AA and 12 Step Programs are for Extroverts, Creative Recovery is for...

AA and 12 Step Programs are for Extroverts, Creative Recovery is for Introverts

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I have a theory and this is based on the fact that I am most likely a personality type of INTJ (or close to it anyway). I took the personality test in college at some point and it may have been one letter off from that but basically I am very analytic, introverted, somewhat nerdy, and so on.

So this is just some of my ideas based on the idea that your personality type may affect the best course of treatment for you in addiction recovery. It seems that it made a difference for me anyway.

Forcing square pegs into round holes and why I resisted recovery for so long

For a long time I resisted recovery.

This was of course out of fear. I was afraid.

I was afraid to face life sober. I was afraid to live and deal with life without my drug of choice. But I was also afraid of recovery, of the changes, of the interaction with new people.

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I was afraid of looking stupid, and so therefore I was afraid to have to learn anything new in life. And of course recovery is one big learning process, especially in early recovery. You have tons of new stuff to learn.

But perhaps most of all, I was afraid of AA meetings. I hated the idea of being in a meeting, of being expected to speak, of being forced to speak, etc.

You know what would make me comfortable to talk in front of a large group of people? Being drunk.

Even then, being drunk was never really enough to completely fix my anxiety. Maybe it did at first, but over the years I was still quite shy, even after getting loaded with booze.

And so as I began to try to deal with my drug and alcohol problem, the social solution of AA kept coming up, over and over again.

I was not yet ready to get clean and sober, but I was trying a bit here and there. I was going to counseling. I was talking with a therapist. I was open to the idea that I needed to change, but I was not yet willing to change. This period lasted for several years, where I was sort of stuck…..I knew that I had a problem with alcohol and drugs, but I was not willing to fully surrender 100 percent and do what I was told to do.

This is because I was scared. I realize that it was fear that held me back for so many years. When I finally got clean and sober, the reason I did so was because I was SO miserable that I no longer cared about my fear and anxiety. My attitude was “screw it! I’ll go to the dang meetings anyway, I don’t care any more!”

But until I reached this point of extreme misery, I was stuck in addiction, because I was so afraid of the typical recovery solution.

I spoke with my therapist and with counselors. I told them that I wanted to change my life, but that I wanted a way to do it without AA. Why isn’t that possible? I was repeatedly told that I should just face my fear and force myself to attend the meetings anyway.

Now you may be thinking to yourself: “Aha! They told him to go to AA, and he resisted it for so long, but he eventually broke down and went to meetings, and now he is sober. So they were right!”

I cannot help but disagree with this. I went to AA meetings because the alternative was to die. I asked every counselor and therapist that I could (probably about 5 to 10 all told) and they all told me that my only real hope, my only real chance, was to bite the bullet and just go embrace AA as my solution.

Today I know that this is wrong.

AA is just one path for recovery, but it is not the only path. It happens to be the dominant solution in our present world, but it is not the best fit for every person who wants to stop drinking or taking drugs.

I know this to be true because I have been recovering successfully, without AA, for over a decade now. I forced myself to attend meetings for the first year, and after that I found my own path. A path that works for introverts, if you will.

AA is a social solution. People who love AA meetings are extroverts. You can always tell which people really love to go to meetings because they talk the longest, and they love to hear themselves talk.

Such people used to tell me “you should talk more in meetings, Pat! When you do speak, it is always something really good and really insightful. I wish you would talk more!”

The flip side of this is that I cannot figure out how such people can babble on for so long and end up saying so little. Perhaps they do not believe that introverts like me are listening and processing every word they say, but that is what is happening. The typical introvert is actually paying attention at an AA meeting, and so they pay a real price to sit there in the form of attention and thoughtfulness. This is why I do not sit in AA meetings every day any more–the cost is far too high. I pay far too close attention and I am far to thoughtful and respectful to be taken as hostage for nearly an hour every single day of my life while listening to extroverts babble on about their lives. The signal to noise ratio in the typical AA meeting is way too out of balance to be helpful to an introvert. Most of what is said is just rehashed, recycled language, with very few genuine insights being uncovered in a typical 60 minute meeting.

Now that does not mean that you can never get any value out of an AA meeting. It just means that for an introvert who actually listens and processes every word, a daily, recurring AA meeting is a horrible use of time. The introvert is not going to “socialize their way into recovery” the way an extrovert might.

