How do you get the knowledge, the wisdom, and the advice that you need in order to achieve sobriety? And what sort of secrets are out there that help people to remain sober?
It is not so much that there are real secrets to recovery–for the most part, there aren’t.
There is only hard work, positive action, and persistent effort. Those who commit to change can make real change happen in their lives. But many of those who will try will not have reached a point of true surrender, and therefore they will not follow through when it comes to taking massive action.
Overcoming alcoholism is a battle of inertia. It is like pushing a large boulder up a hill. If you get sloppy at it even for a little bit, the darn thing rolls all the way back down to the bottom of the hill again, and you have to start over. Or perhaps an even better analogy is that the boulder will roll further down the hill than where you started from. Many alcoholics would agree that this is absolutely the case following a relapse, because they tend to end up worse off after the relapse than they ever were in the past. “Right back where you were at before you quit or even a bit worse.” That is how nearly everyone describes it after they relapse.
And so it is all about inertia. You cannot just push gently and expect to do well in recovery. You cannot make a few minor life changes and expect for everything to suddenly start going your way in sobriety.
Above all, you can’t just quit drinking and expect for the rest to take care of itself. Your recovery plan cannot just be “I’m going to avoid alcohol and see how it goes.” That’s not enough. If it were then alcoholism would not be such a challenging condition.
Instead, those who do well in recovery build up inertia, they build up momentum, they create positive direction in their lives. Don’t get me wrong, the point of recovery in my opinion is for things to start going your way. Is that going to be true all the time? Of course not. But it is better than having your life become a train wreck while drinking and then having all the excuses that you need to just drink even more and abuse your body even further. At some point it is nice to turn it all around, to quit drinking and then follow it up with positive action, with something better in life. With real joy and happiness and contentment, a peace that you never felt when drinking, or that you may have felt once but then you could never seem to recapture it with alcohol and other drugs.
In sobriety, you can achieve that elusive peace and happiness that you were chasing with your drug of choice. Of course it takes real work to get there, and so most people don’t end up following through long enough to see the results of this. They give up too soon before the miracle happens.
And for me, the miracle was when I was able to get through an entire day of my life without craving alcohol or other drugs. This happened somewhere between the 4 to 6 month sober point. After that, things have just continued to get better and better in my life.
Along the way, I heard a whole lot of advice. I have talked with dozens of counselors, therapists, and sponsors over the years. I have talked with hundreds of peers in recovery. And I have interacted with thousands of people in the online recovery world. And so I have certainly heard my share of advice, feedback, and insight into the recovery process.
I have tried a lot of things and I rejected some of them. What remains are the things that worked for me. And so I want to try to share that wisdom with you today. The wisdom and advice that has kept me clean and sober. It is not always easy to put it into plain words.
Getting out of your own way at the point of surrender
I struggled with surrender for years.
I went to rehab three times. The first two times I went, I thought to myself: “I think I am surrendered….but I am not really 100 percent sure. How could someone ever be totally sure?”
That is a clue. I know this now. If you are not 100 percent totally sure that you are in a state of total and complete surrender……if you are not totally and completely convinced that you have been utterly defeated by your addiction, then guess what?
You are not done drinking yet.
Ouch, right? That is a pretty harsh statement to make, and believe me, I do not make it lightly.
Because I realize fully that when you make a statement like that, you take hope away from people.
Essentially I am saying: “If you are not at a state of total and complete surrender, then you are destined to fail at sobriety. You will drink again.”
Isn’t that a terrible thing to say?
It sounds terrible to me. It really does. And I apologize greatly for saying it. But that doesn’t mean that it is not the truth.
If you are a real alcoholic or a real drug addict and you haven’t surrendered 100 percent to both:
1) The fact that you have an addiction, AND
2) The fact that you need a solution in your life, and that you have no idea what is
….then you don’t have a chance at making recovery work for you yet.
Not yet. You are not ready yet.
You may get ready later. This is the point I was at the first two times I attended rehab.
I thought that I might be ready, but I was fooling myself. I had not surrendered to the idea that I needed a solution in my life, that I needed someone else to tell me what to do.
