What are the key steps to effective private alcohol treatment results? What do you absolutely need to do in order to be successful in early recovery?
Are there many paths that lead to success? Or is there only one true path that can keep a person sober?
To hear it be told in traditional recovery circles (such as AA meetings), there is only one path to sobriety. But I have found this to be false. There are actually many paths, if one is willing to look around and see what is truly working for other people in recovery.
But while there are many paths to success in recovery, there are still a certain group of fundamental concepts that remain constant. If you ignore these fundamental concepts then I do not think it matters what path you are on, you are likely to fail.
So the question becomes: What are those fundamental concepts of recovery? What are the key steps to effective treatment?
Let’s dive in and see if we can discover what they are.
Can you be self motivated and still get good results in recovery? Or does it always have to be a group effort?
There is a belief in traditional recovery that “you can’t do it alone.” That your success in recovery must be part of a group effort. That you must give yourself over to the group and embrace the concept of fellowship.
This one is tricky because I honestly believe that it all has to do with timing. If you want to recover entirely on your own without any outside help or support, I think that this is possible, but not really in the first year of sobriety. If you want to achieve “independent recovery” then that is a good goal for long term sobriety. You can accomplish that after you have a solid year of sobriety under your belt. Then you can do whatever you want. But in early recovery I do not think that this is realistic. You are not going to be able to “figure out recovery” on your own. If you could then you would, by definition, not be an addict or alcoholic. You would simply be someone who figured out naturally how to control their drinking, and you would not have a serious problem.
The fact is, the true alcoholic needs help in order to stop. But I do not believe that we necessarily need continuous help for the rest of our lives in order to stay stopped. I believe that we can help ourselves after a certain point, rather than depending on daily meetings to keep us clean and sober.
So one of the fundamental ideas in early recovery is that you need outside help and support. You can struggle against this fundamental truth but I do not believe you can get sober until you embrace the idea and ask for help. In long term sobriety you are free to be as independent as you like, but in early recovery you need help. Simple as that.
Lack of surrender is the sure sign that you were not ready to commit to change
One of the biggest hurdles in early recovery is a lack of surrender.
In fact, this may be the only real hurdle in early recovery. Everything else stems from this one problem.
If you have failed to surrender totally to your disease, then it means that you are hanging on to the idea that you might successfully use your drug of choice again some day.
And that tiny opening of opportunity is enough for your disease to take over again some day and cause you to relapse.
In order to succeed you need to shut that particular door. And the only way to do this is to be in a state of total and complete surrender. You have to give up entirely on alcohol as your solution in life. You have to write it off permanently and give yourself over to a new solution. Doing so is an act of faith, or at the very least it is the “death” of your ego. Essentially you are saying to yourself and to the world at large: “OK, I realize that my own ideas about how to live my life and have a good time are not working. Please show me another way to live, I am ready to put my ideas aside and I am ready to listen and learn.”
That is what true surrender must feel like. You have to be so sick and tired of the chaos and the madness of your addiction that you are willing to take directions from other people like a robot. Seriously, you must become like an obedient robot who listens to others and does exactly what they tell him to do. This may sound terrible but it is the key to setting yourself free. By listening to others and following directions in early recovery, it will open up your whole world in the long run and make you become truly free. Your freedom will be unlocked by following the advice of others.
How does this happen? It is easy to tell others how to live, but it is hard to live a good life ourselves. So the key is to simply follow others advice for you. It is hard to do and it is crushing to the ego. This is why you need to be in a state of total and complete surrender. I do not believe that you can simply decide to do this, to become like a robot who follows orders from other people. Instead, you have to arrive at this point through the madness and misery of your addiction. Surrender is a blessing and it just happens on its own as a result of consequences. I did not feel (in my own experience) like it was something that I choose to do. It just happened because I had finally had my fill of misery and chaos.
So if you attend rehab and you are not in a state of full surrender, you can expect that your results will be lacking. On the other hand, if you feel like your ego is completely crushed and you are willing to take orders in order to escape from the misery of addiction, then you just might be ready to begin your life changing journey. If that is the case then you will be successful at treatment.
