Is it possible to take baby steps when battling alcoholism? Or do you have to jump in with both feet all at once in order to make any progress?
There are a few things that you can possibly do in order to take small steps towards getting help. But for the most part if you are only taking small steps then you are probably fooling yourself. But let’s take a closer look.
Chipping away at your denial and getting closer to surrender
The struggling alcoholic is in denial. If they were not in denial then by definition they would ask for help and they would follow through and get help for their problem. You have to keep in mind that there are at least two important parts of denial when it comes to alcoholism:
1) Denial of the problem – “I am not an alcoholic.”
2) Denial of the solution – “AA would never work for me.”
Many alcoholics are already at the point where they strongly suspect they are alcoholic and that they have a serious problem. But this does not mean that they are not also in denial of the solution.
So how do you take baby steps towards breaking out of your denial?
The most important thing that you can do is to start keeping a written journal. That probably sounds like an odd suggestion so let me explain it. You can’t just keep a journal and write down whatever you feel like and expect that to help you with your denial. Instead, you need to write down how happy you are each day. You must get honest with yourself about your life and your life situation and start writing down how you feel about this each and every day.
If you do this consistently then it will start to “chip away at your denial.” How so, you ask? Because it will slowly expose the truth that you are not happy with your life, and that you are actually miserable in your addiction. In order to stay stuck in denial you have to tell yourself that you are actually happy, or that there is still hope for you to be happy if things would just work out for once. This is denial. In order to break through this sort of denial you have to realize (or force yourself to realize) that things are not going to suddenly get better while you are still drinking alcohol every day. But there is no way to do this if you are still in denial and you keep telling yourself that you are happy.
Alcoholics don’t get sober when things are going good. They do not suddenly decide to sober up because they have a good day, or a string of good events. That will never get anyone sober. No, the only way that an alcoholic decides to get sober is if things get really, really bad. They have to be completely sick and tired of being sick and tired.
But the thing is, this state of being sick and tired is entirely subjective. All the alcoholic has to do is realize that they are miserable. They don’t actually have to endure more pain or consequences necessarily in order to reach surrender. They just have to realize how miserable they truly are. And in order to do that they must work on their denial and try to see the truth. They must get honest with themselves. So this is how to start taking baby steps towards surrender: Write it down. Keep a journal and write down how happy you are each day. Force yourself to keep doing that until it makes your brain realize that things are bad and not getting any better. It is only after you make this admission to yourself that you will become willing to change your life.
Taking one big step out of many baby steps: Checking into rehab
After you work at breaking through your denial you are eventually going to have to take a little more than a baby step. There is one big step in the recovery process and that is the moment of surrender. In AA they call this “the turning point.” It is when you finally break through your denial and realize that you can no longer be happy if you continue to drink every day.
What you do when you reach this turning point is critical. It will feel like you cannot go on either way: Whether you choose to drink or to sober up. Both paths have become equally frightening and unreasonable. It is at this point that you need to ask for help and convince yourself to go to rehab.
I lump these things together because in my own journey they all happened pretty much together. All at once I:
1) Surrendered and overcame my denial.
2) Asked for help.
3) Went to detox and inpatient rehab.
This was all one big event for me. It all happened due to reaching the “turning point.” I would not have surrendered and then NOT went to rehab. That would not make any sense to me. I knew that I needed a lot of help and so I simply did what I was told to do. People told me to go to treatment. Actually they did more than that, the people I asked for help simply called up a rehab and made an appointment for me to go in and detox. This was the start of my new life.
I had done some of these things before (like went to detox) but the difference was that this time I had fully surrendered first. I was ready for change in my life this time. I was desperate for change. And this is going to make all the difference in the world for any given alcoholic. Either you are ready to change your whole life or you are not. There is simply no in between, no middle ground here.
I wish that there were a place that people could go who are stuck in a middle ground. A place where alcoholics could attend who are past the first part of denial (they know they have a problem) but they are still stuck in the second part of the problem (they don’t think AA or anything else can help them). From what I can tell, no such place exists that can address this problem yet. There is no secret formula out there to help people get past their denial. The only thing that we know works for sure is if you go out and experience more pain and misery in your addiction. That is the only method we currently have to bring people closer to denial. This is why I encourage you to use the journal technique, so that you can avoid having to experience more pain and misery in order to break through denial.
Becoming willing to listen to others and their advice
In order to stop drinking you have to be willing to listen to other people and their advice. Not just when you are at the point of surrender and you need to go to rehab, but also after you have become clean and sober and you are in the process of recovery.
This is another way to take baby steps towards a solution. It is simple to do but that does not mean that it is easy. If you want to get sober though you have to do it at some point.
So here is what you do.
Kill your ego temporarily. You can do this by making an internal agreement with yourself. Make a decision that you are not going to make any of your own decisions for the next year. For a whole year you will not listen to any of your own advice. Instead, you will simply defer to other people in recovery to help you in all of your decisions.
If you are facing a major decision then you should ask for advice and feedback from your sponsor, from your family, from your therapist, and from your peers in recovery. You can do this even if it is not a major decision too. Try to let other people guide your entire life for a while. Take suggestions and act on them. Push your own ideas to the side for a while. Only do what other people tell you to do.
If you do this then you cannot fail. It is hard to do though because no one wants to take orders.
What happens if you start doing this is that after only a week or two you will realize something. What you will realize is this: That you are still in control. That other people are making suggestions and you are asking them for advice every day, but then the final decision is still up to you. Yet you have used this trick in order to remove yourself from the madness. Now you are drawing on the wisdom of others instead of having to figure everything out for yourself.
