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For the purposes of this discussion here, we will assume that chemical dependency implies addiction. In fact, it might not, but if you are merely chemically dependent on something but not addicted, then your problem is somewhat minor and the solution is simply to detox from the chemical. If you find that extremely difficult to do then your chemical dependency is probably more along the lines of full blown addiction, not just a minor dependence. As such, you might have to treat your chemical dependency with the respect it deserves and realize that the solution is going to require more than simple detoxification.
Chemical dependency is not that big of a problem, by itself. If it is actually an addiction you are dealing with, then that is another story altogether.
Make a decision
It took me a long time to realize that addiction was a loss of freedom on my part, because taking the drug became something that I had to do. I had lost the power of choice because I was so hooked on drugs and alcohol that I had to continue to self medicate on a daily basis.
Now at the time, when I was still using drugs, I had it all backwards for many years. I was convinced that I loved to get high and that it was my choice to continue to do so. This mindset persisted even after the cycle of my addiction became miserable and the good times with getting drunk and high were long gone. I continued to believe that I was in control because I was choosing to use drugs and alcohol. This is better known as denial.
There is only one way to get past this denial and break through this cycle of addiction and that is to surrender. This can be a bit counter-intuitive because most people are convinced that getting off the drugs would be a tremendous struggle, and that making the decision to do so would be a truly momentous event. In fact, the moment that you start your journey of recovery is a great letting go of things. It is a washing away of the need to be in control, the need to get high every day, the need to keep running on the hamster wheel. You simply let go of it all. And in that moment you become willing to do whatever it takes to stay clean and sober.
This decision is a moment of surrender. You are essentially saying “I can’t keep struggling like this in my life. I give up.” It feels like a defeat. It feels like a loss. But of course, this decision to surrender is the whole key to starting a new life for yourself in recovery, so it really is anything but a defeat.
It is not clear to me if an addict or alcoholic can deliberately arrive at this moment of surrender, or if they have to arrive at it naturally as a consequence of their actions and their life situation. In other words, I don’t know if you can just decide to get clean and sober one day. The decision might come only from arriving at the perfect set of circumstances, where the addict is finally beaten down enough with their addiction and they happen to be in a rare state of willingness to change.
Get physically detoxed
The first thing you want to do in your journey to overcome chemical dependency is to get physically detoxified from whatever drugs you are on. This is the baseline for recovery and the starting point for your new life in recovery. You have to get your body clean and sober before you can start learning a new way to live. Physical abstinence is always the baseline for recovery. Screw this up and you are back at square one, needing to get detoxed again. This should give you a strong clue as to the most important thing regarding your recovery: physical abstinence is your number one priority. Staying chemical-free should be the most important thing in your life if you are going to stand a chance at remaining clean in the long run.
Depending on what drug (or drugs) you are on, the best route for detoxification is usually in a treatment center or drug rehab of some sort. You will want to find a facility that has a medically supervised detox unit so that you can be assured of safety when it comes your detox. If you are detoxing from either alcohol or benzodiazepines (such as Valium, Ativan, Librium, etc.), then you absolutely need to find a medical detox unit because these drugs are extremely dangerous to come off of by yourself. If you are coming off of opiate drugs (such as heroin or prescription painkillers) then you probably will want to find a drug rehab facility because coming off those drugs can be extremely uncomfortable. If you are coming off drugs such as marijuana or cocaine, then you might be able to skip the detox process altogether and simply find a residential treatment center to attend, as those drugs really do not typically create major withdrawal symptoms.
Learning mode and overwhelming force
If you are at the point where you have become detoxed from drugs and alcohol, then you are ready to start learning a new way to live. It is a good idea to be in a residential treatment center at this point, although that is not strictly necessary for your success. What is important is that you start taking action in your new life in recovery and start learning new things every day about how to live a sober life and applying those lessons on a regular basis.
This stage is known as early recovery, and the immensity of the task can make it a little overwhelming. They have a saying in recovery: “The only thing you have to change is everything.” Anyone who has successfully made it through early recovery and is still clean to this day can look back and agree with that statement. Yes, everything, in fact, does need to change if you are going to stay clean and sober.
The reason you need the principle of overwhelming force is because the amount of learning you have to do is so great. It is not simple to learn how to live a clean and sober life in which you can find real purpose and not end up relapsing due to complacency or boredom. Almost everyone underestimates the difficulty level of staying clean and sober. If you think it will take X in order to stay off drugs then it will probably take at least 2X or maybe even 3X. You have to give your recovery a 100 percent effort in order to make it. Anything less will generally cause you to start drifting towards a relapse.
Here are some examples of using overwhelming force in your recovery:
* Live in a long term treatment center for several months.
