Recovery is more exciting than addiction.
I never would have believed that at first. Of course when you are stuck in denial and you think that your drug of choice is the only true path to happiness, of course you will not believe that sobriety could be more exciting than addiction.
I actually used to feel pity towards people who did not get high and wasted every day like I did. That was how screwed up I was. But that is the nature of denial. You cannot see your own misery.
I tried to get clean and sober three times in my life. The third time it actually worked. The first two times I failed.
And on those first two tries I can remember a lot of my thoughts about recovery.
First of all, I was terrified of sobriety. I was afraid to face life sober. I was afraid to have to face reality without some sort of crutch that could help me get through the day. Some sort of crutch that could help me to avoid my emotions. I did not want to have to feel my feelings. I was afraid of being made to feel uncomfortable. I wanted to be medicated forever and ever.
Second of all, I was horrified at the idea that I could NEVER use drugs or alcohol again. I could not really relate to the idea of “one day at a time” because my brain always reminded me that recovery was about making a long term change in my life. The idea, for me, was not to just stay sober for today. If we are just going to stay sober for today, why don’t we go buy our liquor right now for tomorrow? Of course it is implied that you are not going to do that. Intellectually I understand the concept of “just for today,” but when I was struggling to get sober I was wrestling with the concept of “forever.” They wanted me to quit drinking and stop using drugs forever. That was the point of recovery. Not to stay sober for one day, but to make a lasting change in lifestyle. I wasn’t stupid. I realized what the real benefit of sobriety was, and I realized that you did not get those benefits after one single day of recovery. It took time, it took months and years to build up a better life in sobriety. One tiny drink and it all goes down the drain, you start back at square one if you are lucky to live through your relapse. To me that doesn’t really lend much credibility to the day at a time philosophy. One tiny slip spells doom.
Third of all, I can remember thinking that they were simply asking too much of me. For example, the therapists and the counselors wanted me to go to even more treatment than what I was already attending. They wanted me to live in long term rehab for months or even years. I couldn’t comprehend that at the time. Of course I was still stuck in denial and I was not willing to do whatever it took, so the idea of committing to long term rehab was absolutely crazy to me. I equated the idea with voluntarily going to prison. In my mind the two things were about the same. Because if I could not use my drug of choice, I was so afraid that you may as well just stick me in prison anyway. I really thought that sobriety would make me that miserable, that I would no longer care about my own freedom. Ridiculous, I realize now, but this is how I as thinking and processing things in my addiction.
These were all of the thoughts that I had in my early rehab experiences when I was still in denial. I was too afraid to take massive action, too afraid to dive into recovery and make the hard changes. Too afraid to sit through AA meetings because they made me uncomfortable. I was too scared to get sober and I was trapped in fear. I wouldn’t admit that at the time, but I was stuck in fear.
And what was really going on was this: I had not yet experienced enough misery in my addiction to cause me to face that fear.
That was the key to my denial. I had to get miserable enough. I had to be sick and tired of everything, of other people, of myself (especially of myself). I had to be so sick and tired and miserable that I was willing to face my greatest fear in life. My fear of sobriety.
And so when I was finally willing to do that, when I was finally willing to walk away from my addiction and face my fears, that is when my life got exciting again.
It didn’t happen overnight. Don’t get me wrong. There is not much exciting about being in detox at rehab. It is pretty boring at times, really. And rehab itself may not be thrilling for everyone either.
Sobriety starts out very slowly. It takes time to build a better life, to start reaping the rewards.
But ultimately it is so much better than addiction, so much more exciting.
Addiction is just a drag. Alcoholism is boring.
Self medicating is a dead end path that leaves you unfulfilled
I had a few moments of clarity near the end of my addiction where I suddenly looked at myself with something like real disgust.
Not because I hated myself particularly (although I pretty much did, but that is beside the point here), but because I realized suddenly that I was almost like a robot or a machine or something.
I was really just existing, and feeding myself these chemicals in order to feel a certain way.
It was like a robot that has a solar panel on his head and his face just lights up every day, but he doesn’t really know why or what the purpose is. He just goes on catching solar rays and turning them into some sort of energy for a light bulb for no real purpose.
That was me, taking alcohol and drugs and dumping them into my body every day. What was I doing it for? Really, what was the point? I got that high, I got that “buzz” for maybe a few moments out of every 24 hours, sometimes even less frequently than that, and the rest of it was just all misery. It was just a constant chase after more. More what? More buzz, more deadening of the feelings, more not feeling my emotions.
