Many struggling alcoholics want to know exactly how going to rehab is going to help them to stop drinking.
I have to admit that I had this same question before I had ever been to treatment. I wanted to know exactly how it worked before I would be willing to attend.
This attitude is a mistake. The reason that it is a mistake is because no one can describe exactly how it is going to work for you. Recovery is extremely personal and unique for each individual. This is especially true of early recovery. It can be a bit of a roller coaster.
That said, there are certain things that you will likely go through if you are to be successful in overcoming alcoholism. Some of these things will come directly from your visit to rehab. Others will simply be instructed while you are in treatment, but it will be up to you to follow up with them. Either way, you can definitely get a great deal of help by going to rehab. In pretty much every case it beats not going to rehab at all. You’re better off giving rehab a chance than you are going it alone.
The power of disruption
Treatment is a huge disruption in your life. It is designed that way so that you have a fighting chance at overcoming your addiction. Unfortunately, most alcoholics are seriously put off by the intense level of disruption that rehab has on their lives. I used to think that it was similar to going to jail. I mean, you check in, stay overnight, and perhaps stay for up to a month! Then if you are talking about long term rehab you may even stay for a few years! I thought that this was insane when I was still drinking, to “sacrifice” that much of your life to something like inpatient rehab. Of course I was in denial and I could not see the benefit that you would get from being in rehab at all. I could not see a difference between “drunk and miserable” or “sober and happy.” I did not actually believe that anyone who was sober could, in fact, be happy. This is denial.
So you are stuck in a cycle of drinking and you cannot break free from it. You try to quit on your own and you find yourself trapped in the same old patterns. You cannot seem to overcome your alcoholism by your own devices. At some point you may even give up trying and just accept the fact that you need to drink alcohol in order to function. At that point we can safely label this as being “alcoholism.” If you can stop on your own without any problems and your life magically gets better without any help then we tend not to label that as “alcoholism.” We have come to define the disease by how easy it is for you to stop. If you can do it on your own then that is more like a “light drinking problem” rather than “full blown alcoholism.”
So if you find yourself with “full blown alcoholism” and you cannot seem to get it under control, what can you do?
Disruption. The answer is to disrupt your life.
People try to do this themselves sometimes. For example, they may physically change their location and move a few hundred miles away from their home, thinking that this will help them to get a fresh start. This works up to a point but it is generally not a real solution. Alcohol will find you wherever you go. You may get a “clean break” but if you don’t address the core issues in your life and start working on personal growth then you are just going to relapse eventually anyway. Moving solves nothing, for the most part.
So what is the answer? Treatment has come up with one form of a solution: A controlled environment without any alcohol or drugs. So if you go to rehab then you are automatically disrupting your cycle of addiction. This makes it easy. It is a no brainer. You check into rehab for 28 days, you automatically get 28 days sober. Pretty simple really.
If you have never been to treatment then you might be nervous about going. There is nothing to be afraid of though. Many of the workers at treatment centers are former alcoholics themselves. They want to help you. They will not treat you badly. They will give you medication to help you get through withdrawal safely. And they will support you as you transition into sobriety.
Fear of rehab may be real for you, but it should not be an excuse. If you are using it as an excuse then you must move past it. The fear of dying from your addiction should definitely be greater than the fear of facing rehab. And that fear is very real and the threat is imminent. If you are drinking large amounts of booze or using other drugs as well then you are playing with fire. Your chances of dying early go up by a huge amount when you continue with heavy drinking.
Disruption is the answer when nothing else has worked for you. If you just go check into rehab then at least you know that you will stay clean and sober while you are there.
Simple and effective.
Disrupt your addiction with rehab.
Why disruption by itself is not enough
Of course disruption, by itself, is never going to be enough.
If it were enough then alcoholism would be totally cured. But obviously we need to do more than just disrupt our addiction for a month or so in order to truly overcome it.
