How can we live our best life without drugs or alcohol in addiction recovery? What are the steps that we need to take in order to achieve our best live?
Does it just come to use automatically as a function of not abusing drugs and alcohol any more?
Let’s take a closer look at these ideas and see if we can discover what the best path through recovery is.
Giving yourself a chance in recovery
There are really two parts to this whole addiction recovery thing. The first part is that you have to embrace abstinence, you have to give yourself a chance by simply sticking it out for a while and being clean and sober.
Then the second part is that you have to do something, you have to take some action, you have to put in some effort in order to build a new life.
But you have to have both parts. You cannot just skip to the second part because it sounds fun to rebuild your life–unless you have already laid the foundation of sobriety by giving abstinence a chance to work in your life.
I would call this “giving yourself a chance.” What does it mean to actually “give yourself a chance” in recovery? It means that you need to surrender, to stop using drugs and alcohol and stick with sobriety for long enough so that the positive changes can start to happen. You may have heard someone in recovery say “give yourself a break” and you may have thought to yourself “what does that even mean?” It means that you need to be good to yourself for a while, to not put any addictive drugs or alcohol into your system so that you can give yourself a chance to start healing. That is what it means. You need to be good to yourself, and that means total abstinence.
Living your best life in sobriety is at least a two part process. The first part is giving yourself a chance in recovery, it is the initial break-in period where you have to make a commitment to stay clean and sober and then start sticking it out. You may have to go to rehab in order to pull this off; I know that I did. Otherwise I did not have the willpower or the resources to maintain sobriety in my own, as there were just too many temptations for me. I needed the controlled environment that rehab provided and so I could not make any real progress until I checked myself into rehab (willingly). That was when my life started to turn around because that was when I was truly giving myself a chance to actually recover.
Now if you give yourself this chance then what you are doing is creating a foundation for future growth in recovery. You have to have this foundation or you will just end up relapsing later on when the going gets tough. And the problem with life in recovery is that eventually (given enough time) the going will inevitably get tough. There will be ups and downs in your life, it is not a matter of “if,” it is a matter of “when.” Therefore you need a strong foundation in early recovery so that you know how to avoid using your drug of choice, and so that you have solutions in place that you can use when you feel tempted.
What you do not want to do is to skip this phase and just go right into the next one (which is essentially “personal growth”). If you do that then what will happen is that you will find yourself on the “pink cloud” in early recovery and things will seem to be going very good for you. But like I said already, at some point the inevitable will happen, and things will take a turn for the worse, and you will be in a world of hurt. If you started your recovery by asking for help and taking direction from others, then you will likely know how to deal with this challenge. You will have resources, you will have peers you can go to, you may have a sponsor you can talk with, you may know of meetings you can go attend, whatever. You will have a foundation with which you can rely on to get you through the tough times.
If, on the other hand, you start your recovery right at stage two (personal growth) and skip this foundation building stuff where you go to rehab, go to meetings, ask for help, talk with a sponsor, and so on–then you have no defense against the inevitable threat of relapse.
At different times during your recovery journey your sobriety will be threatened for different reasons, at various times. In some of these instances you will need a certain approach in order to get past the threat without falling victim to relapse. And in order to do that you want to have as many resources available to you as possible. There is value, therefore, in going through the basic process of detox, treatment, exposure to traditional recovery circles, and so on. Even if you do not find your ultimate solution and path in traditional recovery programs, you can still benefit from having been exposed to them.
Living your best life in recovery demands a two part process. The first part is arresting the disease and getting immediate help. I recommend that people do this in a controlled environment, like a rehab center.
But the second part is really what this website is all about, and that is the personal growth aspect of recovery.
You may wonder what personal growth has to do with recovery from addiction, and why it might be necessary to engage in personal growth in order to avoid taking drugs or drinking alcohol. But I have found that when you look at all of the potential solutions for recovery, they always boil down to the same principles, ideas, and concepts. And it all points to personal growth. You are either taking positive action, or you are not. And if you’re not, you will have a tendency to relapse.
Challenging yourself to engage in personal growth
I have watched many people in addiction recovery who refuse to engage in personal growth. One of two things will happen to them over time in recovery:
1) They relapse.
2) They don’t relapse, but they don’t become happy in sobriety either. They just exist, and are pretty darn grumpy.
I suspect that these people are somewhat lazy. I hate to use the term lazy though because it has a lot of baggage attached to the term. Really what is going on is that such people have not given the path of personal growth a fair chance to work in their life.
What happened is that they used the 2 part process of recovery, and they mastered the first part in which you build a foundation for recovery and arrest the disease. But then when it came time to embrace the second part and transition to long term sobriety, they failed to innovate and pick up the ball. Instead they got “lazy” and are not motivated enough to engage in personal growth.
I am not sure what the answer is in such cases. I am not sure how to get such people excited about life and growth in recovery. If I could show them the benefits that I have received in my own life I believe that would help. So I tend to talk about the blessings that I have received in my own journey, such as health, good fortune, good relationships, and so on. At 12 years sober and counting my life has become one big series of blessings. Things just keep getting better and better for me and there seems to be no end in sight. I want the same for other people because it seems to me like it is so easy when you are living in recovery.
I mean, the challenge of living life with an addiction is now gone. Now the chains are off. Now you can attack your life and your goals without addiction getting in the way. You have time. You have energy. You have a clear mind. And you have people in your life who support you and want to help you. If you don’t have these people, then get yourself to a few AA meetings and try to be helpful to others–you will suddenly have an instant support group who will stand behind you and encourage you. Recovery seems to make it so easy to start striving for goals and then reaching them. If you want to transform your life and achieve something specific, recovery is the perfect vehicle in which to pursue those dreams.
