Addiction recovery can be complicated.
If you go to AA meetings, you will hear this contradiction all the time. On on the one hand, people are always saying “It’s a simple program for simple people.”
And yet, there are no less than 12 steps. Twelve of them! Why would you need 12 separate steps in order to make a simple program?
Simple would be more like, say, three steps or so. 12 is kind of a lot!
But don’t get me wrong, I am not blaming them. I don’t necessarily believe that addiction is a simple condition, nor do I think that recovery is simple either.
In fact, I believe that recovery can be kind of complicated.
But just because it is complicated doesn’t mean that we have to get overwhelmed by it. I still believe that we can find a simple path to recovery.
Here is the remarkably simple path that I see working for myself and others.
Disruption, learning, and support
The basic treatment model as I see it right now consists of three main ideas. Those ideas are:
So let’s take a closer look at these concepts.
Disruption is the idea that you have a pattern of addiction and you need a way to break from that pattern. So you disrupt the pattern in some way.
The simple example of this is going to treatment. Inpatient rehab. So you check into treatment and you disrupt your pattern of abuse. You are no longer abusing drugs and alcohol every day. You may not be cured forever at this point, but at least you have disrupted the problem. You are temporarily sober.
The second part of the process is learning. In order to overcome alcoholism you have to learn how to live without self medicating. You have to learn how to live without drinking every day as a solution. That takes real effort. In order to achieve sobriety you have to build a new for yourself in which you are not always turning to your drug of choice as a constant solution.
You can learn from books, from the Internet, or from other people. I believe that there is only so much knowledge that you can get from books and the Internet, and then you have to go seek out dynamic information from living human beings.
Why is this the case? For some reason, we need real living humans to help us to recover. I think part of us needs that human factor so that we can relate. So that we know we are not alone in our journey. So that we get hope and know that recovery is possible.
This actually works out well with the third part, which is support. Because obviously in order to get support in our recovery we are going to need to interact with other people anyway. So not only do you need other people to learn from them about how to live in recovery, but you also need them in order to give you support and encouragement. These are actually two different things but they are both important.
If you want to keep things very simple then your path in early recovery is basically a three part deal:
Go to rehab.
Go to AA.
Get involved in AA and sponsorship.
That is not a bad plan at all for early recovery, and I have certainly watched that work for many people.
Of course it is not a bulletproof plan either because many people who attempt to do exactly those things end up relapsing. It is not because they did the wrong things but because they lacked commitment. They had failed to surrender fully to a new solution in their life and therefore they drank again.
That process will work for anyone “if they work it.” They say that in AA as well, that “it works if you work it.” They are not lying. But there really is no magic in that concept either….of course it works if you actually do the work. It’s an abstinence based program! So yeah, if you go and drink then you screwed up and it is all your fault. But if you do the work and you stick to the program then obviously you won’t relapse. That is not a revelation nor is it magical. But it still holds true that if you stick to the basic principles laid out there that you will remain sober.
Now because of the way the treatment industry is set up right now (largely 12 step based) and because AA is fairly widespread, this is the simplest path in early recovery.
There are other paths, and this is not necessarily going to be the “right” path for every person, but this is definitely the easiest and most accessible path to get you started. Go to rehab and follow up with AA. Done deal. If you dive in and commit strongly and do the work then you can remain sober.
But what about long term sobriety? What about staying clean and sober for the next 5 years, for the next 10 years, for the rest of your life? What about the long term?
Is there a simple plan for that too?
I think there is.
The path is one of personal growth and self improvement
Earnie Larsen I believe popularized the idea of “stage 2 recovery.” He separates the idea of early recovery from long term sobriety, noting that they can be quite different.
I agree with this ideas in that early recovery is all about learning and support, whereas long term sobriety has to evolve.
You cannot do the same thing at 3 years sober that you were doing at 30 days sober. Those are different points in your sobriety and they call for a different approach.
