What are some of the ideal solutions for an addiction to alcoholic drink?
You would think that in our modern society and with the advancement of medicine in so many different fields that we would have a good answer for that question. But treating addiction is behind the curve a bit. For one thing, we got a pretty late start. We have really only been working on the problem in a medical respect for less than a hundred years now.
As of right now there is not a perfect solution. There is not one path in recovery that dominates all other paths. There is not an obvious and perfect treatment for addiction that we can refer every person to when they have a problem.
I think this adds a great deal to the challenge of recovery. If it were obvious and simple then there would be much less ambiguity. If there were a certain solution that worked much better than all of the others then it would be an obvious fix. But recovery doesn’t work that way (at least not yet, in the future it might). We just haven’t solved the problem of addiction yet. And we may never figure it out. Right now we simply have to do the best we can in order to get people to wake up and change their lives.
Obviously the goal is to change. But the question is, how do you help people to make those difficult changes in their lives? And a second question might be: “Is it possible to motivate people to change?”
The default solution in our society: go to rehab and then to AA
Right now there are several choices in our society but the default one is what most people recommend: Go to rehab and then go to AA meetings. That is the default solution because that is what seems to offer the most hope in most situations.
The concept is fairly simple. Go to rehab and arrest your disease. Disrupt your pattern. You stop drinking or using drugs when you walk into detox and get into a controlled environment. Thus you are able to become clean and sober even if you are greatly tempted to drink or use drugs. You simply cannot do so because you are locked up in a facility (temporarily) and you do not have access to drugs or alcohol for a while. So you start on a new journey in recovery.
Second of all you leave rehab and you need support. Theoretically you have made the decision to remain clean and sober, and now you need massive amounts of help in order to carry out that decision. Short term rehab provided the disruption for this to start, but now you have left rehab and you are back in the real world. Now the temptations of alcohol and other drugs are right there in your face, and there is no one to keep you from indulging if you choose to do so. The choice that was temporarily removed (in treatment) is now back in your hands. At that point you probably have a few weeks sober. What do you do?
The default solution is to tell people to get themselves to outside AA meetings at this point. “Go to a meeting the same day that you leave treatment.” Also: “Go to 90 meetings in 90 days after leaving rehab.” This is the maintenance phase of early recovery. You need help and support in order to make it through your early sobriety and so they recommend that you go to meetings every single day.
But even more than the support perhaps is the continuation of your learning and education about recovery. If you go to rehab for 2 weeks or even 28 days then you are not fully educated about how to avoid relapse for the rest of your life. In fact you have just barely dipped your big toe into recovery at that point and you still have a great deal to learn. You cannot learn it all in one month. It takes several years. In fact I would say the first 3 to 5 years are really when you sort of get your bearings and really learn how you are going to function in the real world without self medicating all of the time. The first year or two doesn’t necessarily count. I mean, it counts of course. But you are focusing on simply avoiding alcohol during that early time, and you have not yet faced some of the challenges that come with long term sobriety. In years 2 through 5 you really start to deal with some of the lifelong challenges that are going to confront you in the fight against relapse. One example of this is complacency, something that kills many recovering alcoholics and they never even see it coming. They get lazy and stop growing and it leads them to relapse in a way that they never could have predicted. Sneaky, sneaky addiction.
Some people are lucky enough to be so involved in AA and helping others in recovery that they are able to overcome complacency. You don’t get a feel for this during your first year of recovery. You are too busy trying to learn how to stay sober. But after that period of stabilization then you have to learn how to live your life in long term recovery. There is a difference there. I don’t think they really teach you about this in most recovery circles because it is sort of an advanced concept:
* First 24 months of recovery = learn as much as possible and focus on abstinence, support from others.
* Long term recovery = focus on personal growth and holistic health.
Putting this into words is difficult. If you do the same things that you did at 3 months sober when you have 3 years sober, you are probably going to relapse. Most people intuitively understand this but they certainly don’t talk about it at AA meetings. Instead, the message is fairly redundant and seems to be tailored to the newcomer: “Keep coming back!” And there are a million variations on that theme that all seem to pound the fundamental basics of recovery into everyone–both the newcomer and the oldtimer alike. The problem is that the oldtimer should be evolving, they should be focusing on higher level stuff, they should be growing and learning and changing beyond what the newcomer in recovery is focusing on.
