What are the Foundation Building Blocks of Alcoholism Recovery?

What are the Foundation Building Blocks of Alcoholism Recovery?


There are some conceptual building blocks such as:

1) Honesty.
2) Open mindedness.
3) Willingness.

Then there are the holistic categories such as:

1) Physical health.
2) Spirituality.
3) Mental health/education.
4) Social, connecting with peers, reaching out to others.

But what are the theoretical building blocks of successful recovery? We might have things like:

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1) Personal growth.
2) Positive changes.
3) Healthy habits.
4) Accumulation/persistence.
5) Enthusiasm/momentum.
6) Replacement theory.

Then there are also the different strategic approaches to short term versus long term recovery:

1) Disruption/detox.
2) Transition to long term recovery.
3) “The rest of your life” and fighting complacency.

Disruption, change, and growth. These are the foundation of recovery.

What bearing does this have on your life in recovery?

First of all you need to know what your true path is in recovery, and what your purpose is. If you are still struggling with active addiction and you are still putting drugs or alcohol in your body on a regular basis, then your immediate goal is not “change” or “growth,” it is “disruption.” This is outlined above and the first step is always going to be disruption. You can’t get to personal growth or even the “change” category until you have gone through disruption and arrested your disease.

Likewise, many people in early recovery stay stuck in the idea of “change” for far too long and never really get to the “growth” stage. This would be characterized by someone who is stuck going to 12 step meetings every single day but they are not really making any personal growth. They are just coasting through recovery and using the daily meetings as an outlet that allows them to barely stay clean and sober.

The end goal of course is long term personal growth, but try to leap right into this phase without laying down the basics in the first two phases. Doing this always results in failure because the person will have missed out on the basic lessons and core discipline that is learned in early recovery. In other words, you have to learn to crawl before you can learn to walk. If you try to skip steps then you are just going to short change yourself and be left wondering in the future how it all went wrong. The reason that it went wrong is because you tried to shortcut the process.

The result of this truth is a necessary hybrid approach in overcoming any addiction. The first part of the approach relies entirely on giving up control to other people. You have to surrender, ask for help, and put your life in someone else’s hands. This concept is illustrated perfectly by checking into an inpatient rehab unit. You are giving control of your life over to someone else for a short period of time.

The transitional stage is next (change, transition, etc.) and this is the part where you need a bit of both worlds: Your own efforts and willingness combined with the advice and guidance of others.

The final stage is long term personal growth and that relies almost entirely on your own self directed efforts.

So this is actually a gradual return to “full independence.” In the disruption stage you must surrender and rely on others 100 percent for guidance. In the second phase you still rely greatly on other people for advice and direction. In the third stage you are finally relying on your own thoughts, desires, and actions much more so than on other people. The trend is toward long term independence.

People get into trouble when they try to shortcut this process and become independent too quickly. Most people in denial are easy to spot because they believe that they can overcome their addiction with complete independence, and that they have no need at all for the first two phases which rely heavily on other’s input. For example, someone might be drinking or using drugs and their family is trying to convince them to go into rehab. The addict might argue back and say something like: “I don’t need rehab, if I wanted to really quit I would just up and quit and I would not need to go to meetings or rehab at all! The fact is that I just don’t want to quit entirely right now so stop bugging me” etc. etc.

This makes it clear that such a person (if they are truly an addict or alcoholic) does not understand the recovery process at all. They do not realize that the first two phases of recovery are going to rely heavily on advice, guidance, and direction from people other than themselves. They think that they can shortcut the process and go straight to the third phase (personal growth) and skip all of the foundation building in early recovery.

The reason that early recovery can help to build a foundation for long term sobriety is simple: you are learning what works and what does not in recovery. While you are doing this you need guidance and direction. Why? Because if you are an addict or an alcoholic like I was then some of your ideas will undoubtedly get you into trouble. Thus the newcomer cannot do it all on their own because they will end up sabotaging their own recovery effort. You need help in early recovery. If you didn’t then you would not be an addict–you would simply stop on your own without issue. In fact, addiction is defined by the inability to arrest your disease by yourself. You need help. That is part of the foundation.

