The problem is not in stopping drinking, the problem is in staying stopped.
In that regard, you need to replace your old life of drinking with a new life involving something else.
The only constant in recovery is change. The only thing you have to do to get sober is to….well, change everything.
They tell you that at AA because it is pretty much the truth. If you do it right, it really will feel like everything changed. This is the only way to sustain sobriety. You have to rebuild your life, practically from scratch.
Alcoholics don’t just drink because it is mildly enticing to them….they do it because they love it. They love to drink and they love to be drunk. They are passionate about it.
So if you want to maintain sobriety, you have to ask yourself a very important question:
“What is going to replace that passion that you had for alcohol?”
That is not a rhetorical question. You really need an answer for that!
There are different strategies for replacing that passion, and we will get to those in a moment. But first let’s consider the idea of surrender and how it all works in the real world.
Surrendering from versus surrendering to something
I like to point out that there are two levels of denial when it comes to addiction.
As such, there are really two ways to surrender.
The first level of denial is when you refuse to admit that you have a problem. You may surrender to this at some point, thus admitting that you have a problem (finally).
That’s only stage one though.
The second part is that you can be in denial of a solution. This is what you would surrender to.
For example, this may be inpatient treatment. Or AA meetings. Or a religious based program.
This is something that you don’t surrender from, this is a solution that you surrender to.
You invite a new solution into your life.
If someone is on the fence in regards to getting sober, you should ask them if they are ready to surrender to a new solution.
Most people are only concerned with surrendering to the fact that they are alcoholic; that they have a problem.
This is not useful. Or rather, it is not the ultimate point of surrender. It is necessary, but you can’t just admit you have a problem and then stop there. You won’t get sober that way.
Instead, you have to surrender to something. You have to embrace a solution.
Now, there are many different solutions out there for addiction, but there are really only a handful of popular alternatives.
And to be quite honest, it doesn’t really matter which solution you choose. Not as much as people would have you believe.
No, what is far more important is that you:
1) Surrender to your disease (admit your problem).
2) Surrender to a solution. Embrace a recovery program. Any program.
3) Follow through and do what you are told to do. Listen. Get humble. Take action.
Now there are people out there who will tell you that the only solution that could ever possibly work for any alcoholic is AA.
And there are also people out there who will tell you that the only true solution that gives people true quality sobriety is through religion.
Both groups of people are technically wrong. They think they have found the one true solution to alcoholism and drug addiction, when in fact they have confused their solution with what is really a simple process.
The process is outlined above. Surrender to the problem, surrender to a new way of life, and the follow through (taking action). The rest is just details.
This process will work with the AA program. But it will also work with religious based programs that have nothing to do with AA.
So what is the common thread? It is the fundamental principles that are outlined in that process. Namely, surrender. And also “taking action.” Or if you prefer, you can label it “personal growth.”
The program itself is just a minor detail, believe it or not. It is all about surrender and follow through. So that means commitment, self honesty, and humility. It means a lot of things. But the fundamental principles of recovery do not change, regardless of which recovery program you choose to follow.
Replacement strategies for addiction and alcoholism
You can replace your passion for alcohol or drugs with several different things.
It is interesting to carefully analyze people who stay sober in various recovery programs. There are people, for example, in AA meetings who are basically staying clean and sober based on the social aspect of the program. They don’t really work the 12 steps into their lives, they don’t really participate in sponsorship, and they don’t really study the recovery literature.
So what do they do? They go to AA meetings. They embrace the fellowship. And some of these people manage to stay sober.
The purists in AA will denounce this approach and say that “the solution is in the steps.” And they are right to say that. But this does not invalidate the fact that many people in AA are using it as a social solution, and they never really work the actual steps. (Some would argue that this is a recipe for relapse in the long run).
There are people who have worked through religious based programs of recovery who have basically replaced their addiction with church involvement. This can work for some people, just as AA can work for some people, but it is probably not for everyone.
And therein lies an important lesson here: Different replacement strategies work for different people.
There is a recovery program out there that has nothing to do with steps, religion, or higher powers at all. Do you know what it is based on? It is based on exercise and competitive running.
