What can you do to insure that you remain sober after alcoholism treatment? What is the secret to success in early recovery?
Many people check into treatment centers, but not everyone remains sober forever. It would be nice if such a cure existed but the truth is that the real challenge begins when you first leave addiction treatment.
Getting sober is half the battle. Staying sober is the other half. We need to take a closer look at exactly what steps we can take in order to maintain sobriety after treatment.
Why most people fail shortly after leaving alcoholism treatment
The problem with leaving treatment is that most people go back to the same old environment and the same old behaviors. If nothing changes then nothing changes.
If your plan for recovery is “I just won’t drink any more” then you are probably not going to be successful. It takes more work and more commitment than that to succeed.
Think about some of the past challenges that you have gone through during your lifetime. Certain things were more difficult than others, right? And when something was particularly difficult to overcome, you had to put forth a much greater effort.
Recovering from alcoholism is a lot like that, only even more so. The level of effort that you need to put forth to overcome alcoholism is probably much greater than anything you have ever experienced in the past. So when you think that you may not be trying hard enough, you are probably right. You must try harder. You must commit more deeply and make a much greater effort.
People fail after rehab because they are not doing enough. They are not taking enough action, nor are they taking the correct actions.
So if you want to succeed in recovery then you need to get to work. It takes hard work and commitment. It takes massive action in order to overcome an addiction. Small changes won’t help you. Making a casual or half-hearted effort will not save you.
Recovery is a pass/fail proposition. Either you remain sober, or you relapse. Therefore the key strategy is to “go big or go home.” There is no in between. You can’t pass in recovery with a “C” average grade and expect to remain sober. You either ace it or you relapse. Small mistakes will compound over time and lead you into a downward spiral.
Luckily the reverse of this is true as well. If you take positive action consistently then you will be rewarded greatly in the long run. Success builds on success. This is why you need to take massive action.
Commitment and massive action
You go to treatment. You go through a medical detox and then you are in groups and lectures during residential treatment. Maybe you are exposed to the 12 step program. Then you are thrust back out into the real world and you have to figure out how to stay sober on your own.
What do you do?
You must commit to taking massive action. You must commit to positive action on a consistent basis.
In order to do this you need direction. You need advice and suggestions. You need to ask for help.
If you could do it alone then you would have done so a long time ago. But the fact is that you need help and guidance in your recovery.
There is nothing wrong with this. Everyone needs help. When you take suggestions from other people it is a shortcut to wisdom. You benefit from their experience.
So here is what you do. I am going to tell you the secret of sobriety.
Go to treatment and ask for help. Take advice and then follow through on that advice. Leave treatment and start taking suggestions. They may tell you to go to meetings every day. They may tell you to go to counseling or therapy. They may tell you to get a sponsor and work through the 12 steps.
Whatever they tell you to do, start doing it. Commit fully. Dive deeply into this new life. Abandon the self completely. Kill your ego and push it out of the way. You can do this by listening to others. You kill your ego by trusting others in recovery and taking their advice.
If you can find the humility necessary to follow these directions then you will remain sober. The only question thereafter is one of consistency. You asked for help, took a suggestion, and then you took positive action. Now, can you do this every day? Can you do this over and over again? Can you commit to this new way of living for the long run?
Because making this commitment and taking positive action every day is what will build you this new life in recovery. This is how you achieve peace and contentment—through hard work. But you have to commit to this hard work in order to enjoy the rewards later.
Everyone secretly hopes that there is a magic trick to sobriety, that there is some secret that makes sobriety possible or even easy to achieve. There is no magic secret though. It is hard work. Go to treatment and then start following directions. Get your ego out of the way so that you can learn how to live sober. It’s hard work and most people do not want to do it. But if you get desperate enough then you just might be up for the challenge.
How to follow through and build a new life in recovery post-treatment
You build a new life in recovery through your actions. What you do every day creates a new experience in recovery. Therefore you should be mindful of what habits you establish in recovery.
Again, this goes back to taking suggestions and advice from others. Will the advice always be perfect? Probably not, but if you don’t take any advice from anyone then you will never recover. You will just stay stuck in your own misery.