Taking direction from others in early recovery is a humbling experience, but it should not be a problem if you have fully surrendered to your disease. This means that you feel like you have experienced complete and utter defeat at the hands of your addiction. You are done fighting it and trying to control it. If you are at this point then it should not be difficult for you to ask for help and start taking direction from others. If you are not willing to do this then chances are good that you have simply not surrendered yet. If this is the case then perhaps the only thing that can move you closer to surrender is more pain, chaos, and misery of addiction. Keep asking yourself if you are really enjoying your life as you struggle with addiction. Really try to measure how often you are happy so that you can move closer to surrender.

Clearly, part of the foundation in recovery is surrender. This is a prerequisite for successful recovery. Surrender is a prerequisite for ANY recovery at all, in fact. You cannot even get started on the path of recovery unless you have surrendered to the idea that you cannot drink and use drugs like a normal person. You have to fully accept that drugs and alcohol have defeated you. This is the foundation of all recovery.

Coming to grips with this concept will hopefully lead the struggling addict into a disruption stage. When I say “disruption” I mean that they will go get some help and be in an environment that will help to disrupt their addiction. The basic idea here is to go to inpatient rehab. Inpatient treatment completely disrupts your addiction because it removes you from your environment and it also detoxes you physically. At the same time they will try to teach you how to go about living a sober life but ultimately the valuable thing here is the fact that you are disrupting your disease and getting away from your drug of choice. You need disruption so that you can get a chance at sobriety.

Now if you happen to surrender and then engage in this “disruption” idea you are about halfway there. Your foundation of recovery is maybe 50 percent built. There is still a lot of work to do before you can even claim to be “living a life of recovery.” There are at least two more phases that follow surrender and disruption.

The next phase is what they attempt to teach you about in rehab. This would be the transitional phase. If you want a simple label you could say that this is “change.” So we have surrender, detox, change, and growth. This is the third stage and it is the phase of change.

They try to teach you how to change in treatment, and it is a very difficult thing to teach because there is no real way to practice it. You are stuck in a controlled environment and there is really no way to implement the changes that they are suggesting on a daily basis. For example, at rehab they might suggest that you attend AA meetings every day and also to get a sponsor in recovery and call them each day. You cannot really do either of these things while you are still in rehab. Even if they have in-house AA meetings this is not the same thing as going to a real meeting in the outside world.

The real challenge in this transition phase is to get out of rehab and then start implementing these changes into your real, everyday life. When you are in treatment everything is easy. There is no challenge in creating change while you are in a controlled facility; the changes are implemented for you. The true challenge is when you leave rehab and can now make your own choices again. This is when you must rise to the challenge and create changes in your own life. Can you leave rehab and then go to an AA meeting every day for the first 90 days? Can you get a sponsor and then call them every day and actually use them? These suggestions illustrate the level of commitment that it takes to really make the sort of changes that are required in recovery.

Most people who fail in early recovery do so at this stage of the game. They cannot implement the changes that are necessary to succeed in recovery. They may go to treatment and be in rehab for a while and get through detox. This is the easy part though. Making the tough changes after you have completed rehab and are back in the real world is more challenging. Most people relapse before they get to a year sober and in fact most people don’t even make it to 90 days sober. This is because they leave rehab and then fail to embrace change in their life.

If you can achieve long term recovery and look back one day you will see that the changes you made after the surrender and disruption phase were a huge part of your foundation. In my own experience I made tons of changes during this phase of my recovery and I was actually living in long term treatment for 20 months while I did it. Apparently this was not a short cut to success though because most of my peers who lived with me in long term rehab ended up relapsing. In fact most relapsed in under 90 days. I used to believe that “more treatment” was a shortcut to success but looking back I can realize that the real challenge are the changes that need to be made during the transitional period. Having more treatment may help a bit with this transition but in the end it does not seem to make a huge difference in the success rates. Certainly “some treatment” is better than nothing, but long term rehab is not a shortcut to success for most people. It worked for me but it failed for 80 to 90 percent of my peers.

