You have to be willing to find out what really works for you in sobriety.
Not every recovery program is a perfect fit for every person.
On the other hand, you can’t use this as an excuse, either. I tried to do this for a long time. I was stuck in denial and I did not want to quit drinking alcohol, and I was terrified of AA meetings. And I basically used that as my excuse for why I could not sober up. “Meetings aren’t my thing.” OK, what is? You gotta do something. But I refused to do anything because I just wanted to drink.
So at some point you have to approach the problem from the other direction. You have to start with the end result of sobriety and then work backwards. What do I mean by that?
What I mean is that some people are going about it all wrong. They are saying: “I just need to find the perfect recovery program, one that I can work on myself and things start to work out well and I don’t want to drink any more and I can stay sober then. And none of the recovery techniques or programs that I have tried have done that yet.”
Well, duh. That’s not how it works. There is not some perfect recovery program out there for every person that magically takes away your desire to drink alcohol or consume drugs. Recovery programs aren’t magic.
I have to admit, that was what I was secretly hoping when I was still stuck in my addiction. I thought maybe modern science had come up with some sort of program that, if followed, could actually remove my desire to drink alcohol.
This is not how recovery works.
Instead, what has to happens first is that the alcoholic has to make a decision. They have to decide that they want to stop drinking and that they want a different life for themselves.
Really understand this point because it is vitally important. Recovery programs are not magic. The alcoholic has to want to stop drinking, and then the program helps them to achieve that goal.
So the full responsibility of quitting drinking lies squarely on the shoulders of every alcoholic who is struggling. They cannot just sit in AA meetings and absorb the good recovery vibes and then suddenly become sober through association. Instead, they have to make a decision. They have to surrender to their disease and realize that they want to change their life more than anything else in the world. Then the program might be able to support them in this. But it has to come from within. The individual has to want to quit.
So I would suggest that everyone work backwards from the point of surrender. In other words:
1) First, surrender to your disease. Realize that you will never be happy in addiction again. It’s over.
2) Ask for help. Don’t try to solve your own problem. Alcoholics are prone to self sabotage. Meaning, if you use your own ideas, you will likely screw it all up.
3) Take action and follow through. You have to actually do something. Go to rehab, go to meetings, get a sponsor, work through your issues, go to therapy, etc. Do the work.
4) Build a new life in recovery. One day at a time. Strive to improve yourself, and your life situation.
All of this stuff is really in addition to any recovery program that you might have in your life that you use to try to remain sober. Perhaps that list above is really the fundamental concepts of recovery, and they stand outside of recovery programs.
Asking for help and taking suggestions at the point of surrender
If you want to find what works for you in beating alcoholism then you need to take action and do something.
It is very easy to criticize recovery programs from your armchair, especially when you are still drinking. I used to do this all the time. “That will never work for me.” I was operating out of fear at that point. I was afraid to take action, afraid to face life without alcohol. Fear was driving my pessimism when it came to recovery options and strategies. I was just plain scared to be sober at that point, so I did my best to shoot down everyone’s suggestions.
They asked me to go to counseling when I was still drinking. This was easy to do because it was only for one hour each week and I could still keep drinking. So I was not afraid to see a therapist at the time because I had no intention of quitting. I was still in denial.
Later on I surrendered though and I asked for help. The people who care about me sent me to inpatient rehab. I went to treatment and I started following directions. The therapists and counselors told me what to do, and I did it. I was scared and I wanted to change my life. In the past I had been afraid of sobriety. But now I was afraid that drinking was going to kill me if I didn’t do something. So my fear was being balanced out by the intense misery that I had as a result of addiction. You know the idea: “When the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the fear of change, you will change.” That is what they are referring to when they talk about being “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” You have to get miserable to the point that you become willing to do anything to avoid it. I became that miserable and reached my bottom and my point of surrender. I gave up because I finally admitted to myself that my way wasn’t working. My plan had been to drink myself to happiness and I had to admit that I was completely miserable. I stayed stuck in that misery for a long time until I was finally willing to admit that I had been wrong, that alcohol was a sham, that I was completely unhappy.
