The thing about rehab and alcohol problems is that it is actually a huge opportunity if you are willing to take advantage of it.
Most people do not see alcoholism that way. They think that alcoholism and addiction is essentially a curse; something to be avoided at all costs.
It is true that addiction in any form is not a good thing. But therein lies an opportunity for change. The farther you have fallen in life, the greater your recovery will ultimately be. Any struggling alcoholic has a huge opportunity to turn things around and live a much better life.
And it all starts with rehab.
Starting the process of change that will lead to your ideal life in recovery
Why not just go to AA?
Or quit drinking on your own?
Is it not possible to achieve this better life without going to treatment?
My answer to those questions basically amounts to: “Look at the numbers.” The data is not very much in favor of people overcoming alcoholism on their own. In fact, the numbers can be pretty scary no matter how you look at things. Most alcoholics need all of the help that they can get.
It is true that in the old days many alcoholics sobered up simply by attending AA meetings. But you also have to realize that people were a bit more willing to help out back then. For example, people in AA might put you up in their own home for a few days while you dried out–the modern day equivalent of detox. This doesn’t really happen any more, because we have replaced that process of “drying out on someone’s couch” with medical detox centers.
Therefore my suggestion is just to suck it up and go to rehab. Make the decision that you want to change your life, then put that decision into motion by getting into a treatment facility. Sure, there are other ways that you could attempt to put your sobriety in motion. But going to rehab is the best way to get started. It is also the safest way (detoxing on someone’s couch is not exactly safe).
Modern day treatment certainly does not have all of the answers, nor is it a perfect cure. But it is better than nothing, and it is really the best option for most people. As I said, consider the numbers for a moment. Look at people who never go to treatment and what their odds are of finding a happy new life in recovery–slim to none. At least if you go to rehab you will have a fighting chance at this new life of happiness.
How do you get to rehab? I suggest that you get on the phone. If you are not sober or coherent enough to do it, have a friend or a family member make the calls for you (make sure you are with them though at the time). Call up treatment centers and ask questions. Ask them what you would have to do in order to come in and get the help that you need. If they can’t work it out, ask them to direct you to someone who might be able to help. Be polite. Keep asking questions. Be persistent enough to find a way to get the help that you need. If one rehab can not help you, ask them if they know of any others that might help. Go to search engines and look up local treatment centers. Call everyone. Keep asking questions. Don’t give up until you have found a way to get help. This really is just a matter of persistence and talking with the right people.
The decision to go to treatment can (and will) be life changing if you follow through on it. This can be the starting point of an amazing new life in recovery….one in which you no longer have to life in fear.
Being in rehab and getting the most out of it
Not everyone adapts well to alcoholism treatment.
If you can remember what it is like to be in school then you have a good idea of what treatment is like. They are trying to teach you how to live a better life in recovery. They are trying to teach you how to live sober without relapsing. Therefore you would do well to listen carefully to them and pay attention.
You should seek out new information while you are in treatment with “the desperation of a drowning person.” Your old life in addiction was not working out well for you. You were miserable due to your alcohol problem, and now you want a new way to live. The people in treatment will tell you how to achieve that, but you have to listen and follow through with it.
They will most likely assign you a therapist or a counselor while you in treatment. This person will work with you directly and try to set up a plan for your treatment. Your job is to work with this person and make the best plan that you can with them. Be eager to take action.
You are embarking on a new adventure in life. This is a great trip you are on. Embrace the fact that it is a huge opportunity. You get to “start over” on life this way.
Putting your best foot forward after leaving rehab
The moment that you leave rehab is absolutely critical. You want to do everything that you can to put your best foot forward when you leave treatment. There are going to be a number of suggestions given to you when you are first out of treatment. You should try to take them all.
For example, they will tell you to make sure that you go to an outside AA meeting your first day out of rehab. This is an excellent suggestion and I would be that the people who follow through on this have a much higher chance of staying sober. In fact you should probably make a commitment to go to a meeting every single after you leave rehab, without exception.
Recovery is about doing something different. It is all about change. You are simply changing your life. So it is important that you do not fall back into old patterns when you leave treatment. The first part of that is in going to meetings every day. If you are not into AA meetings then you need to find something else to do every day that it extremely positive and can take the place of your old life.
Recovery is about replacement. In the past you spent a great deal of time using your drug of choice. What are you going to do with that time now that you are sober? If you don’t have a really good answer for that question then you are probably going to relapse.
I went to rehab three times. The first two times when I left, I definitely did not put my best foot forward. In fact I was not truly committed to doing anything serious those first two times. I just wasn’t ready to change. You have to want to change everything in your life. I wasn’t at that point yet. I wasn’t willing to face the fear of sitting in AA meetings. I wasn’t willing to meet new people in recovery who were doing something positive with their life.
I had to become willing. How did I do that? I had to get miserable first. I had to become so miserable and sick and tired of addiction that I became willing to face all of those fears. I had to become willing to change everything simply through getting sick and tired of my drinking. This is how I finally was able to embrace a new life in recovery. This is how I finally went to treatment with the right attitude. I had to be so sick and tired and miserable that I was willing to do just about anything in order to escape from the pain of addiction.
What is your ideal life in recovery? What does it consist of?
In the beginning it is enough to define your ideal life through what it is NOT. This is the process of surrender. You exist in misery and pain through your addiction and you decide at some point that you want something else. That you do not want to keep going on living this way. So you get to a point where you would rather face the fear of the unknown rather than to continue on with the miserable experience you are having with your addiction.
