You can learn how to stop alcoholism addiction if you are willing to push aside your ego for a few months and follow directions from others. This is not easy to do and so most people will not do it until they have exhausted all other options.
For one thing it is very unnatural for us to put our lives into the hands of others. We do not tend to trust in others that they will know what will make us happy or have a good life. We believe that only we ourselves can know what will make us truly happy. But for the struggling alcoholic or drug addict this is almost never the case. If they are honest with themselves then they should realize that they are completely miserable, and they can point the finger at no one but themselves.
Oh, sure, the typical alcoholic or addict will try to point the finger at others in order to justify their unhappiness. They will blame other people, outside situations, and things that are beyond their control as being the cause of their unhappiness. This is denial. They are in denial of the fact that they alone are responsible for their level of happiness. Everyone (alcoholic or not) has to deal with random events that are beyond their control. “Normal” people make the best of it and do what they can to be happy. Alcoholics point at these extraneous events and label them as the cause of their misery. They use it as an excuse to drink. They justify their drinking with any bit of drama that they can get their mind wrapped around. “If you had my problems you would drink too.” Or they say “if you had gone through what I have been put through then you would drink as well.” Little do they realize at that time that their problems are almost entirely self made. And even of one of their problems or issues are not self made, they still react poorly to that problem by using the event as an excuse to self medicate. They only hurt themselves in this way and do nothing to actually solve the problem.
If you want to learn how to overcome alcoholism then the first step is to break through this level of denial that I have just described above.
In the beginning drinking is fun for everyone. It never starts out miserable because if it did then the person would never become alcoholic to begin with. So everyone starts out having fun with their drug of choice. This is how addiction is born.
At some point the alcoholic loses the power of choice in the matter. They used to choose to drink because it was fun to do and they enjoyed it. But now they reach a point where the drink chooses them. If they choose not to drink then they are so miserable that they would sooner self destruct than to continue on sober. So they lose the power of choice. They must drink in order to maintain “happiness.” The problem is that this happiness is an illusion. All they are really doing is avoiding the pain and misery of withdrawal, which is actually temporary and would give way to a better life in sobriety if they were to give it a chance.
So how do you learn how to break through denial? Unfortunately most people have to learn this the hard way–through raw experience consisting of much pain and misery. I can remember when I was getting close to the point of surrender in my own alcoholism and I was on the brink of making this breakthrough. I knew that I was stuck in addiction. And I knew that just trying to back off a little and “control it” was not the solution. So I started getting a little bit nuts and I felt like I was moving towards some sort of breaking point. I stopped trying to control my drinking. I was letting my alcoholism run its course. I was learning how to let go completely. I knew something was about to happen.
What happened is that my misery and pain finally peaked and I was all alone. I realized for the first time that I was no longer happy, and because I was alone there was no one else that I could blame for this. The isolation was important in this case. Had I still had other people around me at that time I probably would not have been able to get past this denial. If you have people you can blame then you it is more difficult to see the truth (that your misery is all your own doing).
And for the first time I realized that I was never going to be happy if I continued to drink. I glimpsed the future. I could clearly see the ongoing cycle of pain and misery. It would never get any better. I might have a day or two each month of “happiness” if I continued to drink, but I could tell that I would be miserable most of the time. This was a vision of clarity. This was my moment of surrender, my turning point. And it all had to do with breaking through denial and realizing the truth for myself: That I was miserable, that it was all my own doing, and that alcohol was the main culprit. I had to admit this to myself on a really deep level.
I did not do this until there was a perfect storm of circumstances. I did not create the circumstances myself. It just happened. Like I said I had to be isolated for a bit in order to be able to squarely place the blame on my own shoulders. I had to accept my misery as my own. I had to own my misery. I could not project it onto others and expect to get sober. Otherwise I would just have another excuse to keep drinking. If my misery was your fault then I could justify getting another bottle. But when I realized that my misery was of my own making, I was faced with the responsibility to take action (or to stay miserable and know that it was my own fault).
Traditional recovery and AA can give you a path to follow, but it is only half of the path
In my opinion you can learn roughly half of what you need to know about recovery from traditional programs such as AA and NA. If you go to a typical rehab center then they will likely expose you to AA and encourage you to start attending the meetings every day. If you do this then you will possibly have the support structure that you need to help you to remain sober.
But this is only half of the battle. The other half of the equation happens in the real world, it happens when you are outside of those meetings, it happens when you have a few years sober and you are fighting complacency and you don’t even know it.
Recovery programs are sort of like the “finger pointing at the moon” story. The teacher points up at the moon one night and asks the student: “What is that?” The student answers “the moon.” The teacher corrects him: “No, that is a finger pointing at the moon.”
There is a deep lesson there and it is this: Recovery programs such as AA are not recovery. They are not the solution. They only point towards a solution. Useful? Perhaps. But do not mistake your recovery program for the solution itself. Because people who do so eventually relapse due to complacency (if nothing else gets them first). In the end, recovery is about living, taking positive action, and constantly reinventing yourself.
So what is the other half of the path? It is the knowledge and life learning experience that you cannot get from a formal program of recovery. It is the applied knowledge that you must earn in recovery. Just sitting in AA meetings–even if you do it every single day–is not enough. You have to actually make positive changes in your life on a consistent basis.
The other half of recovery we might label as “personal growth.” If you are not moving forward in recovery then you are moving backwards.
How you must learn to motivate yourself in terms of personal growth
Some people really click with traditional recovery programs such as AA. If that works for you and you get heavily involved in sponsorship and daily meetings and you use these as a platform for personal growth then you will do just fine. On the other hand this does not work for everyone. In particular it did not really work for me either.
