My sponsor used to say this to me all the time: “Trust in the process of recovery.” But what does it actually mean to trust in the process?
And furthermore, what exactly is the process of recovery itself? I think in order to get the full meaning of this advice, we need to define our terms a little.
What actually is the process of recovery?
The full process of recovery is going to be a bit different for each individual, as each journey into recovery will be unique. On the other hand, there are enough similarities with each journey that we can label those similarities as “the process” that we have to go through in order to become successful in our recovery.
This is how we help each other. If no one shared any similarities at all, then we would obviously not be able to help each other. There would be no point to a 12 step meeting because nothing that you said could possibly help anyone else. But the truth is that we share enough of the same experiences in our journey that it becomes helpful to share information. I may not know exactly what you are going through, but I do know roughly what you are going through, and I know how I made it through the same thing myself. Therefore my advice and knowledge can be of benefit to you.
In my opinion there are several processes that we go through when we take this journey of sobriety. These would include things like:
* The process of surrender, which may unfold slowly over years or even decades as we struggle to find a way to control our addiction. It may also reach into long term sobriety as we fight to surrender to the daily struggles we may encounter, for example, being powerless over other people, etc.
* The process of personal growth. Again, this unfolds slowly over the rest of your life, but it is a process that you must embrace as part of your recovery solution (or as the whole thing).
* The process of slow healing and accumulation. These are the outcomes of the decision to commit to recovery and the decision to follow a path of growth. Stay on the path and you will slowly start to see the benefits trickle in. This is a process, and can be an agonizingly slow one for some people in recovery. We want results now, and many things in recovery take time in order to heal, to grow, and so on.
* Not a process:
Commitment to sobriety is not a process. It is a decision that you make right now, and then lock it in for the long run. You do this mentally after you have worked through surrender and found yourself at “the turning point.”
Unfortunately for some addicts and alcoholics, they see the commitment decision as a process, and therefore they give themselves permission to relapse. In reality they are just not ready to stop drinking or drugging yet, and therefore they have not yet fully surrendered to their disease. They cannot commit to recovery because they have not yet worked through their surrender. They are still struggling for control.
So what does it really mean to “trust in the process” of recovery?
I think there are two main points that you can take from the phrase and use them to apply in your daily life.
One is the agreement to take the long view of recovery, the other is to have faith that things will work out if you take the right actions. Both ideas are useful.
An agreement with yourself to see how “accumulating benefits” turns out in the long run
One way to trust in the process is to make an agreement with yourself, right now, that you will suspend all judgement for at least year. Judgement of what? Of the actions that you are taking in order to build a new life in recovery.
The real process once you in living in recovery is all about personal growth. You live your life, notice problems, and make positive changes. You attempt to correct course. You attempt to fix the negative stuff and focus on the positive stuff. You do all of this over and over again, day in and day out, for the long haul. The end result is slow, steady, incremental progress towards a better life.
The problem that many struggling addicts and alcoholics face in early recovery is that they do not trust in this process. They do not believe that it will get any better later on. They have a saying in recovery: “It gets greater, later.” Cute little saying. And there is a lot of truth in that, it is actually a bit of wisdom for the ears of a struggling addict. But most people don’t really hear it, and they certainly do not apply it.
Because how can you really apply that advice? You simply buck up and keep doing what you need to do, keep taking the right actions and striving for personal growth, and trust that it will all work out for the better some day. And this is what trust is based on. If you knew for sure that you would have this awesome life in the near future, of course you would trust in the process. Then it would not even be “trust” at all, because you would know.
But the fact is that when you are early in your recovery it is hard to know for sure if you will ever be happy again. In fact, this is what kept me out there drinking and drugging for so many years instead of trying to get clean and sober. I had no faith in the idea that I would ever be happy in recovery without drugs and alcohol. The thought of it depressed me.
So what happened is that at some point I finally got miserable enough to surrender to my addiction. I did not care if I was miserable in recovery, because I had finally admitted to myself that I was miserable in my addiction. And I could see that there was no way out of in the long run. That I would be miserable forever if I kept using drugs and drinking. So I got to this point where I became willing to make a leap of faith. Not so much because I was excited about achieving some awesome new life in recovery (because I did not think that this was even possible for me), but simply to avoid the misery that I was experiencing in active addiction. I wanted out. I wanted to escape the misery I was in.
So I surrendered and started asking for help and following directions. I went to rehab and started doing what people told me to do and things started to quickly get better. And I realized that I was not actually as miserable as I thought that I would be. Even in very early recovery, with a few weeks sober, I was much happier than I ever thought that I could be without drugs and alcohol. But there were to be some bumps in the road that took another “leap of faith” to get past.
For example, somewhere around the 90 day point in my very early sobriety I can remember being very miserable. I am not sure how many days I was miserable for but I was definitely not happy. And I was struggling with the idea that I would never be happy again in recovery. I was not on the verge of relapse necessarily, but I was on the verge of some sort of emotional breakdown. Perhaps it would have resulted in relapse. But I was frustrated and things were not going my way and I could not seem to get happy.
To be honest I do not remember exactly how I made it through that period of time. I was living in long term rehab at the time but I don’t remember a single event that pulled me through. I was already going to meetings every day and talking about recovery with other people all the time. In the end I made a decision to stick it out and see where it all ended up. Time is the great healer of all things, apparently. And this is why you must trust in the process of recovery–because it takes time for it to unfold. Recovery does not happen overnight. It does not even happen over the first year. It happens slowly, over the rest of your life. It unfolds slowly, and new layers of truth are always being revealed.
