One of the best ways to sabotage your efforts in recovery is to stop listening to anyone except for yourself. This is commonly referred to as “taking back self will” and it nearly always results in relapse or disaster.
It’s important to learn to identify when you yourself are doing this, so that you can prevent yourself from relapsing. If you have recently attended addiction treatment, then you probably know what it is like to surrender your self will and start taking some advice and direction from others. This is an important distinction in recovery and many who struggle with their addiction for their entire life will never fully understand this concept.
Surrender can be very counter-intuitive because it feels so wrong at first. When we feel like we are giving up or throwing in the towel, it can feel like a real negative. But this is exactly what we have to do in order to be successfully in recovery. We must relinquish our self will and learn to take some direction from others.
Why we need to relinquish self will in order to recover
Our own thinking got us into addiction or alcoholism in the first place. We need to give up our self will in recovery in order to get clean and sober in the first place.
Our best ideas got us into trouble. What does that mean?
It means that our best ideas about how to live our lives, how to be happy in life, and how to find meaning in our life all resulted in complete misery.
Is this not the case?
Is this not the truth?
Did our best ideas about how to live not get us to a place of total misery in our addiction?
We thought that our drug of choice could set us free and give us happiness and freedom whenever we got high on it…..but instead, the tables turned on us at some point, and–without even our giving permission–we became addicted to our drug of choice. What was supposed to make us happy and set us free had turned out to enslave us further.
We did not plan to get addicted….we just wanted to have fun with our drug of choice, and be happy. But at some point the drug took over, and we lost control. We were no longer able to control our intake or decide to say “no” to the drug, so we were no longer in charge of our using….it was in control of us.
So in order to get the help that we need, AND in order to stay clean and sober in our recovery, we are going to have to take advice and input from other people. We need to relinquish self will and start living according to some other direction, other than our own ideas about living. Once we do this for a while, we see that it gives us a better life, and we become happier.
It feels like relinquishing our freedom, but actually, we find a whole new freedom and a new life that is actually worth living again…..
Being too close to the problem to know the solution
Addiction is one of the trickiest problems to try to overcome on your own, because you are too close to the actual problem to really see what is going on.
This is why denial runs rampant and rages out of control for the typical addict or alcoholic. They cannot see that their problems are of their own making, because they are clouded by drug and alcohol addiction. Instead of realizing that their drug or alcohol intake is ruining their life, they blame their declining situation on other things.
“If my job would cooperate with me and give me the support I need, I would not be so upset and have to drink so much.”
“If my in-laws were not so bothersome I would not feel like I have to escape with drugs all the time.”
“If I did not have this chronic pain issue then I would not be medicating with heavy opiates all the time.”
Whatever the excuse is, they are all that: just excuses. Denial makes the addict form these excuses to themselves and to others so that they can keep justifying their using or drinking.
This denial and justification eventually becomes second nature to the addict.
We tell ourselves lies so often and for so long that we begin to believe them.
We actually believe that outside events are causing us to drink or to drug, and if the world would not conspire against us, then we could live a normal life without self medicating all the time. We can convince ourselves that this is true, even though we have been hooked on our drug of choice for years.
Our denial blinds us in our addiction. We cannot see or devise a reasonable solution for ourselves. We love our drug of choice too much to realize that abstinence is the answer.
Our self will cannot provide a solution to addiction
Because we are so close to the problem, and because we believe that we actually love our drug of choice and the effect that it has on us (despite the misery we endure because of it), we cannot figure out how to overcome our own problem.
The addict is perplexed by this problem. They sense the two extremes in their life, without really consciously labeling or thinking too hard about either of them:
1) The addict controls their drug or alcohol intake very strictly for a short time, taking only very small amounts, and keeping it very much under control. But, they are miserable while doing this.
2) The addict let’s everything go, and decides to go nuts and have fun with their drug of choice, and they take as much and as frequently as they want. But, they cannot control it while doing this.
So those are the two extremes, and the longer an addict or an alcoholic suffers with their addiction, the LESS THERE IS IN BETWEEN THEM.
Over time, there are only those two extreme states: complete oblivion and loss of control, or complete misery from trying so hard to control the drug or alcohol use.
The addict can either choose between being completely in control, or completely miserable. They can choose either extreme. But what they have lost the ability to do is to choose a point in between the two.
This is the fantasy and the illusion of every drug addict and alcoholic in the world: that they can somehow find that middle ground, where they are both controlling AND enjoying their drug of choice.
Naturally, our best idea as an addict or alcoholic is to find a way to find this middle ground. We must find a way to both control our intake while still enjoying it. That is the challenge that keeps people stuck in addiction.
This is particularly insidious because every addict and alcoholic has had brief glimpses of this legendary “middle ground.” Yes, every addict and alcoholic has had short periods of time where they actually COULD successfully control their drug or alcohol use, and they were actually enjoying themselves too. These may have been rare, brief periods, or times when they were still early in their addiction, or perhaps they had slowed down for a bit and just had a lucky day where their drug use somehow smoothed out for a while and was actually in control and enjoyable.
But such periods of using behavior are elusive.
They cannot be replicated by the addict or alcoholic at will.
This is what they continue to chase after because they are either miserable or out of control. They cannot figure out how to reconcile the two, how to both control it and enjoy it, on a consistent basis.
