What are some of the ways in which you might stop an alcohol addiction?
They have a saying in traditional recovery: “Stopping isn’t the problem. The problem is staying stopped.”
Most people who struggle with alcoholism stop all the time. They pass out. They black out. They go to jail. They sleep every once in a while. Some of them even go to work at times.
So stopping is not the problem. Any alcoholic can suddenly wind up in jail and, thus, stop drinking.
The key is in staying stooped. How do you avoid going back to your drug of choice? How do you escape from your pattern of abuse?
My philosophy is that stopping any addiction requires a few critical steps. The first step is disruption.
You have to break your pattern, or disrupt your life in such a way that you have a chance to stop drinking. As they say, “if nothing changes, nothing changes.” You have to disrupt your pattern in some way in order to break free. This is one of the main points of going to inpatient treatment. When you check into a facility for several days or weeks you are disrupting your pattern of abusing alcohol.
If the first key is disruption, the second key is in learning a new way to live. While you are in the “disruption phase” you need to gain new information. If you do not gain any new information about how to recover then you are just going to leave treatment and relapse. How else could you possibly overcome your addiction unless you learned some new way to avoid it?
The alcoholic struggles with addiction because they have tried everything that they can think of in order to overcome their problem and they cannot do it. With their limited knowledge about recovery they have not been able to become sober on their own. They try to control their drinking and they still lose control. Their life is in shambles. They need help and they need new information in order to get different results in their life.
If you want a different outcome then you need to do something different. If you keep doing the same thing then you can expect the same results. In order to change your life in recovery you need new information about how to live successfully. This is a learning process. You must learn in order to overcome addiction.
Disruption, then learning. What is next?
Next is implementation. Follow through. You went to rehab and disrupted your pattern. Then you sat through the groups and the lectures and the meetings and you learned about a new way to approach life. Now the day comes when you have to walk out of treatment and face the real world again. Now you must implement what you have learned. The theories about changes in your life are meaningless unless you actually go out and make those changes.
If you talk to someone who went to rehab and then relapsed after leaving treatment you might ask them “what went wrong?” They will tell you that they left rehab and then they failed to follow through. They failed to take action based on what they learned. They may have made a half hearted effort at doing the work but they did not dive into it and embrace this new path in life with all of their heart. They lacked commitment. They failed to follow through. They failed to take massive action.
I like to summarize all of these ideas by saying that the solution is to “take massive action.” Of course when I say that I am assuming that people know we are talking about taking positive action as well. So if you go to rehab and then you really dive into the work and commit to serious change in your life then you are going to get strong results. It is all about the actions that you take and whether you follow through or not.
Of course you have to be willing to do this. No one can be forced to do this process because it is too much darn work. Really, think about it for a moment. You can force someone into rehab but you cannot force then to follow through. You cannot force them to actually care about their sobriety. You cannot force them to embrace a life of change. You cannot force them to have a positive attitude about exploring a new life in recovery.
This is why you cannot force someone to become sober. They have to want the journey for themselves. There has to be motivation that comes from within and is driven by the self. If there is no self motivation then they are doomed to relapse at some point when the going gets tough. And the recovery process is so long and involved that you can bet that at some point (probably at many different points) it is going to get tough. That is just the way it is. Recovery is really just another layer on top of your normal, everyday life. So you are going to face all of the ups and downs that you get with your regular life as well. This is why you need to learn so much, so that you can deal with things without resorting back to your drug of choice. We need new solutions to deal with our problems in recovery. We can no longer rely on the old solution, which was to just go get drunk for everything.
Disruption, learning, and implementation (follow through). The key to recovery is process. If you get the process right then everything will fall into place. But of course you have to do the work. When people talk about “doing the work” in recovery what they are really referring to is the idea of engaging with the recovery process.
Everything is process. Which is why you need to take action. If you don’t take any action in recovery then nothing changes, because you have not engaged with any sort of process.
“What is this process?” You ask.