However I don’t want to mislead you here. I believe that I could make AA work for me if I had to. In fact I went to meetings for the first year while I lived in a long term rehab center. But AA was not a perfect fit for me. I knew that I could do a little better if I found my own path. For example, I found myself trying very hard to get something out of each AA meeting that I went to, but I found them to be very repetitive. You see, I actually listen and pay attention to what the people are saying. So when people ramble or repeat themselves during daily meetings then I stop getting value from the meeting.
My sponsor at one time countered me in this and said “If you are disappointed in an AA meeting then it is your responsibility to bring value to that meeting.” He was right and I admit that. If I had more courage then I would have taken my ideas that you find here on Spiritual River and I would have brought those into mainstream meetings and challenged people to change and to grow. But to be perfectly honest I did not have the courage to do that because I have some amount of anxiety speaking in front of others. Now I could have worked through this anxiety but instead I simply sought out a different platform where I could share my message.
One of my biggest criticisms of AA is that they tend to present the program as being your only possible path to salvation. I found that to be false so I want to share an alternative path with others. Not because AA is bad or doesn’t work (because it does work if you want it to), but because the alternative works as well. And people need to know that. That you can embrace a life of positive change and personal growth and do just fine.
And so the real question in recovery comes down to: “What will motivate you to make positive changes?” Or another way to ask it is to say “What will motivate you to keep continuously reinventing yourself?” That is really the question that can help point you in the right direction.
For some people the answer may be “heavy involvement in AA.” If that is true then I am happy for you, go to AA and get a sponsor and then later become a sponsor and keep pushing yourself to make growth. If that is not the right path for you then it is your responsibility to find another way to motivate yourself.
Complacency and lack of growth can kill you
It doesn’t matter if you are in AA or not if you are not growing. People can get stuck inside of a formal program of recovery such as AA just as easily as they can get stuck “doing their own thing” in recovery.
If you are in AA and you find yourself just going through the motions and not really making positive changes any longer (challenging yourself) then you are at risk of becoming complacent. The solution is to take action. You do not necessarily need to abandon AA, but you do need to find a way to motivate yourself to take positive action. Maybe that will mean finding a new sponsor or mixing it up with new meetings. For me it meant that I had to take the plunge and find my own path in recovery. Whatever works for you, do it. The key is to be responsible enough to find what actually works. This may require you to experiment and try new things in your recovery. When we get stuck and comfortable in our path then we don’t want to try new things or push ourselves to change. This is how people can get into trouble, even if they have years and years of sobriety under their belt.
Some people are so blinded by selection bias that they get stuck and unable to grow
Selection bias is rampant in recovery. This is caused when you have a group of people who are in a certain recovery group, and they believe that because that particular recovery program worked for them, that it must work for everyone. They also see people “leave” the group and relapse, only to come back later and affirm that the answer is the program, the group, the dependence on a recovery program. So this becomes a self-selecting group. The people who leave and relapse often come back to share their failure. But the people who leave the program and find their own path to success never get credit from that self selecting group (because they never see the person again). So the failures are counted but not the successes. And so the group reinforces the idea that they have found the only one true way to get sober.
This is generally not a huge problem if the people who are “stuck” continue to push themselves to make positive changes and to grow. The problem comes in when they get complacent and they are already closed off to new ideas about how they might help themselves to recover (due to this strong sense of bias towards their “perfect” program).
I watch so many people say things like “we are not perfect but the program is.” This scares me because over ten years ago I made the decision to “go against the grain” and leave a formal program of recovery in order to find my own path. This turned out to be the right decision and my life has become better and better over time.
What to do you if you relapse
If you happen to relapse then the best thing that you can do is to ask for help as soon as possible. The longer you delay the decision to get help, the harder it becomes.
The key is to ignore all sense of shame and just ask for help. If you allow shame to get the best of you then it will cause you to just continue to self medicate. Instead you should ask for help and get back into treatment as quickly as possible.
How to figure it all out
Start out by asking for help. Make a decision that you want to change your life and get help. In order to do this you have to squash your ego and take direction and advice from others for a while. This is simple to do (just follow orders) but it is not necessarily easy for most people. The key is in the depth of your surrender. If you have not fully surrendered then you will be able to “figure it all out.” This is the great paradox of recovery, and of surrender. In order to succeed you have to stop trying, you have to let it all go and just take orders from other people for a while.
The phrase “take orders from others” leaves a bad taste in most people’s mouths. They don’t like the idea at all. But this is exactly what allowed me to gain so much freedom in my life today. I was so miserable in my alcoholism that I was willing to push everything aside at some point and simply do what I was told to do. I no longer cared what happened to me. I had to stop caring because if I continued to care then I would have ran out of detox and went to get another bottle. But I had reached a point of extreme misery where I decided it would be worth it to face the fear of the unknown to see what was on the other side. Even though I was terrified of sobriety I had become so miserable in my addiction that I was willing to give it a chance. This is the turning point. If you have not yet reached this point then any foray into recovery will likely be short-lived and end badly.
I would say that after about 3 to 6 months of staying in treatment and listening to others and taking advice, I had actually “figured it all out.” I was not cocky in this. I just realized that if I kept taking advice and taking positive action based on what people suggested to me that I would do OK. I could see that it was working. I could see that recovery worked out well for me when I followed through on advice. I had cracked the code. It was dead simple. I just had to ask for advice and then do what was suggested. Squash the ego. Get out of your own way.
Years later I had the freedom to be able to think and act entirely on my own. This was a gift that was built on top of years and years of following advice. To a large extent I am still following the advice that I was given in early recovery (only the things that truly worked for me though, such as exercise, journaling, writing about recovery, etc.).
If you take suggestions from other people and keep taking positive action, then some day you will be able to look back and see that you really have figured it all out. And at that point you will know that you need to keep forging ahead and pushing yourself to learn and to grow.