Yesterday we learned about how you can overcome alcoholism and learn to enjoy life again in sobriety. Today we want to look at how you can actually do that without depending on programs or meetings.
We are looking to define a solution for recovery that does not depend on things outside of ourselves so much–such as fellowships, meetings, sponsors, and so on. It would be nice if we could reduce these dependencies down to nothing so that we are not relying on things outside of ourselves that may be fallible.
This describes a long term strategy for living clean and sober in recovery. We hope to do so without a great deal of dependency (such as by attending a meeting every day even after several years clean and sober). On the other hand, this does not mean that we want to find a solution in which we do not seek any outside help for our problem.
We still need to ask for help.
Most people are going to at least need a great deal of help in overcoming their addiction initially.
There is no shame in asking for help or in seeking outside support in order to help us in recovery. My only caution is that you do not want to depend on outside support indefinitely. In very early recovery you are probably going to need MORE help and outside support than what you believe is necessary. Once you achieve stability and are living in long term sobriety, your dependence on outside help should be greatly reduced. My personal opinion is that if your dependence on others in recovery does not drop over time then you might be doing something wrong. Rather, you are probably just failing to make much personal growth in your life. At some point you should shift the burden of recovery from other people’s shoulders on to your own.
I am not so much pushing you to “go it alone in your recovery” so much as I am pushing you to find a trajectory of personal growth instead. Once you are embracing a cycle of personal growth in your journey, your dependency on others for support will naturally fall. Do it right and you will not NEED to go to meetings every day in order to maintain sobriety.
Therefore our method of recovery might be described in the following process:
3) Personal growth.
First we need disruption at the start of our journey in order to break free from the cycle of our addiction. Then we need to seek stability in early recovery and get used to the idea of facing each day without self medicating. This takes time. Then we need to transition into a cycle of personal growth and reflection–one in which we continuously push ourselves to make improvements in our lives, reach new goals, and so on. This allows us to enter the final phase of recovery which might be called “long term sobriety.” This is really the “accumulation” phase of recovery because now you are basically accumulating positive benefits of recovery, including new growth experiences. At this final stage of recovery, you do not just enjoy a better life–you keep accumulating positive stuff and therefore your life keeps getting better and better.
But in order to get to this point and enjoy the accumulation phase you have to get the ball rolling. This can be very difficult to do because most of us are initially trapped in our addiction. We cannot see a way out for ourselves even if we wanted to try to get clean and sober. Thus we generally need disruption of some sort.
The need for disruption in early recovery
If you can just one day decide that you no longer want to use drugs and alcohol, thereby walking away from your addiction and suddenly living this awesome new life in recovery without any help from anyone, then go for it!
Most of us cannot do that. If we can, we don’t even usually label ourselves as being an addict or alcoholic. No struggle, no problem!
Struggling addicts and alcoholics generally need some form of disruption in order to break free from their addiction. This is most likely going to be in the form of treatment. Depending on the severity of the problem, most people are going to be needing inpatient treatment.
The idea of “disruption” is simple: you need to disrupt your pattern of addiction. If you check into rehab and are protected from the threat of relapse because you are in a safe environment, then this is one way to disrupt your pattern. There are probably other ways that do not involve rehab but none of them are going to be as desirable. For example, you may land yourself in jail or prison suddenly, which would likely disrupt your pattern of drinking/drugging. Or you may suddenly find yourself in the hospital and unable to use your drug of choice. Or you might end up in an institution of some sort, one that has locks in the doors preventing you from leaving.
All of those alternatives could still serve as a disruption, but none of them are as desirable as going to inpatient rehab. This is why I urge people to attend inpatient treatment as part of my method. Disruption is necessary in order to break free from addiction, and inpatient treatment is usually the most desirable form of disruption based on all of the alternatives.
Obviously if you go to inpatient rehab you are not going to live there forever. Most treatment episodes only last from about a week to a month these days. There are some long term places and things such as halfway houses but most people just end up going the short term route (28 days or less). This is fine. The important thing to realize is that some amount of disruption is going to be necessary.
