One of the greatest paradoxes about overcoming addiction is that you actually find that the journey becomes easier once you accept the more difficult path.
What exactly does this mean?
It means that in every alcoholic and drug addict’s struggle with addiction, they are facing two choices: One choice is to take the easy way out, or what appears to be the easy way out. This often involves trying to control their addiction in some way rather than to face the crushing solution of total and complete abstinence.
The other solution is, quite simply, total and complete abstinence from all mood and mind altering substances. No addict or alcoholic ever wants to face that solution if they can avoid it. And so they cling to half-baked solutions that don’t really work so well: They switch from liquor to beer, they switch from cocaine to a “softer” drug like marijuana, or they try to cut down on the number of painkillers that they take on a daily basis. In the end, none of these half measures works, and they always end up at their old level of consumption, and therefore their old level of chaos.
Is there an easy way to get clean and sober?
You may believe that modern medicine has produced a superior solution to the problem of addiction by now. You may believe that if you only had enough money to afford the finest treatment center in the world that you would be able to stay clean and sober for sure. You may believe that if you had access to the finest addiction treatment that money could buy that you would not have to struggle with your substance abuse problems any longer.
You would be wrong in all of these beliefs.
The truth is that there is no shortcut to sobriety. There is no easy path. The easy path, unfortunately, is to accept the difficult path. That’s the whole secret.
And no one wants to do that. This should be obvious. If you see a really tough challenge that is really going to be uncomfortable, who would want to embrace that kind of rough road? Why would anyone choose to torture themselves on purpose? Of course we don’t want to face the grueling challenge of recovery from addiction. It is so much easier to put it off until tomorrow, to self medicate for one more day, to take your drug of choice and medicate all of your problems and worries away. No one likes to struggle. No one enjoys massive discomfort. This is why addiction is so tough to defeat.
This is why surrender is so important for recovery. The alcoholic must reach a point of intense desperation, such that they no longer care about their own life, about their own liberty, about their own prospects for future happiness. Instead, the addict or alcoholic must be so miserable due to their addiction and so insanely desperate that they simply no longer care. This may sound like a dismal state to be in, and it is. But it is also a gift. Because it is only once the alcoholic reaches this state of mind that they are able to finally set themselves free, they are finally able to surrender to their addiction.
And what does it mean to surrender, exactly? It means so much more than just admitting to your addiction, admitting to your problem, admitting that you don’t know how to live. Real surrender forces you to go one step beyond this admission, and embrace a new solution in your life. The alcoholic has to actively seek the help of others, the direction of others, the advice of others. That is a real ego-crushing defeat. To fully admit to yourself that you no longer know how to live your life, you know longer know how to find real happiness, you no longer have the right kind of ideas to create a successful life for yourself. You admit to yourself that you have to look elsewhere, you have to look outside of yourself, you have to seek direction and guidance from others. This is the essence of true surrender. It is about accepting a new solution in your life.
And this is difficult to do. For anyone. For everyone. It is absolutely crushing to the ego to admit to this sort of defeat.
Any alcoholic or drug addict can get clean and sober for a few days, maybe even a few weeks, a few months here and there. But in order to rebuild a new life in recovery, a life of happiness and peace and contentment and purpose, you are going to have to tear that ego down before you can build it back up. And without that total and complete crushing surrender you are not going to be able to embrace a new way of life, a new way of living. You will be too busy trying to figure things out for yourself, too busy to listen to others. Because their solution is likely not what you want to hear. The work is too hard. No one wants to be that honest with themselves, no one wants to look in the mirror that critically, no one wants to examine their character defects and do the work to rectify them. It’s a whole lot of bother and it is so much easier to just go get one more drink, one more drug, and forget about all your problems for another day.
What every person has to do in order to build a new life in sobriety
What must every person do in order to build a new life?
First of all they have to take action, they have to make a decision. Again, this cannot really happen on a deep level unless the person goes through the process of surrender where their ego is completely crushed.
