Traditional recovery is pretty straightforward these days:
Go to rehab. Attend AA meetings. Get a sponsor. Work the steps.
This is supposed to bring you to a spiritual awakening by which your personality is completely transformed. The old selfish “you” is replaced by someone who cares about helping other people to recover instead. Of course that is a greatly simplified version of traditional recovery but it is not far off the mark.
Here at Spiritual River I believe that there are alternate paths in recovery from addiction. Not everyone has to “plug in” to the traditional recovery structure of going to meetings every single day in order to maintain sobriety. There are other paths in life that you can explore (if you so choose).
That said, most people who are exposed to traditional recovery never really think about theses possibilities at all. They just do what they are told and follow through the motions of the 12 step program routine.
My goal is to wake people up from that existence and let them know that there are other ways to recover. Of course you have to be honest with yourself about what really works for you and what does not. If you try to strike out on your own in recovery and it causes you to want to drink then you need to be honest enough with yourself that you can catch that and retreat back to safety. If you don’t really like AA but it seems to work well for you then I would urge you to keep going until you like it. On the other hand if you don’t really like the structure of AA and the daily meetings then you may want to seek an alternate path. This website is all about alternate paths to sobriety.
First audacious idea: Put your life on hold and go live in a treatment center for 12 months+
Before I ever got clean and sober I had heard about the possibility of long term rehab, where you live in treatment for several months or even years at a time.
When I heard about the idea of long term treatment I was horrified. It was scary to me. Why would anyone voluntarily give up their freedom? This is how I thought about it at the time, because I was still stuck in denial and I thought that “freedom” meant being able to get drunk every day.
But eventually I reached a point where I realized that I probably was going to die or go to prison if I did not do something drastic. And so all of the counselors and therapists over the years had been encouraging me to attend long term treatment, and now I was finally ready to listen to that message. I finally surrendered. Not because I had wised up, but because I was so incredibly miserable due to my addiction. I had reached the end of my rope, so to speak, and I did not know what else to do with my life. So I became willing to push my fear aside and give long term rehab a chance.
Now I want you to understand that long term treatment is not a magic bullet. It doesn’t work for everyone. In fact, from what I can tell, it probably has very similar success rates to short term rehab of 28 days or less. You would think that the success rate would be drastically higher for people who live in rehab but this is not really the case. This is backed up both by data I have read and also by my personal observations when I lived in rehab for 20+ months.
That said, long term rehab worked for me when everything else had failed. Maybe I was just finally ready and at my true point of surrender. Perhaps I would have stayed sober even without long term treatment. I really doubt that though because I lived there for 20 months and I learned a great deal while I was there. It also forced me to get the support that I needed and it prevented me from isolating. I am not sure that I could have succeeded without living in rehab.
It is an audacious idea for sure and most people get a look of outright terror when you mention the possibility. “Really? Go live in rehab? For how long?” It just sounds like a crazy idea. But you have to consider the alternatives for someone whose life is a complete train wreck. For me, I could tell that I was either going to end up dead or in prison if I kept going the way I was going. So in comparison to death and prison the idea of living in rehab for a year or two was not so bad. But I had to become miserable enough in order to really entertain that perspective.
I resisted the idea of long term treatment for a long time. I thought that putting my life on hold would screw everything up. I thought that it would be a big waste of my time if I were stuck in rehab for 20 months. I did not want to check into rehab and “waste all that time” just learning how to be sober. I would rather be out in the world and have my freedom and be able to drink. Of course I was still in denial so I could not see that I was still trapped in a prison of my own making.
So when I went to long term rehab I slowly realized something. My life was not put on hold. My life continued, only I was living in rehab. But this was not the death sentence that I had originally thought it was. I got a new job. I got a car. I went back to college. Does this sound like someone who is stuck in rehab and has no life at all? To be honest it was not bad at all. When it came time to think about leaving and transitioning back to the real world I was honestly in no big rush to do so.
