After finally breaking through my denial and all of the justifications that I used to rationalize my addiction with, I found myself in early recovery and hoping beyond all hope that I could find a way to stay clean and sober.
I had already been to rehab twice before and countless therapy and counseling sessions. All of my previous efforts had obviously failed.
This felt much more serious and heavy though because now I was actually going to try to get clean and sober for myself. Now I was really going to give it a serious try, based on my own initiative. If I failed this time then I really had nothing left to hope for, because this time I actually wanted it to work; I actually wanted change to happen.
So I arrived at this moment of surrender and I felt something fall away inside of me. The thing that fell away was my drive to keep fighting, to keep controlling the drug and alcohol use. That is the thing that sort of died inside of me when I finally surrendered. So then I agreed to get help at that point, and became willing to give sobriety a real chance.
Was recovery even possible for me?
Early recovery was terrifying for me, because I was constantly trying to figure out if sobriety and recovery was even possible for me. I really was not quite sure that it was.
You could say that I am a numbers guy and a data hound. If you show me statistics and hard evidence then I am very likely to believe what is presented. Now I am also smart enough to realize that statistics are often manipulated in order to mislead people, but I am also realistic enough to know that the numbers can also make a very strong case. For example, if you told me that 95 percent of everyone who smokes at least ten cigarettes within a one week period will get addicted to nicotine, I am not foolish enough to believe that I am in the 5 percent who can maybe get away with it and come away free and clear. I realize that the numbers, when presented accurately, still apply to me. In other words I am realistic in the face of hard data, and I do not think I am special or somehow exempt from the numbers.
So you can imagine how I felt in early recovery, being such a “fact and numbers” kind of guy, and hearing all of these miserable relapse statistics. You have probably heard some of them yourself. They are quoted in 12 step meetings in order to try to scare and intimidate people into staying sober. For example, you might hear that “only 5 percent will make it to a year sober” or that “only about 1 percent will make it to five years sober” and so on. I am not about to debate the accuracy of those statistics and I guess it ultimately does not matter much. Each individual has a real chance at recovery and if they really want to be sober then they can take the actions to become part of the elite 1 percent that stays sober in the long run.
But coming into recovery, I did not know this. In fact I had no idea what was possible in recovery and all I knew was that I was hard wired to use drugs and alcohol and to self medicate. So I knew I was up for a serious challenge and I sort of knew what the drill was as far as meetings and recovery but I did not (of course) know what the future held for me or how the next ten years would play out. In reality I would have one of the best decades of my life and remain clean and sober without major setbacks or incident. But when I was still in treatment with a week sober under my belt, I had no idea what the next ten years would bring or how my recovery would unfold. Up until that point I had already been to two previous rehabs which had failed miserably for me, and now here I was going to 12 step meetings every day and hearing a lot of negative statistics about how most people just never make it in recovery. Hearing about how most people relapse.
This became a pretty big point of contention with me and it is partly why I find my recovery in places other than 12 step meetings these days. In early recovery there is obviously a fine line: you want to give the newcomer hope that they can achieve sobriety and change their life and be happy again without drugs and alcohol. You want to illustrate that this is really possible for anyone, no matter how messed up they think they are.
On the other hand you also want to caution the newcomer in recovery that this is no easy stroll through the park. You want to warn them that this is, in fact, the hardest thing they have ever done in their life. You want to convey to them that they have to put forth a maximum effort in staying sober or they are doomed to relapse. You want to convince them that this is really tough, and that they need to try really hard to get this recovery thing.
Seeing the horrible relapse statistics and poor success rates of traditional recovery scared me silly
And so that is what many people in AA and NA meetings are attempting to do when they throw these negative statistic around. They are trying to use fear and intimidation to convince people to take action in recovery. They are trying to scare people into success, by saying “hey, most everyone who tries to stay sober for the long run does not make it. Less than 1 percent will achieve ten years sober, etc.” The people who talk like this and use scary statistics are actually trying to be helpful.