Second of all, the person must arrest their disease. This can be an environmental problem of sorts. If you are living in a house full of drugs or booze then you might need to find a safe place for a while. Inpatient treatment is one such safe place.
Not every person who ever became clean and sober went to inpatient treatment, mind you….but many of them have done so. And in the future, many more who sober up will get their start in treatment. It is a powerful solution if utilized properly. The problem is that many people who check into alcohol treatment centers are not yet ready to turn their life over to a power other than themselves.
Notice that I did not say “They are not ready to quit drinking.” That is a little bit different. Almost everyone who checks into a treatment facility would love to stop drinking. The question is, are the willing to do the work? Are they ready to turn their will and their life over a power other than themselves? Are they ready to relinquish total control in order to gain their sobriety? The answer in many cases turns out to be “no,” they are not ready to fully surrender.
You see, there is something known as “surrender,” and then there is also something known as “total and complete surrender.” We are looking for the latter. Plain old surrender is what happens when every alcoholic has a particular nasty binge and they have lots of consequences that they really wish would just all go away. So it would be nice at some of these times if their disease would just magically go away on its own. It would be nice, for most alcoholics, if they simply were not alcoholic at all. Then they could be happy and all of their problems would be solved, right?
But it doesn’t work that way. We don’t get to just wish our disease away. I am in recovery today, and I have not had a drink or a drug for many years, but I am definitely still an alcoholic. One sip and I will start down a road to quick disaster. My life could become a train wreck very quickly if I were to take one little sip. That is what an alcoholic is, that is what they do. They drink, then the drink takes over, then their life becomes a chaotic mess. That’s the disease. It is a miracle and a blessing to have each and every day of sobriety, and as someone in recovery you should never take that for granted.
Most people who check into a treatment facility are not at the point of “total and complete surrender.” They want things to be different. They wish that they were not alcoholic. But are the willing to do the work? To really get their hands dirty, to get down on the ground, roll around in the mud, look at all of their character defects, get really honest with themselves, are they really ready for that kind of work in their lives? For most of us the answer is “no.” I went to treatment twice when they answer was still “no.” I simply wasn’t ready to do the work. I was too scared. Fear held me back.
And so what changed? I can tell you what changed. I got more and more miserable. And eventually I reached a point where I became so miserable that I no longer cared about the fear, I no longer cared about the fear I had of AA meetings, of speaking in front of groups, of being in treatment with a group of peers, of being called out and put on the spot. I used to live in fear of those things and it kept me away from treatment, but eventually I reached a point of misery in my addiction where I no longer cared. And so I became willing. I became willing to face those fears, to check into rehab, to share the truth that I had inside. The truth was that I was afraid, that I had been living in fear for a long time, and that I did not really like the person that I had become. I had a long way to go before I could rebuild my life and become someone who loved himself again.
And that is exactly what happened, by the grace of God that is exactly what I learned how to do. It was a long journey and it was hard work and it involved getting really honest with myself. It would have been so much easier to just go get drunk again instead. Thank God that I had the guts to face my fears and ask for help. Thank goodness I had the guts to go back to rehab for a third time. Because it finally worked.
And what was different? I suppose the changes that I made were what made all the difference. They say that you have to change everything. I think they are right in this. You most certainly do have to change everything.
The only thing you have to change is everything!
After you get into recovery and you start taking advice from others, your life begins to change. And if you go to treatment and start listening to advice you will one day look back and realize two seemingly conflicting truths about yourself, and about sobriety:
1) In recovery, if you want to stay sober, you have to change everything.
2) Nothing really changes. It is only you who changed. And really, it was only your thoughts and your attitude that changed.
Of course some things did not really change at all. For example, when I got sober, my family did not really change. I still had the same cousin. I still had the same sister. They did not change just because I was in recovery now.
But I changed. And how I thought about those people changed. And my attitude towards the world, towards my family, towards society….all of it started to shift. I was learning how to be a real human being again.
The selfishness that dominated my addiction was slowly replaced with gratitude. I started to realize that if I was being selfish that it would only lead to unhappiness in the end. The solution was always gratitude.
