Sometimes all you have to do in order to be happy is to simply say “no” to chaos and misery.
This is not as easy as it sounds because doing so can require a great deal of change and confronting your fears. For example, if you are still self medicating with alcohol or drugs every day, then it is a huge leap in order to actually say “no” to the misery and start living a new life of happiness. I do realize that this is more than just a trivial matter, and takes more than just a simple decision to say “no” to the misery.
However, this does not change the fact that the decision and the willingness to follow through on it is still absolutely critical. Just because the journey of recovery is long and involved does not mean that you cannot make a decision and get started on it. “The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.” So too does the journey of recovery begin with a single decision. You still have to wake up one day and decide that you are “sick and tired of being sick and tired all the time.”
Admitting that you are miserable in active addiction
Denial is hanging on to that awesome feeling of the first time that you ever got high. Denial is hanging on to that feeling for years or even decades as your addiction continues to punish you and pound you further and further into misery and chaos. All the while, you keep that memory of the first time you got high in the back of your mind, you hang on to the idea of “the good old days” when using your drug of choice was fun, and you somehow long to return to that state of being. You secretly hope for that magic formula of using just the right amount of drugs or alcohol so that you are pleasantly buzzed but still in control all the time, without having to suffer any consequences.
Denial is hanging on to the idea that addiction is still fun.
Of course it was fun in the early days, this is how we became addicted. Every addict and alcoholic starts their journey to addiction in the same manner. They try their drug of choice, they fall in love with it, and they have a blast using it. So they use it more and more and eventually they are addicted. But in the beginning it is fun and the consequences are relatively low.
Denial is the idea that you can go back to that point somehow. You are clinging to the idea that using your drug of choice is fun and that there are very few consequences.
The reality is that, as your addiction progresses, the amount of fun that you have keeps going lower and lower. The amount of time that you spend actually having fun while using your drug of choice becomes less and less. The flip side of this is that the amount of consequences that you experience due to your addiction continue to mount and increase. At some point, any alcoholic who continues to drink and drive will eventually get DUI for doing so. It is all a matter of time. And once you get one, it is there on your record, a permanent consequence to hang over your head for the rest of your life. Maybe you will also lose a relationship because of your addiction. Again, a major event like this creates a permanent consequence. Alcoholics or addicts talk like this in meetings “I lost my house, I lost my car, I lost my job, I lost my spouse,” etc. Addiction eventually removes everything from your life that is good or decent or that you ever worked for. Consequences of addiction. They pile up and as you continue to stay stuck in addiction you will slowly (or sometimes quickly!) accumulate more and more of these consequences.
So at some point you have to admit to yourself: “Hey wait a minute. This drug or alcohol stuff…..it’s not fun any more. It’s really not! It used to be fun, in the beginning, but lately it has not been fun at all, and I do not think it has been fun for a very long time.”
This is the realization that you have to make in order to get to the point of surrender. This realization will always precede surrender. No one is going to surrender to their disease if they are still having lots of fun with their drug of choice.
So if you happen to be stuck in active addiction, start focusing on the misery. Start noticing it. Start realizing that you cannot really medicate your misery any more. You used to be able to medicate it away with your drug of choice, but this seldom works any longer. It might work a little bit, but not so well. Maybe one day out of the week you really get wasted and are able to escape it all, but then the rest of the days you are just struggling to get a buzz, to feel normal, to avoid withdrawal, and you can’t really get properly high. This is typical for any addict or alcoholic who continues to use over long periods of time. Eventually they reach a point where they are only maintaining a state of being, where they have to use their drug of choice just to feel normal, and they almost never really feel “high” or get a peak experience any more. Maybe once in a great while they can recreate that special feeling that they used to get in the beginning of their drug or alcohol use. But most of the time they are stuck just chasing that next high, and they almost never achieve it. They are constantly frustrated and miserable and wishing that they had more money, more drugs, and less responsibility. If only all of that would line up for them, then they could be truly happy some day. Their happiness is always out there, in the future, waiting for them if only they can get the right situation and the right amount of drugs and alcohol and more money to supply it all.