For example, when I was at 30 days sober I was living in long term rehab. I was going to meetings every day. I was doing everything that I could not to pick up a drink. At that time I was very focused on the problem, on my problem, which was essentially “How do I make it through this day without drinking alcohol or taking drugs?”
At 3 years sober this was no longer my focus. Nor should it be.
If you are at 3 years sober and you are still consumed with how to make it through a single day without drinking then you are doing it wrong!
Right now I am at 13 years sober and the same concept holds true…..I am not struggling today to figure out how to remain sober. Nor should I be.
Does that mean I am cured? Of course not. It just means that the immediate threat of relapse is not on the surface right now, and I have other battles to fight.
And indeed, you are still fighting for your sobriety when you have 10, 15 and 20 years sober. But the battle changes. It evolves. Now it is a fight against complacency. It is no longer a battle with the immediate threat of relapse. It’s more subtle. The game has changed.
And so, you must change with it.
I see this at times among the AA crowd, how they focus on the basics for so long and refuse to evolve in their recovery. They get stuck. They act like newcomers even after years of sobriety. Why are they doing that? Why not move on and fight new battles, achieve new things, find new paths of growth? Why stay stuck?
In early recovery, when you first get clean and sober, your job is simple and straightforward:
Don’t drink today no matter what.
So early recovery should be focused. Go to rehab. Go to AA meetings. Go every single day. Get a sponsor. Work the steps. Hit this stuff hard and fast. Go crazy with it all. Dedicate your life to this stuff.
That’s early recovery.
But at some point you should transition to long term sobriety. At some point, you need to evolve.
There is a simple strategy for long term sobriety and it is this:
In long term sobriety, your main goal should be one of continuous self improvement.
That’s it. That goal is broad enough and important enough that it can sustain your sobriety all by itself.
Of course there are many directions that you can take that idea of self improvement. Perhaps this is what makes the strategy so powerful.
But it is a simple concept: Self improvement.
What if, after getting clean and sober, you improved your life just one percent each week?
And what if you kept doing that…..forever?
How good would your life become over time?
I have to tell you, I’m not all that great at math, but I have been living this philosophy myself for the last 13 years, so I have seen the results. And the results are, quite frankly, really amazing.
When you improve your life a tiny bit at a time, consistently, over long periods of time–amazing things happen.
This is your really simple strategy for long term sobriety.
One percent per week. Continuous self improvement.
That is the simple concept. The question is, how do you implement such an idea?
In order to implement the idea we have to first choose a direction.
We want to improve our lives at least 1 percent each week. We know that much. The question is, in what ways do we improve our lives?
The answer to that is simple as well.
The answer is to consider your health.
What part of your health, you ask?
All of it. Holistic health. The “whole” person, in this case.
Holistic health is the theme for your self improvement
Every day you want to take care of yourself in the following ways:
That is a picture of your overall health in life. That is what we mean when we talk about “holistic” health. All 5 of those areas of your life.
Now if you want to improve by 1 percent each week in your life, you should consider those 5 categories in order to look for ways to do that.
For example, maybe you will consider your physical health, and look at where it might be lacking.
My suggestion is to look for negative things that can be fixed. This gives you a really high return on your effort, because you eliminate points of misery.
For example, say that you are dragging your feet lately due to lack of sleep. You have not made sleep a priority and it is costing you.
So you recognize this and you make a plan to fix it. You figure out what you need to do to improve the quality of your sleep. You ask for help, you talk to doctors, you keep taking advice and testing new ideas in your life until you fix this problem and you are happy with it.
If you follow through then eventually you correct the problem and your life improves as a result.
Next maybe you notice that you are out of shape lately. Again, you have to prioritize a bit, figure out what part of your life really needs to be fixed the most right now, and then decide. So at some point you admit that you need to get into better shape. So you come up with a plan, maybe you consult your doctor and see what exercises are appropriate, and you start doing it. You whip yourself into shape and eventually you start feeling good about yourself and being active every day. Your life improves yet another 1 percent.
