In order to get sober and make a transition into a new life of recovery you are most likely going to need to find some form of support.
Recovery does not happen in a vacuum. We are surrounded by relationships. If we could get sober on our own then we would not really be labeled as “alcoholic” at all.
By definition, the person who needs help in order to get sober is an alcoholic. Those who can just walk away from their “problem drinking” are not really desperate alcoholics of the hopeless variety.
If anyone would argue that you can get sober on your own it should be me. I have made a point of becoming as independent from outside programs as much as possible in my recovery.
But the truth is that I needed help in the beginning. A lot of help.
In fact, I actually lived in long term rehab for 20 months. Actually living in a rehab center for almost two full years! That is a whole lot of extra support. Not to mention the fact that I was going to meetings, working with a sponsor, talking with a therapist weekly, and interacting with dozens of peers in recovery on a daily basis. Even on an hour-to-hour basis.
Fast forward over 12 years later and I am not longer depending on so much support in my journey. That said, I do still have support systems in my life today. The difference is that I no longer depend on them for my continued sobriety.
When I had 2 weeks sober I was definitely depending on these support systems in order to stay sober.
Therefore I believe that most people probably will (and should) follow a similar trajectory in their own recovery journey. They should start with a great deal of support in very early recovery and as time goes on they should depend on that outside support less and less. If you continue to depend on support into your long term recovery then the strength of that sobriety is called into question. Someone with ten years sober should not be “depending” on outside support as much as they depended on alcohol. The idea is to learn and to grow and to move beyond those initial dependencies.
If, on the other hand, someone with ten (or more) years sober wants to continue to engage in social support structures (such as AA, organized faith, etc.) then that is perfectly acceptable. They only find themselves getting into trouble when they depend on that support for their recovery in the long run.
Early recovery = find as much support as possible.
Long term sobriety = learn to become stronger in your recovery and depend on support less and less.
Of course this is just my little pet theory. But it is backed up by living in treatment for 2 years, working in a rehab facility for 5+ years, and then tracking many of my peers in recovery (informally of course) over the last decade+ of my sobriety.
Some people learn to grab life by the horns in recovery and motivate themselves to really learn and to grow. My opinion is that we want to become one of those people. What we don’t want to do is to get stuck in a recovery program hanging onto our sobriety for dear life without ever having really learned how to live at all. By my observation, many people end up doing exactly that.
That said, I still think we all need support in early recovery from alcoholism.
Why everyone needs support in early recovery
You can’t do it alone. If you could then you would not be a true alcoholic or drug addict.
If you can do it by yourself then “our hats are off to you.” Good for you, you overcame alcoholism without anyone else’s help. I am seriously happy for you, and I wish you well.
Most people who end up in rehab have found that little fantasy to be elusive. They have tried everything and yet they are thoroughly beaten by the disease.
People try all sorts of things to beat alcoholism on their own. They switch from liquor to beer. They switch from beer to wine. They set limits such as “no drinking before 5PM.” They set limits such as “no more than a six pack per day.” They try to protect themselves from themselves. Of course in the end this is impossible. Eventually you get sauced up enough that you throw all of your little rules out the window. And that is when the consequences start to pile up.
Every person who finally reaches a point of total surrender has been through these games. They have tried them all. They have done everything that they can to avoid facing the most inconvenient truth: That they are alcoholic and they cannot control their drinking. The other side of this truth is that they finally admit that they can no longer have fun by getting smashed. It has become a chore, and they must finally admit this to themselves. Where did all the fun go?
The point of total surrender is a real blow to the ego. I know exactly what it feels like. It is almost like feeling suicidal because essentially you have decided to “kill” your own ego. You finally admit that you are miserable and that you do not know what the heck you are doing. You thought it would be fun to get smashing drunk every day but that is no longer working out so well for you. You tried to deny this downward spiral for a long time but it has finally come to an end. You need help because you don’t know the first thing about living any more. You don’t know how to be happy. Life has become miserable for you.
