Overcoming any addiction requires change.
Without change there can be no recovery. As they say, “if nothing changes, nothing changes.”
And when you are facing the prospect of recovery you don’t really know what is going to happen. This is why sobriety can be so scary. You have a vague idea that if you stop drinking then your emotions and reality will come crashing down around you, but you are not really sure exactly what it is going to be like.
Maybe you hear some suggestions: “Go to rehab, go to AA, get a sponsor, work the steps,” and so on. But you don’t really have any idea if any of those things will help you or not. Maybe you have tried some of it before and it did not really work out so well.
There are different ways to take massive action in recovery. In order to change a life that is ravaged by addiction you are going to have to take massive action. Minor changes won’t help. They will not create enough momentum to really affect your cycle of addiction that you are stuck inside of. It takes big changes in order to escape from a pattern of addiction.
If you ask a dozen different people around the world how to overcome alcoholism, you will probably get a dozen different answers. However, there is some good news, and that is:
1) Those dozen different answers for how to get sober will all contain some similarities. These similarities are key. We call those “fundamental principles.” So you may notice, for example, that everyone who tells you how to get sober may mention the concept of surrender. This is because surrender is fundamental to sobriety. You can’t get sober without surrendering to your disease first. So even though there may be differences, you can still find the common ground among the suggestions, and this common ground points to the fundamental truths. Don’t ignore the fundamentals!
2) The different suggestions that you would get from a dozen different people are actually a gift. It is nice to have choices. For example, not everyone will excel at AA or NA meetings as the foundation for their recovery. Some people do will with counseling or therapy. Some people like group support. Some people do well with a self motivated exercise based program of recovery (who knew?). And so even though there may be fundamental concepts of recovery (like surrender or gratitude) there are also different ways that you can find the path. So this gives you choices. And it also brings up the idea of experimentation and being open minded.
When you go to AA they tell you to be open minded. This should also apply to the idea of using AA as your recovery foundation, but also it should apply to the idea of NOT using AA as well. Not that I am completely against AA or anything, because I am not. But I am rather in favor of experimenting and finding the best path for you in recovery. That is not always going to be traditional AA or daily meetings.
One million ways to recover from alcoholism – how will you find yours?
How will you find your path in recovery?
This will be a very unique journey for every individual.
The way that I found my own path was this:
I first surrendered to my disease and I asked for help.
When I did this, people told me to go to rehab. I checked into detox and then I went into a residential treatment facility for a few weeks. Their recovery program was based on the 12 steps and they had AA meetings there each night.
At that time I was not “choosing” my path in recovery. I couldn’t. I was at the point of surrender. I asked for help and then I simply did what I was told to do. And this is how early recovery is probably going to work for pretty much everyone. You ask for help and you follow directions.
If you are trying to make decisions at this point about what program you follow then in my opinion you are probably not ready for sobriety yet. That might sound like a contradiction but keep in mind the concept of surrender. You cannot be in a state of total surrender while also trying to manipulate the situation.
So if someone shows up to the rehab center I used to work at and they are complaining about the 12 step program and how they hate AA and how “AA is not right for them,” I would honestly believe that such a person is destined to relapse. They are not ready for sobriety. And this has nothing to do with AA really. I am not for or against the AA program. I tried it for a while and then I moved on. It helped me in early recovery and was helping me much less as I progressed in my recovery. It was not a great fit for my personality, but it did help me in very early recovery.
My point is not about AA. I don’t care if the program helps you or works for you or whatever. The effectiveness of AA is not the issue. The issue is, the person who is kicking and screaming about how AA is all wrong for them is not in a state of surrender. You cannot come to treatment and start complaining about how everything is all wrong and expect to stay sober. It will never work. I can assure you of this.
I know this because I worked in a treatment center full time for 5 years. I also lived there for almost 2 full years. So I watched this scenario play out over and over again. Someone comes into treatment and they have strong opinions. They don’t like AA. They don’t believe in the 12 steps. They are against this or that. They are trying to manipulate the situation. They want to go to this different rehab. And on and on. If you have that kind of resistance in early recovery, you are going to relapse. You are not in a place of surrender where you are ready to receive the message. You are not in a state of mind where you can build a foundation of recovery.
And why is this? What is it about this attitude that prevents people from being successful in sobriety?
