When I was struggling with alcoholism I needed help.
I needed a lot of things. I needed support. I needed new information. And most of all I needed to surrender so that I could accept the help that I needed.
For a long time I was not willing to accept any new information about how to live my life.
I did not believe that it was possible that anyone else could possibly have my best interests at heart. They might like to tell me what to do, but why should I listen? What would cause them to really care about my happiness? Why should I trust someone who was going to tell me how to live sober, when they had no idea what it was like to be me, to have my problems, to have my love of alcohol and other drugs? These were some of the things that held me back. I could not trust that other people might have my best interests at heart. I did not believe that they could understand just how badly I needed to self medicate in order to be “happy” (or so I thought at the time, in fact I was miserable).
I needed to surrender.
I needed new information in order to know how to live and be happy again.
I needed to apply that information in my life and start taking positive action.
I did not even know where to begin. I was overwhelmed at the task of building a new life without alcohol.
Why alcohol addiction is such a tricky problem to overcome
Alcoholism and drug addiction are very difficult holes to crawl out of. There are many problems with the recovery process and the first major problem is a lack of surrender. If you do not give up the struggle against alcohol then you have no way to break free as you will just sabotage your own efforts.
Denial is what holds people back from going through the surrender process. If you are fighting against an obvious solution (such as quitting alcohol and other drugs) then it is generally because you are stuck in denial. Everyone around you can plainly see what the solution is (stop abusing drugs or booze) but you cannot see it for whatever reason. Without knowing exactly what that reason is, we can still identify this problem and label it as “denial.” The whole world can tell that you need help but you stubbornly refuse to see it. Instead, you prefer to blame your problems on outside forces and things that are supposedly conspiring against you (even though your true problems are really of your own making. I.E., you get falling down drunk and wasted all the time and screw up your life and your relationships).
Alcoholism is tough to overcome because there is no way to talk someone into seeing through their denial. They are stuck. The only way that they can move beyond their denial is by experiencing enough pain and misery. This is a horrible process and I would not wish it on anyone. There are no clever shortcuts to be had. You have either gone through enough pain and misery in your addiction in order to want to change, or you have not. If you haven’t, then the cycle will continue and you will just continue to experience more and more chaos until you reach a breaking point.
Unfortunately, most alcoholics and drug addicts attempt to medicate their pain and misery with more drugs and alcohol. Hence the vicious cycle. It is only after receiving enough pain and misery for an extended period of time that the alcoholic may finally say “wait a second….there has to be a better way!” Unfortunately some addicts and alcoholics never even get this chance because the nature of the disease is so dangerous. As they say: “Jails, institutions, and death.” Some people never even get a chance at recovery.
If you are reading this now and you have a chance to step back and take a look at your own denial, then you have a chance. Maybe you don’t care about denial because you are so sick and tired and you just want to crawl into a hole and continue to self medicate (I was certainly at this point at one time myself). If that is the case then there is hope for you, believe it or not. Remember that it is always darkest right before the dawn. If you can muster up a tiny bit of hope and willingness then you can see a miraculous transformation in your life. The whole trick is to allow yourself to experience just a tiny bit of hope and then build from there.
In order to do that you are going to have to work through your denial. This must be done internally. You must come to the conclusion that your drug of choice no longer works for you like you want it to work. You must admit to yourself that your drug of choice no longer does what it once promised to do. This is the point of surrender. Once you accept these facts on a really deep level, you are ready to make changes.
You must accept that you can no longer be permanently happy just by indulging in your drug of choice. It no longer works. It worked once (I remember what it was like too in the beginning). But it stopped working. Admit it, you are miserable almost all of the time now. Reality is for the birds. And medicating with drugs and booze has become less and less effective over time. This is tolerance at work, cheating you out of your high. You can never get it back fully. You can never go back to those first few months or years when you first discovered your drug of choice. It will never be fun like that again. You must accept this if you are going to surrender to your disease. You must accept this on a very deep level and then give yourself permission to let go.
Let go of everything.
Most people need help in the form of disruption and support to break free from alcoholism
If the first piece of critical information is about breaking through denial and surrendering, then the second piece of critical information is about disruption.