That is what I mean when I say that you have to accept a new solution in your life. I am saying that you need to go to a recovery program such as a religious based rehab or to AA meetings and you have to surrender to that solution, you have to throw up your hands and say “I don’t know how to live any more, please show me, I will do anything you say.”
That is surrender to a solution.
Anyone can surrender to a problem. Anyone can admit and even accept their alcoholism.
This does nothing. I accepted my alcoholism fully and I even accepted that I was going to be miserable forever if I continued drinking. And then do you know what I did after that? I continued to drink alcohol every day for another year straight.
This was after I admitted and accepted my disease fully, I freely admitted that I was an alcoholic, and I freely acknowledged that my drinking led me to misery. I knew I was screwed up, and yet I was still trapped.
And why was I still trapped?
Because I could not accept the solution. I was afraid of AA. I was afraid of sobriety. My fear kept me trapped in addiction. I was too afraid to make the leap of faith into recovery. I was too afraid to embrace recovery.
That is not full surrender. You can admit and accept your alcoholism but that doesn’t mean that you have accepted a solution.
You can still be in denial if you know you are alcoholic but refuse to get help.
Where can you find wisdom in your recovery journey? What are good sources of knowledge?
If you want to find wisdom in recovery then you need to find people who are living a solution.
Period. You want to talk to other successfully recovering alcoholics.
There is really nothing else that can help you. No one else can really help you to overcome your addiction, other than people who have done it before.
So you need to reach out. You need to find a mentor. You need to find a sponsor, a therapist, a person who specializes in helping people to recover.
And once you do this you can start the learning process that is recovery.
You may be wondering:
“What do I have to learn about in recovery?”
Good question. Here is a bit of wisdom for you. What you actually have to learn is not some set of steps, or certain readings out of recovery literature. Those things are helpful but they will never be complete knowledge for you.
Make sure you understand this: You cannot recover just on book knowledge. I would have done it easily. I happen to be really good at reading books, at digesting information, and memorizing academic material. School was a snap for me. I am good at that stuff. I read like a maniac, I devour data and stats, I am good at understanding basic concepts, memorizing them, talking about them, writing essays about them, etc. That is not a challenge for me.
And you know what? All of that “book smarts” is useless for sobriety. It doesn’t keep anyone sober.
Because the challenge of sobriety is an ever moving target. Your recovery is not static. If it were static then the Big Book of AA could be a complete solution. You would never have to go to an AA meeting, or talk to a sponsor, or see a therapist, because everything you could ever need would be in that book.
Not good enough. Book knowledge comes up short.
This is because addiction and recovery are dynamic. Your life state is dynamic. It is constantly evolving, you are learning and growing and changing over time. Constantly.
And therefore you need new information.
And you may need help in applying the basic principles of recovery to your new situations in life. This is why people go to AA meetings and talk about what is going on in their life. Because life may have thrown them a curve ball, and so they need help in order to deal with it. They need advice and insight so that they know how to react, how to adapt. How to survive without turning to their old solution, which was alcohol or drugs.
I have met people who had up to 23 years sober, in AA, and they went back out and drank again. Then they came back to the program and now they are coming up to a single year of sobriety. They relapsed because they got complacent. They stopped learning and growing and changing along with a life situation that was doing the same thing.
They have a saying: “Your addiction is over in the corner doing push-ups all the time.” Therefore you better keep doing push-ups yourself in terms of your recovery. This is real wisdom. This is truth.
Pick a program or a recovery strategy and stick with it
Here is some advice: Pick one recovery program and dedicate your life to it.
I am not saying that you can never leave AA if that is where you started.
I am not saying that there is only one solution.
All I am suggesting is that you should throw yourself into a solution. That is the key to early recovery.
Sure, you can readjust later. I certainly did.
Sure, you can go look around and find a different solution after you are stable in recovery. I have nothing against those ideas.
But when you are struggling to get sober you need to take action.
When you are still drinking alcohol every day, that is when you need to make this decision.
And the decision is simple: Ask for help, go to treatment, accept the solution they offer you.
Simple. Effective. If you dedicate your life to a recovery solution then it will work out for you. There is no mystery to this. It only has to do with your energy and your consistency. If you throw yourself at AA, go to meetings every day, get a sponsor and work the steps, and genuinely throw yourself at the solution….you will do well in recovery.
