There are various solutions for drug addiction, but in my opinion there are no simple solutions.
The whole world wants to believe that the solution is simple. That the steps to take to recovery are simple and straightforward. That there is a clear path to sobriety that anyone can follow if they are only willing.
I only partially agree with these desires. People want so badly for things to be simple in recovery, but often this is not the case.
Addiction is complicated. Recovery is necessarily complex as well.
Complicated disease with a complicated solution
This is just my opinion of course. I believe that when people say “The solution is simple” they are fooling themselves. They are actually coming out of a place of fear. They want to for it to be simple so that they don’t get overwhelmed. They want for recovery to be simple so then they will feel better about their chances in sobriety.
When I first got clean and sober I was living in rehab and going to AA meetings every day. People told me that the solution was simple, yet there were no less than 12 steps to deal with. When you are just coming out of an alcoholic and drug induced fog, 12 concepts is a lot to deal with! Seriously, think about that for a moment. Twelve concepts that you have to implement in your life is really quite a lot. Twelve.
How can these people be claiming that “the solution is simple” when their program requires no less than 12 steps? To me that clearly illustrates that addiction and recovery are not “simple” conditions. If addiction were truly a simple condition then there would be only one or two steps to follow in order to fix it.
But the truth is, as I have discovered, that addiction is anything but simple. It is messy. Addiction and alcoholism infiltrate our lives in many different areas. In fact, by the time a struggling alcoholic attempts to get sober, their life is usually affected negatively by alcohol in the following ways: Physically, mentally, socially, emotionally, and spiritually. Alcoholism has had a negative impact on all of those areas of a person’s life. Not only that, but some of the negative ramifications from each of those areas will spiral out of control and create secondary problems that never would have existed otherwise. And some of those secondary problems interact to create new drawbacks in a person’s life. It is a messy downward spiral of negativity.
We all know that the solution starts with abstinence, but it doesn’t stop there. Because if we just stop at the idea of abstinence then it doesn’t seem to help the alcoholic. They can’t just quit drinking and walk away from their problems. They need more help than that. They need a strategy.
If recovery was truly simple, as so many people in traditional recovery try to claim, then we could just simple walk away from our drug of choice and go on with our lives. There would be no need for programs. There would be no need for anything other than simple abstinence.
But obviously this is not the case. Addiction is complex and so is recovery. We need more than just abstinence. We need a strategy for living.
Not simple or easy to implement a recovery strategy for life
It is difficult to implement a new strategy for living because it has to happen consistently. You cannot just work on recovery one day and then skip the effort the next day. You can’t just take a few days off of the recovery stuff when you are getting tired of it.
Different people recovery using different methods, but in the end everyone has to build a new life for themselves through positive action. It is never easy to rebuild your life from scratch. It is not easy to be good. Simple but true!
Part of the problem in early recovery is that the newcomer is overwhelmed with suggestions. Just go to a treatment center or an AA meeting and write down every suggestion that you get for recovery in a single day. How many suggestions do you think there are? A few dozen? How can you possibly organize all of this wisdom and apply it? How can you possibly prioritize this knowledge? You need a strategy for recovery and a strategy for living in order to make sense of all the suggestions you receive.
In order to do well in early recovery the alcoholic has to be in a certain frame of mind. This frame of mind is best described as being a state of surrender. That means that they have given up on the idea that they can figure out how to beat their addiction on their own. They must be willing to accept help.
This is a very rare state of humility. Many alcoholics and drug addicts who think that they have “hit bottom” are actually not there yet. They are only at their bottom if they are willing to listen to other people tell them what to do. They are only at their bottom if they have the willingness to build a new life based on the suggestions of others. This is a very rare state of mind to be in.
For example, I surrendered and went to an inpatient rehab center three times in my life. Obviously, the first two times that I went I was not in a state of full surrender. I was only in a state of partial surrender. Therefore I was not willing to do the work and thus I relapsed. I had not truly hit bottom even though I thought I was there.
