There are a number of different approaches for overcoming alcoholism but I want to outline a no-nonsense approach that fits with what I see as being the successful examples. I work in a unique position where I get to see a lot of different people in recovery and many of them fail and a few of them succeed.
So without getting wrapped up in the specific programs of recovery, here is what I observe as being the important characteristics of successful recovery:
1) Abstinence based – the alcoholics who have found success that I have seen have all done it through complete abstinence. There are those out there who do try to moderate and learn to control their drinking but I personally have not seen any success with that method. All the “winners” that I see in recovery have completely stopped drinking alcohol. Of course this only makes sense based on what I see in treatment, as those who can successfully moderate would not show up for treatment to begin with, right?
2) Overwhelming force in early recovery – those who are successful at staying clean and sober tend to go all-out in early sobriety. The people who give a half-hearted effort will always end up relapsing. The saying from AA: “Half measures availed us nothing” rings true in my book. Doesn’t matter which program of recovery we’re talking about either….if you don’t go all out, then you’re not gonna make it.
3) Early emphasis on networking and support – People who shun the idea of getting help from fellow alcoholics and learning from them do not do well in early recovery. Those who embrace support from their peers and learn a healthy interdependence have a better chance at staying sober.
4) Finding purpose and meaning in life – Eventually most people reach a point in recovery where they either slide back into relapse or they find something to be passionate about in their lives that can push them on to long term recovery. Most examples that I can think of involve working with recovering alcoholics in some way. In other words, if you can find a way to reach out to other alcoholics and help them on a regular basis, this can be a big part of your life purpose and provide a sort of insurance against relapse.
My personal belief is that these strategies outlined above are more important than any specific recovery program that you might be working. In other words, it’s not what you are doing for your recovery but how you’re doing it.
Staying clean and sober is actually a pretty simple task (but not easy). We could ask a small child and they could tell us the secret: “Don’t drink that stuff.” Duh. So it’s not so much that we need a magical recovery program. What we need is a magical recovery effort. And that has to come from you. It is all up to the individual. We can’t point fingers and blame programs for failing us when the task at hand is so straightforward.
Take a look at the 4 ideas above, they could actually be expressed as:
1) Don’t drink.
2) Try real hard at it.
3) Get help from others with it.
4) Find real meaning in your life other than drugs and alcohol.
That’s it. Nothing magical about it, nothing truly profound or revolutionary about it. But not an easy thing to follow through on either.
Oh, and if you can pull it off, it’s super awesome. All the struggle and effort is worth it. I highly recommend it!