Then maybe you look at your emotional life. Perhaps you are upset lately and a bit out of balance emotionally because of some drama at your place of work. So you decide that you need to address that source of stress and eliminate it. Maybe you ask for help, sit down with a therapist or a sponsor or just a friend, and you figure out what your options are. Maybe you could find a new job, or maybe you could sit down and talk to the people involved, or maybe you just need to talk it out in therapy. You try different solutions and you discuss it until you can resolve that emotional disruption. Eventually you resolve it and your life improves another 1 percent.
If you keep living this way in long term sobriety then guess what? Your life will continuously get better and better. If you are always working on that next 1 percent improvement, then the threat of relapse is greatly diminished.
Because you are not very likely to throw your sobriety away if your life is constantly getting better. Most people who relapse do so when their life is getting worse. Actually, people who relapse can look back and admit that their life had been getting worse for a long time before they finally picked up the drink again.
So this is a powerful form of relapse prevention: Continuous self improvement.
This is your really simple plan for long term sobriety. The one percent improvement plan. If you keep improving your life, if you keep eliminating negative things, then your life will get better and better and you will be well protected from the threat of relapse.
The best form of relapse prevention and how to implement it
Personal growth and continuous self improvement is the best form of relapse prevention.
So how do you implement it? In other words, how do you prioritize?
My suggestion is that the earlier that you are in your sobriety journey, the more you should let other people help you to prioritize your life.
That probably doesn’t sound like much fun. But think about it: When you first get clean and sober, you really are not fit to make any decisions at all. Your life is in shambles and all you really know how to do is to drink in order to self medicate. You don’t know a thing about recovery or living sober. So at that point you should not be making any of the decisions. Instead, let others do that for you.
So you might get a sponsor in AA or you might talk with a therapist or a counselor. And in very early recovery your goal should be to take advice from other people rather than to use your own ideas.
Why is that?
Because your own ideas are likely to end in relapse.
Let’s be clear on that: If you are new in sobriety, then your own ideas are probably toxic. Avoid them at first. Don’t use your own ideas at all in early recovery. Instead, listen to other people instead. Their ideas may not be perfect, but you can almost insure that they will not lead you to relapse.
Again, if you listen to advice from other people in early recovery, that advice will almost never lead you to relapse. Whereas your own ideas probably will.
So simply ignore yourself for a while! I would suggest one year. Outsource your decision making for the first year of your sobriety. Only listen to others rather than to yourself.
Sounds boring, and it might even sound horrible, but it will unlock a great deal of happiness in your life. If you listen to others then your life will get better and better.
Do you have to go to AA meetings? Do you have to have a sponsor? Do you have to do anything?
Now then, does this mean that everyone has to go to AA?
Simply because I suggested that as the simple path to sobriety?
Not necessarily. No one has to do anything.
But I want to challenge you for a moment here and suggest that everyone who wants to get clean and sober has to do something.
I used to work in an alcohol treatment center. Sometimes people would come into rehab with their family, and they would get scared, and they would not want to stay. They would sort of chicken out at the last moment and not want to check into rehab.
Of course such people did not want to admit that they were afraid. So they would make all sorts of excuses as to why they could not stay in treatment. Or they would say things to try to convince themselves that they were done drinking, that they would just quit on their own. They were lying to their families and they were lying to themselves.
In reality they were just scared. They were not ready to give up their drug of choice. They wanted to keep drinking, to continue to self medicate. I get it, I was there once myself too. Heck, I was there a couple of times.
These people were not done drinking. They went home and continued to drink, even though they had the best intentions to quit on their own.
The fact is, you have to do something. You can’t just go sit on your couch and decide you want to be sober and expect for that to work.
It won’t work.
No, you need to take massive action if you want to see a big change in your life.
And that means facing your fears and taking the plunge into sobriety. That means you need to actually do something. You need to take massive action.
The plan is pretty simple. We can knock it down to about 6 words:
4) Continuous self improvement.
The question is, are you ready to take the plunge and do the work?
It all comes down to surrender.
So what do you think, and where are you at? Are you ready to surrender today, to face your fears and embrace a path of change and growth? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!