How can you take back control of your life when you feel like everything is spiraling out of control? This is the central question that is facing every alcoholic and struggling drug addict who feels control slipping away.
The problem is that alcoholism leads to a complete loss of control. Things get progressively worse over time and you have less and less control over yourself as the disease progresses. The harder you try to control your drinking, the worse it seems to get and the more consequences that pile up in your life. The only way to reverse this trend is to stop drinking completely, which is a leap of faith that very few alcoholics are willing to make.
That said, there are still some strategies to regain control of yourself if you are willing to do the work. Here are some ways to take back the reigns.
Number one suggestion for struggling alcoholics: Get yourself checked into an inpatient treatment center
The most important thing that you can do, by far, is to go check into an inpatient treatment center. Sure, there are other ways to sober up, and not all of them involve subjecting yourself to inpatient rehab. But the fact is that none of the alternatives are going to be nearly as powerful as going to inpatient treatment. It is not a cure but it is still the best option that we have in most cases.
Some people balk at this suggestion and they have no idea how to proceed. It is actually pretty simple: Simply pick up the phone and start calling up treatment centers. I have worked at a treatment center and I have answered the phones at one time and my job was to try to get people the help that they needed. This is not always a straightforward process and sometimes you have to redirect people to other services. But in the end we did everything that we could to try to get people the help that they needed, even if that meant directing them to some other form of help, some other agency that could assist them, and so on. Therefore I would urge everyone who is struggling to simply pick up the phone and make that initial call. That first call that you make could set up a series of interactions that leads to you getting the help that you truly need.
You don’t necessarily have to go to rehab in order to fix your life, but it is still one of the best choices you could ever make in early recovery. There are much worse options.
How to take back control of your life when you feel like your addiction is spiraling out of control
You may not feel like you are ready to go check into rehab. If this is the case then it is likely that you are still in denial. You have not yet surrendered to the fact that you need serious help in your life.
If this is the case then you need to somehow wake up to the fact that you need serious help. If you are stuck in denial then your problem is one of getting honest with yourself. There are very few ways that I know how to do that, but quite honestly I feel like I did it at least once myself when I was stuck in denial. The way that I did it was to keep getting more and more honest with myself about how my life was actually going. This was difficult to do because no one wants to admit that they are a screwup, or that they have made bad choices. But this is exactly what you have to admit to yourself in order to take the plunge into recovery.
Think about it: if you want to turn your life around then you need to go ask for help and find a new way to live. This implies that you do not know how to live your own life! And that is the humbling admission that every alcoholic has to make to themselves at some point–that they are unhappy and that this is entirely their own fault.
When I was stuck in addiction I was busy blaming everyone and everything else for my unhappiness. Why would I shoulder the responsibility for my own unhappiness? It was so much easier to simply blame everything on other people, to blame society in general, to blame the drug laws that I did not agree with, and so on. I was unhappy for all of these reasons and more, or so I told myself. This was how I rationalized my miserable existence. And ultimately I had to admit that this was really all just a smokescreen. Because in truth I was very unhappy in my life because I did not like the person that I had become. I did not like myself and I was unhappy because all I did was to sit around and drink every day.
That was the real truth. That was why I was unhappy. I was a sick person and I drank all the time and I had ruined my life based on poor choices. I tried to make myself feel a bit better by blaming my unhappiness on other things, but the truth of the matter was that I was unhappy because I was a miserable drunk, and I did not like the person that I had become in my addiction.
And I would not like myself again or learn how to be happy until I could change my life and overcome my addiction. It was a package deal. I could not “do the work” while still being drunk every day. I could not do the work to make myself happy again while still living that old lifestyle where I self medicated every day and generally hated myself. I had to make a major change, starting with some sort of surrender. I had to give up the old way of life in order to move on.
How was I able to do that? Complete surrender, asking for help, and making massive changes.
How to get out of your own way and start making healthy choices
I asked for help at the point of surrender and my family told me to go to rehab.
I went to rehab and I listened to what the people there told me to do. They made lots of suggestions. Truth be told, in the first year of my sobriety I probably heard over ten thousand things suggested to me. If you go to lots of AA meetings you will hear lots of suggestions.
The key is that you take some of those suggestions and act on them.
I was lucky enough to do that in my early sobriety, and the result was that my life started to slowly change.
I could not make healthy choices by myself. I only made one choice, and that was to surrender to a new solution in my life and to ask for help. Everything else followed from that, and after I went to rehab I started to take advice and suggestions from other people in recovery. They told me to go to meetings, they told me to exercise, they told me to meditate and pray every day, they told me to read recovery literature, to write in the steps, to write in a journal, to write out a gratitude list, and on and on and on.
I took as many of these positive suggestions as I could. I took them and put them into action. Some of them worked out well for me and some of them did not. They have a saying in AA “Take what you need and leave the rest.” You need to take that phrase literally. Whatever works for you, implement in your life and really use it. Whatever doesn’t work for you, simply drop it and move on. This is how you change your life rapidly in early recovery–by testing lots of suggestions and putting them into action.
This is how I was able to start making healthy choices eventually. Not because I was a healthy person or because I was so smart, but because I simply listened to what I was being told to do. My sponsor, my peers in recovery, the people at AA meetings–all of these parties were giving me advice and feedback along the way. I did my best to try to implement their suggestions in order to turn my life around.
