What is the secret to beating alcohol addictions? Many “outsiders” who do not have direct experience with addiction or recovery believe that there must be certain methods for recovery that are sure to work, if only people will follow them.
This is not necessarily true. The real secret is that there is no secret–overcoming any addiction is hard work and it takes a serious commitment. Some people try to wrap this up a certain way so as to make it look easy, but I don’t believe that it is ever easy. There is no way to make recovery somehow magically easier, or less of a commitment. There are no tricks or shortcuts.
So really if there is a secret at all, it is that recovery takes hard work and dedication. Most people error in this regard and they believe that the real secret to recovery is the specific program that they follow in order to get clean and sober. The truth is that you can probably choose nearly any program to follow, so long as you fully surrender and dive deeply into this new program with serious dedication. It is the intensity of your effort rather than selecting the perfect recovery method. Having the right recovery method is actually pretty useless unless the person has surrendered fully to their disease. Maybe someone introduces you to AA meetings and you are not a good fit at all for AA meetings, they clash with your personality and you actually would do much better with some other form of recovery (such as counseling or religious based recovery perhaps). Well none of this matters if you are at the point of full surrender, because then you will likely embrace recovery anyway and the AA program will likely work just fine for you. Out of sheer desperation you will adapt to the solution that is being offered to you.
This is a key point and it highlights what is really important in the journey to recovery: Those who are truly ready to get clean and sober will find a way to make it work. Offer them help in nearly any form and they will take it and run with it. If you are truly surrendered and it is time for you to get sober then you are not going to slip and fall on a technicality. That won’t happen. Because the depth of your surrender is enough to overcome these smaller obstacles.
When you finally reach a point of true surrender you will be looking at the bigger picture. You will be deciding if you want to live or not. So the choice of treatment center or which type of meetings you are going to be attending is actually just a minor detail at this point. If you have not yet reached this state of ambivalence then you are not quite at the point of full surrender just yet. How do you get there? Through more pain and misery from your addiction. The more pain and misery you experience over time, the more willing to surrender you will become. The more pain that your addiction piles on top of you then more likely you will become willing to do just about anything to escape it.
This is your decision moment when you are on the brink of recovery. They call this “the turning point” in AA. You don’t really know if you want to go on living in addiction, or if you would rather face the fear and the unknown of recovery. Neither path looks very attractive. You don’t have faith that either path will work out well. But you know you are sick and tired of getting all of the pain and the misery and the chaos in your life from your addiction. So hopefully when you reach this turning point you will recognize it for what it is, and act. Hopefully you will see that it is time to make a move away from the pain and the chaos and the misery. That even though you may not know what you are stepping into with recovery, at least it will be different from the pain and misery of addiction. Realize that you can at least choose a different path in life, even if you are not sure that you will like it any better.
The thing most people stumble on at first in recovery
So the concept of surrender is really the big thing that everyone stumbles on at first. If there is a “secret” to beating alcoholism it is that you have to surrender fully and completely to the disease before you can even try to embrace a new lifestyle.
The problem is, some people who are struggling don’t even know what that means: To surrender fully. How do you surrender to your addiction? How do you give up the struggle to self medicate?
The answer comes to you naturally when you reach your misery threshold. My suggestion to the struggling alcoholic who is trying to advance the process is this: Focus on your pain and misery.
Your goal in achieving surrender is to break through denial. Once you break through your denial you will have surrendered fully and you will be able to ask for help and move forward with a new life in recovery. Once you reach this turning point you will be able to change your life and do something different.
But change is hard, and we resist it. We resist change out of fear. So there is this battle going on between wanting to surrender, and wanting to avoid the fear of the unknown. We wallow in pain and misery due to our addiction, but at least that pain and misery is comfortable. It is familiar. We understand it and we are used to it. So it is not scary to us. This is why our addiction is actually “comfortable.”
