One of the amazing things that I have discovered in my own recovery journey is that things just keep getting better and better.
This is because each success in recovery serves as a foundation for future success.
This is also a massive change from the way that I was used to living in addiction.
During my alcoholism, I was not experiencing much personal growth. I was stuck.
The problem was not that I would never try to improve anything, because I actually was trying to do some positive things even in my addiction.
Instead, the problem was “two steps forward, three steps back.” Every time I made progress in one area of my life, it was almost instantly erased due to the destructive power of my addiction. Everything that I was grasping for was always moving further out of reach. No real progress could be made because all of the gains I made were eventually neutralized by destructive forces. My addiction sabotaged everything.
In recovery this dynamic gets flipped on its head, which is a good thing. Because now in recovery you get to keep your gains, you get to keep the rewards of sobriety, and you can actually start to build on your success.
In other words, the positive benefits that you get in recovery are not fleeting. They don’t just fade away like the gains that you might have made during your addiction were prone to do.
Your foundation of success is always abstinence
Of course, in order to achieve long term sobriety you have to start with a foundation of abstinence.
All of the personal growth that you experience in recovery is going to be based on abstinence to drugs and alcohol.
This is based on the simple idea that if you take a drink or an addictive drug during your recovery journey then it resets everything back to zero (or worse). Any progress that you have made so far is vaporized. Everything goes back to chaos and misery in the blink of an eye and in fact the relapse might even do more damage than this and end up killing you outright.
There are basically two alternatives to relapse: Personal growth or stagnation.
If you stagnate then you are not making progress in recovery but you also don’t relapse. This is not a good place to be though because it does not offer you any protection against relapse. If you are complacent then your chances of staying sober go down significantly.
The other choice is personal growth. So instead of relapse or complacency, you can choose to work on personal growth. You can turn it into a personal challenge. What can you improve in your life today? What do you need to work on next in order to learn more about yourself? How can you improve your life and your life situation today? What is your next step in taking positive action?
If you don’t know the answers to these questions then don’t beat yourself up. So long as you are seeking the answers and are willing to take action then you are probably safe in your sobriety. The problem comes in when people refuse to even look at those questions any more, or they get lazy and just don’t care to pursue any kind of positive growth any longer.
The recovery process should look something like this:
1) Discover your alcoholism or addiction, realize that you have a serious problem.
2) Work through denial, accept your disease, accept the fact that it is the cause of all your unhappiness.
3) Surrender. Surrender to your disease and to a new solution in life.
4) Ask for help.
5) Take action and follow through. Take advice and act on it. For many people this will mean going to rehab as a starting point.
6) Start remaining abstinent one day at a time. No addictive drugs or alcohol. Find support for this journey.
7) Evaluate your life and your life situation. Strive to improve it. Personal challenge to pursue more growth, improved health.
8) Transition to long term recovery. More evaluation, more personal growth. Living the solution. Challenging yourself to keep learning and to keep growing.
You can stay in the “personal growth” phase until you die. This is life long recovery.
Now if you fail to adopt a strategy of personal growth then there are basically two outcomes. One, you could relapse outright. Two, you could become stagnant in your recovery and become what most would refer to as a “dry drunk.” You might not relapse, but you won’t be happy either.
Recovery done right is a continuous state of reinvention. You have to keep reinventing yourself in order to maintain a happy life in recovery. And in order to do that you have to keep learning about yourself through the process of personal growth.
The holistic path in recovery leads you to greater health
The term “holistic” is sort of loaded. It sounds like new age garbage to me, to be honest.
But it’s not like that. “Holistic” just means “whole person.” So instead of treating just the spiritual deficiency of our addiction, we treat the whole body and the entire addiction by looking at our overall health, at our holistic health. So that means that in order to have a successful life in sobriety we need to learn to take care of ourselves every day.
Most people hear “take care of ourselves” and think about physical health. But this is bigger than that. This is about taking care of ourselves:
And this is what it means to find a holistic path in recovery. If you are taking care of yourself in all of these ways on a daily basis then your recovery will be that much stronger as a result.
The holistic path to recovery is also how you can start to build on your previous success.
