Before you can achieve meaningful recovery from addiction, you have to give yourself permission to try.
This is also known as “surrender.”
Before I allowed myself to become clean and sober, I struggled with this concept. The reason that I struggled with it is because I was trying to define the concept intellectually. I was trying to pick it apart with my brain and understand it and then apply it.
Surrender does not work that way. It is not something that you figure out, learn to understand, and then decide that you are going to implement in your life. If this were the case then we could simply take alcoholics and drugs addicts, sit them in front of the right movies or propaganda for long enough, and let them decide to stop using drugs and alcohol.
But this does not really work. You cannot just wake up one day and decide that you want to surrender.
You have to live the choice of surrender. In a way, true surrender has to rise up on its own, without your permission or decision about it.
Even though this is the case, I believe that the struggling addict can still move themselves closer to the moment of surrender. They may not be able to stop on a dime and choose the moment of total surrender, but they can engage in certain activities and mental exercises that may move them closer to surrender.
Thinking about your happiness in addiction and in recovery is one such mental exercise.
I believe that if the struggling alcoholic closely examines their own happiness that this will help move them closer to the moment of surrender. This is because they will realize that:
1) They are actually miserable in addiction.
2) They genuinely want to be happy again in their life, but they do not know how.
3) They dimly realize that more drugs or more alcohol is probably not the ticket to everlasting happiness (like they thought it was).
So if they can bring themselves to examine this “happiness issue” then they can cause themselves to move closer to surrender.
It is worth thinking about because I truly believe that this is something that eventually helped push me over the edge in my journey to recovery. I was miserable and I finally realized it. I suddenly saw the futility in trying to use more drugs and alcohol, how it would never really get much better, and how it would never bring lasting happiness for me. This was my moment of surrender and I really believe that thinking carefully about my own happiness helped lead me to this moment.
The illusion of happiness in addiction
Every drug addict and alcoholic starts out just happy as a clam in their active addiction. This should be obvious and go without saying, really. Obviously it is a lot of fun when we first discover our drug of choice and this is what hooks us into a lifetime of addiction. What happens in particular is that the addict or the alcoholic has a whole lot of fun initially with their drug of choice and so they make memories of that time when “everything was perfect” for them.
This sets them up for a lifetime of misery based on that initial happiness. Now they have a goal to chase after and they can never really reach it. They have established in their minds an ideal level of happiness and joy that they can never again attain. Part of the joy and excitement that they had was in simply discovering the drug itself. Obviously after you have discovered something you can not discover it over again. But the addict or the alcoholic mind is certainly going to try to do so, and they believe that they can somehow chase down that happiness and capture it again by simply using their drug of choice again.
Then their is the idea that the addict has complete control over their mood and their emotions by using their drug of choice. In early addiction this is actually true, and it is quite amazing. I can remember that when I first started using drugs and alcohol, I could be having a perfectly terrible day and be an awful mood, and by simply taking a few drinks and smoking some marijuana I was suddenly transported emotionally to a brand new place. It was like launching yourself right off of planet earth and going to a new universe all of a sudden. The effect was that transformative and impressive to me.
When I discovered drugs and alcohol I was amazed that I could regulate my own mood all of a sudden. I was amazed that I could manipulate my own emotions at will. If I was sad, angry, or scared I could instantly choose to eliminate those emotions and replace them with “buzzed and generally happy” by simply getting high and drunk. I believed that I had found a way to package up happiness in a bottle.
And at the time I foolishly believed that I could control this magic spigot of happiness and that I would only use it when I really needed it. I thought that I could be prudent with such a magic device at my disposal. I thought that I could be responsible and civil, even though I had the power to be instantly happy at any given moment.
Obviously you know what happened. The drugs and the alcohol got the better of me, and I wanted to be happy all the time. Eventually I had to use drugs and alcohol just to avoid being completely miserable. And then I even got to a point in my addiction where I was miserable even when I was medicated, even when I had been drinking large amounts of booze. In fact my moment of surrender came after a long night of drinking very strong liquor and taking drugs, I was completely lucid and that was what was so depressing and miserable about the whole situation. It was then that I realized the futility of it all, because I was experiencing first hand what the drugs had led me to become. I was relying on them to deliver me my happiness and the drugs had betrayed me. They had stopped doing their job, they had stopped working for me. And I was miserable even though I had been up all night drinking hard liquor and smoking other drugs.