Some people love to socialize and sit around with others anyway. Even without any recovery value, such people may really enjoy meetings, just for the social aspect. This obviously does not apply to introverts, and so meetings are a poor use of their time.

So one of the main questions we have to ask ourselves is this:

“If an introvert wants to avoid AA meetings and the social aspect of recovery, can they still be successful and remain clean and sober?”

My answer to that is “yes.”

My solution for that has been what I term “creative recovery.”

Creative recovery is really just about goal oriented living, taking positive action, and engaging in personal growth.

Creative recovery is essentially “relapse prevention via personal growth.”

You push yourself to learn and to grow and to improve yourself and your life, such that you do not slide back into relapse.

I still believe disruption is important and this will probably involve at least a brief exposure to the social side of recovery. In other words, you have to disrupt your addiction to the point that you can escape from the cycle of chaos and self medicating. For me, I had to go to rehab for this. There I was exposed to AA and this was a social environment even without the AA involved.

But it could not be avoided. I had to disrupt my addiction in order to break free.

Now that I am living in recovery and I am stable (after disrupting my disease with treatment) I have found a way to stay clean and sober and continue to grow in my recovery without relying on a socially based solution (such as AA).

If you asked me what I do to stay clean and sober today, my answer would be “personal growth.” If you asked “In which ways are you growing as a person?” I would answer: “I try to grow in a holistic manner. So I don’t just focus on spiritual growth. I try to be physically healthy, emotionally healthy, socially, etc.”

Traditional recovery restricts growth to spiritual growth. That is the only goal in traditional recovery. This is far to narrow and far to limiting, in my experience. For example, I know some people who are very successful in recovery and the only growth that they pursue is physical fitness. Seriously! An entire recovery program based only on distance running and fitness. Think carefully about that and realize that there are over a thousand people in that particular program, with hundreds of them achieving meaningful sobriety. It is working for them so who are we to say “AA is the only chance for recovery.” But that is exactly what the therapists and the counselors basically told me when I was too afraid to plunge into recovery. My anxiety held me back because I was scared of AA meetings. It turned out I did not need them, and have not been to one for over a decade now.

But recovery is a very young “science,” and we have much to learn. AA is not even 100 years old, and as such, we know very little yet about addiction and recovery. But for people to cling to AA as the only possible solution is not only wrong, but is also ridiculous. In saying this you are sentencing the introverts of the world to basically waste their time on a strategy that is all wrong for them!

AA may work well for some people, but clearly it does not work well for everyone. I was one of those people. In fact, I almost chose to die in active addiction rather than to face “the only possible solution” and go to AA.

Luckily, I was able to stay clean and sober long enough to figure out a better path (for an introvert).

Maybe instead of “Creative recovery” I should call it:

“Recovery for Introverts – You Really Can Recovery From Addiction on Your Own!”

So the question is, how exactly do you do that?

How to do your own thing in recovery and be successful at it

Well, as I have mentioned above, I think even the most introverted people might need to still embrace the idea of “disruption.” They may still need to go to rehab, to go to detox, to go somewhere that they can get their recovery jump started. It can be very difficult to break free from addiction while you are stuck in the same environment. I found it to be impossible. Actually I never even considered trying. In other words, I could not hope to keep the same set of friends and stay at the same job and hope to become clean and sober. There was just no way it was even possible. I was surrounded by drugs and booze. I needed a clean break, and that was rehab.

So I went into rehab and I actually ended up living in long term for almost two years.

I realize that this does not exactly scream “do your own thing in recovery!”

I realize that many people will accuse me of being a hypocrite. On the one hand I am saying that it is possible to “do your own” thing and succeed in recovery, and on the other hand I actually lived in rehab for almost two full years and went to meetings every single day.

Well, here is my explanation. Then you can judge me as a hypocrite if you like:

I lived in rehab for 20 months and then I moved out and promptly stopped going to all AA and NA meetings at that time. Instead I left the meetings and deliberately set out on a path of personal growth. My theory at the time was that I could stay sober by pushing myself to make personal growth. I was sick of the meetings and I was not getting much out of them. I wanted to do other things with my time.

