There are a few simple concepts that can allow you to stop any alcohol addiction.
Of course, if the individual does not actually want to stop, then there is no real point of reading any further. Their best bet if they are stuck in denial is to simply keep doing whatever it is they are doing and accumulate more pain and misery. They will make the decision to change their life when they have finally had enough pain and misery. The only real variable that they can control is how much they choose to focus on their negative experience. The more they realize how bad their life is due to addiction, the quicker they will move towards real surrender. But if they stay stuck in denial and keep telling themselves that all is well, then they are not going to be motivated to make changes very quickly.
That said, once they are finally ready to change, the concepts involved for recovery are fairly basic and straightforward. This does not mean that recovery is simple rather than complex, it just means that the initial processes that you must go through can be outlined fairly easily. We will outline those two processes now.
How to reduce a 12 step program down to two simple concepts
The twelve step program is a bit complicated, and can be overwhelming. 12 steps is a lot to juggle. What if we could boil it down to just two processes?
In my opinion we can do exactly that, and it is a total of only 3 words for the whole thing:
2) Staying stopped.
Now obviously you can’t just tell the alcoholic to follow these two steps and expect them to be successful. But I do believe that this gives a much clearer picture of the recovery process than any 12 step program is offering.
Stopping is a necessary process before you can get started in recovery. If you can’t get physically detoxed from alcohol then you have no hope of recovery. So you must stop drinking. This can happen safely if you go to a medical detox facility. Inpatient rehab. This is how I stopped and I recommend it to most people who are struggling with drug or alcohol addiction. Get on the phone and call up a treatment center and find out what you have to do to get in. Go to rehab. Walk in the door to treatment and be willing to follow through. It really is one of the easiest things you can do, so long as you can muster up the courage to do it. Staying sober at rehab is easy. Having the guts to pick up the phone and call a treatment center can be tough, however.
So you stop. You get detoxed. You went to treatment and they spun you dry in 28 days or less and now you are out on your own.
The second part of the process is “staying stopped.”
This is what the 12 steps really try to address. How are you going to effectively “stay stopped” without returning to alcohol?
My theory is that the 12 step program is overkill, confusing, and probably a bit clunky for most people. 12 steps is a lot to take in, especially for someone who has just recently sobered up. It can be a bit overwhelming (at least it was to me). My goal was to try to race through all 12 steps as quickly as possible, which probably is not very helpful to anyone.
So the key instead is to accomplish the same processes in your life but without having to jump through 12 separate hoops. Can that be done?
I believe that it can be done, and my success in recovery is evidence enough of that for me. Instead of jumping through these 12 different hoops I follow a few basic ideas in my life, most of which center around the concept of “personal growth.”
How to explore and implement the idea of personal growth in your own life
At one point in my recovery I was in a long term treatment center. I left the treatment center after 20 months but I continued to talk with many of my peers who still lived there. I had left treatment and I was attempting to find my own path in recovery, and I was discovering that I resented going to the meetings. It did not feel right and I was not getting much out of them. I could focus on the meeting and try really hard and still get a tiny bit of value, but it was a lot of effort for very little reward. I pay close attention to what people are saying anyway (as a general rule) so when people drone on or I have to listen to people repeat themselves over and over again it becomes a waste of time for me. And I was noticing that happening again and again. So I started to resent the fact that I was sitting in these meetings each day, and I was slowly coming to realize that daily meetings were not what was keeping me clean and sober.
Now this was a bit of a news flash for me. Really. Because I had been told over and over again in treatment that sitting in meetings every day for the rest of my life was my ticket to success. I was told also that if I ever stopped coming to the daily AA meetings that I would surely relapse and possibly die. And I did not want to die. So I had sort of resigned myself to go to the meetings as part of my lifelong recovery process.
But here I was, after leaving long term rehab, and I was realizing that:
1) I resented the meetings.
2) I was not getting much out of them.
3) They did not seem to affect my recovery.
4) I had other things that I did for recovery instead of meetings.
So I was stuck in a meeting and I could have been doing other things for my recovery instead, stuff that actually helped me and made a difference. Stuff like exercising or connecting with people in recovery online. But there I was, forcing myself to go to the meetings each day.
