A struggling addict or alcoholic might ask: “How do I live without drugs and alcohol?” The proposition can be mind-boggling for someone who is still caught in the grip of addiction. Typically, the addict or alcoholic cannot even picture their life and what it would be like without self-medicating with drugs and alcohol.
Furthermore, even if they could imagine such a life without chemicals, most of us do not want such a fairy tale existence. The idea of sobriety repels us, because we imagine that we will be miserable without our drug of choice. I know this because I once stood at this very jumping-off point: baffled by how I had become so dependent and miserable using drugs, but unable to picture a positive life for myself in the future.
So how do we strip away the drugs and alcohol, how to we manage a life with this apparent “emptiness” that is sobriety?
First of all, that emptiness that is so dreaded by the newcomer is nothing but a huge mountain of fear (one that is paper-thin, to borrow a great quote). It is only by walking through this fear and giving your new life in recovery a chance that you can begin to understand how that “emptiness” without drugs and alcohol was nothing more than an illusion, and anyone who stays the course in recovery will reap the rewards of a rich and full life. Understand, however, that you probably cannot convince a struggling addict or alcoholic of this. They must accept it on blind faith that their life will get better….just as I did.
Using a program of recovery as a guide for living
They say that recovery is an action program. This is absolutely the truth. You can see evidence that any recovery must be an action-based program when you start looking at the success stories and comparing them to the countless people who tend to relapse over and over again. The main difference can always be measured in terms of action and follow-through. The people who relapse often talk a good game. But that doesn’t keep anyone sober. Living without drugs and alcohol requires action on a daily basis, and that means discipline. Why discipline? Because the actions that carry you through each day sober have to be repeated, over and over again. That means you need to find and carefully evaluate what works for you in maintaining sobriety.
A program of recovery (such as the 12 step program) is supposed to be an objective set of guidelines to instruct recovering addicts and alcoholics on how to live their life on a day-to-day basis. Now this is all well and good, and can certainly help many people to live without drugs and alcohol. But remember that a program of recovery is nothing by itself, it only becomes useful after an individual interprets it. And after it is interpreted, it is no longer objective. It has now become part of that person’s direct experience.
The subjective program of recovery
Each program of recovery, regardless of who is working the program or what steps they are following or what book they are reading, is subjective. Any program of recovery must be first interpreted by an individual and then implemented in that person’s daily life in order to be effective.
In the beginning, we have to be told what to do, and how to stay clean. There are a number of programs out there, and an infinite number of interpretations of those programs. But we come into recovery in a sad state, out of control and afraid to even make decisions about our own lives. We know that we are beaten and that we need help.
As we grow in recovery, we start to see that the program that we have been following all along has several interpretations. There are many winners in recovery: people who have achieved a meaningful, long term sobriety. And among these winners, we see that their exact implementation of recovery varies by quite a bit.
For example, there are winners in recovery who never meditate. Some of them have never even tried. They might pray to a higher power, or find meaning within a spiritual group, or do other things that they consider to be spiritual exercises, but they never meditate. This is not good or bad, it simply is.
On the other hand, there are winners in recovery who base their entire lifestyle around meditation. They are meditation fanatics, and this becomes their core spiritual practice. It becomes a lifestyle for them. Is this good or bad? Of course not….it simply is. The point is to illustrate that recovery programs are truly subjective. They are not etched in stone and only open to a single interpretation. Just look at the wide variety of success stories in recovery…so many different people, achieving meaningful sobriety in so many different ways! Don’t shy away or be afraid of this diversity, as it is cause to celebrate. This brings hope for the addict or alcoholic that thinks they will never fit in to a recovery program.
So back to the question: How do I live without drugs and alcohol?”
There is a great saying around the tables of AA: “Take what you need and leave the rest.” This is to be taken literally as sound advice. You have to find your own path in recovery. No one can show you the exact way, because so much of the journey is about introspection and finding out who you are and who you are supposed to be becoming (i.e. what God’s real work for you is).
Yes, you are on a journey, and you’re going to have to navigate at least some of it on your own. Others can help you with much of it, but in the end, you will find your own path. Everyone eventually finds their own path–this means that they can look back at their recovery “program” and say “yes, I can see now how I tailored these ideas to fit in to my life. And it worked for me!”
Good luck to everyone out there who is working a program of recovery. Don’t be afraid to find your own path.
If you know of someone who is seeking the path, please share this with them.