How do you find the best possible strategy for alcoholism recovery?
Now this does not mean that you switch from liquor to beer, or that you start smoking marijuana in order to minimize alcohol cravings. Those are not really recovery solutions, they are just ways to continue on in denial.
Instead, I am talking about getting to the point of full surrender, asking for help, taking some advice and direction, and rebuilding your life from the ground up.
The part where you start rebuilding your life is where you can benefit a great deal from experimenting.
Because at that point, you don’t really know what will work for you in terms of sobriety and what will help you.
Some people pretend to know all the answers when they have two weeks sober, but they are fooling themselves for the most part. If they really had all of the answers then they would not have only two weeks of sobriety under their belt.
For example, sometimes someone will accumulate significant sober time, such as several years worth of sobriety, and then they will relapse. After coming back to “the program” they suddenly have all of the answers. But do they really? It would seem that results tell a different story. Somewhere along the way they missed something crucial.
And this is a clue as to how you should live your life in recovery. We are all one drink away from a massive relapse. We should keep that in mind and carry that sort of genuine humility with us in our journey, because then we can learn some things. Then we will be more open to the lessons that are unfolding all around us. If you have all of the answers already then it is impossible to learn anything.
What is an experiment anyway? It’s a test, to see if you can learn something. When you do an experiment in recovery (such as 90 days of AA meetings in a row), you don’t really know what the outcome will be. You are taking the suggestion, you are taking a piece of advice, and you are trying it out for yourself. Maybe it will help and maybe it won’t. That’s an experiment. Once you are done with the experiment, you will likely have learned a great deal about yourself. Maybe the experiment failed and you did not get much benefit from it. That’s fine; now you know what not to do. Go find an alternative. Go find another path. There are many paths in recovery. One of them is the right one for you.
Why do you need a recovery strategy anyway?
I believe that everyone who is trying to stay sober needs to have a strategy with which to do so.
This is because eventually the tactics will fail you.
You will find yourself in a situation where the tactics that you rely on are no longer available. And it is at that critical moment that you will have to think on your own two feet and possibly improvise a solution. That requires strategy, or some general guiding principles.
Let’s define our terms here. Tactics are the actions that you might do in recovery, such as going to AA meetings, calling your sponsor, or going for a jog every day. These are the things that you do in order to help yourself stay sober.
But what is the overall strategy behind those decisions? What leads people to go to meetings, or to talk with a sponsor, or to exercise on a regular basis?
My belief is that you can adopt an overall strategy that might tie all of those things together, and allow you to bring new things into alignment with your current strategy.
For example, if you are exercising every day and you quit smoking cigarettes as part of your recovery journey, you might consider improving your nutrition as well. You might wonder, would such a decision really fit into my existing strategy? Why or why not? We will discuss this in a moment (things that go well together create “synergy”). And of course you can get into some trouble if you do the opposite of this and find ways to work against yourself. For example, you get clean and sober but then you start lying and cheating and stealing on a regular basis. Those are bad decisions because they don’t mesh well with the self honesty that is required to maintain sobriety. So you might manage to pull it off for a little while but essentially you are working against yourself. You have to be honest with yourself to get and stay sober, but then on the other hand you start lying and cheating in some other way. So it all falls apart. You failed to use the concept of synergy and choose a strategy that works well and plays nice together. More on this in a bit.
Finding what works for you through experimentation
Most people who get clean and sober do so through a series of suggestions. Typically other people in their lives are telling them to go to AA, to go to rehab, to take some sort of action in order to fix their life and get better.
So at some point they surrender and they take this advice. They follow through and they ask for help. This is the foundation of recovery. This is surrender in action.
Now if you want to grow in your recovery and protect your new found sobriety the best thing that you can do is to continue with this theme of taking suggestions.
If you happen to go to AA meetings then get a sponsor (as they suggest you do). And then start taking suggestions from that person and taking action. Don’t just pay them lip service. Actually follow through and do the work.