When we surrender we reach a moment when we are so sick of the pain and the misery and the suffering of addiction that we cast aside all fear about the unknown. At that moment we become willing to do anything in order to recover, including facing our fears. In that moment of surrender we will agree to get help, go to rehab, attend meetings, and do whatever it takes to build a new life. Because in that moment of surrender we finally see that the misery and the pain of addiction is never going to end. We finally see in our “moment of clarity” that we are trapped in an endless cycle with addiction and that it will never really change or get any better if we just keep drinking or using drugs. We finally see this glimpse of the future and we decide that there has to be a better way.
In order to reach this moment you need to focus on the pain and the misery of addiction. Most of us who are still self medicating do not do this on a regular basis, instead we are deep in denial and we will not even admit that such pain and misery exists.
So first you have to admit to yourself that you are not happy. If you are still lying to yourself and telling yourself that everything is great with your addiction then you cannot possibly surrender. You have to get honest. You have to tell yourself: “OK, I am actually fairly miserable, and my life is terrible, and the drugs and the alcohol just make it worse. I am not happy, and I have not been happy for a long time.”
Now you may think that this is terrible self talk, and that this goes against everything that you have heard about how to be positive and have positive self talk and all of that. This is true, most people would say that I am going in the wrong direction here. But trust me, we are dealing with a unique animal in attempting to overcome an addiction. You can’t beat it head on. You must surrender to win. If you try to fight the addiction directly by using positive affirmations then you are just perpetuating your denial even further. You are lying to yourself. If you try to tell yourself that you are happy and that your life is good then you are just lying. The addiction is screwing up your life and you will never be truly happy unless you can deal with it.
So you start to use this “lens of honesty” and realize that you are actually miserable. If you can do this then you are making serious progress and you are much closer to true surrender. Now all you have to do is be consistent. Maybe you are still drinking and using drugs, but now you are acknowledging your misery at least. Good. Keep focusing on the misery and the pain in your life. If you choose to do otherwise then you are actually in denial and simply lying to yourself.
The secret to breaking through denial is to focus on your pain. Embrace it. Confront it directly. Realize that you are miserable and that using your drug of choice is an attempt to fix that misery. Notice how well it works. Maybe it will work well today and you will be lucky. But tomorrow you may be miserable even though you get drunk or high again. And maybe most days it is miserable. How often do you have fun when you use your drug of choice? In the beginning you had fun every single time, right? I know I did. But then it stopped working so well over the years and eventually it got to the point where it was basically never fun any more, it was just a constant chore and I was always miserable.
So you need to be paying attention enough so that you can realize when it becomes a chore, when it stops being fun. If it is still fun every moment of every day then you have no reason to even think about quitting….why would you stop if it were fun? I wouldn’t. But addiction turns nasty in the end and it stops being fun and eventually it is all pain and suffering and misery. At that point you need to get honest with yourself and realize that it is never going to get any better.
The secret to surrender is to focus on the negative, to focus on your pain and misery. Acknowledge it fully and embrace it. This will accelerate the time to surrender. This will allow you to embrace recovery much sooner. See through your denial by embracing your pain and suffering.
How to squash your ego properly
If there is a second “secret” in overcoming alcoholism then I would say it is squashing the ego.
This is easy to understand but difficult to implement. Because it is hard to squash our own ego and follow direction from others.
The basic idea here is to ask for help and then take advice from others.
Not so difficult really. But a fairly crushing blow to those of us who thought we were smart. And that includes the vast majority of alcoholics and drug addicts (yeah, we all think we are so smart, it’s true!).
The secret of early recovery is to get out of your own way and to avoid self sabotage. If you can do this successfully then you have a chance at learning how to learn a new life in sobriety. The alternative is to let your ego take control back of your life and screw it all up with a relapse.
You might think of it like this:
You have this little man inside your brain who is selfish and just wants to feel good all the time. Let’s call him the ego. He wants to self medicate and he also thinks that he is pretty darn smart and he can figure out how to overcome an addiction. So he wants to be in control. But if you let him take control of your early recovery then he is going to find a way to trip you up and lead you back to your drug of choice. Because that selfish little dude just wants to get drunk and high.