This is why you need “support.” It is not so that you have cheerleaders in your life to keep you from relapse. Instead, you need “support” so that you can learn how to rebuild your life from scratch. If you have reached the turning point then you don’t know the first thing about how to live a happy and healthy life without the need to self medicate.
Where, exactly, do you expect to learn how to do this? Books can be helpful and even a website can point you in the right direction, but will you really believe it?
I had to see it with my own eyes. See what, you ask?
Recovery. I had to see that it was possible. I had to go to rehab and sit in detox meetings and get some real hope from actual people. Reading a book that was written 100 years ago is just not the same thing. Reading a web page can give a certain level of hope, but not nearly as much as sitting in a real meeting, face to face with other drunks who are telling your story.
They have a term for this phenomenon. It’s called “identification.”
You need to identify with other alcoholics in early recovery so that you know that you are not crazy. If you just try to get sober on your own and you buy a copy of the Big Book then you are not going to get this crucial element of recovery.
The alcoholic suffers from a disease that tells them that they are unique, that no one else in the world could possibly know what they are going through. They really believe that they are the first person on the planet who has ever truly loved alcohol. This is really how the alcoholic mind works!
So in order to get over yourself you need to identify. You need to meet other people in recovery and listen to their story and say “OK, yeah, I am quite a bit like this person, and they were able to pull themselves out of this madness and start living a better life. Hmmm….maybe I can do it too.”
That is the whole point. If you can do that on your own without interacting with other humans, then my hat is off to you. Good job, you have cured your alcoholism internally, without any outside help! But for the majority of alcoholics and drug addicts I do not think that this is possible.
I think the real alcoholics and addicts are on the brink of insanity. They are trying to smash their head through a brick wall over and over again. They keep going back to their drug of choice and hoping that things will be magically different, that they will experience all of the good parts of their drug and none of the negative side effects. They are hoping for a magical miracle and they keep doing it over and over again. They become crazy in their addiction. At the point of surrender they are close to madness.
You can’t just pull yourself out of this trap and walk away from the disease. If you can then I am in doubt that you were a real alcoholic. Either way you should count yourself blessed that you got over your affliction.
Or you may realize that you really can NOT do it on your own. That you really are addicted, 100 percent of the way, totally hooked beyond all hope. You can’t stop on your own and you need help. This is the point of surrender where you ask for help.
So what happens after you ask for help? You follow directions.
You do what you are told to do.
You go to rehab. You go to an AA meeting. You seek out support. Not so that you have a shoulder to cry on, but so you have someone to identify with so that you know you are not crazy. So that you realize that other alcoholics have gone through it too, and come out of it OK.
You need support so that you can get some hope.
And then you use that support to start learning a new way of life. You don’t really need a shoulder to cry on. You need a teacher. Someone who can show you how to pull yourself out of the dumps.
How to use support in a healthy way rather than having it become a dependency
There is a right and a wrong way to use support in early recovery.
The right way is to become a sponge. To learn everything that you can from every single interaction that you have.
None of it will be perfect. No single “teacher” that you meet in recovery will be perfect. This is why you must make a decision and dedicate your life to recovery. In order to learn how to build a new life in sobriety you must still become the architect of your reality. You must decide that you are going to build a new life, no matter what. There must be a tremendous amount of commitment there.
Even if someone seems to be negative in your journey you can still learn from that. I have one mentor in my life who says “always try to be the stupidest person in the room.” That way you stay humble and you keep learning things. You pick up on things that you would normally miss out on if you were thinking that you were smart instead. So always try to be learning.
The way to learn from your teachers in recovery is to take serious action. Take massive action.
I had a sponsor and in fact I interacted with this person very little. People told me that they talked to their sponsor every single day, sometimes multiple times per day. I wondered if I was doing something wrong because I almost never talked with my sponsor.