If you have tried to get clean and sober in the past and failed at it then you might consider going to long term. This is especially true if you have been to short term rehab several times and failed. That was my exact situation: I had been to short term rehab twice and was headed back a third time. On the third trip around I became willing to give long term rehab a chance. This was the best decision I ever made.
Obviously it is not for everyone. Long term rehab is not a magic bullet. But it might be perfect for your situation, and it just might save your life as well. So be open to the idea even if it seems like you could never go live in long term treatment.
Also, remember your consequences. Some people say “Oh, I could never go live in treatment, too many people depend on me in the outside world.” But keep in mind that some people who have argued this went on to die suddenly as a result of their disease. So now they are dead, yet they argued that they could not afford to go live in rehab for six months? Please! You’re dead now! You would have been much better off in long term rehab if you would have just surrendered and got out of your own way (and stopped thinking that the world revolved around you). The world does not grind to a halt just because you check into rehab. Things will keep going without you. Really.
Second audacious idea: Use exercise and fitness as the cornerstone of your recovery program
Here is another crazy idea, much like living in long term rehab:
Use daily exercise as one of the pillars of your recovery.
Most people do not like this idea. Especially if they are already established and somewhat stable in their recovery using traditional methods (such as sitting in AA meetings each day). No one likes to be told that they should go exercise.
But it works. Darn it, exercise really works. It makes such a huge difference and yet it is difficult to quantify that difference. Some people just “get it” and others do not.
So I want to challenge you with an idea here.
When I first got clean and sober I was not into exercise. At all. I lived in long term treatment and I started going to AA meetings.
The therapist who ran the long term treatment center tried to get me to exercise. And I actually did try to do it. I went over to a gym and I used the weight equipment. I ran laps in the gym as well. I gave it an effort but I am not sure how long I kept this up for. Maybe a few weeks or something.
Nothing came of it. I just wasn’t ready. This therapist tried to convince me that it would make a huge difference in my life, yet I just wasn’t seeing it. I was not impressed. I would work out but nothing came of it. I figured the idea of exercise was just sort of lame. Maybe it helped some people but it wasn’t really helping me. So after a month or two I sort of gave up on it. I got a job and became busy or whatever. Excuses.
Fast forward another year or two. Suddenly I started running with my dad. He runs six miles every day, pretty much without fail. So for some reason I got it in my head that I wanted to build up to six miles of distance with him. The most I had ever run in my life was maybe 2 miles, and that was agony. I hated running.
So I am really not sure why I wanted to do this, or what prompted it. It wasn’t suggestions from therapists or sponsors or peers in recovery. I had heard all of those suggestions in the past and I had tried to exercise and it just never did anything for me. I had given up on the idea that exercise could help my recovery. But for some reason I felt it necessary to start running with my dad.
I quickly built up to six miles of distance. And I kept running. I kept doing it. And at some point, it got easier.
This took time. I had to keep doing it for (what seemed like) a long time before it got easy.
But then when it got easy, when it became a joy to run every day, everything changed.
Suddenly the light bulb went on.
I could not describe exactly why I liked to run so much, but it had changed my life. It was making a difference. And it was definitely boosting my recovery efforts.
I had more energy. I had more discipline. I was no longer afraid of effort. Of running for an hour straight without stopping at all.
I was sleeping better. And when I ran long distances, it was a form of meditation. It helped me achieve emotional balance, because my brain could sort everything out when I ran.
This was ten years ago. I still exercise every single day.
So I wanted to show you this transformation. That when I had a year sober, I still did not “get it” when it came to exercise. I thought it was stupid. I did not see how it could help someone in recovery. Back then I would have said “oh, that’s nice, you exercise, I am sure that helps your recovery or whatever.” But I never really believed it.
That was, until I started doing it. Until I did it long enough where it became easy, joyful, meditative.