The process is simple. It is disruption, learning, and follow through. You take positive action every day and push yourself to make positive changes in your life. If done consistently then you will, over time, create a new life for yourself to replace your old life of addiction. But you have to have faith in the beginning that the process will create results for you. At the very least you must be willing to engage the process to see what the outcome may be. It has to be better than the results you were getting with alcohol, right? No one wants to be miserable.
Your level of dedication to changing your life
Many people understand the basic principles beyond this recovery process (disruption, learning, follow through) but then they still don’t seem to create a new life for themselves in recovery. Instead, they may dabble in early recovery for a bit but then they ultimately relapse and go back to their old way of life.
What is going on? Why does this happen?
The reason that people reject the process is simple: They have not fully surrendered yet.
Their excuses may try to cover up this lack of surrender. So they may say something like “I just don’t like AA meetings, they make me uncomfortable.” Or they may argue that they cannot go to treatment because then they would lose their job. The excuse doesn’t really matter, because in the end they are suffering from a simple lack of surrender. They have not surrendered yet. They have not let go.
Let go of what? Let go of everything. In order to get clean and sober they must let go. Really let go. They must reach that critical point where they are so miserable that they just want it all to stop. This will feel like it is a crisis that is just short of suicide. The alcoholic will feel like they cannot go on drinking, and they will also feel like they cannot go on being sober either. They will feel trapped and exhausted and tired. They will be eager for change.
This is the turning point. When they are so sick and tired of life that they just want it all to go away. This is the point when they are ripe for real change in recovery.
Now the problem is that many alcoholics and drug addicts these days end up in treatment situations long before they reach this point of surrender. So they are in a state of “half surrender” and they are making a feeble attempt to get sober. Because they are not in a state of full surrender they are not going to really listen and learn after the disruption stage. And even if they do pick up on some ideas they are not going to follow through and implement them later on. It is too much work for them at this time because they are not miserable enough to be properly motivated. They don’t have that internal drive that is required to make recovery a success.
Willingness and dedication are hugely important in recovery, but you cannot just snap your fingers and make these traits appear out of nowhere. You have to earn your willingness through pain and misery and suffering. Because if you have not suffered enough in your addiction then you will not have the motivation that you need to do the work.
Taking massive action in order to get real results
I went to rehab three times in my life. The first two times I attended rehab I was not willing to take massive action. I was in the disruption phase and I may have even learned some things while in treatment but I was nowhere near the “implementation phase.” I left treatment and I did not do the work and I relapsed.
The second rehab I was in I started to get a little bit more honest with the people. I told them everything and I told them how much and how often I was drinking and using drugs. They seemed very concerned for me. One of the therapists told me that I was far more advanced in my disease than the other kids that were in rehab with me (I was in a rehab with “kids” ages 14 to 24, and I was 24 at the time).
So this rehab strongly urged me to go into long term treatment after I was done with their 28 day program. At the time I thought that this was absurd. I was offended that they would want me to stay in rehab for longer than 28 days. “Why not just go to prison instead?” was my thinking. To me, long term rehab felt like a prison sentence. Why did they want to take away my freedom?
What I could not understand is that having a serious addiction requires serious action. If your life is really screwed up and you are deeply dependent on your drug of choice then you have a lot of work to do in order to fix it. I was not being realistic at the time and I wanted someone to wave a magic wand and just make my addiction go away on its own. “Fix me.” Make it all go away and make it so that I am happy again.
Well, it doesn’t work that way. You cannot expect to just turn your life around in an instant and have joy and happiness every day without doing the work first. And that work requires action. Massive action. If you were anything like me in your addiction then it is going to take a lot of work in order to rebuild your life in recovery.
The first two times that I went to rehab I was not being realistic. I was thinking to myself “OK, I don’t really want to stop drinking, but I will entertain the idea if they can somehow make it easy enough for me and make me happy again.” That was pretty much my attitude for my first two trips to rehab. I was willing to entertain the idea of sobriety but only if it turned out to be easy and fun right from the start. Not realistic! Of course it is hard work. Now don’t get me wrong, the rewards of recovery are well worth it, but it is a lot of work and it requires a lot of tough changes. You have to be willing to grow.
