What is the process of building a new life in recovery for the alcoholic like?
How exactly do you go about establishing new habits when you are down in the dumps and cannot even get yourself up off the floor? How do you go from being completely miserable to building a new life of happiness?
I have a number of suggestions as to how to go about doing that but first you need to start at square one.
That means you have to surrender.
This is really the toughest part of recovery, the thing that prevents us from moving forward and taking positive action. If you have not yet surrendered to your disease then anything that you try to do for your recovery is likely going to be just spinning your wheels.
But how do you go about surrendering when you are stuck in addiction? How do you force yourself to surrender and ask for help?
I don’t know of any sure-fire way to make this happen instantly, but I can tell you how to move closer to surrender.
The process is pretty simple, really. All you have to do is to start being honest with yourself.
You see, the typical drug addict and alcoholic is NOT being honest with themselves. Instead, they are in denial. Generally they will be in denial about a great many things, not the least of which is the fact that they are telling themselves that their drug of choice makes them happy.
This is false. If you are an alcoholic then drinking does not, in fact, make you happy.
At one time it made you happy. And if you cherry pick what you are measuring then, yes, one time out of a hundred you will have a really fun night and no one will get hurt and you will be laughing and happy and joyful. But the other 99 nights you will be either:
1) Miserable because you cannot seem to get properly tanked.
2) Resentful because you will be in a situation where you cannot let loose and drink as much as you want.
3) Fully blacked out and hammered to the point where you remember nothing anyway.
4) Hurting yourself or other people because you are either fully blitzed or you are angry that you cannot seem to get “happy” with your drinking.
See the pattern? The alcoholic is always time traveling….they are never happy with the present moment. They want to drink more so that they can get “properly hammered.” Or they are angry because they have to get up and go to work in the morning so they are not able to get wasted all night long. Or whatever. But they do not really allow themselves to be fully happy in the present moment.
The alcoholic can think back to a time when they were fully happy and drunk. They cling to that memory and they wish that every night could be like that. They blame others and they blame anything except for alcohol and their drinking that they are not always 100 percent happy. They refuse to blame the alcohol though because their denial causes them to believe that they get all of their happiness from drinking.
In fact their drinking makes them miserable.
But they cannot see this because they are stuck in denial.
In order to build a new life, the alcoholic must:
1) Surrender to the fact that they are miserable BECAUSE of alcohol.
2) Commit to taking action to fix the problem.
3) Actually follow through and take action.
That might sound sort of vague, and that is because the recovery process can actually be pretty wide open. The key is all in the surrender, and then in committing to change and actually following through with it.
There are people who have sobered up in religious programs, and there are people who have sobered up in programs that had nothing to do with religion at all. So do not ask “what was the difference?” because obviously the difference is religion vs. no religion.
Instead, you should be asking “What was similar for those two people who both recovered?”
Those similarities are what I focus on exploring in this website. Those similarities are the fundamental principles of recovery. The same concepts that everyone uses when they get sober, whether they want to or not.
For example, everyone goes through the process of surrender (if they really get sober). This is fundamental to recovery. You can’t avoid this if you want to actually change your life.
So that is what we try to focus on here. Finding the fundamental concepts of recovery, and then making sure we are incorporating those principles into our lives.
One of the most powerful ways to do that is to turn these concepts and principles into daily habits.
Because then you are consistent at least. Because you are practicing those habits every single day.
And so therefore your recovery becomes a practice, and that means you can improve at it over time. This is when the benefits of recovery start to really add up.
Surrender first, then establish your daily habits.
The question is:
The power of daily habits and the daily practice
I started with traditional habits in early recovery.
For example, I was going to AA meetings every day. I got a sponsor and I called the sponsor every day. I started reading the recovery literature every day.
These are not necessarily the “cure” for addiction. But if you do these things every single day then at least you get some consistency. You get some positive action happening. And you can build on it from there.
If you take a look back at your addiction then you will see that you that was all about habits as well. Bad habits. But they were daily patterns. Even if you did not drink or use drugs every single day, your addiction was still fueled by daily habits. Things such as resentment, self pity, shame, and guilt. Or things that you did every day, places you went, or people that helped to fuel your excuses to drink or use drugs. It was all based on a whole bunch of negativity. Even if that negativity was really just a bunch of excuses.
So in recovery you have to reverse all of that stuff. You have to eliminate all of the garbage. This takes effort, make no mistake. They say that you only have to change one thing in recovery, and that is “everything.” They aren’t kidding.
But the good news it that while that may sound a bit overwhelming, it is actually quite manageable. You can, in fact, change everything.
In order to do that properly you must first “map” where you are at, and what the problem areas are.
Where to start looking for ideas for changes to make (assessment)
In very early recovery your first goal is to realize that alcohol or addictive drugs are probably your biggest problem in life, and therefore you must eliminate them. This is a good starting point, and is a necessary foundation for all future growth.
Abstinence is your baseline for success. Screw that up and you are back to square one and totally lost again.
So you go to rehab and get detoxed. You are clean and sober, at least for today. The question is, how to extend that?
You do that by “fixing the garbage” in your life. One thing at a time.
Don’t get overwhelmed by trying to go too fast. Recovery is long. You have the rest of your life. But, do get moving. Get started right away. This is why they recommend that you get a sponsor and start working through the steps of AA.
I don’t necessarily advocate for the 12 steps approach. I think you can “do the work” without the guidance of the steps. That is up to you though. Whatever works for you. This is actually a minor detail as to whether or not you do this work via the 12 steps. People in AA will think that idea is totally nuts. But I have walked both paths. Growth in AA and working the steps can be somewhat clunky, IMO. There is much to be said by using a more streamlined and customized approach.