Some people think that AA is a faulty program, or that it is mostly BS, or whatever. And others argue against religious based recovery programs, saying that they are not as good as AA or the 12 steps, and on and on.
I have news for both groups of people: It’s all kind of the same Kool-aid. Which is not to say that any of it is bad, or that you should not pursue it, because you absolutely should.
But get over yourself for a moment. One recovery program is not vastly better or even that different from the others.
They are mostly all abstinence based programs (avoid the ones that are not, that attempt to teach moderation….what a joke!).
All of those programs operate on similar principles. Surrender. Positive action. Peer support. Modeling people who are successful in life. And so on. In fact, if those were the only principles that you based your recovery on, you could do just fine. Nothing more is required.
As such, there is no real magic in the 12 steps themselves. There is no magic in any recovery program. The magic is in the surrender, in the follow through, in the consistent and positive action you take. In order to turn your life around you have to stop doing negative stuff and start doing positive stuff. How you wrap your head around this change is just a minor detail, but it is not a magical process or a secret solution.
Recovery programs are hard work. There are no shortcuts. That is the only real secret worth learning in this journey. Therefore, pick a solution and run with it. Dedicate your life to it. So long as it is an abstinence based recovery program, you will do just fine.
Taking advice from the wrong people
I used to sit in a few particular AA and NA meetings where the same people would complain about the same problems.
Or even worse, the same few people would talk for way too long, and they would be giving advice to others when they spoke, and yet they themselves had relapsed recently.
And I realized over time that I was putting my attention in the wrong places. I did not want to sit and be forced to listen to people who weren’t really helping me. In fact, I did not even want to hear what some of these people had to say at all. Their message was not just useless, but in some cases it was flat out wrong. I completely disagreed with their recovery strategy that they were droning on about.
So I did something about that situation. I stopped listening to them, and I started creating my own message and putting it out there.
This is a real solution. Don’t complain about the message of others….instead, create your own message that you approve of. Simple and effective.
I became much happier in my recovery when I did this. I said “no” to sitting and wasting my time, and I said “yes” to reaching out to those people who wanted to hear what I had to say.
Being wise enough in your recovery journey to know what you don’t know
They talk about when you don’t know something, but also when you “don’t know that you don’t know.” This last situation is even trickier because you can become completely blind to certain problems that can then sneak up on you.
Complacency is one such problem that almost always follows this pattern.
In other words, people who relapse after several years of sobriety were in a situation where they had no clue that there was any sort of problem. They thought that they were doing just fine, and that their sobriety was strong enough. They did not know that they did not know how to stay sober in the long run, when they seemed to be stable in sobriety but in fact a relapse was sneaking up on them when they least expected it.
How do you fight against a problem that you do not know that you have?
I have a solution for this, and I implement it every day in my own life:
Assume that you are complacent.
Just assume that you have the problem.
This doesn’t work for every single problem in the world. But it definitely works for the problem of complacency.
Because the benefit of assuming that you are complacent is enormous.
Say that you are actually complacent and getting lazy. But you take my advice and assume you are complacent all the time. Therefore you kick yourself into high gear and get started on some personal growth projects so that you can protect yourself from relapse. You make positive changes and your life gets better. Groovy, right?
Say, on the other hand, that you are NOT complacent. But you take my advice and you assume that you are complacent all the time anyway. Therefore you kick yourself in the pants and you push yourself to learn new things, take on new challenges, overcome fears that you identify, and so on. Again, positive change happens and you become happier and stronger as a result. Pretty awesome, right?
Now let’s say that you ignore my advice, and you don’t bother to think about complacency ever again. So at some point, you become complacent, and then what?
This is something that I have learned by watching others, by listening, and by taking action.
I don’t claim to be wise necessarily. But I have learned a great deal, and I continue to model the winners in recovery. They seem to have the answers. And I still like the results that I am getting.
I’m going to keep coming back, as they say……
What about you? Are you finding wisdom in your recovery journey? Where are you looking? Meetings, sponsorship, therapy, peer support? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!