What does it take for an alcoholic to turn their life around, start to feel human again, and actually start to enjoy their recovery? Is it even possible for the average alcoholic to accomplish this seemingly impossible feat?
It is definitely possible and I have watched it happen over and over again. Not only did I witness this transformation in my own life, but I was lucky enough to work in a treatment center for several years, and I watched many people enjoy the gifts of sobriety through that experience.
When you are stuck in alcoholism or drug addiction you cannot possibly imagine what the “gifts of recovery” are like. This is because you are operating on a completely different reward system when you stuck in addiction. All you tend to care about in that state of mind is instant gratification and making sure that you are happy.
This “me” attitude is what shifts so drastically in recovery. In order to recover you must undergo a serious transformation in which you basically kill your ego. Doing this allows you to learn how to live a “normal” life again, which is to say that you stop medicating yourself with drugs and alcohol every day. But you also have to learn how to have fun again, how to enjoy your life, and how to experience joy and contentment. These are things that the alcoholic and drug addict have completely lost touch with. All they know is “give me my drug of choice” and let them do their thing. This is their only path left to happiness. Of course at that point it is no longer really happiness because they are just using to avoid the misery of withdrawal.
In early recovery you are not necessarily going to recognize the gifts that you are receiving. This does not mean that you are not actually getting rewarded in early recovery, because you most certainly are. But most of us are not able to see it right away until we have had time to process things and reflect on our recovery process. In other words, being sober for just two weeks is a blessing but most of us are still a bit edgy at that point and possibly even wishing we could just go back to drinking. We take our sobriety for granted at first because we don’t have enough perspective to see what a real gift it is just yet.
Our priorities shift in recovery. When we first get clean and sober we are still stuck in the mindset of instant gratification. This will change over time but we have to let that process unfold for us. We will learn how to enjoy the simple things in life again, we will learn how to enjoy peace and contentment and to be happy and grateful for our very existence. But we have to give it time. You are not going to realize all of that bliss and joy during your first month of sobriety. It takes time and it takes some effort.
Most people would believe that they are being tricked or duped at this point. “Oh sure, it takes a lot of hard work, but the rewards are really great, sure…” Although it is cliche, it is also the truth. If you work hard in your recovery then eventually the rewards become truly amazing. There is no way to convince anyone of that in early recovery though so they have to make a leap of faith. They have to believe that things will get better if they stick it out in recovery, even if it seems like a drink or a drug would be the greater reward right now.
The first gift of sobriety is getting your sanity back
The first gift of sobriety is getting your sanity back. You probably won’t recognize this gift at first because you will be too painfully aware of the fact that you are no longer getting drunk and high.
Even as you in a medical detox center you can start to regain your sanity. You can start to think more clearly. And because you are in a detox center you can probably even think without the constant obsession of drugs or booze on your mind, at least for a little bit.
There was a day in my recovery, I think I was at about four or five months sober, and I realized late at night when I was about to go to bed that I had not thought about drinking or using drugs at all that day.
Seriously, for a whole day. I had not thought about drinking or using drugs even once. The whole day.
This was a miracle. And it just stunned me when I realized it, because I could remember telling my family during an intervention, before I had ever got sober, that I would never go through a whole day without thinking about drugs and alcohol. I told them that I would never be free of the obsession. That every day for the rest of my life I would have cravings for alcohol and drugs. I was sure of it.
And yet here I was, only about 100 days or so into my sobriety, and I went a whole day without ever thinking about drinking or drugs. A whole day.
And that was an amazing gift. It was like a huge light bulb went off for me, and I realized that this recovery stuff was for real. I had to admit that it was working for me at that point. It may not have been perfect, and I may not have liked every part of my early sobriety and all of the programs (I was living in long term rehab at the time), but it was working. Something was working. Because for me, going a whole day without a single craving–that was amazing.
Sobriety benefits accumulate and multiply over time
So the obsession of drugs and alcohol left me fairly early in my recovery journey. Fast forward over 13 years and I am still living a clean and sober life, still recognizing new gifts of sobriety.