If you not open minded then you cannot learn new things. If you are not open to new ideas in your life then you cannot experiment and find what works for you.
Go back to the idea that I mentioned earlier: There are a few fundamental concepts that everyone shares in successful sobriety, but there are also variations in the path that can help different people.
Your job in early recovery is two fold:
1) Embrace the fundamental concepts (surrender, gratitude, fellowship, etc.)
2) Explore the recovery tactics to find what works best for you.
You cannot do these two things if you are not open minded. You cannot do these two things if you are driven by ego and trying to control your life. You have to let go. In fact, you have to let go of everything.
When you can be truly open minded then it means that you are willing to experiment in your life.
In other words, you are willing to try new things. Things that you normally might not try. But because you are attempting to get sober and you are serious about it, you become willing to listen to new suggestions and try out new ideas.
This is the only attitude that will produce real recovery.
Any other attitude is being too close minded and will result in eventual relapse.
I lived in rehab for 20 months, then I worked in rehab for 5 years plus in order to learn this. Of course I also experienced it first hand when I tried to get sober 3 times by going to rehab, but only truly surrendering on the third try. Of course I have been sober ever since then I can clearly see what the whole key to that success was. And I see the key in others as well. It is being open minded and being willing to experiment in early recovery, to take suggestions from those who would try to help you.
How to get started in early recovery from alcoholism
I have been paying close attention for over a decade to how alcoholics actually recover as a process. One of the hardest parts of this process is actually getting started.
How do you take a struggling alcoholic and get them started on the path to sobriety?
Well first of all, you can’t just “take an alcoholic and stick them into a path of recovery.” They have to do that for themselves. No one can force them into it. This is both good and bad. It is good because it proves that we have free will and we are not slaves! But it is bad because it is very difficult to help someone who is slowly self destructing.
The hope is that the alcoholic who is self destructing will realize that things are never going to get any better if they continue to drink, and they will make a decision to do something about it. This is the point at which they break through their denial. There is no magic formula for achieving this realization, but I can give you a suggestion.
If you are a struggling alcoholic then I suggest that you start keeping a written journal. Every day, write down how happy you are with your life. This will be painful and difficult. But if you do it then it will force you to realize the truth: That alcoholism is not making you happy. Eventually this will force your brain to realize that you are miserable all the time, pretty much every day. You can only break through your denial if you get honest with yourself. Writing down your feelings every day forces you to get honest with yourself. But most alcoholics will never do this because it is too difficult. It takes too much courage to face what we have really become.
After you do this exercise mentioned above and finally break through your denial, you are ready to take action.
What action is that?
Simply ask for help from people you trust. If you don’t have anyone in your life that you trust or look up to, then simply call up a local rehab center and ask them for help. Tell them you are desperate to get sober and that you need detox and treatment. Ask them what you have to do in order to get the help that you need.
Then, keep doing this. You may get the run-around. You may have to call several treatment centers. You may have to call back during normal business hours. You may have to call several phone numbers. You may have to call a funding agency to get help to go to rehab. You may have to jump through some hoops.
Persist. Jump through the hoops. Make the calls. Do whatever it takes to get professional help.
The goal is to get into treatment. You need inpatient rehab. Detox. A 28 day program would be great. But don’t necessarily be picky about it, just ask for help and let them know that you need serious care. You need professional help. Inpatient care. You cannot stop drinking on your own.
This is the number one thing that you can do because it implies so many things. First of all, if you make these calls and set up treatment then it shows that you are serious about change. It shows that you are in some sort of state of surrender. You are ready to stop drinking. You are taking action.
Second of all it shows that you are willing to listen to others. You are willing to take direction. Many an alcoholic has stood up and declared that they are going to never drink again, and do so under their own power. Pretty much everyone one of them falls flat on their face and relapses. You need help in order to get sober and be successful.
Notice that we are hitting on some fundamental concepts here (things that everyone in recovery experiences). So fundamental concept number one: Surrender. You gotta get through your denial.
Then fundamental concept number two: You gotta ask for help.
And of course you have to be open minded in order to do these things. Or rather, you need to be open minded to do these things and then follow through and take action.
The decision is nothing by itself. If it is not followed up with real action, then the decision is useless.
Putting suggestions into action
So after you surrender and ask for help and make an appointment to go to rehab, guess what?
