How do you cultivate willingness in alcoholism or addiction recovery? How do you get the motivation to do the things that you need to do in order to recover?
First of all, it is important to realize that early recovery, when done successfully, is not overflowing with willingness and positive feelings.
Early recovery is entered into in a state of what we would call “total and complete surrender.” In other words, the alcoholic or addict must be completely defeated in order to have a chance at real recovery.
So when the person finally surrenders to their disease and they agree to seek help, they are not jumping in the air and clicking their heels together with radiant optimism. This is not how recovery begins for people.
Instead, the person will have just the tiniest sliver of hope remaining. Just a sliver. The person will be on the brink of complete self destruction, and they will be beyond miserable. One of the phrases that is often used to describe this state of surrender is “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” The person is just completely fed up with their life, with their addiction, with everything. And they just want it all to go away.
So that is the starting point. If the start of your recovery does not resemble what was just described, then honestly the chances of achieving long term sobriety at that point are almost none. You have to be completely miserable and desperate for change in order to be successful in addiction recovery.
So the willingness develops slowly. It begins with just a tiny sliver of hope, that maybe, just maybe, “I should give this rehab thing another try.” For many people, going to inpatient rehab or attending AA meetings will not be their first attempt. Many addicts and alcoholics have tried at least once, failed, and resigned themselves to leading a life of addiction. So it takes a bit of willingness to just give themselves another chance at recovery in the first place, and that can be very difficult to muster up when you are depressed and feeling down due to your addiction.
So out of desperation, hopefully, this tiny bit of willingness will appear, and at least allow the person to ask for help and agree to go to treatment. Once in treatment, the process of rebuilding willingness is a slow and steady climb as the person begins to feel a bit better each day. It takes time for you to start feeling good again in recovery. It does not happen overnight. That said, if you go through the motions and you stay in rehab and you do what is suggested then you will start to feel better and better as time passes.
You will realize, within the first 28 days, that you can still laugh and have fun and enjoy yourself, even though you are no longer under the influence. This face alone gives quite a bit of hope to the struggling addict or alcoholic, who may have believed that if they sobered up that they would be miserable forever.
You see, what really happens in the recovery process is that you begin to build on your previous success. This happens because really what you are doing is that you are cultivating positive habits, and then you start stacking more positive habits on top of that, and your life becomes exponentially better as a result. And as you begin to stack these healthy habits on top of each other, you begin to feel better and better about yourself, and about your new life in recovery.
At some point, most people experience something known as “pink cloud syndrome” in early recovery, where everything is going perfectly and they are feeling really good, as if on a natural high. This is because they are suddenly living right and doing healthy things and their brain is starting to function properly again. It is an exciting time in a person’s recovery and if you are there right now then you should definitely enjoy it. Eventually, life will become chaotic and random and your pink cloud will be displaced, but do enjoy it while it lasts!
So in essence, building willingness begins in recovery with that tiny sliver of hope that allows you to ask for help and take your first tentative steps towards recovery. Hopefully that will include inpatient treatment in a 28 day program, which will likely be followed by aftercare and counseling of some sort. They will recommend that you continue treatment after leaving rehab by going to AA meetings, perhaps doing some IOP therapy, and so on.
As you begin to take these positive actions towards your recovery, you will also begin to feel better about yourself. At some point you will likely have this epiphany, which will be something along the lines of “wow, if I keep doing the next right thing in my recovery, then things just keep getting better and better for me!” Thus, you have to kick start your journey in recovery by using that tiny bit of hope in order to ask for help, but once you begin the process of healing your life, the positive results that you are getting will eventually lead to the developing of more willingness. Thus, recovery becomes a positive feedback loop in which you feel better about yourself because you took positive action, so then you are compelled to take more positive action in the future so that you can feel even better, and so on.
Success builds on itself in recovery because you are stacking positive habits on top of each other. Along with that success will come even more willingness and positive energy. They key is that you need to be willing to get the ball rolling in the first place, and somehow dig deep within yourself to find that tiny bit of hope that you can then build on. Without this tiny bit of hope it is impossible to get the recovery process started.
This can become an issue again in long term recovery if you are not careful, and this is due to a condition known as complacency. This is what happens when you are living your life in long term recovery and you run out of willingness.
You may wonder why this would be a problem at all, if someone is well established in their recovery. The reason is because of the random nature of life, and the fact that you are going to encounter new and unforeseen problems as you move through your sobriety. Those unforeseen problems have the potential to cause you to relapse if you are not actively working a program of recovery.
Therefore, even in long term recovery, we must maintain the willingness to keep pushing ourselves to learn, to be humble, to become a better version of ourselves. This is the key to overcoming complacency and remaining clean and sober for the long run.