Is alcoholism recovery all about finding just the right information?
Are there some sources of recovery that have an edge over the others?
These are fair questions from someone who doesn’t necessarily have any experience with alcoholism recovery.
The truth of the matter is, though, that having expert knowledge about addiction and recovery really is not going to help anyone more than someone who just has a basic understanding.
In other words, it is the application of the knowledge that matters in recovery, not the “secrets themselves.”
Many people think that programs like AA must have secrets, or certain nuggets of wisdom that are responsible for keeping people sober. That if you were to try to get sober without these bits of wisdom that you would ultimately fail.
This is not exactly accurate. It would be more fair to say that AA programs and others like it have a few broad, general principles of recovery that everyone must draw from. These would be principles such as:
1) Abstinence. Completely avoiding addictive substances entirely.
2) Surrender. Realizing that you cannot control or regulate your consumption.
3) Action. Doing something to break free from addiction, such as going to inpatient treatment.
4) Follow through. Establishing new habits in life. Healthy habits as opposed to the old drinking habits.
5) Personal growth. Not just sitting still in recovery or being lazy, but taking positive action.
6) Identification with other alcoholics and addicts in recovery. So that you know you are not alone.
These are general principles. None of them are specific to any one recovery program.
Do they qualify as “secrets of recovery?” Not really, although to the struggling alcoholic they may appear to be secret information because they are too busy trying to figure out how to switch from liquor to beer, or how to cut down on their drug consumption instead.
It is not the information itself which is helpful to the struggling alcoholic, but it is the application of that information. Just consider how useless those principles are if no one ever uses them. The only way that the ideas have any value is if an alcoholic applies the ideas in their life in order to get sober.
The myth of celebrity treatment and its effectiveness
There are a number of high end treatment centers out there for drug addiction and alcoholism.
It is possible to pay six figures for a stay at a luxury treatment center that supposedly has some of the best therapists in the world working there. Now you would expect that such a place would have a significantly higher rate of success in treating alcoholics, wouldn’t you?
This is how we are taught. You get what you pay for. If something costs significantly more then it is probably higher quality or more valuable than cheaper alternatives. We are led to believe in our consumer society that the best possible treatment for alcoholism is also probably going to be the most expensive treatment. And that it will naturally be the most effective choice.
These concepts break down completely when it comes to addiction and recovery. I am here to inform you of the real truth. When it comes to a struggling alcoholic who is going off to rehab to change their life, you don’t really get what you pay for. This is because it is possible to outrageous amounts of money for exclusive treatment at some luxury rehab centers, but these rehab centers do not have a magic wand or anything. They don’t have any tricks up their sleeves. They do not have a magic bullet that cures addiction.
They might have better therapists on staff but this would only account for maybe one tiny sliver of a person’s overall recovery effort. It is a drop of water in an ocean of recovery. By itself the counselors and therapists that you meet in rehab are almost inconsequential. One is not necessarily any better than another in the bigger scheme of things. It is not like the quality of the therapist can make or break anyone’s recovery journey. It is not as if someone relapses after treatment and they say “well, I just did not click with that therapist in rehab, and that is why I am drinking today.” This would be total hogwash!
As a society we have been led to believe that you can purchase success. That you can buy results. That if you have lots of money and you are super rich then you can simply purchase the results that you want in life. Well, this breaks down completely when it comes to alcoholism and drug addiction. There is no magic rehab center that can produce superior results for the right amount of money. That myth exists in many of our minds but it just isn’t true in reality. There is no magic wand, not at any price.
Why your willingness and commitment are ten times more important than who is helping you
Say that the alcoholic in question goes to a premium treatment center that costs huge amounts of money. They know that it is a prestigious rehab and so they pin their hopes on the idea that it might be able to change them.
This is the wrong attitude though and it is likely that they will relapse after leaving such a treatment center. The problem is a lack of surrender. They are not truly ready to change their life.