In my case I am not sure if it worked or not, possibly their scare tactics with their negative data actually did help me to take serious action. My point is that I sort of resented them for it, and when I later started taking meetings into a rehab for the newcomers in detox I did not try to scare or intimidate people with these sorts of statistics. Instead, I tried to simply give a message of hope, and convince them that my life used to be chaos and misery in addiction, and now it was awesome and I was happy again in recovery, and I never thought that this was possible for me.
Because of all of that scary data about relapse, I was not really sure if recovery was actually possible for me or not. I think that I really had some serious doubts, that it was just a matter of time before I relapsed, and that if I was going to remain sober it would take an awful lot of support and maybe a little luck.
I heard the numbers and the statistics and so I practically talked myself out of sobriety. But I also realized that I was going to have to commit fully in order for this recovery thing to work. So I was finally serious, and had finally surrendered fully to my disease. I was ready to take action.
Finally willing to go to any lengths as evidenced by long term rehab
My family quickly got me into detox and short term residential treatment at this point. I had been in residential treatment twice before and I knew that it was not a cure for addiction. It could help, it could be a starting point, but I knew that it was not a lifelong solution for me. I was terrified of leaving rehab and facing the world and the possibility of relapse. The threat of relapse was made worse because this time I was actually going to try to stay sober for myself, for the right reason, and because I had fully surrendered to the addiction this time. It was different because I wanted it to work for myself.
The short term rehab paired me up with a counselor and we started working on a plan for aftercare. I knew full well what I needed because it had already been recommended to me by previous treatment centers: I needed long term treatment. It still sounded like a prison sentence to me but at this point I really did not care. I would have voluntarily walked into prison at this point. Yeah, just stick me in a cell, a cage, and feed and water me for a while. Maybe that will straighten me out. I was actually this dejected and desperate due to my addiction. This is the point of surrender and what “hitting bottom” is all about. You are so beat up from addiction and so miserable that you are willing to subject yourself to anything in order to get help. If you are at this point then you may feel miserable and feel disappointed in yourself, but you are actually right on the cusp of positive change. You have finally surrendered and are ready to ask for help and start taking some positive direction in your life. Prior to this point you were too stubborn to actually listen to others and take their suggestions. Now you have hit bottom and can start to rebuild your life in a positive way.
So I had made this leap in my recovery and I am not sure that I fully understood it at the time, but I was begging my counselor to put me into a long term treatment center when I left the short term rehab, and this was evidence of good things to come. I had finally surrendered and was finally willing to do what I had never been willing to do in the past for my recovery.
They talk about “going to any lengths in order to remain sober” and I had never been willing to commit to long term rehab in the past. Now I was willing and I was in fact scared silly and begging for long term treatment. My counselor of course was very helpful and found me placement in a long term rehab facility.
So I left the short term side of a drug rehab and I moved into the long term side of the same rehab, where I was put into a six month to two year long program. It was fairly flexible in that you could go back to school, get a job, attend outside meetings, and so on. I had a few chores to do, groups to attend, meetings to go to, but I ultimately had some freedom while living here as well.
And right away upon moving into this facility I was made aware that this was not the ultimate solution. My fear of relapse once again reared its head and scared me silly again, because here I was living in long term treatment with eleven other guys and they were relapsing left and right.
I mean it was sort of ridiculous, actually. I had expected that living in a treatment center and being held accountable and having to take random drug tests every week and knowing that you were out on the street if you relapsed–I would have thought that all of that was sort of a “temporary cure” for addiction at least, that addicts and alcoholics would have no problem in holding things together at least while they were in long term rehab. Perhaps they would leave the long term rehab some day and perhaps THEN they would relapse, right? But surely while they are living in rehab and have all of that accountability and support they would have no problem in remaining clean and sober in the short run, right?
Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. I was wrong about this and I could see that I was wrong in about the first two weeks within moving into long term rehab and so I got scared again. People that I was living with were already relapsing and being kicked out! This was insane. The disease was even more powerful than I had imagined it to be.