It is difficult to implement a life strategy for recovery because you have to experience a total ego death. You must push your ego to the side and realize that you need to learn from others in recovery. You cannot do this if your ego is still in charge and calling all the shots.
You kill your ego when you feel like you are totally defeated. When you accept that you no longer know what is best for yourself. When you admit that you no longer know how to make yourself happy.
This is really what it came down to for me. I had to admit to myself that I was unhappy in my life, and that it was all my own fault. This was the moment that I broke through my denial. I finally admitted that I was unhappy and that there was no one else to blame for this but myself. It was not anyone else’s fault that I was unhappy. I was a drunk and the alcohol was no longer doing its job. It no longer made me happy like it was supposed to. It had failed me.
I can tell you what part of this process is actually simple:
The part of recovery where you overcome your denial and agree to listen to other people. Where you surrender fully and admit to yourself that you need serious help. That part is simple. When you finally figure out how to push your ego to the side and make an agreement with yourself that you are only going to take advice from other people, rather than taking your own advice. This is perhaps the only part of recovery that is “simple.” And it also happens to be a very bitter pill to swallow for someone who is struggling with addiction or alcoholism. Must of us prefer pride over humility. Most of us would like to think that we can make our own decisions in life. But this is the one time that we need to defer to the wisdom of others. This part of the process is simple, but it definitely isn’t easy. No one wants to do it.
Why staying sober one day at a time is really only a short term tactic
If you go to traditional recovery support groups then you will undoubtedly hear the idea that you should stay sober “one day at a time.”
There is nothing necessarily wrong with this and it all has to do with your perception. It can be overwhelming to the newcomer to think of staying sober forever, or even for a full month, so they try to get you to break it down into more manageable chunks. Anyone can stay sober for the rest of today, right?
So it seems like a good philosophy. But I personally was using this concept to justify some degree of laziness, and so I realized that I also had to plan for the future a bit. If I wanted to stay sober in the long run then I needed to develop and implement a strategy that pushed me in the right direction.
For example, what would be the point of reading recovery literature or writing in a journal if I am staying sober “just for today?” I can make it to midnight with no problem today, even if I don’t take any positive action. But the truth is, my recovery depends on positive action, and the good habits that I establish today will help to keep me sober tomorrow. There is no point in taking positive action if I am truly staying in the day and not looking ahead. So the “day at a time” philosophy never really worked for me. Or rather, I think it has serious limitations.
Now certainly if you are regretting the past or worrying about the future then that is what we would call harmful “time travelling.” Regret and worry are never very productive, and are both good reasons to “stay in the day.” But that is where it should end, in my opinion. You still need to develop a strategy in order to build a better future.
What you do every day is going to determine where you life ends up a year from now. And five years from now. And ten years from now. And so on. Your daily habits make up your future. They indicate the direction of your health and of your life. Therefore we must pay close attention to what we are doing every day in order to move forward in our recovery. If you don’t care where you end up in life then any direction will do. On the other hand most of us have a desired direction and outcome for our lives (success, happiness, peace, contentment, etc.) and therefore we need to adopt a strategy in order to get there.
This is not a simple thing to do. It takes hard work and you will have to adjust as you go along. It requires some thought. You will need to talk with others in recovery and get their feedback. If this were truly simple then every alcoholic could do it easily. But it isn’t simple or easy to develop a strategy for living and then actually follow it.
How to develop a real strategy for long term sobriety
So how do you actually develop a strategy for long term sobriety?
Start with the basics. You have to crawl before you can walk. My suggestion for this is to go to rehab and go through a medical detox. Attend short term residential treatment and be exposed to support groups, AA meetings, counselors and therapists, your peer group, and so on. This is the foundation for your recovery. This is just the beginning. Going to treatment is not a cure for addiction, rather, it is the tip of a huge iceberg. You only see a tiny bit of the whole solution during your first 28 days. But it is certainly better than doing nothing and expecting things to change (they won’t change if you don’t do anything!).