And there are programs of recovery that depend entirely on exercise. This is the entire point of the program, to get people to use exercise as a means of overcoming addiction. Seriously, there are entire recovery programs that are based on exercise alone. That should be a clue of just how effective and helpful it can be, if you are willing to commit to it and follow through in the long run (something I had not been willing to do at first!).
Third audacious idea: Use the power of daily habits to create and build a new life in recovery
So here is one more way that you might frame your recovery:
Positive habits every day can help you to build a new life for yourself in recovery.
What is recovery other than changing your habits? You used to go to the bar every night and drink, now you go to an AA meeting instead. You have shifted this habit from something negative into something positive. If you do that over and over again in your life then you will get different results.
This is the essence of recovery. You want different results, you gotta do something different.
And that change must be sustainable. Which means that whatever changes you make in order to overcome addiction, you have to make those changes over and over again.
Otherwise you will just revert back to your old ways. If you don’t create new habits in your life then the old habits will creep back in. Relapse will occur if there is not enough new change to overcome it.
So how do you go about doing this?
How do you create positive habits in your life to replace your addiction?
It starts with your first habit: abstinence.
In order to stay sober you first have to get sober. Simple, right?
I recommend that you go to rehab for this. That is what finally worked for me (even though I also went to rehabs and then failed a few times as well).
Disrupt your pattern of addiction by checking into detox. Then you have a fighting chance to stay sober after you leave treatment.
Second of all you want to consider your overall health in recovery. If you listen to some people (and some programs) they will advise you to focus exclusively on spiritual growth.
This is a mistake.
Instead you want to focus on holistic health.
Your holistic health includes spirituality, but it also includes other forms of health as well, such as:
* Physical health. Fitness, nutrition, etc.
* Emotional balance.
* Mental health. Both psychological stability and also education, learning, etc.
* Spiritual health.
* Social health and relationships.
You can even go further than this and consider things such as financial health, daily stress levels, and so on.
Your health is not this one dimensional thing. It is not limited to just physical or spiritual health. It goes far beyond that and you need to consider the “whole person” with a holistic approach.
In doing this you can start to establish healthy habits that will lead you to greater health in the future.
If you live the next 10 years without any thought to creating positive habits then what will your results be like? You don’t really know and you can bet that achieving results that typically take a lot of discipline are not going to happen.
In other words, you don’t just accidentally run a marathon. You don’t just accidentally start eating super healthy foods and nutrition. If you want to get these sort of results with your health then you are going to have to plan for them and work for them. This is what establishing healthy habits is all about.
Figure out where you want to be in five years in terms of your health, then come up with a plan to get there. Executing that plan should result in the formation of new daily habits. If you want to get in great shape physically then you are going to need to form some new habits. The same is true if you want your relationships to be super healthy in the future. Or if you want to achieve emotional balance. Or if you want to cultivate your spirituality. And so on.
There are all of these different aspects of health and if you want to improve your life over time then you need to have a plan to do so. This plan will determine what your daily habits are.
Positive change requires positive actions. If you want to get good results then you need to take positive action every single day. You become what you do every day.
Massive action in any direction is better than the half hearted attempt that most people make
Most people don’t approach recovery with the proper amount of initiative. Even if they are pointed in the right direction (such as by joining AA) they do not usually have the intensity and dedication that is needed.
In other words, it is not so important what program you follow or what advice that you take in recovery (so long as it is positive), but instead you need to be willing to put 100 percent effort into it. Your level of dedication and willingness is far more important than the details that most of us are obsessing over so much.
If you want to succeed in recovery then you need to take massive action.
Take a little bit of action and you are bound to relapse.
Take a massive amount of action and you will get results. It is as simple as that. Most people don’t realize this at first and so they typically relapse once or twice before they realize just how hard they have to try in recovery.
Breaking out of the mold of traditional recovery (and traditional results!)
If you want typical results in recovery then just follow the traditional suggestions. But if you want to get amazing results in recovery then you need to be willing to use the ideas here and push yourself to that next level. Massive action combined with some of these non-traditional ideas can give you an amazing new life in recovery.