This transitional phase may last for different periods of time depending on the person. For some it may last as little as a few months and for others it may last a period of a few years. For me it took over a year and probably close to 2 years. I do not believe you can change this length of time and so the smart thing to do is to simply try to learn what you can and embrace positive change. At some point you will find yourself living in “long term recovery” and your new goal will be personal growth rather than just trying to make positive changes all the time. This final phase is really about a switch from tactics to strategy.

The third stage is “change” or “transition” and the fourth phase is “personal growth.” What is the difference?

* Transitional phase – ask for help, take advice and direction, embrace positive changes. Experiment based on feedback and suggestions.
* Personal growth phase – this is long term recovery. You have a firm understanding of what works and what does not in your life. You evaluate growth options yourself even though you still may seek feedback from others.

So the final phase (personal growth) is really about being self directed. This is the independence that we have been striving for all along. It is still all about taking positive action and embracing change in recovery. However, at this stage in the game you are no longer flying blind. You are not in danger of immediate relapse because you have built this strong foundation in the other phases of your recovery. You may still seek feedback from others but you are not relying on that feedback like you would have done in previous stages.

The tricky thing in the final phase of recovery is that you are never really finished and that the possibility of relapse always exists. Therefore you are not “finished” and you cannot just kick your feet up and expect to sail through recovery for the rest of your life without any challenges. The real challenge now is in fighting complacency and in order to do that you have to have a proactive approach.

In early recovery you are taking advice and direction and you can seek feedback in order to overcome your problems. In long term recovery the problem is far too insidious to try to use this approach. If you simply wait for complacency to hit you and then try to react to it and seek advice for the problem then you are going to be too late. You will have already relapsed. Therefore you must take a proactive approach to the problem and that means you need an ongoing strategy for personal growth.

Your strategy for living in long term recovery should be based on the foundation concepts that have led you to change and success so far.

Why did you seek recovery in the first place? Your long term health had to play a factor in this decision; if you did not care about your long term health then there is not much need to fix a problem like addiction. Therefore one of the foundations of your long term recovery should be to constantly seek better health for yourself in life.

This is part of a strategy. So you are not just saying “I need to eat my veggies and avoid alcohol and maybe work out.” Those are tactics. The strategy we are embracing (better health) is broad enough that it can prescribe those tactics for us. The strategy is flexible but it points us in an overall direction. We know that we want to make decisions that lead us to better overall health in recovery.

This is another foundation block in recovery–your overall health. If you look at your total health including your spirit, your physical health, your emotional well being, and so on, we can label that your “holistic health” as it addresses your “whole self.”

Therefore one of the foundations in addiction recovery is your holistic health. It is not enough to just seek better health in one area (such as spirituality). Instead, it makes sense to try to improve your health in all areas of life.

Lifelong learning, positive changes, and personal growth are another foundation block in long term recovery. If you stop growing you may relapse. If you stop learning then you are in danger of relapse. Therefore you need to embrace this idea that you are never done learning new things and seeking positive changes. There is a balance between accepting yourself as you are and in pushing yourself to make positive changes. Finding that balance may take you a lifetime and is ultimately the wisdom that they speak of in the Serenity prayer. Far more people have relapsed because they stopped growing in recovery than those who tried to push themselves too hard. Therefore I would suggest that you error on the side of pushing yourself to keep growing and making positive changes.

What are your foundations in recovery? What are the building blocks that make up your successful life in recovery from addiction?

For me the fundamental building blocks of recovery are:

1) Surrender – I had to do this before I could even get started on a new life.
2) Change – I had to embrace change and seek advice from others in order to move forward in recovery. When I tried to figure it out on my own I got stuck.
3) Growth – I watched many of my peers relapse because they failed to embrace the strategy of personal growth. They embraced “change” but they never made the leap to a life of personal growth, and thus relapsed. I had to devise a strategy for long term recovery that involved personal growth. I had to find a way to challenge myself to keep learning.

What about you? Does your recovery work differently than this? Have you found fundamental elements that I have missed here? Please let us know in the comments!


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