If you want to defy this logic and prove me wrong, I would encourage you to do that as well. Don’t take my word for it–test your own hypothesis. If you think that you can get clean and sober without going to rehab for the “disruption” phase of things, then simply don’t go to treatment and attempt to transition to long term sobriety on your own (using the concepts and ideas that follow in this article). If you can do so successfully, great! You don’t need disruption. But if you find yourself struggling again, then come back to the idea that maybe you need some outside help in order to get started in your recovery journey.
It is perfectly OK to need help at the start of your journey. I insist that most addicts and alcoholics are going to need some form of disruption in order to get a fresh start in life. Keep in mind too that some addicts and alcoholics will need treatment from a medical standpoint, just to be safe. Withdrawal from certain substances (and alcohol is one of them) can be dangerous or even deadly. There are times when you just need to suck up your pride and go get the help that you need. This does not mean that you are weak. It takes a strong person to go to rehab, to ask for help, to walk into treatment. Doing so does not doom you to a life of weakness or dependency. This is just a necessary hurdle that you must jump in order to get stronger one day.
Judge your need for disruption by your current standing in recovery. If you are struggling to move beyond physical dependency, then you need more disruption. On the other hand, if you can get clean and sober easily and get yourself physically off the drugs and alcohol, then your need for disruption is much less.
If you cannot get clean and sober on your own then admit this to yourself and go get the help that you need. Seek disruption. Go to treatment.
Transitioning into long term recovery and finding how much support you need
Once you go through the disruption phase you are ready to start looking towards the future. Your goal should be to embrace a cycle of personal growth in long term sobriety, to enjoy life sober, and to keep challenging yourself to grow in recovery.
Before you can start transitioning to this new life you have to find stability in your recovery. This should be an extension of your disruption phase. For many people this will mean following through on the things that were suggested to them in rehab. This will include things such as counseling, outpatient therapy, AA or NA meetings, and so on. My opinion is that you should definitely follow through on such things for at least the remainder of your first year in recovery.
I think to some extent that people want to “be recovered” overnight. This is especially true for the person who wants to do it all on their own, without any outside help. What I am telling you here is that you CAN do it on your own and that you CAN do it without depending on others, but this is only realistic as a long term goal. During your first year of recovery it would be wise to push this strategy to the side a bit, as you are going to transition to this “independent phase” over the first, say, two years of your recovery. You are not going to be completely independent in your recovery at 30 days sober. If you are then you are likely setting yourself up for failure.
Many people want this “independent recovery” right away. I am telling you now that it is not possible, it does not work that way. Slow down for a moment and realize just how difficult your journey is going to be. You are going to need some help, at least initially.
Therefore the first year or two of your recovery has to be a bridge. You are building a bridge between the help that you might receive in inpatient rehab to the independent life of recovery that you want to be living for the rest of your life. I am suggesting that this bridge phase is going to take a year or two. If you try to walk out of rehab after 28 days and suddenly be living this independent life without any help then I believe you will probably fail.
What I had to do is to figure out how much support I needed in order to maintain sobriety. This is a baseline of sorts. Over time that amount of support was going to drop as I continued to make progress and personal growth. But in early recovery the best strategy for me was to take the suggestions I was being given and to take a lot of outside help and support from others. Therefore I continued to follow through on all suggestions, going to lots of counseling, meetings, and so on. This continued for about the first 18 months of my recovery. By the two year mark I had basically stopped going to meetings and instead I was seeking personal growth, starting to exercise, reaching out and helping people outside of AA, etc.
Because this was my own personal experience I believe it to be a rough guideline for how this transition might work for others. I stayed heavily involved in traditional support systems for the first year, and started to transition out of those support systems during the second year. By the end of the second year I was “doing recovery on my own” for the most part. Now it is almost a decade later and I regret nothing, having found my own path of personal growth and my own ways to interact with others in recovery (and in life).
