They have a saying around the tables of AA and NA: “Take what you need and leave the rest.” This is good advice for recovery in general, and for tailoring a recovery program to fit your specific needs. But the idea can go farther than that, and hints at one of the real secrets of success in overcoming addiction.
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How to reverse engineer a successful recovery
For most addicts who are living a successful life in recovery, their journey was one of trial and error. Virtually no addict who decides to get clean and sober for the first time gets everything perfect right from the start. In fact, most addicts or alcoholics who decide to quit need several attempts, usually stretched out over several years time, before they manage to achieve long term sobriety.
This offers us useful insight. Most of us will dismiss this as being worthless information, but it is absolutely golden:
“Keep trying to recover. Keep what works. Discard the rest.”
Do not dismiss this as being too simple! No one who follows this strategy with open-mindedness and willingness is likely to fail.
There are 2 critical ingredients here:
1) Persistence (keep trying, even if you seem to fail over and over again)
2) Continuously refine your technique (keep learning – take note of what seems to help you in your recovery efforts)
This method of recovery (persistence + learning) absolutely works, and I have 2 such experiences that back that claim up: successfully quitting drugs and alcohol, and also successfully quitting cigarettes. For me, overcoming these 2 addictions was all the proof I needed.
An example: quitting smoking through trial and error
I tried for many years to quit smoking cigarettes, and I also employed a number of different quitting techniques. For example, I tried using medication to quit smoking, which never seemed to help me much. I also tried using nicotine replacement therapies, such as the Nicotine patch, and this also did not help me. I tried to quit over and over again, but I kept failing.
However, one time when I tried to quit, I bought a bunch of candy, and that seemed to help, but I still failed. Another time I was almost successful because I was on a vacation that was very distracting, but I still managed to return to the cigarettes.
Eventually, I made a mental breakthrough (I learned something) – I needed to combine all of the little things that seemed to help in one solid, concentrated, monumental effort. I even took this idea a step further, and thought to myself: “Now how can I take the little things that actually worked for me a bit, and somehow amplify them?” So I did exactly that: I afforded myself every effort and every resource in a huge effort to quit smoking.
How did I do this? By taking what I had learned from previous efforts and applying leverage. For example, I noticed that sleeping had once helped me to deal with the discomfort of nicotine withdrawal–so I devised a way to maximize the amount of time I slept when I knew my withdrawal symptoms would be at their peak. I also used the idea of taking a special vacation as a reward for quitting. I eventually used both of these ideas to get me through the first few (normally miserable) days of quitting smoking. This worked really well. This is the learning process. Applied knowledge. Recovery through learning.
One of the biggest things that you learn when attempting to overcome an addiction is how much effort it takes. Anyone in recovery with a significant amount of sobriety will tell you that it takes a tremendous effort. They will also tell you that it’s worth it.
If you go back and read through the previous example of quitting smoking, you’ll notice that what I was really learning was how much effort was needed, not which techniques really helped or not. This is the idea of overwhelming force. Taking an extravagant vacation just to help you quit smoking is an example of overwhelming force. Going to several AA meetings every day is another example. I firmly believe that any true addict or alcoholic needs to apply overwhelming force in order to overcome a serious addiction. Learning to do this with a problem as complicated as addiction and alcoholism requires a learning process.
In other words, you can’t just roll up in a combat tank and blast your addiction into nothingness. That won’t cut it. But that is the level of force that you need. And applying that force is tricky, because addiction is such a complicated problem.
Action items – what you can do:
1) Do not try and fail…..try and fail and learn from it.
2) Take what works for you and multiply it. Use every resource available. Stay open minded.
3) Keep trying. You will succeed eventually if you learn from your failed efforts.
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