Fast forward to today, when I have remained clean and sober for a total of over eleven years. Yes, for the first 20 months of that I was living in rehab and attending meetings. But since that time I have been “doing my own thing” as I describe with the theory of creative recovery. Mainly, pursue personal growth, embrace new opportunities for growth, don’t limit yourself to just spiritual growth, etc.

For the last 9 years or so I have been doing my own thing in recovery. I still believe that if I had to go back and do it all over again that I would need a strong amount of treatment in the beginning. This is the “disruption” concept. I don’t believe you can just go from rampant addiction to “doing your own thing and staying sober” the next day. Addicts and alcoholics cannot do that. We will sabotage our own efforts if we try to move that quick. Instead, we need some structure in there first. We need some disruption. We need to ask for help and take advice and follow through on that advice. Later on you can do your own thing. Early recovery is not the time.

That is how it worked out for me anyway. I had to compromise in early recovery and go to rehab. Doing my own thing was not working. In long term recovery, however, doing my own thing has been working for the past 9 years. It has worked very well and I see no need for introverts like me to depend on daily AA meetings in order to maintain sobriety. That said, you might need a serious level of disruption (like I did) in order to break through to recovery. Does that make me a hypocrite? Honestly I don’t care either way, my recovery is too good today and I know what works for me (or at least, I know what has kept me sober over the last 9+ years, and it is not the social, extrovert-friendly solution of daily meeting attendance that is pushed so frequently in modern day recovery).

The way to “do your own thing in recovery” is to get stable in your recovery (go to rehab, go to meetings, whatever it takes) and then make a leap of faith. I call it a leap of faith because there is no way you will know in advance if it will lead to relapse or not. However, keep in mind that the same is true of staying put in traditional recovery–that might lead to relapse too (as it does for so many people!).

You want to do your own thing in recovery? Great. Remove the safety net (quit going to meetings, etc.) and then let your fear of relapse drive you to take positive action.

Ask yourself each night: “What did I do that was positive for my recovery today?” If you don’t have a good answer to that question each night, you are headed for relapse.

But understand this too: even if you stay in AA or traditional recovery, the same thing is true: What positive action did you take for your recovery today? If your only answer for that is “go to a meeting” then eventually this will likely end in relapse as well.

Recovery is about personal growth, period. Doesn’t matter if you are in our out of AA, if you are an introvert or an extrovert…..you still have to find a way to take positive action every day.

Can you think your way into good living? Probably not. But you can think your way to a long term recovery strategy

This is more disruption/long term recovery stuff.

You cannot think your way into recovery. You just can’t. Your addiction will win, every time.

Therefore you have to live your way into recovery. Do this by getting out of your own way. Ask for help, take advice, follow that advice.

Later on, when you have stability, you can start to think about your long term recovery strategy.

30 days sober is not the time to make your own master plan. It’s just not.

Recovery is two stages: disruption, and long term growth.

Don’t try to go straight past the disruption phase. It won’t work. You gotta arrest the disease before you can create your own master plan. Creating your own path comes later.

Take what works and leave the rest–how recovery growth works outside of AA or NA

Your path in recovery should be one of personal growth.

In order to stay on such a path you need new input, new ideas, new opportunities for growth. Something comes into your life, you may examine it, play with it, try it on for size, and see if it can help you.

This happened to me, for example, with meditation.

I started to meditate at the advice of a counselor (also, it is one of the 12 steps in AA/NA).

I got pretty serious about it. I was meditating for up to 45 minutes at a stretch. This is a really long time and it also shows you some of the deeper benefits of meditation. I read dozens of books about it and tried various techniques.

After a while I sort of burned out on it and gave up. But then something interesting happened. A few months later I discovered distance running. I was suddenly jogging nearly every day, and I continued to do this for several years and counting. It has been almost a decade since I started running.

The key here is that running is my meditation. In fact it is superior to meditation in some ways (as admitted by many monks!).

But I had to experiment a bit to find this path. Running has had a hugely positive impact on my life, and it serves as meditation for me too. But I had to try a few things and take some suggestions in order to arrive at that path.

This is “take what works and leave the rest” as it applies in the real world.

In order to do this you have to be willing to take some suggestions, try some different things. Such is the path of personal growth. Feedback from others can be enlightening and invaluable. Is this really perfectly suited for introverts? Perhaps not…..but that is the challenge of recovery.

What do you think? Do we need a better recovery program that is tailored for introverts? Or should introverts just be forced to be more social and embrace AA?

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