Why making lifestyle changes can be so difficult for people
It is really hard to make lifestyle changes. If you hang out at the bar every night for a few years (or decades) and then you suddenly try to change your pattern, it can be really tough to do. What do you fill that hole with? How do you adapt to a new life? How do you replace the old activities and social patterns with new ones?
Lifestyle changes are the most difficult because they involve habits and patterns. We are talking about changing something that was ingrained into your everyday life, a recurring habit. That is why it is so difficult to change.
This is why they recommend doing 90 AA meetings in the first 90 days. It establishes a pattern of change and it also helps to replace those old activities. Plus it gets you interacting with a new social group, hopefully one that is more positive than the one you are probably replacing. AA may not be for everyone but if you are going to overcome your addiction then you definitely have to make huge changes in your lifestyle. Going to meetings every single day is sort of a shortcut to making some of those difficult changes.
In long term sobriety the quality of your recovery will come down to one thing: Your daily practice.
What are you doing each and every day in order to remain sober? This is what your “massive action” must eventually lead to. You must establish healthy new habits and patterns in your life that support you in your recovery. You must take consistent action in order to build up this new daily practice.
Your goal in recovery is to build a new life for yourself. If you are going to sustain sobriety then this new life has to be able to replace your old pattern of drinking. It does not help if you are bored, frustrated, or unhappy in this new life. If that is the case then you will eventually relapse. So it takes work. And the work that you are doing is always process. And the process comes down to daily practice. You need to take positive action every single day in order to improve your life.
You might think of this process in terms of the various areas of your life:
1) Physical health, fitness, nutrition.
2) Spirituality. Meditation and prayer. Relationship with a higher power. Connections with others from a spiritual standpoint.
3) Emotional balance. Staying centered. Not fighting with others. Staying grounded and stable emotionally.
4) Social. Avoiding toxic relationships.
5) Mental. Learning. Education. New knowledge. Exploring new ideas. Idea generation.
When we talk about the daily practice what we are really saying is that you need to be doing things each and every day that will benefit you in those areas. If you neglect one of those areas for too long then it will throw your whole life out of whack. If you take care and nurture each of those areas then your life will work better as a whole.
This is the “holistic approach” to recovery. When you take care of each of those areas then they all work together and enhance each other. Things work better because you are using a holistic approach and you are not neglecting any specific part of your life.
Taking suggestions and building a new life from them
One of the biggest and most important suggestions in early recovery is that the newcomer should learn how to take suggestions from other people.
It really is that simple. Do what people tell you to do.
Ask for help. Ask for advice. And then, here is the shocker: Take the advice!
Actually take action and do what people suggest for you to do.
Do this over and over again.
Believe me, it is weird. I have done it. I felt like I was walking off a cliff into thin air when I did it, too.
It is not normal for us to trust other people’s advice over our own ideas. It feels strange.
But I dare you to do it. Especially if you are in early recovery.
What will happen is that you will benefit from taking this advice, and it will strengthen you in your recovery. And if you do it over and over again then you will get stronger and stronger. And you will feel guilty because people are giving you credit for doing so well, and yet you are just following directions at this point!
This is the shortcut to success in early recovery. Simply do what you are told. Over and over again.
Doesn’t sound like fun, does it? Believe me, it works. Your life will get better and better and you will be patting yourself on the back for being so smart to take all of this good advice from other people.
What does your daily practice consist of? How is it evolving?
As you remain clean and sober your daily practice will evolve.
This is good. If your daily practice does NOT evolve then I would guess that you are headed for trouble eventually. It is normal for us to learn and to grow in recovery.
For example, the first few years of my journey I focused heavily on social support and meeting attendance. Later in my recovery this shifted to less social support and a whole lot more exercise. I replace one strategy with another. Could I do both? Sure. But I found my recovery evolving, and so I went with the flow. I found what really worked best for me.
Your daily practice should always lead you towards better long term health. The recovery journey is really about achieving better health and a better quality of life. So everything that you do in recovery should lead towards these outcomes. Improve your life, improve your health, strengthen your recovery.