Mind you, I had almost no hope at this point that becoming sober would cause me to be happy. I was not picturing myself sober and happy in the future. I had no real hope that I would be happy, joyous, and free one day if I sobered up. I really was quite depressed because I honestly thought that the only way I could be happy was to be medicated. But I knew that addiction was no longer working for me and I had to try something else. Even if I had no hope at all.
This is the attitude by which I got clean and sober. I was indifferent. I was just so sick and tired of the misery of addiction. And I had no real hope that rehab and AA could ever lead me to happiness. But I had to try something or else I was going to die of misery. And I was so thoroughly miserable in addiction that I really did not care about my own life any more. I was indifferent to everyone and everything.
That is when I asked for help. I went to rehab. I knew I needed long term treatment. So I tried to get an much treatment as possible (turned out to be a 20 month stay) and I started asking for help. I asked for direction. I asked for advice.
And my life started to slowly get better.
Experimenting in early recovery to find the best support structure for yourself
I believe that every alcoholic and drug addict needs some form of support in early recovery.
If you don’t need support of any kind then my theory is that you are probably not a “real alcoholic” or a “real drug addict.”
No offense, I hope that doesn’t anger anyone, but I just think that if you can solve your own problem of addiction then it wasn’t really addiction. Call it a “drinking problem” rather than “full blown alcoholism.” Or whatever. But if you can just walk away from your problem without any outside help then I don’t really think you have the same disease that I am speaking about here.
Real alcoholics and real drug addicts need serious help in order to get clean and sober. There is this process of surrender that has to do with self will. And I think that is vital to what it means to be an alcoholic or an addict.
Because for so long, the alcoholic is struggling to figure out how to solve their own drinking problem. No one wants to go to rehab. No one wants to admit that they are out of control. No one wants to admit that they need professional help. They would just rather figure out their own problem and not bother anyone else. They don’t want to show weakness.
And so the alcoholic struggles with this and they try various things in order to control their drinking. And in the long run they keep losing control and their addiction gets worse and worse. The consequences mount up and they continue to spiral further and further out of control.
And hopefully they reach this point of surrender, where they throw their hands up in the air and realize that they cannot figure it out. They admit to being powerless.
This is not specific to any one recovery program. This is fundamental to the addiction process itself. This is the struggle that addicts go through. They become so dominated by their drug of choice that eventually they surrender themselves to the disease completely. They are entirely baffled. They cannot figure it out for themselves, no matter how smart they might be (and many alcoholics and drug addicts are quite intelligent).
So this surrender process is vital I believe. You reach a breaking point and you ask for help. And because you surrendered to your disease, you are sincere when you ask for help. Meaning you are fully willing to get out of your own way and use someone else’s ideas in order to help yourself.
You are ready to listen.
This is a big part of finding out what works for you in recovery. If you never surrender then you can never fully explore new ideas. Because you will just be clinging to your old ideas that probably don’t work.
That is a key concept–in order to find your path in recovery, you have to let go of your old ideas. You have to become open to the suggestions of other people. Because your own ideas were not enough to produce sobriety for you.
Whatever you were doing when you struggled with addiction did not work for you. Instead, things got worse and eventually you surrendered and asked for help. Now it is time to listen, to try the suggestions you are given, and to put the ideas into action.
Developing a long term strategy for healthier living in recovery
One of the biggest challenges in recovery is in figuring out how to live sober for the rest of your life while being healthy.
I was lucky in the sense that I got to live in long term treatment for almost 2 full years with a wide variety of peers. My peers were all different backgrounds and all different ages. This taught me a lot of things about long term sobriety, and about trying to make the transition into long term sobriety.
Not everyone who screws up in recovery relapses. Sometimes recovering alcoholics have other problems that are just as bad as a relapse. For example, some of my peers became physically unhealthy to the point that it killed them. They continued to smoke cigarettes, were overweight, and were also completely out of shape. And they died quite young as a result.
Another example is with mental health, not physical health. I have known a few peers in recovery who have either attempted suicide or pulled it off completely as a result of mental illness or extreme emotional instability. My question is always the same: “What good is sobriety if you are dead?” Just because you avoided relapse does not make your recovery a success.
