What does it take to build quality sobriety? What does it take in order to not just succeed in remaining clean and sober, but to actually thrive and live a rich and full life in long term recovery?
What does it take to make the leap from being a newcomer who is hanging on by a thread by sitting in AA meetings every day, to being a successful and happy person in long term sobriety?
In my experience, and in my observations, it takes a few key things for a person to successfully make this transition. Let’s dive in and take a closer look.
The first and perhaps most critical thing that is required to build quality sobriety is simply surrender. If a person has failed to surrender completely then this means that they are not really done with their drug of choice yet, and they secretly believe that they might be able to drink or use drugs again successfully in the future. They may be taking a break from their addiction, but in their mind they have still left the door open a bit to it.
This attitude is not going to carry a person through to long term sobriety. In order to build a successful life in recovery–one that is sustainable–you must first surrender completely to the fact that you have a disease and that you need serious help.
Surrender is key. Without it, no addict or alcoholic can really transform their life in any meaningful way. They will just keep slipping back into their addiction until they surrender completely.
Now the second key concept that I discovered in my own journey was that of professional treatment services. I know that it is possible for a person to recover without going to rehab, I just have no experience with it and I also do not see evidence of that around me very often. Pretty much all of the success stories that I know about in the world of sobriety are people who went through rehab, who followed up with counseling or therapy or IOP groups, who went to church or to AA meetings, who worked hard on a program of recovery that they were introduced to at a rehab center.
I went to rehab 3 times in my journey, and the third time it finally “stuck” for me. The first two times I was still hanging on to a piece of denial, and therefore I wasn’t ready. The third time I had thoroughly hit bottom and I was in a state of “full surrender” and I was willing to listen and take advice. So the third time I went to treatment it actually worked, and I was able to start rebuilding my life in a meaningful way. I went to on to build a life of “quality sobriety” that allowed me to be content and free to a degree that I never imagined possible before.
Now I work in the field of treatment and I do what I can to help others to find this path to recovery. As such, I get to see a lot of examples of what works well in early recovery and what does not.
Once a person surrenders, the recommendation is for them to seek professional treatment services. So hopefully they go to treatment and they make it through a 28 day program. But what happens next for them? How do they go from walking out of a rehab to rebuilding their life in long term recovery? What does that transition look like?
A couple of key factors:
One, following through with aftercare when leaving rehab is critical. If you ignore one single suggestion when transitioning out of rehab then you are putting your sobriety in jeopardy. My recommendation to you would be to follow every single suggestion and take every piece of advice as if your life depended on it. Go to all of the follow up care that is recommended for you when you leave rehab. This will set you up for success.
Second, I would recommend that you forget about “what you want in life” for the first year of your sobriety, and instead focus on following directions from your mentors–your sponsor, your therapist, and the senior peers at AA meetings. Listen to what they are telling you to do and then go do it. Take the advice, take positive action, and start rebuilding your life based on the direction from other people.
While this may not sound very exciting, this is a very strong path to build the sort of life that you will be happy with. Don’t blunder your way through early recovery and make all the usual mistakes that other people have made–take their advice instead and avoid those common pitfalls. Take the easy shortcut and simply do what you are told to do, and your life will start getting better very quickly.
Third, I would strongly suggest that you build a support network of people in recovery during your early sobriety. This is most easily done by going to AA or NA meetings every single day. There are other ways to find and use social support, but I am not sure that the extra work is justified when it is so much easier to get that support from the 12 step fellowship. While it may not be perfect, AA and NA meetings are pretty much everywhere, and the people that you meet there will be willing to help you in most any way that they can. The bottom line is that we all need social support in order to recover, and it is most easily found within those programs. Take advantage of them, especially in early recovery.
Fourth, I would argue that if all you do is go to 12 step meetings and sit there and absorb information, or even if you are actively sharing with groups of people, that is not enough. In order to thrive in long term recovery you are going to have to set some goals and do some real work. You did not get clean and sober just to exist and be “dry.” Your life can be so much more than that in recovery, and it is your responsibility to build this new life and discover what it can truly become.
As such, you need to push yourself towards personal growth when the easy answer is to just practice acceptance and kick your feet up.
In other words, you need to actively pursue a better life for yourself, rather than just expecting things to fall into place because you got clean and sober.
For example, you need to take inventory of the various areas of your life and of your health, and then start making goals and taking positive action. Start meditating, write in a journal, talk with a therapist, get some physical exercise, eat healthier food, improve your sleep schedule, learn a new skill, go back to school, get a more challenging job, and so on. If you just get sober and sit in and meetings and never push yourself to learn and to grow then you run the risk of becoming complacent and potentially relapsing.
To sum up:
Surrender and go to rehab. Listen to what they tell you to do. Transition out of rehab and go to aftercare and start taking suggestions. Make some goals to improve your life in a variety of different ways, and then start chasing those goals while using social support to sustain your recovery. Good luck!