What exactly is the secret of a successful trip to drug rehab?
Anyone who has struggled with addiction is probably interested in learning the answer to this question. Many struggling addicts and alcoholics have been to treatment several times and still ended up getting poor results that led to relapse. What, then, is the secret of success? How can you make sure that you do not “waste” your trip to rehab?
Let’s dive in and take a closer look at what really makes treatment successful, and what you can do in order to insure that you have the best possible chances of remaining clean and sober when you attend treatment.
The perfect setup is full surrender
If you want to be successful when attending rehab then the level of your surrender is probably about 90 percent of the answer. In other words, there are a whole lot of different things that you might get wrong in early recovery, but if you fail to surrender fully, then it just isn’t going to work out well no matter what.
Because I worked in a rehab facility for several years, I got to watch this phenomenon play out over and over again. People would come into treatment and you could tell that some people had surrendered more deeply than others. Some people would have a great attitude towards recovery and some people would have a lousy attitude, and this never seemed to correlate to how well they did in terms of relapse. The reason is because their attitude almost does not matter at all–all that matters is how deeply they have surrendered. Therefore you would find people in early recovery who seem to have a fairly bad attitude, but who have actually reached that deep state of full surrender. And so those are the people who make it, who remain sober in the long run. Then you would have people who came into treatment and they knew what they had to do and they were all fired up to stay clean and sober and they had this great attitude towards recovery–and those people never made it. They weren’t ready yet. They had not been beat up enough yet by addiction. They had the right attitude but they had not yet hit bottom and surrendered to the disease. So those folks always seemed to relapse.
Therefore the best predictor of success in overcoming addiction or alcoholism is the level of surrender that the individual has reached. If you are in a state of “total and complete surrender” then this bodes very well for your success in recovery. On the other hand if you are still fighting for control and trying to manage your life and your recovery then you are probably not ready to get clean and sober just yet. More pain and misery and chaos will likely be necessary before you can reach a state of full surrender.
The rest of the advice that follows all sort of hinges on your state of surrender. For example, we are about to look at the idea of “honesty, open mindedness, and willingness” in early recovery. Obviously if you have those things in your life then you will increase your chances of recovery. But guess what? It is almost always contingent on your state of surrender. If you are lacking in those things then it simply means that you have not fully surrendered yet.
That is why almost all problems in addiction recovery can be traced back to the issue of surrender. It is the universal cure. Are you struggling? Are you headed for relapse? Then you need to surrender! Failure to get or stay clean and sober is a failure to surrender to your disease.
HOW in recovery – Honesty, Open mindedness, and Willingness
These three traits are critical in early recovery and if you are lacking in any one of them then your recovery effort will not be sustained and you will relapse. You have to have all three of these elements and in some ways they are all sort of the same thing when you boil them down.
You have to be honest with yourself and with others. If you are not honest with other people then ultimately you are lying to yourself in order to live with that reality. This will work in the short run but not in the long run. Eventually the lies will grind you down and you will relapse due to dishonesty. There is no way to avoid this fate in the long run if you remain dishonest.
Part of what we used our drug of choice to medicate was the uneasy feelings in our lives that we did not want to deal with. One of the biggest sources of this is dishonesty. If we were less than perfectly honest with ourselves or with others then it gave us a bad feeling and we used our drug of choice in order to cover this up. Even if we did not do this intentionally, this is what happened for us when we self medicated.
When we first get into recovery we have a choice to make: We can either follow our own ideas, or we can listen to someone else’s ideas for a while. If we choose to follow our own then it will lead to certain relapse. This is unavoidable. Our own ideas will always lead us back to relapse in early recovery. That is why we must surrender, so that we can get out of our own way and accept help from other people. If we try to do it ourselves then it never works, it always fails. We end up sabotaging our own efforts and fooling ourselves. So in order to be successful in early recovery we have to be open minded. We have to open ourselves up to new ideas, to things that we did not believe would work for us in the past. We have to give new ideas a chance to work in our lives.
And of course we have to be willing. We have to be willing to try a new path in life, to hand over control of our lives and our ego. We have to be willing to do what someone else is suggesting that we do. We have to be willing to take action.
Recovery requires massive action. You can’t just use a casual approach to recovery and expect to get good results. You have to dive into it and really push yourself to make difficult changes. Most people grossly underestimate how much action this will require on their part (at least at first). This is why so many people relapse their first time around. They did not realize just how much work it was going to take in order to stay clean and sober.
So you have to ask yourself just how many people in early recovery are willing to take this sort of massive action? How many people are willing to go to meetings every day, to study the literature, to write in the steps, to work closely with a sponsor, and to change their entire life around? And how many people are able to commit to these changes for the long run in spite of the difficult challenge that it presents to them? If you look at the overall statistics then this represents a fairly scary number and a somewhat dismal picture. But that does not mean that there is no hope to be had. Anyone can recover if they are willing to put in the effort. But most people do not have the level of willingness that it takes, at least at first. They normally have to try and fail a few times before they realize just how much work it is going to take in order to remain clean and sober.
One way to insure relapse–leave treatment early
If you want to screw up your chances of recovery and relapse then I have the perfect suggestion for you–just leave treatment early. Seriously though, I have found this to be one of the strongest indicators of relapse. In fact I have never seen it fail in all of my 7+ years of working at a treatment center. Every single person who left treatment early ended up relapsing (to my knowledge). Every single person that left treatment early regretted that decision. It is always, always, always a mistake.
When you are in rehab then you are approved to stay for a certain length of time. It does not really matter how long that time period is. For some people it will be 28 days, for other people it may only be 5 days in detox, and for others it may be 10 days. The length of time is not the issue here. The problem is when the struggling addict or the alcoholic decides that they have had enough treatment and that they want to leave right now, before their time is up.
