This is the second article in the “the 25 secrets of recovery” series. These are not necessarily real “secrets” that no one knows about, but they are all something that is either counter-intuitive or tricky for the addict or alcoholic to actually implement in their lives. So in a sense there is a lot of wisdom in each of these “secrets.”
So secret number 2 is simply this:
“Recovery from alcoholism is more about creating something than it is about eliminating something.”
What exactly does this mean? Let’s find out.
The outsider perspective
Anyone who is not directly involved with addiction and recovery probably has a general idea of what it means to overcome an addiction.
In the eyes of an outsider, the process is pretty simple and straightforward: the person simply has to stop using chemicals, right? The alcoholic must eliminate alcohol. The drug addict must eliminate drugs. Surely this is the heart of the solution, right?
I must admit to thinking these thoughts as an “outsider” before I had ever even tried a drink or a drug in my life. Little did I realize that I would one day become an addict myself. But before I had ever even tried drugs of any kind, I thought to myself “Why does the alcoholic not realize how bad it is for their life, and simply avoid alcohol? They must be stupid!”
So this is how the outsider thinks, because I have been there (as an outsider) and I remember thinking this way. The whole idea is that recovery is a process of elimination. The solution is to eliminate chemicals.
The reality, of course, is something entirely different from this. If it were as simple as elimination then addiction would not be the massive problem that it is. If it were really this easy then I would not have struggled with the disease for so many years.
Abstinence is obviously part of the solution, but it is not “the answer” to addiction. Simply eliminating the drugs or the booze is only a starting point, but it is not a total solution for any addict or alcoholic. If this is the only help that you offer them then they will be right back at it, using their drug of choice, within just a few short weeks or even days. They need more than just abstinence to overcome their problem. They need to take more action than to simply eliminate the drugs and the alcohol from their lives.
Instead, they need to create something. They have to build something. They have to build a new life, one that can take the place of their old life in addiction.
In Narcotics Anonymous, they talk about not only being addicted to the drugs, but also about being addicted to the lifestyle.
If you take a young person who is addicted to drugs and you detox them and put them back out on the streets, or right back into the same environment, what do you think is going to happen?
They are going to relapse in short order. This is because you have created nothing, only eliminated the drugs from their body. You did not replace their addiction with any sort of positive experience or new life.
Remember that the default for any drug addict is to be self medicating. This is normal. Because of their experience with addiction, self medicating becomes the new normal for them. It is perfectly natural for a drug addict to use drugs and for an alcoholic to drink. Really think about this for a moment, how this act of self medicating all the time has become the new normal. It is everyday behavior. It is standard fare for the drunk or the addict.
Over time as they stay addicted for years and years, it is an ingrained habit. It is even more than normal, it is a compulsion.
So think again about the outsider for a moment who says “just stop doing the drugs. Just avoid the alcohol. That will fix your problem.”
And so they are correct, but they do not see the depth of the compulsion, they do not see that the addiction has become so deeply ingrained in the addict’s life. They cannot just stop, because of the huge gaping void when they do so. They have come to rely on their drug of choice in order to function, in order to have fun, in order to live. Eliminating it creates problems at first rather than solving them. It is a mess that cannot just be untangled through simple elimination.
The tendency towards relapse is intense for the newly recovering addict or alcoholic. Remember that using drugs or drinking is perfectly normal for them. When things go wrong, when things get intense, when life gets tough, it is perfectly natural for them to self medicate. This is what they have learned to do. This is what works for them, and has worked for them for a very long time. Addiction exists because it works. Of course at some point, the drugs and the alcohol stop doing what we want them to do for us, and we have to take increasingly larger amounts in order to properly self medicate.
Addiction works for us until it stops working for us. And then we have a real problem. Because now we are trapped in a cycle of abuse, and we can no longer effectively self medicate any more. Getting to that “happy place” may now only happen once or twice a month rather than once or twice each day. Our drug of choice has betrayed us and stopped working so well.
The idea that we can just eliminate drugs and alcohol from our lives at this point is flawed. It takes more than that. The reason it takes more than that is because detox and early recovery are difficult times, and more problems are introduced as we stop self medicating. Problems such as:
* “How do I deal with my feelings and emotions now that I can no longer medicate them away with chemicals?”