The challenge is that at some point you have to leave the safe environment of rehab and go back out into the real world. When you do that life is going to “smack you in the face” at some point. It may not be right away but at some point you will experience a great deal of stress in your recovery. It is only a matter of time.
So you have to know how to deal with that. You have to learn some tools in order to become stronger in your recovery. You can’t just disrupt the addiction and then walk back into the storm again without having learned anything or changed at all.
In order to remain sober you must change.
“But how must I change?” you ask.
You have to improve. You must improve your life and your life situation. You must actively work to make things better in your world.
If things are going badly in your life then at some point in a downward spiral you are going to say “screw it” and drink. This is a simple fact. And it is true for every alcoholic, no matter how long they have been sober.
If things start to go bad in your life and they just keep getting worse and you also have a bad attitude then at some point you will drink again. It is as simple as that.
So there are two things that you must do to prevent this:
1) You must work hard so that things don’t “go bad” and keep going bad over and over again. Sure you will have your ups and downs but you don’t want to live so that your life becomes a train wreck.
2) You must work hard on your attitude, your outlook, your perspective. You must work to change yourself internally.
If you don’t do either of these things after the “disruption phase” then you are headed for almost certain relapse.
You have to get into action and get excited about making these changes. And what’s more, you must do these things consistently over time. In order to do well in recovery you have to be consistent. Obviously if you do well most days but then you have a really bad day here and there then that is going to derail your whole recovery. One slip up can set you back several years in terms of growth. Recovery is pass/fail. If you drink even once then it ruins everything you have worked for. All of your progress goes out the window and you will have to start over again from the beginning.
Action is the key. So how do you take positive action consistently? How do you build a new life of positive habits for yourself?
Encouraging long term habits of success…finding your “daily practice”
I like to think of success in recovery as being the result of a “daily practice.”
We are a product of our habits. What we do every day, consistently over time is going to define who we become.
So the first part of the daily practice has to start with abstinence. This is your baseline for success. Without abstinence you have no foundation to build on. Take one single drink and your entire house comes crumbling to the ground. You wipe out months or years of personal growth with a single relapse. So not drinking or using addictive drugs is the baseline for your recovery. Total abstinence is the first key.
It is also the most important part of your effort and should become your highest truth. I had to wrap my mind firmly around this in early recovery. I noticed other people were relapsing around me in early recovery and I realized that they had lost sight of this truth: If you relapse then you start over again at zero. I had many peers in recovery who seemed to do so well in certain parts of their program (spirituality being the main comparison) and yet many of them still ended up drinking again. I had to ask myself what I was doing that they were not. And all I could determine was that I was sticking to abstinence while they were not. So my highest truth in recovery was this: “I am not going to take a drink or a drug today no matter what.”
The 12 step program had a first step that was supposedly the most important thing in the world. I disregarded this in my mind, secretly, and replaced it with my highest truth (which was not to drink no matter what). I rewrote the 12 steps mentally so that my first step and my most important truth in life was that I not drink no matter what. I never told anyone this in early recovery because to question the program would have been blasphemous. So I kept quiet but I was doing what I had to do mentally in order to remain sober. I had my priorities straight. Everyone else was running around talking about how their connection with their higher power was their highest truth and most important thing in their lives. I stuck to my guns and realized that not drinking was my highest truth. This worked for me.
My daily practice grew from there. I started to exercise on a daily basis and this became a very important part of my daily practice. After over a decade I continue to exercise every single day. I don’t skip a day just because I don’t feel like doing it. I am extremely consistent in this and it is very important to my recovery. Feeling good after a workout is a big part of what keeps me sober.
Does everyone need to incorporate exercise into their daily practice? Perhaps not. What works for one person in recovery may not work for everyone. What you need to do instead is to start taking suggestions and asking for advice in early recovery until you have defined your daily practice for yourself.
What are doing today in order to maintain your sobriety? If you don’t have a good and thorough answer for that then you need to ask for help and start taking suggestions. Ask other people in recovery what they do in order to stay sober, then emulate that.