What is important here is not that you follow my example exactly, but that you find what works for you and tread carefully. Your continued sobriety is the most important thing, and you should preserve that at all costs. Therefore if you leave rehab and start attending AA meetings every day, you need to be very careful if you decide to start reducing your meeting attendance. I was very careful myself and paid very close attention to how I was feeling each day and whether or not I was having any thoughts of relapse, etc. I gradually reduced my involvement in AA and was very conscious of how I was feeling. My biggest goal was to maintain sobriety, not to achieve independence. Had I felt a need to drink or use drugs I would have simply gone back to daily meetings. This is the right attitude for making this transition. You need to put your sobriety first. If you notice a danger of relapse then you need to ask for help and return to the full level of support that you had when you first left rehab.
One thing that I noticed about myself is that the more passive I was in living my life, the more I benefited from daily AA meetings. It was almost as if going to a daily AA meeting was a way to “cheat” in recovery. It was sort of like taking the easy path–you can just check in to your meeting each day and this will make your recovery run fairly smooth, without much effort on your part. You don’t have to work too hard for recovery if you just keep showing up to meetings each day. It’s like you can turn half your brain off when you know that you are going to get another hourly dose of AA each and every day. It’s a way to coast.
On the other hand, when I decided to stop going to meetings, I realized that I could no longer “coast” through recovery. Now it was all up to me. I no longer had the luxury of sitting through an AA meeting each day, reminding me of sobriety and how important it is. This is really one of the main benefits of daily meeting attendance–it simply reminds you that you are in recovery. Seriously! It seems a bit silly to think of it from an objective standpoint, but this is really one of the main functions of attending AA meetings each day. Simply to remember that we are in recovery.
So when I decided to reduce meeting attendance I realized that I needed to compensate for this. I could no longer rely on this “passive method” of simply attending meetings each day and absorbing recovery. I was going to have to create my own recovery, my own positive attitude, and my own positive actions.
If growth were to occur in my life now, I would have to create it myself. Find my own motivation. Pursue positive change on my own terms. There were no longer any steps or sponsors to guide me.
This had to be a conscious realization on my part in order to create my own path of independent recovery. If you want to succeed without programs or daily meetings, then you have to create your own positive action. Recovery still demands change, learning, and growth. This is true regardless and independent of any programs.
Thus the way to an independent recovery is to embrace the cycle of personal growth. This is the exact opposite of the destructive cycle of addiction.
The cycle of personal growth for fighting complacency
So you start with disruption in recovery (usually via treatment) and then you find stability in early recovery. Your next job is to transition into long term sobriety. This vision of long term recovery is best described as being a cycle of personal growth.
Think of addiction–it is a negative cycle of destruction. Everything just keeps getting worse over time.
Recovery is the polar opposite–it is a positive cycle of growth and learning. Things just keep getting better and better.
The biggest threat in long term recovery is known as complacency. This is when the recovering addict or alcoholic gets sort of “stuck” in their recovery journey and ends up relapsing. Some people would call it a problem of laziness. Others would say that they are not challenging themselves enough.
Complacency can occur both in and out of a program such as AA. The solution can be a part of AA or it can exist outside of AA. What is important is that the solution is really about taking action, about kicking yourself back into high gear, about learning and growing again. When we stop learning and growing then we are headed for relapse.
How accumulation works in long term sobriety
If you are embracing the cycle of personal growth then the long term result of this will be something we might call “the accumulation phase” of recovery.
This is the exact opposite of the destructive nature of addiction. Instead of destroying things in your life due to drug or alcohol abuse, in recovery you start to accumulate positive benefits.
Simply take positive action every day for years or even a decade, and keep challenging yourself to grow and learn new things. At the end of that decade you will have accumulated tons of positive benefits. I have watched this happen in my own life and new benefits continue to unfold to me all the time. Life just keeps getting better and better in recovery, so long as you are taking positive action each day.
Once you reach this “accumulation phase” you are no longer dependent on outside help. Of course this does not necessarily mean that you are a complete island and never talk to anyone else about recovery. In fact, some people who are at this point actually still going to meetings. The difference for them is that they have based their recovery on personal growth outside of those meetings, and so they do not really depend on the meetings to keep them sober. There are such people in AA–they are usually referred to in the meetings as “winners” (as in, “stick with the winners”). These are people who are actually walking the walk in recovery, and you can usually tell because they come across as being so genuine. Such people could easily walk away from AA and continue to grow in their recovery, but they choose to go to meetings as a way to “give back.”