When I first tried to get clean and sober, the idea of actually overcoming alcoholism and living a happy life was like a complete mystery to me.
I mean, here I was in treatment, going to AA meetings, listening to all of this advice, and quite honestly–it was simply overwhelming.
I wanted to know how exactly I was going to “get there” in terms of this happy life in sobriety that everyone was promising me.
Can I have that life right now? No? Ah, I see….it’s going to take a little while. But they promised me peace, contentment, and happiness nonetheless. And so I wanted to know how to go about it, how to get there, how to work this recovery thing.
You see, throughout my life I have been a decent learner. Not that I learn things extremely quickly, because I don’t. But once I figure out how to press a specific lever, I can usually do it pretty well. Once I “get something” I can generally master the principles behind it and go to town on it. It takes me a while on some things but once I figure it out I am generally fairly efficient at it.
So when I was facing the challenge of sobriety I wanted to apply this same sort of learning to it. In other words, I wanted to say to the people in AA and in treatment: “Just show me the button I need to press, show me the lever that I need to push, and I will do it over and over again very well!”
But they couldn’t really do that. No one could show me what button to push. The closest things I got to that magical button were nebulous concepts such as:
“Find your higher power and trust in him.”
Or something like:
“The solution is in the steps.”
“Keep coming back. It gets greater, later!”
And while I don’t necessarily disagree with any of that wisdom, none of it was enough for me.
That’s not how my personality works. I was not satisfied with any of those answers. I wanted to know specifics. I wanted to know how to press the lever so that I could build this great new life in recovery. Show me the exact work to be done and then get out of my way and let me do it.
So that was my source of frustration when I was in early recovery. I think we all go through this to some extent or another–the severity of which is based on your personality type. We all want the rewards of sobriety right away, and doing the least amount of real work as possible. That’s just common sense and the laws of nature I think.
Even so, to this day I do not really think that our current concept of recovery from addiction does a very good job of explaining what my job in early recovery is. Things like “Go to meetings every day and don’t drink in between” may be helpful advice for some, but it doesn’t really explain what the magic button is. Based on my observations, it is not just going to meetings. It is more than that. And pinning down “all that other stuff” that you have to do remain sober is what I consider this website to be all about.
Comparing addiction recovery to previous challenges in your past
I think it is important to note that beating alcoholism is not really the same as learning, for example, to tie your shoes.
Nor is overcoming addiction like graduating from high school, or doing well at your new job, or anything like that.
If you could compare beating an addiction to anything, you would have to compare it to things such as:
* Overcoming an eating disorder.
* Changing your lifestyle and losing weight and getting into shape.
* Successfully managing a serious mental illness to the point where you can live a happy life.
Those are the kinds of things that can compare to addiction recovery I think.
And most people who are struggling with addiction have not gone through a previous transformation like that successfully. If they have, then they will know what it takes to conquer an addiction. You have to push really, really hard.
I sort of figured this out after the fact. Let me tell you a story. I was living in long term rehab, I was clean and sober and I had been for over a year now. I was still smoking cigarettes though and I wanted to quit.
I tried over and over again to quit. I kept failing. It was frustrating.
And finally after several years of this failure, I realized that I was not using the correct intensity with my approach.
What had I done to beat alcoholism? I changed my whole life, I left my job, left my friends behind, left my current girlfriend, went to treatment and lived there for almost 2 years. That is a massive amount of change all at once.
This is why I was lacking when it came to quitting smoking. I wasn’t pushing nearly hard enough. I was taking these tiny baby steps that did nothing.
So once I figured that out and made this comparison, I made a new effort at quitting smoking. I put my whole life and all of my energy into it. I did not take “no” for an answer. I dedicated everything to the goal of quitting, just like I had done when I got sober.
Of course that worked. How could it not work? I put everything I had into it.
And that’s the whole secret, folks!
If you want to overcome an addiction–any addiction really–then you have to take massive action. You can’t just take baby steps and hope that things work out. You don’t accidentally get clean and sober. It’s always going to be a struggle, it’s going to be tough, and so you have to bring your A game. You have to push really hard.
Harder, in fact, than you have ever pushed before in your life.