So as I began to realize this more and more, I finally stopped denying it altogether and realized that I needed to make a leap of faith. I was forcing myself to go to AA meetings and I yet I resented them. I was in conflict with myself. So I decided to stop at some point and made the decision that I would just quit going to meetings. So I did.
Now when I did this I started getting a lot of attention from my peers in the long term rehab and my other friends in recovery. They did not want me to relapse, so they were worried. So I had many discussions with various people about why I had quit going to meetings. And it was through these discussions that I realized that I had better have a darn good answer for why I was not choosing to go to meetings. This is what led me to create an alternative philosophy of recovery. Instead of doing A, I will do B. Instead of going to AA meetings each day, this is what I am doing instead. So I had to define what my alternative was, because so many of my peers in recovery were worried that I was going to relapse.
So I started to think about what was really keeping me clean and sober. It wasn’t sitting in meetings each day. What was doing it then? It was really the positive stuff that was occurring in my life. It was the fact that I kept pushing myself to make positive changes in my life. It was the fact that I was always trying to improve my life, and my life situation. It was that I was taking action on a regular basis.
And so I started to write about these things online and eventually I discovered that all of these things could be boiled down into a single concept: personal growth. I was simply pursuing growth on my own, without using any formal program of recovery (such as AA).
As I continued to write about my experience, I eventually realized that the concepts and principles that I was pursuing were not so different than AA. For example, if you follow the 12 steps and work through them then you will also be engaging in self assessment, and you will take action to try to improve your life. So this was not so different really than what I was attempting to do on my own.
A peculiar thing happened over the next year or two. Many of my peers in the long term rehab center ended up relapsing. These were the same people who had repeatedly warned me that I was going to relapse, that I was on the wrong path in life because I had drifted away from AA. And I continued to see and talk with these people, some even years later. Some of them as much as ten years later! And they were amazed that I had remained sober the whole time while they had relapsed. One of them wanted to know “what my secret was.” I told him that it was simply taking positive action and pursuing growth.
Why you must use a proactive approach towards personal growth and development
I mentioned earlier that it is all about two things: Stopping, and staying stopped.
Stopping is easy. Just go to rehab. Seriously, that is a no-brainer. If you just go to treatment then you’ve got the first part done with no problems. Stopping is a cinch.
Staying stopped is tough. That is what recovery is all about. That is why things get over-complicated with 12 steps instead of just two or three.
And one of the biggest problems with staying stopped is that you have to be proactive about it. You cannot be in a reactive mode and overcome relapse in the long run, because of a tricky little thing called “complacency.”
What is complacency? It is when you get lazy, when you get too comfortable in your routine, and so relapse has the opportunity to sneak up on you. This can happen to anyone in recovery, at any time.
You might think that after five years sober, you would be immune to this sort of thing. That relapse would be far less likely. Or that after twenty years sober, surely you are out of the woods now, and can rest easy in your recovery efforts.
Not true. People in long term sobriety still relapse, and it happens more than you think. The reason they relapse is because they got complacent. They got lazy.
Now this would normally not be a problem, except for the way that they teach you to become sober in early recovery.
What they teach you in early sobriety is actually the opposite of what will keep you sober in long term recovery. What do I mean by that?
In early recovery they are teaching you to react. If you have a trigger, call your sponsor. If you feel like drinking, call one of your peers in recovery. If you feel like using drugs, go to a meeting. All of it is cause and reaction. If this, then react. They are trying to help you navigate through the minefield that is early recovery.
This may work and be helpful in early sobriety, but it will actually cause you to relapse in long term recovery if you do not shift your approach.
This is because you cannot overcome the threat of complacency by being reactionary.
You cannot react to the threat of complacency and overcome it. It will be too late. You will have already relapsed.
So the key is that you have to have a proactive approach instead. And you have to maintain this proactive approach to personal growth until you die. Otherwise you will be opening the door for a potential relapse to creep in.
So how can you develop a proactive approach to personal growth? How can you prevent complacency before it even starts?
You do so by practicing a daily routine. You need a ritual. And that ritual has to include the following concepts to keep you moving forward, rather than getting stuck:
1) Evaluate your life and your life situation. What should you strive to improve and take action on?
2) Talk to others and get feedback from them about your life and your life situation. What do they think you need to act on and improve in your life?
