Another common reason that many recovering alcoholics fail to stay sober and end up relapsing is because they fail to take massive action.
Long time readers of this website probably believe that I have a bit of an unhealthy obsession with the idea of “massive action,” because I have discussed the concept many times before.
But I have worked for several years now in an addiction treatment center, and I also lived for multiple years in a long term rehab myself, so I have seen plenty of evidence for what happens when people try to get clean and sober but fail to take massive action.
Quite simple, a lack of action leads to relapse. Every time.
Why it is all about “follow through” in early recovery
If you survey a dozen addicts or alcoholics who left an inpatient rehab center and ended up relapsing shortly thereafter, you would hear a common theme in their stories. In nearly every single case, you will hear that the person did not follow through on their recovery.
And how did they fail to follow through? By ignoring the suggestions that they go while in rehab. For example:
…a person will be assigned to outpatient therapy three days per week, and they skip sessions or stop going entirely.
…another person may be recommended to attend long term rehab. They either refuse to go or they check into the facility by shortly decide it is not for them, and they leave against the advice of the counselors.
…another person may be recommended to attend AA or NA meetings and get a sponsor. They either fail to attend meetings on a regular basis or they attend a few but never seek out a sponsor or put in the effort to work the steps.
In all of these cases, addicts and alcoholics in early recovery end up relapsing because they failed to take action. And therein lies the key to recovery: it takes a lot of hard work.
It almost does not really matter much what your particular solution is. If you go to counseling or therapy, that is great. If you choose to go to 12 step meetings, that is great. If you work your own program of holistic growth in recovery, that is great. But the whole key is that you take action.
And this is the reason that I harp on the idea of “massive” action. It is more than just taking action.
Anyone who checks into rehab has technically “taken action.”
But when we talk about taking “massive” action, we are really talking about something more than just taking regular old action. What we are really talking about is taking things to that next level and taking sustained, consistent action that involves dedication and real follow through.
I experience this myself when I went to rehab the first two times. I had the intention to change my life in some way, I had the full intention to eliminate my drinking, but I failed to follow through. The rehabs that I attended made suggestions to me and I failed to follow through on those suggestions.
The first rehab suggested that I attend AA meetings and get involved in the AA program. I ended up attending one or two meetings after leaving rehab and then stopped going entirely. I failed to follow through and subsequently relapsed.
The second rehab I attended suggested that I attend long term treatment, and live in a rehab center for several months. I outright rejected this suggestion and relapsed immediately. I did not follow through at all and obviously this strategy failed for me.
When I finally attended rehab for the third time I had reached a certain point of surrender, one that was much deeper than anything I had ever experienced before. This time it was different. Now I had said that to myself in the past but this time I really meant it, this time I had really hit bottom, this time I had truly surrendered.
And how was it different? It was different because I was scared enough and miserable enough with my addiction that I became willing to follow through. I became willing to take massive action.
Look at my previous two attempts at rehab….I got to a point with my recovery and I refused to follow through. I was willing to check into treatment but then when they suggested I attend AA meetings every day I balked at this. The next time I was willing to show up to rehab but when they suggested long term treatment I balked again.
In both cases I was not willing to follow through.
The third rehab was different for me because this time I was fully surrendered and was ready to take massive action. I actually told a counselor that I believed I probably needed long term care. They found me a long term program and I lived there for almost two full years. This is massive action.
Living in long term rehab and actually following through with their program, participating fully in it, and attending meetings and getting a sponsor and getting fully involved for almost two full years is “massive action.”
This was what was lacking from my previous attempts at getting clean and sober. I was never able to achieve the results that I wanted because I had not been willing to put in the massive amount of effort that it really takes to change your whole life.
This is what they call in AA “going to any lengths” for your sobriety.
In the past I had never been willing to go to any lengths, I was balking at suggestions like meeting attendance and long term treatment and therefore I could not achieve sobriety. Later on I found the willingness and the desperation to take massive action and it was then and only then that I got a positive result.
What the real task in recovery is
Why does successful recovery require massive action at all? Why such an intense effort?
If it were just about quitting drinking or stopping the drugs then recovery would be quite easy.
The problem, of course, is much deeper than this. The drug and alcohol use is but a symptom of a more complicated problem, one that takes massive effort to fix.
Addiction is not just something that is sectioned off and one little part of our lives. Instead, addiction affects our entire being, every area of our lives.
Some addicts and alcoholics believe that they can compartmentalize their recovery. They see their drinking or their drug use as just one tiny part of their life, something that is entirely separate from the rest of their life experience. So they believe that they can possibly treat their addiction they way that they might treat their dental hygiene. “I’ll just go to this rehab place and get my drinking taken care of, then I can get back to my life as usual.”
This type of attitude, or mindset, shows someone who is very naive about addiction. It reveals someone who is bound to have a failing first effort at getting clean and sober. The problem is that they are grossly underestimating the task at hand. They believe that they can treat their addiction the same way that they get their teeth polished at the dentist.
