If you are seeking personal empowerment in drug addiction or alcoholism treatment then I have a suggestion for you.
For starters, do not necessarily seek to feel empowered as your goal. Instead, seek to learn what you can from other people. Your goal should be learning and personal growth. Your question should be “What can this person teach me that will make my recovery stronger?”
In order to feel empowered you first need to put in the work. If you somehow skip ahead and find a magic short cut to this feeling of confidence then that is likely a false confidence that is not real. Instead, you want to build your life and your personal growth in such a way that you naturally feel empowered.
I can remember that the most empowered feeling that I got in my entire recovery journey came after I had done the work in early recovery and I was starting to meet some of the goals that I had since set for myself.
Now let’s break that down because there are a few key concepts here to unpack.
One, I started out in my recovery journey being extremely humble. I had no idea what to do in order to be sober and find any kind of happy life, and I knew that I did not have the answers myself. So I surrendered totally and completely, I asked for help, and they told me to go to treatment. I listened and I obeyed and I started doing what people told me to do.
This was critical. Nothing about this phase of my recovery felt “empowering.” Not even a little bit. I was in a state of nearly total hopelessness. I felt completely dis-empowered at this point. I was defeated and at a state of total surrender. Because I was so defeated, I became willing to listen and to take advice. My way was not working. My ideas had failed me. My best thinking could not lead me to happiness. I was miserable and I was sick and tired of being miserable in my addiction, and I needed help. So I was willing to listen.
This is the foundation upon which you can eventually reach that feeling of total empowerment. But it has to start with hitting bottom, with dejection, with total surrender. If you are jumping in the air and clicking your heels together with confidence at the beginning of your recovery journey then I do not believe that you are on the right track. Real recovery begins with surrender, with defeat, with a bottom. You start out low. Very low. And it is all uphill from there.
I would say that I spent about a year or so of building from this state of surrender by taking advice from peers, from therapists, from sponsors in AA, and so on. I listened and I learned and I took action. This was my process for at least the first year, maybe even for the first 2 years. It was critical that I took advice during this time and had some level of faith in what I was being told to do, because I did not have the answers myself and by taking advice I was building a new life for myself. Shockingly, this new life was making me happier and happier. I could not believe that by listening to other people who were telling me how to live that I could find happiness. But it was working, so I kept doing it. I continued to seek advice about how to live my life. Things kept steadily improving, slowly but surely.
During this phase of my growth I really never felt empowered yet. I felt like I had given all of my power to other people because I was just taking their advice rather than following my own ideas. I was listening and I was implementing the advice I was being given and my life was improving, but this did not make me feel empowered. That was still yet to come.
So what happened at somewhere around the 2 year point in my recovery journey was that I transitioned from being “a newcomer” in recovery to living in long term sobriety. I can look back and see that this transition happened somewhere around the 2 year point. While I was going through the transition I was not aware that the nature of my recovery was really changing, but it was.
The change was the shift from being directed by others and only taking advice, to being self directed and setting my own goals.
It is important that you do not try to rush into this second phase where you set your own goals. People who try to move too quickly into this often relapse. I “paid my dues” by listening and learning for the first 2 years of my recovery, and thus built a strong foundation. Only then did I start to set and chase after my own goals.
What did I do? I graduated college. I trained up and ran a full marathon. I got a job in the recovery field. And I built a successful side business.
With each goal that I reached, I was setting my sights on a new goal and saying “Maybe I can make this happen too.”
And at some point, when I reached one of these milestones, I had this epiphany which brought with it a feeling of total empowerment. My side business was thriving and I just completed a marathon successfully, and my epiphany was this: “I really can accomplish pretty much any reasonable goal that I care to tackle.”
Simple stuff, I know. That is the kind of thing that you see on a poster when you are at school. But it had special meaning for me because I was amazed at what I had been able to accomplish. And I realized that I was no longer asking my therapist or sponsor for guidance in these things; I was setting my own goals and achieving them.
This was where my feeling of empowerment came from. I realized that I had built a stable and successful recovery, and that I could create my own reality as I wanted to. Within reason of course, I could accomplish pretty much any single goal. I was astounded that I had built a life that was capable of this, when just 24 months prior I was curled up in the fetal position and sweating during alcohol withdrawal.
When I was stuck in addiction I could not create anything of value, I could not build anything positive for myself, and I could not really accomplish much of anything. All I could do was to seek out my next high.
In recovery, I had reached this point where I felt as if I could set nearly any goal and make a very strong attempt at reaching it. Everything that I had set out to do lately had worked out, and it felt as if I was suddenly very powerful.
I realized then that I had to keep pushing myself towards more self improvement, towards better health, and towards helping others. I was lucky enough to have built a foundation in recovery and I was thriving in it. Forgetting to be grateful about all of it would be the greatest tragedy at this point.
And of course, that is why we need a spiritual foundation in our recovery journey as well–so that we maintain a higher purpose and never forget where we came from.