Recovery starts out very slowly. Most people go to rehab and physically detox their body. Then they start to find social support through groups like AA. And they might start to work through emotional issues with a sponsor or a therapist. So they are trying to take care of themselves in these various ways. Maybe they are doing step work and trying to get on a spiritual path as well. They are slowly learning to take care of themselves in various ways.
What we cannot really anticipate is how these different areas of our lives will overlap and enhance each other.
For example, say that you have never been into regular exercise before in your life. You have never really worked out or been in shape. And someone tells you that you should give it a try, because daily fitness has spiritual benefits for them as well.
And you hear that and you say “really? How does exercise benefit someone spiritually? I think this person is full of garbage!”
And I can admit that I used to think that same thing. When people tried to explain how exercise benefited them, I just sort of tuned out. I did not believe them, or I did not think that what they were saying applied to me. For whatever reason, it just sounded like too much work to fuss with it.
Fast forward to a later point in my recovery and by some miracle I finally started to exercise. Every day. And I pushed myself until finally I was in decent shape and working out become energizing rather than something painful. And when I got to that point I was amazed. Because what they had tried to explain to me was absolutely true: Exercise had changed my life for the better in ways that I could not fully explain to anyone. The benefits of regular exercise went far beyond the physical. There was definitely a spiritual element involved (distance running for me was like meditation, only better) and I also found that regular exercise gave me a lot more emotional balance. I was much more emotionally grounded as a result of my daily exercise routine. Mentally my mind was sharper and I could organize my thoughts when I worked out. It gave me time to do a mental review each day.
And I noticed that daily exercise had improved my life from a social perspective. I rarely worked out alone and so this made a positive impact on the way that I interacted with others in my recovery. It expanded my circles.
I also noticed later on that if I did not exercise and skipped a day or two that it would affect me in small ways. So it had become part of my routine, part of how I took care of myself, and it affected so much more than just my physical health.
Realizing your true power in recovery and the nearly unlimited potential of sobriety
Part of the real power for me came after I incorporated some of these suggestions that people were making to me.
I started with a baseline of abstinence. I went to rehab and I went through detox. Then I started to take suggestions. I listened to advice and acted on it. I started to exercise. I went back to college. I got a job. I started writing every day about recovery. And so on.
One thing that I struggled with for a long time was quitting cigarettes. I was already clean and sober but I continued to smoke for the first few years of my recovery. But I wanted to quit very badly. And everything I tried seemed to fail for me.
So what happened is that at some point I decided to attack the problem from another angle. I decided that if I were to become a jogger first that I might be able to put the cigarettes down after becoming a regular runner. This approach seemed backwards because everyone told me that I should quit smoking first, and then start jogging. But I couldn’t do that. I had failed to do that so many times. So I decided to switch the order around.
In a nutshell, it worked. I started running with my father even though I was still a regular pack-a-day smoker. I started by running just 2 miles with him and quickly expanded that to three miles at a time.
I kept plugging away at this until I worked my way up to his regular level of exercise, which was six miles of jogging every single day. Once I reached that point I made another attempt at quitting smoking.
And it worked. Because I was getting the massive endorphin rush every day from running six miles, I was finally able to walk away from my nicotine addiction, cold turkey. It was still a very difficult withdrawal process but I made it through thanks to my new jogging habit.
Does that sound like a lot of extra work? It certainly was. But it also gave me the results that I wanted, a result that I was never able to get in the past no matter what I tried.
And after this was over, I was maybe at a few weeks or a month after quitting the cigarettes and I had this massive revelation. I suddenly realized that I had real power. I could do anything. I was clean and sober, I had just quit cigarettes, and in order to quit the smoking I first had to build up a new exercise routine of running six miles every day.
This was not like me at all. I am not some super achiever kind of recovery super hero. In all honesty I hated jogging up to this point. But I did it anyway because I was aiming for this goal, I was taking suggestions, and I was getting stronger and stronger with each passing day. Really I was just trudging this path and putting one foot in front of the other.
And so I had “arrived” at this moment and I realized that I was truly powerful. I realized that I had gained some discipline through this experience. And that I could take that discipline and apply it to other things.