Quite honestly, the hardest I ever tried in anything I did was first when I got clean and sober. That was the supreme effort of my life so far. And it worked. It was enough.
But then a few years later I tried really hard again when I quit smoking. And quite honestly, that was even harder. It was! And so that was the most intense effort I have ever made in my life.
And after I quit smoking successfully, I had this brilliant insight, this wild revelation.
It was raw power. I realized that I had power, that I could change things, that I could accomplish any single goal that I really pushed hard for. Of course there are limits in the universe, but I realized that I had, in a way, mastered my own power, I had mastered my own boundaries and I could push right up against the edge of what was possible for me.
It was a whole bunch of work. But I realized that now, I understood how to tap into this power, I understood how hard you had to try now.
In the past I had been trying to quit smoking cigarettes, and the effort I was making was about a 7 out of 10. I told myself it was a 9 or 10 at the time, but I was fooling myself. It was a 7 at best.
After I successfully quit smoking, I trained up and ran a full marathon. 26 miles! And that was maybe only about an 8.5 out of 10 on the effort meter, quite honestly.
So when you say that you are trying to quit smoking, for example, ask yourself what your real level of effort is on that goal. Are you really dedicating your entire life to it? If that goal was actually marathon training instead, would you be able to go the full 26 miles?
Because when I finally quit smoking cigarettes, the effort that I put forth was a lot greater than my marathon training was. And I think that is a critical point, because it was something that I did not intuitively grasp when I first wrestled with my addictions, when I was trying to quit drinking.
It was like I wanted quitting drugs and alcohol to be easy. Or I wanted it to be fun and exciting, right away. I didn’t want to have to work too hard for it. If it was too much work, I would prefer not to do it. The same was true with quitting smoking. Some part of me just did not want to make that huge effort. I felt like I should not have to do so, like I deserved an easier solution.
No. That is not realistic. I didn’t deserve an easy path, and no one else gets a free pass either. If you want the awesome results then you have to put in the hard work, period.
When you finish a 26 mile race it feels pretty good. But that is only because you worked so darn hard for that victory.
The same is true with addiction. I wish it was easy to quit, but it’s just not! It’s really, really tough. And therefore the reward for doing so is that much sweeter. It’s like crossing that finish line after a 26 mile race. You will feel great when you finally do it.
But you have to be realistic. Are you putting in the best effort that you possibly can? Are you dedicating your life to recovery? Are you putting in the same energy as you would for that marathon race?
You see, when I first tried to get sober, I was comparing the challenge to things in my past, things that I could relate to, like learning how to tie my shoes, or finishing up a term paper for high school English class. Those things don’t really compare to the battle of beating an addiction. So I had nothing to really compare it to in my past, and I had to learn that new level of intensity. And after I learned it, after I realized how much dedication it took in order to beat an addiction, I used that discipline to test some other goals in my life. As in: “Oh, I managed to quit smoking cigarettes, I bet I could run a full marathon or build a successful business now that I’ve learned how to push myself at that level of intensity.” And that turned out to be true–once you learn discipline in one area of your life, you can then apply that dedication and willingness to other areas of your life as well. Pretty awesome stuff.
Recovery is a mystery because it demands a multi-faceted and holistic approach
I think that addiction recovery is a bit of a mystery because it demands a holistic approach.
You see, when I was looking for that lever to push in early recovery, it didn’t really exist. I was frustrated because people in AA would tell me mixed things: Some would focus on the steps, some would talk about spirituality, some would talk about managing relationships in my life, some would talk about personal growth, and some would suggest changing the people, places, and things that tripped me up in my addiction.
Phew! That is a lot to take in. So many different suggestions. And they are not wrong necessarily.
The problem is that your addiction attacks your entire person. Addiction infiltrates your entire life, every aspect of your being.
Think about it. Your addiction is physical, obviously, and most of us get physically hooked on a substance.
Then there is the mental obsession over it. We think about using our drug of choice all day, every day.
We use our drug of choice to manage our emotional state. If we are angry or frustrated or scared, we use in order to self medicate. We use it to celebrate the happy times. All of our emotions become tied to our drug or alcohol use. Our emotions overwhelm us in early sobriety because we are no longer medicating them away.