The alternative to this is to basically squash that little man when you first get to detox and decide that you are not going to listen to his voice at all for a while. He may have done great things for you in the past or given you great ideas but now you need to follow a different voice. And so you decide that you are going to take advice from others for a while rather than to listen to that little voice inside your head.
Some people will argue that we should never deny our inner voice or our intuition. This is ridiculous though because just look at all the damage that inner voice has created in your life. That inner voice led you to addiction and nearly destroyed your whole life. Time to stop listening to it for a while!
The way to do that is to listen to others. The way to surrender is to stop following your own ideas for a while. Make an agreement with yourself that you are going to only take advice from others, that you will not do anything or make any decisions without getting serious input from other people. Who else can you listen to? Anyone who cares about you in any capacity. That includes friends, family members, and treatment professionals.
I actually did this in early recovery. I made a decision that I was not going to follow my own ideas, at all, on a semi-permanent basis. I was simply not going to do anything that I thought of doing unless I ran it past someone else and they thought it was a good idea for me.
You may feel childish using this approach. You may think that this makes you less of a person. But I can assure you that your life will get better and better if you use this approach. I was amazed at how quickly my life was transforming in early recovery. I was amazed that I had found this shortcut to success. All I had to do was take and follow advice from other people. It was like a shortcut to not screwing up.
The secret to getting through year one of sobriety
The secret to getting through year one of recovery has to do with intensity.
You cannot approach your first year of sobriety casually. If you do so then you will relapse. Recovery is not a leisure stroll through a nice park. It is a tough path to walk and you have to get really serious and intense if you want to have any kind of hope of “making it.”
I went to live in long term treatment. To me, that was really intense. Living in treatment….I mean, wow. How much more intense can you get? But actually it was not that big of a deal, as the treatment center gave you a surprising amount of freedom. It was not nearly as bad as it sounds. I would do it again if I had to. I would even do it while perfectly sober. It is nothing like being in jail or prison. Quite the opposite actually.
I am not suggesting that you need to go live in rehab if you want to recover.
What I am suggesting is that you need to get intense. You need to fully embrace a solution.
The solution that you embrace doesn’t really matter. So long as it is abstinence based you will do just fine, so long as you embrace that solution with intensity.
They even say this in AA, they say: “Half measures availed us nothing.”
That is a secret right there that so many people just gloss right over. If you embrace a solution fully then you will succeed. And it doesn’t even matter if it is AA, Christian based recovery, some other program, or whatever. The solutions themselves don’t hold any magic. There is no secret, people! The only secret is the intensity at which you embrace a new life in recovery. The only secret is the depth of your surrender. Did you really surrender fully to your disease, or do you think you might still have a little more fun some day with your drug of choice? Are you really done yet?
Why do so many people relapse?
So many people relapse because they fail to surrender fully. They are still stuck in denial. Maybe they agree to get some help and go to rehab but they are still hanging on to a tiny piece of their old life, hoping that they can drink or use drugs again some day. They have not surrendered fully yet.
The reason that so many people relapse is because they are trying to early. They try to get clean and sober before it is time for them to do so. They are not yet ready to change their whole life, and for various reasons they find themselves going to rehab or AA.
This is why alcoholics fail. They relapse because they were not ready to quit drinking yet. There is no magic wand to make them suddenly be ready to quit drinking for good. There is no magic recovery program that allows them to suddenly want to stop.
Our mind rejects this because we want for there to be a simple solution. We want for there to be a way to save the alcoholic, to rescue them from themselves. But you can’t make someone want to change. They have to get to that point on their own. And they way they get to that point is by experiencing pain and misery.
This is the secret of beating alcoholism. That it is not about achieving hope; it is about avoiding misery and pain. This is what we must embrace, much as we don’t want to…..