Stopping an alcohol addiction is a learning process. This should be obvious to anyone who has struggled in order to overcome their alcoholism. They are lacking some critical piece of information that would otherwise allow them to live a more “normal” life, but they cannot seem to find it on their own.
This is of course why it is so important to surrender and then ask for help. If you do not seek outside information in early recovery then you are depending entirely on your own wits to overcome the disease. If you can do so by yourself then you don’t really fit the textbook definition of an alcoholic. You see, an alcoholic is someone who cannot stop drinking under their own power. By definition, they need help in order to stop.
The fact that you are seeking outside help in order to stop drinking means that there is a learning process involved. You want to change your life and be happy, but you do not know how to go about achieving this. You thought at one time that you could find happiness in the bottle. This has proven to be a false path. After much struggle and turmoil the alcoholic will eventually realize that all they are getting out of drinking is more pain and misery. They will suddenly see it for the dead end road that it really is. This is known as “the turning point.” It is the moment when they are able to break through their denial and see that they will never find true happiness if they continue to self medicate.
If you want to overcome alcoholism or drug addiction then the first thing that you need to learn is how to surrender.
You must surrender to the disease. You must give up on fighting for control. Have you not proven to yourself that if you struggle to control your drinking or drug intake that you are destined to lose out in the end? The alcoholic is almost always suffering because they are either blasted drunk or they wish they were. They are never actually happy.
We are happiest when we are enjoying the present moment in all of its glory. We are happy when we can appreciate what it is right in front of us for what it actually is, without wishing it away or planning our future happiness. Most alcoholics are either living in the past with regret or they are living in the future and planning their next drunk. But they rob themselves of all happiness because they do not stay grounded in the present moment.
It is a very scary thing for the alcoholic to surrender because they are taking away their best friend and their crutch. At least when they drink they know what to expect. At least getting drunk every day is fairly predictable, right? When you disrupt this pattern of drinking every day then you are introducing a great deal of the unknown. Most alcoholics have too much pride to label this as “fear,” but this is what the real motivator is. They are afraid to face sobriety. They are afraid to face life without the comfort of their known routine. Fear is what keeps us trapped in addiction.
The question then becomes: “Can you really learn how to surrender?”
Most people believe that this has to be left to fate. That only after enough struggle and pain and misery will the alcoholic finally reach a point of surrender, through no choice of their own. I think this is slightly wrong. I think that the individual can choose to accelerate this process.
How can they do that?
By focusing on the misery and the chaos. By embracing the pain and the misery that comes with their addiction. By accepting it for what it is and realizing that the alcohol or the drugs is bringing the misery into your life.
Anyone can make this admission and realize the truth behind it. Anyone can start to pay attention to the misery or lack of happiness in their life, and start to place the blame for it.
This will move you slowly closer to a breakthrough of surrender. This will help you to eventually see through your denial. You have to realize that your addiction is blocking you from happiness. You have to realize that your addiction creates misery.
Most alcoholics stay in denial about this forever. They refuse to see the truth, that their life is run by their addiction and that they are blocking themselves from happiness.
This is a choice. You can choose what to focus on. You may think that it is counter-productive to focus on misery and fear, but that is what you need to realize if you are ever going to break through your denial.
So this is the first thing that you must learn in recovery. That you are miserable in your addiction and that it will never get any better if you continue to self medicate. That you must learn to focus on the fear and the chaos and the misery while you are stuck in addiction, until your brain figures out how to break free from denial. If you continue to acknowledge the fear and the misery then eventually your brain will do the rest of the work for you, and realize that you need to seek help.
This will start your journey in recovery to a new life.
Breaking down the process of going from a struggling alcoholic to someone living an awesome life in recovery
After you surrender and break through your denial there is much work to be done. This process should not intimidate you though because after you surrender your willingness should carry you through all of it without too much trouble.
The basic process could be outlined like this:
2) Asking for help.
3) Going to detox and disrupting your pattern.
4) Being in treatment and finding support.
