There are several reasons that every alcoholic and drug addiction should consider when debating whether to make a try at recovery or not.
These really just scratch the surface, as the full rewards and benefits of getting clean and sober are practically immeasurable:
1) Happiness during your addiction is just an illusion
2) Social connections during your addiction are mostly superficial
3) In recovery you engage in an upward spiral of personal growth
4) Finding meaning and purpose becomes possible again in recovery
5) Instead of selfishness in addiction you learn to experience gratitude instead
6) Continuous personal growth is far more exciting than self medicating with drugs or alcohol
7) Paying it forward in recovery is really amazing
8) Your definition of fun will change in sobriety (and you will have more of it!)
9) Your spiritual connection will deepen
10) You won’t have to remember who you lied to any more!
11) You will achieve a new satisfaction in life of peace and contentment (rather than chasing an elusive happiness)
12) Personal growth is more interesting than a lifetime of addiction. You will change over time
13) Relief from obsessive thinking in addiction will open the door to happiness
14) Real joy becomes possible in sobriety
You cannot predict your future happiness in recovery when you are stuck in the misery of addiction
One thing to note about being stuck in addiction is that you cannot really see the light at the end of the tunnel.
This is part of what makes it so hard to climb up out of that hole of despair. The alcoholic is stuck and they have almost zero hope.
I had very little hope when I was stuck in active addiction and I almost thought that my life was no longer worth living. I had nothing to look forward to. I honestly believed that if I achieved sobriety through some miracle that I would be completely miserable anyway, so what was the point?
I needed two miracles! One, I had to somehow quit drugs and alcohol forever. Then two, I needed to somehow become magically happy while being sober.
Was that even possible? In my alcoholic and drug induced state, I really did not believe it to be.
And I never did think it was possible. Even in my moment of surrender when I decided to give recovery another try, I still did not really think that I would be happy some day. I did not believe it to be even a remote possibility. At best, I was thinking “maybe I will just get used to being miserable in sobriety.” I really had no hope for a happy future. None at all.
And what alcoholic or drug addict could possibly predict happiness in sobriety? Why would they? Of course they would not be able to see this simple truth….if they could, then they would have quit drinking and drugging long ago. But they are trapped in denial and they believe that their happiness can only come from their drug of choice. They believe that the misery of withdrawal and detox will stretch out to infinity, that it will never get any better. So they stay stuck.
Of course those of us that have successfully achieved long term sobriety know better than this. We can see how we were stuck in denial and we were lying to ourselves.
Of course it gets better in recovery.
Of course we find true happiness, peace, and contentment in sobriety.
If this were not true do you really believe that I would voluntarily stay sober today? If things weren’t absolutely great in sobriety, don’t you think that I would return to active addiction at some point?
This isn’t just about me, this goes for every person who is in recovery today and is actively working on their sobriety. Worldwide this totals millions of people who are happier in sobriety than they are in active addiction.
I know what you may be thinking:
“But I’m different.”
You are thinking that those millions of people who have found success in recovery are not really alcoholics. They are not truly addicted, not like you are.
You are special. You are unique. You are the only person in the history of the universe who loves drugs and alcohol so much that you just can’t stop. It’s impossible.
The only way for you to ever be happy is to be drunk or high, right?
These are lies. You are lying to yourself because you are afraid of the truth.
And that truth is that you can live an awesome and amazing life in sobriety if you are willing to get honest with yourself and do the work.
It’s about taking responsibility. You have to have the courage to stop self medicating long enough so that you can figure out what is really going on in your life.
Ask yourself that question for a moment: “What is really going on with me?”
We don’t normally like to look that closely at ourselves because we get afraid. Or we don’t like what we see.
But this is the challenge of recovery. If we are going to stop our destructive pattern of self medicating then we are going to have to ask ourselves the hard questions at some point.
What you are maximizing in addiction recovery?
When you get clean and sober you are making a specific effort to maximize certain things in your life.
Simply by doing the work and remaining abstinent you will naturally achieve certain rewards in your life. Certain things will get a whole lot better and you won’t even necessarily be able to explain how or why these things occur.
