Where does the struggling alcoholic find the motivation with which to get clean and sober?
How do you find the drive to turn your life around?
If you happen to be feeling bad about yourself because you drink, and your solution is to medicate this by drinking more, how can you possibly escape from the cycle?
I know that might sound crazy but I have been there myself. Feeling down about being addicted to drugs and alcohol, and the only solution that I could see at the time was to medicate myself even more. That is the insanity of addiction.
But at some point I was lucky enough to turn it all around. So how do you dig your way out of that hole, when it is so difficult to convince yourself to take positive action?
The secret comes from hitting bottom.
Finding motivation from hitting bottom
If you have read up on addiction and recovery then you have probably heard about the term “surrender” by now.
In order to recover from alcoholism or drug addiction you have to surrender first. But in order to surrender you must first hit your bottom.
What exactly does it mean to “hit bottom?”
This is obviously a subjective term that can evolve and change within your own experience. For example, a person may decide that they have hit their lowest point in their struggle with addiction, and that they cannot possibly go any lower. But then they may relapse several times after that and endure all sorts of additional chaos and misery. We are generally pretty bad at predicting just how horrible our addiction can become. I have found this to be true for myself, and I also found it to be true while working in a rehab center for several years. Many people who had supposedly “hit bottom” went back out, relapsed, and found an even lower bottom. So in retrospect they really weren’t at their bottom yet, were they? It can be a learning process.
If it is therefore possible for anyone to go back out and find a lower bottom in the chaos of addiction, how can you decide that you are at your lowest point right now, and that you do not want to go any lower?
To be honest this seems to have to do with a threshold that each person has inside of them. The threshold has to do with having had “enough” chaos and misery in addiction. When will it be enough? I am not sure that we get to decide that for ourselves.
My experience is that I had to focus on my denial in order to overcome it. There was a time when I was moving closer to surrender and I was drinking every day and things were not getting any better. I had to realize somehow that I was trapped. In the past I was never able to see this trap; I thought that the trap was someone taking my alcohol and drugs away from me. But the real trap was that I kept self medicating every day and it was destroying me. I had to somehow get myself to realize that.
I had to focus on the pain and the misery. I had to realize that it wasn’t getting any better. I had to start measuring how happy I was each day. Because I was pretty miserable for the most part and it just wasn’t getting any better. And in my mind I was playing this denial loop, I had this fantasy that I would one day get the right amount of booze and the right amount of drugs and the right people would leave me alone and I could use the drugs and the booze and I would truly be happy. And I looped this fantasy in my mind and imagined that I would soon be happy ALL THE TIME.
That is what I really wanted, I wanted to be happy all of the time. Not just every once in a while like I was experiencing at the time. This was the promise that alcohol had originally made to me. It promised me that I could be instantly happy if I drank enough alcohol. And it worked, at first. But then over time it worked less and less often, especially as I tried to stay drunk for more and more of my existence. This is the curse of addiction. The more you try to medicate the less effective it becomes.
There was a time during my addiction when I got into trouble, and I could no longer self medicate all day, every day. I had to take it easy for a while. But I still managed to sneak off once a week and drink some booze and use some drugs. What I noticed at that time was that depriving myself of all drugs and alcohol for a full week and then suddenly using them all at once at a profound effect. This was really teaching me how damaging it was to build up a tolerance. In other words, if you only drink once a week, you will probably enjoy it a lot and feel like you really get loaded from it. But if you drink every single day then being drunk becomes the new “normal” for you. It is no longer special. It is no longer unique to get drunk, because you do it so frequently. Because you do it almost constantly. And this is the curse of addiction. As you self medicate more and more it becomes less and less effective. In the end the drugs and the alcohol stop working entirely. They stop working because they no longer do what you want them to do for you. Sure, you can still put enough booze into your body so that you are medicated and eventually black out, but where has all the fun gone? Your increasing tolerance has removed all of the fun. It isn’t fun any more. You drink just to feel normal, just to exist. This is addiction. And it is entirely pointless once you reach this point in your struggle. The hard part is that you must realize that it is pointless. The only way to do that is to start paying attention to how happy you truly are, and therefore to break through your denial.