It has nothing to do with how much treatment they actually receive. While more is generally better, this is not the secret to success in recovery. Someone who gets 90 days in rehab is not necessarily going to have better chances at sobriety than someone who gets 28 days. What is important here is this principle:
* When someone decides to leave rehab early they are taking back their own self will. They have made a decision that they are no longer going to be open minded, instead they are going to go back to being in complete control and they are going to call all of the shots. They are no longer accepting suggestions and advice about how to live clean and sober. Instead they are going to do it all themselves without any more help, thank you very much.
So the length of time in rehab is NOT the issue here. It is the snap decision to leave early that will kill you in the end. Because it has to do with surrender (as all problems in recovery tend to deal with surrender). When you first get into treatment you surrender fully and you push your own ego aside and you say “I don’t know how to live, please help me and show me how to live sober.”
Then you stay in treatment and you start to take suggestions. You do what you are told to do. This is the recovery process. This is how you learn to live the good life again. Other people tell you how to do it, and you follow their directions.
When you decide to leave rehab early you are throwing this entire process out of the window. You are saying “no” to recovery and you are deciding to strike out on your own again, taking your recovery into your own hands. This never works. No person who has ever done this has succeeded. Everyone who abandons treatment relapses. Everyone who leaves rehab early regrets it.
I hope the message here is clear enough:
If you go to rehab, do NOT leave early! Stay for the duration and do what you are told to do. Take suggestions. Get out of your own way. Push your ego aside and learn how to live a better life. Simple as that. If you take back your own will then you will surely relapse at this early stage in the game.
It’s all about the aftercare, or what you do when you leave treatment
There is a popular misconception about treatment among the general public–they think that it is a one time event, the equivalent of a “cure” for addiction and alcoholism.
Nothing could be further from the truth. There is no cure. Treatment is not an event. It is a process. It never truly ends.
I went to rehab 12 years ago. But the actions that I take today, 12 years later, are still an extension of the concepts and principles that they taught me while I was in treatment. In fact, some of the most important actions that I take today are suggestions that I got while in rehab. Seriously! So in a way, treatment never ends–it is an ongoing process.
When you go to rehab you are learning how to live the rest of your life. The entire rest of your life. Forever. It is not just a trip to detox so that you can get past this little problem and then go back to your normal life. There is no normal life after rehab. Either you go back to addiction or you start on this life long journey where you continuously rebuild and recreate yourself from the inside out. That is a tall order and that is why I say that you have to take “massive action” in order to succeed in recovery.
When I first went to rehab I was nowhere near the state of full surrender. I was not going to make it at that time and I had a lot more drinking to do. I wasn’t ready yet. And one of the major warning signs that should have alerted me (and others) to this is my lack of willingness when it came to aftercare.
I just didn’t get it. I thought that rehab should cure me totally and instantly. Otherwise, I thought, what was the point? I wanted it to work instantly and remove my problems with drugs and alcohol with absolutely no extra work or effort on my part.
Lesson learned (though it took me roughly the next ten years to learn it). It doesn’t work that way. We don’t go to rehab to get cured.
In fact, they will try to warn you in treatment that “this is just the beginning.” They will tell you that “when you finish up your 28 days here and walk out of those doors, that is when your REAL journey begins in recovery.” They are not kidding when they say that. Listen to their warning. When you walk out of residential treatment, that is when the real challenge begins.
And so this is why they try to advise you to go to aftercare. They might recommend therapy, counseling, outpatient rehab, daily meetings, or long term treatment. Whatever they recommend for you to do, you would be wise to do it. There was a time when I was not willing to do any of these things, and therefore I was simply not ready to embrace recovery yet. I was not done drinking. But then later on I became willing to embrace aftercare and in fact I knew at that time that I probably needed long term rehab if I was going to make it. This is because previous times in rehab the counselors had advised me to go to long term treatment, and I had refused. So I knew that this is what it would take for me to get sober. I had to commit to the long haul, which was scary for me. But I eventually reached a point of misery in my addiction where I no longer cared about that commitment, I no longer cared about my fear of long term rehab, I no longer cared if they even wanted to send me to prison in order to recover. I just wanted to stop being miserable.
And this brings it back full circle. It all comes back to the concept of surrender. When did I finally become willing to do what I needed to do in order to recovery–to attend long term rehab? When I was finally miserable enough to reach a state of full surrender.
When did I become willing to embrace aftercare, and to take whatever suggestions were given to me? Only after I had reached a state of full surrender.
If you want to recover then you need to surrender, simple as that. So many things that are important to the recovery process hinge on the concept of surrender.
Remembering what you learned and applying it in long term recovery
My belief is that if you want to stay clean and sober in the long run then you have to keep reinventing yourself in recovery. You cannot just go through treatment and then hit a few meetings each week for “maintenance.” This is the lazy approach that will eventually lead to complacency and relapse.
Instead, you have to learn how to push yourself a bit in order to keep growing. You have to keep learning new things and applying them in your life. Why? Because your life will evolve and your situation will continuously change. Therefore you need to be able to keep learning and adapting as you go along. If you stay stuck in your ways then eventually you may get tripped up and relapse. The only way to protect yourself from this threat is to always be striving to improve your life and your life situation.
When you first leave rehab you should focus on support and your daily actions. But as time goes on you will need to consider a long term strategy as well. How should you live? What should you seek to accomplish with your life? These are some of the guiding questions that they cannot always address during a 28 day stay in rehab. Therefore it is your responsibility to keep pushing yourself during recovery to learn and explore new things.
The challenge in my opinion is that you have to keep being open minded even in long term recovery. We must never stop learning or we run the risk of sliding back into relapse.