Our social circle changes in addiction. We hang out with people who drink or use drugs like we do. We push our real friends away.
Our spirituality changes as we begin to worship our drug of choice. We become more and more selfish and less and less grateful in addiction. Our connection to a higher power fades in addiction.
So our addiction attacks us in a holistic manner, affecting all of these different areas of our lives.
What, then, of recovery? What does that say about the solution?
It says that recovery can be a bit of a mystery and a bit overwhelming because you have to take all of these angles into account.
If you are trying to stay clean and sober and you are neglecting, for example, your emotional state, then you are headed for trouble. Even if you are working hard at spiritual growth, if you leave yourself emotionally vulnerable, it can trip you up. People relapse emotionally before they relapse physically.
So it is not enough, in my experience, to just put down the substances and then go find your higher power. That won’t get you all the way there, so to speak. There is more to recovery than that because your addiction attacked your entire life and your entire person. Therefore your recovery efforts must address all of these different areas of your life. You need a holistic, multi-faceted approach in order to remain clean and sober.
So when I was in early recovery and I was looking for the magic button to push, I was frustrated with the sort of answers that I was being given. That is because, quite frankly, the answer is overwhelming. That is why people in AA say things like “keep coming back.” There is a lot of work to do and there are many areas of your life that need improvement in recovery. You don’t just stop drinking and find God and then call it a day. That may sound like the solution but such a statement is hiding the fact that there is a whole lot of personal growth that is necessary to maintain sobriety. You don’t just get clean and sober by accident. And you don’t rack up decades of sobriety by not doing the work. It takes real effort.
Building momentum with the one percent solution
One of the mysteries of sobriety is when you have that magic moment some time during your first few years of recovery.
For most people it will be within the first six months or so. That magic moment comes when you realize that you have gone through an entire day of your life without thinking about taking a drink or a drug.
That moment is a miracle, and you should recognize it as such. Because now the impossible has happened–you have been set free from the mental obsession of your addiction! You are no longer craving drugs or alcohol, nor even thinking about them.
You are free.
In every sense of the word, you are now free from your drug of choice in mind, body, and spirit. You have done the impossible. You broke free from your addiction.
It takes most people around 3 to 6 months to get to this point, although some people will take up to a year or so.
No matter though, it is worth it for any alcoholic or addict to do this work in the end. To get to this point, to reach this freedom. Because then, my friend, you are free forever.
Every day in recovery you work on your life, and on your life situation. Every day you work harder and harder to improve yourself and your life.
This is the 1 percent approach to recovery. Your goal is to improve your life by just one percent each week.
It can be difficult to grasp the power of compounding returns, but that is exactly what happens in long term recovery.
That is, if you are doing the work.
If you continue to take consistent action and you push yourself to keep improving your life, then you will experience the magic of these compound returns.
Your life will become amazing. I’m not just saying that. If you really put in the work I am talking about then one day in the future you will declare to yourself and to others: “My life is amazing today. I did not know that such happiness or joy existed for anyone, let alone for me. I am so lucky, so blessed to be sober today.”
You will say those things because your life will be improving drastically in a really incredible way. This is because of the holistic growth that you will be doing and the way that the rewards from this growth will surprise and delight you.
Because you see, no one can predict exactly how your life is going to improve in the future if you do the work I am talking about. The rewards interact in mysterious ways and they will surprise and delight you.
What is this work I am talking about?
Simply the idea of personal growth and holistic health. Taking care of yourself every single day. Taking care of yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. Doing this every day and striving to improve your life by at least 1 percent each week. Making a commitment to live this way for several years so that you have time to see the amazing results start to compound in your life.
You could go get a sponsor in AA and work the steps with that person and get these same results. In order to do that you have to push yourself to keep learning, keep growing, keep going deeper and deeper with self honesty. It takes real work, consistent effort.
But you don’t have to do it through the AA program necessarily. Personal growth is personal growth. It is fundamental to long term recovery and it does not depend on specific recovery programs.
What about you, have you decoded the mystery of alcoholism and drug addiction? Have you mastered the art of recovery in your life today? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!