The key, then, is to start experimenting. Abandon your ego, abandon the self, and allow others to teach you and guide you for a while. You may be afraid that in doing this you will lose yourself, but you will find in the end that you actually discovered who you really are for the first time. This is one miracle of recovery that you don’t want to miss out on—discovering who you really are and also finding peace and contentment at the same time. This reward is more than worth the price of admission, which generally consists of inpatient treatment followed up with hard work.
The second key to this whole recovery thing is that you need to follow through after you leave rehab. Surrender, ask for help, and go to treatment….yes. But then what happens after you leave treatment? This is when people either make or break their recovery. You have to take action when you get out of inpatient rehab. You have to take the suggestions that they give you and actually put them into practice.
Most alcoholics like to be in control, they like to act on their own ideas, and they are generally pretty smart people. Unfortunately it doesn’t really matter how smart you are when it comes to staying sober in early recovery–your disease will outsmart you every time. The only way to avoid this problem is to put your ego on probation for a while. This means that you have to stand down and give up control for the short term while you rebuild your life in recovery.
How does this work? It is easily done by simply taking advice from others rather than listening to your own ideas. It is actually pretty simple to stay sober–the trick is that you have to trick your brain into doing it for a while. This is because your ego wants the instant gratification that comes from getting drunk and the only way to get the rewards of sobriety are to stick it out for a few months. We don’t sober up in a week flat. Of course anyone can stop drinking for a week or two, but do you really have time to learn how to live a happy life in the span of a week, two weeks, 30 days? I say no. In my experience it takes longer than that to rebuild a life. It takes longer than a week or two to create real meaning in sobriety.
But it always comes eventually. If you remain sober for long enough and you are actively pursuing some sort of recovery program then the rewards will always come. It just takes time. So this is one of the “secrets of sobriety,” that it does not happen overnight. This is why they push the idea of faith and hope so heavily in AA and NA (steps two and three, essentially). Without hope and faith that things will eventually get better, who is going to stick around for more sobriety? We all know that we can get totally wasted at the drop of a hat by using our drug of choice, so there has to be a huge incentive in order to stick things out when it comes to sobriety.
And this is the example that people are hopefully setting in long term recovery. A better life, a happy life, and lots of personal growth–for those who are willing to work for it. Recovery takes a lot of work, yes….but realize that alcoholism takes a lot of work too. It is hard work being a drunk. Staying stuck in addiction for years or decades is definitely not taking the easy way out….it is hard work. It is a hard life to be addicted.
So you pay a price either way. If you keep drinking, you stay miserable and you don’t get to enjoy any personal growth or benefits. Your relationships stay stuck. Your happiness goes up and down but it mostly stays down. A few decades later you might look back at your alcoholic career and realize that you were only happy about 1 percent of the time while drinking. And all along you were under the false impression that you could be happy whenever you wanted just by drinking this magic elixir known as alcohol.
You also pay a price if you choose sobriety. This is the path of honesty and personal growth. You look at your life in an honest life and you have to remain honest as you go forward. If you start lying to yourself or others while sober then eventually you will not be sober any more. It really is as simple as that. Sobriety demands honesty. And you pay another price as well, in that you have to push yourself to take action. Sobriety does not come easily for someone who is lazy. Turning your life around requires serious commitment. It demands action. Massive action.
So if you want to succeed after inpatient treatment you have to make a decision. You must make a commitment to yourself. Agree with yourself that you will try harder at this recovery thing than anything you have ever tried before in your entire life. Make your greatest effort yet. What do you have to lose? If you shoot to low in this commitment then you relapse. If you shoot too high then you remain sober forever and enjoy a good life in recovery. So why not shoot for the highest commitment possible? Why not dedicate your life to sobriety so that you can have a shot at actually enjoying life again?
