There were at least a few different surprising truths that I discovered as I was going from being a hopeless addict to someone living an amazing new life in recovery.
The first surprising truth was that rehab was not all that bad. In my mind, I had been terrified of the recovery process because I imagined that I would be desperately miserable during the detoxification process. I as basing this on the fact that every time I had gone without a drink for too long during my addiction, it made me feel miserable because I was going into withdrawal.
But in a rehab facility they have a medical detox ward and there they have nurses that will take care of you, give you the right medications, and you will not be completely miserable as I had feared. Their job is to get you through withdrawal safely and without too much discomfort. After having worked in a detox center for many years, I can confidently say that this is true for everyone–you can absolutely make it through the detoxification process and start to heal your life.
Second of all, I was terrified that if I went to rehab that I would be put on the spot and forced to share my innermost secrets with a group of strangers. This turned out to be false, as the treatment center environment was very non-threatening. No one forced me to do anything, and everyone was very supportive. Even though I had some social anxiety going into rehab, I experienced no real problems of this sort because it was such a friendly and supportive environment. You will meet a group of peers in rehab that are obviously trying to do the same thing that you are, and this will allow you to form a common bond with these peers are become good friends.
I was upset with the idea of going to rehab because I knew that it would mean saying goodbye to my old friends in addiction, who were really just drinking and using buddies. Even though I counted them to be real friends, I quickly made new friends in recovery, even though that is normally a very difficult thing for me to do.
The second surprising truth that I found when I went to rehab is that it is not all about brainwashing people. This was honestly my fear before I had ever attended rehab–I thought that they would somehow convince me to hate drugs and alcohol.
It doesn’t work that way. There is no magic wand, there is no brainwashing tool that will make it so that alcoholics hate booze, or to make drug addicts forget about their drug of choice.
Instead, the person has to actually want recovery for themselves. In other words, YOU have to provide the motivation for recovery to happen. The people at rehab can help you, and they can teach you many things, but you have to want to learn those things. If you have no desire to learn about recovery then no one is going to be able to “brainwash you” into believing that you want recovery. You have to want it for yourself.
Another surprising truth is that when you get clean and sober your interests will change and you will find that what makes you happy is no longer the same as it once was.
When I was stuck in addiction I believed that the only thing that could ever make me happy was to abuse drugs and alcohol. I honestly believed that this was the only way that I could ever be happy in my life, ever. That was it. So when people suggested to me that I go to rehab and quit drugs and alcohol forever, it was very upsetting to me. I would say things to them like “Do you really want me to be that miserable for the rest of my life?”
What I learned (and what was so shocking) is that I could be happy and even joyous in sobriety. The other thing that was shocking was just how quickly this happened for me. I would say that around the 3 or 4 month point I realized that the obsessive thoughts of drinking and taking drugs had been lifted entirely from me, and I was able to go through an entire day without thinking of drinking or taking drugs. To me this was an absolute miracle, and I could not believe that it had happened so quickly in my recovery journey. I am pretty sure I only had about 4 months clean and sober at the time when I realized this amazing level of freedom that I had already attained.
Another thing that happened in my early recovery journey is that I started to revisit some of my old hobbies from before I became addicted. Some of those old hobbies reignited my interest while others did not. When I was stuck in addiction, everything that I used to love doing fell completely by the wayside in favor of my drug of choice. So it was nice to start caring about other things again and exploring some of those old interests.
And maybe the thing that surprised me the most is that recovery was not all that difficult, so long as I was willing to do the work. I watched a lot of my peers in early recovery fall by the wayside, and in every case it was painfully obvious that they were not doing the work, they were not taking suggestions, they were not being honest with themselves, and so on. In order to reap the benefits of recovery you have to put in the work, which is not a trivial thing, but then again, the rewards of recovery are well worth it. Most people find that they are too lazy or unmotivated to do the work that is really required, when it is so much easier to just go back to their drug of choice.
One final surprise about long term recovery has also been a huge warning for me as well as others: Complacency can still lead you to relapse after years or even decades of sobriety. You might think that after a certain number of years sober, a recovering alcoholic or drug addict would be immune to the threat of relapse. It turns out that this is not the case at all, and people can and do relapse after long periods of clean time.
The key to avoiding complacency in long term recovery is to keep pushing yourself to learn, to grow, and to give back to others in a way that is unique and tailored to your own talents. In other words, use your own personal gifts in recovery to reach out and help others. This is probably your best protection against complacency and the threat of relapse.