5) Being on your own and living in recovery and learning to grow.
6) The rest of your life, sober. Long term recovery.
Now if you look at that process carefully, you will realize that a lot of those steps can be automated to a degree. When I say “automated” what I mean is that there are very good solutions out there to help people with them. The main stumbling block is surrender (getting started in recovery by getting past denial), but then also the process that you must go through after leaving rehab.
If you look at how most people go through rehab you can find the major stumbling block. These people have reached a point of surrender because they agree to come into rehab and get help. Then eventually they leave treatment and they go back into the real world and most of them relapse. So that is the major stumbling block right there–after you leave treatment.
The other major sticking point is the fact that something like 8 out of 10 people who need treatment do not ever seek it out to begin with. So they fail to surrender entirely.
The rest of the recovery process (other than these two major points of failure) is fairly easy to learn and to automate. Just check into rehab and go with the flow. Ask for help and then do what you are told. It is really not so difficult or complicated once you have already passed those two major sticking points.
Now the first sticking point of getting people to surrender has already been discussed. The person must acknowledge their misery and then break through denial. This is how to “learn” surrender.
But what about the other major point of failure, when people leave rehab and have to learn how to really implement recovery into their daily lives? What is the answer for that particular problem?
In other words, why do so many people relapse (even after seeking help and going through treatment)?
What is the answer? How can these people prevent relapse?
There is no real mystery to this. The key actually flows out of surrender, and that key is willingness.
Willingness to learn and willingness to follow through. To take massive action.
Becoming willing to learn and to change is the cornerstone of surrender
Anyone who is closed off from learning new thing does not have much of a chance in early recovery.
I have watched this happen on an individual level when I worked in a treatment center for 5 years+.
The people who were eager to learn at least had a chance at recovery. But the people who were closed to the idea of learning new things did not have a prayer. I already knew that they were headed for certain relapse because they refused to learn anything new or adopt new ideas.
This is really the core of recovery. You are here to change your life. The entire point of going to treatment is to learn how to change. You have to do something different in your life if you want to experience new results.
You already know what the old results are. You drink and then you are miserable. If you want different results (like avoiding misery) then you have to try something new.
In order to try something new you are going to have to learn something. You can’t try new things without learning. They are pretty much synonymous. Learning experiences are new experiences.
I watched a great many people who came into treatment who had supposedly surrendered to their disease. They admitted that they had a problem. OK, this is a good start. At least they admit that they have a serious problem with alcohol or drugs.
But then, where does their willingness extend too? Could it be that they still have some amount of denial in them? I learned that they could in fact have a deeper level of denial.
Some of these people would be willing to come into treatment, but they had reservations regarding the work in recovery. For example, maybe they were not willing to go to meetings every day. Maybe they were not willing to listen in the groups and to participate. Or maybe they were not willing to take action after leaving treatment and follow through.
I found this to be very, very common. And this happened in my own experience as well. Twice I was willing to go to rehab and “surrender” but deep down I had not truly surrendered to my disease. I was not yet ready to change my life. I was not yet willing to listen and take orders from other people. It was false surrender. Or if you like, it was partial surrender. I had not reached a point of “total and complete surrender,” which is necessary in order to follow through and recover.
Are you willing to learn, to change, and to take direction from other people? Are you willing to listen and to do what you are told to do? These are the only sort of questions that can really predict your true level of willingness.
Because many people think that they are ready for recovery and that they are ready for change, but they end up falling short of the mark because they have not really surrendered and developed this full level of willingness.
Asking for help is your most important step in early recovery
If you have reached the point of total surrender then your most important next step is to ask for help.
Just because an alcoholic is earnestly asking for help does not mean that they will stay sober forever. It does not necessarily mean that they are at a point of total surrender and complete willingness.
On the other hand, if the alcoholic is not willing to ask for help then you can be sure that they are not in a position to recover at this time. They need to experience more pain and chaos and misery first before they can reach the point of willingness.