So to some extent I believe that people only need challenge themselves. This is the missing piece for many people in recovery. They may have established a foundation of recovery but they are stagnate all of a sudden and they are not growing. Why not? They need to take a step back and consider their lives. Look at the good and the bad. Look at where they still need some work, at what might be improved. Look at how they might make a positive change in their life and make some growth. Evaluate, then execute. I don’t know if such people are failing to evaluate (and closely examine their lives) or if they are doing so but failing to execute (and thus taking positive action). If you find it difficult to do either then perhaps you should go find a sponsor in recovery who will help you to do both. Number one a sponsor can help you to analyze and evaluate your life, but then they can also help to hold you accountable and help motivate you to take action.
But in order to benefit from this you still have to make a decision. You still have to fight through that “laziness” (which is not really laziness, it is something else, but I can’t figure out the perfect word for it yet). You have to decide to take action and then do it. Seek out that sponsor, tell them that you want to get into action and start making changes and improve your life. Or perhaps you don’t need a sponsor at all, and you just want to start making positive changes on your own. Not everyone needs the “second pair of eyes” on their life and the accountability that comes along with it. And it may also depend at what point you are at in your journey.
But the key is that you find some way to challenge yourself to engage in personal growth. Without this critical element, I believe that you run the risk of relapse. Think about it: what is your recovery if not positive changes? What is your recovery if you are not moving forward and trying to improve your life? If you are not doing those things then you are automatically, by default, getting closer and closer to your old ways, to relapse. You cannot sit still in recovery. You cannot just sober up and then sit at one point of safety without moving. This is impossible. They talk about this all of the time in AA and there are dozens of cliches about it so you know there is truth to it. You cannot just sit stagnate in recovery and expect to do well.
No, success in recovery is always going to be a moving target. And you achieve that success by moving along with it, by taking positive action and by pushing yourself to make changes. You cannot achieve success in recovery while you are sitting still, doing nothing. You must get into action, start learning and start growing.
Accumulating positive changes and building momentum
What we have described so far is the path to living a good life in recovery, and stable life without relapse, but is it really “our best life?” Perhaps not yet.
In order to live our best life it requires a bit more. In order to truly live your best life you must marry yourself to the process of iterative changes and positive growth. Because in the long run this will transform your life in unexpected ways that no one could possibly predict.
What happens is that you start to make positive changes in your life as you set out on this journey of personal growth. Perhaps you quit smoking cigarettes. Maybe you start eating healthier. You start exercising. You start working with people in recovery or helping others in your life based on your talents. Maybe you get into meditation rather than fitness. Or perhaps you find your calling in a religious organization and you reach out and help hundreds of people through that avenue. And so on.
All of these different potential growth opportunities. All of these different areas of growth. Some are physical. Some are based on relationships with others. Some are about learning and challenging yourself to do something new and exciting. And so you keep doing these sorts of things, and pushing yourself to learn more over the years.
Maybe you have a sponsor or a guide and they encourage you to look at certain paths. Maybe they help you to evaluate where your next move should be. Maybe they help keep you accountable so that you can make some really tough changes in your life.
If you keep doing this stuff for years on end, and if you push yourself to keep digging deeper to find more and more layers of learning and growth, eventually some of these changes are going to start converging. Synergy will occur and your life will kick into overdrive. What is synergy? It means that many of your goals that you are striving for will be complimentary. So achieving one of them will help you to achieve the other as well. They will work together. We call this concept “alignment.” When your goals are in alignment with each other then it increases your overall effectiveness in life.
My belief is that you are really living your best life when you start to notice that this alignment is happening more and more frequently. When you start to notice the synergy. It sounds a little hokey but it is very exciting when you can notice things coming together so nicely.
Just think about your first week in recovery and how little synergy you had happening then. Nothing was working together and everything was a struggle. It was painful just to make it through each day and nothing was really working together in your life. You were forcing yourself to get help and to take a look at new way of life. It was all pain and misery and chaos, with perhaps just a sliver of hope.
Fast forward five or ten years and consider your life if you are on this path of personal growth. Now hope is abundant in your life and there is very little chaos and misery. You have reversed course fully and now things are mostly coming up good for you. The negative things in your life are now growth opportunities that you are excited to tackle. This is how to live your best life in recovery from addiction. It is not the absence of negativity, but it is the fact that you thrive on embracing the challenges and are eager to grow through them.
The five year challenge
You might ask yourself: “What could I accomplish in five years?”
You might also ask yourself what you really want to achieve in your life of recovery.
At one point I noticed that one year goals had some problems. The timing was not good. A year is not long enough to really accomplish something amazing.
So I stretched out the goal to five years. You can accomplish a LOT more in five years than you can in one year. It is like a full order of magnitude difference.
For example, I wanted to start a business so that I could free up my time in life. This worked well as a five year goal, and I accomplished it when I took a longer term approach. When I had it as a one year goal I was continuously frustrated, and was thus holding myself back from success. I had to stretch out the timeline in order to become successful at it.
The same was true with fitness. I finally ran a marathon (three of them, actually), but again–this worked better as a long term goal. Sure, you can train for one in less than a year. But if you are coming from a place of zero fitness (like I was thanks to my addiction) then you need to take a longer term approach to a goal like this. So after several years I finally ran my marathon.
Now I have another goal in my life that is based on a five year timeline. I want to reach out and help a lot of people and I am prepared to invest five years into building a new vehicle for that. If you want to create something amazing then you have to be willing to commit for more than a single year. You may have to look carefully at your goals in life and try to decide what you would actually want to commit to for a full five years.
Living your best life is best done as a series of challenges. Without the challenges, you are not going to be engaged in learning and engaged in personal growth.
How can you challenge yourself today?