Obviously, such a program is not going to work for everyone. But for some people (a few thousand apparently) it is the chosen method of sobriety. These people have found their replacement strategy, and it is fitness. They push themselves hard to get into better shape and this helps them to stay sober. They have incentive to maintain sobriety because they have found passion in fitness and running.
Will that work for everyone? Of course not. Many people are not in a position to embrace hard core exercise as a means of recovery. But it certainly works for some people, and it is worth taking note of.
How do you find the recovery strategy that is right for you?
When I first got clean and sober I did not know exactly what my path was in long term sobriety. I had no idea what was ultimately going to work out for me and what was going to eventually get dropped from my routine.
So I tried lots of different things. I got a sponsor and worked through the steps. I went to meetings and therapy. I tried meditation for several months. I tried exercise and fitness. I played around with my diet. I dove into religion for a while. I chaired an NA meeting for a few years. I worked full time at a detox center as a nurse aid.
This is essentially how I found what worked well for me. This is how I discovered some of the habits that help me to stay sober on a regular basis.
I took suggestions from other people in early recovery. This is not necessarily an easy thing to do. You have to put your pride to the side in order to listen to the suggestions of others. And you have to have faith that if you just try lots of different things in recovery that eventually certain ideas will bubble to the top for you.
I tried meditation for a few months at the suggestion of many people. My sponsor and my therapist at the time were both suggesting seated meditation. Also the 12 steps of AA were suggesting meditation as part of the solution. So I tried to meditate.
In fact, I studied it and researched it. I read books. I practiced various techniques. I did visualization exercises. I did breathing exercises. And I simply sat and meditated at times with no real goals or guidelines. I continued this for a few months time.
And you know what happened?
I quit. I gave it all up, because it wasn’t doing much for me.
Now you might be saying to yourself: “Oh wow, I think this person really missed out on a key idea in recovery. Everyone should meditate!”
But here is what really happened: I found a better way to meditate. Or at least, it is a better way for me to meditate. I found something that worked better for me.
And that was distance running. I started running long distances, outdoors, through the countryside, and doing this every day. I would run for about an hour straight.
This absolutely, for me, replaced seated meditation. Any and all of the benefits that I got from seated meditation, I was getting all of that and more from my one hour of jogging.
Other people probably see this differently. To them, maybe running for an hour is nowhere near the same thing as meditation. For me, it absolutely is. I get emotionally balanced when I jog long distances, and it helps me to clear out my mind. I often find myself in a trance of sorts during a run, not thinking about anything, or not realizing what my brain is even doing in the background. I am just bouncing along, feeling good, and watching the scenery go by. From the standpoint of mental health and meditation, this is absolutely healing. It works for me.
But it might not work for you.
And that is why everyone has to find their own replacement strategies in recovery.
I can’t give you an exact road map.
Just as no one could hand me an exact road map for my own recovery. They tried to, and most people suggested seated meditation. So I tried that for a while, and it didn’t really work out. So I moved on and eventually took another suggestion, which was to get into shape via distance running. That worked, and that clicked with me, and I have been doing it ever since.
And so it will be on your journey too.
You need to test new ideas out in your life, so that you can find what works for you.
One way to do that is by taking suggestions from other people.
Testing out new ideas in your life by taking suggestions from other people
I have to admit that in early recovery I did not like the idea of taking suggestions from other people.
It made me feel like I was stupid, or that I was not smart enough to figure things out on my own.
But then I did it anyway. Because I was desperate, and I had to admit that I really did not have a clue as to how to live in recovery.
And that is when the magic happened. In early recovery, I started listening to other people and taking their advice.
And I was shocked to realize that my life got a whole lot better. It didn’t just get a little better, it got a LOT better.
And it did so fairly rapidly.
And I was smart enough to realize that I could not take credit for it. It wasn’t me. These were not my ideas. I was just listening to other people and doing what they told me to do. And in doing so, my life was getting better and better.
I was amazed. And I was also convinced that I had stumbled onto a secret. Just listen to advice, implement it in your life, and then watch your results.
This was so much easier than trying to figure everything out for yourself.