So the first part of the strategy is to go to treatment. This part is actually simple. You just pick up the phone and call up a rehab and make arrangements. Show up and do what you are told to do. Simple, but not easy. Again, most of us don’t like being told what to do.
After that your strategy must evolve. You can’t just go through the motions and show up to a few meetings each week and stay sober forever. This might work on the surface for a select group of people but if you want to insure sobriety then you have to dig deeper.
This means that you need to take positive action. What is recovery if not change? You have to make positive changes in your life in order to build a foundation in recovery.
When you have a decade or more of sobriety some day you will look back and realize that you were still building a foundation of recovery even during year two and three of your journey. Think about that for a moment and try to gain some perspective. It is not like you go to rehab for 28 days and then you are cured and you move on with your life. Instead, you will still be working on your early recovery even after 2 or 3 years of sobriety.
Why so long? Because it takes a long time to unravel all of the damage that we caused to ourselves in addiction. It takes time to heal our lives. It takes a great deal of effort to rebuild.
And it takes time to learn. We have to learn how to enjoy a life of sobriety again. We have to learn how to deal with the real world without resorting to self medicating. We have to learn how to grow up and face our problems. These things all take time.
How do you build a strategy for this? I did this through taking suggestions from other people in recovery and then making observations. I decided that not everyone in recovery was actually “walking the talk.” Some people make suggestions to others in recovery and they are not really living the solution. They are just “talking a good game.” So I had to dig deeper. I had to find people in recovery who were really walking the walk, people who were happy and content and who were living the sort of life that I wanted to live. I had to get to know some people in recovery and find out who was really genuine. Then I had to ask them for advice. Then I had to take that advice and apply it in my life.
In doing this I slowly developed a strategy for recovery. This took time. Several years in fact. But you have plenty of time in recovery so do not feel rushed. A strategy for living will come to you if you stay open to the learning experience. Keep seeking advice from those you look up to and keep experimenting with new ideas in your life. Of course in order to do this you must be in a humble state where you are able to learn about yourself. Again, this is a somewhat rare state of mind so you have to work to cultivate this willingness.
Over time I believe that everyone will converge on the same basic strategy in recovery. Does that mean it is a simple strategy or an easy process? No and no. The strategy is one of holistic health and personal growth. We must strive to improve our lives every day and we must strive to take care of ourselves from a holistic standpoint. This is not easy to do and taking care of yourself from a holistic standpoint involves many different considerations. Specifically we are talking about taking care of yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and socially. Each and every day.
Fighting complacency with personal growth
The reason that I believe we all converge on the same strategy is because complacency is the final obstacle in recovery.
If you get complacent in your recovery then you relapse. Simple as that.
So how do you avoid complacency?
It’s not easy. It is tricky because you cannot just react to complacency. If you wait for this particular “trigger” to pop up in your life then it is too late. You will have already relapsed before you can implement a solution.
Therefore you must be proactive when it comes to complacency. And that means you need to take positive action before it occurs.
So what does that look like in real life?
Fighting against complacency by taking proactive measures is called “personal growth.”
When you strive to improve your life and your life situation you are engaging in positive change. You are seeking personal growth.
This is the basic formula for relapse prevention. If you are making progress in your life then it protects you from relapse. If you fail to make progress then it makes you vulnerable to relapse.
Most people who relapse do so because they have become lazy in their recovery effort. They stopped pushing themselves. They stopped doing the things that they need to do. And that is when their disease gets an opening to creep back into their lives.
The solution is to implement a strategy for personal growth, and to keep pushing yourself to improve your life. If you are making a consistent effort then you will also be consistently rewarded. These rewards prevent you from considering the possibility of relapse.
Addiction is complicated and therefore the solution is necessarily complicated as well. It takes a lot more than mere abstinence to build a life in recovery. This is my opinion. Do you agree or disagree with it? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!