 step program push the idea that “the solution is spiritual” and they focus entirely on spiritual growth at the expense of these other areas. They are not focused on physical or emotional or mental health, their priority is only in the spiritual connection to their higher power. Again, this may or may not work for you.
My strategy was to go beyond that narrow approach and instead try to achieve personal growth in all 5 of those areas. I found that doing this gave me benefits that I was not realizing when I was narrowly focused on spiritual growth alone. For example, when I started to exercise on a daily basis it gave me the foundation that I needed to be able to quit smoking cigarettes, and then later I also noticed that I was sleeping better because of the daily exercise. Who would have thought that a habit such as daily exercise could have an impact in so many different areas? I also noticed that I was more emotionally stable when I went out and ran a few miles every day. It was like a moving meditation in some ways as well.
And this is just one example based on the idea of daily exercise. That is just one tactic out of many when it comes to personal growth and holistic health.
What is really amazing in addiction recovery is when you start to choose tactics that compliment each other.
This is made much more likely if you have a strategy that ties it all together. This is why holistic health makes so much sense as a recovery strategy, at least to me. If you are exercising every day then you will realize that you have to fuel your body with proper nutrition in order to maintain that activity level. In other words, if you start working out hard every day then your body will demand healthy foods. This forced me to evaluate what I was putting into my body and I stopped eating so much junk.
Like I mentioned earlier, I started sleeping much better as well. My relationships improved and I had more confidence about myself in terms of dealing with other people in my life. I was more confident and assertive as a result of this personal growth strategy. When you work out hard every single day it sort of turns down the volume knob on the rest of your life. Everything becomes much easier to handle because you gain strength and discipline through your new routines. You get stronger as a result of your new habits.
Relationships are a huge part of sobriety. There are really two sides to this coin; one is to pursue healthy relationships from people who inspire you in terms of personal growth. The other side of the coin is that you want to eliminate toxic relationships from your life. You definitely do not want toxic people dragging you down and sapping your emotional energy.
Spirituality is still very important in the holistic approach that I am describing, but it is not the only facet of your recovery efforts. The key in my experience has been not faith so much but rather gratitude. If you are truly grateful on a daily basis then this will do wonders to enhance your life and protect your sobriety. Being grateful is, in my opinion, more important than having a strong faith in a higher power. Simple gratitude is far more powerful and gives you tremendous benefits as far as your sobriety is concerned.
So with the holistic approach you combine these various tactics and they start to work together and enhance each other. This is how you get a superior flow of energy through your life in terms of personal growth. I wasn’t able to quit smoking, for example, until I started running every day. I became a runner first and then I was able to put down the cigarettes. Notice the order here as that is the entire secret of personal growth! Take action first, and then make the change that you want to see in the long term. Everyone tries to do this backwards at first, by saying something like “Oh, once I quit smoking then I will be able to get out there and jog every day.” Nope, it doesn’t work that way. It will never happen. The only way it will happen is if you make it happen through sheer guts. I had to get out there and start pounding the pavement even while I was still a smoker, and it was only through gutting it out like this that I was finally able to overcome my nicotine addiction. I had to take massive action first before I could alter my lifestyle and quit.
Feeling good from running every day was a big part of how I was able to finally put down the cigarettes. I had to combine these tactics in order to get the results that I wanted. And notice that the overall strategy was dictating these actions: Personal growth and holistic health. Exercise and quitting smoking went hand in hand and complimented each other perfectly. So we should each try to find goals like this in our recovery journey that compliment each other.
What you don’t want to do is to find goals in your life that work against each other. Then you will struggle and not even realize why you are struggling, because your goals will conflict and you will be working against yourself.
How hard do you have to try in early recovery?
I am probably making this sound like a lot of work. I don’t mean to do that, and it is not to say that this is impossibly difficult or anything like that. Getting sober is a challenge, no doubt, but you can definitely pull this off.
You do have to work for it though. You have to put in a ton of effort.
They have a saying around AA that is fitting: “Put the same effort into sobriety that you put into your drinking.” That is a pretty accurate statement when it comes to your recovery effort. You have to push yourself to try pretty darn hard, but realize that the results are well worth it.
I was in a situation where I had to commit myself to taking massive action. I had been to treatment in the past and it had not worked for me because I had not yet surrendered. I was fairly young though and I had a lot of friends who drank and used drugs with me so I needed to make a clean break. So part of my solution was to surrender and ask for help and to do what they told me to do. And they told me to go live in treatment for 20 months. So I did that.
This was the best decision I ever made. It sounds a bit crazy to check into rehab and to live there for 20 months. But you have to realize that this is sober living home that allows you some degree of freedom as well. It was not as though I could never leave or anything. I had the freedom to work and go back to college, which I did both of. It was a great opportunity.
If at first you do not succeed in early recovery then the problem is almost certainly one of surrender. If someone relapses then it is because they had not surrendered fully to their disease. Or rather, they did not surrender to a recovery solution. This is even more important than admitting that you are alcoholic–you have to admit that you need a new way to live. It is actually pretty easy to admit that you have a problem, but it is much more difficult to admit that you need a new way to live your life. Real humility is asking people to help you find a new way to live your life. This is the level of surrender that is needed in order to get sober and turn your life around. To just admit that you are alcoholic and probably need help is not always enough. You have to actually be willing to listen to others and do what they tell you to do.
Support and networking tactics to consider
AA meetings may not work for everyone but they are certainly one of the most powerful tactics that you can use in early recovery.
Aside from being in treatment, there is really no more concentrated form of recovery help than going to AA meetings.
If you happen to find a sponsor at AA and work through the steps with them, that is even more powerful.
Of course, AA is not for everyone and there are other options out there, though none of them are nearly as widespread. This is why I encourage most people to at least consider AA meetings and give them a fair chance in early recovery. That is usually the best course of action for most people and will give you the most support.
Some people join a church community instead of going to AA and they do just as well. This is a little different of course because the people in a church community are not likely to be recovering alcoholics. So it may be a question of how badly you want to relate to other people in terms of your addiction. It is very important to know that you are not alone and that other people have been through a similar struggle. This is the concept of identifying with others and it is one of the major reasons why AA is so powerful. You probably won’t get that same level of identification in a church community but you may still get a great deal of support. It is all about finding out what works for you personally.
Obviously if something isn’t working well for you then you should seek other options. Personal responsibility is the hallmark of successful recovery. If you are struggling to stay sober then you need to make a change. If church isn’t working for you then try AA. Or you may have to reverse that. Or you may need something else entirely (therapy, counseling, a holistic approach, yoga, martial arts, daily exercise, support groups, etc.). There is no single path that works for every person in recovery.
Personal growth strategies to fight against complacency and get you into action
Perhaps the most important concept in recovery from alcoholism is that of personal growth. You need to take massive action in order to overcome any addiction. When we say “massive action” what we really mean is consistent and positive action.
You always want to be pushing yourself forward, learning new things about yourself, and challenging yourself to become a better person.
So what you need to do find ways to create positive action, to inspire yourself to improve, to find new outlets for learning. One way to do this is to get feedback and advice from other people in recovery and say “yes” to new adventures. If you don’t reach out socially then it is very difficult to expand your horizons.
I am always trying to think of my recovery on at least two different levels:
1) How can I improve my life and my life situation in recovery?
2) How can I improve myself and get more honest with myself?
One is in external issue, the other is an internal issue. One is about my life, the other is about myself. One is about the surface level of my life, the other is about the internal struggles.
Both are important to successful recovery.