This is why I believe that the holistic approach to recovery is so important. It is not just avoiding chemicals that is important. You also want to be physically healthy and avoid disease and illness. You want to be mentally healthy, emotionally stable, and so on. And from a spiritual perspective you want to be grateful rather than selfish.
Any of these areas can turn into a pitfall that leads you into relapse or something worse (like death).
Every alcoholic and recovering drug addict should have a strategy for living. Everyone needs a strategy for recovery that goes beyond “I am just not going to drink today.”
That’s not enough. Avoiding the chemicals is just a foundation. What good is recovery if you get so sick that you die? You have to do more than just avoid your drug of choice. You have to live healthy. You have to strive for a healthier life.
Your strategy for living should involve positive changes.
What changes? you might ask.
Changes that lead you to greater health in your life, in each of the following areas:
You have to do the work in order to remain sober. What does it mean to “do the work?”
It means that you strive for better health in your life in each of those 5 areas on a consistent basis.
You don’t get to just slack off. Ever. For example, take the “spiritual” category. Let’s say that instead of practicing gratitude you become more and more selfish because you are completely neglecting your daily practice. You are not reminding yourself to be grateful in any way. And you become more and more selfish.
Eventually this will lead to relapse. Because you will be so fed up with the world and everything will be someone else’s fault and you will decide that you deserve a drink. This can happen entirely as the result of a bad attitude. And that is what selfishness is when you have a complete lack of gratitude in life: a bad attitude. And it can lead you to relapse.
And we can take any one of those 5 categories above and outline examples of how they can each lead you to relapse. Obviously emotional unrest can lead to relapse. If there is one thing that I learned while living in long rehab, it is this: People who get into romantic relationships in early recovery have a very high risk of relapse if that relationship goes bad. This is because they are emotionally hurt when the relationship blows up and they want to medicate those feelings very badly.
So your long term recovery strategy should consider personal growth in all five of those areas. This is how you build a rock solid recovery for yourself and protect yourself from the threat of relapse. If you are actively doing the work to make yourself stronger in each of those areas then the chances that you will relapse becomes much lower.
Establishing a daily practice of positive habits for long term sobriety
Once you find things that are working well for you in recovery, your job is to start practicing those things every day.
This is your daily practice. These are the positive habits that lead you to where you want to go in life.
At one point I started to write in a daily journal, just to get my thoughts out on the page. This was a hugely therapeutic thing for me. It worked for me. It freed up a lot of mental energy and it allowed me to reduce my obsessive thoughts.
Because it worked so well, I decided that I should do it every single day. Why skip a day or risk falling out of the habit, if it was working so well for me? So I simply committed to doing it every single day. And it continues to help me immensely. It is part of how I sort out my thoughts, how I process my life experience. It causes me to reflect on the things that are really important, and to purge the annoying thoughts that can threaten to become obsessive.
Does writing a journal work for everyone? No it doesn’t.
But that is not my point. My point is not that you should write in a daily journal like I do. My point is that you have to find what works for you in recovery.
Another example for my own life is with exercise. I tried to get into the exercise habit for years, and I kept failing at it. It never got easier, it never got fun, nothing clicked.
Until one day, it did.
I don’t know what changed or why it happened, but suddenly I was into it. Suddenly, exercise was making all the difference for me and it was changing my life. Suddenly it all made sense. Looking back, I think I just had to get past that “pain threshold” and finally get to where I was in decent shape, to where exercise was no longer a chore. Once I reached that point I could finally see the full benefits that I was getting out of physical exercise, and how it impacted my recovery.
Those are just two examples of things that worked well for me in recovery. I had to try a lot of things that were suggested to me by sponsors, therapists, and peers. And some of those things did not work out. I dropped them and moved on, found other suggestions. And I continue to try to find new ideas that might help me to live a healthier life in recovery.
This is how it “just keeps getting better and better.” Personal growth and striving for self improvement.
What about you, have you found what works for you in recovery? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!