The key to sobriety post-treatment is in taking positive action and changing your routine. You must trade in your old bad habits for new good habits. And you must do this consistently and on a massive scale. This is why the suggestion is quite common to do “90 AA meetings in 90 days.” This is about changing your routine, your habits, establishing a new pattern. This is about networking with positive people and staying away from those who might tempt you instead. I don’t necessarily believe that AA is the ultimate solution for recovery but it is certainly better than hanging out at the bar every night and drinking diet Coke. You don’t think such a plan actually has a shot at real sobriety, do you? It doesn’t.
No, if you want to turn your life around then you have to change everything. People think that they are just joking or trying to make some sort of point when they say in AA meetings “The only thing that you have to change is everything!” It sounds sort of lame and is supposed to be funny and clever.
But the truth is that they are being honest. And I am being honest when I tell you that I really did change just about everything in my life when I got sober. I went to long term rehab and I moved in. I quit my job. I left my friends who I drank and used drugs with and never saw them again. I changed nearly everything in my life, or at least everything that mattered. I did not try to hang on to anything from my past. I let go of all of it.
The first two times that I went to inpatient rehab I was not willing to do this. I had my own ideas about recovery and what I was willing to do and not do. I was stubborn and afraid. So those first two tries at sobriety I was not willing to attend long term rehab. I was not willing to go to AA meetings every day. I was not willing to dedicate my whole life to recovery. I thought that idea was ridiculous. I said things like: “Why would I live in long term rehab, I might just as well be sitting in prison if that is the solution!” That was how badly I was in denial, that I could not see any difference between sitting in a jail cell and being in a long term rehab center.
Now that I have been through the rehab process and I have my sobriety today I would gladly live in long term rehab again. It is not bad at all. It was an incredible learning experience and I am grateful that I went through it. And I can tell you it was the thing that finally worked for me when everything else had failed. I had to do the thing that I was most afraid to do. I had to face my fears head on and confront them.
Eventually of course I had to leave long term treatment as well and make sobriety work on my own. That was over ten years ago when I left the rehab and I am grateful to still be sober to this day. The key for me has been in personal growth and positive action. I continue to look for the next positive growth experience, for the next challenge that is staring me in the face. I believe that we have to keep growing as human beings in recovery, and that this is the very essence of relapse prevention. Stop growing, stop learning, and you will relapse. Keep learning about yourself and keep pushing yourself to improve your life and you will remain sober. The programs and the meetings and the recovery literature and the sponsorship and the support groups–all of that stuff is helpful but it is really just all details. The key is personal growth. How you achieve that growth is up to you.
People can relapse while being in any given recovery program. They don’t relapse because it is a “bad program,” they relapse because they stopped growing, the stopped learning about themselves, they stopped being honest with themselves. They call this complacency. You can avoid complacency by pushing yourself to continuously improve your life. We are either moving forward or we are moving backward in recovery. We don’t get to stand still. Standing still is an illusion. Stagnation leads to relapse. The only way to sobriety is through personal growth.
So if you want to leave rehab and remain sober you are faced with a simple choice. The choice is not “do I want to drink,” because of course no one sets themselves up for failure in that way. Instead, they fail because they are not pushing themselves enough to create positive change and positive action in their life.
Successful sobriety is about momentum. It starts slow. You are not going to be jumping for joy during your first week of sobriety. Probably not during your second week either. You have to slowly build up a new life and create positive momentum.
This is why you start taking suggestions from other people. You collect wisdom, then act on it. Keep taking positive action every day, and cling to your sobriety. If you are “doing the work” in recovery then this momentum will start to build. Somewhere around the 90 day to 1 year mark in recover you should cross a hypothetical line. That line is the point where you realize that you are now happier in recovery than you ever really were while drinking or using drugs. But you have to pay attention to this line and appreciate it when you cross it. If you are not grateful then you are pretty much guaranteed to miss it.
This is why you should also practice gratitude every single day–so that you can actually see and notice and measure the progress that you make in recovery. Most people quickly forget the misery that they experienced in addiction. So if you don’t take the time to appreciate the little things in recovery then your happiness can slip away from you. Practicing gratitude every day is one way to insure that you are not inviting more misery into your life. Gratitude will also help you to see the teachable moments in life, to find the silver lining in things.