Before I tell you exactly how I “discovered my truth” in long term recovery, let me first explain to you why I believe this is best done in long term sobriety, rather than in early recovery.
When you are attempting to get clean and sober, that is actually not the moment that you want to go on a soul searching journey. Everyone says that it is, but in fact, the soul searching needs to be delayed for a moment.
Let me explain why.
The reason that you cannot get sober one day and start “soul searching” the next is because of a very common phenomenon known as self sabotage.
Nearly every addict and alcoholic is prone to self sabotage. Which is another way of saying that if your alcoholic disease can find a way to trip you up and cause you to relapse, it will do so. And giving yourself permission to “soul search” is really giving a green light to your disease of addiction to attempt to steer you in the wrong direction. In fact, trying to “find your truth” too early in recovery is a recipe for disaster.
So what is the alternative when you are early in sobriety?
That is really the secret of early recovery in a nutshell. Simply do what you are told to do. Ask for help and follow directions. Get out of your own way. Instead of soul searching when you have 2 weeks sober, you simply need to do what you are told. While that may not sound very exciting or mystical, it is the absolute truth. If you want to screw up your early recovery journey then you can easily do so by trying to get fancy and taking control of your life again.
On the other hand, if you want to succeed in early recovery then the best thing that you can do is to surrender completely, get out of your own way, and allow others to dictate your plan to you.
So hopefully that is clear enough: Early recovery is not the time for soul searching in the traditional sense. You’ll get there eventually, but when you have 2 weeks or even 2 months sober, you just need to do what your therapist and AA sponsor tell you to do. Keep it super simple and do what you are told to do. That is how to succeed in early recovery.
At some point, however, I think recovery demands more from us. At some point, just sticking to the basics in AA and recovery programs is not necessarily going to be enough. At some point, the recovering alcoholic has to find their own path in recovery, and essentially determine how exactly their recovery program and the real world mesh together.
In early recovery you do not have a choice–you simply have to plug yourself into treatment and AA and counseling and therapy as best you can. In the beginning you are so desperate that you just throw yourself into all of it and do everything that you can to keep your head above water and remain sober.
At some point, the intensity of early recovery has to fade, and real life begins to kick in. The immediate threat of daily relapse has faded, and–while relapse is still a possibility–it is no longer looming over you the way it was when you had 3 weeks sober. Now that you have, say, 9 months sober, you are walking around in the real world again and you are able to live some kind of normal life. You have adapted to sobriety and you are able to function like a real human being. At this point you can go through half your day, maybe even a whole day, without even thinking about drinking.
But again, relapse is still possible. Anyone can become complacent. Even after years or decades of continuous sobriety, people have relapsed and lost everything. It is still a possibility and it will always be a possibility.
So where does that leave us? Should we double down on the basics, insisting that we attend AA meetings every day for the rest of our life? Should we insist that we read the recovery literature every day, and make a lifelong study out of it? How do we protect ourselves in long term sobriety?
This is, I believe, where the soul searching part of your long term sobriety comes in. This is where you find your truth in recovery. It is in figuring out how you fit into the world after you make it through the whirlwind that is early recovery.
For some people, this may very well mean that they go to AA every single day, sponsor several newcomers, and generally be heavily involved in the 12 step program on a daily basis for the rest of their life.
However, that is not going to be the case for everyone who makes it in long term sobriety. In fact, if we were to survey the entire population of people in recovery with multiple years sober, I doubt that a very high percentage of them would fit this profile of “heavily involved in AA and sponsors lots of newcomers.” Sure, some will fit that profile, but many will not.
Does that mean everyone is wrong who isn’t doing this? No, it doesn’t. What it means is that we all have to find our own path in recovery, whatever that may be.
I would argue that each of us in recovery has our own unique strengths and gifts to give to the world, and that it is our job to figure out how to tap into those strengths and use them to give back to other people. That might be done by sponsoring newcomers in AA, but it also might be done in a million other ways as well. And so part of the journey of long term sobriety is in figuring out how exactly you fit into long term recovery, and how the world can best benefit from your own unique gifts.
I struggled quite a bit as I was transitioning out of long term treatment around the 18 month point in my own recovery–not because I wanted to drink or relapse, but because I was battling with myself in order to find the right path in long term recovery.
Really what was happening is that I was transitioning out of “early recovery” and trying to discover my truth in long term sobriety. I was attempting to discover how I was going to actually live my life in long term recovery, instead of just going to AA every single day as a way to remain functional. I had to discover life beyond the basics of early recovery, and that time in my life was dedicated to doing so.
So what did I do? I started exploring. I went back to college. I got a new job in a rehab center. I started doing online recovery instead of in-seat (f2f) meetings. I started exercising and jogging every day. And I started writing in a journal on a daily basis.
And I kept seeking feedback and suggestions, and I continued to test new ideas. I discarded the ideas that were not working for me.
It was this kind of open mindedness that allowed me to discover my own truth, and to successfully transition to long term sobriety.
At some point I had to become open to the fact that recovery was about living life, not just about the basics of recovery programs. So I moved forward and began discovering my own truth, and I am still on that journey today.