What does it mean to have an “empowered process of growth” in sobriety? What does it mean to be empowered anyway?
To me, addiction and alcoholism recovery are all about personal growth.
If people are stagnant in recovery and they really are not making any progress then they are definitely in danger of becoming complacent to the point of relapse.
On the other hand, people who are actively pursuing learning, growth, and positive change are definitely in a position to be able to defend their sobriety.
I once heard addiction recovery described as being a “moat of protection,” such as what surrounds a castle. The moat in recovery is your level of personal growth. For every personal growth project you enlist in your life you are building another layer of protection against relapse, or another “moat” if you will.
So the recovering alcoholic who quits smoking cigarettes–that person has effectively build another layer of protection (or so the theory goes). Why? Because they would sooner go back to smoking cigarettes than they would relapse on serious drugs or alcohol. By giving up cigarettes they built in a new layer of protection.
The recovering alcoholic who starts exercising on a regular basis and has intense physical workouts has built in a new layer of relapse protection. Why? Because they get a physical “buzz” from each and every intense workout that they engage in, which helps them to avoid a real relapse on their drug of choice.
So in my opinion, this is how you live in an empowered way in addiction recovery: You find the personal growth projects that enhance your life, contribute to good health, and that help protect you from relapse. Living in an empowered way helps you to build more of these “moats” around your sobriety, to help insulate you from the threat of relapse.
So the real question is, especially for the newcomer to addiction recovery, would be: “How exactly do I get to this empowered state of recovery? How do I go from being a struggling addict seeking recovery to someone who is successfully living the program?”
The most basic and fundamental answer to this question is that you have to surrender.
But you tell that to people and they look at you like you are crazy. What does it mean to surrender? How does a person actually do this?
So let’s dig a bit deeper.
Surrender is a state of being in which the addict or alcoholic has finally had enough misery in their life and they are ready to give up.
Give up what, you ask? Everything. They are ready to throw in the towel in just about any and every way. They are almost completely without hope any more, and they are completely baffled as to how to live a successful life any more. They thought that they could drink or drug their way to happiness, and that has failed for them. And they are finally willing to admit that it just might not be everyone else’s fault, as they have been contending all along, but it might actually be the drugs or the booze that is responsible.
Real surrender means that you are ready to listen, to really listen this time. To listen and do what you are told. That is what real surrender looks like.
I am not sure if you can choose to surrender on a whim, or if it has to be earned with your own blood and tears. I suspect that it is only through the latter that this is possible. Surrender happens when you have finally had enough.
At that point you start to listen and learn, you ask for help, you are willing to take direction. You are willing to go to rehab. You are willing to attend meetings. You are willing to get a sponsor and read recovery literature. You are willing to do it all, to embrace it all, to follow any directive.
When I was stuck in denial and drinking booze every day, I thought that going to rehab and AA would turn me into a robot. I thought that following advice and directions from other people would enslave me and make me miserable.
But then I finally reached a point of surrender in which I was so desperate that I became willing to try it anyway. I was willing to go to rehab, to go to AA, to listen to the advice and actually follow it.
And so I started doing those things. I got a sponsor and I did what he told me to do. I got a therapist and I got honest with that person. I started following suggestions and then taking a step back to watch what happened in my life.
This was empowering. What I thought would enslave me was actually the very thing which empowered me.
Following directions and advice in AA and rehab is what gave me total freedom back. Suddenly I was clean and sober and I had choices and options. Suddenly I had companies that wanted to employ me. Suddenly I had schools that wanted to educate me. Suddenly I had friends and relatives that wanted to exercise with me. Suddenly I had peers and friends who wanted to hang out with me and have good clean fun.
Suddenly I had a life again.
And it was through no great insight of my own, no brilliant plan of my own making. Instead, I had simply followed directions. I had asked for help, went to rehab, and followed directions.
That was the big secret. I had no special knowledge. I had no tricks up my sleeve. I was just going to AA meetings and going to rehab and doing what they told me to do. And my life kept getting better and better.
And at some point I could look back and realize that I had accumulated an enormous amount of power in my life. Not the kind of power that I could abuse or be tyrannical with, but the kind of power that gave me peace, options, and the ability to reach out and help others. My life had been completely transformed because I had been willing to follow directions in the beginning.
At one point in my recovery journey I realized that I could pretty much tackle any given goal that I wanted in life and achieve it, so long as I was willing to focus on that goal and put all of my energy and effort into it.
This was a profound realization and I did a lot with it: I finished a college degree, I successfully ran a marathon, I started a successful side business, and so on. And this was all due to the fact that I had been willing, at one point, to dumb it way down for myself and just do what I was told, to just follow some directions. And in doing so it opened up a whole world of potential growth and exciting opportunity for me.
My suggestion to you is to do the same: Find a mentor in recovery, be it a sponsor or a therapist or someone else, and start following direction from that person. Take their advice and really apply it. In doing so you will empower yourself to a degree that you never suspected was possible while simply following directions. Good luck!