I had to really examine my own happiness in order to move forward. I had to realize just how miserable I was in order to admit that I needed help.
I had to think about these things, about happiness, in order to see a way out.
I had to move past my denial.
Being stuck in denial
There is no perfect explanation for how to overcome denial. My best suggestion is that the struggling addict needs to do two basic things in order to overcome their denial:
1) Experience more chaos and misery in their addiction.
2) See the truth for what it is and realize that their addiction is the cause of their unhappiness.
Both steps here are important. This is something that the friends and family and loved ones can sometimes not realize as they try to enable the addict in their lives or “put pillows under them” as they stumble and fall in their addiction.
In other words, if the addict is taking drugs or alcohol and is screwing up their life and enduring new consequences, it is actually detrimental for the friends and family to try to mitigate any consequences for the addict. If they try to “help them out” by lessening those consequences (for instance, by bailing them out of jail) then the addict is avoiding chaos and misery.
This does not help them to move any closer to surrender. This does not help them to pierce through their denial.
Instead, what has to happen is that the addict or alcoholic must experience all of the chaos and misery and negative stuff that their addiction leads them to, then they have to realize it for themselves…..realize that their addiction is the cause of all their misery, that their addiction is making them unhappy and that it is not anyone else’s fault, that there is no one and nothing to blame other than their drug or alcohol use.
People who are stuck in denial have lots of excuses. They blame everything and everyone except for their drug and alcohol use. If you are a friend or a family member of an addict or alcoholic, then your job is to get out of the way and let that person experience their addiction and all of its consequences in full force, without any intervention on your part. If you are bailing them out, covering for them at work, smoothing out their episodes, then this is actually helping them to stay stuck in addiction. If someone is enabling them then they have more fuel for excuses, they have more ways to point the finger at anything other than their drug use, they have more ways to justify future using.
At some point the addict or alcoholic must find themselves alone, facing the consequences of their addiction, with no one to blame but themselves. This is the moment of surrender. And they have to realize that they could be happy if they could only stop the madness of addiction. They have to realize that they have made a mess of their life and that their drug and alcohol use has brought about all of their unhappiness. They have to confront this truth and realize it for themselves. This is how to break through denial and get to the point of surrender, where they become willing to ask for help, willing to go to rehab, etc.
Believing that happiness is possible again
Part of what kept me stuck in active addiction for so long was that I did not BELIEVE that I could be happy again in recovery.
I did not believe that I could be happy if you took away my drugs and alcohol.
I simply did not believe it.
I went to rehab once and this man was sharing at an AA meeting. He talked about happiness and he talked about how awesome life can be in recovery if you give it half a chance. He talked about how every single day he is amazed and how things just keep getting better and better and for him. He talked about how he is a thousand times happier than he ever thought he could be. He talked about how his happiness and his joy had grown and grown as he remained clean and sober.
The guy made a really good speech and to be honest it blew me away. I was excited to hear what he was saying and it gave me some amount of hope, hope for myself, hope that I too might be happy some day.
But it was not to be. I left that rehab and went home and relapsed right away. I did not take positive action and I did not find a path of recovery at that time. The reason I did this was because I did not believe what he was saying applied to me.
This is denial and it is ridiculous. This man was not stating anything revolutionary, because there are thousands of people in recovery who have found this same happiness and joy in life. There are tens of thousands of alcoholics who have managed to quit drinking and have found happiness, peace, and contentment in life. I knew this then and I know this now. This is not a news flash, this is common knowledge. Read the Big Book, go to a few AA meetings in different cities, and you can quickly realize that recovery exists, that there are thousands of addicts and alcoholics out there, and that many of them have recovered and have found happiness and joy in their lives.