Now take that same alcoholic and consider that they have reached a point of total surrender. Send them to a rehab center that is set up for homeless people, one that does not even charge any money directly for its services. Or just take this alcoholic and put them in AA meetings every day. Give them a sponsor and tell them to start working the steps. For a zero dollar investment this alcoholic might turn their entire life around and become successful in recovery.
What is the difference? The difference is in the level of surrender. In one case the person is not really ready to embrace change. In the other case the person has reached rock bottom and is eager to change.
Again, it is all in the application of the knowledge, not in the knowledge itself.
Your level of willingness is what will make or break your recovery. Because it is your level of willingness that will dictate how consistently you take positive action in your life. How much work you are willing to do in order to recover. If you have hit bottom and surrendered fully to your disease then you will be quite willing. If you have not hit bottom yet then you will not be as willing to do the hard work that is necessary to get sober.
Recovery takes work. It is not comfortable. You have to become vulnerable. You have to put yourself through awkward situations. You have to face your fears and learn how to overcome anger and resentment and self pity. You have to work hard at eliminating guilt and shame from your life. You have to do a lot of work and take a whole lot of advice. And you have to listen to other people. You have to listen to their ideas and test them out for yourself. This takes guts, it takes dedication, it takes willingness. None of this will happen if you are still at a point in your life where you think you can have fun with drinking or drugs some day. If you believe that there is a chance that you might still enjoy drugs and alcohol then you will not want to do this hard work that I am outlining here. People tend to take the path of least resistance. They don’t want to examine their life, put their ego in check, and take advice from other people if they can help it. They would much rather make their own decisions and live their own way without interference, thank you very much. But that old way of living has not served the alcoholic well, and it only gets them into trouble. So they need to learn how to let go, how to get out of their own way, how to take advice and direction from other people.
Can an expert help you to do this? Can someone with superior knowledge of recovery somehow motivate you to do this? Can an expert break your ego down and force you to seek advice and ask for direction? I don’t think so. Only surrender can do that. That only happens when your spirit is broken from the negative consequences of your addiction. You cannot just yell at an alcoholic and expect them to change. They have to change from within.
Experts are almost useless in recovery because the problem is not knowing what to do, it is in doing it
It is not that expert knowledge in recovery is useless, because it does have some value. The problem is that this knowledge it useless without it being applied in the real world.
I can tell you how I got clean and sober, and I don’t think that I was really being guided by expert knowledge at the time. Or rather, I came to have my own ideas about recovery later on, and these don’t necessarily agree entirely with what I was taught during my first few months of sobriety.
But it is all about the practical application, not about secret knowledge. There are no secrets. It is just basic principles. For example, consider this hypothetical program of recovery:
1) Do not drink alcohol or use addictive drugs no matter what.
2) Take positive action every day of your life, seeking to help yourself and others.
Sound good? It is good. And it will work just as well as AA or any other recovery program, provided that the alcoholic actually applies it to their life. The magic is in taking action. The actual ideas and concepts are not some big secret. There is no magic wand for recovery.
The 12 steps are somewhat arbitrary. Everyone thinks that they are ultra specific and have magical powers or something. They don’t have magical power, they are simply general principles that can help to rebuild a sober life. The assumption is always made in AA that total abstinence is required. This is a big assumption! And notice how that assumption is technically more important than all of the 12 steps combined. If you don’t drink then you don’t drink. And the assumption with the 12 steps is that you are going to NOT DRINK while you are working through them all.
Take another look at my hypothetical two step program above. It works just as well as a 12 step program, provided you follow through with it and take real action. It is all in the application.
This is sort of a universal truth that no one really wants to believe in life. This is why coaching is such a huge industry, not just in sports but in speaking, in life, in everything. Coaches don’t actually have secret knowledge. And you don’t really need the coach in your life to know what to do. Deep down, each of us already knows what we need to know. We just don’t want to do the hard work. So in many cases we need a coach to give us permission to take massive action.
This is all you really need to recover, you need to take massive action. I went to a long term rehab and lived there for 20 months. I went to meetings every day. I studied recovery literature. I wrote in the steps and in a journal. I reached out and started working with other people in recovery.