This is one way that complacency sneaks in. If you are in AA and you keep focusing on the basics for ten years, you run a serious risk of relapse. Why? Because you are not moving forward. You stay stuck doing the same things that the newcomer is doing in order to get grounded. When do you get to spread your wings a bit? When do you get to pursue growth, change, greater health, and so on? When do you get to that next level? If you leave it up to AA to define when this happens, you will be waiting forever. Their message is tailored more to retaining and helping the newcomer than it is to helping established people in recovery to overcome complacency.
Think about this carefully: It is your personal responsibility to overcome complacency in long term recovery.
You need to find a way to make this happen on your own. It will be different for every single person in recovery. The AA program and the 12 steps and the fellowship do not really have a good solution for complacency. Actually they have one solution, and that is: “Just keep coming back” and “It works if you work it” and so on. This may work for some people in AA but it will not work for everyone (and in particular it did not work for me).
In other words, the default plan in AA to overcome complacency is: “Just do more AA!” Get into it more! Go to more meetings! Sponsor some people! Etc. etc.
And there is nothing wrong with that if it works for you. But it will not work for every person in AA, even if AA did a great deal in helping you to stabilize in early recovery.
You were not meant to become a robot in recovery. You were meant to learn, to evolve, to grow. If you can do that in AA and within that structured program then that is great. Me, I had to find other outlets for growth. Other outlets through which I could improve my life. Other ways in which I could explore personal growth. Other ways in which I could try to improve my health.
The cornerstone of success in long term sobriety is personal growth. If you are not engaged in personal growth then you run the risk of becoming complacent. Overcoming complacency means that you have to leave your comfort zone from time to time. You have to push the edges. You have to expand what you are learning, what you are willing to do in order to become a better person. You have to push for greater health in various areas of your life. This is a continuous and evolving process.
What if the default solution does not work for you? What then?
If the default solution does not work for you then you should do what I did: Create your own path in recovery.
The key to doing this is to transition slowly.
Say you are in AA (or any other recovery program) and you don’t really feel like it is working for you. You want to create your own path in recovery. Most people in this situation would think to themselves: “OK, let’s just change what we are doing right away and try something else.”
This is not the right approach to take. Instead, here is what I would suggest (and what worked for me):
1) Start paying attention to what really helps you in recovery and what does not. You must be objective in doing this. If going to an AA meeting seems to reduce your cravings for alcohol, then be honest about it with yourself. Don’t lie to yourself and tell yourself that it doesn’t really help if it actually does, just because you are sick of going to meetings.
2) Start taking suggestions from people (both in and out of AA) for what they do OUTSIDE of meetings for their recovery. So you can talk to people in AA meetings and ask them: “What sort of things have a positive impact on your recovery other than AA meetings? What actions do you take each day that help you to stay sober other than AA meetings?”
3) Take those suggestions and feedback that you get and start experimenting with them while you are still attending AA meetings. Don’t just stop going to AA all at once on a whim. This is likely to result in relapse. You can’t just jump ship if you don’t have a plan. Even if you have a plan you will probably relapse. The only thing that will work is if you have a really good plan. In order to create a really good plan for recovery you are going to have to learn a great deal about yourself FIRST through experimentation.
4) Continue to attend AA while you are learning about what works for you in recovery. I took a suggestion to start exercising and this made a huge difference for me in my recovery. Daily exercise became a big part of my daily practice. It became part of my sobriety. But I had to experiment and take suggestions from people in order to learn this (by the way, I got this suggestion from someone who was in AA).
5) Slowly start to shift away from the AA meetings and the old “disruption model” (rehab, AA meetings, etc.) towards the new stuff that you have discovered. Start going to less meetings each week and start doing more and more of the other things that seems to really help you. Keep shifting over (SLOWLY) until you are no longer going to AA meetings at all.