* “How do I deal with emotional pain, frustration, anger, or fear now that I can no longer medicate them with chemicals?”
* “How do I have fun without getting drunk or high? What is the point of life if I am miserable all the time?”
* “What is the point of life if I cannot get drunk or high? What is my purpose?”
Notice that all of these problems or questions is instantly solved by relapse. If the drug addict or alcoholic simply reverts to their drug of choice and their old using behavior, they avoid all of these problems and issues instantly. (Of course, they trade those new problems back for their old set of problems, which are much worse. But at least their old problems are familiar. This is a powerful draw. Think carefully about this and how it feels “comfortable” for the addict or alcoholic to stay stuck in their addiction, rather than to face the discomfort of change).
So from the outsider’s perspective, all the addict or alcoholic should have to do–apparently–is to eliminate their drug of choice.
But we know from experience that this is a flawed mindset. It takes more than just elimination to overcome an addiction.
It takes creation.
So what is creation in recovery, and how does it work?
What is the creative theory of recovery?
The creative theory of recovery is the idea that we have to actively and purposefully create a new life for ourselves in recovery so that we can overcome our addiction.
It is more than eliminating the drugs or the source of the problem. Instead, it is the active pursuit of creating something positive in our lives.
Think about this:
Any addict or alcoholic can go to a medical detox and get dried out. This is possible for any addict or alcoholic.
What they do from there is subject to all sorts of possible futures. They may relapse immediately, they may attempt to work some sort of recovery program, they may attempt to create a new life for themselves in recovery.
Whatever they choose to do, if they are trying to stay clean and sober, there comes a moment in their recovery where they are tested. They are going to go through good times and bad times. The normal ups and downs that come with life.
If they are going through a bad time, they will be tested. Their natural inclination is to self medicate with their drug of choice. This is what they are “programmed” to do.
And they know that if they relapse they will be throwing away whatever they have created, whatever they have built for themselves in recovery.
Think about that carefully for a moment. When the addict gets to the point of relapse, they either say “screw it, I am going to drink or get high”
or they say
“I am not willing to throw this new life away on a relapse.”
The incentive to remain clean and sober is based on the value of their recovery, on the value of their new life that they are creating, on the amount of joy, peace, happiness, and contentment that they are getting from their new life in recovery.
If they get into recovery and they are miserable and their life is dull, boring, and uninspired, what incentive do they have to remain clean and sober? They may as well use drugs at this point….at least that will be exciting for them in the short run.
The threat of relapse is always going to be present. It will never go away entirely. The addict or alcoholic will have to live with the threat of relapse for the rest of their life.
Every day they make a choice to either remain sober or to throw their new life away.
The creative theory is about building a new life for yourself in recovery, one that you value and treasure.
This is “recovery through self esteem.” You make positive changes, you create a new life for yourself, and you value your life and your life experience more and more, such that you would not think of throwing it all away on a relapse.
This is also “recovery through personal growth.” You are pushing yourself to grow and to make positive changes in your life. Every new positive change that you make is another layer of insurance against relapse. Why would you work against yourself by making positive changes and then also using drugs or alcohol? It is not rational. So if you force yourself to create positive change in your life, eventually you will have a positive barrier against relapse.
The creative theory of recovery explained
There is no great secret here about what the creative theory actually is. The ideas are not new and this is certainly nothing revolutionary.
The creative theory is about making positive changes in your life. It is a holistic approach that can encompass nearly any form of positive growth.
Of course the baseline for all of this goes back to abstinence, or elimination of the drugs. But remember, that is never enough for a true addict or alcoholic. They need something more than that in order to sustain recovery.
Enter the creative theory. At its core it is nothing more than goal oriented living and positive changes.
The idea of “holistic” just means that you can make positive changes in every area of your life.
For example, in my own personal recovery journey I experienced these positive changes:
1) Went back to school and got a 4 year degree.
2) Got a job working in the recovery field. Then got promoted at that job.
3) Built a successful business that was recovery related.
4) Started exercising and got into shape. Made it a lifelong habit.
5) Started writing passionately about addiction and recovery. Wrote over a million words. Still writing to this day about addiction and recovery.