So this is how I learned how to build on my success in recovery.
First I got clean and sober, which was as much a blessing as it was my own decision (why did I decide to surrender finally? I have no idea).
Second I decided to take a suggestion and start exercising every day. So I pushed myself harder and harder in order to get into shape.
Because of this exercise (and the sobriety thing!) I was able to then quit smoking cigarettes.
And after I quit the cigarettes and realized that I was in decent shape and sober, I had this profound realization that I could probably accomplish most anything that I wanted, so long as I was willing to pay the price for it. And the price we pay for any goal is simply discipline, hard work, and all of that other stuff that you see on those motivational posters. You want something to happen, you focus on it and hammer away at it until you achieve your goal. Simple as that.
But up until this point I did not really acknowledge that I had any sort of power. I thought I was lucky, that I was blessed, that things were just working out well for me due to random circumstance. And maybe there was some luck in there. But I also realized at some point that I could now determine my direction, that I had quite a bit of power, and I could focus that power in different directions. And so I started to do exactly that in my recovery and it has been an amazing ride ever since then (For example, I quit my day job and started a successful business). But I could not have realized this power or executed any new ideas unless I had laid the foundation first. Getting sober, daily exercise, and quitting smoking were the groundwork that led me to realize the power that I had.
Focus shifts from “I don’t want addiction” to “What do I really want?”
At some point in your recovery journey the focus will shift.
It will shift from “I don’t want to be addicted to drugs or alcohol” to “This is what I want in recovery.”
I can look back and see this shift in my own journey. And I am still going through the transition, to finding out what I really want to pursue in life.
When we are stuck in addiction we are miserable. We want to escape from the reality that has become our life. We don’t necessarily know what we want, but we know that we don’t want to be miserable any more. We know that we don’t want what we have been getting all along.
So we ask for help. We surrender to our disease. We surrender to a new solution. Maybe we go to rehab and start attending AA meetings. Is this what we want? No one necessarily knows that they “want” AA meetings, they just know that they are miserable in addiction and they want something else. Anything has to be better than total misery.
This is scary. It is a scary transition to go from being self medicated every day to being sober and attending AA meetings. There is no guarantee that we will be happy if we do this. But many alcoholic still make the leap of faith because they are so sick and tired of being miserable.
My theory is that in long term recovery you have to do more than this. You have to do more than to just say “I don’t want my old life in addiction, therefore I will go to AA.” Most people have to go beyond this in order to find happiness and meaning in long term sobriety.
Now a certain percentage of people will find fulfillment in AA. They will dive into the program and get into sponsorship and chair meetings and AA will become their entire life. A certain percentage of people in AA will really get into the program to the point where they don’t need any meaning outside of the program. It becomes their life purpose.
If this works for you then that is fine, there is nothing wrong with it. Helping other alcoholics is a great life purpose to have! Nothing wrong with that at all.
But most alcoholics, even those who go to AA, will need to find meaning and purpose beyond attending 3 meetings per week. They will want to go beyond the idea that “I know I don’t want my old life” and find out what they really want.
So if you go to AA and you use the meetings just to stay sober and get no real benefit beyond that, then you might have to dig deeper.
You might have to say to yourself: “What is my real purpose in recovery? Why am I sober? What purpose does my sobriety serve?”
In long term sobriety these become important questions, whether you are in AA or not.
If you are on a path of personal growth then the questions tend to take care of themselves. But if you are stagnant in your recovery then it is worth looking at such questions and finding answers to them.
If you are struggling to answer those questions then you should ask for help. Find people that you trust in recovery and ask them what your next step should be. What you should be working on, what you should be focusing on next.
Also, consider the idea of taking care of yourself every day in a holistic sense–spiritually, physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially. If you are doing those things every day in your recovery then new opportunities will present themselves to you. You won’t even have to go look for meaning or purpose in your life because your daily actions will bring the purpose to you.
What about you, have you been able to build on your previous success in recovery? How has that process worked for you? Do you have an example? (Such as sobriety, exercise, quitting smoking). Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!