This is just a concept. You have a pattern, you want to change, what do you have to do? You must disrupt the pattern. Simple as that.
If you hang out in a bar every night and get drunk and you want to sober up, guess what? You can’t keep hanging out in the same bar every single night and drink diet soda. It ain’t gonna fly.
But that is just a tiny example. In reality, you need to take the idea of disruption and then apply it to your entire life.
This is because addiction is holistic. It affects your whole life, your entire person. Every part of you is affected by addiction.
Therefore, any solution that you attempt to use in your life must be comprehensive and thorough. You need to take massive action on several different levels. “Just quit drinking” is a horrible oversimplification that does not do recovery justice. In fact, the idea of “just quit drinking” makes no sense at all to the alcoholic. Personally, I would rather die. So that presents a huge problem!
The solution is not to kill yourself, I promise you that. Nor is the solution to “just quit drinking” (I wish it were that simple, but it is not). The solution is to start with the concept of disruption. This is the equivalent of saying “just go to rehab.”
This is because rehab centers today are the best form of disruption that we have yet devised. Treatment centers are not perfect. They do not cure alcoholism or addiction. But they are still the best form of disruption that we have. For one thing they are controlled environments. So there is no temptation to relapse while you are there (unless you are at a really horrible facility). Second of all you will have medical supervision in detox (an important point for many alcoholics). Third of all you will have support in the form of counseling and therapy. Fourth you will get exposure to some sort of recovery program (most likely the 12 step program of AA, which is neither here nor there but is certainly better than nothing for most people). Finally you will get some direction on what to do when you leave treatment in order to remain clean and sober.
If you have failed at recovery in the past then you should definitely start with these two ideas, in this order:
So start by working through your denial. Then get yourself into treatment.
Sure, there are probably other paths. There are other ways to learn recovery. There are other ways to stay sober. I don’t recommend any of them necessarily other than what I just outlined. Stop fighting your addiction and surrender. Then get yourself into rehab. This is as good a start as most people can get in early recovery.
The problem of rebuilding a new life in recovery and how to approach it
The next critical piece of information for your recovery journey involves the actual process of living life in recovery.
You surrendered. You went to rehab. You got out of treatment.
Now is the real test. This is where you need to step up to the plate and start living a life of recovery.
The problem is that you don’t know how to do that just yet.
Sure, if you were listening in rehab then they tried to tell you what to do. If you listen in all of the AA meetings every day then you get tons of advice and direction as well.
But at some point you have to actually start taking action and making positive changes on your own. You have to create the life that you really want in recovery.
Did you ever notice that you cannot really run away from any one thing in life? You can only run TOWARDS something. This is why “just quit drinking” does not really help anyone. Just quit drinking and then what? No alcoholic has that information when they need it most. They have to acquire that information the hard way.
So what happens is that you must get out of your own way. You go through the disruption process. Detox. Residential treatment. You go to meetings. You ask for advice. You start taking positive action. You start doing things differently in your life. You are taking positive action every single day. And you are moving towards a new life now without even realizing it.
At some point you have to figure out where you are going. You have to figure out what you are building in your life. At first this is not a problem because you are in treatment, you are going to meetings, and people are telling you what to do and how to think. This works for the short term but it will not work for 5+ years, not to mention the entire rest of your life. At some point you have to learn to create the life that you really want to live for yourself.
This is not to say that you can never have support, because you most certainly can. You can stay in AA or any other program for all the rest of your days if you so desire. But you can not shed the responsibility of having to create positive action in your life, and of figuring out what you really want for yourself. Because if you never do this and start creating with positive action then you are going to wake up one day in AA and be totally miserable. And if you are miserable, bored, or frustrated in recovery then you will be in serious danger of relapse.
The way to rebuild your life in recovery is through what I call “the daily practice.” If you take positive actions every day then you are on the right path. If you are deliberately and consciously choosing personal growth for yourself then you are on the right path. And if you are considering your entire person (holistic health) when it comes to making these daily choices then you are definitely on the right path.
What does all of this have to do with sobriety?
You see, “just quit drinking” does not work. This is because it was never totally about the drinking anyway. It was about all of this other sickness that ruins our lives and leads us back to the bottle.