Would I have done all of this stuff without any help? No, I don’t think I would have. I needed that “recovery coach” (treatment, sponsorship, etc.) in order to give myself permission to take massive action. Looking back I never really needed the “coaches” in my life for special knowledge. None of them had any secrets to give, because there are no secrets! The only secret is in the application. Today I know enough to realize that it is all about hard work, willingness, dedication, those kinds of things. These general principles may sound cliche but that does not mean they are not true. It really is all about willingness and taking positive action.
There are no recovery secrets other than the ones that we don’t want to hear.
Meaning that there are no shortcuts to success. There are “secrets” of recovery but they are things that you can figure out for yourself just by going to AA and taking advice from other people. And this advice is all about doing the hard work, not about secret knowledge.
Recovery is a whole lot of hard work and in the end it is more than worth it. If there is a secret then that is it. If you ever need an expert to help you to overcome alcoholism, then let that expert tell you this simple truth: That there are no secrets, that recovery is hard work, that it is all about willingness and positive action, and that you are going to have to rebuild your new life in recovery one day at a time with consistent action. End of secrets. Now go get to work on it.
Hit bottom, surrender, then follow directions
It may sound like a harsh truth but in reality the only true secret to recovery is that you must listen to other people and get out of your own way for a while.
This is perhaps one of the only ideas that qualifies (for me) as a “secret.”
I had to kill my ego. I had to realize that my own ideas about life where not serving me. I had to get out of my own way in early recovery.
How did I do this?
I had to listen to other people. I had to take advice and direction from them, then apply those ideas in my own life.
Not all of it worked. Some of what was suggested to me turned out to be something I rejected later on. No big deal. It was still better than using my own ideas and leading myself back into relapse.
So this was the only real “secret” that I found to be helpful in early recovery.
I made an agreement with myself to not make any decisions for myself. I gave up total control of my life, sort of as a mental trick. Of course in the end you are always the final decision maker, aren’t you? But I told myself that I was not. I told myself that I would only take action based on the ideas of other people. People in recovery whom I trusted. Sponsors, therapists, peers, and so on. I would listen to them rather than to my own ideas. Because my own ideas had not led me to happiness. I had been listening to my own ideas for a long time and I was not happy with my life. Time to take a new direction. Time to listen to someone else for a change. If there is a secret to early recovery, this is it.
If you really want expert advice then go to an AA meeting and ask for advice on how to stay sober
If you want to take advice from “experts” in recovery, I would suggest that you do it an AA meeting.
Sure, there are other ways to recover. And AA is not going to be perfect for everyone (or anyone for that matter). But the advice and direction that you get from an AA meeting is more than sufficient to keep you clean and sober, IF YOU APPLY IT.
I am not saying this to push people towards AA as their solution. I am only saying it because it proves the point: application of knowledge is far more important than having “expert” knowledge when it comes to recovery.
There is really no such thing as finding the perfect recovery program that will cure your alcoholism. There is no perfect program. And there is no shortcut. If you successfully become sober then it is because you took whatever knowledge you could find (general principles of recovery, not really secrets) and then you put in the hard work to make it happen. It was all about your surrender, your willingness, and your dedication to sobriety. That is what made your recovery a success, not some secret knowledge from a specific program.
If you want to recover from alcoholism then you only need to ask for help, then follow directions. It matters very little who you ask for help from. Go to rehab, go to AA, if you need detox then call up a treatment center and make sure you get a medical detox. Then start following directions. The ultimate guide for recovery is really just about following directions and these general principles that I keep mentioning (surrender, abstinence, action, etc.). You don’t need an expert to tell you what to do, instead you need a recovering alcoholic to tell you what to do. The people who are alcoholics that are living sober every day are your “experts.” Follow their advice and take action. Or listen to a therapist or counselor at a rehab, they can point you in the direction of recovery as well. There are no secrets and the magic is all in the application of the knowledge.
What about you, have you been able to overcome your alcoholism by getting help from others? Did you require expert knowledge in order to do so, or just hard work and willingness? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!