Becoming just the slightest bit willing to take positive action
In order to find the motivation to change your life you must become willing.
The question is: Willing to do what?
You have to be willing to take a little bit of action.
In the end, if you do this right, you will actually take a whole lot of action. But the nice thing is that you don’t have to eat the elephant all in one sitting. You don’t have to conquer the whole world and plan out your entire recovery before you even put down the bottle. None of that is necessary. You just have to be willing to “open the door a tiny crack.”
How can you do that? Simple.
Ask for help. Then take the suggestion you are given and follow through with it.
Simple. You don’t have to have all of the answers. Don’t let that stop you. If you ask for help then someone will tell you what to do. Are the an expert? Probably not. Do they know the future? Of course they don’t. But at some point you have to stop making excuses and have a little faith that your life can get better.
Look at it this way: You are in the driver’s seat in your life, right? You are driving your addiction. It is all your decisions. It is your will. You are running on “self will.” This is what causes you to drink and to self medicate.
Ask yourself: “Has it been working?”
If you are alcoholic then the answer is going to be “no, it hasn’t been working.”
Therefore your position is clear: Get the heck out of your own way. You have been screwing things up lately. Time to admit that and move on.
In order to do that you simply ask for help. Ask another human being in your life what you should do. Then when they tell you what to do, listen to them! Take their advice. Act on it. Follow through with their suggestion.
Here is how willingness works: You agree to become the slightest bit willing.
Then you take action based on that willingness.
You see that it is not the end of the world, and that you are not miserable or dying or making a horrible mistake, and therefore your willingness grows even greater.
Before you know it you have turned your whole life around, simply based on one little spark of willingness.
This can be as simple as saying to someone: “I think I need to go to detox. Can you help me to find a rehab?”
If you have the willingness to approach your friends, family, or loved ones with that kind of attitude then you can probably turn your whole life around. You just have to be a little bit willing.
You don’t have to be willing to go to long term rehab, live there for 2 years, go to AA meetings every day, get a sponsor, work the AA steps, and so on. If you had to be willing to do all of that stuff then no one would ever even attempt to get sober.
But you don’t have to face all of that at once. In fact you may never have to face most of it. You just have to be willing to take that next step, which is probably to ask for help. Your next step is probably getting to rehab. Going to rehab is not an instant cure but it is probably the best first step for most people to take.
Opening the door to a new life by being willing to listen to others
In order to live a new life you have to be willing to listen to other people in recovery.
This was something that I resisted for a long time. Because for one thing, I thought that I was pretty smart. So why should I have to listen to other people?
Again, you have to look at your results. I was striking out quite badly, getting nowhere in life due to my alcoholism. I had to admit to myself that I needed help, that I could benefit from the advice of others.
When I finally reached a point of surrender I felt like I was saying to the world: “I don’t know what to do anymore, please show me how to live.”
In early recovery I made a deal with myself. I did not really tell anyone about this deal, but it was just a secret that I carried inside.
The deal was this:
Instead of relying on my own decision making ability, I was going to defer to other people in every single significant decision that I faced in early recovery. I made a deal with myself that I was no longer in charge. I would not allow myself to make any major decisions. I would only allow other people to give me advice and make my decisions for me.
I felt his way because I had screwed up so much. And I knew that if I was in charge again that I might very well relapse as a result. I could not trust myself to remain sober if I was making all of my decisions.
And I could see that other people in recovery suffered from relapse all the time. Many of my peers fell victim to self sabotage. They had the best intentions and they swore they would stay sober forever, but somehow they screwed up. I did not want that to happen to me.
So I effectively “got out of my own way” by making this silent agreement not to make any decisions by myself. If I was facing something important in my life then I would talk about it with others and get their feedback.
The results of this were amazing. I was seriously amazed. I can remember being dumbfounded, seriously shocked at how my life was progressing at this point. Because things started to get better and better. And I finally knew what they were talking about in the AA meetings when they said “Life just keeps getting better and better in recovery!” Because I was finally experiencing that, and yet here I was, making this silent agreement with myself to let other people make my decisions for me.