If you want a good overview of those things you can always go to an AA meeting and have someone show you “the promises.” These are things that will come true if you “do the work” in recovery. Things such as “Intuitively knowing how to handle situations which used to baffle you.”
One thing that you maximize in recovery are your relationships with others. These get so much better than they were in your addiction that it is simply unbelievable. The main shift in this regard comes from being willing to help others versus being selfish all the time in terms of wanting to self medicate.
You also maximize your health in recovery. This comes from many different sources but the root of it is healthy self esteem. So how you feel about yourself changes a great deal from your addiction to your sobriety.
When you are stuck in addiction you are probably feeling pretty badly about yourself. And part of you is probably beating yourself up just for being addicted, for being selfish, for putting your drug of choice in front of all your other priorities in life. So you beat yourself up over this and your self esteem takes a huge hit. In the end you may even feel completely hopeless and decide that your life has no value at all. I feel like I reached this point in my own addiction right before I decided to give recovery another chance. That is why they call that moment of surrender “hitting bottom.” I don’t think I could have felt any worse.
In recovery this all starts to shift. You stop beating yourself up at some point because you are trying to do the right thing. Then after a while in recovery you realize that you are actually doing the right things, you are no longer just “trying.” You are doing it. You are living the solution and taking positive action every single day.
They have a saying in recovery around the tables of AA: “You can’t think your way into good living, you have to live your way into good thinking.” Meaning that you sort of have to just listen and do the work and take positive action and then your mind will follow.
Most alcoholics and drug addicts are stubborn people, and we like to think that we are smart. So we believe that we have to get the right mindset and the right thought process before we can even get started in recovery.
This is false. You are kidding yourself. You are not going to magically fix your emotional and mental state before you even really get started in recovery. It doesn’t work like that. If you wait for the perfect mindset then you will never take the leap into recovery.
Instead, you just do it. You ask for help and you follow through. Ask for help and they tell you to go to rehab, or to AA meetings, or counseling, or whatever. So you do what you are told to do. Don’t question it as that is just more manipulation on your part. You have to stop manipulating if you want to get sober. So you ask for help and they give you advice and you take it.
It doesn’t even matter what the advice is, really. It almost doesn’t even matter who you ask for help. Of course someone out there in the world probably gives bad advice (proving me wrong), but I think you get my point. Just reach out to the people who care about you. If no one cares about you then reach out to a help line or a treatment center where they are paid to care about you. Ask those kinds of people for help and then follow their directions. It really is that simple.
Then of course you have to follow through. You have to do the work. You have to listen and obey.
This is how you start the process of “living your way into good thinking.”
Don’t try to start with your own thoughts. Let other people think for you for a while. Let them make your decisions for you. You haven’t been doing so hot lately in the decision making department anyway, right? When I was stuck in addiction that was certainly true for me. I was making terrible decisions and my life was in total chaos. So I asked for help and then I took the advice I was given.
I got out of my own way.
This is how you let others “drive the bus for you” in recovery for a while. You want to hand your life over to a higher power? One way to start doing that is to stop making your own decisions. Put your faith in other people, for starters. And trust that they will guide you to a better life.
My main objection to that was always “but these people don’t know me, they can’t possibly know me and what really makes me happy!” I was so worried about my happiness. How pathetic! In worrying so much about my own precious happiness, I forgot to realize that these people were going to do something else for me:
They were going to eliminate my misery.
There is a difference.
So when you go to rehab, when you go to AA, when you go to see a therapist in order to stop drinking and drugging, don’t expect them to give you this magic path to happiness. That is not what they do. Instead, they lead you out of misery. That is their job. They show you how to be sober and therefore how to stop living in total misery.
Is that the same thing as showing you a life of happiness? Not exactly. But it works all the same. If you can find sobriety and stop living in misery then you have a strong foundation on which you can build real happiness. When you are stuck in active addiction, happiness is not even a remote possibility. Things just get worse and worse, with more chaos and misery piled on top of more misery.
