How does a recovering alcoholic stay clean and sober through the tough trials of life?
Everyone in recovery is going to experience some ups and downs, they are all going to experience some good days and some bad days, everyone faces challenges eventually.
And it is important to realize that these challenges are never going to stop. You are going to face challenges and new problems in life right up until you die. They never stop coming at you.
Do not be discouraged by this, however. Life is not all doom and gloom. And many of these seemingly “negative” problems and challenges that we face end up having a silver lining. Case in point, look at the amazing life that most recovering alcoholics have built, and look at the strength of their spiritual connection, and realize that they would have missed out on all of that personal growth if it were not for their addiction. In a way, their addiction led them to a program that set them free and gave them a life worth living and a life of purpose.
That said, as you remain clean and sober over the years, you are going to go through some easy times, and you are going to go through some tough times. That is just how life works–it is random and chaotic and there are going to be tough times eventually.
We all know that getting through the easy times is, well….easy. So how do we make a plan to get through the tough times?
I have a few suggestions and insights for this.
One is that I would recommend that you start by working a program of recovery, one in which you ask for help, seek advice and input, then take action and attempt to make positive changes in your life. So one example of this would be to work the program of AA or NA with a sponsor, perhaps while also seeing a therapist or doing some group therapy or something like that.
How do you get this started? The easy way is to go to a 28 day rehab. Go to treatment. They will set it all up for you and you can get started on a path of healing. Go through detox, go through residential treatment, attend groups and lectures, be introduced to AA and NA meetings, and then leave rehab after 28 days and start following through with your aftercare. They will likely send you to counseling or IOP and suggest that you attend 12 step meetings. This is a fairly typical outline of the process and you may find slight variations in it, but the basic concepts are the same: Go get help in a controlled facility, get detoxed, learn about addiction and recovery, and then get plugged into support groups outside of rehab. This is the basic setup for recovery as most people experience it today.
So you need to surrender and you need to get into this recovery process, and the easiest way to do that is to go to rehab. Pick up the phone and make that happen and it will likely be the best decision that you have ever made in your life. It certainly was for me.
So once you have done what I just described, you are at a point in your recovery in which you are very vulnerable. Let’s say you went through a 28 day program and you are just getting out and you decide to go to your first AA meeting on the outside. That’s great. Go to the meeting and I would make a point of telling them that this is your very first AA meeting, even if it is technically not.
If you tell them at AA that “this is my first meeting any time, any where” they will give you a special AA meeting in which they tell you their own experiences, how they got sober, and then they will often try to connect with you and give you phone numbers and get you connected to the group in certain ways. This is huge and you probably need to do this if you want to “make it” in early sobriety. Remember that the day that you leave inpatient rehab is really the most vulnerable time in your journey. You need all the help that you can get. You need to follow through with all of your meetings and aftercare almost perfectly if you want to have any chance at long term sobriety. In other words, I am telling you to dive in head first and do the work, go like crazy, hold nothing back, and completely immerse yourself in AA and aftercare when you leave rehab. This is vitally important.
What I have described so far is the basic foundation that you need in order to have a chance at weathering the storm that is addiction recovery.
You need to do at least what I have outlined here so far and probably more if you want to rebuild an amazing life for yourself in recovery. Please note that it is so, so worth it. Keep going!
Now you have a few weeks to a few months sober post-rehab, and you are going to meetings and you are going to IOP or whatever they set you up with, and you are feeling pretty good. Maybe you are even experiencing that elusive pink cloud that people talk about, where everything is great and it feels like nothing could ever bother you again in life.
Well, we all know what clouds do eventually–they burst. And in order to be ready for the inevitable chaos and emotional swings that will come in life, we have to be prepared. That means we need to take action today, when there is no immediate problem, in order to make ourselves stronger for the future.
In other words, we need to build resilience. We need to get stronger emotionally.
There are a few suggestions for this.
One, keep doing the work of recovery. For example, write in a journal every day, call your sponsor every day, and start working through the 12 steps of AA or NA with that sponsor. Get a therapist if you do not have one yet and start working through some issues with that person. Be as honest as possible and keep asking these people what you need to focus on next, what you need to improve, where your biggest weakness is right now. If you keep doing all of these things then that will likely be a lot of important work that you need to do in the first year or two of recovery in order to set yourself up to do well in long term sobriety.
Many people fail to do this work because it is tough. It is uncomfortable. They would prefer to sweep their skeletons under the rug and move on and hope for the best. Don’t take that easy way out or you will regret it later. You need to become vulnerable with someone you trust (a sponsor or therapist) and get down to the real issues that may be holding you back in life.
Second of all I would urge you to take a look at the holistic approach to recovery and the holistic approach to good health. This is for long term recovery after you are stable, maybe 90 days or six months into recovery.
What you should do is to look at your health physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and spiritually–and find the opportunities for improvement.
Then you need to make a plan to improve your life in each of these areas.
So I started jogging when I had maybe 18 months sober. This was life changing for me and a huge asset to my sobriety.
You need to look for those kinds of opportunities in each area of your health so that you can continue to improve yourself in recovery.
These are the kinds of improvements that will help to build a buffer against relapse. These are the kinds of gains in personal growth that will help to protect your sobriety in the long run.