How do you build more confidence into your sobriety, when there seems to be such a danger in getting over confident?
People who get too cocky in their sobriety almost always seem to relapse.
So how can we build real confidence while avoiding that fate?
Stop believing in the myth that having more clean time will give you more confidence
First of all, it is easy to fall into this trap when you first get clean and sober.
You are approaching, for example, 30 days sober. Perhaps you are attending AA meetings and you see that some people have several years sober. Some of them even have decades of sobriety under their belt.
And you think to yourself: “Wouldn’t it be amazing to have ten years sober. I would be so much more confident in my sobriety if I had that much sober time!”
Well, yes and no.
I think we could plot on a graph the confidence level and how it moves over time in recovery.
Of course when you first get sober you have almost no confidence at all. That is, if you are truly at the point of real surrender, then you have very little confidence in yourself. This is normal and even healthy. If you are confident in very early recovery then you are pretty much doomed to fail. That is the wrong attitude. You need humility, you need to have just hit bottom, you need to be in a position to be more teachable. If you are too confident early on then you are not very teachable.
So as you remain clean and sober, your confidence goes up a bit. But here is the tricky part: Having 5 years sober doesn’t really give you any more insurance than having one year sober.
And having ten years sober doesn’t protect you any more from relapse than if you had five years sober.
In other words, you don’t cross some magic line in your sober time that insures that you will never relapse again. It doesn’t work like that.
So if we were to plot your confidence level in recovery, it eventually levels off. It plateaus.
And this is important, because it is still possible to relapse when you have five, ten, twenty years sober. It does happen. Complacency can be a real killer.
That said, you don’t have to go through your life in sobriety as a complete pushover with no confidence at all. You can act in such a way to build confidence in your recovery without being cocky about it.
Here is how I have done that for myself. It might work for you too.
Formulate a plan for relapse prevention that will give you confidence as you work on it
Everything in recovery is process.
What you do every day leads you to either recovery or relapse. Our habits dictate where our lives will end up eventually. You cannot remain sober if you are living in negativity every day and it spirals further and further out of control.
Your job in recovery is to take positive action every day and to continue to improve yourself over time. This is how you build confidence. Not through positive self talk, necessarily, but through your actions and your daily habits.
In order to build confidence you need to be pushing yourself forward in recovery. This will not always be comfortable. In fact, if you never experience any discomfort, I would suggest that you are not really on the right path in recovery just yet. You need to find a way to challenge yourself, a way to look at your biggest fears, and find ways to move beyond them and to conquer them.
In other words, you need to live your life in such a way that your confidence will naturally grow as you remain clean and sober.
Part of building confidence is, of course, staying sober. Obviously if you relapse then all of this flies right out the window. A relapse puts you back at square one or even worse. So continuous sobriety is necessary to even think about building real confidence in your life.
But beyond that, something more than mere abstinence is required. You need to have validation that what you are doing is effective, that what you are doing is working for you, that the path you have chosen in sobriety is the right one.
How do you do that?
Well, for starters, you can look at your results. Are you getting what you want out of life? Are you challenging yourself and making real progress in your life?
I would challenge you to take a look at your self improvement. Your goal in recovery should be to work on at least these two things:
1) Improving yourself internally. Eliminating negativity, including shame, fear, guilt, anger, resentment, self pity, and so on. This is the inner work that is so important for sobriety. If you are not doing this work then eventually it may force a relapse. If you are not doing this work then that negativity will steal away your happiness. This is the sort of “foundation work” that is necessary to build a better life in sobriety.
2) Improving your life situation. This is dealing with the people, places, and things in your life. Maybe you get stressed out at your current place of work. So that might be something that you seek to change in order to improve your life in recovery. This is an external change but it may still be very important. Relationships with others would fall under this category as well. So you may seek to eliminate the toxic relationships in your life and find more positive people to be around. Again, these are external changes, but they could make a big impact.