So your ideal life, at first, is simply anything other than what you had in addiction. You want out. You want change. It doesn’t really matter what you change to because it has to be better than what you were getting. Your ideal life is “not addiction.”
This works for your first month or so of recovery. But the human brain has this amazing function and ability to forget pain. Rather, what it forgets is the intensity of the pain that you experienced. So you will remember that your addiction was terrible and that it was miserable but you will slowly forget just how miserable it was. You will forget the intensity of that misery. Many people in AA meetings try to remind themselves of how bad it was, over and over again. You can see why they are doing this: They don’t want to relapse! They want to remember how terrible their addiction was so that they don’t have to return to it.
The problem is that the intensity of that painful memory will fade over time. After a few months in recovery (or possibly a few years depending on the person) the intensity of your memory will fade. So your “ideal life” in recovery has to take on a new definition if you are going to remain clean and sober. Because defining it through the opposite will only work in the short term, but it will not be sustainable in the long run. You can’t just run away from the misery of addiction forever–eventually you have to start running towards something.
And so you must eventually define what your “ideal life” in recovery is. There is no great rush to do this, as your first order of business in recovery is to eliminate the bad habits that you have acquired in your addiction. You have to clean up the negative before you can focus on the positive. But eventually you need to build something meaningful, to create something positive, to do something interesting with your life. What is the point of sobriety if you are miserable? What is the point of being sober if you are not doing something positive?
Therefore you must create the life that you really want in recovery. You have to create a life that has meaning and purpose for you. If you cannot find meaning and purpose in sobriety then eventually you will fall back into your old patterns.
Finding meaning and purpose in recovery
There is a lot of power in the idea of positive habits and routine.
For example, at some point in my recovery I started to exercise on a regular basis. This started with distance running and now I also incorporate some weight training on the off days. So every day I am doing some sort of workout. I don’t generally skip days, and I am very consistent with this.
There is a lot of power in this routine. For the first two years or so of my recovery I did not know anything of this power and was completely oblivious to it. In my early recovery I did not exercise at all and you could not convince me to do so. I just wasn’t interested. I wasn’t into it. I did not see the benefits of doing so.
At some point however, something clicked, and I started to exercise. Since that moment I have never stopped exercising, and now it is a huge part of who I am.
There is power in the daily routine. There are tons of benefits to daily exercise that cannot possibly be conveyed in written form. There are so many subtle effects from daily exercise that may even be difficult or impossible to measure. For example, my sleep is much deeper and more consistent when I am exercising every day. My mood is improved. I have more energy available at any given moment. I tend to eat healthier foods because I need them as fuel for the exercise. And so on. I could not possibly list all of the benefits in one single article, but this has had a huge impact on my recovery.
And so it gives some meaning and purpose to my life. This also stems from the fact that it is a daily ritual; part of a lifestyle. It is part of the “daily practice.” It become spiritual.
I would also look at other things that you can make into a daily habit or ritual. Many people in recovery do this with AA meetings. They simply go every day, without question. It is part of their lifestyle now, part of what keeps them grounded. And they derive meaning and purpose from the people in the meetings that the interact with. They become part of a fellowship. Their life takes on new meaning and purpose through this daily ritual.
If you want your life to have more purpose and meaning, then start doing something positive. Then do it every single day. Make it into a ritual. Make it into a habit. Your daily habits will give your life meaning. If your habits are positive then this will also give you a purpose.
Overcoming complacency in long term recovery
The final challenge of any recovering alcoholic is to overcome complacency.
Becoming complacent happens when you get too comfortable in your recovery, and you are not challenging yourself enough to make new changes in life.
There is a balance in recovery between two things:
1) Acceptance of yourself and all your faults.
2) Change and the drive to improve your life.
You can’t do both of these at the same time. You are either in acceptance of something, or you want to change it. But it is one or the other.
People who relapse after having established their sobriety are generally not taking positive action. If they were, it would protect them from relapse. You cannot relapse when you are pushing hard to make positive changes in your life. That just would not happen because a relapse would completely sabotage all of your positive efforts that you are making.
This is a clue into how complacency can be overcome. You must keep pushing yourself to make positive changes in your life on a continuous basis. This is the only real protection against complacency in the long run. If you are not pushing yourself to change and to grow then you are in risk of returning to your drug of choice at some point.
The only protection is personal growth. The best defense against relapse is positive action.
This is why recovery is a never ending process of learning. You have to keep learning more and more about yourself in order to continue to grow in recovery.
Most treatment centers try to set you up for success by teaching you how to get clean and sober and start doing something different in your life. But it is very difficult for a rehab to teach you how to overcome complacency. The problem of complacency lies way out there, in the future somewhere, and the immediate problem of staying sober for the next 24 hours is so much more critical. But some day you will be much more stable in your recovery, and living sober will have become much easier, and at that time you are going to need a strategy to overcome the threat of complacency. That strategy will need to be based on positive action and personal growth. If you are stuck and standing still in recovery then you run the risk of relapse. On the other hand if you can keep learning about yourself and continue to make positive changes in your life then you can maintain sobriety indefinitely.
If you or someone you love is struggling with alcoholism, now is the time to make the call. There is no point in waiting if someone is willing to attend treatment. Surrender can be a rare occurrence so take advantage of it when it happens and get the person they help that they need.