How can you learn to trust yourself again in addiction and alcoholism recovery?
It is not an easy question because at the moment of surrender you will have zero trust in yourself. In fact, that is what the perfect state of surrender actually is, it is the realization that you are not God, you are no longer happy with your life, and you have no one to blame but yourself. You realize that you need help and that you cannot fight your way out of the mess that you have created for yourself. That is real surrender.
When I reached that point I had no trust in myself. I had very little hope. If there was any hope to be had, it would come from putting my life into the hands of others. And that is exactly what I did: I went to rehab and I asked them to tell me what to do and how to live my life. I was miserable and it was all my own fault. I had no one to blame but myself. I had selfishly tried to make myself happy by drinking alcohol every day and in the end it did not work out so well. I was stuck.
Early recovery is not an easy time. It is not supposed to feel joyful or even that hopeful, really. You should be desperate. You should be broken. This is what real surrender should feel like. You are at the bottom of a very deep hole and it is time to crawl out. A tiny bit of hope is all you really have. But it will build from there and your life will improve if you are willing to do the work. And eventually you will learn to trust yourself again, but only when you have become responsible enough to be able to do so.
That feeling of complete hopelessness at the beginning of your recovery journey eventually goes away
When I first got sober I was very, very hopeless.
I felt like someone was holding a gun up to my head and threatening my life, and yet I didn’t even care about this threat. So what? I was miserable anyway. Maybe I would keep drinking and this would eventually kill me. I no longer felt a great fear about this like I did in the past. I was so miserable that even the threat of death by alcoholism was no longer that scary to me.
That is a very desperate and sad state of mind to be in. Luckily, I retained a tiny shred of hope, possibly because of a loving and supportive family that was always trying to reach out to me. They wanted positive change for me and that may have been the motivating factor, though it certainly did not feel like it at the time. Quite honestly, I knew that my family cared about me but this was not enough to sway me in any particular direction. This is because the addiction isolates you and causes you to think very selfishly. I did not really care how my addiction was impacting my family or friends because all I could think about was myself and my own misery. I wanted to be happy. I wanted to drink and get drunk and have all of my fears go away. And when that stopped working eventually I was miserable and I was afraid and it was all about me, me, me. I did not care about my family and how I was hurting them because I could not see past my own problems and my own misery. I was a victim, and I had convinced myself that I was a victim, but in fact I was really a victim of my own making. No alcoholic or drug addict is really a victim just because the disease chose them. We become victims when we refuse to seek help for our problems. And that is what I was doing in my addiction–I knew that I needed help but I was too afraid to go get it. I knew that there was a solution but I was too afraid to embrace it. I knew that I needed to go to rehab but I was too afraid to face reality, to face my problems, to face myself and the person that I had become. I lived in fear and this dictated my actions. In a way it was pathetic. It takes courage to go to rehab, to admit that you need help.
When I finally surrendered I was in this place of total hopelessness and despair. I really no longer cared for myself or others. I was just so sick and tired of being miserable that I wanted everything to go away. I cared about nothing, about no one. And I did not have any real hope that change was even possible for me. When I agreed to go to rehab, I was just sort of playing along to see what happened. I had no hope that it would work out, that I could get sober, or that I could be happy in sobriety. I did not believe that to be possible for me. But I had a tiny shred of hope so I did it anyway.
This is the beginning of learning to trust yourself again. For once, make a decision right now to turn your life around, to surrender, to listen to the experts who would tell you what to do with yourself. Go to rehab, go to meetings, go to counseling, work these steps, get a sponsor, write in this journal, read that book, and on and on and on. For once you have to make the choice that you are going to go all in, you are going to do all of it, you are going to say “yes” to all of that stuff, you are going to walk away from your old life and start over. And you have to be willing to face the fear, to face reality, to face the person that you have become and vow to make positive changes and get better. This is how you build a better life. This is how you will one day come to know yourself, to trust yourself, even to love yourself.
Learning to trust others is the key to success in early recovery
Before you can trust yourself in recovery you must learn to trust other people.