Obviously, it does not work this way. The reason that it does not work this way is because addiction affects your entire life, your whole being. It is not just some sliver of your life that can be treated separately from the whole (like your teeth!)
Addiction and alcoholism affect your whole life, it affects every single thing that you do, and it pervades your entire life experience. Even if you are not using your drug of choice every second of every day, you are generally either thinking about using it later or working to get the money to afford your drug of choice. It dominates your entire life, all of your actions, and casts a shadow over all of your relationships.
Because addiction attacks a person physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and spiritually–the only proper solution for recovery is a holistic approach.
This means that anyone who is actively trying to recover from addiction needs to improve their health in several ways. It is not enough to merely achieve physical abstinence from the drug of choice, even though that is a necessary starting point.
Nor is it enough to simply take a hard line spiritual approach to recovery, because this can ignore so many elements of things that need to be fixed after the storm of addiction has passed. Even though spirituality can be an important part of the solution, it is not the ONLY part of the solution. For example, someone in recovery might do well to look beyond just spiritual development to consider things such as:
* Improving their relationships.
* Seeking more education.
* Seeking mental health and stability.
* Seeking emotional stability and emotional sobriety.
* Eliminating other bad habits such as smoking.
* Getting into shape physically to be healthier.
* Improving nutrition or seeking a healthier diet.
And so on. None of these suggestions is really part of a “spiritual approach to recovery” but all of them can be hugely beneficial to some people in recovery.
In other words, while the spiritual approach can be very helpful for recovery, what is really needed is a holistic approach.
Our disease and our addiction affected us in many ways….not just spiritually.
So it makes perfect sense that we need to take a more comprehensive view of our recovery, if we want to be truly healthy.
So what does this holistic approach have to do with massive action?
If you read through that list of suggestions above you might start to think that sounds a little overwhelming.
That is where the massive part of “massive action” comes in. Obviously, you are not going to be able to take all of those suggestions and integrate them into your life unless you are on a very dedicated path of personal growth.
This is the difference between “just dabbling” in recovery and being fully committed, fully surrendered, and fully willing to take massive action.
If you dabble in recovery you get terrible results. I know this for a fact because I myself have dabbled in recovery twice, only to relapse.
I also know what it is like to take massive action and succeed in recovery. Basically, I would suggest that you put MORE effort into your recovery than anything you have done in your life before, ever. That seems to be the right amount of effort.
Just try harder than you have ever tried at anything before. If you fail, then you will know that you have to try even harder still.
I also know that dabbling in recovery does not work because of the many years that I worked in an addiction treatment center. The amazing thing about working in a rehab is that the people who leave and relapse frequently come back for more treatment. It is actually quite shocking to see how many people use a rehab like it is a revolving door.
After seeing this “revolving door phenomenon” for a few years while working at a rehab, I started to silently predict who was going to stay sober and who was going to relapse and come back for more treatment. I could not help but do this because some clients seemed to have such a positive attitude compared to others.
What I discovered is that willingness was very important. Clients who had very little willingness virtually never stayed clean and sober.
However, this did not mean that clients who seemed to have a positive attitude and plenty of willingness were automatically successful. This was not the case. Many of them, too, relapsed. But the key here is that if the client had no willingness then they had no chance at success. None whatsoever.
So the clients who had the willingness to take massive action and actually follow through at least had a chance at staying clean and sober. Even if not all of them made it, this was the group out of which people could potentially be successful.
The other group of clients (those with low amounts of willingness) were basically doomed to relapse. That was what I gathered anyway while working in a treatment center for six years or so. Keep in mind too that this seemed to apply to all levels of treatment, whether it was detox, short term, or long term treatment.
The key to recovery
In the end it all comes down to action, but it has to be consistent and sustained action if you want to get positive results.
Changing your entire life is no easy task. It takes a massive amount of effort and this requires a ton of action.
If there are shortcuts, please let me know about them. I am usually pretty good at finding the easy path but I could not do so when it came to my own recovery. Nor have I ever seen anyone in treatment find a magic shortcut to a happy new life without their drug of choice. The only way to get this happy new life is to put in a massive amount of effort, work, and personal growth.
Recovery is not just personal growth, it is cumulative growth. If you take positive action every single day for a year straight, at the end of that year your life will be a whole lot better than it is at the tail end of your addiction.
Likewise, if you fail to enter recovery and you take negative actions every day (by continuing to use drugs or alcohol) then your life will become a massive downward spiral.
Your actions will accumulate on a daily basis, for better or for worse.
This is why I always say that you need to take “massive” action. The idea implied is that you need:
* Positive action.
* Sustained action.
* Massive changes.
That is really what I mean when I refer to “massive action.”
People who fail to stay sober are not taking massive action.