And there were a few moments in my addiction where I finally glimpsed that horrible truth, and really grasped it and saw what I had become, what I was doing to myself and to my life.
The normal response to this realization, unfortunately, is to simply medicate it away. Which I promptly did, every single time. Every time I realized just how messed up my life had become I simply took more drugs and alcohol in order to deaden that pain. That discomfort of realizing that I was no better than a robot, a mechanical device that somehow runs on alcohol and drugs.
But for whatever reason, the last time I had this realization, I decided to do something about it. To ask for help, to try to make a change. I am not sure exactly why I was able to finally break through my denial. Call it a blessing, call it a miracle.
I think what really happened is that I finally got sick and tired of being miserable, of having to take drugs like a mechanical robot. I finally got so sick of it that I was officially more miserable than I was scared.
And when your misery finally outweighs your fear, that is when change happens.
Because then you can throw caution to the wind and take action. You can overcome your fear of sobriety and ask for help.
Continuous challenge yields continuous rewards
So recovery becomes exciting. In fact it is more exciting than doing drugs and alcohol is.
You have to remember that the first few times that you get high, while they may be really good times, are gone forever.
You can’t go back to those first few experiences. You can chase them forever, as most addicts and alcoholics do, but you will never experience that same level of magic again.
Instead, while trying to recreate that amazing high you had in the past, you will just grow more and more dependent. Tolerance will build. The fun is all gone. Now it is just trying to feel normal, trying to not be miserable from withdrawal, trying to exist. Every alcoholic and drug addict goes through this. Eventually it is not fun at all and it is just a miserable drag. You become the mechanical robot who doesn’t even know why they do it any more.
So make sure when you make this comparison that you are not romanticizing your addiction. Don’t go back to that first few times you got high and think that you can recreate that every single day. You can’t. Those good times are over. They will never come back. Your addiction has progressed to the miserable part now. Keep that in mind.
Now you have to compare that state of misery to this “excitement” that I am speaking of in recovery.
Only there is a problem. Recovery is not very exciting at first. For the first week, month, or possibly even year of recovery, you may not be so excited. You may not be jumping for joy and full of happiness and excitement when you first get sober.
Because it takes time. Plain and simple, it takes time.
Just because it doesn’t happen instantly doesn’t mean that it will never happen.
It will happen. Just look at the AA literature, they have a section in the Big Book called “the promises.” Those are things that they promise you will come true, if you work the program and follow the steps.
And of course they are right. They are not lying to you. They’re not making that stuff up. Of course it works if you actually work the program. Of course those promises come true if you actually put in the ground work consistently.
But it takes time. And you don’t necessarily have to do it through the 12 steps, or through AA, or through any other specific program. There are always alternatives out there. There are many different paths to sobriety.
But it takes work, and it takes time, and this is the truth that no one wants to hear.
Everyone wants a shortcut. Everyone wants a simple outline for this wonderful life in sobriety, without having to put in too much effort to get it.
That is a fantasy. Whether you do it through AA or any other program, recovery takes real work. And it takes consistency. You have to keep doing the hard work, every day, until you turn your life around enough to start realizing these benefits of sobriety.
I watched a lot of my peers in early recovery relapse. They started out strong, but then they fell by the wayside for one reason or another.
I don’t have an answer for this. I don’t have any real wisdom for why some people stick with it and others relapse. If we could accurately predict and prevent those relapses then addiction would be fully cured at this point. Of course it is not though. Some people just aren’t ready to put in the hard work. They aren’t ready to commit to real change.
It takes guts to get sober and stick it out for the long haul.
Benefits in sobriety accumulate over time because you tend to lock in the gains
You may be wondering if you are still stuck in addiction:
“How exactly is recovery exciting?”
It starts out slowly, as I mentioned. At first, recovery is not that exciting at all. In fact it may be downright boring for you.
But then as you start to maintain sobriety, things get a bit more interesting.
Note that they get interesting before they get exciting. But at least it is something. At least things start to get interesting.
And then you begin to make progress. Or rather, you begin to realize that you are making progress. In fact you were making progress since day one, but we often cannot see it because we are too close to it.
And then after you realize that you are making progress, you start to take suggestions from other people and take their advice.