Here I was, living in long term treatment with eleven other men, and the turnover rate was so much faster than I had anticipated. This was mostly due to relapse. People relapsed and therefore were kicked out of long term rehab. And it happened over and over again. I lived with about twenty to thirty guys while I was there for my 20 month stay. I knew that short term rehab was a revolving door, but now I was seeing that long term treatment was much the same way.
I had thought that it was a much more stable environment. I was wrong. So this scared me quite a bit, because now there was no “sure fire solution” to addiction. I sort of had it in my mind that anyone who was willing to go actually LIVE in a rehab for a year or more was pretty much guaranteed to recover. I thought that was pretty much a given. That was my assumption anyway. And here I was in long term rehab, living there for only a few short weeks, and my illusion of stability and safety was shattered. This was no cure. It was not even much better than short term rehab as far as the relapse rate was concerned.
So it all sort of fell back on me. There was no easy out, no sure fire path to success, no cure for addiction. I was still going to have to work hard, commit fully, and somehow make recovery work out for me in the long run.
There was so much information that I was hearing in AA and NA meetings (which I had to attend daily) and so much of this information seemed jumbled, disconnected, and some of it even conflicted.
Part of what I had to do, I realized, was to get it straight in my own head what my plan was, and what my commitment to recovery was. From all of the talk in 12 step meetings, this seemed like the most important thing, this commitment that you made to yourself about staying clean and sober.
So I made it a priority to get my internal self talk straightened out. I had to figure out my own level of commitment, for myself, without just repeating all of this junk that I was hearing in 12 step meetings (some of which was valid and valuable, but it was still a messy mish-mash of info to be deciphered).
Getting it straight in my own head and not trying to convince others of my commitment
What I arrived at in my early recovery was this:
I was making a commitment to myself that I would not use drugs or alcohol, no matter what. If you like, you can feel free to attach the “day at a time” stuff to this if you so choose. Me, I just got it straight in my head that:
The most important thing in my life is that I do not use drugs or alcohol, no matter what. Period.
This was my commitment to myself and I came to recoil in horror at the suggestion that I take a drink or a drug. It was my highest truth, that I not ingest drugs or alcohol.
Now there are two important points about this commitment that I was making to myself:
1) I clearly saw other people trying to convince the world during 12 step meetings that they were fully and 100 percent committed to recovery. These people liked to talk and they liked to try to convince everyone that they were fully committed to staying sober.
What I learned is that these people relapsed. Every time.
So it was clear to me that the important part was the internal commitment to yourself, not the outward “trying to convince the world that they are committed.” These people were trying to talk a good game in meetings, and they really were trying to convince themselves that they were committed to recovery. It did not work that way, and this was becoming painfully obvious to me as I watched such people relapse time and time again in my early recovery.
2) Zero tolerance. This internal commitment that I made to myself was actually a zero tolerance policy for using drugs or alcohol. I would not tolerate drug or alcohol use in my life any more for any reason. I fully understood this and I conditioned myself to recoil in horror at the suggestion that I ingest an addictive drug or drink alcohol. I watched many other people in recovery relapse and I do not believe any of them really had this idea of “zero tolerance” straight in their head.
So I had this internal dialogue with myself and I got really clear on what my policy was for managing my life now. Absolutely no drugs or alcohol allowed, period. Zero tolerance. That was my highest truth and I clung to it as being the most important thing in my life, by far.
You cannot imagine how many people in AA and NA meetings start out a sentence with “the most important thing in your recovery is…..” and then they go on to insert some concept such as the 12 steps, or your connection with your higher power, or whatever they are gonna say.
But I learned to ignore all of these people because I had already determined my highest truth and what the most important thing in my life was. It was very simple. It was that I not use drugs or alcohol, period. So many people in recovery forget that simple idea, and put all sorts of other ideas into its place.
Ultimately it was not about committing to long term rehab for me. It was about getting my own internal dialogue straight, and my agreement with myself that I was not going to use drugs or alcohol no matter what. But I had to go to any lengths to learn that this was my highest truth. I had to go live in long term rehab and watch so many people relapse and fail in order to see just what I was up against, and how serious I had to take my own recovery.