Asking for help is critical to the learning process. If you are not willing to ask for help then it proves that you are not yet willing to learn a new way of life.
Learning how to follow through on advice that you are given
Just asking for help is not enough. Many, many alcoholics who ask for help later end up relapsing anyway.
The next key in the process is follow through. You have to actually apply the advice that you are given.
In other words, the sort of learning that we are doing in recovery is what you might call “applied learning.”
When I first tried to get clean and sober I went to a rehab and was taught about the 12 steps. I was given a big book. And I thought to myself: “OK, if I am going to stop drinking then I had better memorize these steps and start reading this book.” At the time I was nowhere near “true surrender” and I was planning on, at the very least, continuing to abuse drugs while I also tried to avoid alcohol. What a plan! You can imagine how well that turned out in the end. But in the meantime I actually worked on memorizing the steps and knowing what each one said and what they basically meant. And I was reading through the big book of AA, thinking that the reading itself would help me to avoid alcohol somehow.
This is insane. It is like having a third grader read through a book of advanced trigonometry and expecting them to be able to solve complex equations after they skim the text.
Of course actually knowing the steps or reading through recovery literature is not going to do any good by itself. It is only the application of that knowledge that has any value. Just taking in the information is useless unless you can apply those lessons to your daily life.
This is a large part of why AA meetings exist. Because people need to hear how the recovery process can actually work on a day to day basis.
This is also why sponsorship exists. If you could just read the book and it would solve all of your problems, then meetings and sponsors would not be necessary at all. But obviously this learning process is more complicated then just skimming a textbook. Learning how to stay sober in the real world takes a lot of focused effort.
The most important part of this process is in squashing your ego temporarily. Get out of your own way and become willing to take advice from other people. That way you can start to learn a new way of life without falling into all sorts of traps. The traps that tend to snag us are the ones that we set for ourselves. This is why you must look outside of yourself in order to get new direction for your life in recovery.
What you need to do in order to reach ten years sober
Out of all of the alcoholics who decide to try to change their life for the better, how many of them will actually reach ten years of continuous sobriety? Probably a very slim percentage.
To increase your odds of reaching such long term sobriety, here are some suggestions that you might consider:
1) Surrender totally and completely. Really see the path of misery and chaos that waits for you if you continue to drink. Shut the door on the old life forever. Give yourself over to a new life completely.
2) Ask for help. Get your ego out of the way and really try to learn from other people. What you have tried in the past did not work. Time for something new. Accept advice freely, without reservation.
3) Follow through. Actually take action and try new things. Don’t hold anything back in this new life. Really live the changes. Take massive action.
4) Find support systems that work for you. AA meetings and sponsorship might be the ticket. Then again, maybe not. It is your responsibility to find a support system that works for you. Don’t blame AA if you find it doesn’t help you. Instead, realize that it is your job to find a way to stay sober.
5) Find the balance between acceptance and personal growth. Most people error on the side of “acceptance.” In other words, they get lazy and decide that they can just accept whatever limitations they may have in their life. Don’t do this. Instead, find the “courage to change the things you can” and get busy creating a better life for yourself. There are two things that you need to change: Your life, and your life situation. Both are important. Both are critical to your future sobriety. If you change one and neglect the other you will relapse. You must change both things. Changing your life is what AA can help you with. But it is up to YOU to change your “life situation.” That is why they say in AA that you have to “change people, places, and things.” If you do not follow through on that then eventually you will relapse. You must change both your life and your situation in order to recover in the long run.
Once you reach a certain point in recovery, say about 1 to 3 years sober, you are no longer struggling on a daily basis to remain sober. It has become automatic. And that can become dangerous if you do not stay vigilant. The way to remain vigilant is to keep pushing yourself to grow and to learn and to make positive changes.
People who stop learning and stop taking action are vulnerable to relapse. People who are pushing themselves to do positive things remain sober. Decide which path you want in life and then attack it with enthusiasm. Recovery is fun and exciting because it is a learning process.