At some point, early recovery becomes long term sobriety. I am not sure what exactly this dividing line is exactly. For me it was when I was no longer living in treatment, but also when I started to use a more holistic approach to my recovery. So instead of going to meetings every single day I might exercise, chat with recovering alcoholics online, or meet with friends for coffee who were in recovery. I was no longer trying to adopt a program to fit my life. I was now living in recovery and pursuing personal growth on a regular basis.
If you take positive action every day and you keep doing it consistently then amazing things will happen in your future. This is really just simple math. But the math starts to work heavily in your favor if you use a holistic approach and try to improve your life in multiple categories. In other words, the personal growth that you experience using a holistic approach can start out very slowly. Maybe you are trying to do a number of different things, such as:
* Stay clean and sober.
* Quit smoking cigarettes.
* Get into shape.
* Improve your sleep habits.
* Improve your diet and nutrition.
* Pray or meditate on a daily basis.
* Write about your recovery, in a journal, or “in the steps.”
So if you start doing all of these things on a daily basis then after a week you probably will not notice much growth (it is there, but you probably won’t see it yet).
However, if you do all of those things and you keep doing them consistently for a full year, you will look back one day and be absolutely amazed at the transformation. This is when the gifts of recovery really start to multiply.
The benefits that you will receive after putting in this sort of hard work are difficult to describe, and they are often impossible to predict. For example, no could have possibly convinced me that exercise would have such a positive impact on my recovery. In fact, many people tried to tell me this, and suggested that I start exercising.
Honestly? I scoffed at the idea. What a waste of time, I thought! Here I am, trying to be more spiritual so that I can prevent relapse, and they want me to waste my time working out? What kind of lame suggestion is that?
But then a few years later I started doing it. I took the suggestion finally and I put in the hard work. And BAM! My life transformed. Getting into shape completely changed my life and my recovery. And it made it a great deal stronger than it ever was before.
If they had told me that getting into shape was a “gift of sobriety” I would have laughed at them. I would have asked for a different gift.
But today I know better. Today I can look back and realize that I was lucky enough to explore the suggestions and stumble on something that really worked for me.
The idea of exercise is just an example. It is not necessarily “the ultimate solution” or anything. It is just something that I stumbled on that really helped me in my recovery.
For you, it might be something different. I know several people who have had a similar transformation due to seated meditation. Or Tai Chi. And so on.
So how do you unlock these gifts of recovery?
Start exploring. And by exploring, I mean that you should be taking suggestions from other people in recovery. Preferably, people who are successful in recovery already. Find these people and seek out their advice. Ask them for suggestions. What should you be doing in your life right now?
If you can’t find such people then go to an AA meeting. Just show up to a few and listen and slowly figure out who is living the sort of recovery that you want to be living yourself. Then ask those people for advice and suggestions.
Then, when they give you advice, you have to TAKE IT.
That is sort of the hard part. They will make a suggestion and you have to put it into action. Test it out in your own life.
Someone once told me to go back to college. Someone once told me to start exercising. And someone told me to meditate every day.
I tried all of these suggestions and then some. And some of them worked out well for me. Others got left by the wayside (for example, I prefer distance running to seated meditation).
But I had to get into action. I had to put my ego on the shelf in early recovery and be willing to follow directions. This is not an easy thing to do for most stubborn alcoholics. We would prefer to run our own lives.
How to share your sobriety and give back to other people
One of the great gifts of recovery is in giving it back to other people.
I experimented with this in my early sobriety. My sponsor at the time suggested that I chair an NA meeting at a local rehab center. I did that for about two years straight, every week. I tried to carry a message of hope to the people who were in treatment.
To be honest I did not really excel at it. I was no good at making long and inspiring speeches at AA and NA meetings. But I have since found other ways to give back in recovery. I have since found other ways to connect with people who are seeking help for addiction.