Realize that this is all a hopeless illusion. Realize that even if you win the lottery and get all the drugs in the world delivered to you and even if you have zero responsibilities in the world, your drug of choice is still going to leave you feeling miserable. There is no perfect world in which drugs will make you happy all of the time. If you use drugs or alcohol all of the time then you will eventually just feel normal while you are self medicated, and you will not feel high at all. This is the curse of addiction. The drugs promised us instant happiness, but the trick is that we cannot have it 24/7. When we try to go nuts with it and have that happiness all of the time, our addiction turns on us and we slowly realize that this promise of instant happiness cannot be applied to our entire waking life. Addiction comes with the price of misery attached to it.
Start realizing this. Realize that addiction is misery. Realize that there is no perfect setup where drugs could make you happy 100 percent of the time. That fantasy is a lie.
The fear of the unknown is not as bad as the misery of addiction
The drug addict or alcoholic who continues to self medicate even though they know that their life is in chaos and that they should stop is continuing to use out of fear.
Fear is what prevents the addict or alcoholic from embracing change.
Inpatient rehab? Most addicts and alcoholics are terrified of it. Seriously. The idea of being locked up in a facility with no drugs or alcohol is terrifying to the addict or alcoholic.
Now if you try to confront an addict or alcoholic with this information they will deny it of course, because no one likes to admit that they are afraid. They will deny this fear and come up with some other excuse as to why they cannot or will not go to inpatient rehab and stop using their drug of choice.
But make no mistake–it is fear that keeps the addict from surrender. It is fear that keeps them on the hamster wheel of addiction, chasing that happiness every day that is just out of reach. But at least the chase is familiar to them, and they know what to expect and what they will get in the end. Addiction is comforting. Detox is scary.
We fear the unknown, of course. We know that going into detox and rehab will be scary because we are going to have to learn how to deal with life and face our problems without resorting to drugs and alcohol. Without knowing what the answers are or what the possible solutions might be, we have fear because we know what is comfortable and how we have been dealing with our life and our problems for a long time, and that is by using our drug of choice. Until recently, this has worked well for us. Using our drug of choice has been a good solution for us in the past, it has worked for the most part, and so we are reluctant to give it up. If we cannot face life and our problems by using our drug of choice then we feel vulnerable, intimidated. Remember too that no addict or alcoholic will ever want to actually admit this. It is too damaging to the ego to say such things out loud!
What the addict or alcoholic must come to realize is that the chaos and misery of addiction is actually worse than this fear of the unknown. The two are balanced and so long as the addict can minimize the consequences of their addiction then they will continue to avoid facing the fear of detox and rehab and of change.
But at some point the balance must tip, and the addict will realize that they are so sick and tired of addiction, and they really will not care so much about their fear of the unknown because they will be so miserable in their addiction, and thus they will reach the point of surrender. This does not feel like a glorious moment (even though it is!). Instead the addict or alcoholic feels miserable, they feel defeated, and they are so miserable in their addiction that they sort of discard the fear of what might happen to them in recovery.
Any addict or alcoholic who is still using their drug of choice to self medicate every day has an overwhelming fear of change if they were to surrender to their disease and try to get help. This fear of change and of the unknown is what prevents them from taking action. They way to overcome this fear is to not care about it. The way to stop caring about this fear is to become miserable enough in your addiction that you no longer care about the fear of change and you just want the misery and pain to go away.
The way to bring that about quicker is for the addict or alcoholic to become aware of their misery. They must realize that their drug of choice no longer works for them like it used to. They must realize that they are miserable 99 percent of the time. They must realize that the way they have been living their life is a failure, and that they need to regroup and change and find a better way to live. This is how to bring about surrender. You must first realize that you are miserable.
Deciding that you want a better life
So at some point you have to decide that you want a better life, that you are totally sick of the misery and pain and chaos of addiction. This decision may not be something that you can just choose to do one day, you may have to condition yourself for it first. The way to condition yourself to “warm up to surrender” is to start focusing on the misery in your life and accepting it rather than minimizing it.