Now if you take a look at both of these areas of your life (internal and external) and you are making a serious effort to make improvements in both of those areas then you are probably going to be building confidence over time.
Time is the one factor that cannot be altered in this regard. You can take lots of positive action today, and that may help you in various ways, but it cannot build confidence in the short run. Real confidence building can only happen in the long term, as your efforts are validated and you see that what you are doing is effective.
Now obviously if you are trying to improve your life in recovery and you feel like things are getting worse, then you need to correct course. Or maybe you feel like you are just spinning your wheels and nothing is really happening, then that can get frustrating as well. In both of these situations you need to be honest with yourself and realize that something else has to change, you need to do something different, or you need to find different advice.
At times like that I would recommend that you seek outside advice. Seek feedback, advice, and insight from others that you trust in recovery. Find people who are living a happy life in sobriety and ask them for advice directly. Do what they tell you to do. If they offer suggestions, put those ideas into action and correct your course that way. Give it time to see if this produces the results that you want in life.
Recovery is really about testing new ideas in your life. Your old ideas were to self medicate with drugs or alcohol, and that eventually stopped working for you. Now you need new ideas, new habits, new ways to cope and deal with life. So you need to experiment. You need to be willing to try some new things. If you are not willing then you cannot discover a new way to live, and you will never build up the confidence that you are seeking.
Putting a relapse prevention plan into action
At first it is enough to simply follow directions.
Go to treatment, go to rehab, ask for help, go to AA meetings, see a counselor, go to a therapist, do whatever you have to do to turn your life around.
When you do these sorts of things, you are taking advice from other people. Plain and simple. They are telling you what to do differently, and hopefully you are doing it.
Just about everything in recovery is geared towards preventing relapse. After you go to treatment and get sober, the game shifts and it is no longer about surrender. Now it is about staying clean and sober, one day at a time.
How are you going to do that?
You need a plan. Everyone who is trying to remain clean and sober needs a plan for their recovery.
Any plan is better than nothing. If you have no plan at all, then your brain will eventually go back to the default plan, which is to deal with life by getting drunk or high all the time. We don’t want that, obviously.
So we need a different plan. We need a way to stay clean and sober. We need a new way of living that works for us.
You can’t be picky in early recovery. It doesn’t work. If you try to get sober and you are picky about how sobriety is supposed to work, you are going to fail. You will relapse.
That is not real surrender. When you truly surrender, you open up to someone else’s ideas. You become willing to follow someone else’s plan for you.
This is how it has to be. If you can get clean and sober with your own ideas, with your own plan, then by all means–go do it! Our hats are off to you. But we also don’t believe that real alcoholics and real drug addicts can just magically solve their own addiction without any outside help. If you can, great. But we cannot, and therefore we need help. Sometimes quite a bit of help.
And that is OK. You surrender to your addiction and then you surrender to a new solution. Luckily there are many people in recovery who are willing to help the newcomer. Everyone has to start somewhere.
So the way to put your plan into action is with willingness. You have to be willing to take direction, to take advice, to make a leap of faith.
If someone tells you to check into rehab today, would you do it? Or would you make excuses as to why you cannot go to treatment?
I once met someone who was coming into rehab. Their family was urging them to check in. I was admitting the person, or at least trying to.
But this particular alcoholic did not want to stay. The were on the fence about checking into rehab. And they were making all sorts of excuses as to why they could not go to treatment for 28 days. They said that they had to many responsibilities to deal with, too many family members to care for. The family argued back, and tried to convince the alcoholic that they would take care of things, and that they just wanted this person to check in and get the help that they needed.
In this particular case, the struggling alcoholic refused to stay. They died from their disease less than a year later.
Just think of how silly that is, to make excuses about why you can’t go to treatment, and then to be killed by your addiction because you did not get the help that you needed. Just imagine how crazy that is, to refuse to get the help that you so desperately need, and in the end that costs you your life.
Madness. I was there myself. My family tried to convince me to check into treatment, and I was making a bunch of lame excuses as to why I could not do it.