Setting yourself up for success
There is not really much of an art form to the act of surrender. It is pretty simple really: You ask for help. The only difference is that this time you are genuine and you really mean it and you are completely desperate.
Of course most alcoholics have been asking for help all along in their disease, but most of that has been pure manipulation. They did not really want help, they just wanted to keep living, avoid consequences, and drink more. But this time it has to be different. They have to really want to change. They have to want to embrace sobriety more than anything else in the world. So that is the place that they must be coming from when they ask for help this time.
How can you tell the difference? You mostly can’t, if you are the one being asked to offer help. The best you can do is to send them to professional treatment and refuse to help them in any other capacity. Don’t give them a ride to the gas station. Only offer to take them to rehab. That is how you help.
In order to be successful at treatment you only need to do a few simple things:
1) Ask for help.
2) Be willing to listen and act.
3) Go to rehab. Show up.
4) Listen and take advice.
5) Apply the advice and ideas you are given.
6) Follow through when you leave. Do what they tell you to do.
Not very complicated. You take orders and then you follow through on them. But it is by no means easy, which is why so many fail at treatment. It is hard to be good.
You can set yourself up for success by surrendering fully to your disease and developing a willingness to listen and take advice. If you are not in a state of mind where you are desperate for advice and help then you should probably not attend rehab just yet. Wait until more misery has forced you into desperation. Or figure out how to choose sobriety. But if you are still fighting against others, trying to manipulate other people, and still trying to figure out how to drink successfully, then don’t bother with treatment yet. You have to be desperate for sobriety first, if it is going to work.
The key steps to take whether you are in a formal program or not
There are really only two critical steps to anyone who is trying to recover from alcoholism. This goes for every alcoholic, whether you are in AA or not:
1) Stop drinking.
2) Stay stopped.
You go to treatment to do number one. They help you to stop drinking. They have a medical detox and they supervise you so that your health is not threatened.
They also try to teach you how to do number two. They attempt to give you the tools and the resources needed in order to “stay stopped.”
Number 1 is a given. It is easy. It is simple. You can’t screw it up. Just show up to rehab and be a little bit willing, and you have number one all wrapped up, no problem.
Stopping is easy.
It is staying stopped that is so tricky and difficult. Therefore, your efforts need to focus on how you are going to stay stopped.
In my opinion (and in my experience) that really breaks down into two things:
1) The “support phase” where you first leave rehab and have to figure out how to stay sober in the real world.
2) The “maintenance phase” where you have already figured out how to get stable in sobriety post-treatment, and now you have to live the rest of your life without becoming complacent and relapsing.
Those are two separate phases. I believe that they require different strategies. I see many people in recovery who try to use just one strategy for the rest of their lives (which is to attend AA meetings every single day until they die). This usually has poor results.
So really there are three main phases:
1) Going to treatment. Detox. Rehab.
2) First year or so out of rehab. Support phase.
3) Maintenance phase. The rest of your entire life. Avoiding complacency.
The first phase is by far the easiest. Anyone can check into rehab and get a few weeks sober under their belt. This may take a lot of courage, but it is still the easy part.
When people talk about how you have to “follow through” after leaving treatment, they are usually talking about that first year of sobriety, which I think of as being the “support phase.”
Why call it that? Because that is when you need support!
How to follow through for successful recovery
When you leave treatment, they suggest that you do a number of things right away:
1) Go to an AA meeting the first day you get out of treatment.
2) Find yourself at least a temporary sponsor at that first AA meeting on the outside and connect with that person and start calling them every single day.
3) Get phone numbers from people at the first meeting and start calling them up every day.
4) Follow up on treatment. If they assign you to outpatient therapy, then go to those appointments without fail. If they assign you to individual counseling, then go to those sessions. Never skip any of this stuff.
All of these suggestions are about one thing:
You need support in order to remain sober after you leave treatment.
Leaving rehab for the first time is a bit like the mother bird pushing her baby out of the nest when they have never flown before. The bird is likely to just plummet to the ground unless they have some sort of help.
