How does a person go about creating the life in sobriety that will protect them from relapse?
In order to create such a life I have a few key suggestions for you. Obviously the prospect of doing this can be overwhelming at first, so you would do well to slow down, just breathe, and take it one day at a time, as is often suggested in AA and other recovery programs.
For starters, you will want to build a foundation for your new life in recovery by starting out strong, and in order to do that I believe you are going to need to be in a controlled environment. This means going to an inpatient treatment center where there is no access to drugs or alcohol. If you go to a typical 28 day program then you walk out of treatment with a solid month of sobriety under your belt and a huge advantage. This has to be the single biggest factor that you can easily manipulate into your favor–by simply asking for help and checking into a rehab facility.
Many people stay stuck in denial and they do not want to “stoop to this level” where they have to go to an inpatient facility, but the truth is that there is no shame in doing so any more. The old stigma that plagued the alcoholic or drug addict is largely dead these days, and people are very accepting of someone who recognizes that they have a problem and take steps to correct it.
I repeat: You will be seen with much more respect if you are someone who recognizes that you have a problem and are now taking steps to correct it. If there is a badge of shame then it is the addiction itself rather than going to treatment to fix the problem.
So you break through your denial and make an agreement with yourself to ask for help and go to rehab–what next? Hopefully you take these first few critical steps and get yourself into a rehab facility. That is the beginning of your new life. With 28 days at an inpatient facility you have a real opportunity to turn your life around.
Upon leaving this treatment center you will be given a number of suggestions for aftercare–things that you are supposed to do following your inpatient stay that will help you to continue on the right path in recovery. So they will suggest that you go to therapy, perhaps outpatient treatment, attend AA meetings, and so on.
You should do all of these things. Everything that is suggested to you, you should absolutely follow through with. This is critical for your success in recovery, almost as critical as having attended inpatient rehab in the first place. If you fail to follow through with aftercare then relapse is almost certain to happen.
Now up until this point you are not really doing any of the creating in your recovery journey. Up until now you are following directions and taking orders from people. All you did was to ask for help, and someone told you to go to rehab, then they told you to go to AA, and you are just doing what you are told to do.
Keep doing this. Keep doing what people tell you to do. If there is a secret to early recovery, it is this: Just do what you are told. Keep it simple. If you try to “figure out” recovery on your own, especially in early sobriety, you are doomed to fail.
Now at some point in your recovery journey, probably a few months after leaving treatment, you will begin to realize that you have built a nice foundation for yourself in recovery. Taking suggestions from other people has worked out very well for you. You followed the directions and you got the outcome that you desired. You are living the life of recovery now, and it is actually pretty amazing! That’s great. Keep going with it.
However, at some point, you get to take a tiny bit of control back–at least in my experience. Once you have this foundation of recovery built, you get to start creating the life that you wanted. This is the blank canvas stage in which you realize that you can create pretty much any experience that you want in your life–you just have to choose.
I think there are some definite tips to being able to do this well–to take back a tiny bit of self will in long term recovery and not totally flub it up.
One, you need to be practicing the principles of recovery in your everyday life. So you cannot just ignore all of the recovery concepts that you have been learning for the past several months and decide that you are going to do your own thing now.
Instead, you need to keep taking positive action. For me, this mean a few things: I had to keep exercising my body, I had to keep writing about recovery, I had to keep writing a daily journal, I had to stay in touch with peers in recovery on a daily basis, and I had to keep trying to help others in recovery.
Those are all key concepts for me in my own recovery journey. Your “key concepts” may be slightly different, though I think there are some fundamental principles in there that might just apply to everyone–such as the idea that may need to help others in order to remain sober yourself, or the need to exercise and move your body in order to take good care of it.
Second of all, I believe that even in long term sobriety you can take suggestions and tips from others in recovery and apply them in your own life and test them out and see if it helps you or not. In other words, you can treat everything as an experiment of sorts, and then keep the results that you want in your life while moving on from the things that fail for you.
If you keep testing out new ideas in your life then you can constantly be improving yourself and your recovery. If you are not getting new ideas and new input from other people then how are you going to iterate and refine your own processes? You have to have some sort of input and spark to get you to make changes in your own life, so I would encourage you to continue to take suggestions from others.
I believe that recovery is best lived with a holistic health perspective. Meaning that if you are not taking care of yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and socially then you are going to be missing out on a lot of potential personal growth as a result of this.
In other words, we can unwittingly hold ourselves back from living the life that we want by neglecting any one area of our health. So if our relationships are currently rocky and tenuous then it will put a strain on our entire life, and possibly lead us to relapse as well. If our physical health is ailing then that can ruin everything for us as well.
Our recovery is only as strong as our weakest area of holistic health. This is why we have to take care of ourselves across all of these different dimensions, rather than just spiritually.
Sure if you focus on spiritual growth you will make some impressive gains early in recovery. But in long term sobriety you need to realize that a relapse can happen emotionally, or mentally, or even because of physical illness that wears us down over time. So we need to use a holistic approach to recovery and be actively taking better care of ourselves in all of these different ways–physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and socially.