This is a necessary prerequisite. You can’t succeed in recovery if you never learn to trust anyone.
I would suggest checking into rehab. Listen to what they tell you to do. Then, do it. Simple and effective. You are building trust.
My family urged me to go to rehab. I went.
The counselors and therapists told me to go to meetings, get a sponsor, move into long term rehab, work the steps, write about recovery, read the literature, go back to college, get a new job, and so on and so forth.
I did those things as I was instructed to do. This is how early recovery should work.
Don’t try to get fancy at this stage of the game. Don’t screw yourself up or sabotage your own recovery efforts. It’s not worth it.
Instead, ask for help and follow directions.
Do this: Pretend that you are in first grade again and it is your first day of school and you are really nervous. You don’t know exactly what to do and you don’t want to screw anything up.
That is what you should feel like on your first day of sobriety.
Ask for help. Listen to what people are telling you. Then start taking action and making positive changes.
People will gladly tell you how to live in recovery. There is no shortage of this. It’s not a problem. Counselors, therapists, sponsors, family, friends, peers in recovery–all of them will be happy to give you advice about how to live and how to recover. They love to give advice. It makes them feel good.
Don’t deny them this opportunity. Besides, you need the advice. You really do! I am not just saying that in this case. I really want you to ask for help, to listen to the advice, and then to take it and follow through on it.
Sobriety really is that simple, at least in early recovery. For the first year, you don’t actually have to do any thinking of your own if you don’t want to. You can simply listen to advice and act on it. Follow through on what you are told to do. Trust in other people and you will start to build a new life in recovery.
This is exactly what I did when I got sober. I made an agreement with myself to get the heck out of my own way. I was done screwing up my own life. Time to listen to someone else for a while. So I outsourced all of my decisions to other people. I did not trust myself.
That is an important point: During the first year or so of my sobriety, I did not trust myself. I trusted others. I listened to others and took their advice. But I did not take my own advice yet. It was too dangerous.
It was only later on in my recovery journey that I learned to trust in myself again.
When and how do you learn to trust yourself again?
After a year or two of sobriety you should start to trust in yourself again.
This is a slow process that should unfold over time for you. You will start to realize that you have good ideas, that you are no longer a huge threat to yourself, and that you can start to trust yourself again without fearing relapse.
Again, this does not happen overnight. Don’t think that you can trust yourself completely when you have 60 days sober. I don’t think that is realistic.
What happens is this:
You get sober and you start to listen to other people. You take advice. You take direction from others. Maybe you get a sponsor and work the steps with that person and take advice from them. Or you get a therapist or a counselor and you take advice from them. Whatever. You trust in others rather than yourself.
And as you are doing this you are constantly checking your own ideas against that of your mentor. You are watching to see if their ideas match up with your own.
At first, the ideas won’t match up at all. For example, when I got sober I thought it was a good idea to go out and get drunk every night in order to be happy. That was my idea of a good time. I had no other real ideas on how to have fun in life.
My sponsor on the other hand had all sorts of good ideas on how to have fun. He threw parties with good food, games, a hot tub. He went to 12 step parties, dances, things like that. His ideas may not have been perfect for everyone, but they were vastly better than what I had to work with.
Later on someone suggested that I go back to college and finish my degree. This was not my idea. It was someone else’s. Turned out to be a good idea.
Later on in my recovery, someone suggested that I start distance running for exercise purposes. Again, not my idea. I thought it was stupid, to be honest. Turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made.
And so as I listened to these ideas from other people, I took some of their advice and put it into action. Some things worked out great, others….not so much. But I kept taking advice and I kept listening and I kept putting ideas into action. And while I did this I was constantly checking my own ideas against the advice I was being given.
And in the long run, those two things started to merge. In other words, the ideas that I came up with on my own started to match the suggestions from my mentors in recovery. And that is where you learn to trust yourself again, where you gain confidence. Because you slowly start to realize that you are becoming the guru–you are achieving the wisdom that was once guiding you. You are learning to think on your own two feet, and to come up with good ideas on your own. And so you begin to trust yourself again.