Believe me, the same is true of leaving rehab. If you just walk out of treatment and think that you have this thing licked, then you are in a for a world of hurt. If you think you have learned all that you need to know and that you can now do it all on your own, you are probably mistaken. You are like the baby bird being pushed out of the nest who has no idea how fast gravity is going to plummet them towards the ground. You need help.
I am not a big fan of support in long term recovery. But I am a big fan of support during that first year post-treatment. I think it is important that people who leave rehab get “plugged in” to this sort of support. If they don’t then they are headed for relapse.
So this is how you “follow through” when you leave treatment.
You take suggestions. You listen to what you are told to do. If they tell you to go to meetings, then go to meetings. If they tell you to go to outpatient therapy, then go to outpatient. Do what they tell you to do. Become like a robot who just takes orders, and push your own ego to the side for a while. See what happens. Watch what becomes of your life. You will probably be shocked to see that things start to get better and better. Simply by following orders from other people.
This is very counter-intuitive and most people will not do it until they are completely desperate. But if you listen to what other people tell you to do then your life will get better and better. It is so simple yet it can be so difficult to follow through on. We have this thing inside of us that makes us believe that only we can look out for ourselves, and that no one else could possibly know what is best for us. Yet when we listen to advice from other people and take their suggestions, our life gets better and better. This is how to “get out of your own way” in recovery.
Beating complacency in the long run through personal growth
The first phase of recovery was detox and rehab.
The second phase of recovery is the follow up to rehab: getting through that first year of sobriety. I call this the “support phase.”
The final phase of recovery lasts until you die. This is the “maintenance phase.” This is the part where you are living a relatively stable life in sobriety, and you no longer have to struggle every day in order to stay sober.
Many people do struggle from time to time during early sobriety in order to stay sober. But in this phase of long term sobriety that is mostly past. Now it is just a matter of avoiding complacency. You have already figured out how to live a sober life and be relatively happy. The key now is to make sure that you don’t slip up.
Many people have slipped up in long term sobriety. People relapse after years or even decades of sobriety. It does happen. And it can be particularly devastating when it does happen. Many people who relapse after long periods of sobriety really go off the deep end. Some of them die. So this is not something to take lightly.
Also, this phase makes up more than 90 percent of your recovery effort. If you stay sober until you die, then that first year of recovery was really just a tiny blip along the timeline of your journey. The vast majority of your sobriety will be spent in this “maintenance phase.”
So what is the key to long term sobriety?
The key is in actively fighting against complacency. This is the tendency to get lazy, to stop growing, and to eventually relapse because of it.
The problem is that you cannot react to complacency and defeat it. If you react to the problem of complacency then you will have already relapsed. No good.
Instead, you must be proactive. Complacency is a problem that creeps up on people in recovery. Complacency is the sort of problem that tells you that you do not have a problem.
So you must be proactive. You must realize that complacency is a real problem. You must realize that for 90 percent of your recovery, complacency is really your biggest problem.
Your disease and your addiction wants you to relapse. The only way that this can happen during 90 percent of your recovery is if you happen to get lazy and complacent.
Therefore, your number one job in recovery is to fight complacency.
But how can you do that?
And how can you be proactive about it?
The secret formula that leads to lasting sobriety
The key to fighting complacency is to embrace a delicate cycle of acceptance and growth in your life.
All the wisdom that you need lies in the Serenity prayer.
You need to focus on “changing the things you can.”
And you must never stop doing this.
If you think that you are done with recovery, or done learning, or done making changes, then you should just go get that first drink right now. You are toast. You will relapse if you stop growing and learning.
Therefore, you must always be striving to make positive changes in your life. Always.
One way to do this is through simple goal oriented living.
Set a positive goal for yourself. Work like crazy to reach it.
Once you reach your goal, practice some acceptance. Reflect on what you have done. Kick back for a brief moment and enjoy the success.
But then you must get back into gear. Re-examine your life. Always be examining your life and your life situation.
What is the next change that you need to make? What is the next goal that you should set for yourself?
You must never fall into the trap of “permanent acceptance.” You must always stay driven to improve your life, to make positive changes.
This is the most effective form of relapse prevention. It also may be the only kind that actually works.
If you want to remain clean and sober, then this is how you must approach life. As a series of positive changes that you make, right up until you die.