Many alcoholics who want to get sober know that the odds are stacked against them.
Anyone who had gone to a few AA meetings has probably heard people talk about the scary statistics and how so few people remain sober for the long run.
The truth is that you do not have to be discouraged by those numbers. You are an individual and you are not necessarily “average.” Therefore if you really want to get sober and you are willing to take massive action in order to achieve your goal then the statistics regarding relapse do not really apply to you.
Those scary statistics definitely did not apply to me either, as I seem to have evaded relapse for over 12 years and counting now. This is entirely due to the fact that I went to treatment to start things off, and I had the right approach and the right attitude when I did so.
While I was in treatment, I met many people who had the wrong attitude, and they eventually relapsed as a result of that. I also lived in long term treatment for almost two full years and so I got a chance to see many different people try to get sober. Later on I worked in a rehab center for over five years (full time) and thus I watched thousands of people attempt to sober up. So I was able to collect a lot of data from my observations and thus form an opinion as to what works and what does not. Or rather, what is really important in recovery and what is not.
I believe that today I have a good idea of what you need to do in order to make treatment work out for yourself. Obviously the main goal is relapse prevention and your happiness would be a secondary goal to this. A third goal might be labeled as “personal growth.” If you combine those three concepts then you have a pretty good overall strategy for recovery.
An outline for your success in recovery
There is more than one outline for success in recovery that you might try to follow. For example, the 12 steps of AA are one such outline that you might try to follow. There are certainly many people out there who will attempt to help you work through that outline if that is what you choose to do in sobriety.
But there are other methods to stay sober. In fact there are various programs out there that offer alternatives to the 12 step method. None of these programs are very popular and you would be hard pressed to find most of them and utilize them in a meaningful way.
What I ended up doing in my own journey was to slowly drift away from the 12 step program. When I did this I developed my own strategy for recovery and I created my own outline for success. To be perfectly honest I was terrified of relapse at that point so I was not just being philosophical when I did this–instead I actually followed through with my ideas and I took real action.
This is an important distinction and I think it will be an important point for anyone who wants to carve their own path in recovery. If you go to a program such as AA then the outline is all laid out for you and you are expected to follow through on that outline. You must take action in order to get results. Another way to say this is that you have to “do the work” in order to reap the rewards.
The same thing is going to be true if you design your own path in recovery or devise your own strategy. Just because you do some thinking and reason some ideas out does not mean that you get a free pass to stay sober. In fact your own thinking can work against you much easier than it can work for you. What does that mean? It means that most people who try to “do their own thing” will end up relapsing because they get lazy and fail to take action.
Even if you devise your own recovery strategy, the key is in taking positive action. You have to consistently take positive action in your life if you want to get results. This is why many people relapse in AA and someone who is “doing their own thing” is vulnerable to the same principle. If you get lazy and fail to take action in your life then eventually you will go back to drinking.
Alcoholism becomes the default mode for the alcoholic. Seems obvious, right? The alcoholic drinks. They get drunk. That is what they are programmed to do. You can never fully “de-program” the brain. The part that craves alcohol is always going to be there in the background. So when you get sober and start living a new life in recovery, every day becomes a sort of battle. You may feel comfortable and confident in your recovery but your disease is still there lurking in the shadows. If you fail to take positive action for too many days in a row then your disease will eventually win out and cause you to drink again. It never goes away entirely. The threat of relapse is always going to be there.
Therefore your solution for recovery has to include an element of never-ending personal growth. This is the strongest form of relapse prevention because it is the only way that you consistently rise above the threat of relapse in the long run. People who have many years sober and end up relapsing had become lazy and they had stopped growing as a person. Had they been engaged in a path of personal growth they would have been protected from relapse.
Personal growth requires effort. It requires action. That is why I say that you have to keep taking “massive action” and also that you need to keep seeking “positive action.” Recovery is nothing if not change. You have to keep making changes in order to maintain sobriety. And those changes have to be positive, otherwise the roads all lead back to addiction.