I learned that one of my character defects was to feel sorry for myself all the time. This was one way that I justified my drinking and drug use. And I slowly realized that this self pity was no longer helping me. It was still there, my brain still ran the same old script of feeling sorry for myself, but because I was sober there was no longer any use for this. It was just a little drama act in my mind. It was completely useless. It only made me miserable.
So I had to get rid of it. That was tough. I had to focus, I had to raise my awareness, I had to practice being grateful. I had to write out gratitude lists. I had to be vigilant with myself when it came to self pity.
And when I did this, and forced myself to really be vigilant and make this change within myself, it was like my whole world changed. Because suddenly I was no longer feeling sorry for myself, and I had no excuse that was blocking me from peace and contentment any longer. One little internal change, fixing one character defect was all it took. And this changed everything.
Now I was no longer miserable. I was no longer walking around all day being sad, playing drama in my head, trying to justify a drink for myself. Instead I was allowing myself to be at peace, to be content, to be happy. Genuinely happy. And in doing this I learned how to practice gratitude. I learned how to look for the silver lining, to appreciate the little things. To focus on the positive.
So maybe when you get sober you will still bowl at the same old bowling alley. But if you can eliminate your character defects, such as by shifting from selfishness to gratitude, then your whole world will change. And it will seem like a real miracle, like you really changed everything in your life. But it wasn’t your life that changed, it was only you.
And every alcoholic and drug addict who finds success in recovery has to go through a similar transformation. They all go through this journey. They figure out what their defects are, and they fix them. And when you stop blocking yourself from peace and contentment, that is when “everything changes.” Most of your world can actually stay the same in this regard, but it will seem like everything changed.
Easy come, easy go
If recovery were easy then it wouldn’t be worth much.
If recovery was super easy to achieve then it wouldn’t be worth hanging on to. Why would you fight hard to remain sober if you could easily just get clean another day?
But it’s not like that. It is super tough to get clean and sober, and every alcoholic experiences this directly. In a very real way. They know what it is like to try to sober up, they know how tough the struggle is.
So if you attain some significant clean time, you don’t want to let it go. You want to hang on to it.
And the only way you that you can do that is by doing the work.
It takes work to remain clean and sober. Essentially you need to do two major things in order to achieve long term sobriety.
These are the two things:
1) Create the sort of life, externally, that supports your sobriety.
2) Create the sort of life internally that supports your sobriety.
They talk in AA meetings about changing “people, places, and things” in order to remain clean and sober.
They also talk about working through the 12 steps with a sponsor so that you can basically get your head on straight.
So one of those concepts is external. Changing people, places, and things is external. You don’t go hang out at the bar if you want to stay sober. You don’t remain friends with the dope man if you want to remain clean. You gotta change some external stuff.
The other concept is internal. For me, it was self pity. For many others, it is resentment. Or perhaps they have anger problems. Or they are racked with guilt. Or they have massive fear. Or whatever. Something is going on inside their head that helps to drive their addiction. Working through the 12 steps of AA is one way to get to their heart of those problems, and to fix them. There are other ways. Your mileage may vary, but if you don’t put in the work, you won’t fix any of it. And that means you will likely drink or use drugs again some day.
So the solution is two fold. You must change externally. You must change your life on the outside. You must change your playground, playmates, and play things. But you also have to change on the inside. And that is where “everything changes.” Because you figure out how to get the toxic crap out of your mind, and start living in peace and contentment.
Hard work yields great rewards
I wish there was a magic pill that we could take so that addiction would just magically go away. But if there were, we would probably just get addicted to it, right?
Instead, we take the difficult path. Just accept the hard work. Accept the self honesty. Accept the 12 steps as a solution, if you go that route, and do the work with a real sponsor. Find your defects, and do the work to fix them. Be vigilant. This is how you rebuild your life in recovery. This is how you rebuild a life where you can be happy again. Without this hard work, relapse is the only probable outcome.
What about you, have you done the hard work in recovery? Have you tried the easy path as well? How did it work out for you? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!