As using addicts and alcoholics, we tend to minimize our pain and our misery in order to try to rationalize and justify our addiction. We have to stop doing that in order to move closer to surrender. At some point you want your brain to wake up and say “hey! I really am miserable chasing that next high all the time!”
Of course, making the decision that you want a better life is not enough. Most addicts and alcoholics who are still stuck in their addiction will fantasize about what things would be like if they could remake their life and things were different and everything was all better. Just dreaming about it does not make it so. Just wishing that things were different is not very helpful.
Instead, the struggling addict or alcoholic must take action. This is the only thing that produces anything of value in your life–what do you actually do in order to produce results? Taking action means not only that you made a decision, but also that you followed through on that decision and you took the actions necessary to carry that decision out.
Recovery is not something that you decide that you might like, and then you stop using drugs one day and you are suddenly recovered and everything changes. This is nowhere near an accurate depiction of the truth.
Instead, it is more accurate to say that a person surrenders, they decide to ask for help, they take some advice and someone suggests where they should go and what they should do, and the person takes that advice and follows through with it. They surrender their ego and they take advice from someone else and so they go get some real help. Maybe they start going to 12 step meetings every day or maybe they go check into a long term rehab to live for several months or maybe they do something in between these two extremes. But ultimately they take action and they take direction from others and they are no longer using their own ideas about how to live, they are taking advice from others and implementing new ideas about how they should live instead. They have surrendered their ego and they are no longer trying to stumble through life on self will alone. They are receiving help, they are taking advice, and they are taking direction.
Saying “no” to chaos and misery in recovery
At some point the addict or alcoholic may be in recovery from addiction, they will have a stable life now and they will have been clean and sober for several years or months, and things will be going much better for them.
Even at this point, however, misery and chaos can still creep into our lives.
The key is that you can still say “no” to this stuff, even in recovery. But keep in mind that doing so is not always easy, and it is not always simple either (two different ideas there).
If you have a friend in your life who is no good for you and they are constantly creating chaos, you may want to step away from that person. Doing so may be simple (just get rid of the friend) but it is by no means easy to do. You may second guess yourself and believe that you should help the friend instead (even though you may have tried repeatedly already, with no progress).
On the other hand, perhaps you have a job in your life that creates a great deal of stress and chaos for you. Eliminating this source of stress may be complex. For example, I solved this problem for myself by embracing a holistic strategy to eventually eliminate the need for a job from my life:
* Embraced frugality, heavily curtailed my spending habits, downsized my life a bit.
* Built a lean and successful business over several years time.
* Created several income streams outside of the job.
Thus I was able to enter “semi-retirement” and quit the day job, thus eliminating a huge amount of stress and chaos from my life. Some would look at such a process and argue that “the sacrifices in order to do so were not worth it.” Others might realize that superfluous spending is not worth the chaos and misery of a 40 hour per week day job.
Now I am not saying that everyone needs to quit their jobs in recovery and become monks or anything. All I am suggesting is that you look critically at your life in recovery and see where your major sources of stress are coming from (if any). I had to get honest with myself and realize that I was constantly stressed from a full time office job, no matter what I did or how I tried to change my thinking about it. I had to find a new path in my life and create my own freedom, rather than trying to sculpt myself to fit into the “day job world.”
How we hold ourselves back even in recovery from addiction
If you get clean and sober and find some stability in recovery, your next step is to find your happiness. You can do this most readily (this is counter-intuitive) by seeking to eliminate the biggest negatives in your life.
If you hate your day job in recovery, don’t just accept the situation and use it as an excuse to practice acceptance and tolerance. Instead, work to change the situation. Eliminate the chaos and pain from your life through deliberate action. This may require some careful planning and deliberate follow through. But hey, you got clean and sober once, so such changes should be easy now, right? Attack your new goals with the same enthusiasm that got you clean and sober, and your life can be amazing in recovery too!