Less of the bad, more of the good
It is amazing to me that anyone who gets a taste of sobriety and the true rewards of it would relapse and go back to drinking or drugging.
Of course it does happen though. And one of the reasons that it happens is because the recovering alcoholic has stopped doing the work. They got complacent.
Being in recovery is a continuous process of personal growth. You are constantly refining this ideal of your perfect self. Of course you never fully achieve perfection, but that doesn’t mean that you give up entirely and stop striving for it.
So you figure out where the anxiety in your life is coming from. What is your current fear, what is the source of your discomfort?
In early recovery you may not even be able to distinguish this because you will likely have a long list of issues to deal with.
So you start doing the work. If you get a sponsor in AA and start working through the 12 steps, that is one path of how you might accomplish this.
There are other paths though. You don’t have to engage the 12 steps in order to “do the work.”
You just have to listen to yourself and your mind. Meditation can help with this. To find the true source of your anxieties and fear.
In recovery, if you are truly doing the work, then you will at some point work hard in order to eliminate and minimize:
* Self pity
All of that negative stuff can be swirling around in the background when you first get sober and you may not even realize it.
So before you can work to eliminate this stuff you have to become conscious of it. You have to acknowledge that it is there and identify it.
Then you may have to ask for help from someone to work on eliminating it.
This may be a step by step process if you have a lot of this sort of negativity swirling around in your mind.
And keep in mind that EVERY person who comes into recovery will have at least some of this work to do. No one comes into recovery as a perfectly pure and white blank slate of perfection. No one does. Everyone has to work on this stuff to some degree in order to heal themselves.
So this is really the “bad stuff” that we are referring to. If you can identify and then eliminate these things then it is like a whole new layer of freedom in your life. Doing this work opens up the door to real happiness.
Because one thing you will find if you get into recovery and you avoid this sort of internal work on yourself is that you can never really achieve happiness.
So many people have done this in recovery. They get sober, start taking some positive action, but when it comes time to get honest with themselves and identify all of this negative stuff that is swirling around “upstairs,” they don’t want to do the work. They get uncomfortable. So they avoid this work and they try to take positive actions in other ways.
For a while such people will have mild success in recovery. But in the long run they will always fail or, at the very least, become an unhappy “dry drunk.” And the reason for this is not because they are lacking happiness or positive things in their lives, but because they never took care of the negativity. They never built their foundation in early recovery. And that foundation is about clearing out the garbage, clearing out the negativity, eliminating those negative thought patterns.
So recovery is about two things really:
1) Eliminating the negative stuff that tries to drag us down (fear, shame, guilt, self pity, resentment, etc.)
2) Seeking positive action in our lives.
If you try to do number 2 before you have done number 1 then you will never have any sort of lasting happiness. Eliminating the negative stuff takes real work but this is what you must do in order to build a foundation for lasting sobriety.
Upgrading your problems in addiction recovery
There is a common idea that you hear tossed around 12 step meetings. It has to do with your problems. Someone might say something like:
“I am grateful for my problems today in recovery because they are so much better than my problems were in active addiction. Sure, I still have problems today. But in addiction I came to in the morning and was worried that I was going to die that day. My problems are enormous and life-threatening during addiction. Today I wake up and my problem might be that I have to decide between an AA meeting tonight or a round of golf with a friend in recovery. And so I still have problems today but they are so much better than my problems were in active addiction.”
So when you get clean and sober you are essentially upgrading your problems in life. Sure, you still have them. But they are nowhere near as bad as what they were during your addiction.
Many of your “problems” in recovery aren’t even a real problem….they are more of a challenge or an opportunity. And you gain this perspective over time when you look back and see how some of the “problems” that you faced in your early recovery were actually huge opportunities for growth. And with this additional perspective you actually become grateful for your problems that you had in the past, and you start to see current problems as being more of an opportunity for you instead. You learn to be optimistic and find the growth lesson in every challenge that comes your way. So instead of complaining about life you tend to learn what you can from each situation and move on.