You have very little to lose at this point and everything to gain by listening to someone else. Many people in early recovery have trust issues, but these are misplaced in my opinion. When I got sober it was myself that I could not trust. Other people were fine and I should have easily trusted them over myself. Just look at where my own advice and decisions had gotten me. I was completely miserable. No, I was not in a position to trust myself, nor should I have. I needed help from outside sources, from other people.
So I made a deal with myself in early recovery, when I just had a week or two sober under my belt, and that agreement was this:
“I am not going to take my own advice for the next full year. Instead I will listen to other people, sponsors, therapists, counselors, peers in recovery, and so on. I will do what they tell me to do.”
That was my agreement that I made with myself. Because I suspected if I were to “get back in the driver’s seat” of my own life that I would screw it all up and relapse. Isn’t this what I learned in my addiction? That it all goes downhill when I try to make plans? My ideas never worked. They just made me miserable.
So I had to outsource control of my life. It was not an easy thing to do. Actually it was easy to do once I decided to do it, it was getting to that point that was agony. I had to drink and be miserable for years before I finally surrendered.
My therapist in long term treatment encouraged me to do certain things. One thing that he was really big on was seated meditation. So I tried that for a while but it never really helped me a great deal. Actually it helped quite a bit, but later on I discovered that distance running was far superior for me. So I switched to that.
Couldn’t you do both? Sure you could. But there are also 24 hours in each day, and you could also do several meetings, group therapy, one on one counseling, and also go back to college and work a full time job. At some point you have to prioritize. So I was doing that and I was experimenting and I was finding what worked for me.
And in doing this stuff I eventually realized that most of the positive changes that I was making over the years were all some way to improve my health. Not just my physical health, but also my mental, emotional, spiritual, and social health.
And that was when I realized what my overall recovery strategy really was: It was about personal growth and holistic health. Taking care of myself each and every day, in every possible way.
I suppose there are other strategies that work as well. In fact I know there are. For example, I know some folks in traditional recovery who focus exclusively on spiritual growth. This is part of holistic health, but it is far more focused. And that works for them.
But it didn’t really work for me. So I had to find another path. And that other path was not just a group of tactics (such as “call your sponsor” and “exercise daily”), instead it was an overall strategy of personal growth. It was a direction to move in my recovery journey.
Why is holistic health a good recovery strategy?
Let’s stop and think about this for a moment.
Really, what is the decision to stop drinking alcohol or taking drugs? What is that all about?
Why would you stop? What’s the point?
The point is health. When you are choosing recovery instead of addiction, you are essentially “choosing life.” There is a strong message from a movie about heroin addiction, and that message is “choose life.” (Bonus points if you know the name of the movie!). Because really that is what you are doing when you choose to get clean and sober. You are choosing life rather than addiction.
Because addiction represents decay and death and misery. It is anti-life. Not only are you killing yourself rather quickly with addiction, but your life itself is a sort of zombie like death march of meaninglessness. Just self medicating every day and no real purpose other than to get drunk or high again. Like a zombie that feeds on brains and that is all it can do. Not much point in that.
So when an alcoholic decides to get clean and sober, there is an assumption in that decision. The assumption is that they want to stop drinking in order to LIVE THEIR LIFE.
Nobody gets sober just to commit suicide. Who would do such a thing? Usually it is the other way around, actually.
No, the point of sobriety is LIFE. When you get sober, you choose life. You choose health.
The decision to get clean and sober is the decision to pursue greater health in your life. You want to live. You are deciding and telling the universe “yes, I want to live!”
So now let’s think about holistic health.
This is naturally one of the best possible strategies for recovery, because you are trying to improve your health in every possible way.
I have watched a lot of people pass away in my recovery journey. Not all of them relapsed. Some of them died quite young for various reasons.
And I have to ask myself, what is the point of being sober if you are dead? There is no good answer to that question, other than to remember that the decision to get sober is the decision to choose life.
Sobriety is not about death. It’s about living.
Therefore the holistic health strategy makes a good deal of sense in recovery. You want to strive to improve your health when you are sober, so that you can fully enjoy your life.
When you boil it all down, what is the real point of life? Be happy and enjoy yourself, help others, be good. We could try to go beyond that I am sure but those are the basics.
