How can we kill the beast that is alcoholism or drug addiction? How can we conquer this thing that has taken over our lives and threatens to ruin us completely?
How can we escape the trap of denial that has taken us over, even without our giving permission?
In my opinion (and experience) this beast is actually a holistic disease. Therefore it requires a a holistic approach, starting from the inside out.
Killing the beast from the inside out
In order to get started in recovery you have to first make a decision to do so. No one can overcome alcoholism against their own will. No one is going to recover unless they really want it to happen.
There are several different levels of recovery that you have to address. This is because our addiction infiltrated our lives so deeply and affected us in so many different ways.
For example, we all know that alcoholism is a physical addiction. Our body becomes addicted to the drug called alcohol. And of course there are other physical consequences as well. Our health starts to deteriorate the longer we have been drinking. Our sleep suffers. Our nutrition and diet is generally poor. So we have all sorts of problems when it comes to our physical condition if we are stuck in alcoholism.
But the same thing is true of the other areas of our life. This would include things like our mental, social, spiritual, and emotional health as well. All of those areas are seriously compromised due to our addiction. They are all in steady decline if we continue to drink and self medicate.
Therefore when we decide that we are going to get sober and defeat alcoholism we are not just making a decision to put down the bottle. What we are actually trying to do is to restore our health in all of those particular areas. If we fail to address those key areas then that failure can lead us back to relapse. Our health must improve in recovery in order to rise above the threat of relapse. If we fail to improve our health overall then whatever issue we are lagging on can become a serious threat to our sobriety. This is why the holistic approach to recovery is so important.
Now before you can make this massive effort to improve your health in all of these ways you have to make the decision to do so. This is a problem because most alcoholics are stuck deeply in denial and they do not want to:
1) Admit that they have a problem. Think of this as the first level of denial.
2) Admit that they need serious help in order to stop drinking. Think of this as the second level of denial.
3) Embrace a solution for recovery. Listen to other people tell them how to live their life. This is a third level of denial.
Most of us, when we think of denial, just think of the first and most obvious level. That is the level where the alcoholic will not even admit that they have a problem. But even after making this admission there are at least two more levels of denial that the alcoholic must work through. This is why I say that you have to kill the beast from the inside out. Before you can even get started in recovery you have to work through this inner conflict and come to terms with at least three levels of denial. It is not enough to just admit to your problem, but you must also embrace a new way of life.
Of course there is more than one recovery program out there, and in the end it doesn’t really make much difference in terms of your long term sobriety. Most people cannot wrap their heads around this concept. They believe that there must be one perfect solution for their problem and it is up to them to find the one “correct” program. This is a little bit like believing there is only one true religion that can help you to achieve peace in life. The actual recovery program that you choose to pursue matters very little–what matters is how thoroughly you dedicate yourself to it and follow through with massive action. It is the process and the action that gets the results in recovery.
In order to kill the beast you must ask for help from other people and follow directions. There is not much to it really. They may introduce you to a certain recovery program and whatever program that is will be incidental. If you embrace it and follow it to the best of your ability then you will get good results in sobriety. On the other hand if you slack off in your efforts or do not take massive action then you will probably relapse at some point. It is all about your level of willingness. Recovery is a process. It is not really a magic formula. The magic secret is to not drink and to start taking positive action every day. Keep doing that consistently and after a long time you will have rebuilt a brand new life in recovery for yourself. This is how you slay the beast–by taking direction from others and putting their advice into action. Recovery is a process. You win when you embrace that process and create a new life for yourself through taking action.
Taming the beast through detox and inpatient rehab
In early recovery from addiction your best bet is to go get professional help. As I said before, the exact place you go to get help is not actually all that crucial. What is more important is that you have worked through your denial first and surrendered fully to your disease. What matters most is that you are ready to embrace a new solution in your life. You are ready to take action.
There are a number of different paths that someone might take in trying to get sober. For example, you might find a friend who introduces you to AA meetings and you simply start tagging along for those. This may be helpful to some but I want to suggest a more thorough approach: Go to inpatient rehab.
Now there are some cons to inpatient rehab, but in my opinion they are all worth dealing with for the benefit that you get. For example, you have to go check in to treatment and generally will stay up to 28 days or so. This can be a big commitment for some people and they may have other obligations. Second of all, inpatient treatment is not free. That said, the rewards (not to mention the cost savings) of a lifetime of sobriety will far outweigh the initial cost of treatment. Of course that is true if you do not relapse. If you do relapse then you might think of such costs as being “wasted” when in fact they are really not.
How is it not wasted? I had to do what I had to do in order to get sober. For me this meant that I went to rehab three times before I finally “got it.” After working in a treatment center full time for over five years, I came to realize that this is a fairly common pattern. Not everyone gets it on the first try, and I would suggest that most people do not. That said, if it takes two or three tries to go to rehab in order to achieve a lifetime of sobriety, so be it. I would have gladly gone back double that amount if I knew what the rewards were like (which of course I do now).
So there is every reason for the struggling alcoholic to seek out professional treatment. It is the best way to get started in recovery if you are unsure of how to proceed. Even if you think you know what you need to do (such as by attending AA meetings for example) you still get a ton of benefit from attending rehab anyway. The safety of a medical detox is just one example. But there is also the support, the counselors and therapists, the group interaction, the peer support, the aftercare recommendations, and so on. It is a total package and therefore it is much more comprehensive than other forms of treatment.
In other words, you could seek out a different solution for early recovery and other forms of treatment. But none of them are going to be as thorough and as comprehensive as inpatient rehab.
Why you need to do more than just go to meetings every day
One of the things that you will learn in rehab (if you choose to go) is that they generally recommend that you attend AA meetings. How often? They usually recommend that you go to one every day for the first 90 days of your recovery.