It is like catching lightning in a bottle….every once in a while, it DOES happen, and the addict experiences true happiness while using their drug of choice for a brief while.
But then the chase is on after that moment is over, and they are back to their cycle of chaos and insanity, desperately trying to recapture that perfect formula by which they were able to self medicate and be happy for that brief moment in time.
Rational self will and designing your own recovery program
So the rational addict or alcoholic mind will naturally try to figure this problem out, how to be both in control of their drug use and happy at the same time.
Surely, they reason, there must be a formula by which I can enjoy my drug of choice and still be happy with the way I feel, right?
So they set out to experiment a bit. And because they are clouding their mind and body with their drug of choice, they often lose track of how each experiment really turns out, or if it was ultimately successful or not. Obviously, none of them are successful in the long run, because the person is an addict–there is no solution for them other than abstinence.
But the addict or alcoholic does not know this yet, they do not know it truly for themselves, deep down, they do not fully believe or surrender to the idea that total abstinence would make them happy.
They know that their happiness comes from their drug of choice, and that they are miserable without it. So they try over and over again to find a way to make it all work.
This is the futility of self will.
This is nothing but self will, over and over again.
The addict is saying to themselves “how can I figure out how to cure my own addiction? I know, I will try doing XXXXXX.”
And then when that does not work out, the addict goes on to try to figure out another idea for how to control and enjoy their using.
But they refuse to relinquish self will, because by this time, everyone around this person has probably suggested things that the addict simply does not want to hear, things such as:
* Getting some help for their problem.
* Seeking professional counseling or therapy for their drug or alcohol problem.
And so on.
None of those things are self will. They are all a step in the right direction, a step towards relinquishing self will, and a step towards a new life in recovery. The addict or alcoholic who is stuck in denial and is afraid of being sober will likely not want to hear such suggestions, or take them seriously at this point.
It is only after they have fully hit bottom and surrendered to their disease that they will start to listen to others and take advice to heart.
We are each other’s eyes and ears
There is a saying in recovery programs that “we are each other’s eyes and ears.”
What does this mean?
It means that we can help each other in recovery with two things:
1) Observing and monitoring each other for stability, attitude, proper thinking, etc.
So if you are in recovery and you also have some close friends in recovery, then your recovery is probably going to be a lot stronger because of these friends due to the factors listed above. This is because they can help you to see if you are straying from the path, if you are leaning towards a relapse rather than working toward your recovery, or if you have some seriously bad ideas swimming around in your head lately.
This requires that you trust other people and let them into your life, of course. This is also one of the biggest strengths of any 12 step fellowship: a group of people is able to hold each other accountable and also help to see negative trends in our thinking.
The problem is that we are too close to our own problems in order to catch them all.
For example, say that you have a situation going on in your household that is upsetting you, and a certain family member is driving you crazy. You are letting them rent all kinds of space in your head and it is throwing you off balance emotionally. Maybe you go to meetings on a regular basis and you continue to share about the issue. You don’t think much of it though and you do not see a threat of relapse. The people who know you in recovery may think differently, and they might see a serious threat to your sobriety that you are not even aware of. They might see you as being close to relapse over the situation, and so someone may confront you and sit down with you and say “It is time to work through this issue, you need to deal with this, it is going to drive you to drink.” So in this way, we can become like each other’s eyes and ears, we can help people who may be straying towards a relapse when they might not even realize it.
Sometimes it is tough to hear this kind of warning signal, that our recovery or our sobriety might be in jeopardy, or that we may be heading for relapse. Experienced people in recovery from addiction do not care if they hurt your feelings in this–they would rather save your life than see you relapse and die. They may be nervous about saying something and confronting you, but they will do it anyway because they want to see you live healthy in recovery rather than relapse.
So people who care will take that chance, they will call you out on something and say “hey, I see you doing this and that, and I think you are headed for trouble in your recovery, and I want you to know that I am concerned and I think you need to get back into your program and back on the right path.”
It takes guts to confront someone and say those kinds of things, but most people in recovery understand that this is worth the risk and that this is part of how recovery works. If someone is straying then we need to try to help them back, even at the risk of making them angry with us.
Being open to this sort of feedback is even tougher to do without becoming resentful. But this is the challenge that we face in our recovery, we have to find the right path that will lead us to personal growth and positive changes. If someone calls us out and thinks that we are on the wrong path, then it is up to us to try to listen to what they are saying and correct our course.
We sabotage our recovery when we shut other people out and refuse to listen or hear any of their advice. We have to stay open to the idea that other people can see flaws in our life that we may be too close to see ourselves. Feedback from others is valuable, even if it might hurt us at first.
Empower yourself by taking suggestions and advice from others
The amazing twist that is completely unexpected in recovery is this:
If you take advice from trusted people in your recovery, your life will get better and better and you will become happier over time.
That is very counter-intuitive.
We think that we alone know what can make us happy.
The truth is, others have more wisdom and experience than we do, and they can help us by giving us strong advice on how to proceed in our recovery.
If we are willing to take that advice and act on it, we can open up a whole new life of freedom and happiness, one that we never knew was even possible for ourselves.
And our ego will be damaged by this, because we did not listen to our own ego, but instead took advice and direction from other people.
But it will not matter, and our life will transform and be that much happier, because we were willing to take some direction from others.
Find trusted people in recovery, then take advice and direction from them. The results will amaze you!