The effect of synergy in alcoholism recovery
You may be wondering: “What happens when you start to take care of yourself in terms of holistic health? What happens to your world when you are trying to improve your health mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually, and socially?”
The effect of this is awesome. It’s called synergy.
This is another reason why the holistic strategy makes so much sense.
Let’s say for example that you drink alcohol every day, you smoke cigarettes, you eat horrible food and you never exercise. Furthermore, your sleep patterns are terrible and you isolate yourself all the time.
This may not describe every single alcoholic and drug addict, but it paints a certain picture. And most alcoholics are at least trending towards that image. Some are fully there already on every level that I just mentioned. Some are only partially there. But we all trend that way eventually if we continue to abuse our bodies.
This is the opposite of synergy. This is what happens when everything is working against you, in tandem.
In recovery it works the same way, only in reverse. You start by going to rehab and you get clean and sober. Detox. They try to get you to sleep regular hours but that is probably slow in coming to you. It takes time.
But you’re working on it. And you start to eat decent meals. Maybe not great at first, but certainly better than you were doing.
And there is a program, maybe they introduce you to AA, and you write out a gratitude list. And maybe you pray or meditate a bit.
You leave rehab and go to meetings. Get a sponsor and start doing some work on yourself. You get honest with yourself.
You start to meet people, you start to care a bit more.
And slowly, over time, all of this stuff starts working together. Your sleep gets better. Maybe you start exercising, and this forces you to realize that you need higher quality nutrition.
Your relationships improve. Your emotional stability returns. You feel better about yourself. Maybe you even find a way to reach out and help other people.
When you do just one of these things, it is not enough to overcome an addiction.
When you do all of them, you get this “synergy” stuff that I am talking about.
And it’s amazing.
What happens is that you start to get opportunities in your life that you never could have anticipated. This is because the positive benefits of these various actions are interacting with the other positive things that you are trying to accomplish. So they sort of “mate” in a way. This happens in ways that cannot be predicted.
But one day you will look back at your life and be amazed that the discipline that you gained from one thing helped you in a totally different area of your life. Of course that is just an example, there will be other synergies that you can experience as well.
Your life will change and evolve as if by magic. And you just keep drinking the Kool-aid, which is basically taking advice from others and experimenting with it. Taking positive action and seeing what your results are. Being willing to do the work.
And then things get really amazing. Because after you start to see results, after you see that this stuff actually works, that is when you will really put the pedal to the metal and get serious about recovery.
At least that is what I did. Once I realized that I had some power in terms of my own personal growth, I really started to push myself.
Because it just keeps getting better and better.
Just like they told me it would when I first got to detox. Of course I didn’t believe them at the time, but they were right.
It just keeps getting better.
Optimizing your daily practice
If you want to find the best strategy for alcoholism recovery then you have to pay attention to your daily routine. Your daily practice.
Because what you do each day will determine where you end up in life in 3 years, in 5 years, in 10 years.
The rewards of sobriety are cumulative. They build on each other. This goes back to the “mating” idea of synergy. Once you start to experiment and take positive action on a regular basis, amazing new things will happen in your life.
Ask yourself: What have I done to take care of myself today? How have I loved myself today?
If you can answer that question and back it up with positive action then you are definitely on the right path.
My suggestion is that you keep searching, keep digging, and keep asking for advice from others in recovery. Ask them what works for them, then try those ideas out in your own life.
It takes guts to do this. It takes energy to do this. You can’t sit around and be idle and get awesome results in your life. You have to apply yourself and take risks and put yourself out there a bit. And you have to commit to take real action. A great way to do this is with a 30 day challenge to yourself, such as exercising every day for 30 days. Or the classic with AA meetings is to attend 90 in 90 days. The persistence in doing this and the consistency is what will build discipline. Then you can use that discipline that you gained in order to conquer new challenges in your life. Again, this is synergy. The benefits of one challenge can translate into helping you in another area of your life in a way that you could never predict.
What about you, have you found your strategy in recovery yet? What is it like and how does it work for you? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!