3) Make a decision as to what you will take action on and try to improve. Make positive changes in your life.
4) Practice acceptance, but start the cycle over again and begin to evaluate your life and your life situation again. Iterate. Keep reinventing yourself, over and over again.
This is the process of personal growth. If you do it right then it will never truly end. There will always be another aspect of your life that can be improved or tweaked. Notice too that one of the concepts in there is to reach out for feedback so that you are getting fresh insight into your life. If you do not do this then eventually your own ideas will run their course and you may lack inspiration to move forward. This is why you will need to (eventually) look outside of yourself for more insight and inspiration to move forward.
When do you ever get to sit back and relax in recovery?
You must learn to relax and enjoy the process of personal growth.
Many people in traditional recovery use the idea of “acceptance” in the wrong way. They use it to justify laziness. They notice something that they don’t like about themselves, so they decide to practice acceptance instead of facing the issue head on and taking action.
This is not how recovery is supposed to work.
The Serenity prayer makes it pretty clear: You are supposed to accept the things that you cannot change. Everything else is open for improvement. And you have this job in recovery to keep improving things, to keep taking positive action, to keep moving forward. If you stop moving forward in recovery then you set yourself up for relapse.
So you need to watch out for “the acceptance monster.” Sure, you can accept things. You can accept anything and everything. But if you do it too much then you will stop taking positive action, and this can lead to your eventual downfall.
The key is to find a nice balance within the process of personal growth. What are you working on right now in your recovery, today? How is it working out for you? Could you seek advice or feedback from other people to gain more insight about that particular process? You don’t have to rush, but you do have to make steady growth.
Ask yourself: “What have I done for my recovery today in terms of personal growth?” How have you pushed yourself to make a positive change in your life? How have you pushed yourself to take positive action today?
If you ask these sort of questions and you are not coming up with any answers, don’t panic. And, don’t beat yourself up either. But on the other hand, you definitely need to take action. So tell yourself: “OK, I haven’t been doing much lately for my recovery. I need to get a new goal in my life and start taking steps to achieve that goal.”
Then you start the process of self evaluation. This may or may not require you to seek advice from others. If you have no idea for yourself then you might ask for help or guidance from a peer or sponsor. Ask them what they think you should work on in your life, what you should try to improve.
Or you can simply look at your life and find your own points of misery. What makes you unhappy in your life? What are you not satisfied with? Try to look at the negative points. Figure out what bothers you.
Some people don’t believe in this idea. They think it is too negative. Why not focus on the positive stuff in life instead?
Because, doing that will not keep you clean and sober. If you just choose to focus on the positive then you will never overcome some of your biggest stumbling blocks. So you have to look at everything when you evaluate your life, you have to especially focus in on what makes you miserable. Find your “points of misery” and eliminate them.
One of my points of misery in early recovery was self pity. I realized in my early recovery that I loved to sit around and feel sorry for myself. My brain would do this automatically, without me even realizing it was happening.
So I had to learn to recognize when it was happening. I had to increase my awareness of this. And I had to make a decision, that even though it felt familiar and it felt good to engage in self pity, in the long run it was making me miserable. It did not lead me to future happiness. It was just a thought pattern, a trap that kept me from taking positive action.
So I had to make a decision. I decided that I would not tolerate self pity in my life, and that whenever I noticed it creeping in to my brain, I would shut it down immediately.
I’ll give you another example. I noticed later in my recovery that I had another point of misery: smoking cigarettes.
I had been a smoker ever since I was a drunk, and now that I was sober in recovery it was just dragging me down and making me miserable. I did not want to smoke, yet I was still hooked on it. And I had all sorts of excuses as to why I should keep smoking in my recovery.
So again, I had to identify this as my biggest point of misery (which it was at the time).
Then I had to make a decision. I had to decide that I was going to eliminate this point of misery in order to improve my life and become happier.
Then I had to do it. I had to take action and quit smoking. Which I did, eventually.
This is an iterative process.
You analyze your life. You evaluate your life. And you find your points of misery.
Then you decide which one is the worst.
Then you commit to the goal of eliminating that particular point of misery.
Then you take action and do it.
This is the process of personal growth in recovery.
If you ever run out of points of misery, then you can start pursuing positive goals in your life. But the process of personal growth never stops entirely. There is always something more to strive for.