You see, there are really two levels of thinking that I would normally have to engage in.
One level was in figuring out what to do with myself, and with my life.
The second level was, after deciding what I was going to do, was to execute the idea and turn it into reality.
What I learned in early recovery was that I no longer had to worry about the first level. That was the part where I normally would worry about what to do with myself.
Notice the language I used there: “Worry.” I would worry about what to do next.
That is not productive. That is not helpful. When you are obsessing and worrying about what the best course of action is, you are not being effective.
So in early recovery I had effectively eliminated this problem. I had outsourced my worrying to other people. I was no longer making my own decisions.
Someone suggested that I go to rehab. I went.
Someone suggested that I live in long term treatment. I did.
They told me to get a sponsor, to go to AA. I did those things.
They told me to write in a journal, to write in the steps. I did those things.
Instead of wondering what I should be doing, I switched entirely to taking action. To doing things.
This made me about a thousand times more effective than I ever was in the past. Now instead of just wondering and worrying all the time, I was actually taking positive action and making good things happen in my life.
Someone suggested I get a job. Go back to school. Chair an NA meeting. Make a gratitude list.
So I started taking suggestions and executing things, rather than spending all my time worrying what to do.
If you are “in charge” of your recovery, then you have to worry if you are doing the right things or not.
But if you put someone else in charge of your recovery, and take their suggestions and advice, then you can multiply your effectiveness and make amazing progress.
Giving yourself a chance to see results work in your life
One of the biggest hurdles in early recovery has to do with the fact that the results are not instant.
You did not become addicted overnight. Therefore, you cannot expect to recover fully overnight either.
In reality, we never fully recover. There is always that chance that we might relapse some day. So you may get to 99 percent “recovered,” but you will never be fully cured in recovery.
Because of this, we are always going to be a work in progress.
What happens when you first get clean and sober is that you make an intense amount of positive progress in a very short period of time. Because of this, many people achieve something known as the “pink cloud” syndrome. They feel like they are on top of the world in recovery and everything is perfect. Of course, eventually you will experience both ups and downs in your life (as everyone must at some point) and that pink cloud will burst. If you are doing the work in early recovery then hopefully you will be strong enough to overcome the temptation to relapse.
In order to really see results in recovery it is going to take a few months. For some people it may take a few years. Of course we all recover at different rates based on how much work we have to do and how dedicated we are to taking daily action.
If you push yourself every day towards self improvement then you should definitely see rapid growth in your recovery. Daily positive changes will compound quickly over short periods of time. For example, say that you improve your life just one percent every day for the next 90 days. Imagine how much better your life will be at the end of that! Now imagine that you do this for 2 full years, and you dedicate yourself to personal growth every single day. You can imagine how those results will tend to multiply and build on themselves. Your life will get better and better based on the fact that you have traded in your bad habits for good ones.
This is ultimately what recovery is all about–trading in your old habits for new ones. This is what a replacement strategy is all about, you want to replace your old negative behaviors with positive ones.
For example, when I used to get frustrated or angry I would drink in order to self medicate. This created all sorts of negative consequences. Things got worse and then spiraled out of control. Today in recovery, I don’t have to do that any more. If I get frustrated I can go for a jog, I can write in a journal, I can talk to my peers in recovery. All of these things can then create second order effects which are positive instead of negative. For example, jogging produces better physical health, emotional stability, helps with sleep, and so on. Writing in a journal helps to free up mental space in the mind and also helps to get organized. This is why the holistic approach to your health in recovery is so incredibly powerful–it doesn’t just keep you clean and sober. Instead, you get all of these additional benefits from the positive actions that you are taking, and those benefits start to then multiply and build on themselves. You cannot predict the positive interactions that will happen when you are living this sort of life of personal growth in recovery.
Things just keep getting better and better and it will be difficult to articulate exactly how it is all working together. That is the power of a holistic strategy of recovery. If you replace your negative habits with more positive ones and build on those consistently then you will start to experience this synergistic effect in your own life as well.
What about you, have you found an effective replacement strategy for your recovery? What is it and how does it work? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!