Get a sponsor and ask for advice. Start trying new things. Experiment.
This is all experimentation. If something doesn’t work for you or it doesn’t help you at all then simply discard it and move on. This is how recovery works. You “take what you need and leave the rest.” But in order to do this you need to get active, you need to seek advice and guidance, and you need to get into action and try some new things. I was never into exercise in my “past life” before I got sober. It was something that I had to discover. And it actually took me a few years before I finally opened up to the idea. I wish that I would have opened up to the idea even sooner.
So you have to try things. You have to take suggestions. Different people in recovery have various tactics and strategies that they use to stay sober. Some of these will help you and some of them will not. It is your job to find out what your own “daily practice” is so that you can grow in your recovery. If you get sober but then do nothing different you will relapse. If you don’t change and grow and learn in recovery then you will relapse.
You can discover these things on your own or you can accelerate the process by getting information from your peers in recovery. This is why AA and group support is so commonplace. Because it is essentially a shortcut of sorts. You are benefiting from information. Other people have more experience than you in recovery, why not draw from that experience and use it to your advantage? Others have made mistakes and they want to help you steer clear of those mistakes. Others in recovery have found things to be helpful in their daily practice and they want to share those things with you. So don’t turn up your nose at this information. Use it to your advantage. Take it and experiment with it. See if the ideas work for you. Give them a chance to create a positive change in your life. I had to exercise for quite a while before things finally “clicked” and I felt like it was a joyous activity rather than a chore.
Support in early recovery followed by personal growth
Rehab sets you up for success if it does the following three things:
1) Disrupts your patterns of alcoholism. (Gets you physically clean and sober).
2) Teaches you to use support systems in early recovery (Gets you to attend AA, seek support outside of rehab, etc.)
3) Teaches you that personal growth is the key to long term success.
The first two things are pretty easy and straightforward. Come to rehab, go through detox, then introduce people to AA meetings. Encourage them to follow through with AA. This is pretty simple actually.
Unfortunately this is not the entire solution. Even if you get sober and then start hammering AA you are not out of the woods just yet. It takes more than that in order to create long term success in recovery.
The final piece of the puzzle is personal growth. This is difficult to teach in early recovery and it can also be a bit contradictory.
When people are in short term rehab you want them to focus on support. They are about to leave treatment and go back out into the real world and so you want them to have the best chances possible of not relapsing immediately. In order to do that you want them to find support quickly. One example of this is going to AA meetings every single day. So this is a very common recommendation for people in early recovery.
But what happens after a year in recovery? After 3 years? After ten years?
At some point the daily meetings are not going to sustain recovery on their own. There is work to be done and if you are actually listening to what is talked about in the meetings then you will hear people speak of this work. You can do “the work” in many different ways and one way is by actively working through the 12 steps. But there are other ways as well and one way is by simply pursuing a life of personal growth.
This is set up in the following way.
1) First of all you have the daily practice. These are the positive habits that you use every single day. For me the biggest one is exercise. Another big one is writing about recovery. I used to keep a journal as well but I do so much writing now that a journal seems a bit redundant. Exercise and writing are two of the biggest parts of my daily practice.
2) Second of all is the deliberate push to improve your life internally. I am talking about your attitude and your perception of the world. One of the main ideas here is to look at everything as a lesson and try to get something positive from even the worst situation. But you can also work on things like self pity and resentment. I had to learn how to overcome self pity when I was in early recovery.
3) Third you need to work on improving your life externally. This is your “life situation.” If you do not do anything to change your external world and improve it then there is a threat that it could drag you down into relapse. In fact if you skip any of these three ideas listed here you are in danger of relapse.
The daily practice is critical to your ongoing health and attitude. The second part is improving your life internally and that is critical as well. If you do not eliminate your negative thought patterns then they will threaten you and drag you down. And finally there is the idea of “people, places, and things” that have the power to trip you up in recovery. You must work to improve your life externally as well.