In reality it was fear. I was simply afraid to go to treatment, to get sober, to face life without alcohol. I was scared. Nothing more than this. Just fear.
That’s all it was. Just fear.
And so in order to move forward in recovery you have to face that fear. You have to get miserable enough in your addiction that the fear no longer matters, that you become willing to face that fear in order to escape from the misery.
That is how you surrender, and start working a program of recovery.
You won’t build any confidence in your journey unless you start from that point of absolute surrender.
What are some additional things you can do in recovery to build confidence?
That is the key to building more confidence in your life.
Improve your health. Not just physically, but look at your overall life and your overall recovery, and start thinking about how to improve your:
* Physical health.
* Emotional health.
* Mental health.
* Social health.
* Spiritual health.
If you want to build more confidence then you need to be working on improving your health in all five of those areas.
This is how you build up strength in recovery.
There is a term known as “tensegrity,” this refers to the idea of having a web of goals, goals that enhance and help each other.
So if you are striving to improve your health in all five of those areas, then eventually you will experience this “tensegrity.” Your life will become better in ways that you could not have predicted.
For example, if you are working on all 5 of those areas, you may notice that you are sleeping better each night, and feeling more energized throughout the day. How is that possible, and what makes it happen?
Well, it could be a lot of things, and some complex interactions going on as well. Maybe you are emotionally healthy, so you are not worrying as much, you are more at ease. Perhaps you are exercising every day, so your body is able to rest more readily. Maybe you have eliminated the toxic people from your life and have surrounded yourself with positive people instead. And you have worked on your spirituality to create a sense of gratitude, which you practice every day.
So not all of these things necessarily help you to sleep better at night. But more than one of them probably contribute, and all of them together may create a synergistic effect in improving your sleep. This is the power of the holistic approach to life, the holistic approach to addiction recovery. You work hard at improving your life and your health in all of these different ways, and those benefits start to interact with each other.
The exciting thing is that you and I cannot predict all of these benefits. You will be delighted and surprised one day to see how your life has evolved and how sobriety has rewarded you. Because of the complex interactions in the holistic approach, you will never know in advance just exactly how your life is set to improve in the future. And that makes it very exciting!
How to stop worrying about relapse
I used to worry about relapse quite a bit. This was especially true when I drifted away from the traditional recovery scene and started doing my own thing with holistic recovery instead.
Eventually I stopped worrying. I think this was due to a number of factors which I will try to outline here:
1) Enough time had passed. I think I stopped worrying about relapse when I had about 3 years sober. Now I have 13 years sober. I am still not worrying about it, but I am vigilant. See below.
2) Vigilance. This is important. Don’t be cocky about your sobriety, but assume complacency. Assume, right now, that you are complacent, that you are too lazy in your recovery. Then, act accordingly. Step up your game. Take action. Learn something new. Take a new suggestion. Dive in and get active.
3) Feedback loops. The rewards that I was experiencing in life kept getting better and better. For all of the effort that I put into early recovery, I was being rewarded times a hundred down the road. This took some time. At one year sober I was not experiencing this massive payoff yet. But by year 3 I definitely was. Now at 13 years my life is completely amazing, I have so much gratitude for my existence today. Truly blessed!
4) Carrying the message. In the 12 step program they tell you to continue to carry the message of hope and to work with others who are struggling. This is really good advice, and I think it is a key part of long term sobriety. If you can find a way to give back then it will do a lot to increase your confidence. Working with others in recovery is a gift, one that you should try to take advantage of. That said, we all have to find our own unique way to give back to others. It may be sponsorship, it may be AA meetings, or it may be something completely different. Don’t be afraid to do something different, to find your own unique path in long term sobriety.
Early sobriety = listen to others, take advice, get out of your own way.
Long term sobriety = find your own path, find a way to give back to others.
That is what ultimately worked for me, and allowed me to stop worrying about relapse.
What about you, do you still worry about relapse all the time? Or have you gained confidence in recovery? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!