How to embrace a new solution in your life
My suggestion for most people is to embrace treatment.
This was very difficult for me to do in my own journey because going to inpatient rehab felt like such a failure. I felt like it had a stigma attached to it. I felt like I was going to jail or something, like I was volunteering to be locked up.
I knew what the basic concept was, to go to a safe place where you are under someone else’s control for a while. Just to protect you from yourself. I was embarrassed that I would even need this. So I did not want to go to treatment. Even after I had been there once or twice (and then relapsed both times) I continued to feel this way.
Everyone has excuses as to why they can not (or should not) go to inpatient rehab.
Maybe you have a job, and you don’t want them to find out about your problem. How are you supposed to go check into rehab without your job finding out? It’s a tricky problem and it keeps a lot of people from going to rehab.
Maybe you have a family and friends and some of them do not know about your addiction (or you believe that they don’t yet know). So you don’t want to go to treatment for fear that they all find out about your problem.
And maybe you are just afraid to be sober. You are afraid to face life without alcohol. You are afraid that you will be completely miserable if you do not have the ability to drink alcohol.
So in order to embrace a new solution in your life you will have to find a way to overcome all of these objections and get the help that you need.
The way to do this is to become so miserable that you no longer care about your objections.
This is how I got through my own denial, anyway. I had to become so miserable in my drinking that I no longer cared if I lost my job or if they found out about my problem. I became so miserable that I no longer cared if I went to rehab and was then miserable from lack of drinking. I had nothing to lose at that point. I was miserable anyway, even while drinking every day.
So the balance had tipped in the favor of going to rehab anyway. I did not really think that it would work. I honestly thought that I would drink again. I had been to detox and short term rehab before so I knew what was possible. I knew that they could dry me out and get me somewhat stable in early recovery. But I believed that I would be miserable again and that I would probably end up going back to alcohol because of this. I did not really believe that I could be happy enough in recovery to want to give up alcohol forever.
My level of surrender was such that I was willing to try something new. Because I had already been to rehab twice before, this time I became willing to go to long term treatment. I knew that I needed more help than what a 28 day program could provide me. I had done a 28 day program in the past and I had relapsed. I needed something more than that. So I went to long term rehab.
Going to long term rehab turned out to be the best decision that I ever made. Even though I was scared of sobriety and I thought that I would be miserable forever if I was sober, things worked out for the best. I learned that I could be happy without drinking every day. I learned that life could be exciting and challenging again in recovery. But I had to give myself a chance in order to get to these realizations. In fact, it took several weeks or even months before I was able to realize these gifts of sobriety.
So how do you give yourself that chance? How do you convince yourself to give recovery a chance to work in your life? Especially when it is so much easier to just go get a bottle right now and get loaded all over again?
You have to be miserable. You have to be at the point of true surrender. That is the only way that you can really embrace a new solution in your life. Without true surrender, going to rehab is likely a waste of time. You may hear the message but you will probably not implement the concepts.
Why most people fail when they first go to treatment
The first time that a struggling alcoholic ever goes to rehab their chances of success are very low.
I am not sure that there is any way around this. Really it is not about the treatment center at all, rather it is about the fact that they are attempting to become sober for the first time ever.
They are dealing with two things that are working against nearly every struggling alcoholic:
1) They are over confident in their own abilities. They believe themselves to be smarter than average.
2) They are underestimating their disease of alcoholism. They do not believe it to be as cunning and powerful as it really is.
Now when you combine both of these tendencies you have the perfect recipe for relapse.
Nearly every alcoholic makes one or both of these two assumptions at first.
The only way to seemingly get past these assumptions is to try to recover and fail. The alcoholic must try and relapse so that they can learn what they are truly dealing with.