So at some point, if things get tough in your journey, you need to make a simple agreement with yourself. The saying should become “never fear, wait a year.” If you are struggling with something, anything–give yourself one year’s time to work through it. I can almost insure to you that you will look back in a year and realize that you have grown a ton since this particular struggle. So what you are really doing is agreeing to yourself to have faith for a full year, to give it some time, to trust in the process. If you are maintaining abstinence and taking positive action in your life then you will be amazed at how far you will go in a single year. Just tell yourself when things get crazy in your life “give it a year, give it a year.” Then keep taking positive action, keep doing what people suggest for you to do, keep following advice.
Faith that things will work out if you only “do the next right thing”
The other idea behind trusting in the process is in simply having faith that things will work out and get better. This works even better if you are following through with your recovery and taking the proper actions. “Faith without works is dead.” This is really how you trust in the process–by taking positive action on a regular basis and then trusting your higher power with the results.
People talk about “doing the next right thing” in recovery. It’s a simple statement and it is meant to be a simple instruction to follow. I believe that addicts and alcoholics can try to complicate though if they are not really trusting in the process just yet.
One way to make sure you are really trying to “do the next right thing” is to get lots of feedback from other people in your recovery. Talk with your peers, talk with your sponsor, and let them know what you are up to lately and what you are trying to accomplish. Ask them for advice in terms of personal growth. What projects should you be working on? What goals should you be striving for? The more open and transparent you are with your life, the better the chances are that you are truly trying to do the next right thing.
On the other hand if you are hiding your agenda even a little bit, from anyone, then you are in danger of screwing up this simple directive, and possibly of compromising your recovery as well.
Once you know that you are living in the process and trying your best to do the next right thing, it is then up to you to trust in the results and know that things will work out “in their own perfect time.” That is another saying that basically means: “you will get the rewards of recovery when they are good and ready to reveal themselves.”
The bottom line is that if you keep taking the right actions in life and you keep pushing yourself to make positive changes, eventually all of those changes are going to add up. Accumulation is a powerful tool in recovery, because recovery is so long. You will probably be disappointed in what you can accomplish in your first 30 days of sobriety, but you will be amazed at what you can accomplish in your first 3 years. And then you will be even more amazed at what you can accomplish in ten years. But of course the key is that you have to keep doing the next right thing, very consistently, day in and day out. You don’t get days off in order to screw around or to play hooky. Recovery is an “all the time, always on” kind of job. If you slack off then your long term benefits are going to slide and you may even relapse. Taking the right actions is all about consistency.
Can you make it through a lifetime of sobriety without ever having faith?
There were at least a handful of times in my recovery journey where faith was a necessary element. The first time was when I finally surrendered to the disease itself, and I had no assurance that I would ever be happy again. In fact I really believed that I would be miserable forever. But I was so desperate and so sick of addiction that I made the decision to give recovery a chance anyway. This took a full leap of faith on my part.
The second time I needed faith was when I was miserable during my early recovery, and I did not really believe that it would ever get any better. I had no reason to go on or to maintain sobriety other than a simple faith that things might miraculously change some day. I held this faith even though I truly believed in my heart that I would be miserable forever. Of course, things got better eventually, and in fact they got better very quickly from that point onward. I was not miserable for long.
Another time that I had faith in my recovery was when I quit smoking cigarettes. I can remember barely hanging on through the withdrawal process and now knowing what to do, if I should just smoke again or hang on further or what. I was so miserable and desperate and uncomfortable. Again, I could not see a light at the end of the tunnel. I had no hope for a better future and so I just held on with sheer faith that I might make it through some how (how pathetic is that, over mere nicotine withdrawal….ha! But this is what addiction reduces us to!)
Based on these experiences, I think everyone has to have some degree of faith in order to go through the recovery process. Or maybe we should say, part of the recovery process is in developing a small amount of faith, that things will work out in the future if you just hold on.
How to embrace the recovery process if you don’t even know where to start
Start with surrender. Just give up the struggle, give up everything, let go of your addiction entirely.
Do this by asking for help. Ask someone you trust, someone you love, what you can do to overcome your addiction. Ask them to find help for you.
Then, follow their directions. Don’t question their suggestions, just take their advice and follow through. If they suggest you go to rehab, then go to treatment. Don’t get all caught up in which treatment center or where you are going or what type of services they offer. Those are the sort of details that you leave up to your higher power. That is the faith part. That is the trusting part. Leave the details up to someone else and just start taking action. Put one foot in front of the other and start working towards your sobriety.
The easiest and surest path to this is through inpatient treatment. Not that this is a magic bullet, or that it works every time for every person (because it does not) but that this is the best option that you have in most cases. It is the default choice for a good reason.
And when I was still struggling with addiction I had to find a way to embrace this choice. This was a process that took several years for me to come to terms with. I went to 3 inpatient rehabs total before I finally “got it.” The first two were a warm up, apparently. I was not ready yet. I had not surrendered yet. And in exposing myself to rehab, I built a fear of them because they represented abstinence to me. I became afraid of them because of what they represented. And so I had to work through this fear in order to finally make the leap of faith. But to do so I did not really work through anything, instead I just became miserable to the point that I no longer cared. I was afraid to go to rehab, but at some point my misery outweighed that fear. This is the honest truth.
So if you are lost for how to trust in the process, then simply ask for help and give yourself fully to the solution that is presented. Ask for help and if they send you to rehab, then go and try to soak up whatever information you can. This will lead you to all kinds of new possibilities and positive connections in your recovery journey.