You can’t just walk away from drinking and not make additional changes and expect for it to work. Instead, you have to quit drinking and then build a new life for yourself. Ask yourself how you are going to figure that process out without relying on the guidance and help from other people. I consider myself to be pretty adept at figuring out a process like this, and I still needed a LOT of help in early recovery. Taking suggestions and getting advice from other people in early sobriety is absolutely critical.
Building momentum with positive change
One of the secrets of alcoholism recovery has to do with momentum.
Once you start making positive changes, it becomes a bit easier to keep making positive changes. Simple inertia can help to carry you through and allow you to keep the momentum going.
Let me give you an example. I was once stuck in my sobriety, staying sober every day but also struggling to quit smoking cigarettes. I wanted to quit smoking very badly because I knew that they were not a healthy choice for me. I wanted that freedom that would come from quitting.
So what happened at the time was that I tried and failed, I tried and failed. Quite honestly my friends and family got sick of the same old story from me, they were actually growing tired of hearing about my quitting efforts! I had failed so many times. And yet I kept trying.
So at one point I made a decision that I was really sick and tired of being sick and tired when it came to smoking. I was sick of trying and failing. I wanted very badly to break out of this pattern of trying to quit and then relapsing.
So what I did was to get organized and my plan was to make a supreme effort. I took everything that I had learned so far about quitting and all of the suggestions from other people and I combined them all into one big effort.
This was a project of immense scale. For example, I actually continued to smoke while I started to jog every day with my father (who is an avid runner). So before I even tried to quit smoking again, I built up a healthy base of jogging every single day. I figured that this would help me when I actually put down the cigarettes.
Then I made another plan–I started putting money aside in order to give myself a reward when I finally quit smoking. I was creating incentives for when I quit. I was planning ahead.
I already felt pretty good about my chances this time. I felt like I was building positive momentum. I set a quit date and I stuck to it and it actually worked this time. I made it through the horrible week of withdrawals and I became a non smoker.
But it did not stop there. I was jogging six miles every day just so that I could quit smoking, and then I actually quit successfully. After that I realized that I had real power in my life, I could probably accomplish nearly any goal. This is because quitting smoking was so incredibly difficult for me and it took me so many attempts to finally succeed. But this taught me an important lesson: I could do things. I could change myself, if I was willing to put in the work. And so I started to apply this lesson to other things in my life. Someone suggested that I go back to college, and at first I did not really have the confidence to do that. But after I had gained some momentum from the positive changes I was making I was able to take on such a project. I also built a business at one point, trained and ran a full marathon, and met a few other life goals.
I had to start from scratch. I was starting from zero when I first got clean and sober. But after I started making positive changes in my life I was able to see how momentum really worked. One positive change gave me the confidence to take on another goal. I could clearly see how success bred more success.
The secret to defeating complacency in long term sobriety
The final hurdle in alcoholism recovery is complacency. In early recovery everything is pretty straightforward in that you have to push yourself hard to make lots of big changes. If you are doing the work then you will remain clean and sober and your life will get better.
This is not necessarily the case in long term sobriety. Why is that? Because after you have a few years sober you will become much more stable in your recovery. You will no longer feel the immediate threat of relapse on a day to day basis and therefore you will no longer feel as compelled to take as much action.
This is dangerous.
If you go to AA meetings for long enough then eventually you will meet people who have gotten lazy in their recovery journey and it caused them to relapse. So they stopped pushing themselves to make positive changes in their life and eventually they ended up drinking again. Then they were lucky enough to stop again and return to the AA meetings and are able to tell their story.
The solution they present is always the same: Don’t get complacent. Don’t stop doing the work. Never stop the push for personal growth and change. Now a lot of people put this all in terms of the AA program, so they say things like “don’t stop going to meetings” or “never stop working with newcomers” and things like that. But in the end it all points to the same concepts–if you lack personal growth in your life then you are in danger of relapse.
The solution is personal growth. The solution is positive change. If you get lazy and you stop making changes then you open the door for relapse to creep back into your life.
We must never get lazy in our recovery journey. My suggestion is that you always try to assume that you are complacent in some area of your life, in some area of your growth. Ask yourself: “What should you be working on in your life right now? What is the next positive change that you should try to make?”
Those are the questions that can help to drive positive action and change. Those are the questions that can help you to take control of your sobriety. If you lose momentum and become complacent then you lose control of your serenity and ultimately of your recovery.
You can’t control what happens to you as life is very much a random walk through the universe. Instead, you can only control your own actions and how you decide to change and sculpt yourself. Therefore you should take an active role in personal growth so that you will have some control in your life and in your recovery.
Without this control you will be far more likely to justify a relapse. When you are a victim it becomes much more easy to justify a drink! The way to avoid this is to refuse to be a victim, to take control of your personal growth, to push yourself to make positive changes. Once you adopt this path of personal growth you will likely see the benefits of a life well lived and your success will start to build on itself. They say in AA that you are either working on recovery or you are working on a relapse, and I have found that to be absolutely true in terms of personal growth and positive action. If you stop pushing yourself for positive change then you are slowly sliding back towards a relapse.
Assume you are complacent and always be pushing yourself towards more growth in life.
What about you, have you found ways to take control over your life in sobriety? What is your best technique for regaining control of yourself? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!