So what I was doing was to deny all of that. I was in such a ridiculous state of denial that I was basically saying “Oh, I realize that thousands of alcoholics and addicts just like me have found a way to be happy and joyful again by surrendering and overcoming their addiction, but I stand by the idea that somehow I am unique and I am different from all of those thousands of addicts and therefore whatever solution you are proposing will never work for me, and so I am just doomed to keep using drugs and self medicating forever.”
That was my logic. That was my denial. I really thought that I was unique, that God had made me different, that I was doomed to use drugs and alcohol forever. To be honest, I felt like this explanation “was just easier” and that why couldn’t everyone just accept that I had to drink and use drugs in order to be happy? Why could people not see this?
How we trap ourselves from making changes
So I was hanging on to this resistance, I was fighting against this change, and I was hanging on for dear life. I was stubborn. I was stuck in denial and I did not want to let go, lest I risk becoming even MORE unhappy somehow.
That was really what I was fearing, I suppose. That if I took away the drugs and the alcohol that I would become permanently unhappy, just like I felt in those first few days of detox.
Of course everyone is miserable when they first quit drugs or alcohol simply based on the detox symptoms. But that state of being is not permanent, and lasts only a day or two at the most. Modern day detox makes it pretty painless and quick anyway. Detox is easy, especially in a medically supervised rehab.
I had built a mental prison for myself, and it was based on the idea that I could only be happy by using my drug of choice. I had made up my mind a long time ago, and I had this ultimate truth in my mind that my happiness could ONLY come from getting wasted on drugs and alcohol. For some reason I stubbornly clung to this belief.
The only way to move past this is to realize that it is a lie, and not only is it a lie, but it is downright wrong.
You have to realize that you are not really all that happy, even when you have unlimited amounts of your drug of choice. That you cannot get happy and stay happy permanently even when you have an infinite supply of your drug of choice.
Anyone who really realizes this and fully accepts it is very close to the point of surrender. You can be happy again in life if you believe that it is possible for yourself, and realize that the promise of instant and eternal happiness through drugs or alcohol is a complete lie.
Think about it for a moment: if your drug of choice can make you instantly happy, and if you can continue to take your drug of choice in order to stay happy all the time, how could this ever really be sustainable……your new state of being when you are medicated 24/7 will eventually become completely normal to you, and you will no longer feel “happy.” It will just be normal, because you will become so used to it. This is how tolerance develops and eventually you can no longer take greater quantities of your drug in order to multiply the effect. When that happens you either overdose and die or you take less of the drug and feel miserable. It is a no-win situation.
The only real solution is to realize the futility, accept that the drugs are a lie, and move on with sobriety, finding a new way to be happy and joyous in life.
How to live in order to become happy again
Personal growth and holistic health are the keys to lasting happiness.
Learning and growing as a person and pursuing greater health in life are the foundations of happiness and joy. Most religions are compatible with this idea as well as they would want you to take care of your body, take care of your health, and reach out and help others as you try to become a better person. There is nothing religious or mystical about positive action and personal growth, but it is still effective all the same.
The way to achieve this state of happiness is to get clean and sober, end the misery and chaos, and start rebuilding your life very slowly. One of the most important concepts is that you not slide backwards as you make progress in recovery. Therefore you do not want to rush the process, you do not want to take on too much in recovery, you simply want to lock in each new positive change and really master it before you move on to something new.
Start with abstinence from drugs and alcohol. That is your baseline for recovery and your highest truth, your ultimate starting point.
From there, you can make more positive changes in your life that will move you toward greater health. This would include things like physical health, but also spiritual health, mental health, financial health, emotional health, and so on. Thus, recovery is “holistic.”
Positive action and positive changes are all that is required, but building up such momentum can be a real challenge. Part of the problem is that addicts and alcoholics are starting from such a difficult starting position.
You can’t get there from here!
Being a hopeless addict or alcoholic can make it difficult to believe that a life of personal growth is possible for themselves or even desirable.
This is why complete surrender is necessary. It is the only way to move past hopelessness.
The addict must say “I give up, I do not know how to live. Please show me.”
It is only later on that they can embrace a life of holistic health and personal growth. In the beginning they must focus on surrender and simply ask for help.
This is the path to achieving lasting happiness in recovery.