But when I did, I asked for suggestions and then I actually followed through with his advice. Looking back I can see that this makes all the difference. He told me that I should go back to school. So I simply signed back up to go to school, no fuss required. He told me to exercise. So I started exercising. He made suggestions and I listened to them and started implementing them. I also took a few of his suggestions and experimented with them and then later discarded them. For example I was meditating for a while based on his suggestion but eventually I discarded seated meditation in favor of distance running (I seem to get the same benefits from each activity).
So it is not about becoming a robot and taking orders. I was still in charge and I still got to decide what I would and would not implement in my life. But I asked for help and then I followed through on the advice I was given. And I did this consistently. I did not need to call my sponsor every single day and hang onto his every word because I was actually “walking the walk” in my recovery and taking action on a regular basis. I was implementing the tools rather than just talking about them.
All around me in recovery I watched examples of people who were doing the opposite of this. They were excellent at “talking the talk” and yet they were not very good at following through on advice and suggestions. But the loved to go to meetings and they loved to hear themselves talk. After about six months of meeting attendance I slowly figured out that I did not necessarily want what those people had in their life. I wanted to follow a different example, one that got different results. So I started asking more questions and seeking more answers from various people in recovery. Questions such as “What really keeps you sober, aside from going to meetings?” It was in exploring those sort of questions that led me to the path that I am in today in my recovery. And that path happens to be one of personal growth and holistic health.
Support yourself through holistic health and personal growth
If you really want to gain more “support” for your recovery then you can also start to build it for yourself internally.
You can do this by building strength in recovery through the process of improving your health.
Your health is a complex topic. It includes things such as:
* Physical health.
* Mental health.
* Spiritual health.
* Emotional health.
* Healthy relationships.
* Healthy finances.
* Living stress free (or with reduced stress).
And so on.
So when I mention the idea of “holistic health” what I am really referring to is the fact that your health is not one-dimensional. Holistic just means “whole person.”
So in recovery you have this opportunity to work on your health and improve it.
Doing so will help to protect you from relapse. It will also help to improve your self esteem. If you take better care of your overall health then you will begin to value yourself more as a person. It is a positive feedback loop. Feel better, take better care of yourself, feel even better.
And the key is that you can multiply these benefits by looking at your overall health.
For example, quitting smoking. And daily exercise. And eating healthier.
Now, consider the idea that over the next year or two, you do all three of those things. You tackle each goal one by one, and you conquer each objective.
How do you think a person will feel after they do not just one of these things, but all three of them?
They are going to feel fantastic. Because the benefits are cumulative, and they are synergistic, and they multiply with each other.
In other words, as you push yourself to become healthier and healthier in your recovery, the tiny little benefits of each action that you take will start to interact with the other benefits that you are also receiving. This is why “it gets greater later” in recovery. This is why your life just keeps getting better and better in recovery, so long as you keep taking positive action. Because all of the positive stuff and all of the benefits start to interact with each other and multiply.
I know this is true because I did it myself. I watched my life transform over the course of a year or two. It started very slowly but by the end of the curve things were happening very quickly. This is because all of those foundation actions that I took that were positive took time to fully kick in. Then everything that you do for yourself starts to kick in at the same time and your life gets really, really good all of a sudden.
You should diagnose your biggest problem by identifying your biggest “point of misery” in your life. Where are you unhealthy right now? Is it physical? Is it a toxic relationship? Is it a lack of spiritual purpose or drive? Whatever your biggest “thorn in your side” is, you should make an effort to address it and fix it. This is the most powerful way to improve your life in recovery. Find the negative stuff and then seek to eliminate it. Slowly improve your life and your health bit by bit.
Transition to a more independent recovery? Depends on your personal motivations
Some people are happy being in a group and depending on a program for their recovery.
In my experience this was not working out well for me. I was too constrained by the grind of daily meetings. I wanted more out of my recovery so I had to forge my own path. Therefore I left all formal recovery programs and started walking my own path in life.
This is not a path for everyone. If you get a huge benefit from the group support then there is probably no reason to explore “personal growth based recovery” as I have outlined. Sobriety is a gift and no price is really too high to pay for it. If you must depend on support then so be it. Just be grateful to be sober at all.