If you think about each of these things, they are all acts of conscious creation. None of them have to do with elimination. In each case, I deliberately decided to pursue and create something new and positive in my life.
So if you choose to, you could easily explain this as simply being “goal oriented living.” But I believe it is a bit more elaborate than that because if you take a holistic approach then you can be sure that you are trying to make progress in all areas of your life. For example, maybe you are making lots of positive changes in your life but you continue to neglect your physical health. Maybe you are overweight, still smoking cigarettes, and never doing any exercise.
So the creative theory of recovery has an answer for that. The answer is hidden within the holistic approach. You take a step back and consider your overall life and health in recovery. Are you emotionally stable? Are you socially isolated? Are you bored in your job or your career? Are you physically fit and healthy? Are you spiritually connected and in tune with yourself and/or your higher power lately? And so on.
The creative theory looks for problem areas, then says to you “this is an holistic approach. You want positive growth experiences in every area of your life, starting with the biggest problems first.”
So you would then notice that your physical health is lacking, and take action to make positive changes in that area.
This is how the creative theory works: you look for problems in your life and seek to make positive changes. You also look for positive opportunities in your life and look to create a new growth experience from them.
It is goal oriented living combined with an holistic approach to your life and to your health.
All successful recovery is some form of this method. Even those who are successful in AA are actively creating a positive new life for themselves in recovery. If they are miserable and do not value their new life, then they will surely throw it all away on a relapse. But if they value their new life in AA and the positive experiences they are having, then they will remain sober. It is a simple balancing act based on the value of what they have created for themselves in recovery.
The creative theory is simply the idea that you are going to deliberately and consciously create this new life for yourself in recovery. Call it “long term relapse prevention.” You make a series of positive changes that continue to add more and more value to your life, such that you would not want to throw it all away on a relapse.
Long term recovery and the creative theory
The creative theory becomes more and more important the longer you have remained clean and sober.
Very early recovery is all about disruption. You need massive change in a short amount of time. They say that you have to “change everything” and they are pretty much correct in that statement.
I went to detox and then residential treatment. I would recommend the same for anyone, with the cautionary statement that it is not a magic bullet. If you do not want to be sober then don’t bother with treatment. It cannot change your internal motivation. Treatment cannot make you surrender.
But if you have the desire to embrace recovery, then treatment makes a lot of sense. Remember the perspective of the “outsider” though. The outsider probably believes that when someone leaves rehab, they are recovered, and now they can go on with their life and be clean and sober forever.
This is an oversimplification that really misses the mark entirely. True, some people may leave rehab and never use drugs or alcohol again. However, the statement above makes it seem as if the short trip to rehab is what creates a lifetime of sobriety.
This is clearly not the case.
Recovery BEGINS when you leave rehab. This is what the outsider probably does not understand. The real journey begins after you have left rehab. That is when the real journey starts.
I experienced this first hand when I left short term treatment and moved into long term rehab.
I lived at long term rehab for 20 months.
Then I left long term rehab and I have been clean and sober now for over 11 years.
I can look back and realize that it was all a process, it was all a learning experience, but my “real” recovery did not start until I had left long term treatment.
Of course it is all layers of learning and layers of experience. I was still living out my recovery when I was in long term treatment. But the game changed quite a bit when I finally left long term and was out on my own.
And this is when the creative theory became so much more important. Here I was, living back in the real world again, without the crutch of drugs or alcohol to self medicate with. How was I going to live my life? What was I going to do for fun and entertainment? How was I going to pursue happiness? How would I motivate myself to pursue personal growth?
The holistic approach to goal setting held the answers for me. I was still smoking cigarettes, so overcoming that addiction became my first priority. I had not yet graduated from college, so that was another challenge. I was sick of working a day job, so I challenged myself to create a successful business. Why not? I had nothing but time and opportunity stretching out before me.
Thus the “creative theory” approach to life in recovery. Create something positive in your life. Make positive changes. Experience success and then build on it. Set a goal, meet it, then push yourself to do more. Create your own success in recovery, drive your own personal changes.
This was a “secret” of recovery that I did not see going into it, but can clearly see looking back. It was more than eliminating the drugs and the alcohol. I had to create something positive to take the place of addiction.
I had to build a new life for myself.