And you will realize something else: It is working. You will notice that you are happier, and you won’t be able to explain why or how you are happier. You just will be. And you will be amazed by this, because you always thought that you were the only one would could make yourself happy. And yet other people are telling you what to do, and you are becoming happier as a result. It’s like magic.
Another realization: You have more mental processing power. Why? Because now you don’t have to make huge decisions. You absolve yourself from worry when you live this way. You don’t have to worry all day long and try to figure things out because other people are making your decisions for you. So this frees up all sorts of mental power that you used to spend on worrying. It’s amazing.
All of this is accomplished by outsourcing your decisions. You simply kill your ego and let other people dictate your life for you.
This is temporary. Tell yourself that it is only temporary. After a year of doing this experiment you will take control back. Tell yourself that it is only temporary or you will never be willing to try it.
So every day you can take these baby steps where you borrow the wisdom of others. Every day you can take advice and suggestions from other people in recovery and avoid making your own mistakes. This works because it is easy to tell someone else what to do in order to succeed, but it is hard to get ourselves to actually take our own advice. Therefore the secret is to remove your own ego from the equation and take orders from others for a while. If you do this your life will change dramatically and you will be much happier as a result. It works as if by magic. But you have to let go enough to let it happen.
If you look closely at the 12 step program of AA, the same basic mechanism is described there too, but the implementation is a bit different. Same outcome though. In the end it is about getting out of your own way and killing your ego.
Actually taking action based on advice
So you get all of these suggestions in early recovery and you are living sober now, one day at a time.
Next you have to start taking the suggestions and turning them into action. It is not enough to just listen politely and pretend that you really appreciate the advice. You have to go a step further than that. You have to actually put the ideas into action.
There is a saying in traditional recovery that applies well here: “Take what you need and leave the rest.”
When you hear suggestions you may think they do not apply to you, or that they would never be helpful to your situation. But in many cases you just don’t know. The only way to know for sure is to actually put the suggestion into action and test it.
Hence, “take what you need and leave the rest.”
Take every suggestion that you hear and try to test it out for yourself. Don’t just test it mentally, actually put the idea into action and see if it helps you.
If you are getting the same suggestion from multiple sources then that is something that you really should be testing out in your life immediately. Multiple sources are not likely to all be wrong.
And even if you only get a suggestion from a single source, you should still try to test it out in your real everyday life if you can.
This is important both in short and long term recovery. In short term recovery you have to take massive action anyway just to keep your head above water. Just to avoid relapse you have to take massive action in early sobriety. But in long term sobriety you need to take action as well. In long term sobriety the journey continues and you will want to keep testing ideas on a regular basis. Because if you stop testing ideas in your life then it means you no longer have anything to learn, and that is a huge red flag. The end of learning leads to relapse. The end of positive action and change leads to relapse. We don’t want our recovery to come to this. Therefore we need to stay engaged in the process of change and positive growth.
One of the problems with recovery is that we do not get to sit still. You cannot just kick back and relax in terms of your personal growth. If you do that then you are inviting relapse into your life. You have to keep taking “baby steps” forward in recovery, even after a decade of sobriety. You have to keep pushing yourself to make positive changes in order to avoid complacency.
Complacency happens when you decide you do not need to change any more. When you decide that you are done. That is how people relapse who have been sober for several years. They get lazy. Obviously we want to avoid this outcome. So just remember that your sobriety is contingent on the constant reinvention of the self. You have to keep improving yourself and your life in order to ensure your sobriety. This is where the testing process comes in. You need to keep generating ideas and getting advice and feedback and then testing it so that you keep learning about yourself. If you stop learning about yourself then you are in danger of becoming complacent.
Creating a daily practice for yourself one suggestion at a time
My belief is that passive living doesn’t work well in alcoholism recovery. If you are passive about life then this could get you into trouble.
Instead you need to be active. You need to take an active role in designing your own future.
Part of your strategy for long term sobriety should involve what I call “a daily practice.” What do you do every day?
What do you do each day that helps you to remain sober?
The problem is that we cannot predict exactly what actions will be the most helpful to us when we are in early sobriety. That is why we need to take suggestions from other people and start testing ideas.
So your daily practice starts out with a baseline of abstinence. Don’t drink or use addictive drugs. Wake up each day and declare yourself sober.
But what else? We all know that there has to be more than this.
Your daily practice are the actions that you take every day that help you to be healthy. Of course we want to consider all areas of our health, including:
* Physical health.
* Mental health.
* Emotional health.
As you move through your recovery you need to take a look at your daily practice in each of these five areas. What are you doing each day for your spirituality? For your emotional health? And so on.
If you don’t have a good answer for one of these areas then it is time to ask for help and advice. Go get some suggestions! Then take action and apply those suggestions in your life and see if it helps you or not.
But this is the guide. These 5 areas of your health are the outline for success. Because if you are neglecting one of these 5 areas then that can lead you to big trouble in the future. You want to make sure that you are taking care of yourself in all of these areas on a daily basis. Doing so creates a cumulative effect. Your life will get better in a way that cannot be predicted in advance, because the progress that you are making along these different lines will multiply with each other. They call this “synergy.” I call it “living an awesome life in recovery.” Normal people might simply call it “Taking care of yourself like a normal human being!” But for a struggling alcoholic or drug addict, this is a major achievement, and it is something to celebrate.
And when you are in alignment and your health is improving in all 5 of these areas, amazing things will happen for you. You will have a foundation of good health and therefore you will appear to get “lucky” when it comes to opportunities in your life. In fact there is no magic happening other than the hard work you have put in to create this foundation of good health.
This is how I have taken baby steps in my own recovery. How has it worked for you in your own journey? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!