You can sit the alcoholic down and try to reason with them. You can try to warn them, to tell them that the odds are stacked against them, that no matter how smart they think they are, their disease is probably a lot smarter. And that no matter how much willpower and self control they believe themselves to have, it is probably not enough to overcome alcoholism without some outside help as well. You can try to warn the alcoholic of these things, and tell them that the disease is much more powerful than they realize.
But do you really think that these sort of warnings are going to convince people of anything?
No, they don’t. Instead, the alcoholic has to step into the ring a few times and get knocked out. They have to build up a healthy respect for the disease of alcoholism before they are willing to get the proper help in order to overcome it.
You see, recovery is really one big inconvenience. It is a lot of work. You have to jump through some serious hoops and take a lot of action. Just imagine for a moment that I went to rehab and stayed there for almost two full years. How is that for an inconvenience?
No one wants to embrace recovery at first. It is too much work, it is too inconvenient. What a hassle, just to try to have a “normal” life. And what good is normal anyway, right? People want to live it up and have fun, not go to meetings all the time.
So that is the attitude that you are sort of fighting against in order to embrace recovery. Most people fail in early recovery because they are not willing to dive in head first and embrace the entire process. They have the wrong attitude. They are looking at recovery as if it were an event, a one time deal, a cure.
But it is none of those things. Recovery is a life long process. And it is something that you have to dive into and embrace with all of your efforts.
Most people fail in early recovery because they are dancing around this truth. They don’t want to dive in and commit 100 percent. They just want a tiny sip of recovery, rather than diving in head first and immersing themselves fully.
Why a simple program is still so difficult to follow through on
Many people argue that recovery is a simple process. I would agree with this to a point but that statement is a bit misleading.
Each part of the process is fairly simple. I would break it down like this:
1) Disruption – you need to interrupt your pattern of drinking alcohol. Go to detox and get dried out.
2) Support – you can’t do it alone. If you can then you are probably not a “real alcoholic of the hopeless variety.” Our hats are off to you. Go live in peace. If you find that you cannot do it alone, then you need help, and support. Go to rehab and/or meetings.
3) Growth – you can’t stay sober in the long run just on meetings alone. Many have tried and they eventually relapse unless they can find a way to keep growing in their recovery. You have to keep learning. You have to keep taking positive action. You must embrace a path of personal growth. This is relapse prevention. This is how to overcome complacency: with growth.
Is that stuff all simple? Sure, it is simple enough. Detox, support, and growth. But the devil is always in the details.
If I look back at my “detox phase” it is fairly simple. I went to rehab and I stuck it out.
Looking back at my “support phase” it was a bit more complicated. Now you have meetings, sponsorship, living in long term rehab, peer groups, and so on. It was more complicated and it was also more challenging than the detox phase.
Now I am in the “growth phase” and have been for about a decade. More challenge and more complexity. To me, personal growth has meant everything from exercise and fitness to working on relationships. I don’t think you could label this as “simple” because there is just so many different layers to it. Personal growth involves a lot of different things.
Through all of this stuff you have to have that firm commitment to your recovery. You have to be really done with drinking and wanting very badly for a different way of life. The depth of your commitment will be determined by the depth of your surrender.
Have you reached a point of total surrender yet?
And so it all comes back to surrender in the end.
If you want to get good results from treatment then you need to have the proper setup.
The first two times I went to rehab I failed to have the proper setup. I had not fully surrendered to my disease.
I was not yet ready to take orders. I was too stubborn. I wanted to stay in control of my life. I had to let go of that eventually. Why? Because I screwed things up when I was in control. I got drunk. No good.
So I had to become miserable enough in my disease that I was willing to hand control of my life over to someone else. You go to detox and short term rehab, this is a big step towards giving up control. It shows that you have surrendered to some degree.
Yet many people go to rehab and still hold on to a piece of control. They call this “having a reservation.” In order to recover you have to let go completely. Let it all go. And trust that these people in recovery will show you how to live a happy and healthy life. And trust that it will get better over time.
That is they they say to “trust in the process.” It takes time to heal your life. And the results and benefits will take some time to fully kick in.