This is how I transitioned away from a dependency on AA meetings. When I was in AA I was going to meetings every single day and I did not like them very much. But I had to admit to myself that they did seem to help reduce thoughts about alcohol and drinking. So I transitioned away from them very carefully. And I did so very slowly. And the entire process was really focused on learning about myself and what things really helped me in recovery.
If you want to succeed in recovery then you ultimately have two choices:
1) Follow a program of recovery (such as AA).
2) Create your own program of recovery (based on personal growth, taking positive action, etc.).
You might also think of this as “recovery for introverts.” If you are an extrovert then there is no harm in going to AA and thriving there. So long as you solve the problem of complacency by taking personal responsibility, there is nothing wrong with using AA as your permanent solution.
For me, that was not good enough. I did 18 months in AA and decided that it was just not a good fit for me. I was compromising too many things in order to fit myself into AA. I was forcing myself to listen to way too much filler at meetings that was not really helping me. I found my time better spent elsewhere in recovery. So I created a different path for myself, one in which I really had to get honest and figure out what was helping me in my recovery. I pushed myself to find the truth, outside of the AA program.
Is your problem one of disruption, or is it more a problem of complacency?
There are two possible problems in recovery: Short term problems and long term problems.
If you have a short term problem then your issue is with disruption. You cannot get sober at all. You are trapped in the disease.
If you have a long term problem then you cannot stay sober. Your problem is with complacency. You cannot stick to sobriety in the long run.
First you should determine what your problem really is. If you are still drinking on a regular basis then your initial problem is with disruption. You need a way to break free from the cycle that you are trapped in.
Going to rehab is the shortcut to breaking free from this cycle. If you go to rehab for 28 days then you automatically get 28 days sober under your belt. You have disrupted the disease and at least caught yourself a breather. Your mind starts to clear and the fog will lift a little bit. You can think and breath again for the moment. You have disrupted your disease.
Now once you leave treatment you are faced with the challenge of remaining sober. This is the “support phase” of recovery, when you first walk out of rehab. The big push is to get you to find support. I found myself a lot of support for the first two years and I don’t believe that I would be sober today without that support that I had. Most of my support came from being in long term rehab and some of that support also came from programs such as AA. But mostly I was surrounded by others in recovery on a daily basis.
Now after I left long term rehab I faced another challenge. This was a challenge of complacency. I had to learn how to thrive in AA, or I had to learn how to thrive in life. I could not do it in AA so I chose to find another way to push myself. I quickly figured out that there was something underneath the AA program that drove success in sobriety. That “something” was actually personal growth. Positive action. If things get better in your life then the chance of relapse is diminished. If things get worse in your life then the chance of relapse is increased. This was an important revelation and I used it to build a new path in recovery for myself.
So my goal became one of personal growth. If I could improve my life (and my life situation) then I could prevent relapse. So this became the driving force in my life each day. What am I doing today that will help to improve my life in the long run? That was what drove my own personal program of recovery.
How to incorporate a daily practice to strengthen your recovery and get what you want out of life
Recovery always boils down to action.
What are you willing to do in order to overcome your problem?
In the short run the answer is “disruption.” Change your pattern. Go to detox. Go to rehab. Break free from the cycle you are stuck in.
In the long run the answer becomes a bit more complicated. This is because there are so many different answers.
Your “daily practice” is what you do each and every day for your recovery. You can view your daily practice in terms of holistic health. That is, what you do for yourself each day:
If you are ignoring one of those areas for too long then your life will generally let you know about it. So you have to pay attention. You have to listen to your body and your mind. You have to watch for clues that things are not going as smoothly as they should be. And when you notice a problem area you need to address it. Hence, quitting smoking. Hence, daily exercise. Hence, eating healthy foods. Hence, getting good sleep. Hence, seeking a spiritual connection. Hence, eliminating toxic relationships from your life. And so on.
Your daily practice should lead to a series of healthy habits. The daily habits that you engage in should be improving these various areas of your health.
Over time you should refine what you do each day in order to reflect these personal goals.
You become what you do each day. If there is a single secret in recovery, it is this. Your daily practice dictates what you become.