Let me give you an example. Many, many of my peers in addiction recovery have relapsed over the years because they got sick in some way. Or because they got injured and had pain issues. These people may have taken medications that they did not realize would lead them back to alcohol in some cases. Or they just got sick for so long that they eventually became wore down to the point or relapse. There are many different ways that poor health can drive someone to relapse. I have watched it happen over and over again.
This is why recovery is holistic. You have to take care of your body, mind, spirit, mental health, relationships, and so on. It all matters. It all can become a threat in terms of relapse. If you let any one area of your life go totally bad then it can lead you to relapse.
I have watched many people in recovery put way too much effort into spirituality while neglecting the other areas of their recovery. In several cases this ended badly and then the person relapses and they have lost their spiritual focus as well. Then they have nothing again.
In order to rebuild your life in recovery you must start with a process of disruption after you surrender.
Then you take positive action and start making positive changes in your life. You must do this physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and socially. If you neglect one area completely then you can bet that it will lead to relapse eventually. This is why many treatment centers have a class on “balanced lifestyle.” They intuitively know that it is important for the person to heal holistically as an entire person, rather than just spiritually (as most programs actually suggest). The spiritual solution is incomplete. The real recovery solution is holistic, and includes spirituality as one part of it. But you must focus on rebuilding your entire life and your overall health in recovery or you will lose everything again some day.
Daily actions that create your future. You become what you do every day
Sometimes we need to take advice.
Sometimes we need to learn from others.
I did not feel good the first time that I exercised in recovery.
In fact, I tried it several times and it still did not feel good. In fact, I felt awful afterward.
So I kept going back and forth. I would give up. Then I would talk to someone–another peer in recovery, a sponsor, a therapist. They all encouraged me to give exercise a fair chance. Because they said that it helped them so much.
Eventually this clicked for me. I got over the hump. I exercised enough (and for long enough) that it suddenly became easy for me. This took a long time and a lot of effort. I would not have made that effort if it were not for all of the feedback I received.
I am glad that I persevered. Exercise is a huge part of my recovery today. And it has defined a big part of who I am and what I am becoming. I am constantly seeking to reinvent my level of fitness and health in recovery. The path of exercise has been instrumental in leading me down this path.
Your life can be frozen in time right now at this very moment and analyzed. We can look at how happy you are, how good your relationships are, how healthy you are physically, and so on. And all of these things are interconnected to some degree. And most importantly, these measurements are not random or arbitrary. They are based on your past actions.
If you are unhappy in your life lately, then it is because of what has led up to this moment. It is based on your choices over the last few months or years. It is based on the total of your actions.
If you are bored in life then look at the last 12 months. Perhaps you vegged out and watched television for the last year. You get the idea. You are the sum total of your past actions.
We become what we do every day.
And this is the kind of responsibility that you must take in recovery. You must realize that you are creating your own future. You must accept your position in life as a measurement of your past choices.
If you want different results then you have to do something different.
And so it all comes down to information.
I looked at various people in recovery (and in life in general, including people outside of recovery) and I decided that I wanted to achieve certain things. So I started asking questions of the people who had what I wanted in life. How did they achieve that? How did they do it? What were their actions? Could I emulate them and get similar results? How do I get started with that process?
If you can follow this line of questioning and apply it in your own life then you can acquire whatever information you need to succeed.
Figure out what you want, figure out how to go about getting it, and then put yourself into action.
Not terribly difficult, but definitely requires more effort than just watching television for hours on end.
And yet this is really the minimum bar of success in recovery. Do any less than this, and my belief is that you will relapse at some point. Maybe not tomorrow, and maybe not next week, but you are going to relapse unless you are pursuing personal growth. You have to constantly reinvent yourself in recovery if you want to succeed. Those who get lazy end up relapsing. I have watched it happen over and over again.
Investing in your future health and personal growth
The only way to truly protect yourself from relapse in the long run is with the daily practice. You must learn to take positive action each and every day in order to keep growing and learning.
Getting feedback and ideas from other people in recovery is especially helpful for this. In early recovery it is vital to success.
Information applied is how to build a new life in recovery.