Working with other alcoholics and addicts is probably the most powerful relapse prevention tool in the whole box. Just think of the power that was discovered when AA was founded on this very principle of one alcoholic helping another to stay sober. Really that is the entire program right there in a nutshell; you have one alcoholic helping another one to remain sober. That’s it. That’s the whole idea behind AA. Of course we alcoholics like to complicate things and so they came up with no less than 12 steps in order to teach people how to live sober, but the basic idea is still quite sound. One alcoholic can most definitely help another one to find sobriety, and the connection they make is downright magical. I have experienced it in many different ways, through various mediums, and it always amazes me.
Not everyone will become a sponsor in AA. Not everyone who recovers will even go to AA at all. And not everyone who avoids AA will find online recovery either. There are other outlets, some of which are not yet in existence. Recovery is still fairly young. But the idea of helping others in recovery is definitely important, and every recovering alcoholic and drug addict should find a way to carry a message of hope to others. Some way to reach out and offer a helping hand. Some way to give back. Because this truly is one of the most powerful gifts you will experience in sobriety.
Designing your life so that you have opportunities to appreciate the gift of sobriety
When I first got clean and sober my sponsor and the therapists wanted me to do a whole bunch of work on myself. They wanted me to “get honest with myself” and dig deep and find all of this negative garbage that was going on inside of me.
I didn’t want to do it. I wanted to run and hide. I wanted to wallow in self pity (which was 90 percent of the negativity that I needed to address in the first place!).
Instead, I wanted to be positive. Why can’t we focus on positive things? I wanted to know.
The reason is because if you focus on positive stuff you will end up miserable.
Why is that?
Because every alcoholic and drug addict has a bunch of negative stuff going on inside of them. Some of us have more than others, true. But we all have our problems. And if we don’t address these issues then it will set you up for misery and failure.
If you chase after happiness in recovery without “doing the work” then these negative issues in your life will come back to bite you. And you will most likely relapse as a result.
So now then, how exactly do you “design your life so that you can enjoy the gifts of recovery?”
You do it by doing the hard work. You do this by getting honest with yourself, figuring out what all the negativity in your life is about (fear, resentment, shame, guilt, self pity) and then addressing those problems and eliminating them.
If you don’t do this difficult step and get rid of those pesky problems then you will never be truly happy in recovery.
This is what is meant by “doing the work” in recovery.
If you need a road map then you might find a sponsor in AA and work through the 12 steps. This will help you to deal with all of this negative garbage. You might also consider the idea of working through this with a therapist or a counselor.
If you want to experience the gifts of recovery then you have to put in the hard work. You have to take an honest look at yourself, figure out what is wrong, and start fixing it.
It is only after you have done this work that you will truly be free.
What to do if you feel like you are not getting anywhere in sobriety
It is possible that you might feel at some point like you are not really getting anywhere in your recovery.
Like you want to experience all of these rewards, but they are just not coming to you.
If that is the case then I have two suggestions for you.
First of all is check off the daily practice checklist.
Ask yourself if you are doing these things every day:
1) Seeking better physical health–sleep, nutrition, exercise. No drugs or alcohol. No smoking.
2) Practicing gratitude every day. Making a gratitude list every day. Pushing yourself to find the gratitude in every situation.
3) Striving for emotional balance. Avoiding stressful situations. Avoiding stressful conflicts.
4) Generating ideas and taking suggestions from other people. Analyzing your life situation to find new opportunities.
5) Eliminating toxic relationships from your life. Finding people you look up to in recovery and seeking advice from them.
Those 5 things should be reviewed each and every day. If you go too long without doing one of them then you know you have work to do. They make up the holistic approach to recovery.
The second suggestion I have for you is to simply go find someone in recovery who is living the sort of life that you want to live, and then ask them for advice. Ask them to tell you what actions you need to take next. Then, take action. If you feel stuck in your sobriety and you take either of those two suggestions and apply it in your life then you will definitely see results quickly.
Are you enjoying the gifts of sobriety yet? How did you achieve these gifts? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!