In order to overcome cravings and triggers for alcohol and other drugs you need to be working an active program of recovery.
This is not the kind of thing in which you can just stop drinking or taking drugs, hope for the best, and then maybe try out a reactionary tactic or two if a craving happens to pop up in your life. That is not how recovery plays out.
No, if you want to truly overcome cravings and triggers for good, you need to take a great deal of action, and you need to have a plan and a strategy for your entire life.
So the foundation of all of this has to begin somewhere. You cannot just magically go from abusing drugs or alcohol every day to living this perfect and ideal life the next day. You have to essentially reach a breaking point in which you surrender completely. You have to surrender to a process of recovery, such that you admit to yourself and everyone else that you need instructions for how to live your life and that you cannot figure it out for yourself. This is a very humbling realization that has to happen before any kind of real recovery can occur.
At this point it is advisable for the struggling addict or alcoholic to attend inpatient rehab. Sure, you might be able to figure out a way to make your way into recovery without having to go through a 28 day program, but if you fight against this traditional solution just because you don’t want to do it then you are setting yourself up for failure.
Why? 2 reasons. One reason is because defying this suggestion just because you don’t want to do it is the opposite of real surrender. In order to really surrender and turn your life around you must be truly humble.
The second reason is because inpatient rehab really is the best possible solution for most people in early recovery. It is also the most comprehensive solution, in that you get counseling, group therapy, recommended aftercare, and so on. It is a complete solution for the most part, whereas other avenues of help may not be as complete.
Now after you go to rehab you need to start working an actual program of recovery, which is an interesting phrase to try to decipher when you have 10 days clean and sober. What does it mean to actually “work a program of recovery” in your life? How does that happen, and what does that look like?
When they say that you need to work a program, what they are really saying is that you need to follow directions, each and every day, for the foreseeable future, until your life gets better.
So if you go to rehab they will take you through a program of groups, meetings, and lectures about addiction and recovery. You listen and learn and maybe you retain a bit of what is thrown at you. A healthy start.
Then you leave rehab and they recommend that you keep seeing a therapist and start attending AA every day. So you do those things and you start attending daily AA meetings.
They tell you to get a sponsor and work the steps. So you start doing that as well, meeting with this sponsor maybe once a week.
So you are doing all of these things. You are doing 90 AA meetings in 90 days. You are working with a sponsor and trying to study the recovery literature and he has you writing in a journal every day and also writing in the steps. You are seeing a therapist and that person is talking with you and giving you advice. You listen in AA meetings and you get advice from those too.
So you are getting advice and direction from multiple sources, and all of it has to do with living a more positive life in recovery. And you keep pushing to keep making more and more healthy changes in your life. And basically your entire life is consumed with all of this new recovery activity. If you happen to work or have family obligations, then every waking minute outside of those things is consumed with this recovery stuff.
That is what it means to “work a program.” Anything less than this pretty much means that you are “slacking off on your program” and you can expect for cravings and triggers to eventually overwhelm you, resulting in relapse.
Do the see the difference? In order to succeed in early recovery you have to completely dive into a recovery program, hold nothing back, and accept the new solution into your life. You have to put everything you have into working this program. If you hold back then you set yourself up for failure.
Now once you get past roughly the first 6 to 18 months of working this recovery program you will start to transition into long term sobriety. Meaning that, at some point in your recovery journey, you will no longer have to spend every waking second of your free time in AA meetings, talking with therapists and sponsors, or reading recovery literature.
In other words, the intense focus that you had on recovery at 3 weeks sober is not the same approach that is needed when you have 3 years sober.
Long term sobriety is different. You cannot just keep focusing on the basics forever and expect to get good results. Nor would you want to….after all, you have a life to live in recovery, and that life should not have to be nothing but non stop AA meetings, right?
Long term recovery should look different than short term recovery.
However, that doesn’t mean that you are off the hook. That doesn’t mean that you can slack off. It just means that what you focus on and what your priorities are should shift.
So instead of attending AA meetings every single day, you may find other activities that have meaning and purpose for you. Or maybe you find other ways to connect with people and to help them. Or perhaps you go back to school, get a meaningful job, or find other ways to help out.
The number one threat in long term recovery is that of complacency. You can still get tripped up by a trigger or a craving even after accumulating multiple years of clean and sober time. If you are too complacent in your recovery then you become vulnerable to relapse.
So what does it mean to be complacent, and how can you fight it?
If you are complacent then it basically means that you are being lazy when it comes to your own personal growth. It means that you no longer find it important to learn and to grow as a person.
This can lead to relapse. The solution is to keep challenging yourself, even in long term recovery, with personal growth projects. You have to keep moving forward in order to insulate yourself from the threat of relapse.
Or, to put it another way, it is far easier to brush off a craving for alcohol or other drugs if you are still excited about living a sober life, if you are still excited about learning new things in recovery, if you are still pushing yourself to improve your own life.
It is when you are lazy, idle, and complacent that you become vulnerable to the threat of relapse.
So in the short run, go hard on the traditional recovery principles: Go to rehab, go to AA meetings, work the program.
In the long run, go hard in terms of personal growth. Adopt a growth mindset and challenge yourself continuously. This is the path to success in recovery.