You have to actually go to rehab!
This might sound pretty obvious to you, but believe me, it is a really important point. I know this because I worked in a rehab center for 5 years. And would you believe that out of every person who was scheduled to come into treatment, only about 50 percent show up?
These are people who have already called in, set up and appointment, and secured proper funding for treatment. They are are all set. They have a scheduled time. They know how their treatment is going to be paid for. Probably 95 percent of these people had the funding taken care entirely with no out of pocket costs (insurance or medicare or grant money). And then out of all of these people who were all set to go and scheduled, about half of them never show up for treatment.
This is astounding.
It was almost funny because at one point I was covering for my boss while she was on vacation, and I was learning how to schedule new admissions to the rehab and I was taking the phone calls. And I said at one point: “Wait a minute….we have twice as much on the schedule this week as what we can handle!” And my coworker had to remind me and say “Yeah but remember, half of them won’t show up!”
Oh, right. I forgot about that for a moment. Half won’t show up.
You need to learn from this. What do you think the success rate of sobriety is for the half that don’t even bother to show up to treatment? I can assure you that it is near zero. Of the people who show up, at least they have a fighting chance at sobriety. At least they are following through.
And this is a critical concept, especially in sobriety. I think someone famous once said: “90 percent of success is just showing up.” And the reason for this is simple: Most people don’t even bother to show up.
If you want to win you have to play the game. If you want to get sober you have to take action.
Sobriety requires action. You have to actually do something. You have to show up.
Overcoming alcoholism is no different than most other challenges in that regard. Ask for help, take action. Get a plan in place, then show up and follow through with it.
The 30 day trial
Now let’s jump forward a little and assume that you are in recovery now. You went to treatment and you went through detox and you are sober now.
There are still massive challenges in sobriety, even after you have 30 days, 60 days, 90 days sober.
Even after you get a year in sobriety, 3 years, 5 years….there are still always more challenges down the road.
Sobriety does get easier over time, but it is never 100 percent “safe.” The threat of relapse is always going to be there in the background.
And this is why sobriety is a continuous process. You have to keep working at your recovery in order to remain sober. Kind of annoying, but also a gift.
So one way to force yourself to stay fresh in your sobriety and keep experimenting is to adopt the idea of the 30 day trial.
I used this concept a few times in my recovery and it had a huge impact on my success.
The idea is simple:
You take a positive change in your life that you really want to make, and you commit to it for 30 days straight.
At the end of 30 days you give yourself full permission to go back to your old ways and drop the new change.
That’s it. That’s the whole concept. It may not sound like much, but if you put it into action, you can really make some amazing changes in your life.
For example, it was a 30 day challenge that allowed me to overcome cigarette addiction. I was so miserable and struggling very badly at day 3 without nicotine, but I knew that I only had to make it to 30 days and then if I wanted I could go back to smoking (of course I didn’t at that point, which is the whole trick!).
I also did this with distance running. I started running every day for 30 days, slowly building up more distance. On day 10 I was quite miserable. On day 30 I was feeling good and I was amazed at how far I had come.
Thirty days is a bit arbitrary, but on the other hand it is a solid number for creating new habits. Whatever you are doing every day for 30 days actually will become a habit, so at the end of the 30 days it is pretty easy to lock in the change permanently if you choose to do so. Of course you don’t have to. That is the point of the 30 day trial. You force yourself to establish a new habit, but then you get the option of keeping it forever or ditching it entirely.
I did this with journaling. I wrote in a journal every day, just writing down my feelings, getting it out on paper. A basic brain dump, if you will. This benefited me so much that I kept doing it. And that is the beauty of the 30 day challenge, you learn what really helps you and what does not. It is a “fair trial” because you get more time to evaluate the full impact of a change in your life.
Continuous life improvement
When you are truly open minded in recovery, you open yourself up to positive change through experimentation.
Never stop experimenting.
Do a 30 day trial and learn something. Take a suggestion from someone and turn it into a 30 day commitment. See what you can learn.
Then when you are done with the 30 days, evaluate the change and either keep it or ditch it.
Then do it again.
This is just one technique for building personal growth into your recovery.
What do you think? Has experimentation helped you in your recovery? Or do you need to become more open minded and open to suggestions? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!