For example, when I was in very early recovery I quickly identified a serious problem in my life. I was obsessing with self pity all the time, and it was threatening my sobriety. Instead of waiting around to “work the steps” with a sponsor I had to deal with this character flaw immediately. And I was able to do so very quickly and then get on with my life in recovery. It was not until quite a bit later that I actually worked the step in AA that would have addressed this problem (actually, it required more than one step to identify and then remove self pity).
So you need to figure out what is dragging you down and holding you back in your recovery. If you cannot do this on your own then you need to ask other people for help in identifying this stuff. A sponsor can certainly help you. If you want to get moving quickly on personal growth then don’t get a sponsor who is going to have you work on each step for a full month or anything. You want results NOW so be prepared to roll up your sleeves and get to work. Of course this requires that you get really honest with yourself in a hurry. This is not always the easiest thing to do in early recovery, but it can be done. You want relief, you want to change your life, you have to be willing to work for it.
You can look at the positive qualities in your life if you want but I would urge you not to waste the time. You will get a far greater return on your effort if you focus on fixing the problems and negativity in your life instead.
Prioritize. Figure out what your biggest negative character flaw is, and then fix that FIRST. Do it now. Do it with urgency.
Then do the same thing in terms of your life situation. What people, places, or things need to change in your life right now? What change would bring about the greatest amount of relief? Focus on that change first. Prioritize so that your effort makes the biggest impact as soon as possible.
How to push yourself to make powerful internal and external changes
In the assessment phase you should be looking at both your internal and external problems. This means looking internally at things such as shame, guilt, resentment, self pity, and so on. But then you should also consider your external world as well, and look at things like your relationships, your job, your home life, where you spend your time, who you hang around with, and so on. All of those external issues make a big difference and they can also hold you back in your recovery.
So there needs to be a balance there. If you talk with lots of people in recovery you will notice that nearly everyone is biased towards one or the other: either external or internal changes. Because for most of us in recovery, one of those set of changes had a bigger impact for us than the other. So naturally we are going to be biased towards that method and advise people to do the same thing. But it is important to realize that nearly everyone in recovery has both some internal as well as some external changes that they could really benefit from making. And in most cases we all have both types of changes that are going to be necessary if we are to remain sober at all.
Realize too that as you fix the negative stuff in your life, the success can start to build on itself. So if you eliminate something like resentment or self pity, this can give you the internal clarity that you need in order to see what really needs to be changed in your external world as well. Maybe you are working in a toxic environment with negative people, but you never really realized this in the past because you were so angry yourself all the time. So after working through your resentment by making that important internal change, you suddenly have the clarity to realize that your workplace is generally angry people and that is not doing you any favors in the serenity department. So one change that you made gave you the clarity that you needed to make another important change. And after making both changes your life will be that much better as a result. This is how success can build on itself in recovery. This is also why the holistic approach is so important in recovery as well.
When you first get into sobriety your whole life may be a mess, and there will be parts of your life that are in direct conflict with other parts of your life. Somehow it all hung together during your addiction and it “worked” in that you figured out how to deal with it and cope with it all (but obviously it was destroying you in the process). So now that you are in recovery you need to fix things, not just eliminate the drinking but then go a step further and really start to rebuild your life from the inside out. So you must make those tough internal changes where you drop the guilt, the shame, the anger, the resentment, the self pity, or whatever it stirring around. And then you will realize that all of that negative stuff inside of you was either caused by or it reflected onto the external world around you in some way, or in several ways, and so there will be these things in the outside world that need to be changed as well.
So it is a package deal. You cannot just change one without also looking at the other. You can’t just fix your internal problems without also rearranging your outside world to match the new inner peace.
Another example might be (from my own life) when I started exercising on a regular basis. At some point my body sort of let me know that it wanted healthier food. This did not really happen though until I had firmly established this new habit of healthy exercise. It was only after doing that when my body sort of woke up and said “Hey, give me healthy food if you are going to make me work this hard!” One change led to another. So it is with these internal and external changes that you will make in recovery. They are holistic changes in that they affect each other and play off of each other.
Why you should talk to other people about your own path in recovery
You may be nodding along with these ideas but at the same time be saying: “OK, I see what you are saying, but I still don’t know what habits I need to establish here in early recovery….”
A couple of things about that:
1) Your daily habits should reflect the idea of greater health. Holistic health, not just physical or spiritual health, but every part of your life and every part of your being. So this might include things like emotional health, social relationships, etc. If you are considering a new habit, ask yourself if it enhances or improves some area of your overall health in life.
2) You should be mindful not to neglect any one area of your health for too long. The core areas are spiritual, physical, emotional, social, and mental. There are derivatives of those of course. But those are the basics. Don’t ignore any one of them for too long. After a while in recovery you should be able to go through your day and see how you worked on each one in at least some capacity. Always striving to improve, to become healthier.
3) If you are stuck, seek advice and feedback from people you trust. Ask them what they think you should be doing in life. Ask them what advice they have for you. And try to ask several different people so that you get more than one viewpoint. If you keep hearing the same advice from multiple sources then you should definitely pause and consider what you are hearing.
4) Assess and reassess. Journal if you have to so that you can figure out where you are really at, and how happy you are with your own progress in recovery. Don’t judge yourself harshly, but do measure your results. And be sure to express gratitude for the huge gains that have made so far (if you are sober today then is that not miracle enough? It is!).
The long term solution for overcoming complacency
The key to overcoming complacency is to keep refining these daily habits so that you keep making personal growth.
Continuously improving your life is the cornerstone of long term sobriety. You protect yourself from relapse most when you are learning, engaged in new challenges, and willing to take feedback and advice from others.
Stay open to the possibilities and keep pushing yourself to improve both your life and your life situation. Stay open to both internal and external changes that you might make.
This is how to build a new life in recovery.