I had this suspicion in the back of my mind that if I let other people make my decisions that I would be unhappy. Because how would they know what I need in order to be happy? They could not possibly know that, right? So if I followed their advice I would be unhappy, right?
Wrong. The truth is, I am a poor predictor of what will make me happy. I don’t really know what I need in order to be happy.
And here is the truth of it all:
Neither do you.
We are all poor predictors of what will really make us happy.
And yet we can look at someone else’s life, and figure out why they are unhappy and what they need to do to fix it.
Why is that? Why is it that we can unravel other people’s unhappiness, but we cannot seem to find happiness for ourselves?
I do not know the answer to that. All I know is that I found it to be true. It is very difficult to find happiness if you chase it yourself. Yet if you let other people direct you a bit, and you take their suggestions, then you will discover happiness. It is really amazing.
Thinking about this is totally useless. The only benefit you will get is if you actually do it.
But in order to do that you need to kill your ego.
Getting your own ego out of the way
In order to take advice from others you need to kill your ego.
But how can you do that?
Well, first of all you can make huge progress in this area by hitting bottom in your addiction. If you hit bottom and reach your lowest point then you will probably be beating yourself up pretty badly. This is when you are in a great position to get out of the driver’s seat and let someone else drive for a while. After all, you are not doing so well, right?
Another way to kill your ego is to make a pact with yourself. Make a secret agreement like I made. This is not hard to do.
Do it as a 30 day trial. That way you give yourself an out. So tell yourself that starting today, for the next 30 days, you are not going to make any final decisions about your life. You are going to outsource all of those important decisions to people that you trust in recovery.
Then you have to actually do it. So you make a new habit of asking other people for advice. Ask the people you trust in recovery: “What should I be doing in my life today?” They will definitely make a suggestion at this request of yours. Then you take their suggestion. You follow through with their advice.
You might go to meetings if you follow this path. If you go to meetings you may also find yourself a sponsor in recovery. This person can then give you specific advice as well. More suggestions. More action. You probably would not do the stuff that they suggest on your own. And even if you did, you would question if it were the right thing to do.
Getting your ego out of the way is empowering. It liberates you. Because now you don’t have to think as much about what things you are doing, because those things are being decided for you. And this frees you up a great deal to concentrate on how you do those things. So this allows you to focus on the quality of your life experience rather than on checking off all the right boxes. When you follow the advice of others it frees your mind up to focus on the things that are really important.
If you try to do it all by yourself then you will have two really big jobs. One job is to figuring out what stuff you need to do, and the other job is in actually doing it.
When you kill your ego and live by the advice of others, you completely eliminate one of these jobs. And that is a really big deal. It may not seem like a big deal because we always think that we need to be in the driver’s seat, and that we are the only ones who can possibly create our own happiness. But the truth is that if we outsource those decisions to other people then it frees us up to focus on more important things in life.
Finding motivation from a positive feedback loop in recovery
One last source of motivation that I want to mention has to do with something you might call a “positive feedback loop.”
Another way I like to say this is that “success breeds success.”
Once you start taking advice from other people and then putting things into action, your life will get better and better.
After this starts to happen you will likely do more of it. The cycle continues and you improve your life and your life situation even further. Because your experiment produces good results you tend to use the strategy again in the future.
Good things start to happen in your life and this sets you up for more positive action down the road.
New opportunities open up to you in recovery when you start to take positive action. When you build a foundation in early recovery it sets you up for massive amounts of personal growth in the future. Things just get better and better and this is due to the fact that you built a strong foundation in early sobriety.
In other words, you may have to make a leap of faith and just put one foot in front of the other. If you put in the work then good things will happen, and this will in turn lead to more positive action in the future. This is definitely how it worked in my life and the personal growth that I made this year is based on the foundation that I created over a decade ago.
What about you, what has helped to motivate you in recovery? Where does your motivation for sobriety come from? If you can tell us about that then it might really help someone who is struggling. Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!