Simple, but not easy.
Simple to say it out loud, but difficult and even complicated to implement.
The solution for the alcoholic or drug addict who keeps relapsing is for them to surrender fully and completely.
What is the difference between full and partial surrender?
Partial surrender is what happened the first 2 times that I agreed to attend inpatient rehab. Partial surrender is wishing that things were different, that my life was better, that I was happier–but not necessarily being willing to put in the work to make the difficult changes.
Partial surrender is when the alcoholic lands in jail and says “maybe it is time to go to rehab” but they are only doing so for all the wrong reasons. They have not reached a point of “total and complete” surrender. They just want a break, they want things to be different, they want things to be easier. But they don’t really know how to change their whole entire life all at once.
Do you know what makes addiction recovery so challenging? One of the things that makes it so difficult is that nearly everything has to be parallel processed.
What does that mean?
It means that you cannot just say “Okay, I am going to work on not drinking alcohol for a while, but I am going to ignore my messed up relationships, I am going to ignore these resentments that are killing me inside, I am going to ignore my physical health which is currently a mess, and I am going to ignore the fact that I have become completely selfish and spiritually bankrupt. Maybe I can work on all of those other things later, but right now I just want to focus on not drinking booze.
Ah, no. It doesn’t work that way. In order to succeed in addiction recovery, the struggling alcoholic has to make all of these things come together all at the same time.
You cannot just pick one of those items from your list and focus on it exclusively while ignoring all of your other problems.
Why is this the case?
Because there are many different triggers for relapse.
I have watched my peers in recovery relapse because they got into a new romantic relationship and it did not work out. So the emotional upset from this caused them to want to drink alcohol and medicate the emotional pain away. This is very common in early recovery and because I was surrounded by a group of peers in early recovery I watched it happen over and over again.
Do you know what else I saw?
I watched a lot of people in early recovery who suffered an illness or an injury. Sometimes it resulted in getting pain medication at the emergency room. Sometimes it was a person who was sick and run down for a long time and this illness isolated them and kept them away from their natural support systems like AA. But for whatever reasons, I noticed that a few of my peers in early recovery ended up relapsing due to illness or injury. It was fairly common and it happened enough for me to notice the trend happening.
I could go on, but you get the point. People relapse for different reasons–sometimes emotional, sometimes social, sometimes physical, sometimes spiritual, and so on.
Because there are so many potential pitfalls in early recovery, your job as a recovering alcoholic or drug addict is to cover all of those bases. And unfortunately you have to cover those bases all at once. If you ignore one of those potential pitfalls then that will be how your addiction tries to sneak back into your life and cause you to relapse.
Therefore, what has to happen in order for the chronic relapsing alcoholic to finally “get it” is this: They have to surrender to the process so deeply that they are willing to do anything and everything in order to recover.
So that means they no longer make excuses about what they will or will not do in order to get sober. I can remember when I used to draw the line at long term treatment. I was completely opposed to the idea of living in long term rehab. This was because I was stuck in denial and I was terrified of actually becoming clean and sober and getting to know the real me. So when therapists suggested long term rehab I recoiled in horror–there was no exit in sight, and I might have to actually learn how to live in my own skin, oh no! That was where I drew the line because I was afraid of sobriety.
What happened at some point was that I surrendered fully and completely.
What did this mean? It meant that I no longer drew the line there at “going to long term rehab.” In fact, I stopped drawing lines altogether, and simply dropped all resistance, and I begged for help. I said “Tell me what to do” and I really meant it. I was willing to go to any rehab, to do any kind of treatment, to go to AA meetings all day, every day, and generally do whatever it took in order to get clean and sober.
I was so thoroughly miserable and so thoroughly sick and tired of everything that I just wanted it all to stop. And while ending it all was a fleeting thought for me, I knew that going to rehab and following their suggestions would at least stop the misery temporarily. Now understand this: I had no great faith at that moment of surrender that I would ever learn to be happy while sober. I was not sure that going to rehab would cure me forever and make me happy in sobriety. I did not believe this was even possible for me. I really didn’t.
I went because I was sick of the misery. That was my moment of surrender. I had finally had enough, and I wasn’t willing to off myself in spectacular and selfish fashion, so I decided to give rehab one more try. I might not find happiness and joy, I reasoned, but at least the misery would stop for a bit.
And of course I did eventually find happiness and joy and even more than that, after I surrendered completely and gave recovery a chance to work in my life. It took far less than a full year for me to start feeling something like joy and freedom in my life. And of course now I am just 8 days shy of having 17 years clean and sober, and it just keeps getting better and better.
So the cure is “simple,” in that real recovery can become unlocked in one split second when the alcoholic finally decides that they have had enough, when the struggling drug addict finally decides that they have had all the misery that they want from addiction, and that it is time to do something different.
That moment of surrender is dead simple. The struggle for control just falls away magically. Suddenly the person is willing to listen, willing to learn, willing to follow a new direction. Willing to accept some guidance. And until this moment occurs, no real progress can be made in terms of their addiction. This is where it all begins.
But recovery itself is not really simple. It is complicated because you must parallel process all of the critical points that will defend your sobriety. And you have to juggle that all at once, as you navigate early sobriety.
But guess what? Help is available! You don’t have to fight this battle alone.
Go to rehab, then follow up with AA and therapy. That is the best suggestion that you can take from this. Go seek professional help, and follow through with their recommendations.