Regaining your confidence in recovery without getting cocky and dangerous about it
Around the time that I had 4 years sober, I successfully quit smoking cigarettes.
I have to admit that when I finally pulled that off, I was at the absolute peak of my confidence level in sobriety. I was really, really pumped that I had achieved that goal, and I felt like I could do just about anything as a result.
But I wasn’t cocky about it. I had this perfect level of confidence that I could probably achieve nearly anything, so long as I focused on it.
But I was realistic. It wasn’t so much “I am amazing and I am powerful and I can do anything I want!” It wasn’t like that.
Instead it was more like: “I quit smoking successfully and it was so difficult and so challenging that now I understand how to focus enough on a goal in order to achieve it. It was really tough to do and I paid a price to do it and now I know that I can achieve other goals that are really tough as well, if I am willing to pay the price involved.”
So it was not blind optimism that I gained at that point. It was a much more realistic and measured confidence in myself. And I realized that if I wanted to pursue a really tough goal in life that I could probably pull it off and achieve it, so long as I was willing to put in the work.
Let me put it to you like this:
I got clean and sober, and that was tough. I lived in rehab for 20 months and I dedicated my life to recovery. Four years later I managed to successfully quit cigarettes, and that was actually much, much more difficult. And when I was able to finally quit smoking cigarettes, I realized that I had an incredible amount of power available to me in terms of focus. If I was willing to focus all of my efforts and all of my energy on a single goal then it was very likely that I could achieve it (within reason). For example, I later ran a marathon (3 of them actually) just to test out this idea of focus and deliberate action. I wanted to prove something to myself I suppose. And later I built a successful business with the same raw determination, that same level of focus.
There is nothing magical about these concepts. It really is about focus. If you dedicate your life to single goal then it is very likely that you can achieve it. The question is, are you willing to pay that price? In other words, I quit watching television (sold my tv set actually) before I reached any of those goals I just mentioned. Now maybe you don’t have to give up TV in order to meet your specific goals, but you will probably have to pay at least some price nonetheless. Are you willing to pay a price to meet your goals?
And the greater implication here in terms of quitting drinking or drugs is this:
Are you willing to dedicate your life to recovery in order to escape from your addiction?
Because honestly that is what it takes.
Anything less and you will relapse. You must dedicate your life to sobriety. You must dedicate yourself and all of your energy to recovery, period. For at least the first year or two that should be your singular focus in life.
And as you live this new truth, you will learn to trust yourself more and more. Because the ideas that you come up with will start to align more and more with your new purpose in life, with your new vision of recovery.
Realizing your full potential in sobriety and getting excited about personal growth
As I mentioned before, after I was able to (finally) put down the cigarettes, I got really excited about personal growth.
It was as if I had unlocked a secret. And the secret was: you can have anything you want in life, so long as you focus enough on it and dedicate your energy to that goal.
Pretty powerful stuff. Simple, but powerful. That was what it took for me to overcome drug and alcohol addiction, and it was what it took for me to give up nicotine too. Extreme focus.
My hope for you in recovery is that you learn to harness this power of extreme focus and use it to meet your goals.
Personal growth can become an exciting feedback loop.
It all starts with sobriety, which is the foundation for personal growth (at least for the alcoholic or drug addict it is).
After you are sober and have a baseline of stability, hopefully you branch out and start to pursue other things. For example, at some point I started to exercise on a daily basis and get into better shape. This created a positive feedback loop because I started to feel better and better about myself.
It is hard to predict in what ways a holistic approach to recovery will enhance and impact your life. For example, I started eating healthier food as a result of daily exercise. I started sleeping much better at night. I fell asleep quicker and slept through the whole night more frequently. I found more emotional stability because I was exercising every day. It helped to ground me.
This growing confidence comes from a life well lived, from taking advice and turning it into positive action, and from learning to trust in yourself and your own decision making process. We start slowly in early recovery with these decisions and we get better at it over time.
What about you, have you learned to trust yourself in recovery again? What has that process been like for you? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!