* Attend multiple 12 step meetings each week, at least one per day if that is your support system.
* Take advice from therapists and counselors and actually apply it in your life without hesitation.
* Find a way to give back and help others in their recovery and make this a huge part of your life, something you do on a daily basis.
These ideas all involve using a lot of action in a consistent way. The point is that if you want to be successful in overcoming your chemical dependency, you need to really go above and beyond what you think is necessary for a recovery effort. You don’t just need positive action to recovery, you need to make those positive actions into habits. Routines. You need to live this recovery thing every single day.
The power of networking in early recovery
Recovery really happens in two stages. In early recovery, we need the help of others more than anything else. The fact is that we have been medicating with chemicals for a long time and we need to learn a new way to live. We can get some of that information from books but most of it has to come from our peers. The reason for this is because we will relate better with real people and thus be able to assimilate the knowledge must better. In other words, when our peers help us directly, we can actually apply the knowledge in our own lives much more readily. So networking with peers in early recovery is of vital importance.
Where do we find these peers for networking? Well, if you got clean and sober in a treatment center, then you probably met some peers in recovery there. You might also be exposed to a potential support network in 12 step meetings. These would be AA or NA meetings that can be found just about anywhere in the world and are completely free to attend (though they are self supporting). If you need support in early recovery then you would do well to seek out local groups of this type and attend a few meetings.
Some people turn 12 step programs into their ultimate solution for recovery, and that is OK. If the program works for you then you should definitely stick with it, as it does help many people to overcome chemical dependency. But realize that recovery from drugs and alcohol can go beyond what traditional recovery typically offers you. You can, in fact, create a new life of your own making. In fact, the 12 step program really instructs us to do just that, only most people will tend to use the meetings more as a crutch and use them as group therapy instead of using the principles of the program to actually grow.
The 12 step program is a powerful tool–it’s all in how you use it though. If you get stuck in a certain pattern then it can limit your growth in recovery. But the fellowship is a powerful resource for networking in early recovery, and anyone who is looking for support should certainly consider attending some meetings.
Strategies for long term recovery
I mentioned early that recovery actually occurs in 2 stages, and cited early recovery as a time for intense networking with your peers in order to gain support. The other stage of recovery would be long term recovery. This would occur after a few months or years of sobriety for anyone who has been actively working some sort of recovery program in their life.
At this stage of recovery, the chemically dependent person has stopped using drugs and alcohol and can now make it through an ordinary day without pulling out their hair and wanting to use again. This does not necessarily happen at 2 weeks clean, 2 months clean, or in some cases even at 2 years clean. But at some point, if a person is taking positive action in their life and working towards real growth, they will enter into a phase of their recovery that we can safely call “long term recovery.” They could still relapse, of course, just as anyone could, but they have achieved some level of stability and are no longer in imminent danger of relapse.
This is long term recovery, and this is where you will spend the rest of your life at. As such, you need a good strategy for maintaining your abstinence from chemicals during this period of time. Here are some key strategies for success in long term recovery:
1) Shift your efforts away from group therapy and more towards personal growth. This does not mean that someone in AA should stop going to meetings. What it means is that someone in AA should stop depending on meetings. There is a big difference there and if you are still depending on daily meetings to keep you drug and alcohol free then you are not really living in long term recovery. You have become trapped in early recovery and something is holding you back from progressing to a life of freedom.
This freedom that I speak does not mean freedom from networking with others in recovery. It will always be beneficial for us to do that. The freedom I’m speaking of is that you should not depend on constant networking in order to maintain sobriety. You should be growing stronger as a person and reduce your dependency on others to keep you sober.
2) Pursue holistic growth. Many people who start out in traditional recovery are focused almost exclusively on spiritual growth. This is fine, at first, if it works for you. But recovery is much bigger than that. The solution is not spiritual, it is holistic. Addiction and recovery affect much more than just our spirituality.
Consider your mental and emotional health in recovery. Consider your physical health and exercise and nutrition. Take action in your life so that you are growing in new areas. Push yourself to keep growing.
3) Fight complacency and keep learning. Always be learning. If you stop learning new things then you are in risk of relapsing eventually. This has to do more with your attitude towards life than it has to do with any specific knowledge you might have. Be open to new ideas. Pursue those things that spark your interest. Find the lesson that others have to teach you and take something away from new experiences and new encounters with others. If you do not have this mindset about you then you are probably not making personal growth in your recovery.
When it comes to recovery and relapse, complacency is the thief in the night that can sneak in the back door on anyone–even someone with multiple years of recovery. If you get lazy or stop pushing yourself to grow, then you run the risk of returning to your old ways of living. Overcoming chemical dependency means that you have to keep evolving and maturing as a person. Anything less could lead you back into addiction.