This can be a helpful suggestion and it is a good way to get people to take massive action. It also helps people to get into a new routine and to find support in their daily lives. You could do much worse than to attend meetings every day.
That said, you definitely need to do more than this. I learned that during my first year of recovery when I noticed that lots of people who were attending meetings every day also relapsed. These were people who were just trying to get clean and sober like myself.
At the time I was pushing myself to try to figure out sobriety. I wanted to know exactly what worked and what did not. There were too many suggestions in early recovery and some of them even seemed to be conflicting in some cases. So I wanted to get down to the truth. I wanted to discover what was really important when it came to staying sober. So I was watching the people who relapsed very carefully, and I was also watching the people who remained sober.
And in doing this I learned that it had nothing to do with “talking a bunch of good stuff at AA meetings.” Many people who said really inspiring things at the meetings ended up relapsing. So I quickly realized that just going to AA meetings and making a nice speech was not the thing that kept people sober.
I am glad that I figured that out because my first impression of AA was that this was really important. Furthermore, people told me that “sharing” at AA meetings was really important for sobriety as well. I found that to be false for myself, though it certainly might be true for others. I wouldn’t necessarily know.
I found that was important for me in my own sobriety was personal growth. This is what most people refer to as having a spiritual experience, by my definition of this was much more broadly interpreted.
In other words, I found spirituality to be important in my early recovery, but it was not the only thing that mattered. Instead, I found other forms of personal growth to be just as important, including physical health, exercise, nutrition, quitting smoking, sleep patterns, healthy relationships, and so on.
This is when I discovered that the solution is holistic, not spiritual. Everyone was telling me that spirituality was the solution and that it was the only thing that mattered. I found that to be completely false. Spirituality was but one piece of the overall solution. Physical health as extremely important as well. As was emotional, social, and mental health. But no one was talking about all of these things, nor did they mention this holistic approach to me when I was in early recovery. They told me to focus on having a spiritual experience. They told me to focus on spiritual growth and finding a higher power. This was helpful but it was also a bit misguided. The overall solution in recovery is much bigger than that.
Seeing the solution as being only spiritual is too narrow a view. It is too limiting. If you focus only on spirituality then you can miss out on all sorts of other important forms of growth.
Personal growth in long term sobriety
In long term sobriety the solution is personal growth.
If you stop growing in recovery then it means that you have stopped learning. And if you have stopped learning then it means that you are now complacent. And if you are complacent then this might lead to relapse.
Therefore you should embrace a long term strategy of personal growth.
Some people get lazy and they use the shield of self acceptance in order to justify not taking any action. This is complacency. The key is to make a decision that you are going to keep pushing yourself to make positive changes in your life.
“The only constant is change.” If you are not careful in recovery then you will slowly change back into your old self. The one who drinks or uses drugs. So the only solution is to take control of this change that is going to happen anyway.
We know you are going to change. Everyone changes as we move forward. The only question is, are those going to be positive changes, or negative changes?
If you do not deliberately push to create positive change in your life then by default the changes will be negative.
Because positive change is hard work. So if you are just being lazy and not putting in the hard work then the changes that occur in your life will tend to be negative. It is as simple as that.
Change is coming. You can affect that change and put a positive spin on it if you want, but that requires effort. Therefore you need to make a decision that you are going to put forth a serious effort at doing this.
In order to kill the alcoholic beast you must make this into a life strategy. You must always be pursuing personal growth. You must always be looking for ways to improve yourself and your experience.
There are two sides to this coin. One side is the internal side. The things that go in inside of your head. This would include eliminating negative things such as shame, guilt, self pity, fear, anger, resentment, and so on. You need to take an active role in identifying and eliminating these things in your life.
If you fail to address these internal issues then they will pop up over and over again in the future and make you miserable. In order to achieve real freedom you must overcome these internal demons.
Most people who self medicate are doing so for a reason. They may start self medicating for any reason, but in the end they have some internal stuff that they are covering up with the drugs or the booze. Therefore you have to go within and deal with this garbage in your recovery. You can’t just leave it there or you will always have an excuse to relapse.
Second of all, there are things in your external world, in your day to day life, that you can also work on improving. These are things in the real world like your job, your relationships, your roommates, and so on. If these things are negative or causing you great stress then you might have to consider changing them as well.
These are different changes than the internal stuff. This is about changing “people, places, and things.” But it can still be just as important as the internal changes that you are making in recovery.
Because what can happen is that your external world can start to reflect on your internal world. If you have a toxic relationship in your life, for example, then it can start to cause internal turmoil. It is the internal stuff that will eventually drive you to relapse, but sometimes it is the external stuff that pushes you to reach a breaking point.
In other words, there are two things we are dealing with: Internal stress, and stuff in the real world that is causing that stress.
We can take two approaches: One, we can work on learning how to deal with our stress. Or two, we can work on reducing the source of that stress to begin with.
In the ideal approach to our recovery, we should do both. We should work hard to be better able to handle stress, but we should also work to reduce it at the source. Combining the two approaches makes the most sense.
If you go to treatment and get clean and sober then you only have one job in the future: To remain clean and sober.
Doing this means that you must prevent relapse.
Preventing relapse is based on personal growth. If you are not moving forward then you are sliding backwards. There is no in between.
Taking positive action every day is the key to personal growth. Consistency is important because we also build up momentum in terms of personal growth. If you are not creating any momentum then it is not likely that you will be excited about the positive changes that are occurring.
Personal growth is the strategy for recovery and holistic health is the direction of that growth. You can seek to improve your health in many different ways, not just physically or spiritually. Once you take this holistic approach there are many new avenues of personal growth that will open up to you.
What about you, have you managed to kill the beast in your own life? How did you accomplish that? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!