If you do this correctly then your life will get a whole lot better in a very short period of time. Just by following simple directions!
Of course, this assumes that you are comparing things to your life when you were stuck in addiction. Most of us were pretty miserable in our addiction, so just about anything in recovery is better than that. But sometimes it takes a while before we realize this. Sometimes we have to go through some struggles before we can really appreciate and be grateful for where we are today.
At first, in your recovery, you are taking advice and direction from other people.
Later on you will start to use your own ideas and figure out what you really want out of life. This will come after you have built a strong foundation in early recovery.
This is where you start to develop your own power. This is where things get really exciting.
After you build momentum in recovery you start to realize that you have power to make new changes
I can remember the exact moment when I realized that I had power in my recovery.
It was about a week after I had quit smoking cigarettes. I had about three years sober or so.
I had been asleep for almost a full 24 hours. I slept so long because I wanted to try to sleep through nicotine withdrawal. My trick had been to stay awake for a really long time before I quit smoking cigarettes. A bit crude, I admit, but it worked very well for me.
And I woke up from that super long nap and I realized that I had conquered cigarette addiction. I was no longer a smoker. I was through the worst of my withdrawals, and I was going to make it. I could feel it in my body. I was no longer craving nicotine. It was really amazing!
And that was when I realized that I had power in my life again.
I could…..do things!
That may sound pretty silly, but to me it was a revelation at the time.
I had quit alcohol and drugs a few years prior. And I had struggled for a long time now to quit smoking cigarettes, and it was a major challenge for me. I failed at it several times.
Part of my quitting effort included exercise.
I have never been one to exercise. Never in my whole life had I been in shape before. I simply did not exercise.
Well, in order to try to quit smoking cigarettes, I realized that this might have to change.
So leading up to this day when I finally quit successfully, I started to run on a regular basis. I became a jogger just for the purpose of quitting smoking.
That took a lot of hard work. It was not easy to build up to running six miles at a time, several days each week.
But that is what I did before I even tried to quit smoking.
And so all of these efforts culminated in this one moment, when I woke up from my super nap and realized that I had finally beat the cigarettes.
And I had this revelation at that moment, and I realized that I could probably accomplish just about any goal if I were to set my mind to it.
I realized my power.
Up until this point I did not have this power, this confidence. Because I had not accomplished anything significant. Or rather, I was not giving myself credit for anything yet.
But now, suddenly, I was giving myself credit.
I had quit drugs and alcohol.
I started exercising and became a jogger.
I successfully quit smoking cigarettes.
For whatever reason, I did not realize my power until I did all three of these. Just doing the first two things did not do it for me.
But when I finally kicked the nicotine, I realized that I was powerful, that I could set and conquer goals, that I could reshape my reality.
And that was when I realized that I was on a path of conscious growth. I had decided to improve myself in certain ways, and I was doing it. And I wasn’t perfect and I wasn’t superhuman or anything, but I was achieving some pretty good stuff nonetheless. And I realized that if I focused hard enough on other goals in my life, I could probably conquer those as well.
It was a real eye opening moment for me.
This is what continuous growth in recovery is like. Eventually you realize that you have the power to make these positive changes, and it is only a matter of deciding what you want to change and what you want to focus on.
You can’t do everything. But you can choose any one thing, and you can probably achieve it.
And this is one of the gifts of sobriety. You get to focus. You get to set your own goals and then tackle them. In this way you get to reinvent yourself. You get to remake your reality.
Can you do magic? Not exactly. But you probably have more power than you think. And if you are still stuck in addiction, then you definitely have a lot of untapped potential that is just waiting for you in sobriety. But you have to have the guts to come after it, you have to have the guts to walk through your greatest fears, and ask for help.
Without continuous growth you may become complacent and relapse
One final idea I want to leave you with is the concept of personal growth and complacency.
Every alcoholic and drug addict has the potential to relapse if they become complacent.
Your job in recovery is to overcome complacency. The solution for this is simple: Continuous growth. Personal growth.
Keep moving forward. Keep improving. Achieve a goal, then set another. Always be reaching for that next level in life. Always be pushing yourself to improve.
In this way you protect yourself from the threat of relapse. It is the only path that allows you to become stronger in your recovery over time.
What about you, have you found recovery to be exciting for you? More exciting than your addiction? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!